Volume 92, 2018
Philosophy, Catholicism, and Public Life
Bound by the Good
The Common Good as Ground of Political Obligation in Aquinas’s Political Theory
Political authority is not eliminable, even if in a globalizing world order the particulars of its exercise might be undergoing a transformation. What matters to political philosophy is whether or not its existence and exercise can be justified. In this paper I begin by contrasting two paradigmatic approaches to justifications of political authority and political obligation: political naturalism and political voluntarism. Having set the stage for the debate, I connect Aquinas’s account of political authority with the former—though one will not find a full-fledged version of that account in this paper (it appears elsewhere). More importantly, I connect Aquinas’s naturalist defense of political obligation to a non-instrumental account of the common good, though the bulk of the paper deals with what I argue are failed attempts to offer non-naturalist accounts of the common good as alternative natural law defenses of political authority.