Book Review: Together for the Common Good - Towards a National Conversation

What is it?

Let me start this review by saying that this book is really a collection of short essays about the nature of the ‘common good’. But I hope the word ‘essays’ doesn’t make it sound dull. This book is anything but. These essays began from a shared conversation, and they encourage further conversation. I guarantee that after reading this book, you’ll want to talk some of it over with somebody. But (as the editors write) it’s not intended ultimately to simply be ‘an exercise in armchair interpretation’. The hope of this book is a shared endeavour to seek the common good.

Why is it important?

I think this book is important for so many reasons, but I’ll just mention one. It brings together contributions from a range of authors of different traditions and faiths. In doing so, this book is practising what there is a distinct shortage of in public politics: inclusive and intelligent conversation about our shared problems in the hopes of discovering shared solutions. What’s more it does so on current issues such as the future of the NHS or the particularly sensitive divisive issue of immigration.

This tone of this book is a welcome change from the one-upmanship that conversations around these issues seem prone to. This book could help improve the shape and tone of our political and social discourse, be they conversations in the Commons or the coffee house. And ultimately, as the contributors argue, we all need to have a bigger and better conversation about the common good, if we ever want to work toward it.

Should you read it?

Absolutely, and especially if you’ve got an interest in social justice. This book speaks powerfully to the individual as well as to society. I was particularly taken by Esther Reed’s contribution in chapter four: ‘Wealth and the Common Good’.  It wonderfully examines Luke’s gospel account of the Rich Ruler (Luke 18:20-27), and also the rich man who built barns (Luke 12:13-21). It confronted me about my own use of wealth in light of my faith. But it also impressed upon me how ‘deeply wrong’ the scandal of poverty is in this country. Some of the recent reports Reed references are chilling. But her message is not fatalistic. It is inspiring, as are the other contributions. You won’t come away from this book with a sense of futility. I’ll end with a sample:

We must ‘deny the fatalism that breeds indifference to the human costs of poverty… we must resist the commonly accepted cultural worth that attaches to the trappings of wealth and power… God’s goodness and justice place a practical demand upon every human being. God’s word demands practical ways in which to resist both the occasional and systematic exploitation of the many to fill the storehouses of the few.’

Gareth Banton