Who Cares About the Common Good, Really?
After reflecting on Rousseau in discussion the other day, I realized just how self-interested people are. I especially noticed this by taking into consideration all the things the average American does to preserve his or her locality, while neglecting to care for neighboring communities. It is because of self-interest like this that most Americans do not vote according to the “general will” of the people. Rather, folks vote for what is best for them. I believe that what any given election contains are the votes of mainly self-interested individuals who portray the “will of all.”
Again, to exemplify this condition, in regards to the average Americans’ own community, citizens of a region cannot even typically work together, because they are primarily interested in their own locality. For instance, look at the situation in Detroit. When Detroit, or less affluent surrounding suburbs want to have consolidated services with more affluent areas, the more affluent areas become very upset. They normally do not want to help out their regional neighbors, but rather want to continue similar policies which closely maintain their neighborhoods. More affluent areas do not want to deal with potential problems that could arise from consolidating, even though doing something as simple as consolidating some services, say police, fire, or education, would benefit others who are less fortunate and therefore serve the common good of those citizens under the sovereign state.
Certainly, there are “Mother Theresa’s” out there, who will vote in for the “general will” of the people, but really, if any person inspects how peoples votes affect policy or how the free market works, he will find that on a global scale, the average man is looking to get as much for himself as possible. A perfect illustration of this is Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand Principle. Rousseau thinks that laws are made to promote the public good, rather than the private, but by looking at the way localities are organized and the way in which economics work, it is clear that isn’t the way things really turn out.