Justice and the Common Good


To begin with, for Aquinas, if a human society is to be a just one, it must be ordered to the common good, that is, the good for everyone in that society. According to Aquinas: “The further a government recedes from the common good, the more unjust that government is.”

Law (that is, just law, the only sort Aquinas recognizes as genuine law) also must be ordered to the common good. Laws which aim not at the common good but at the advantage of the lawgiver, or which impose burdens unequally on persons in the community, are acts of violence rather than laws. Furthermore, in explaining why custom generally has the force of law, Aquinas says that, for a free people, the consent of the people represented in the custom counts more than the authority of the sovereign does, since the sovereign of a free people has the power to frame only such laws as represent the consent of the people.