Study Guide


The public good is not a term opposed to the good of individuals; on the contrary, it is the good of every individual collected.  It is the good of all, because it is the good of everyone.”

“When a people agree to form themselves into a republic…it is to be understood that they mutually resolve and pledge themselves to each other, rich and poor alike, to support and maintain this rule of equal justice among them.  They therefore renounce not only the despotic form, but despotic principle, as well of governing as of being governed by mere will and power, and substitute in its place a government of justice for every person in our union.” 

“Dissertations, On Government,” In:  The Life and Works of Thomas Paine ed. W. Van der Wede from Thomas Paine Friends Bulletin, Volume 9, Number 3, Fall 2008

“There is no article in the Constitution of this State, nor of any of the states, that invests the Government in whole or in part with the power of granting charters or monopolies of any kind; the spirit of the times was then against all speculation; and therefore the assuming to grant them is unconstitutional, and when obtained by bribery and corruption is criminal.  It is also contrary to the intention and principle of annual elections.” 

Compass (June, 1805 associated with “Pennsylvania”)


The public good lies less with institutions than with how we use our individual moral agency and awareness to direct and partner with our institutions for value creation for the public good.  Institutions over time become imperfect and subject to mission-creep and goal displacement. 

“There was a dangerous transition from the idea of government of limited powers over citizens with inalienable rights to the idea of the unlimited sovereignty and the material welfare of the majority.  It is an easy step from here to the perilous position reached by most democracies today, in which individual liberties get violated in the name of national security and prestige at home and abroad, in which the mute and meek are often sacrificed at the altars of public utility and political necessity.”

Raghavan Iyer,  Parapolitics


  1. By what criteria can we assess our institutions—public and private—by degrees of “despotism” or coercion in their decision-making processes?
  2. Governments make rules to advantage and protect the average citizen, yet cannot always account for each unique, diverse individual citizen, business, and neighborhood it serves.   If this dynamic is true, can one make a case for government with limited powers whose public policy insures regionalization, local decentralization and diverse local autonomy rather than establishing uniform requirements in a centralized, bureaucratic State?
  3. Have big, publically owned corporations become too despotic and unregulated?  Can large corporations, production cooperatives, and selected nonprofit land trusts serve humanity and contribute to a sustainable world without aggrandizing and overly enclosing resources for their own narrow purposes?  For example, would you trust the public good to a half dozen or more private, profit-seeking, food producing/distributing multi-national corporations, some with patented seed packages for fees, who supply much of the world’s population with their food?
  4. James Madison wrote, “No theoretical checks—no form of government can render us secure.  To suppose that any form will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chermical idea.”  John Schwarz  Common Credo. Virtue comes most effectively out of firm principle..that it is good and right to act in a proper manner (once tested in the court of reason) and to fit those principles into creative application with others for the common good.  What do you think civic virtue is?