Not So Fast, Says Cardinal Bertone About World Government Document?

Cardinal Bertone is not happy, according to Vaticanista Sandro Magister.  Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, is supposedly displeased that the recent document calling for a world political and economic authority, issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was not properly vetted.  So he is reportedly requiring all Vatican offices to submit their documents, prior to publication, to his office.  CNS’ John Thavis disputes Magister’s analysis

Meanwhile, Magister argues that, when it comes to the call for a world “public authority with universal competency” over the political and economic spheres, PCJP’s Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary System in the Context of Global Public Authority “is in glaring contradiction with Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate”.

“Glaring contradiction” overstates the matter. In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI reiterates Blessed John XXIII’s call for “a true world political authority”, “vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights” (no. 67). Both the PCJP document and Caritas in Veritate call for some sort of world political authority.

True, Magister refers to a kind of one-world, “monocratic” state and Benedict XVI clearly is not calling for such a thing.  Benedict and many other Catholic proponents of world governing authority insist on subsidiarity—the idea that higher levels of organization ought not to intervene to prevent lower levels from doing what they can do.  Indeed, the very idea of subsidiarity is to subsidize, as it were, the lower level by enabling it to do for itself, rather than to deprive it of its opportunity to act.  And orthodox Catholic proponents of a world political order generally insist on polyarchic government (poly=many; archic = rule)—a system in which sovereignty is diversified and shared under a kind of global federation of representative states, with deference given to lower levels of government. The U.S. federal system is—or is supposed to be, at least—polyarchic, in the sense that in some areas state governments are sovereign (or are supposed to be) and in other areas the national government is sovereign.

While the PCJP’s document doesn’t support the monolithic global state (“Leviathan”, to use Magister’s term), some critics have argued that it plays into the hands of those who do.  Its insistence on such elements as freedom, subsidiarity, and non-coercion are taken as qualifications the real players in a global political order would quickly set aside, notwithstanding their rhetorical commitments to the contrary. What’s more, the careful political-theological presentation of Caritas in Veritate is absent from the PCJP document, critics argue.  The Christian underpinnings of the argument, which presupposes evangelization and conversion of minds and hearts, are missing or minimized in the PCJP document. The result is not only an unrealistic proposal to address current problems, but religious cover for those internationalists who disregard the rightful sovereignty of the nation-state.

In my recent CWR piece, I acknowledged world government as the ideal but criticized the PCJP document as inadequately addressing what seem to be the immense obstacles to, and grave risks of, a global political and economic authority. To a lesser degree the same criticism could be leveled at papal presentations on the subject, though as a number of commentators have pointed out, John XXIII, Paul VI and Benedict XVI speak from a larger context of evangelization, rather than politics and economics, per se.  The kind of ethical and religious changes necessary to support a just global political and economic order, as noted above, are more evident in papal teaching than the PCJP document.

One correspondent asked me for a defense of my claim that world government is the “ideal”.  It would take too much space here to sketch out an adequate defense, although the main idea is contained in the claim that in order for men consistently to pursue their common good they require some form of government.  They must limit their autonomy; otherwise, they quickly must resort to force to resolve differences. On the global level, nation-states function like autonomous individuals.  In order for the world’s nations to achieve their common good, they require some measure of government—coordination of activities and protect against the misuse of force.

The trouble is, just as individual men aren’t automatically equipped to collaborate in government for their common good, so, too, nation-states are not automatically endowed with what is necessary to collaborate with one another for the global common good.  As virtue, knowledge, shared commitment, and a minimum of economic wherewithal are necessary (though not sufficient) conditions for individual citizens to establish and participate in representative and just governments, so certain qualities and conditions must exist in the world’s nation-states, in order for a just global political and economic authority to be established.  A reasonable, realistic assessment of our global situation would see, I think, that we are many generations away from the conditions necessary for a just world government, assuming human wickedness is ever sufficiently subdued to move man seriously in that direction to begin with.

On this last point I am cautiously skeptical. Two thousand years ago most political thinkers would have regarded the elimination of slavery from civilized society as impossible.  Indeed, political philosophers such as Aristotle argued that slavery made civilization possible—that the labor provided by the enslavement of some made possible the leisure necessary for others to pursue politics and government.  Even as recently as the American Civil War, there were intelligent men who insisted that slavery was a natural, ineradicable institution for civilization.  And yet today slavery is universally rejected in principle and is non-existent as a social institution in the civilized world. So, while we must be realistic and avoid utopian fantasies, we should also be careful not to speak too quickly about what can and cannot happen in human history.

Those interested in a brief overview of the case for world government, drawing on the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, should see Robert Hutchins’ 1949 Aquinas Lecture, published as St. Thomas and the World State. Hutchins employs St. Thomas to show that the nation-state is inadequate to provide for its citizens all that is necessary for them to lead decent human lives.  A global level of organization is needed to realize the “perfect” political society—a society that can, at least in principle, provide circumstances in which all its citizens may realistically pursue the attainment of their nature end.

Hutchins’ address, along with Mortimer Adler’s How to Think about War and Peace and Jacques Maritain’s chapter on world government in Man and the State, are classic arguments for the ideal based on Catholic or Catholic-friendly premises.  That ideal I have no quarrel with.  Indeed, it is an ideal I enthusiastically embrace. It’s the obstacles to realizing the ideal that I think are considerable, if not actually insurmountable this side of the Eschaton.  And, as I said before, I am concerned that those who attempt to realize it may wind up enslaving the world, not freeing it in peace.


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About Mark Brumley 58 Articles
Mark Brumley is president and CEO of Ignatius Press.