Pope Francis has recently issued two documents of great interest. The first of these was his third encyclical (and second social encyclical) Fratelli Tutti, in which he urges the world to come together to “contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity” as it confronts the viral pandemic and supposed global fragmentation in the social, economic, and political spheres. Much has already been written for Catholic World Report about the document. Francis deplores that “we are growing ever more distant from one another”—a thing he views as an historical fact—and warns against “the temptation to build a culture of walls” as the sense of membership in “a single human family” fades and is replaced by “globalized indifference.”
The second document is a “Bollettino: Letter of the Holy Father to the Secretary of State [Cardinal Parolin] on the 40th anniversary of the Commission of the Bishop’s Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the European Union, and the 50th anniversary of the presence of the Holy See as Permanent Observer at the Council of Europe.”
In the latter document, Pope Francis writes, “We can either continue to pursue the path we have taken in the past decade, yielding to the temptation to autonomy and thus to ever greater misunderstanding, disagreement, and conflict, or we can rediscover the path of fraternity that inspired that inspired and guided the founders of modern Europe, beginning precisely with Robert Schuman.” (Schuman, who died in 1963, was one of the founders of the European Union.) The path of fraternity, in Francis’ mind, is the equivalent of the “path of solidarity,” one he imagines will promote “creativity and new initiatives.”
The Holy Father goes on to quote John Paul II’s exhortation to Europe, in a November 1982 address, to “find yourself, be yourself”, to which he adds his own injunction to the Continent not to lose her élan but rather to rediscover or renew her “ideals.” Francis quotes approvingly Schuman’s conviction that “the contribution which an organized and living Europe can bring to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations.” He continues in his own words:
What kind of Europe do we envision for the future? What is to be its distinctive contribution? In today’s world, it is not about recovering political hegemony or geographical centrality, or about developing innovative solutions to economic and social problems. The uniqueness of Europe rests above all in its conception of the human being and of reality, on its capacity for initiative and on its spirit of practical solidarity….A divided Europe, made up of insular and independent realities, will soon prove incapable of facing the challenges of the future.”
And he adds—paradoxically—“On the other hand, a Europe that is a united and fraternal community will be able to value diversity and acknowledge the part that each of us has to play in confronting the problems that lie ahead, beginning with the pandemic and including the ecological challenge of preserving our natural resources and the quality of the environment in which we live.”
Quite obviously, Pope Francis is an unqualified supporter of what is called “the European project” in its entirety, including the eventual creation of a single unified European state owned and operated by the undemocratically appointed elected or appointed officials in Brussels who are unburdened by little or no accountability to the European publics (or, putatively, public).
The first thing to be said of the Pope’s “dream” (as he calls it) for Europe is that his most recent expression of it is singularly ill-timed. The financial crisis, the pandemic, the migrant crisis, and now the fatal failure of the European Union’s members to formulate a common policy against Turkey’s aggressions in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean demonstrate, when considered together, the EU’s inability to deal with any problem of importance.
That, however, is not the most fundamental objection to Pope Francis’ “dream” for the Continent. The case against it, and against similar “dreams” beginning with Robert Schuman’s, has been best made by Pierre Manent, the French political philosopher, and before him by the English writer G. K. Chesterton.
In Democracy Without Nations (first published in English translation in 2007), Manent argues against what he views as the gradual depoliticization of Europe as the Continent comes increasingly under the sway of the bureaucracy in Brussels, and political activity is systematically replaced by action of the administrative sort in the interests of maximizing individual and “human” rights. The inevitable result of this process, Manent says, is “the erosion—perhaps even the dismantling—of the political form that for so many centuries has sheltered the endeavors of European man.” This “erosion” however—unlike the familiar geologic process—is not a natural thing; it is an unnatural and indeed inhuman one. It is human-inspired and human-caused, motivated by
an idea that is also a sentiment and even a passion; the idea that humanity is proceeding toward its necessary unification. The ‘sentiment of resemblance’ which Tocqueville already saw as the central emotion of human beings in democracies has become a passion for resemblance. It is no longer simply a matter of recognizing and respecting the humanity of each human being. We are required to see the other as the same as ourselves.
Pierre Manent is a wise man, an original and incisive political thinker. Nevertheless, his argument was to a certain degree anticipated by an earlier writer who had the annoying habit of anticipating and analyzing emergent problems and pathologies before the vast majority of his contemporaries did. Hence we read in Orthodoxy:
Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say ‘little children love one another’ rather than to tell one large person to love himself.”
…[All] modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls.
I am wondering whether Pope Francis has read Chesterton, or not. (I have learned only today that he doesn’t speak English.) I should guess that Chesterton would quite difficult to translate into Italian or Spanish, and therefore difficult also to read in those languages. Still, where there’s a will there’s a way, and the Pope is, very obviously, a willful man.
It is important to note, by the way, that the Pope’s “dream” for Europe coincides exactly with the agenda that Joe Biden (if President) has promised to commit the United States. He would do this by supporting further European integration, pressuring Boris Johnson to weaken Brexit by threatening to withhold a favorable Anglo-American trade deal if he does not concede more ground to Brussels in the current and final negotiations between Great Britain and the EU, rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, and backing off on the demand that the NATO countries pay their fair share of the Alliance’s expenses, among other things.
Apparently, Pope Francis believes in government by “experts” rather than by popular representatives elected directly by the people themselves. In other words, he is not a democrat. A pope distrustful of political democracy might not have been a surprising concept before the Second Vatican Council. Following the Council, it is more than surprising. It is, rather, slightly shocking.
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