What Sort of World Authority?
Douglas Farrow takes up one of the more difficult questions for the right-wing Catholic: Pope Benedict’s call for a “true world political authority” in his recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Farrow doesn’t fully assuage fear that the pope has erred in the direction of his European intellectual surroundings, but he does provide the context of Benedict’s previous writings, which assure us that the pope does see the danger of secular governmental consolidation.
From the Christian perspective, we must begin with the assumption that the world will converge in some way, making the question how, not whether, to govern that interconnected society:
Globalization, Benedict insists, is something more than the inevitable consequence of technology. In fact, it tells us something about the way humanity is made. Globalization, in other words, is a consequence of divine design. It is no mere accident of history affording “unusual opportunities for greater prosperity,” as John Paul II said. History, as Paul VI suggests, is the site of development, and development is the function of the human vocation, at once personal and corporate, to an end that lies beyond history. On the way to that end, something like globalization was bound to happen. Humanity has been called together by God in Christ, and it will come together. …
In Caritas in Veritate, Benedict speaks of globalization in much the same terms. “Globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it,” he notes, quoting from John Paul II. “We should not be its victims, but rather its protagonists, acting in the light of reason, guided by charity and truth. Blind opposition would be a mistaken and prejudiced attitude, incapable of recognizing the positive aspects of the process, with the consequent risk of missing the chance to take advantage of its many opportunities for development.”
The resolution to the problem, it seems to me, comes into view if we take a classically American view of government rather than the more European view that we fear Pope Benedict to be promoting. In practical terms, this means that, taking a global tier of government to be inevitable, the only tolerable version is after a democratic, federalist model with authority and power inversely proportional to the distance from the individual. The higher one goes, the less the governing body should actually be authorized to do.
In more substantive terms, and here I think it unquestionable that the pope agrees, taking the American view means beginning with the idea that human society is governed by more than just a political government. Our Constitution acknowledges and provides for the maintained health of other spheres of authority, such as religion, commerce, and media, and any higher level of government must do the same to a heightened degree.
Of course, with America herself drifting from those principles, the fear that a “world political authority” formed during these times would have oppressive, totalitarian tendencies is eminently reasonable. What’s needed, in other words, is a cultural conversion before such secular mechanisms would be tolerable. As the head of the Church, Pope Benedict surely sees that, and his encyclical, as Farrow suggests, should be seen less as an instructional document for immediate advocacy than as a presentation of where the world is headed and what final destination Catholics should envision.