The Catholic Notion of a Global Authority
It comes around once a year in the missal for the Catholic Mass, and the lector, standing before his or her neighbors to read the holy words very often exudes a palpable discomfort:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
It’s the second line in this passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that sticks in modern throats. Subordinate? I think not. What’s missed is the balance between the calls to each spouse. The subordination requested is to a man who would do as Christ did and die a horrible death for those He loves. The dutiful husband and father is to be a savior to his family after the model of a crucified Christ. It’s subordination to a man who is called to be subordinate right back. She realizes that she is part of him, and he realizes that she is him.
Something similar is at play in the typically unnuanced MSM characterization of the Vatican’s new document, “Note on financial reform from the Pontifical Council for Justice and peace.”
The Vatican called on Monday for the establishment of a “global public authority” and a “central world bank” to rule over financial institutions that have become outdated and often ineffective in dealing fairly with crises. The document from the Vatican’s Justice and Peace department should please the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators and similar movements around the world who have protested against the economic downturn. “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority,” was at times very specific, calling, for example, for taxation measures on financial transactions. … It condemned what it called “the idolatry of the market” as well as a “neo-liberal thinking” that it said looked exclusively at technical solutions to economic problems. “In fact, the crisis has revealed behaviours like selfishness, collective greed and hoarding of goods on a great scale,” it said, adding that world economics needed an “ethic of solidarity” among rich and poor nations. … It called for the establishment of “a supranational authority” with worldwide scope and “universal jurisdiction” to guide economic policies and decisions.
The Vatican didn’t “call for the establishment” of such an authority in the sense that the world’s leaders ought to get to work on it tomorrow. Rather, the document describes a long evolution toward an ideal. And as with St. Paul’s characterization of marriage, the document isn’t as one-sidedly anti-free-market as Philip Pullella’s Reuters summary, above, suggests. It also acknowledges the risks of socialism and technocracy. Consider:
However, to interpret the current new social question lucidly, we must avoid the error — itself a product of neo-liberal thinking — that would consider all the problems that need tackling to be exclusively of a technical nature. In such a guise, they evade the needed discernment and ethical evaluation. In this context Benedict XVI’s encyclical warns about the dangers of the technocracy ideology: that is, of making technology absolute, which “tends to prevent people from recognizing anything that cannot be explained in terms of matter alone” and minimizing the value of the choices made by the concrete human individual who works in the economic-financial system by reducing them to mere technical variables. Being closed to a “beyond” in the sense of something more than technology, not only makes it impossible to find adequate solutions to the problems, but it impoverishes the principal victims of the crisis more and more from the material standpoint.
In the context of the complexity of the phenomena, the importance of the ethical and cultural factors cannot be overlooked or underestimated. In fact, the crisis has revealed behaviours like selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a great scale. No one can be content with seeing man live like “a wolf to his fellow man”, according to the concept expounded by Hobbes. No one can in conscience accept the development of some countries to the detriment of others. If no solutions are found to the various forms of injustice, the negative effects that will follow on the social, political and economic level will be destined to create a climate of growing hostility and even violence, and ultimately undermine the very foundations of democratic institutions, even the ones considered most solid.
Recognizing the primacy of being over having and of ethics over the economy, the world’s peoples ought to adopt an ethic of solidarity as the animating core of their action. This implies abandoning all forms of petty selfishness and embracing the logic of the global common good which transcends merely contingent, particular interests. In a word, they ought to have a keen sense of belonging to the human family which means sharing the common dignity of all human beings: “Even prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to man because he is man, by reason of his lofty dignity.”
In 1991, after the failure of Marxist communism, Blessed John Paul II had already warned of the risk of an “idolatry of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities.” Today his warning needs to be heeded without delay and a road must be taken that is in greater harmony with the dignity and transcendent vocation of the person and the human family.
I will certainly not be the last to acknowledge that religious people are just as prone as anybody to muddled economic thinking, and those who hew their careers and behavior most closely to the premise that a higher authority has a claim on their lives are no less prone to err in their trust of human authority than those who believe human beings can control everything. But what this particular document is describing is a human development that brings the people of the world together toward common advancement with full respect of individual autonomy.
That objective is, or ought to be, not only consistent with, but inherent to any ethical approach to economic liberty. The libertarian ideal, in other words, shouldn’t be “let me do whatever I want,” but rather, “let me do good in the way that I think best.” And the global authority here described is one that conveys feedback in a deeper manner than achieved by price systems. Otherwise, the Vatican is warning, a prosperous peace cannot continue.
To lash out at suggestions of global cooperation is to miss the opportunity presented by such statements as this, from the Vatican’s document (emphasis added):
… It is a matter of an Authority with a global reach that cannot be imposed by force, coercion or violence, but should be the outcome of a free and shared agreement and a reflection of the permanent and historic needs of the world common good. It ought to arise from a process of progressive maturation of consciences and freedoms as well as the awareness of growing responsibilities. Consequently, reciprocal trust, autonomy and participation cannot be overlooked as if they were superfluous elements. …
As we read in Caritas in Veritate, “The governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity, articulated into several layers and involving different levels that can work together.” Only in this way can the danger of a central Authority’s bureaucratic isolation be avoided, which would otherwise risk being delegitimized by an excessive distance from the realities on which it is based and easily fall prey to paternalistic, technocratic or hegemonic temptations. …
These measures ought to be conceived of as some of the first steps in view of a public Authority with universal jurisdiction; as a first stage in a longer effort by the global community to steer its institutions towards achieving the common good. Other stages will have to follow in which the dynamics familiar to us may become more marked, but they may also be accompanied by changes which would be useless to try to predict today.
Clearly, this is not a Cato Institute policy paper, but at the same time, it allows the room to suggest that the “changes” that we cannot predict include the development of social institutions outside of government — institutions of mutual consent and understanding, but consistent with free will and personal autonomy — that provide the necessary authority for consensual cooperation.
The error in the typical reaction to this sort of application of Catholic theology to the material world is to imagine that the Church has seen the future and it is the EU and UN writ large. Beneath the jargon of social justice writing is actually a call to re-imagine what global authority might look like, and it is a project that free-marketers ought to undertake with as much zeal as those who can think of nothing more original than the repackaged Marxism, which this very document describes as a failure.