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Friday, June 18, 2021

ON GLOBAL GOVERNMENT: Community, Hierarchy, and Fratelli Tutti

Written by  John Andra
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ON GLOBAL GOVERNMENT: Community, Hierarchy, and Fratelli Tutti

The distribution and balance of power found in Western governments is attributable in part, the late Brian Tierney argued, to the Catholic Church. One Catholic contribution identified by Tierney was the corporate form of authority exercised in medieval institutions like monasteries and cathedral chapters. The fact the head of such an institution was selected by the members and existed to serve them, "ensured that community always offered an alternative to hierarchy as a model of right order in human societies." Religion, law and the growth of constitutional thought 1150-1650, 106 (Cambridge University Press, 1982).

A few caveats notwithstanding, the Holy Father is an advocate for global government.


This history provides an explanation for the distrust many Westerners feel toward plans for global government. The hierarchy of such a thing would be plain enough, but where is the community? We instinctively doubt that a global government could be "ours" in the way a national government is.

Pope Francis appears to address these reservations in his encyclical of October 3, 2020, Fratelli Tutti. A few caveats notwithstanding, the Holy Father is an advocate for global government:  "We need to attain a global juridical, political and economic order 'which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity.'" Para. 138 (internal citation omitted). One mark of global government would be an end to national borders, and Pope Francis is consistent here: "No one, then, can remain excluded because of his or her place of birth, much less because of privileges enjoyed by others who were born in lands of greater opportunity. The limits and borders of individual states cannot stand in the way of this." Para. 121. The pope even named the first section of his encyclical, "Without Borders," followed by sections entitled, "An Absence of Human Dignity on the Borders," "Neighbors Without Borders," "Rights Without Borders," and "Borders and their Limits."

What will support a corresponding global community? The Holy Father suggests a humanistic and pan-religious ideological kinship.

So, Pope Francis approves of global hierarchy. What will support a corresponding global community? The Holy Father suggests a humanistic and pan-religious ideological kinship:

"It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. . . Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all." Para. 8.

Pope Francis explicitly relies on this vague universal religiosity as opposed to the universal Christian dispensation. Quoting first from the Second Vatican Council's Declaration Nostra Aetate, and following with a quote from an ecumenical prayer service, he leaves other religions where they lie:

"The Church esteems the ways in which God works in other religions, and 'rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and doctrines which… often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women.' Yet we Christians are very much aware that 'if the music of the Gospel ceases to resonate in our very being, we will lose the joy born of compassion, the tender love born of trust, the capacity for reconciliation that has its source in our knowledge that we have been forgiven and sent forth. If the music of the Gospel ceases to sound in our homes, our public squares, our workplaces, our political and financial life, then we will no longer hear the strains that challenge us to defend the dignity of every man and woman.' Others drink from other sources." Para. 277.

Thus rejecting the possibility of substantive agreement on religious truth, Pope Francis proposes a very modern substitute—legal process:

"We Christians ask that, in those countries where we are a minority, we be guaranteed freedom, even as we ourselves promote that freedom for non-Christians in places where they are a minority. One fundamental human right must not be forgotten in the journey towards fraternity and peace. It is religious freedom for believers of all religions. That freedom proclaims that we can 'build harmony and understanding between different cultures and religions. It also testifies to the fact that, since the important things we share are so many, it is possible to find a means of serene, ordered and peaceful coexistence, accepting our differences and rejoicing that, as children of the one God, we are all brothers and sisters.'" Para. 279 (internal citation omitted).  

One almost senses in these lines a belief that "religious freedom" reveals a deeper truth than the theological issues thereby avoided. Deeper because, for those involved, the truth concerns themselves and not God. "'[I]t is possible to find a means of serene, ordered and peaceful coexistence, accepting our differences and rejoicing that, as children of the one God, we are all brothers and sisters."

Another way of stating this deeper truth is that the generalities of our nature (rationality, corporality, sociability) unite us more than our particularities (ethnicity, politics, religion) divide us. When discussing the Covid-19 phenomenon, for example, Pope Francis urges:  "God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of 'them' and 'those,' but only 'us.'" Para. 35. Humans are united, the pope insists, because we are human. God admittedly is invoked as a guarantor of the unity, but He then quickly departs, leaving behind no particular commandments to complicate the humanistic unity which may otherwise exist.

What has happened to the Catholic Church that her centuries-long contribution to limited government is now reversed?

The pope's reasoning is circular, but beyond the logical problem there are at least two substantive flaws. First, Pope Francis is too optimistic. History shows that political communities are formed on some combination of particular ethnicity (Japan), religious belief (Israel), and/or political philosophy (United States). Generalized sentiments of the sort offered by Pope Francis fail to sustain even utopian communes. They clearly are not strong enough to unite the entire globe.

If we accept the pope's political analysis, we will therefore end with a global hierarchy operating apart from a functioning community. The new hierarchy, not seeing itself as a head devoted to its members, will govern tyrannically. What has happened to the Catholic Church that her centuries-long contribution to limited government is now reversed?

Second, Pope Francis' optimism proves too much. If the world's inhabitants are sufficiently peaceful and orderly to make global community possible, then global hierarchy is unnecessary. St. Augustine made this point during the Roman Empire:

"Let them ask, then, whether it is quite fitting for good men to rejoice in extended empire. For the iniquity of those with whom just wars are carried on favors the growth of a kingdom, which would certainly have been small if the peace and justice of neighbors had not by any wrong provoked the carrying on of war against them; and human affairs being thus more happy, all kingdoms would have been small, rejoicing in neighborly concord; and thus there would have been very many kingdoms of nations in the world, as there are very many houses of citizens in a city." The City of God, v. I, bk. IV, ch. XV, trans. Rev. Marcus Dods (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1871).

Pope Francis appears to anticipate this objection in his encyclical. The first chapter, "Dark Clouds over a Closed World," is a catalog of global ills such as wars, economic exploitation, and pandemics. These ills do lay a colorable predicate for global hierarchy, but they do not answer the question about global community.

In an apparent attempt at that answer, Pope Francis abruptly shifts from dark descriptions of how things are to light descriptions of how they should be. We now read chapters on "Envisioning and Engendering an Open World" and "A Heart Open to the Whole World," which discuss aspirations such as "universal love," "liberty, equality, and fraternity," and "reciprocal gifts." Ch. 3-4. As the pope states at the beginning of his encyclical:  "The following pages do not claim to offer a complete teaching on fraternal love, but rather to consider its universal scope, its openness to every man and woman." Para. 6.   

Pope Francis obviously sees this "openness" as the healing mechanism for the previously mentioned ills. But since things are so bad now, the requisite openness must not yet exist, or at least is not operative. And if openness does not exist or is not operative, then clearly a functioning global community does not yet exist.

How then is community to be achieved? Reading the encyclical closely, the most evident answer is through hierarchy. The establishment of a global hierarchy will open us to others, Pope Francis believes, leading to the establishment of a global community.

We are local, changeable, and idiosyncratic. Humans simply will not, absent an unimaginable modification of our nature, behave as required for global community.

That was not the traditional arrangement. The corporate form of authority contemplated an existing community which delegated its authority to a head. The head was therefore answerable to the body and, above all, fundamentally limited in its authority.

Without a preexisting global community, in contrast, there is no apparent limit on a global hierarchy. Indeed, the temptation will be to impose global community, by force if necessary. Without openness, there can be no healing!

The pope's tendency to disregard human particularities, in operation if not in rhetoric, now makes sense. Our particularities stand in the way of global community, so naturally they must give way. We will be united in our generalities, and we will like it.

Pope Francis hides this inversion of the traditional arrangement by effusively praising openness. He writes as though global community already exists, the problem being that we do not realize it. Our unity is latent under dark clouds until our hearts open and it is made manifest.   

Perhaps, one could speculate, the Holy Father is influenced by his role as pope. The Catholic Church, after all, has both a global hierarchy and a global community. The hierarchy, moreover, arguably came first—the Lord called the Apostles, and the unity of the Church was then established at Pentecost. Is Pope Francis exporting the specifically ecclesial model to temporal government?


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If so, the model will not work. As just stated, the community of the faithful is established upon the Holy Ghost, not political categories. (cf. Eph. 4:3-4). And, as Christ advised an official of the Roman Empire:  "My kingdom is not of this world." (Jn. 18:36). 

It is thus interesting, and perhaps illuminating, that in the pope's most recent statement on the issue, the May 3, 2021, Message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, "Towards An Ever Wider 'We,'" he seems to apply the charismatic unity enjoyed by Catholics to the political sphere:

"I am always touched by the scene in the Acts of the Apostles when, on the day of the Church’s 'baptism' at Pentecost, immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit, the people of Jerusalem hear the proclamation of salvation: 'We… Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power' (2:9-11).

"This is the ideal of the new Jerusalem (cf. Is 60; Rev 21:3), where all peoples are united in peace and harmony, celebrating the goodness of God and the wonders of creation. To achieve this ideal, however, we must make every effort to break down the walls that separate us and, in acknowledging our profound interconnection, build bridges that foster a culture of encounter. Today’s migration movements offer an opportunity for us to overcome our fears and let ourselves be enriched by the diversity of each person’s gifts. Then, if we so desire, we can transform borders into privileged places of encounter, where the miracle of an ever wider 'we' can come about."

It would be splendid if all the world were Catholic, and all humanity therefore shared the unity of the Holy Ghost. But dreams of Christian empire— Roman, Byzantine, Germanic, Iberian—have always ended with the realities of human particularity. We are local, changeable, and idiosyncratic. Humans simply will not, absent an unimaginable modification of our nature, behave as required for global community.

Political communities therefore must remain particular. They can of course share authority on common problems, as they already do. But a global hierarchy in the political sphere would necessarily operate without a global community. For those accustomed to Christian freedom, the outcome would be intolerable.  

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Last modified on Saturday, June 19, 2021