Where and how do Christian ethics insert themselves into global governance? While a recent post offered a response to a ‘world order’ scenario on the grand narratives of international relations that a Vatican note on the global economy presented; this post offers a response to its main subject matter: its diagnosis and treatment of the ongoing economic crisis.
The world economy has suffered an “ethical breakdown”, where utilitarianism and materialism have run amok; technology and ‘technical’ policy solutions have replaced ethical evaluation and consideration of human dignity. The headline argument of the document, however, comes in what it calls an “Authority over globalization” as a way of serving the common good:
“On the way to building a more fraternal and just human family and, even before that, a new humanism open to transcendence, Blessed John XXIII’s teaching seems especially timely. In the prophetic Encyclical Pacem in Terris of 1963, he observed that the world was heading towards ever greater unification. He then acknowledged the fact that a correspondence was lacking in the human community between the political organization “on a world level and the objective needs of the universal common good”. He also expressed the hope that one day “a true world political authority” would be created.
“In view of the unification of the world engendered by the complex phenomenon of globalization, and of the importance of guaranteeing, in addition to other collective goods, the good of a free, stable world economic and financial system at the service of the real economy, today the teaching of Pacem in Terris appears to be even more vital and worthy of urgent implementation.”
This Authority has been seized on as “world government”, but it’s not world government as a singular, hierarchical Leviathan-esque entity, as the imagination might have it. It’s a distinctly functional proposal – responding to the particular need of unregulated financial and monetary systems, suggesting that this proposal of an Authority only arises because the nature of current challenges lead us to that conclusion. The fundamental problem described in the document is one where the scale of global economic processes is not matched by the political capabilities of regulatory control by nation-states or within existing institutions.
Seen in this way, it’s perhaps not so novel. As the currently raging European debt crisis illustrates, one solution lies in greater political union among eurozone members, to help the political and the economic to line up together, as Angela Merkel recently argued. And back in 1946, one footnote to the early days of the Cold War was the Baruch Plan – a response to the security threat of nuclear war by centralizing control of atomic weapons by an international authority. Talk of world government has been reinvigorated precisely in response to the global and transnational phenomena of our age, as one recent academic survey illustrates (academic paywall).
As for the content of the Vatican’s analysis, sociologist Peter Berger is pretty dismissive: Were ” its call for world government to be negotiated at the United Nations, this would be a grotesque disaster if it were ever successful. Fortunately, its chances of success are nil,” and that the document’s critique of predatory financial markets reflects “a lingering Catholic animus against the “creative destruction” which Joseph Schumpeter had correctly ascribed to capitalism”.
The striking thing about the discussion of this Authority, however, is not so much about the specifics of how it would come about and its immediate chances of success. Instead, it spends some time considering how this Authority would work and look alongside the complementary principle to Catholic social doctrine of subsidiarity, serving as an ever-present guard against mission creep towards a totalizing entity:
” According to the logic of subsidiarity, the higher Authority offers its subsidium, that is, its aid, only when individual, social or financial actors are intrinsically deficient in capacity, or cannot manage by themselves to do what is required of them. Thanks to the principle of solidarity, a lasting and fruitful relation is built up between global civil society and a world public Authority as States, intermediate bodies, various institutions – including economic and financial ones – and citizens make their decisions with a view to the global common good, which transcends national goods.”
The idea of subsidiarity helps the Authority to constitute one new – but just only one – layer of multilevel global governance, where the scale of solutions are matched to the scale of the problems. States and other intermediate institutions fill in other governance gaps, and the integrity of cultural diversity is protected.
And so there’s a vision of the world economy with no inherent aversion to the market here. Instead, there’s simply a desire that they should work competitively and openly, but within regulatory parameters to promote and preserve the common good, rather than as an unfettered good in and of itself. This is not less globalisation, as some activists would have it, but more – for if this economic crisis reflects an ethical malaise where the markets triumph over man, then a systemic step-change where the scales are put into balance, and the politics (and with it, the ethics) put back into place, is what is needed.