The recent Note issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority,” has liberals jubilant and conservatives apoplectic with its call “to create some form of global monetary management” (Sec. 4).
This Note is a compilation of papal Social Teaching which in the modern era began with Rerum Novarum (1891), by Pope Leo XIII. The most recent encyclical of this genre is Veritas in Caritate (2009), by Benedict XVI. All of these instruct Catholics and the world on some basic principles to achieve a more just and humane society. They all promote: the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity, the common good and solidarity. None of these teachings promote a political ideology, but rather condemn the Godless state which often eradicates religious freedom and refuses to recognize the fundamental source of all rights, God. The greatest atrocities against humanity have been the products of atheistic states whose expansionist ideologies transgress natural law and national borders. The old Soviet Union and the Nazi régime immediately come to mind.
The Church has always respected the independence of the nation state and the right to private property. It has also championed the protection of ethnic cultures. This has been especially true during this era of globalization. Furthermore, in recognition of the need for solidarity among humans the Popes have encouraged collaborative efforts among nations to care for the poor and to help developing nations receive their fair share of the world’s wealth.
However, the Church does not have the expertise to advise how this should be done. To propose a supra-national organization that would in effect manage the world finances is injudicious, dangerous and misguiding.
Experience with international agencies for example, the United Nation’s Population Fund highlights the danger of a small group of elites gaining hegemony and allocating funds to anti-human agencies and projects that promote, for example, “population control.” Furthermore, trans-national projects like the European Union have a secular agenda which is often hostile to Christian values.
The psychological effect of international planning has had a deleterious effect on poorer states and does nothing to enhance human dignity. Practically speaking, even the euro has been a disaster. It has caused poorer countries like Greece to rely on the largess of Germany in order to maintain its socialist policies to the detriment of building their own viable market economy. It, in fact, encourages sloth. It also leads to a demand for that which is not one’s own and for the redistribution of wealth. We see this mentality operative in the Occupy Wall Street Movement and many of its clones elsewhere.
Catholic social teaching encourages not an equal distribution of wealth, but a fair one. Papal teaching has always called for aiding those who are poor. It has asked governments to make sure that people have equal opportunities to secure the goods of the earth. And, finally, it has asked that big business and international corporations aid in the progress of local populations through fair trade and labor practices. It calls for humans to seek the common good and condemns raw capitalism’s ethos of the “maximization of profit” which may be detrimental to the poor and the disenfranchised.
To go beyond this is inimical to a basic tenet of Catholic social teaching, subsidiarity. This means human government proceeds first from the basic social unit, the family, before enlisting higher levels of government. Human government proceeds from the ground level upward, as it were, not the other way around. Government at the lowest level means knowledge not only of particular circumstances, but also of particular persons. Since every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, the value of the state proceeds from the intrinsic value of each individual. When this fundamental truth is lost sight of, governments tend to view their citizens as mere cogs in a wheel, a ‘resource’ that is expendable ‘for the greater good’. All can agree that the old Communist “Five Year Plans” were a disaster both socially and financially. In America we now see the results of government involvement in housing with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which has left us on the verge of a depression and class warfare.
Obviously those who participated in cobbling this document together believe that they are contributing to finding a solution to the current global financial crisis. Unfortunately, they do not know their history. Catholic Social Justice enunciates principles for human well-being and good government. It does not try to create new units or modes of government. The Church’s expertise lays elsewhere — preaching the Gospel. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “My kingdom is not of this world”?