(Apologies for the absurdly sparse blogging of late – the beginning of the semester has kept me quite busy since returning from New Jersey. The following are my notes on the fifth chapter of Caritas in Veritate, and I’ll plan to have my final set of notes up some time tomorrow. The archive of my previous entries is here, and here is the text of the encyclical itself.)
This is probably the longest of the chapters we’ve read so far, no? There’s a lot in it, but as I think I remarked in discussing chapter four many of the topics – like, say, globalization or finance or foreign aid – are being treated in a strangely repetitive and fragmented way; they recur here and there and make arguments when brought together, but it’s unclear why they weren’t presented in a more linear fashion in the first place. At least in this instance, though, there is a key theme that helps to unify the chapter, namely the understanding of the human race as “a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side” (sec. 53; and note that there is more in a similar vein at the start of ch. 6). By my lights, the discussions of the place of religion in the public sphere (see secs. 55-56), the importance of human solidarity and the principle of subsidiarity, and the proper role of a global political authority can clearly be seen as tied into this fundamental claim.
For present purposes I’ll just focus on the latter two topics, since the claim that sectarian convictions have a constructive role to play in political deliberation is one that I’ve discussed at length before. The importance of solidarity is made evident in the passage I just quoted from, at the very start of the chapter: we need “a better understanding of the implications of our being one family”, Benedict writes, so that the greater interaction among the world’s peoples “can signify solidarity rather than marginalization” (sec. 53). Importantly, however, just as membership in a (global or local) human community should not be a threat to human individuality (ibid.), so the organization of such communities even on a very large (e.g. global) scale must proceed in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. by providing “assistance to the human person via the autonomy of intermediate bodies” (sec. 57). Indeed, Benedict proposes that the reliance on autonomous intermediate bodies in offering assistance can be “the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state”, and goes on to argue that this is especially true in the case of globalization: dealing justly and effectively with global issues “certainly requires [political] authority” (on which more in a moment), but this authority “must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way, if it is not to infringe upon freedom and if it is to yield effective results in practice” (ibid.).
Among the topics that Benedict goes on to treat according to this framework (including the international tourism industry (!) in sec. 61), the one that strikes me as most interesting is that of international aid. Benedict argues that in order for such aid to avoid encouraging corruption and exploitation, and fostering a problematic dependence, its distribution must involve “not only of the governments of receiving countries, but also local economic agents and the bearers of culture within civil society, including local Churches”; hence it must “increasingly acquire the characteristics of participation and completion from the grass roots” (sec. 58). And as he goes on to note, a crucial element of successful foreign aid is the way that it allows developing countries to introduce their products into international markets. (The discussions of micro-finance and cooperative economic endeavors in secs. 65-66 are also relevant here, and are helpfully read as furthering the discussion of alternative models of business enterprise that was initiated in chapter three.) So the goal of political assistance is to foster “freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility” (sec. 57), and the best way to do this is to put its operations in the hands of local and small-scale agents.
(As an aside: Much of this, together with the brief case in sec. 60 for allowing private citizens a direct role in allocating some portion of their tax dollars and “eliminating waste and rejecting fraudulent claims” in the welfare systems of economically developed countries, is of course the sort of thing that many conservatives will stand up and cheer for, but if cheering is all that they (we) do then it doesn’t count for much. It is one thing to say that subsidiarity is important, but quite another to do something about it; and as things stand the kind of community-centered service and charitable work that ought indeed to be the all-encompassing welfare state’s worst enemy is far too often the province of the Left. Somewhere on one of my bookshelves I have an edition of Nisbet’s The Quest for Community where George H.W. Bush’s famous image of “a thousand points of light” is quoted in the front matter – but aside from using such rhetoric as a way to argue against “big government”, how much does the average conservative really do to strengthen local institutions and so really help the point he occupies to shine? I am all for devolving power and reconstituting our little platoons, but it’s hard to deny the charge that subsidiarist rhetoric frequently cuts in only one direction, and is more at the service of causes that treat us as “group[s] of subjects who happen to live side by side” (sec. 57), rather than essentially interpersonal creatures in need of authentic communities.)
So the crucial point here is that solidarity and subsidiarity are mutually implicating principles: “the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need” (sec. 59). And it is with this in mind that the closing section on the need for a reform of the U.N. and the establishment of an authentic “world political authority”, which my TAC colleague Lewis McCrary has already discussed at length, ought to be understood: the familial character of humankind as a whole calls for a corresponding international solidarity, and there can be no such thing without the relevant kind of political organization. But this is no more a rejection of local responsibility and national sovereignty than the family is an annihilation of the individuality of its members; rather, international cooperation is meant to encourage freedom and responsibility among states, and is a hindrance to integral development unless it does this. In any case, there is very little to the idea that we can pay anything more than mere lip service to the idea of a universal human family by limiting relations among nations to mere displays of power in the pursuit of self-interest.