In 2009 Pope Benedict called for global government with effective power to rule the world

In the previous entry, I said that the Vatican’s proposal for a global central global banking authority sounded like something out of the Left Behind series, with the Vatican taking on the role of the anti-Christ. In fact, the Vatican’s idea for a central world bank is nothing compared to a much more ambitious proposal which Pope Benedict himself made in the recent past but which I missed at the time and did not know about until today. In July 2009 Benedict issued an encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, in which he said the following (black emphasized text was italicized in original, red emphasis is mine):

In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago.

Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good, and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights. Obviously it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums. Without this, despite the great progress accomplished in various sectors, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations. The integral development of peoples and international cooperation require the establishment of a greater degree of international ordering, marked by subsidiarity, for the management of globalization. They also require the construction of a social order that at last conforms to the moral order, to the interconnection between moral and social spheres, and to the link between politics and the economic and civil spheres, as envisaged by the Charter of the United Nations.

I particularly like (if that’s the right word) that bit about how the only alternative to a universal authority with the power to enforce obedience to itself is a “balance of power among the strongest nations.” But of course a balance of power among different secular power centers is the way humanity has always been organized, something the Catholic Church used to understand and support. But Benedict doesn’t like that. He wants to break with history in all its messiness and inequality and have a gnostic sect rule mankind for the well-being and equality of all.

And do you believe that he actually said that his aim is for the “concept of the family of nations [to] acquire “real teeth”? Real teeth? That’s the sort of menacing language you expect from a Leninist.

There’s no other way to put this. Insofar as the Catholic Church is a political organization as distinct from a spiritual organization, it is now indistinguishable from the transnational left that already runs Europe and that seeks a global totalitarian state.

- end of initial entry -

Richard O. writes:

Benedict envisions “a social order that at last conforms to the moral order.” The would be the “moral order” that, say, the U.S., Iran, Pakistan, Myanmar, N. Korea, and Somalia all recognize and agree on, I suppose. To say that this is fatuous flapdoodle is to discredit fatuous flapdoodle everywhere.

The same for “authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth.” Didn’t John Paul XXIII issue a fatwa to Vatican staffers about idiotic buzz words?

He envisions an OKW (Oberkommando von der Welt) that will “observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.” This subsidiarity aspect is just bogus window dressing to provide cover for the real core concept, central enforcement with teeth. Whatever the “principle” of “solidarity” is, it sounds like something a Miss America contestant would reject out of hand.

Apparently, a huge number of political, social, religious and economic issues that normally vex humans and lead to murderous conflicts have now been ironed out without anyone telling me about it. All’s that left to do now is just pull the trigger on that world political authority deal.

LA replies:

You wrote:

“This subsidiarity aspect is just bogus window dressing to provide cover for the real core concept, central enforcement with teeth.”

You’ve had exactly the thought I had. Earlier this evening I was looking at a site where the writer was defending the document. He said, in an argumentative manner, “all the critics of this document keep ignoring what the pope said about subsidiarity.” And I said to myself, “‘Subsidiarity’ is just a word added to help fool people who want to be fooled into believing that this document is not about what it’s plainly about, world government. A universal authority with the power to enforce its authority is world government, period, and ‘subsidiarity’ doesn’t change that.”

For those unfamiliar with the concept, subsidiarity is a concept very frequently referenced in Catholic social and political thought. It means that power devolves appropriately to the level of each social/political unit. For example, in the United States, state governments, not the federal government, handle education, ordinary criminal matters, and so on. Theoretically, a global political system with true subsidiarity could not be totalitarian or tyrannical, because each political sub-unit—the nation-state, the region, the municipality, etc—would govern its own affairs. But if there is a universal authority with with the power to enforce its dictates, then subsidiarity is obviously wiped out. People who defend the encyclical on the basis that subsidiarity would block world government are ignoring the plain meaning of the pope’s words.

October 26

Timothy A. writes:

Vatican II and it’s Popes (John XXIII and Paul VI) were a disaster for the Catholic Church on many fronts. John Paul II continued all of these policies. Benedict is actually undoing some of the damage done to the liturgy by allowing the more traditional Latin mass which had been suppressed by Paul VI and permitted only under very strict control by JP II. He has also authorized a new English translation of the Mass which doesn’t seek to hide authentically Catholic beliefs in a false sense of ecumenicism. This work is more important than undoing the damage on the public policy front (where, after all, the Church has no influence) and makes me hopeful that a future Pope will take up the task of recovering 1500 years of traditional Catholic doctrine on various public policy issues. Until then, I agree with you that the clear meaning of the various Vatican documents can’t be nuanced away, so I will simply ignore them in favor of the universal traditional beliefs of the Church.

Michael S. writes:

I think you’re wrong to dismiss the pope’s repeated references to subsidiarity as “window dressing” concealing a desire for a leftist bureaucratic world government. It seems clear to me that the pope, like pretty much all popes at every time, thinks that the best kind of political order is a Christianized pax romana. Despite its many faults the Roman empire balanced centralized authority with subsidiarity better than any comparably-sized political entity, for the overall benefit of the Western world, for centuries. The medieval political ideal was a combination of feudalism and imperialism. The sovereign theoretically has absolute authority, but in practice governing institutions are set up to balance it, by ensuring that the day to day exercise of authority takes place on low levels. The existence of the king or emperor served to provide a higher authority to appeal to when one’s own lord became unjust and oppressive, but normally played little direct role in ordering your affairs—quite the opposite of a crushing omnipresent bureaucracy.

Now in practice in the Middle Ages the “emperor” to the extent there was one was largely powerless; but many medieval thinkers thought that an empire which left peoples and kingdoms intact while uniting them under one order was self-evidently a good thing; it’s one of the major themes of Dante’s Divine Comedy. This is why I object to your statement, “But of course a balance of power among different secular power centers is the way humanity has always been organized, something the Catholic Church used to understand and support,” or at least think that it needs qualification. [LA replies: I agree that my statement is somewhat problematic and needs qualification. The question of the Roman imperial order, the medieval order, and the modern, nation-state order is too complicated to go into now. My point was simply that traditional Christianity including Catholic Christianity recognized the existence and value of distinct nations. I discuss this in the second part of my 2003 FrontPage Magazine article, “How liberal Christianity promotes open borders and one-worldism.”]

This background of Catholic long-term political thinking has to be considered as the context of the pope’s remarks. One way to know that this is the way to interpret it is to consider the fact that the arrangement being called for is parallel to the way the Catholic Church’s own government has always been structured. This government grew directly out of Roman institutions and has always combined centralized authority with subsidiarity. In theory, the pope is the absolute monarch of the entire Church. In practice, the pope or his direct representatives play a vanishingly small role in parish life. The parish priest is largely autonomous and is directly answerable to his bishop, not the pope. Bishops themselves are enormously autonomous. [LA replies: far too autonomous, in the case of the leftist, decadent American church which the recent popes have allowed to run riot.] The balance of power between local bishops and Rome has shifted back and forth many times in history, but at all times the practical power of the pope has been much smaller than outsiders assume. One of the reasons non-Catholics are consistently wrong about sex or money scandals in the Church is because they assume that the Church is structured like a big corporation with the pope as the CEO, and individual dioceses like departments with bishops as department heads under his oversight. They assume that as the supervisor the pope is ultimately responsible for whatever goes on under his watch. This is totally wrong; people can scarcely fathom how little the Vatican does or is practically able or tries to monitor the daily activities of the thousands of dioceses and tens or hundreds of thousands of parishes around the world. This can be enormously frustrating for Catholics living under a liberal bishop who blatantly flaunts Vatican policies. But it allows for an enormous amount of Catholic flourishing in different cultural and ethnic populations. Unlike other totalizing ideological religions (cough Islam cough), Catholicism leaves the cultures and peoples it converts largely intact and preserves what’s good in them. So Irish Roman Catholicism is enormously different from Lebanese Maronite Catholicism, but both acknowledge the pope’s ultimate authority while autonomously developing in very different directions.’ [LA replies: this discussion of the structure of the Church is quite interesting but irrelevant to the passage in the pope’s encyclical what I quoted. That passage deals with the structure of a proposed secular world government, not with the structure of the Church. The fact that Catholic dioceses have a great deal of autonomy within the Church is irrelevant to the fact that the pope has called for a global secular authority with the power to control the world.]

Nevertheless the Catholic Church remains the world’s oldest and possibly largest (and certainly most ethnically and linguistically and culturally diverse) legal institution, and is more likely to outlast the present century intact than any other organization. The American constitution will be rubble someday and the Church will be structured more or less as it is now. [LA replies: You’ve just shown a familiar dismissive attitude toward the United States that is shown by certain types of Catholics. The only institution you really believe in is the Church. May I remind you that it was for this very reason that Protestant Americans were suspicious of the large number of Catholics arriving in this country in the nineteenth century. They said the Catholics would be loyal to the pope, not to the United States. It was by assimilating politically and culturally into Protestant America and its loyalties that Catholics overcame that suspicion and were accepted as full Americans. But when you speak so lightly about the United States becoming rubble some day while the Church carries on, you reawaken that old suspicion. People who write off their country and its fundamental institutions as doomed cannot be expected to defend them.] For all its frustrating aspects the system basically works and has worked for many centuries under a vast array of geographical, political, and technological circumstances; again, just as the Roman system was able to unite the world from Britain to Palestine for centuries with what was by modern standards really a very small military and bureaucratic apparatus.

Now whether a good worldwide governing authority which will serve as an ultimate court of appeal against injustice and provide a common but minimal structure within which nations can operate, while for the most part leaving nations and peoples to govern themselves and power to be exercised at the lowest possible level in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, and, if not actually integrated with the Catholic Church, at least governed by and formulated in accordance with Christian principles, is practically possible, is of course very questionable. But the pope is attempting (perhaps poorly, certainly using a washed-out modern vocabulary) to articulate ideals, not to propose workable political proposals. Again I think the pope will be misunderstood if you ignore the romanitas in the background. Maybe articulating his ideals is a bad idea in the present context where the pope is almost sure to be misunderstood as calling for a leftist global bureaucracy, but that’s a prudential question.

Jonathan Silber writes:

Regarding your posting on the papal encyclical Caritas in Veritatae:

If that document is in fact the work of the Pope and represents his views, then I despair for the future of humanity.

I find it simply incredible that this man of obvious intelligence and extensive learning could offer up an outline of proposals that, if implemented, must enslave humanity, impoverish it, and destroy the natural, benevolent order of God; and in so offering up these proposals of his, express himself in the dense, repulsive style of a bureaucrat or third-rate academic.

I know little about Christian theology, but if it necessitates the views expressed by the Pope in the encyclical, then Christianity is the enemy of humanity. [LA replies: I have said many times that much of organized Christianity as it now exists is the enemy of Western man and Western civilization.]

Much as I hate to say it, but a person could hear more home truth, and less destructive nonsense, by canvassing a random group of illiterate busboys.

Feel free to post my comment, and under my name (I’m always thrilled to see my comments posted at your wonderful site).

Paul T. writes:

Regarding the Pope’s call for a world government with “the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties,” what struck me most was the complete absence of any sense of original sin. Where is the postlapsarian man or body of men who could be trusted with that kind of authority over the whole world? (And what would a Catholic thinker of the old school, like Lord Acton, have to say about that?) How do you square a call for literally unimpeachable secular authority with the Christian virtue of humility? Of course, you can’t. Benedict has evidently gone over to the ranks of those who believe that people are basically very good and probably perfectible.

As Saint Paul wrote (2 Cor 11):

For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Timothy A. writes:

One of your commenters mentioned the possible precedents of the Pope’s call for world government in the Roman Empire and more specifically in the Holy Roman Empire. An empire of Catholic princes under a Catholic emperor is a fine, traditional Catholic ideal. This doesn’t match what the Pope is proposing, however, which is a confederation of all nations, regardless of religious affinity (or lack thereof). Recently (since Vatican II) the Vatican has gone so far as to encourage democratic, overwhelmingly Catholic countries to remove Catholicism as the state religion.

LA replies:

I would say that he’s proposing not a confederation of nations, but a merging of all nations under one global power.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Probably the most vexing thing about that Vatican document calling for a world government is its total disconnect from the reality of supranational government as it actually exists. It isn’t as though we have a paucity of evidence about how such an idea might play out in practice. For the Pope or the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to go about calling for a global government, subject to the restraints of subsidiarity, demonstrates that they have been living in a cocoon for the last hundred years.

The Vatican could have been forgiven for such naiveté at the turn of the last century, when the means of truly global government did not yet exist and such institutions had never actually been attempted. But any moderately informed person today has no excuse for not realizing what global government would actually mean. In particular a global government would:

  • not be subject to subsidiarity, indeed, would not even begin to believe in such limits on its authority.

  • not be recognizably Christian at all, and would rather be run by devotedly anti-Christian leftists.

  • promote the “culture of death” at every opportunity, through funding, mandates, and regulations.

  • crush any local Catholic opposition to its agenda.

In short, the fact that people at the Vatican can look at the European Union and the United Nations, and still believe that it would be a prudent measure at this time to set up a global governmental body, shows them to be hopelessly stupid, or devoted leftist authoritarians, or both.

And you’re right. Traditionally the Church has recognized that a balance of power among nations is not only the default state if affairs, but is actually necessary to maintain the peace. What the current Church denies is what all liberal institutions deny, which is the inevitable role of the Fall in every human endeavor. Chesterton once said of Christian orthodoxy that, while it can be called on to justify some measure of tyranny, it never said that a prince could not be damned—in other words, unlike secular theories of the “saving state,” it always recognized that our rulers were men like the rest of us, subject to greed and the desire for power and honor. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church no longer really believes this, even at this late hour.

Richard O. writes:

Mr. McLaughlin’s comment is simply outstanding. I focused on the rubbery, flowery, vaporous quality of the language in the document, but he lays bare the abundantly stupid idea of advancing yet another level of government untethered by national, cultural, or religious loyalties. Subsidiarity obviously won’t succeed as an effective limitation on this proposed world government any more than the bedrock constitutional device of federalism succeeded in restraining the growth and centralization of our own government.

I never really understood due process and the rule of law until I read The Gulag Archipelago and its recounting of the grisly horrors of unchallengeable government power with the resources of modern technology at its disposal. Nothing since has ever shaken my firm opinion that political power is not to be casually handed to human beings. However, liberals invariably discount this danger and focus only on the benefit to be gained from pursuing this or that narrow ameliorative scheme. It’s actually worse than that. They can see the danger of great corporate or financial power but are blind to the danger of union or governmental power. [LA replies: Absolutely. Once I said to a liberal/leftist/progressive with whom I was having a discussion: “You are very suspicious of power accumulated by business corporations. Are you also suspicious of power accumulated by government?” She would not say yes.]

The pope is bothered by none of this and ignores the lessons of the last century as Mr. McLaughlin makes very clear. This indifference on the pope’s part is inexcusable and is all the more odd for his seeming indifference to the basic Christian concept of fallen man. As Mr. McLaughlin observes, the pope has stricken this concept from Church doctrine. An educated man standing in the 21st century ought to trust in God, tradition, custom, experience, law, and history, and never, never trust in the good will or nostrums of other men. Whatever the pope is really all about, I don’t think he is that kind of a man. This is an odd man indeed.

Jake F. writes:

1. Generally speaking, I liked Michael S.’s comments, but I think he spoke unwisely when he said “The American constitution will be rubble someday.” However, I also think that you took his meaning farther than needed.

It seems that countries rise and fall. If, as Catholics believe, the Church is a divine institution, then it will never fall. Thus Catholics should believe that what Michael said is pretty likely to be true, regardless of whether he “believes in” America; the distinction isn’t that he “believes in” the Church and not in America, but that the Church is the only institution the immortality of which he believes in.

Having said all that, I agree that nobody in his right mind likes to hear about his country (or his city, family, or anything else he loves) being destroyed, so what he said was unwise and puts the wrong emphasis on the matters to hand.

2. I believe strongly in the principle of subsidiarity, but I believe strongly that the term is almost useless at this point. Anyone who thinks that using the term will help us retain our freedom is deluding himself. Why? Because subsidiarity is—in theory—at the heart of the European Union. Check out this Wikipedia entry to see how the Treaty on European Union enshrines subsidiarity:

Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level. [LA replies: Yeah, right. That’s why the EU, for example, has continent-wide laws prohibiting, inter alia, “hate speech” and discrimination against homosexuals, because “the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level.”]

They follow this through in their constitution, too, as you can see here.

If anyone believes that this is actually the way the EU operates, he can believe anything.

Ken Hechtman writes:

You wrote:

For those unfamiliar with the concept, subsidiarity is a concept very frequently referenced in Catholic social and political thought. It means that power devolves appropriately to the level of each social/political unit. For example, in the United States, state governments, not the federal government, handle education, ordinary criminal matters, and so on. Theoretically, a global political system with true subsidiarity could not be totalitarian or tyrannical, because each political sub-unit—the nation-state, the region, the municipality, etc—would govern its own affairs. But if there is a universal authority with the power to enforce its dictates, then subsidiarity is obviously wiped out. People who defend the encyclical on the basis that subsidiarity would block world government are ignoring the plain meaning of the pope’s words.

I did not know that “subsidiarity” was originally a Catholic concept. I know it exclusively as a European Union concept. I never heard the word used in any other context before. But it’s been prominent in every EU treaty and every debate over every EU treaty all the way back to the Coal and Steel Treaty 60 years ago. For example, this:

1.2.2. Subsidiarity


Article 5, second paragraph (3b) ECT , in conjunction with Article 2 (B), last paragraph, and the 12th recital in the preamble to the EUT.

- The principle of subsidiarity has not just applied since its incorporation in Article 5 ECT. As long ago as 1951, Article 5 of the ECSC Treaty stipulated that the Community should exert direct influence on production only when circumstances so required. And although it was not expressly so defined, a subsidiarity criterion was included in Article 130r EECT, on the environment, by the Single European Act in 1987.

ECT and EUT are the European Community Treaty and European Union Treaty, usually referred to collectively as “Maastricht 1992.” EECT is the European Economic Community Treaty or Treaty of Rome 1957. The ECSC Treaty is the European Coal and Steel Community of 1951.

The Polish trade union notwithstanding, “solidarity” is a leftwing buzzword, but it’s specific to the continental European (and Quebec French) left. The English-speaking left doesn’t use it nearly as much.

Scott B. writes:

Roger Scruton has a nice passage on the non-effectiveness of subsidiarity in one of this essays in A Political Philosophy. It’s not available online, so I’ve typed it out:

The term, subsidiarity, has a legitimate use. When embedded in Eurospeak, however, ‘subsidiarity’ loses its referential character in just the way that ‘capitalism’ loses its referential character in Newspeak. Encountering the term ‘subsidiarity’ in the documents of the EU you enter upon a mystery, from which you are expected to learn only one thing, which is that enquiry is futile.

The term invariably occurs in the vicinity of a seriously damaging question, namely: what remains of the democratic forms of government achieved by the nation states, when the EU takes charge of their legislation? The answer is that we must apply the ‘principle of subsidiarity’, according to which decisions are all to be taken at the ‘lowest level compatible with the project of the Union’. ‘What is the lowest level?’ you may ask, and ‘Who decides which decisions are to be taken there?’ The only possible answer to the second of those questions—namely, ‘the EU apparatus, including the European Court of Justice’—removes all meaning from the first.

To say that the nation states have sovereignty in all matters that they are competent to decide, but that the EU apparatus decides which matters those are, is to say that the nation states have no sovereignty at all, since all their powers are delegated. In other words, ‘subsidiarity’ effectively removes the sovereignty that it purports to grant, and so wraps the whole idea of sovereignty in an impenetrable cloud of mystery.

True, the EU Constitutional Treaty incorporated a protocol reaffirming the principle of subsidiarity, and requiring EU institutions to show evidence, before taking charge of some matter, that it cannot be dealt with at the national level. But the standard of proof is vague, and the arbiter appointed is the European Court of Justice, an institution committed to the project of ‘ever closer union’, under whose jurisdiction the acquis communautaire has already expanded to 97,000 pages. Hence the protocol again merely removes the guarantees that it purports to grant.

As I said, however, the term ‘subsidiarity’ has a legitimate use, describing a form of organization recommended by the social doctrine of the Catholic Church and elevated to principle of government in a papal encyclical of Pius XI in 1931. From this source it was appropriated by Wilhelm Ropke, in his effort to develop a social and political theory in which the market economy would be reconciled with local community and the ‘little platoon’.

What Ropke meant, and what Catholic doctrine implied, was very different from anything that could be expressed in Eurospeak. Subsidiarity, in Ropke’s understanding of the term, refers to the absolute right of communities to take decisions for themselves, including the decision to surrender the matter to a larger forum. Subsidiarity places an absolute break upon centralising powers, by permitting their involvement only when requested.

In Eurospeak, however, ‘subsidiarity’ has the opposite sense, providing a comprehensive authorization to the EU institutions, to expropriate whatever powers they might deem to be theirs. By purporting to grant powers in the very word that removes them, the EU constitution wraps the whole idea of decentralized government in a mystery.

A similar mystery is enshrined in such words as ‘proportionality’, ‘solidarity’, ‘ever closer union’: words and phrases which suggest a popular process of lawful gain, but whose real meaning is loss. To say that a power has become part of the acquis communautaire, for example, is not to say that is has been acquired by anything, or is henceforth to be exercised by any accountable body. It is to say that it has been lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth, so that nobody will really know how it is deployed, or how to rectify the abuse of it.

LA replies:

Thanks to Scott for providing the extremely informative and insightful passage by Scruton, and thanks to everyone for the outstanding comments in this thread so far.

Patrick O. writes:

I appreciate your hard work and see you as a great teacher about the folly that is the modern world. I hope you don’t mind receiving this email and appreciate your time and consideration.

Yesterday’s post on your website, “Vatican Calls for Central World Bank,” left me enervated and saddened. As a practicing Catholic I am disturbed by the modern political ideology of the Church, unhinged from the foundational teachings on which I base my faith. Having difficulty accepting what I read coming out of the Vatican, I often ask myself, “Am I the arrogant one and have no basis for my concerns about the current direction of the Church?”

Below are two passages: the first is from Genesis 11, the second is from the letter from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP) that was released yesterday.

Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible—(Genesis 11:1-9):

And the earth was of one tongue, and of the same speech. And when they removed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Sennaar, and dwelt in it. And each one said to his neighbour: Come, let us make brick, and bake them with fire. And they had brick instead of stones, and slime instead of mortar. And they said: Come, let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach to heaven: and let us make our name famous before we be scattered abroad into all lands. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of Adam were building.

And he said: Behold, it is one people, and all have one tongue: and they have begun to do this, neither will they leave off from their designs, till they accomplish them in deed. Come ye, therefore, let us go down, and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another’s speech. And so the Lord scattered them from that place into all lands, and they ceased to build the city. And therefore the name thereof was called Babel, because there the language of the whole earth was confounded: and from thence the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all countries.


However, it should not be forgotten that this development, given wounded human nature, will not come about without anguish and suffering. Through the account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), the Bible warns us how the “diversity” of peoples can turn into a vehicle for selfishness and an instrument of division. In humanity there is a real risk that peoples will end up not understanding each other and that cultural diversities will lead to irremediable oppositions. The image of the Tower of Babel also warns us that we must avoid a “unity” that is only apparent, where selfishness and divisions endure because the foundations of the society are not stable. In both cases, Babel is the image of what peoples and individuals can become when they do not recognize their intrinsic transcendent dignity and brotherhood.

I understand Genesis 11 as a warning to man concerning man’s hubris; it was man’s arrogance brought about by unity that caused God to “confound their tongue.” [LA replies: Exactly. Many don’t understand this, and think that Babel is a warning against multiculturalism, when in reality it is a warning against global unification.] Yet, from the PCJP letter, I read that the same passage from Genesis “warns us how “diversity” of peoples can turn into a vehicle for selfishness and an instrument of division” and “that we must avoid a “unity” that is only apparent.” I’m having a difficult time reconciling the two and with the concept of a centralized governance of globalization marked by subsidiarity. I guess the Devil is in the details (couldn’t resist).

Am I wrong to think that the PCJP letter contradicts the referenced passage from Genesis? Is the PCJP letter actually advocating the construction of another Tower of Babel in the form of a global public authority?

Thank you and keep up the good work.

LA replies:

I think you’re absolutely right. The story of the tower of Babel is a warning against the attempt to create a global state; it tells us that God does not want man to live in a global state, but in separate countries where each people can have their own culture and language (see my discussion of Babel here). But since the Papal Justice and Peace Committee is itself ideologically committed to the construction of a global state, they distort the Babel story in order to fit it into their own agenda. Babel fails, they tell us, not because it consists of global unity, but because it hasn’t yet attained TRUE global unity, but only a “false” unity where “selfishness and divisions endure.” This is the standard response by leftists to a failed leftist project: they say that it has failed because the leftism hasn’t gone far enough.

Lydia McGrew writes:

I appreciate your speaking out on the Pope’s 2009 encyclical and its relationship to this recent paper calling for a world bank.

You and the commentators, especially Sage, are right on the money in laughing to scorn the idea that “subsidiarity” would have any relation to what an actual one-world government would be and in pointing out the utter insanity of the Pope and others in calling for “teeth” for world government in today’s world while pretending that the word “subsidiarity” takes care of all worries. As Sage says, they must have been living in a cocoon for many years or else simply be committed leftist authoritarians.

I would add: When the United States was founded, there was indeed a real measure of subsidiarity in the relationship of the federal government to the state governments. The states retained some genuine sovereignty, and under a truly constitutional regime, the federal government had limited powers. However, the states did give up significant aspects of sovereignty in joining the Union, including, inter alia, the right to make their own treaties with foreign powers, to make war, and to make their own currencies.

Even if, per impossible, the constituting documents of a world government gave as much recognition to subsidiarity as the original Constitution of the United States did, there is no reason whatsoever why Americans should desire such a government or want to become part of such a unified political entity. We would have nothing to gain and much to lose by giving up even that much sovereignty. This is in contrast to the position of the states in the 1780’s. It would be worse than pointless for anyone to hanker after such a world government.

I’m quite sure you’ll agree with this, but I thought it worth saying.

October 27

James R. writes:

Lydia McGrew is right to highlight the fact that as originally founded the United States had true subsidiarity. However this was eroded, and there is no reason to believe a global version would not follow the same path, as did the EU, and much more quickly—as fast as those directing it could manage.

The only way to demonstrate in the real world that subsidiarity within federation is not only possible but stable, would be to restore it in the United States. This would require doing the things that in your 1996 letter to Gertrude Himmelfarb you said were needed to restore morality and constitutionalism. It would mean undoing not just the Great Society and Civil Rights jurisprudence, but the New Deal and Progressive era reforms, including repealing the 17th Amendment, so that states chose senators again.

In other words, it would mean repealing not only the present small-c constitutional regime, but virtually all of what people see as giving it its internal moral legitimacy. I would like to see this happen because I think we have no reason to believe central government will remain more ethical than subsidiary governments. But this is why most people have such extreme reactions to the mere suggestion of the smallest tinkering with Leviathan: they see it as not just structural tinkering, but as targeting morality itself, as if the only thing that can take care of the needy or insure civil rights is an omnipotent monopoly government. This reasoning is clearly the reasoning behind the Vatican’s position. As everyone has pointed out, this is not only wrongheaded in structural fact, but extremely dangerous ethically. That a monopoly government from which no one can escape is ethically attractive to Europeans is one thing, but that it should be attractive to so many Americans, whose forefathers’ actions demonstrated the value of having someplace to go to when their homeland became unbearable, is unfathomable.

October 28

Matt writes:

A lot of the hubbub over the 2009 encyclical letter seems to be founded on the idea that there are bits of it to be taken seriously and other bits which ought not be taken seriously. I’m not going to defend all of the language used in the encyclical, much of which makes me cringe. But this “cafeteria” approach of acknowledging that the encyclical absolutely requires (among other things) subsidiarity, while not taking this requirement seriously in criticizing the letter, is something I reject.

Suppose though that we take all of the encyclical letter’s claims seriously, and not just the ones which (fairly enough) ring alarmingly leftist/globalist to our traddish ears.

The encyclical itself makes it explicit, right at the outset, that:

The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim “to interfere in any way in the politics of States.”

(This by the way explicitly invalidates all the claims that specific white paper proposals from some Vatican academic have any Magisterial force at all). [LA replies: But the document is not a paper written by “some Vatican academic” but an encyclical written by the pope.]

It also claims, in numerous places, that no “reformed UN” or IMF or other international body with limited-domain authority—albeit authority “with teeth”—can be valid at all unless that authority is Gospel-centered, fully respects subsidiarity, and follows the natural law. One thread throughout the document is that present-day technocratic forms of international authority are invalid as presently constituted.

Now, we know that as a practical matter—a practical matter in which the Church explicitly disclaims any special expertise or authority—that the hard part in all this is getting formal authorities in general to be Gospel-centered and to respect subsidiarity (that is, self-government) in a way which resists devolution into tyranny. (Some might replace the term “hard” with “practically impossible,” but that doesn’t change my own line of reasoning here).

In fact I would further contend that in order for a Gospel-centered authority which respects subsidiarity to be possible at all, liberalism has to go. That is, such a thing is made impossible within any level of society by liberalism as a significant social force at that level of society.

We should conclude, then, that the priorities are as follows: first, abolish liberalism (on the right and left) and banish it to the outer darkness, where only fools and the marginalized take it seriously. Second, establish the Gospel-centeredness and subsidiarity of our societies in a way which is resistant to being coopted by anti-Christian tyrannies. These are required as necessary conditions for the legitimacy of any transnational authority, whatever the particular domain of its authority.

So whatever the language and propaganda value of the encyclical letter may represent to various parties grinding their various axes, the inexorable and objective logic of the letter, when combined with the facts of reality, leads to the conclusion that—as prerequisite to any other concrete proposals—liberalism has to go. Once liberalism has been banished from the face of the earth we can have a debate over the proper forms of Christian governance.

LA replies:

What Matt calls a “cafeteria” approach of taking one part of the letter seriously but not another part, is what I call analysis of dishonest political speech. As we all know, political speech routinely contains “fig leaf” language intended to deny the speaker’s stated and real intentions. The same is true here. Language that calls for subsidiarity is blatantly contradicted by language calling for a global authority with power to enforce its dictates on all the nations of the earth.

Vincent Chiarello writes:

There is a great deal of merit in what you and many of your respondents have written; interestingly enough, another aspect of the transformation of the Church not noted, but a factor in its offering to promote solutions to secular world problems, is playing out as I write this: on October 27th, in Assisi, Italy, the religious representatives of the various faiths, which included an imam, shaman and Buddhist monks, all appropriately attired, gathered. This was the third such meeting held in Assisi since 1986. It was at the first such assemblage that the then Pope, John Paul II, kissed the Koran, which only furthered the belief amongst Traditional Catholics and other similarly minded Christians that the Church’s position as the traditional bulwark of (mainly) Western societies had morphed into a “we are all one” religious institution, despite the theological incoherence that such a meeting brings about.

It is beyond cavil that with this latest meeting, albeit different from the previous two in that no prayers were intoned, the traditional principles of Church theology and ecclesiology have been further attenuated. I mention this in reference to the theme I and others have repeated in these pages for years: the Church, which traditionally sought to resolve man’s secular problems on the basis of its traditional religious past and experience has, since the triumph of Vatican II, become an increasingly politically oriented institution, aided and abetted by a hierarchy that approves, and, indeed, encourages such positions.

A few other comments, if I may:

Caritas in Veritate is, like most papal encyclicals, quite long. Some things are lost in translation, For example, in answer to your question:

And do you believe that he actually said that his aim is for the “concept of the family of nations [to] acquire “real teeth”? Real teeth? That’s the sort of menacing language you expect from a Leninist.

The document was translated from the original Italian, which I’ve read, and the translation of “concretezza reale” for “real teeth,” is misleading and idiomatic. A more appropriate rendering would be: readily enforceable or really concrete.

Because of its length, the paragraph you cite which begins with: “In the face of…. ” comes in paragraph 67 (of 79), comes long after an effort to clarify that the Church seeks no active role in these carrying our these proposals, something you and your readers would question, but, by its inclusion, provides further evidence of the politicization of the Church.

It is necessary to state that the encyclical does, indeed, refer to the Church’s role in helping the poor, and its desire to expand our charitable instincts. But it also does, in fact, point the Church in the political direction that, for the past 45 years, has helped bring about its greatest crisis since the religious wars of the 16 the 17th centuries that engulfed Europe.

In 1986, after the first meeting at Assisi, a French journalist published this telling conclusion in Le Figaro:

The Pope is inventing and presiding over a United Nations of Religions: those who believe in the Eternal, those who believe in a thousand gods, those who believe in no particular god. An amazing sight! John Paul II spectacularly admits the relativity of the Christian faith, which is now but one among the others.

Twenty five years later, it now appears that the papacy has also added the task of helping to preside over the policies of the United Nations, too. In either case, that is a recipe for disaster.

Lydia McGrew writes:

I would add: If the only point of the Pope’s encyclical is that a one-world government would be a good idea after we’ve made this incredibly radical change in the ideas of the world—banishing liberalism to outer darkness, and so forth, as Matt discusses—the document is pointless. This isn’t going to happen, and even more, it isn’t going to happen soon. But the document makes specific reference to the then-occurring financial crisis and to the need to institute a world government with enforcement powers to address it. The Pope would have to have been foolish indeed to believe that liberalism would be banished into outer darkness and some sort of “Gospel-centered” government instituted in time to address those contemporary issues.

Moreover, as I already pointed out, it would be an extremely bad idea to institute a world government even if it did have subsidiarity (as the U.S. did at the outset), and Americans would be fools to yearn for or support such a thing.

In sum: If the encyclical is calling only for some sort of Gospel-centered world government when and if good ideas have swept the globe, it was a pointless thing to write. And even under those circumstances, world government would be a foolish thing to instantiate or for America to participate in. The document isn’t just saying that “we can talk about” what world government should be, or even what it should be once all of these other criteria are fulfilled. It is definitely calling for a world governmental entity with enforcement powers. Nor is it simply looking forward to this in some eschatological sense, ruled by Christ Himself in person. It’s talking about a purely human institution of world government. That’s a bad idea, period.

Matt writes:

Mr. Auster wrote:

But the document is not a paper written by “some Vatican academic” but an encyclical written by the pope.

The completely non-authoritative white paper by a Vatican functionary to which I refer is the one you discuss in the the entry, “Vatican calls for central world bank.” [LA replies: (1). What we’re discussing in this entry is the pope’s encyclical, a letter written by him and sent to all Catholic bishops. (2) the proposal for a world bank was made by the Pontifical Council for for Justice and Peace, whose pronouncements, I assume, even if they are not authoritative, have something to do with the the pope and the Vatican.]

Mr. Auster wrote:

What Matt calls a “cafeteria” approach of taking one part of the letter seriously but not another part, is what I call analysis of dishonest political speech.

Well, yes, if you assume that the Pope is dishonest and doesn’t really mean what he says explicitly, and indeed spends far more of the document discussing, then pretty much any conclusion you would like to follow from the document can follow from the document. [LA replies: I did not say or assume that the pope is dishonest. I did not look at the document with any notion of the pope’s honesty or dishonesty in mind. Many commenters including me looked at this document and reached the conclusion that its caveat about subsidiarity is a rhetorical cover for the document’s real tendency and its ultra explicit proposal: the establishment of world government. However, “dishonesty” is not the right word for this, and I regret using it. If anything, the document is shockingly honest, given the explicit language in which it proposes a single global authority with the power to enforce its dictates.]

Lydia McGrew wrote:

If the only point of the Pope’s encyclical is that a one-world government would be a good idea after we’ve made this incredibly radical change in the ideas of the world—banishing liberalism to outer darkness, and so forth, as Matt discusses—the document is pointless.

That is because people are reading the document as a manifesto of practical and technical recommendations, despite the fact that the document explicitly prescinds from any practical or technical expertise at the very outset. It is true that the encyclical references the 2008 financial crisis and expresses a need for some authority to rein in the speculative finance activities which gave rise to it. I don’t expect that to fit the common narrative among right liberals that 2008 was entirely the result of government pressure to loan out mortgages to minorities who shouldn’t have gotten those loans. I think that is only part of the story, and indeed not even a necessary part: which is to say, I basically agree with the Pope on the general point even though I might disagree with specific proposals (where, again, the Vatican explicitly disclaims any special knowledge or competence).

Finally, I think folks need to internalize the fact that even when the Church addresses specific things happening right now, the ”mind” of the Church is always on the centuries and millennia to come. That, along with its Divine mandate and protection, is why the Church is the oldest institution on earth.

LA replies:

If I am among the “right-liberals” who according to Matt believe that “2008 was entirely the result of government pressure to loan out mortgages to minorities who shouldn’t have gotten those loans,” that is not my position. We had many discussions about that issue in 2008 and ‘09. The view I and most other commenters took was that the sub-prime loans were a major factor in driving the crisis (and, I would add, probably the single most important factor), but not the sole factor.

Matt writes:

And by the way, I don’t agree with your summary:

[Matt] also argues that what the pope is really proposing is a Christian world order which could only come about after the defeat of liberalism.

That is not what I argue.

What I propose is that first, we take the document’s own statements seriously—including the part where it disclaims any special competence in making practical or technical recommendations. Combine that with my own understanding of the (practical) facts, including the fact that establishing Gospel-centeredness, adherence to natural law, and subsidiarity in public authorities are not possible without first defeating liberalism.

If Gospel-enteredness, natural law adherence, and subsidiarity are preconditions, and those are not possible without defeating liberalism, it follows that defeating liberalism is also a precondition.

I don’t know what the Pope would make of my practical judgments. But it doesn’t really matter, since he expressly disclaims any greater competence than me in coming to them.

LA replies:

I gather that what Matt is saying is that one of his two main defenses of the document proceeds from an interpretation that Matt admits is his own and has nothing to do with the document itself.

Lydia McGrew writes:

When Matt refers to a paper—allegedly a paper without the slightest authority merely written by “some academic”—he is referring to the recent paper calling for a World Bank which kicked off this discussion of Caritas in Veritate. That paper may have been written by an academic, but it was in fact published by an arm of the Vatican, namely, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

If it is supposedly guaranteed by the encyclical, as Matt says, that the Church never offers “technical solutions,” perhaps the Pontifical Council should be disbanded, since manifestly it does offer technical solutions, has recently done so, and has more status than simply some random academic residing in Rome. The Vatican is making no move to abandon the Council, as far as I can tell.

But more: Here is an interesting article by George Weigel in which we learn that the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace writes drafts of papal encyclicals and then tries to get the Pope to approve them! Evidently Benedict rejected several such drafts as being too leftist. Weigel scarcely attempts to hide the fact that the Pontifical Institute for Justice and Peace is a leftist organization with a rather important status within the Catholic Church—so much so that, while Benedict may reject their drafts when he thinks they go too far, he apparently feels he needs to accommodate them. Weigel’s theory is that the world government passage (and other passages) in Caritas in Veritate were not written initially by Benedict at all but rather written by someone at Justice and Peace and included in the papal encyclical, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, by Benedict, to keep the peace in his own “curial household.”

Those are some darned influential Vatican academics.

Lydia McGrew continues:
Am I the only one to see a tension here? On the one hand, Matt insists strongly that the papal encyclical not be taken in the way that we are taking it—to call for a world governmental authority now with enforcement powers. He bolsters this with a quotation from the encyclical disclaiming any intent to offer “technical solutions.” Matt says,

[P]eople are reading the document as a manifesto of practical and technical recommendations, despite the fact that the document explicitly prescinds from any practical or technical expertise at the very outset

But in the very next sentence, he says,

It is true that the encyclical references the 2008 financial crisis and expresses a need for some authority to rein in the speculative finance activities which gave rise to it.

So it’s true that the encyclical calls for an authority to “rein in speculative finance activities”? And if so, what sort of authority would this be? According to the encyclical itself, this would be a world-wide authority with the power to insure compliance!

Timothy A. writes:

Reading through Caritas in Veritate, I notice that the Pope condemns (implicitly, but fairly clearly) the African culture of poverty (par. 22), China’s forced abortion policy (par. 28), Islamic terrorism (par. 29), and European and American secularism and atheism (par. 29). One wonders - who is left with any moral standing to run the proposed world government and financial institutions?

Matt writes:

You wrote:

I gather that what Matt is saying is that one of his two main defenses of the document proceeds from an interpretation that Matt admits is his own and has nothing to do with the document itself.

No. I am just applying what the document actually says—all of what it actually says, without dismissing parts of it as meaningless fig leaves—to facts and technical matters about which the document specifically and explicitly disclaims authority.

In fact the only way to arrive at a different conclusion, as far as I can tell, is to pick and choose what bits I want to take seriously and what bits I want to dismiss as meaningless fig leaves. But if I am going to do that then why bother treating it as a meaningful and authoritative document at all?

Matt continues:

I feel as if I am arguing with a bunch of folks who insist that the really alarming thing about the U.S. Constitution is that it calls for a federal government, because as a practical matter Article I, Section 8 is just a meaningless fig leaf. I have to say that I do have a great deal of sympathy for the position. But practical problems with what the document proposes don’t alter the meaning of the document.

LA replies:

Caritas in Veritate is a political document, and subject to the same analysis for contradictions among its various claims and assertions as any other political document. But what Matt basically seems to be saying is that we are required to credit all of the document’s assertions, particularly its assertions as to subsidiarity, because the document makes them. Numerous commenters in this thread have made highly cogent, indeed devastating, arguments explaining why they don’t credit the document’s assertions as to subsidiarity.

Lydia McGrew writes:

In response to Matt’s concern about arbitrarily picking some passages to take seriously and others to “dismiss as meaningless fig leaves,” there are three different things that can be said (not all of them reflecting the same approach):

1) If one takes it that the encyclical really represents a single person’s beliefs and perspectives, then the problem is that it is stupid to call, sincerely, for a world government with enforcement powers to address the current financial crisis and to imagine that this would or could actually reflect any meaningful subsidiarity. Thus, one has a choice between believing that this person, whose ideas are reflected in the document, was either stupid or insincere. You can take your pick, but neither is going to be very palatable to the Catholic. If it seems too arbitrary to take it that the term “subsidiarity” is a non-serious fig leaf, then one can instead take it that the Pope is a fool both about what would really be involved in setting up one-world government (which his document clearly calls for) and about whether such a government could or would reflect subsidiarity.

2) One can take George Weigel’s approach and simply hold that the word “subsidiarity” is Benedict’s addition to passages that Benedict himself was uncomfortable with, passages that were actually written by some leftist (it might even be the same leftist who wrote the recent white paper, since the encyclical is only two years old), and hence that the document doesn’t really reflect a single person’s coherent thought on these matters. This is an interesting and, to my mind, rather plausible theory and involves no arbitrary selection of passages to be regarded as fig leaves. There is reason, based on other writings by both Benedict and Peace and Justice, to take Weigel’s position on who wrote what originally, and it is known that Peace and Justice gets to write and submit drafts to the Pope.

3) With reference to Matt’s mention of opposing the Constitution because it sets up a federal government: As a corollary to either of the above positions, one can hold that, yes, the fact that the papal encyclical proposes what is in essence a federal government for the entire world is indeed a problem and that subsidiarity, even if it were reflected to some notable extent in the set-up, is not enough to render such a suggestion anything other than totally unacceptable. This would be similar to being an anti-federalist in the debate over the Constitution of the U.S. I believe that all sane conservatives should be anti-federalists when it comes to proposals to set up a one-world government. Whichever of the above theories one accepts, it’s quite obvious that Benedict is not such an anti-federalist. Even if he didn’t personally write the objectionable passage about a one-world government, he would never have included it under his own name, even with the addition of the term “subsidiarity,” if he were.

Matt replies:

Whatever one may think of the authorship of the encyclical, and of the putative inside baseball which took place in its writing, it is clear that when it addresses questions of faith and morals it is authoritative for Catholics; when it proposes specific technical or political solutions, it isn’t. That’s how encyclical letters work in general, Pope Benedict certainly knows this himself, and this particular encyclical is even explicit about the matter. No knowledge of the inside baseball is really required in order to know how to read it.

In addition, no knowledge of the inside baseball is necessary in order know that the specific proposals in the recent Justice and Peace document are not authoritative. All you have to understand is how Catholic ecclesiology works.

LA replies:

Whether or not the document is authoritative for Catholics, i.e., whether or not Catholics are personally required to believe and support it (and I accept Matt’s statement that they are not), it is a proposal that the pope of the Catholic Church has written and put into the world, seeking, with whatever authority and influence he possesses in such matters, to move the world in the direction of a single global government with the power to enforce its dictates. This is what the pope stands for, and he can properly be held to account for it.

[This entry has reached its maximum size. The discussion continues in a new entry.]

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 25, 2011 06:30 PM | Send

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