Despite this, the Church has expressed concerns about globalisation in practice. The Pope said in a newspaper interview: “I recognize that globalisation has helped many people rise out of poverty, but it has also damned many others to starve to death. It is true that global wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities have also grown and new poverty arisen.” Though, as we shall discuss in other posts, global inequality has certainly fallen and there has been a huge increase in the number of people able to live above subsistence levels in the last 40 years. There would appear to be little doubt that globalisation has brought immense economic benefits, especially to the least well off in poorer countries.
There are also legitimate worries that a globalised economy will undermine local cultures and the relational aspect of economic activity. This concern was expressed in Pope Francis’s most recent social encyclical, Fratelli tutti (100). On the other hand, globalisation can lead to economic and cultural relationships developing across national boundaries and these can be fruitful and fulfilling. Some may fear the effect that this has had on local cultures. At the same time, however, cultures can be enriched by co-operation with communities overseas. And, whilst there may be legitimate concerns about the loosening of local ties as a result of globalisation, it is difficult to argue that protectionism is a legitimate response given that protectionism can be borne of and give rise to a hostility to our global neighbours.
Interestingly, the Victorian historian Lord Macaulay conceded that “the Spiritual force of Protestantism was a mere local militia” in comparison with the global reach of Catholicism. “If [a Jesuit] was wanted in Lima, he was on the Atlantic in the next fleet,” Macaulay explained, “If he was wanted in Bagdad [sic], he was toiling through the desert with the next caravan.” Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits (along with the resurgent mendicant orders) saw only an immense vista of opportunity for the Church from globalisation.
It would be fair to say that the Church’s social teaching should never reject globalisation as such. But, as in other areas of economic life, it may caution about particular manifestations of globalisation, or practices or legal structures that are unjust.
Indeed, Catholic social teaching, insofar as it recognises the fact of globalisation and the challenges it brings, even to the extent of calling for new forms of global governance, should recognise that globalisation is the opposite dynamic to that which takes place when we have Balkanisation. Globalisation is about the spread of co-operation between individuals, businesses, civil society organisations and governments and not the imposition of a single global standard at the local level. A genuinely global system or company must operate at a global and local level. Catholic social teaching needs to consider what functions and authority of the different levels of government should be.
Globalisation therefore leads us to consider international institutions of governance. Again, this is something with which Catholics are comfortable. The complexities of governing at the international level are such that the functions of international institutions of governance should be limited, but those functions could include peace keeping; the enforcement of rules-based systems that are agreed by governments (such as exists within the World Trade Organization); ensuring human rights are not abused by national governments (through such mechanisms as war-crimes tribunals); and co-ordinating solutions to genuinely global problems where bodies that transcend national governments are necessary.
There is always a balance to be struck between subsidium and solidum. In championing new forms of governance, globalisation’s democratic deficit must be balanced by ensuring that existing institutions are reformed and new ones designed with transparency, participation and accountability at the fore. This is more likely to happen if their functions are appropriate. As Pope John Paul II warned in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in 2000: “smaller social units — whether nations themselves, communities, ethnic or religious groups, families or individuals — must not be namelessly absorbed into a greater conglomeration, thus losing their identity and having their prerogatives usurped. Rather, the proper autonomy of each social class and organization, each in its own sphere, must be defended and upheld.”
Catholic social thought does not provide a blueprint either for global governance or for globalisation. Responsibility for attaining the common good belongs to all organisations in society. How those organisations in the political sphere should be structured requires prudent judgement and discernment. The Brexit debate, the role of the World Health Organization in the Covid crisis and the failure of the comprehensive systems of international financial regulation in the 2008 financial crisis suggest that such discernment is needed from those involved in the development of Catholic social thought and teaching. Globalisation has brought great benefits in all its main eras. We may be concerned about certain results of globalisation. However, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater (or, throw the baby out and keep the bathwater). Whatever are the problems (cultural or economic), it is difficult to see that they will be solved by protectionism.
To read more about globalisation and Catholic social thought, see the online course unit at: https://catholicsocialthought.org.uk/course_unit/the-universal-church-and-globalisation/