Online Course Unit 2

The Universal Church and Globalisation




It can be argued that there should be a natural empathy amongst Catholics for globalisation. The Catholic Church desires to take the faith to the ends of the earth. Given this, why should commercial and cultural relationships not extend across borders? Furthermore, it could be asked whether the hostility to foreigners or instinct for self-preservation (even if misguided) which often accompanies protectionism is a healthy way to conduct political, civil and economic relationships. Pope Francis, for example, has exhorted President Trump to build “bridges rather than walls”[1], referring to the US president’s desire to reduce migration from Mexico using physical constraints.

Despite this, the Church has expressed concerns about globalisation in practice. The Pope has said:

I recognize that globalization 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.[2]

There are also legitimate worries that a globalised economy will undermine local cultures and the relational aspect of economic activity. This concern was expressed again 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.

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.”[3] Unlike Martin Luther, who viewed the world outside Protestant Europe as fraught with moral danger, Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits (along with the resurgent mendicant orders) saw only an immense vista of opportunity for the Church.

It would seem clear 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. It is through this lens that this chapter will examine Catholic social thought and teaching and its relationship with globalisation.

Globalisation in historical perspective

It is often assumed that globalisation is a modern phenomenon and that it arises from what are described as “neo-liberal” influences on economic policy. This is ahistorical. There have been several phases of globalisation. Indeed, global trade and the movement of people could be regarded as natural extensions of everyday economic and business life in the absence of physical constraints and constraints imposed by governments.

We know from archaeological finds that trade in the minerals obsidian and chert took place in New Guinea in Palaeolithic times (c. 17,000 BC).[4] In the Neolithic period, archaeological excavations show widespread use of obsidian for cutting utensils and tools. Obsidian artefacts have been discovered in areas of the Mediterranean where the local flint is sedimentary chert, proving the existence of trade routes (probably with southern Greek islands).[5] Through the period of the Roman empire and the growth of Islam, trade routes grew and developed. At a later stage, the Hanseatic League developed trading relationships covering an area extending from Novgorod in what is now Russia to Boston in England. It was a highly ambitious and effective project aimed at reducing barriers to trade over land and by sea. Cod, salt, herring, fur, wood and silver were among the main items traded. But there was also an exchange of knowledge and expertise: the exercise of what would now be called ‘soft power’ or ‘soft diplomacy’. These developments transcended existing states which often impeded economic co-operation.

To a greater or lesser extent, and often interrupted by war or disease, global economic relations have been an important part of the evolution of culture in the west. No British shopper would consider the purchase of potatoes, tomatoes, olive oil, coffee, chocolate, sugar, turkey, carrots, chicken and sweetcorn (perhaps with a bottle of wine and a packet of cigarettes) as a particularly ‘exotic’ selection, and yet not a single one of these goods is indigenous to Britain: most are not indigenous to Europe. As tomatoes, potatoes, corn and turkeys came from the New World to the Old, wheat, rice, barley, oats, sheep, cattle, and pigs went in the other direction (the so-called ‘Columbian Exchange’). Fish and chips owes its origins to the Americas (potatoes), Spain and Belgium (chips), Jewish immigration from Portugal and Spain via Holland (battered fish) and later immigration from Eastern Europe (the first fish and chip shop owner).

The last great era of globalisation before the current one was brought to an end by the First World War. Before the 1914-1918 conflict, it was possible to travel through nearly every country in the world without a passport as well as trade goods on non-discriminatory terms. The current era, it could be argued, is waning under the threats of President Donald Trump and the protectionist fears he represents, the dominance of the Chinese state in economic life and, as in past eras, the problem of disease.

The Salamanca School and international law

Spanish expansionism into the Americas was an important aspect of one of the waves of globalisation. This, of course, was a form of imperialism on the part of a powerful nation, rather than the free interaction and integration between people, businesses and sovereign states. But it is important because it was really the first time that theologians started to wrestle with questions that touched upon the organisation of a genuinely global commonwealth. The conception of humankind as a political and moral republic encompassing the whole world took shape in that Catholic intellectual cradle of early modernity: the School of Salamanca.

It was at Salamanca in the 16th century that the first intimations of a global theory of international law emerged, as well as the beginnings of a notion of universal human rights. “All the peoples of the world are humans and there is only one definition of all humans and of each one, that is that they are rational…Thus all the races of humankind are one”[6]

This assertion by the Dominican friar and missionary Bartolomé de las Casas sounds strikingly modern. It was in Spain that the morality (or immorality) of colonialist adventures was a matter of public intellectual debate, and the disputations which took place at Salamanca had no real analogue elsewhere. The task for the Salamanca School was to reconcile Thomism with realities encountered in the New World as well as with humanism, protestantism and religious division in Europe. As such, Salamanca functioned as a bridge between mediaeval and modern thought. As members of a universal Church, in an Empire claiming universal reach, the theologians of Salamanca had to adapt their frame of reference to accommodate the realities of a suddenly much larger world. Eventually, they would formulate the legal conception of a ‘totus orbis qui aliquo modo est una republica’ in which the whole world was conceived of as a republic: a single moral and political community ultimately based upon Christian teaching, but primarily based upon reason and natural law.

Francisco de Vitoria brought about a legal turning of the tide in Salamanca. In his lectures dealing with the ‘just titles’ of conquest that were habitually used to justify the subjection of the New World, he reached a revolutionary conclusion: neither the Emperor nor the Pope could claim spiritual or temporal authority over the whole world because the latter was populated by human beings who were the “true owners in both public and private law” of their own land and personal property.[7] He also denied that Spain (or any other power) had any just claim or title over the Indies (or any other lands) by virtue of the right of discovery, or conquest, or the refusal of natives to accept the gospel, or the submission of their rulers to a conquering sovereign, unless with the consent of their people. This is important. In Catholic social thought, authentic globalisation should be about economic and social co-operation and exchange between people who all have the same dignity and right to self-determination. It should not be imposed by coercion and peoples should not be subject to the illegitimate authority of other states.[8]

From this way of thinking developed the idea of international law which is applied in many fields, including in the governance of the trading relationships that are a feature of globalisation through, for example, the European Union and the World Trade Organization. These questions of global governance are also prominent in modern debates about globalisation in Catholic social thought. Vitoria argued that international law is not just a matter of temporary treaties and alliances but had to be grounded in a universal order based upon natural law in the service of the Common Good. As Vitoria puts it:

International law has not only the force of a pact and agreement among men, but also the force of a law; for the world as a whole, being in a way one single State, has the power to create laws that are just and fitting for all persons, as are the rules of international law. In the gravest matters it is not permissible for one country to refuse to be bound by international law, the latter having been established by the authority of the whole world.[9]

For Vitoria, the universal rights were the rights to travel, sojourn and trade in foreign lands: what one might consider the three ‘pillars’ of contemporary globalisation. Added to these were the right to preach the gospel, the right to protect the baptised, and the right to depose a tyrannical ruler.

Students at Salamanca included some who would go to the New World as missionaries and they needed to be trained to hear confessions. Questions concerning large-scale property transfers, exports, loans, monopolies, price-speculation and entrepreneurship were suddenly real questions requiring real answers, not simply topics for scholastic disputation. In the confessional, for Catholic Spaniards, souls depended upon it.

The teachings of the Salamanca scholastics are often seen as providing a theological justification for the imperial ambitions of the Spanish crown. Although they did to some extent provide such a basis, those teachings also imposed limits upon the same rulers in favour of a more general view of human freedom. Vitoria, Domingo de Soto and others argued for the right of the Emperor (Charles V) and Spanish merchants to explore the New World and engage in international trade, and they did so as part of a general, global theory of trade. However, Spanish merchants did not need to be authorised by the crown because economic exchanges were part of a universal theory of dominium which was applicable all over the world. It was, therefore, as applicable to protestants as it was to Catholics, and to pagans and Muslims too. Trade and commerce were protected by the natural law which recognised the essential sociability or ‘natural partnership’ of human beings. This formed the beginnings of a global Lex mercatoria in which the greater freedom belonged to the merchants themselves, not their rulers.

Sixteenth century ‘Catholic globalisation’ was surrounded by moral, legal and political debates which had no clear corollary in the protestant world. It was Catholic Iberia that first established a worldwide economic system. The protestant powers that would later achieve global dominance and which, arguably, were more important in promoting the globalisation of the late 19th century did not create early modern globalisation but inserted themselves into an existing system and learned to profit from it.

Globalisation, Catholic social teaching and the human family

Despite these developments in Catholic social thought, globalisation was not addressed directly in the main sources of modern Catholic social teaching until comparatively recently. References tend to begin in the 1960s. Pope John XXIII, for example, wrote in Pacem in terris (130):

There is also a growing economic interdependence among States. National economies are gradually becoming so interdependent that a kind of world economy is being born from the simultaneous integration of the economies of individual States.

The term ‘globalisation’ occurs for the first time in a social encyclical in Centesimus annus (58) in 1991, though rather tentatively. Up to this point and, indeed, for some time after, the approach to globalisation in Catholic social teaching could only be tentatively extrapolated from more general principles laid down in papal encyclicals and conciliar documents.

The first social encyclicals are mainly concerned with the social problems facing industrialised, developed nations. Rerum novarum was published at the time of an intense period of globalisation, but no particular attention was paid to it. The realm of concern is later enlarged to include developing countries in Mater et magistra (1961). This focus is further widened in Populorum progressio (1967), Laborem exercens (1981) and, most notably, in Sollicitudo rei socialis (1987). It is after the fall of Communism in the late 1980s that Centesimus annus (1991) begins to sketch out a global approach towards questions concerning a just economic, social and political global order.

There has been a growing move in Catholic social teaching towards a global view of social problems and, at the same time, an increasing call for global co-operation. The Church is well-placed to address the issue of globalisation as she is clearly a global actor, par excellence. As we read in Mater et magistra (178): “The Church by divine right pertains to all nations. This is confirmed by the fact that she is everywhere on earth and strives to embrace all peoples”. The contribution of the Church to the debates around globalisation is linked with her mission to preach and witness to the fundamental unity of the human family in Christ. The criteria for judging the ‘success’ of globalisation is the extent to which it contributes to fostering true unity among all people and furthering human dignity and the universal common good.

This unity is not something to be compelled by force of arms, terror or the abuse of power. It must flow from that “supreme model of unity, which is a reflection of the intimate life of God, one God in three Persons… what we Christians mean by the word ‘communion’” (Sollicitudo rei socialis, 40). The Church teaches that peoples tend to unite not only for political and economic reasons, or in the name of an ‘abstract ideological internationalism’, but because of a free decision to cooperate, and an awareness “that they are living members of the whole human family” (Pacem in terris, 296).

In his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II repeatedly stressed a fundamental yet simple principle which may guide our reflection upon globalisation, namely, that “humanity, however much marred by sin, hatred and violence, is called by God to be a single family”.[10] The principal theme is peace, but he goes on immediately (paragraph 5) to note that:

this recognition can give the world as it is today — marked by the process of globalisation — a soul, a meaning and a direction. Globalisation, for all its risks, also offers exceptional and promising opportunities, precisely with a view to enabling humanity to become a single family, built on the values of justice, equity and solidarity.

This fundamental unity is theological in character, and this theological view must shape, indeed define, the worldview of believers even when they approach the technical questions of globalisation.

In reflecting upon globalisation and its effects upon the unity of the human family, the social teaching of the Church has tended to be couched in terms of the context of development and a concern that groups and individuals should not be excluded from social and economic progress. For example, when Centesimus annus addresses the topic of unfair competition and monopoly power it does so with concern for the poorest in society, rather than simply addressing the mechanics of the market, stating:

It is necessary to break down the barriers and monopolies which leave so many countries on the margins of development and to provide all individuals and nations with the basic conditions which will enable them to share in development. (35)

This larger context, within which ‘economic globalisation’ must be judged, is taken up in Ecclesia in America, published after the Special Session of the Synod of Bishops for America, North and South (1999). In this document, it is noted (20):

The ethical implications of globalization can be positive or negative. There is an economic globalization which brings some positive consequences, such as efficiency and increased production and which, with the development of economic links between different countries, can help to bring greater unity among peoples and make possible a better service to the human family. However if globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative.

A number of recent documents and statements from Pope Francis have echoed these sentiments but have also made definitive statements about factual matters. Pope Francis has talked about increasing inequalities, new poverty and exclusion. In the 2011 document Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority, it was stated that inequalities between various countries have grown significantly (1). It is, of course, reasonable, for pastors to use hyperbole to gain the attention of an audience to help it focus on an important problem. This is a frequently used device in Pope Francis’s writing and speaking[11]. However, some statements made about inequality in various letters and documents produced by Vatican departments or committees seem to be factually incorrect and, it could be argued, inhibit prudent deliberation on important economic and cultural issues.

A prudent consideration of the evidence would suggest that at least some of the concerns expressed by the Church can be addressed and that some of the statements in certain Church documents on factual empirical matters can be questioned. Whether it is causal or not is debatable, but there is no question that, during the recent period of globalisation, there has been a dramatic reduction in absolute poverty in the world. In 1820, more than 90 per cent of the world’s population lived on less than $1.90 a day (adjusted for inflation and differences in purchasing power). In other words, 90 per cent of the world’s population did not have sufficient for food, shelter, clothing and other basics. That figure fell very slowly in the next couple of generations and was still just under 44 per cent in 1980. But, by 2019, only about 7 per cent of the world’s population lived beneath the absolute poverty line. In other words, about as much progress was made in reducing world poverty between 1980 and 2019 as in the whole of previous world economic history put together. In 1980, the number of people living in poverty in the world started to fall and, other than a slight blip in the 1980s, that fall has continued without a break. This was the first time in 200 years that the number of people in extreme poverty had fallen.[12]

In addition, it is also worth noting that we are living through the first period in the modern age during which global inequality is falling and it is highly likely that this trend will continue. The economies in rich countries are stagnating (partly because of demography and the few number of young people) whilst poor countries are growing. The most important feature of the recent phase of globalisation is that the previously poor have begun to catch with the rich world.[13]

It is not only indicators of material economic wellbeing that have improved, important those are for the world’s poorest. The proportion of the world’s population of primary school age who are not in schools has fallen from 28 per cent in 1970 to 9 per cent today. Health outcomes have also improved dramatically. In Uganda, for example, the number of women who die from pregnancy-related causes while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy per 100,000 live births fell from 687 to 343 between 1990 and 2015. Of course, the cause of these improvements is disputed. But, the strong relationship between social outcomes and the elimination of poverty and the relationship between poverty reduction and the extent to which countries have taken part in the process of globalisation is suggestive of globalisation being an important factor.

Fratelli tutti (21) recognised this progress, but with a slightly odd qualification:

The claim that the modern world has reduced poverty is made by measuring poverty with criteria from the past that do not correspond to present-day realities. In other times, for example, lack of access to electric energy was not considered a sign of poverty, nor was it a source of hardship. Poverty must always be understood and gauged in the context of the actual opportunities available in each concrete historical period.

Of course, at face value, this is true. However, if it is economic progress and globalisation that have made “present-day realities” possible, then it would seem odd to criticise (or qualify praise) of that system on that ground alone.

In its social teaching, the Church makes judgements about political and economic issues as well as about theological and moral issues, with the former carrying less authority than the latter. Judgements about policy questions might change over time as evidence, scholarship and context changes. In the light of the above trends, it is therefore not surprising that the Church’s teaching changed from what seemed to be a sceptical position on globalisation in the 1960s. In Populorum progressio, for example, it was stated: “trade relations can no longer be based solely on the principle of free, unchecked competition, for it very often creates an economic dictatorship” (59) and there was scepticism expressed of trade between developed and poorer countries. However, in 1991, in Centesimus annus (33), John Paul II wrote:

Even in recent years it was thought that the poorest countries would develop by isolating themselves from the world market and by depending only on their own resources. Recent experience has shown that countries which did this have suffered stagnation and recession, while the countries which experienced development were those which succeeded in taking part in the general interrelated economic activities at the international level.

Whilst more recent statements have tended to question or criticise globalisation, overall there is a strong case for the Church to welcome economic globalisation if the issue is to be judged by the economic prospering of the poor alone. In addition, the link between protectionism and nationalism might also suggest that a favourable disposition towards globalisation is appropriate.

Globalisation — beyond the economics

There is a careful line to be drawn between providing prophetic teaching on the challenges arising from the economic and social developments of the last 30 years and not appearing to be so critical of those developments that the Church looks as if she is rejecting the huge progress that has been made in reducing poverty and inequality and promoting better health and education outcomes. However, rather as at the time of the industrial progress of the nineteenth century, even if there is much to welcome in the economic and social trends arising from globalisation, the Church will always address the signs of the times and the new problems to which economic and social trends give rise.

Despite recent advances, there is still a large number of people who live poor or unfulfilled lives. Some would say that the process of globalisation needs to be humanised or tamed or governed at the global level to try to address this. Others would say that the challenge is to bring development to the margins by removing the impediments to development that lie within poor countries themselves – these might include corruption, poor governance or barriers to market entry imposed by larger corporate interests. All Catholics would agree that development needs to be promoted within an environment of ethical business and ethical political behaviour and many Church teaching documents reflect this.

New developments also bring new evils and challenges. In the case of globalisation these have included the migration of the poor and oppressed to unfamiliar environments and the phenomenon of large-scale human trafficking[14]. Catholic social thought needs to address these matters and, in doing so, does not confine itself to commentary on economic statistics. The Church has taken a great interest in the problems of corruption, trafficking, forced migration and the treatment of migrants, both by providing enormous practical support and working to improve the public policy environment which encourage these problems. In Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis noted:

I have always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking. How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labour? Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone! This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity. (211)

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales formed the Santa Marta Group, encouraged by Pope Francis, which is dedicated to a range of initiatives to eliminate human trafficking.

The Church stresses that development that comes with globalisation should be ethically based. With growing incomes in previously poorer countries comes the need to warn about lifestyles that see consumer goods as an end in themselves when such warnings might previously have been irrelevant. Furthermore, globalisation may raise questions about culture and the extent to which we should be concerned that local cultures might be undermined by the development of more uniform global cultures. Pope Francis has warned about this, as noted above, but Pope John Paul II had also done so:

Globalization must not be a new version of colonialism…It must respect the diversity of cultures which, within the universal harmony of peoples, are life’s interpretive keys. In particular, it must not deprive the poor of what remains most precious to them, including their religious beliefs and practices, since genuine religious convictions are the clearest manifestation of human freedom.[15]

There are also questions of governance, especially to do with the appropriateness of global governance, that are addressed in Catholic social thought and teaching.

The universal common good

In many ways, the global nature of the Church combined with her teaching that all human persons are made in the image of God and share the same nature, leads globalisation to be a natural extension of the traditional concerns of Catholic social teaching. We can move easily from thinking about the responsibilities of national governments in relation to the common good to the idea of the global common good. As Pacem in terris (139) puts it: “like the common good of individual states, so too the universal common good cannot be determined except by having regard for the human person”. The same principle is found in the Catechism, which notes that:

Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. The good calls for an organisation of the community of nations able to provide for the different needs of men. (1911)[16]

Talk of a ‘global common good’ is predicated upon the principle that human rights are both indivisible and universal, a theme addressed by the School of Salamanca. Pope John Paul II stressed this when addressing the question of human rights violations arising from situations of exclusion and poverty: “the restructuring of the economy on a world scale must be based on the dignity and rights of the person, especially on the right to work and the worker’s protection”.[17] And then in paragraph 36 of the same address he goes on to stress the importance of social and economic rights and states:

it is important to reject every attempt to deny these rights a true juridical status. It should further be repeated that to achieve their total and effective implementation, the common responsibility of all the parties – public authorities, business and civil society – must be involved.

This implies that special attention should be given to the promotion of the common good at the international level and perhaps special structures will be needed. But this is a natural extension of the responsibilities of political and other institutions that has been discussed in Catholic social teaching over several centuries. Enduring principles need to be applied to new situations.

The call of Catholic social teaching to create new, or improve existing, multinational, transnational or supranational structures in order to promote the universal common good has troubled some because it seems to be at odds with the principle of subsidiarity. To ‘anti-globalists’ it seems like a call for world government. But from the time of Pacem in terris onwards, successive encyclicals have cautioned that the existing structures for guaranteeing the universal common good are inadequate. Two sections of Pacem in terris in particular spell out this concern:

We are thus driven to the conclusion that the shape and structure of political life in the modern world, and the influence exercised by public authority in all nations of the world are unequal to the huge task of promoting the common good of all peoples. (135)

The universal common good presents us with problems which are world-wide in their dimensions … problems which cannot be solved except by a public authority with power, organisation and means co-extensive with these problems, and with a world-wide sphere of activity. (137)

At various times, papal encyclicals and other statements have called for a strengthening of existing or the creation of new structures of governance in order to regulate global economic activity. Such structures do, of course, already exist both in the political and economic domain and a challenge for Catholic social teaching is to promote a form of governance that will genuinely promote the common good. Such institutions can be taken over by interests hostile to a Christian understanding of the common good, be difficult to hold to account and difficult to limit to their proper functions in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.

Pope John Paul II addresses this question in Centesimus annus:

There is a growing feeling, however, that the increasing internationalisation of the economy ought to be accompanied by effective international agencies which will oversee and direct the economy to the common good, something which the individual State, even if it were the most powerful on earth, would not be in a position to do. In order to achieve this result, it is necessary that there be increased co-ordination among the more powerful countries, and that in international agencies the interests of the whole human family be equally represented. (58)

The idea of international governance continues to be an important theme. In Pope Benedict’s social encyclical, Caritas in veritate, it was stated (in the English translation):

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. (67)

Interestingly, in the other translations of that encyclical it was proposed that there should be a “real concreteness” to the concept of the family of nations rather than that it should have “real teeth”. These other translations are more likely to be authentic. This is a somewhat different emphasis.

Importantly, though, Pope Benedict warned:

the principle of subsidiarity is particularly well-suited to managing globalization and directing it towards authentic human development. In order not to produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature, the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity. (57)

In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis reflected this previous teaching but also warned of some of the dangers of international institutions, at least in their current manifestations.

One way of realising this desire for international institutions whilst respecting the principle of subsidiarity is to limit their scope. Another is to focus more on co-operation between existing institutions of government rather than the creation of new, over-arching institutions. Ahner, for example, argues: “the determining forces of our lives are truly global but the institutions of support that protect and nurture human values are still local” which leads, in his view, to the need to build and develop, “mediating institutions and associations that can support this new global reality.”[18] On the other hand Coleman notes that “change in our social and economic realities has outpaced change in the political institutions and processes that once firmly embedded them.”[19] And Hug takes a similar view and specifically states: “global governance institutions are essential at this stage of human development precisely to protect the common good where sovereign nations no longer can.”[20]

Since the financial crisis, Vatican documents have increasingly called for more international regulation of finance. However, it is worth noting that there is, and was at the time of the financial crisis, a huge range of international organisations with economic or political powers. Most countries that were affected by the crisis subscribed to the Basel Accord which dictated how banks were regulated amongst its signatories. Arguably, it made the crash worse by embedding regulatory errors across a wider number of countries. Indeed, academic work has called into question the approach of creating regulatory regimes at higher political levels[21].

The question of exactly what global governance should mean in practice is one that requires further discernment as Catholic social teaching evolves in this area. But, two things can be said for certain. Firstly, the concept of international courts, treaties and organisations restraining nation states and exercising some juridical power in order to enforce justice and human rights is one that is totally consistent with the evolution of Catholic social teaching, given the importance it places upon the universality of human rights. Secondly, it should be recognised that international institutions can be difficult to hold to account and may be captured by interests that distorts their legitimate mission and may even be hostile to the Church and the Church’s teaching. It should be clear that calls for new forms of governance and political authority are not tantamount to support for a ‘One World Government’: the principle of subsidiarity means that this cannot be the case.


The phenomenon that has given rise to the debate about global governance – that of globalisation — has brought immense economic benefits. Arguably, this is especially so for the least well off. 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. 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.

In the author’s view, the dangers of ensuring accountability and the complexity of governing at the international level are such that the functions of international institutions of governance should be limited. 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:

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.[22]

Catholic social thought does not provide a blueprint for global governance, but rather offers basic principles for governance at all levels. 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 more 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


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Catholic Church (1994), Catechism of the Catholic Church, London: Geoffrey Chapman.

Coleman, J. A., (2005). “Making the Connections: Globalization and Catholic Social Thought,” in Globalization and Catholic Social Thought: Present Crisis, Future Hope, Toronto: Novalis Press.

De Las Casas, B. (1992), A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (ed. Griffin, N.), London: Penguin Books.

Hug, J. (2005), “Economic Justice and Globalization” in Globalization and Catholic Social Thought: Present Crisis, Future Hope, Toronto: Novalis Press.

Macaulay, T. B. (1856), The History of England from the Accession of James II, Volume I, London: Harper and Bros.

Romano, R. (2014), For Diversity in the International Regulation of Financial Institutions: Critiquing and Recalibrating the Basel Architecture, Yale Journal on Regulation 31(1): 1-76.

Smith, R. L. (2009), Premodern Trade in World History, London: Taylor & Francis.

Papal encyclicals and other Church documents referred to in this section

Francis, 2020, Fratelli tutti, encyclical letter:

Francis, 2013, Evangelii gaudium, apostolic exhortation:

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2011, Towards reforming the international and financial monetary systems in the context of global public authority,

Benedict XVI, 2009, Caritas in veritate, encyclical letter:

John Paul II, 1999, Ecclesia in America, apostolic exhortation,

John Paul II, 1991, Centesimus annus, encyclical letter:

John Paul II, 1987, Sollicitudo rei socialis, encyclical letter:

John Paul II, 1981, Laborem exercens, encyclical letter: /john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens.html

Paul VI, 1967, Populorum progressio, encyclical letter:

John XXIII, 1963, Pacem in terris, encyclical letter:

John XXIII, 1961, Mater et magistra, encyclical letter:

Leo XIII, 1891, Rerum novarum, encyclical letter:

Questions for discussion

Does globalisation homogenise or enrich cultures – and does it matter?

Who has benefited most from the later 20th century and early 20th century phase of globalisation?

What is the relationship between the Catholic view of human rights and the common good and globalisation?

How does the school of salamanca show that pastoral care and ethical discernment go hand-in-hand?

What has the Catholic Church had to say about globalisation in the late 20th and early 21st century?


[1]      General audience, 8th February, 2017:

[2]     Interview in La Stampa, 15th January, 2015:

[3]     Macaulay (1856), volume 1 p.227

[4]     Smith (2009).

[5]      Blake and Knapp (2005).

[6]      De Las Casas (1992) p.14.

[7]      De Las Casas (1992), p.2

[8]      Exactly what counts as illegitimate here is worthy of investigation, but will not be considered further. On the one hand, it can be argued that the involvement of the Soviet Union, modern-day China and, indeed, some actions by the US state in the affairs of other states might be illegitimate. At the same time, we should not assume that all interventions by one state in the affairs of another are not legitimate.

[9]      Brown Scott (2007), page 490, from De Potestate Civili, §21.

[10]    Message Of His Holiness For The Celebration Of The World Day Of Peace (2000) (2).

[11]    A particularly good example of this is in Laudato si (15) in which Pope Francis states: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” This is stretching the facts as very many environmental indicators are improving in most parts of the world. However, in certain parts of the world it is true, and it is an effective and legitimate rhetorical device to draw the audience’s attention to the problem.

[12]    Sadly, this trend may be broken as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

[13]    The website Our World in Data is an excellent source of objective information on these issues.

[14]    Though some of these problems also were pre-existing and become more widely known about.

[15]    Address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, (Apr 27, 2001)

[16]    Catholic Church (1994).

[17]    Address to participants in the World Congress on Pastoral Promotion of Human Rights (4 July 1998) (4)

[18] Ahner (2007), p. 1.

[19]    Coleman (2005), p. 14.

[20]    Hug (2005), p. 65.

[21]    See, for example, Romano (2014).

[22]    POPE ST JOHN PAUL II, Message to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, (Feb 24, 2000)

About the author

Philip Booth is Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. He also holds the position of Director of Catholic Mission at St. Mary’s having previously been Director of Research and Public Engagement and Dean of the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences. Philip was previously Director of the Vinson Centre for the Public Understanding of Economics and Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham and Academic and Research Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). From 2002-2015 Philip was Professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School. He is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Federal Studies at the University of Kent and Adjunct Professor in the School of Law, University of Notre Dame, Australia. Previously, Philip worked for the Bank of England as an adviser on financial stability issues. Philip is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries.

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