In Laudato Si’ ¶175, Pope Francis cites Pope Benedict’s argument that the global challenges facing the contemporary world require ‘true world political authority.’ Certain soi-disant conservatives have again objected to this teaching. But, as Pope Francis himself points out, it is ‘in continuity with the social teaching of the Church.’ The perennial teaching of the Church here adopts a theme of ancient political philosophy. While classical Attic philosophy held that man was naturally political, that is, that his communal life was limited to a community of the size of the ancient Greek polis, this view was challenged very early on by the view that the commonality and universality of reason implies that there can be a single human community, an empire. Plutarch summarizes this view in the first oration On the Fortune of Alexander, in which he argues that Alexander was right to differ with his teacher Aristotle on this matter:
[Alexander] did not, as Aristotle advised him, rule the Grecians like a moderate prince and insult over the barbarians like an absolute tyrant; nor did he take particular care of the first as his friends and domestics, and scorn the latter as mere brutes and vegetables; which would have filled his empire with fugitive incendiaries and perfidious tumults. But believing himself sent from Heaven as the common moderator and arbiter of all nations, and subduing those by force whom he could not associate to himself by fair offers, he labored thus, that he might bring all regions, far and near, under the same dominion. And then, as in a festival goblet, mixing lives, manners, customs, wedlock, all together, he ordained that every one should take the whole habitable world for his country, of which his camp and army should be the chief metropolis and garrison; that his friends and kindred should be the good and virtuous, and that the vicious only should be accounted foreigners.
Plutarch’s view of empire was not yet subsidiary enough. It was left to the great Roman poet Virgil to give an image of an empire that would operate on the principle of subsidiarity, respecting the legitimate spheres of local governments and local customs, binding each place will to the universal through piety toward the local. It was this Virgilian ideal of empire that was taken up and Christianized in the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire— an ideal given masterful theoretical exposition in Dante’s De Monarchia. And it was to the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire that Catholic Social Teaching has consistently appealed.
Pope Francis is thus quite right to appeal to the continuity of Catholic Social Teaching on this point. One element of the traditional teaching that he omits to mention, however, is that such a supranational authority would have to be subordinated to the Catholic Church to avoid setting itself up as an idol. As Alan Fimister argues in his important book on Catholic Social Teaching and the European Union:
Secular utopian federalism and Catholic solidarism differ markedly, in that the former seeks the replacement of the sovereign nation state with a new sovereign federal entity whereas the latter seeks to build a supranational edifice whose final justification is supernatural upon the essentially natural foundations of enduring nation states. (Robert Schuman: Neo Scholastic Humanism and the Reunification of Europe, p. 256).
The basic point that Pope Benedict and Pope Francis make is, however, entirely sound. The following sections from Henri Grenier’s manual of Thomistic Moral Philosophy show how clearly it follows from the nature of the common good. — The Editors
- Statement of the question
1° International society is defined: a society which comprises all States, and directs them to their common good, i.e., to the common good of all mankind.
International society neither absorbs nor abolishes States, but leaves them their independence and autonomy in their own order.
International society, as directing all States to the common good of mankind, must possess true authority, superior to the authority of any individual States.
The subject of this authority must be determined by man, just as the organization and constitution of international society must be determined by him.
2° All who deny the specific unity of the human race conceive international society as unlawful and impossible.
Moreover, all who consider the State as the source of all rights, in doing so, deny that international society has its foundation in nature.
Again, all who conceive a perfect society as absolutely autonomous and independent hold that the State cannot be subject to the authority of an international society.
But we have already learned that a perfect society is a society which pursues a perfect good, i.e., the fulness of happiness in life.
Hence we teach that international society is founded in nature, and is directed to the good of all civil societies, i.e., of all States or nations.
- Statement of the thesis
Thesis: International society is founded in nature, and is directed to the good of all nations.
First part: International society is founded in nature.— International society is founded in nature if all States are naturally united by mutual moral and juridical bonds, and must tend to the common good of all mankind. But all States are naturally united by mutual moral and juridical bonds, and must tend to the common good of all mankind. Therefore.
Major.— In this case, we have all the requisites of an international society: a) the pursuit of a specific common good, i.e., the common good of all mankind; b) the juridical union of all States for the pursuit of the common good of the whole human race.
Minor.— a) All States are united by mutual moral and juridical bonds.— This is so because, as we have already proved, international law exists.
b) All States must tend to the common good of all mankind. Mankind, i.e., the human race, has unity of origin, unity of nature, and unity of territory or habitation, which is the whole world. Hence all men, all groups or communities of men, and all States must tend to the common good of all mankind.
Second part: International society is directed to the common good of all nations, i.e., of all States.— 1° International society leaves each State its autonomy in its own order, and directs the common good of each State to a more perfect common good, which is the common good of all nations.
2° International society fosters peace and harmony among nations, because the enforcement of international law belongs to a superior authority, just as the enforcement of laws governing the relations between individual persons is reserved to the political authority. Hence States can, without recourse to war, settle their quarrels according to the principles of justice.
 « A disposition, in fact, of the divinely-sanctioned natural order divides the human race into social groups, nations or States, which are mutually independent in organization and in the direction of their internal life, But for all that, the human race is bound together by reciprocal ties, moral and juridical, into a great commonwealth directed to the good of all nations and ruled by special laws which protect its unity and promote its prosperity.» (Pius XII, Summi Pontificatus, n. 65).