Does the Catholic Church Favor World Government? (with apologies to Aquinas)

Question I: Does Benedict XVI advocate world government in Caritas in Veritate?

It seems he does.
1. Benedict writes: “in the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need . . . for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance” (CiV, 67).
2. Benedict continues: reform is “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” (67).
3. This authority need: “(i) to be regulated by law; (ii) to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights; (iii) to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums” (67).
Together, these points present strong evidence that Benedict advocates a new form of World Government, that has moral, legal and political legitimacy, but also authority to force compliance with its decisions on a global scale.
1. Benedict stipulates that true world political authority not only “would need to be regulated by law, [but also] to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity” (CiV 67). Subsidiarity “is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state” (57). “Any form” of the “all-encompassing welfare state” must include a single, global or World State.
2. Benedict locates “true world political authority” in the tradition of John XXIII”s Pacem in Terris and the Compendium of Social Doctrine, 441(57). We must find there evidence of what Benedict means by “true world political authority.”
First, from Pacem in Terris:
137. Today the universal common good presents us with problems which are world-wide in their dimensions. . . .Consequently the moral order itself demands the establishment of some such general form of public authority.
138. But this general authority equipped with world-wide power and adequate means for achieving the universal common good cannot be imposed by force.
140. [S]ubsidiarity. . .must also apply to the relations between the public authority of the world community and the public authorities of each political community.
141. But it is no part of the duty of universal authority to limit the sphere of action of the public authority of individual States, or to arrogate any of their functions to itself. (emphasis added)
Comment: John XXIII’s “general form of public authority” is not the same as a world state. He desires this general authority to have some kind of world-wide power, but not to be exercised by “force” or “imposition.” Such a “public authority” is not what we generally mean by a state or government, which exercises force legitimately.
Next, from The Compendium of Social Doctrine:
441. Concern for an ordered and peaceful coexistence within the human family prompts the Magisterium to insist on the need to establish “some universal public authority acknowledged as such by all”. . . .it is essential that such an authority arise from mutual agreement and that it not be imposed, nor must it be understood as a kind of “global super-State.”(emphasis added)
Political authority exercised at the level of the international community must be regulated by law, ordered to the common good and respectful of the principle of subsidiarity (emphasis in original).
Comment: The Compendium re-states John XXIII’s thoughts, while making explicit that this authority must not be understood “as a kind of ‘global super-State’.” There is no significant difference between the two or any innovation in the The Compendium, nor does Benedict XVI indicate any incompatibility between them or his own thoughts on the matter.
3. Benedict also rejects force as the mechanism of compliance, which is to come instead from “the construction of social order that at last conforms to the moral order.” Obedience to “true world political authority” will flow voluntarily from obedient subjects whose wills are conformed to God’s. This will probably not happen anytime soon.
There is apparent tension between Benedict’s view of the need for some new world public authority, the legitimate rights of national States, and the illegitimacy of a world authority that is imposed on the States.
To reconcile this apparent contradiction, we may start with “ubi societas, ibi ius” (Cicero), which can be reversed: “where there is law, there is society.” Hence, we may conclude that Natural Law as universally valid presumes there must be a world community, but the existence of a world community does not require the existence of a World State. Natural Law tradition rejects neo-Kantian positivism and its epistemological skepticism that regards positive laws as the only knowable laws and thus finds law originating in the state. In contrast, Natural Law is independent of and pre-exists the State, originating in human personhood.
Benedict XVI operates from Natural Law and not Neo-Kantian assumptions; for him, Natural Law and the World Community do not mean there must be a World State. The world authority or “governance” he describes refers mainly to the Natural Law and the need to bring various international organizations more fully into compliance with it. National politics have increasingly grown remote from the Natural Law. Therefore, we do need “a reform of the United Nations Organization . . . so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth” (67). But “the family of nations” exists within a global society, which as it moves towards societas perfecta, increasingly approximates the Natural Law. Once it has perfectly reflected the Natural Law, then obedience to the world authority will flow naturally, not by force, from the moral conscience of each member of this global society.
Thus, a careful reading of Caritas in Veritate demonstrates that Benedict is not calling for a World State to fulfill functions that must come ultimately from the human heart. Q.E.D.


Kevin Doak

Kevin Doak is a professor in the Catholic Studies Program and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Georgetown University.