January 8, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

‘Charity in Truth’: Subsidiarity and solidarity

John F. Fink(Fifth in a series of columns)

When Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”) was released last July, press coverage emphasized his call for a “true world political authority” that would manage the global economy. This seems to be required, he said, because of the “unrelenting growth of global dependency.”

He suggested the reform of the United Nations and international economic and financial institutions so they would have “real teeth.” This gave the impression that he was calling for one-world government with authority to force states to do what it decreed.

Lost in news stories was this sentence in the encyclical immediately following his call for a world political authority: “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.”

The pope suggested that “universally recognized” political authority after discussing the globalization that has taken place. He said that, in itself, globalization is neither good nor bad and that blind opposition to it would be a mistake.

Suitably directed, he said, globalization could “open up the unprecedented possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a worldwide scale.” However, if it’s badly directed, it could lead to an increase in poverty and inequality. That’s why it must be directed wisely.

Earlier in his encyclical, before he suggested that world authority, the pope wrote that “the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity.” He said that globalization “certainly” requires authority, but that authority “must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way.” Subsidiarity is the principle that tasks or functions that local organizations can perform effectively should be done by them rather than by a dominant central organization.

The pope called this principle “an expression of inalienable human freedom,” and said that assistance should be offered only when individuals or groups are unable to accomplish something on their own. Furthermore, he said, this subsidiarity must also remain closely linked to another principle—solidarity. That means a unity among a group or class that produces, or is based on, community of interests, objectives and standards.

When applied to international development aid, subsidiarity and solidarity mean that aid must be distributed with the involvement not only of governments of receiving countries, but also local economic agents and those concerned with cultures within civil society, including local churches.

Too often in the past, the pope said, aid has created only fringe markets for the products of donor countries. That should not be the purpose of aid. Rather, the principal form of assistance needed by developing countries is that of allowing and encouraging the penetration of their products into international markets. They must be able to participate fully in international economic life.

Thus, he said, aid for poor countries must be a means of creating wealth for all, one reason why economically developed nations should allocate larger portions of their gross domestic product to development aid. †

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