Solidarity as exercise of sovereignty


Pope Francis smiles as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican June 19, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Is it possible to trace a thread that characterizes Pope Francis’ thought in social, economic and political issues?

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  • Power no longer assumes a monadic idea of government, but rather that of "polyarchy" and subsidiarity of governance

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  • The Christian anthropological perspective sees a person as ‘imago Dei’ and not view anyone as ultimate or absolute

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A little more than two months after the election of Pope Francis as Supreme Pontiff, is it possible to trace a thread that characterizes his thought in social, economic and political issues? An interesting compendium, from which we can deduce some response, emerges from his speech on May 25 at the conference organized by the "Centesimus Annus Foundation", dedicated to the theme: "Rethinking solidarity for employment: the challenges of the twenty-first century". Beyond the specific substantive issues, which we will discuss later, a strong statement concerning the method he wishes to follow is evident. Pope Francis believes a continual "rethinking" of political and economic solutions is necessary, so that the Magisterium may be combined properly with the socio-economic evolution. In short, he invites us to consider the "rethinking" as "deepening" and "further reflection" in order to bring out the more intimate "fruitfulness" of "solidarity". Coming to the specific substantive issues, we can consider the following three aspects: the relationship between "man and power", that between "man and money," and finally the "solidarity" understood as sovereign mutual accountability for the fate of each following generation.

All three issues were addressed by the Pope in his speech on May 25. With particular reference to the first point, we can take his homily from the beginning of his pontificate on March 19, when he said that "the real power is the service [...] which has its bright summit on the Cross." Power as a service refers to the idea of public policy as "administration" rather than as "imperium". It no longer assumes a monadic idea of government, but rather that of "polyarchy" and subsidiarity of governance: the same that the Italian social scientist Luigi Sturzo called "power and administration of the common good". With regard to the second point, Pope Francis in his discourse to new ambassadors on May 17, states, "money must serve, not govern" and points out that Christian ethics is inconvenient, because it relativizes money. The "relativism" to which Pope Francis refers negates the typical indifference of relativism, repeatedly condemned by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In this indifferent relativism, the differences disappear and everything is absorbed by the dark of night in which "all cows are black". This is a situation in which power and money relativize the dignity of man, acting as ultimate ends for which it would be permissible to sacrifice everything and everyone. The Christian anthropological perspective, by contrast, focuses on the person (from an ontological, epistemological and moral point of view), as imago Dei (image of God) and doesn't tolerate anything or anyone to be placed as ultimate or absolute.

Finally, the theme of "solidarity". Pope Francis says: "There is no worse material poverty, I would emphasize, than that which makes it impossible to earn a living and deprives somone of the dignity of work." The invitation of Pope Francis is to "rethink solidarity" not merely as assistance, but as the supreme form of participation (for everyone) in the promotion of common goods. These goods cannot be determined in any utility/happiness collective function, but rather in the personal commitment to pursue the "institutional path of charity." Appropriately, the Pope emphasizes the importance of restoring to the notion of "solidarity" the duty of "social citizenship", interpreting it not as a mere donation from compassionate generosity, but rather implementing it by an "institutional path" - public policy, (the nature of which, we repeat, is subsidiary and polyarchycal.) In these terms, solidarity as part of the notion of citizenship, is understood primarily as the right to access the processes of political, economic, and cultural participation. It doesn't solve itself in the benevolence of the sovereign, or in the assistance given to the disciplined subjects (pray, pay, obey), but in removing barriers and breaking down consolidated revenue.

It is necessary to rethink the concept of sovereignty itself, just as Pope Francis wanted to redesign the ideas of "power" and "money", relativizing them, de-sacralizing them and making them function as aids to the solution of human problems. In this perspective, solidarity becomes the first virtue of living in society, as an attribute of sovereignty, personally exercised either directly or through the institutions, because of the proposition that the sovereign is the one who will bear the responsibility. This virtue is expressed primarily in the variety of forms assumed by a free and responsible civil society, acting as critical embankment to those who abuse power and helm for a more just society.

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