THE Vatican waded into the debate over the financial crisis this week, when the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace released a paper titled Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority. Despite some interesting analysis, as Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute has pointed out, on the problems caused by fiat currencies, the papacy’s note shows a curious enthusiasm for the idea of a global financial body to keep past excesses in check. At times, it is a vision of such naive optimism as to be almost heartbreaking. Who, in the midst of the ineffectual, self-serving, horse-trading muddle of the Eurozone’s political wrangling, can hear without incredulity the announcement that “the Authority shall have the specific purpose of the common good, and will have to work and not be structured as an additional lever of power of the powerful over the weak.”
It is extraordinary that a church which hears the all-too-human confessions of its congregants week after week should be so unaware of the realities of power in human affairs, and the way utopian bodies, created in the name of the many, end by serving the few.
It’s not as if the Bible doesn’t explain the point in some detail. In the eighth chapter of the first book of Samuel, the elders of Israel go to their prophet and demand a king to watch over them and keep them safe. God is furious and has Samuel tell them exactly what their dreams of abdicating their responsibility to such an authority will bring:
“If you have a king, this is how he will treat you. He will force your sons to join his army… Still others will have to farm the king’s land and harvest his crops, or make weapons and parts for his chariots. Your daughters will have to make perfume or do his cooking and baking.
“The king will take your best fields, as well as your vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his own officials. He will also take a tenth of your grain and grapes… The king will take your slaves and your best young men and your donkeys and make them do his work. He will also take a tenth of your sheep and goats.
“You will become the king’s slaves, and you will finally cry out for the Lord to save you from the king you wanted. But the Lord won’t answer your prayers.”
Perhaps today some princes of the Catholic church spend more time reading pamphlets about the need for global governance than their own wisdom literature. That’s a tragedy, for Christianity’s central message is indeed the triumph of the powerless over worldly authority, a vision of universal emancipation from monarchical service.
At its best in this world, it has allied itself with the practical means of bringing such liberation about: ending serfdom and slavery, encouraging wide-ranging humanistic education and, in the proto-capitalist monasteries of the Middle Ages and the sixteenth-century School of Salamanca, helping to lay the foundations for the free economic system that continues, when interfering kings and global busybodies allow, to liberate the wretched of the earth through the growth it unleashes. That is a surer route to peace and justice for all than dreams of a global Authority of this world that can care for the common good.