And it is precisely to this question of the prophetic power of Populorum Progressio that Benedict turns in Chapter 2, paragraphs 21 through 33: “After so many years, as we observe with concern the developments and perspectives of the succession of crises that afflict the world today, we ask to what extent Paul VI’s expectations have been fulfilled by the model of development adopted in recent decades.”
The conclusion is, interestingly, that Paul did not get it right as he looked ahead: “all this leads us today to reflect on the measures that would be necessary to provide a solution to problems that are not only new in comparison to those addressed by Pope Paul VI, but also, and above all, of decisive impact upon the present and future good of humanity.”
Populorum Progressio “assigned a central, albeit not exclusive, role to ‘public authorities,’” Benedict points out, but the nations have declined in importance since then.
This suggests, he notes, that we should move toward further empowering of authorities: “Once the role of public authorities has been more clearly defined, one could foresee an increase in the new forms of political participation, nationally and internationally, that have come about through the activity of organizations operating in civil society.”
The phrasing here is delicate, “one could foresee,” so perhaps we shouldn’t lean on it too much. But how, exactly, does a recognition that national authorities have declined lead us to the conclusion that organizations should increase? The hint here is world government, a note that is echoed elsewhere in the document.
We start to see here, as well, the back-and-forth nature of the document. Paragraph 25 is something of a laundry list of typically left-leaning social-justice topics: global markets, outsourced production, downsizing social security, budgetary policies, weakening trade unions, and mobility of labor.
But paragraph 26 tacks in a conservative direction, with its talk of the dangers of cultural relativism and electicism, returning to the theme of truth with which the encyclical began.
And then paragraph 27 tacks back toward leftist economics, with its talk of “eliminating the structural causes” and its hints of debt forgiveness and farming that is somehow both “respectful of the environment and attentive to the needs of the most deprived peoples.”
But then paragraph 28 tacks suddenly back to the right with its powerful attack on abortion and on the “non-governmental organizations” that “work actively to spread abortion.”
From paragraph 29 to paragraph 31, Benedict returns to his central theme of love in truth: the necessity of charity to keep human development alive, and the necessity that such charity appear in a context of truth. The point is philosophically profound and worth the investigation that Benedict gives it—but why does the encyclical follow it with such goo as “The significant new elements in the picture of the development of peoples today in many cases demand new solutions”? (Those are the text’s own italics, which makes it even gooier: not just new solutions but new solutions!
Benedict is willing to condemn the African thugocracies: “grave irresponsibility within the very countries that have achieved independence.” But he returns at the chapter’s end—as he does again and again throughout the encyclical—to the dangers posed by what he considers the radically new nature of globalization.
Does the pope actually understand what globalization is—economically? It would be a damaging thing to say that he doesn’t, but nothing in the second chapter of the encyclical gives a strong showing that he does. Buzz words about globalization are certainly deployed, but they don’t cohere in a way that lends confidence to the pope’s economic reading of the world.
The more central question that Chapter 2 leaves us, however, comes from the chapter’s back-and-forth movement. Can a cultural conservatism and an economic leftism actually be joined into a coherent system? Philosophically, they are miles apart—but that’s nothing compared to the light-years they are apart at the level of political practice.
And, unfortunately for the document’s likely effect, it is precisely on the level of political practice that Benedict hopes to move us.