As observers continue to decipher the meaning of Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate , all appear to agree that the passage of note, the passage that may prove historic in its implications, is the one that is already becoming known as the “world political authority” paragraph:

In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization , and likewise of economic institutions and international finance , so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems 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. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority. . . .

Could Benedict be in favor of world government, as many now believe? Taken in the context of papal writings since the dawn of the UN, as well as Benedict’s own opinions, recorded both before and after his election as pope, the passage gains another meaning. It is in reality a profound challenge to the UN, and the other international organizations, to make themselves worthy of authority, of the authority that they already possess, and worthy of the expansion of authority that appears to be necessary in light of the accelerated pace of globalization.

It is true that Benedict believes that a transnational organization must be empowered to address transnational problems. But so has every pope since John XXIII, who wrote in 1963 that “Today the universal common good presents us with problems which are worldwide in their dimensions; problems, therefore, which cannot be solved except by a public authority with power, organization, and means coextensive with these problems, and with a worldwide sphere of activity. Consequently the moral order itself demands the establishment of some such form of public authority.”

But such an authority has been established, and we have lived with it since 1948, and in many ways it has disappointed. So Benedict turns John XXIII’s formulation on its head: Morality no longer simply demands a global social order; now Benedict underscores that this existing social order must operate in accord with morality. He ends his own passage on world authority by stating that “The integral development of peoples and international cooperation require the establishment of a greater international ordering, marked by subsidiarity, for the management of globalization. They also require the construction of a social order that at last conforms to the moral order . . . .” Note the phrase “at last.”

What went wrong? According to Benedict, a world authority worthy of this authority would need “to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth.” The obvious implication is that the current UN has not made this commitment.

To understand how the UN has failed, we must delve into the rest of the encyclical. According to Benedict, the goal of all international institutions must be “authentic integral human development.” This human development must be inspired by truth, in this case, the truth about humanity. Pursuit of this truth reveals that each human being possesses absolute worth; therefore, authentic human development is predicated on a radical defense of life.

This link is made repeatedly in Caritas in Veritate . “Openness to life is at the center of true development . . . . The acceptance of life strengthens moral fiber and makes people capable of mutual help . . . . They can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and individual.”

To some, it must seem startling how often Benedict comes back to life in an encyclical ostensibly dedicated to economics and globalization. But this must be understood as Benedict’s effort to humanize globalization. It can be seen as the global application of John Paul II’s own encyclical on life, Evengelium Vitae .

Without this understanding of the primacy of life, international development is bound to fail: “Who could measure the negative effects of this kind of mentality for development? How can we be surprised by the indifference shown towards situations of human degradation, when such indifference extends even to our attitude towards what is and is not human?”

Throughout the encyclical, Benedict is unsparing in the ways in which the current international order contributes to this failure; no major front in the war over life is left unmentioned, from population control, to bioethics, to euthanasia.

But none of this should come as a surprise. Since at least as far back as the UN’s major conferences of the 1990s”Cairo and Beijing”Benedict has known that the UN has adopted a model of development conformed to the culture of death. He no doubt assisted John Paul II in his successful efforts to stop these conferences from establishing an international right to abortion-on-demand. At the time, Benedict said, “Today there is no longer a ‘philosophy of love’ but only a ‘philosophy of selfishness.’ It is precisely here that people are deceived. In fact, at the moment they are advised not to love, they are advised, in the final analysis, not to be human. For this reason, at this stage of the development of the new image of the new world, Christians . . . have a duty to protest.”

Now, in his teaching role as pope, Benedict is not simply protesting but offering the Christian alternative, the full exposition of authentic human development. Whether or not the UN can meet the philosophical challenges necessary to promote this true development remains uncertain. But it should not be assumed that Benedict is sanguine; after all, he begins his purported embrace of world government with a call for UN “reform,” not expansion.

Douglas A. Sylva is Senior Fellow at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.

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