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Gerhard Kruip {*}

Another World is Possible

G8-Summit and the Encyclical "Populorum Progressio"
of Pope Paul VI


From: Herder Korrespondenz, 6/2007, P. 290-294
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Forty years ago Paul VI published the encyclicalPopulorumProgressio". With it he did not only make an important contribution to a holistic concept of development. The encyclical also crucially contributed to promote within the church the sensitiveness for the development problem and to support Christians in their commitment for development co-operation.


"A different world is possible!" With this proclamation several organizations such as Attac (the French abbreviation for "Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions in the interest of the Citizens") call to protest against the summit of the eight most powerful industrial nations, which takes place from 6 to 8 June 2007 in Heiligendamm. Their criticism is roused by various points. Apart from the excessive and extremely cost-intensive safety precautions (above all the oversized safety fence - that probably costs up to eleven million Euros) is criticized that here only the political representatives of eight nations, which by no means represent the entire mankind, discuss the future fate of the whole world and set the course for the future. The G8 stood for a globalization that was only of use to the rich and powerful.

Indeed politicians like George W. Busch and Vladimir Putin are not particularly credible when they - according to the program of the conference - deal with topics like the reduction of the global unbalance, lasting handling of resources or the urgent problems of Africa. But in the protests against the G8-Summit there is - apart from single points of criticism



also a more fundamental moral indignation (that certainly often remains vague) about the injustices marking the present situation of the world altogether. In addition the protests were eventually fuelled on the part of the state by extremely unwise measures of the police - with reference to paragraph 129a StGB [penal code] (creation of terrorist associations).


Indignation About Missing Indignation

The appeal of the opponents of the G8-Summit says, "Social human rights are to be realized world-wide. I wish for an economic system in solidarity that places people and environment in the centre." One can certainly only agree to this point of the appeal - likewise to the fundamental statement that a different world is possible. For who denied such a possibility would no longer need to think about social-ethical questions. He cemented and legitimized conditions that - regarded world-wide - are indeed outrageous injustices and deplorable states of affairs. But it is highly problematic and even harmful for the matter that some of those G8-opponents think even violent actions were legitimated by their goals and the missing morality of the criticized heads of state.

But a differentiated judgement about the protests must at least distinguish the fundamental concern from the measures chosen and by the criticism of the latter must not be enticed to dissociate itself from the first. On the other side also the G8-opponents should learn to judge in a more differentiated way. For not all statesmen are equally power-possessed and place their economic interests above everything. And not all politico-economic measures that are orientated towards the laws of the market are harmful to the poor.

Nobody who still remembers the disbelieving fright with which s/he once became aware of the inexpressible deplorable states of affairs when s/he began to be interested in questions of national or international politics needs to be surprised that above all younger people are strongly moved by undeniably dramatic injustices. Who is young has simply not yet got used to such injustices, above all that so little can be done against them. Many young people, at least the interested ones among them, cannot understand that so many contemporaries obviously can - despite this situation - sleep relatively calmly.

A substantial part of the indignation is at the same time indignation about the missing indignation of the others; what simply also conveys the feeling to stand there relatively alone, so that their view narrows as they are looking for possible allies in the engagement for more justice. To call some particularly militant G8-opponents to more deliberation, constitutionally doubtful police measures are surely not the right means. Possibly it would be helpful if their concerns were taken more seriously.

The potential of people who could support at least the same fundamental concern actually reaches far into the centre of our society. Also many Christians of various denominations take part in the demonstrations against the G8-Summit or at least in the attempt to use it for a broader political debate, which could promote the awareness for questions of global justice. Thus for example the Federation of the Catholic Youth (BDKJ), the episcopal relief organization Misereor and the German commission Justitia et Pax invited to an international Youth Hearing as preparation for the G8-Summit in Heiligendamm, where topics were discussed like "right to health", "right to education", "right to food/nourishing sovereignty" and "right to work / social responsibility of globalization". The Protestant-Lutheran regional church of Mecklenburg runs its own coordination centre "Church and G8" (


Prophetic Words of Pope Paul VI Showing the Way

Several representatives of the Catholic Church called the participants of the G8-Summit to more global solidarity and concrete assistance for Africa. For example Laurent Monsengwo, Archbishop of Kisangani (the Congo) warned at the beginning of May before journalists in Berlin in the context of Misereor's campaign "Keep your Promises!" the G8-States to break their promises regarding the height of development assistance. In doing so he was supported by the Archbishop of Hamburg, Werner Thissen. To help the poor world-wide was an "absolute moral obligation". Thissen, who is responsible for Misereor in the German Bishops' Conference, referred to church development organizations and bishops who on the scene of action saw the millionfold human suffering, which had not only national, but also international causes.



For Christians, engaged in this matter, above all the engaged laymen, it might be interesting to reread Pope Paul's VI encyclical "Populorum Progressio" published 40 years ago. It is true this encyclical says, the laymen should "in free initiative and without lazily waiting for instructions and directives from other sides" (No. 81) become active; but this encyclical is everything but "lazy". It is frightening and oppressive how topical this text is still today. Obviously the problems that gave rise to this encyclical have not fundamentally changed, but rather intensified in the past decades.


Extremely Reserved Reception among the German Philosophers of Social Ethics

Today one surely cannot subscribe to each of the analyses and demands found there, because the continents meanwhile have changed too much, for example by the disappearance of the east west conflict, the enormous technical progress or the increasingly important questions of environmental protection, particularly of the climatic change and the lasting use of the resources. It is nevertheless amazing how trailblazing and prophetic Pope Paul's VI words appear in retrospect, who wanted to do with this encyclical a decisive step in the realization of the Second Vatican Council. In fact he thereby also substantially contributed that the young churches of the poorer countries found themselves called to such a realization as well, so that for example the theology of liberation, which later was condemned by the Vatican, can definitely be regarded as fruit of Populorum Progressio.

In view of the impatience expressed in this writing, today, 40 years later, one actually had to be even more impatient: "It is urgent. Too many people are in misery, and there is an increasing distance separating the progress of the rich from the stagnation, or better the regression of the poor" (No. 29). Or, a little later: "The work of development requires bold innovative transformations. Urgent reforms must be tackled immediately". (No. 32) "Transformations are necessary; profound reforms of the present living conditions are inevitable" (No. 81).

In the direct reception of the encyclical, which by the way - as also the texts of the Council - was at that time extremely reservedly taken up by most of the German philosophers of social ethics, from some corners was even branded as too "anti-capitalistic", the commentators particularly referred to the term 'development' "as new name for peace" (No. 76 and 87) and to the criticism of its reduction to economic growth (No. 14). In fact: Paul VI made with these considerations, which go back to the "integral humanism" of Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) and the Dominican Louis Joseph Lebret's (1897-1966) understanding of development, an important contribution to a holistic concept of development, even before the "limits of growth" of the Club of Rome (1972).



In this connection time and again the famous statements were quoted with examples of "less human" and "more human" living conditions, the latter of which also include openness to God's love (No. 21). Special attention excited the demand that also the right to private property had to be subordinated to a holistic development, what in particular expropriations of landed property (No. 24) made possible, and the careful approval of a revolution by force in case of a "long tyranny heavily hurting the fundamental rights of man and badly damaging the public interest of the country" (No. 31). Altogether Populorum Progressio at that time crucially contributed to strengthen within the Catholic Church the sensitivity to the development problem and to support Christians in their commitment for development co-operation.


A Really Global Perspective

But from today's viewpoint particularly one characteristic feature of the encyclical appears important: its repeatedly standing up for a really global perspective. "Today the social question - everyone must realize that - has become world-wide" (No. 3). This statement is less of analytic quality, for today's global justice problems can - regarding their causes and dangers - only partially be compared with those of the 19th century. But it contains a clear moral demand, namely to achieve by suitable structural and institutional measures a world-wide social balance.

For the term "integral development" implies not only a "comprehensive" development for each individual human being, but at the same time a "development in solidarity for mankind" (No. 5). "The all-round development of the individual human being must be connected with the development of the entire mankind" (No. 43). Before the background of current philosophical debates about the question whether - apart from demands of distributive justice, equality of opportunity and procedural justice - also questions of distributive justice are to be debated on global level, it is conspicuous that Paul VI very probably regarded the latter likewise as justice problem that concerns all human beings (No. 9). No people could claim its wealth for itself alone (No. 48).

What in former times was considered as moral demand for the close range must today be applied "to the whole of world emergencies" (No. 49). Paul VI wanted to mobilize "an effective, world-wide solidarity" (No. 84). As the above mentioned problems of poverty and inequality are common problems of mankind, their solution demands also "joint action" (No. 13), so that "mankind progressed on the way of its history" (No. 17).

Here even the aspect of inter-generational solidarity is already added: "As heirs of our fathers and as people who get gifts from our fellow citizens we are obliged to all men, and those who after us widen the circle of the family of mankind cannot be a matter of indifference to us. The solidarity of all men which is something real brings us not only advantages but also obligations". (No. 17) What could happen, if the rulers of this world gathered at the G8-Summit orientated themselves by such considerations?


Global Justice Needs Institutions Capable of acting on World Level

Of course, the Pope realistically did not only bank on moral appeals, but also cherished the today no longer quite so plausible hope that the realistic calculation of profit could also lead to a more intelligent policy: "Eventually the increasingly noticeable necessity of co-operation, the increasing awareness for solidarity will prevail against all ignorance and all egoism." Just as realistically one has of course to assume that a substantial pressure from below is needed for it, which time and again is to take shape in medium-effective protests as well as in long-term awareness-shaping work.

Also more concrete demands made by the Pope are today not obsolete, so for example the creation of a "world fund" (No. 51), by which the necessary development programs could be financed. Even if one today is rightly sceptical with regard to the establishment of new world-wide organizations, much would be won if the necessary development co-operation was less steered by national interests, if longer-term and independent from single states financial means were available (e.g. with the help of "Tobin-Tax/duty" demanded by Attac), and if the most diverse bodies responsible for this co-operation would better coordinate their activities. "Only a world-wide co-operation, for which the common fund would be symbol and means, would allow to overcome fruitless rivalries and to get going a fruitful and peaceful discussion among the peoples."

Anyway, global justice needs global institutions able to act and to have their way on world level (No. 78), which are today discussed under the term "global governance". Regarding the demand for a world authority Paul VI was already considerably more careful than the Council (see Gaudium et spes No. 82) or John XXIII in "Pacem in Terris" (No. 137).



Of special importance is finally the Pope's demand to integrate the markets - similarly as on national level (No. 60) - also on international level into a basic order; even if he does not describe it with the term of a "global social free-market economy". From the perspective of justice it is clear that "the rules of free trade alone (...) cannot regulate the international relations" (No. 58). For when a asymmetric balance of power between the states involved exists, as in the case of wage contracts, the liberty to conclude a contract alone is no sufficient justice criterion. "The free exchange of goods is only then fair when it agrees with the demands of social justice" (No. 59).

After the "social question" has got a world-wide dimension this principle must be transferred to the global level as well. By the way, Paul VI already then saw what enormous importance the equality of opportunity and above all education has: "Hunger for education is no less bitter than hunger for food" (No. 35).

In 1987 John Paul II in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis paid tribute to the first social encyclical of his predecessor and at the same time updated it in a constructive way for a new world situation. Another twenty years later Benedict XVI can hardly help expressing his opinion on questions of a fair living together of the "one mankind" on the "one earth".

He could use this at the same time to touch in an offensive way important concerns and topics that so far in the context of church social teachings definitely have already come up for discussion, but have been insufficiently treated in the context of papal encyclicals, for example the justice problems that will result from the threatening climatic change, the order structures necessary for a fair world trade, the connection of terrorism, fundamentalism and social injustice or also the demand for a more human treatment of the increasing number of migrants who try to escape poverty and to find a less degrading life outside their homeland. Benedict XVI enjoys an exceptional reputation and is also by many non-Catholics and non-Christians regarded as moral authority. This saddles him at the same time with a special responsibility.


    {*} Gerhard Kruip (born in 1957) he holds the chair of Christian anthropology and social ethics of the Catholic theological faculty of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and is director of the research institute for philosophy Hanover.


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'