Light of Truth

There was an opinion that Pope Francis had a political agenda while publishing his third encyclical? How do you see the political motivation of Fratelli Tutti?
Fr. Roy Joseph

ANSWERSaji Mathew Kanayankal CST

It is not easy to give a conclusive answer to the question of the political agenda behind Fratelli Tutti, but it is definite that the encyclical is political and as the head of a state and a global leader Pope Francis gives a clear vision and undoubtful message to the contemporary society amidst the encircling gloom. The reading of Fratelli Tutti reminds about the famous work of Hanna Ardent, ‘Men in Dark Times’ where she speaks of people who kindle light amidst the darkness. The world is illumined by such visionaries. ‘Fratelli Tutti resounds the words of the prophets of the Old Testament who speaks about the powers of darkness and the awaiting tragedy, but console the people with the hope when there are ‘dark clouds over a closed world.’ As bishop Georg Batzing, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, describes “this encyclical is a ‘wake-up call’ and an ‘urgent appeal’ for global solidarity and international cooperation.”
Through the intellectual and spiritual intervention, the encyclical opens to many spheres of discourses both theologically and politically. It is against the politics of hatred, extremism, division, polarization, and rampant individualism, and it laments over the deformation of the democracy, especially in the last decade. At present the democracy is degenerated into mere mobocracy or populism, and unfortunately the world is led by the narrow selfish interests of a few leaders, who bombasts on their pomposities. While some critiques observe the encyclical as a ‘political manifesto’ of Pope Francis, some others would like to see this as a ‘humanitarian manifesto.’ Some of the US media described this encyclical as a “strong indictment of President Donald Trump’s nationalist agenda.” In my opinion, this is an indictment not only of the vision and administrative methods of Trump, but also of ideologies that propagate the politics of hatred, aggression, division and extremism, and a powerful voice amidst growing inequality, conflicts, fanaticism and unrest. Through the encyclical, Pope Francis places himself in the tradition of the great spiritual and political leaders, who offers vision and hope to the people in the midst of suffering and disgust. He also expresses his indebtedness to the great world leaders like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Desmond Tutu as the source of inspiration to the present doctrine (no. 286). Amidst the neo-liberal individualism and national populism, he offers a new path of universal fraternity and social friendship rooted in the Gospel.

A Critique on the Current Politics

The encyclical begins with an analysis on the current scenario and his assessment is indisputable. Most of the observations on the current politics like war, hatred, extremism, exclusion, destruction of the planet, aggressive nationalism, fascist traits, inequality, injustice etc., are part of our daily experiences. Such a road can only lead to destruction and annihilation.
A radical criticism on many of the present political realities is prevailed throughout the encyclical. As he admits, for many people politics is “a distasteful word” (no. 176), because it is contaminated by corruption, poor governance, nepotism and dishonesty, and many other similar entities. In many countries the individual interests and petty partisans deteriorate the communitarian and societal dimension. In the encyclical, he brings out many tendencies of the contemporary world that hinders the universal fraternity such as racism, extremism, aggressive nationalism, ignorance of the common good, polarisation, closing the boarders to the migrants, indifference to injustice, exploitation of the women and children as well as the poor and the vulnerable, modern neoliberal economic policies, negligence to the historical conscience, disregard to the common destiny of goods etc,.
One of his strong criticism is against the “narrow forms of nationalism,” which is unable to grasp “fraternal gratuitousness” (no.140,141). Some of the adjectives he uses for nationalism are noteworthy; “a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” that creates “new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense under the guise of defending national interests” (no 11). When the patriotic feelings of people are abused for the selfish gain of certain people or groups, it gives way for a narrow and defective nationalism, to be met at the expense of the others. He is against all sorts of such narrow vision. This reminds me of the words of Rabindranath Tagore, who prophesied on the danger of nationalism. Many ideas of Tagore are resonated in the encyclical, especially on his critique on nationalism and fascism. According to Tagore, “nationalism is a great menace. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles. And as much as we have been ruled and dominated by a nation that is strictly political in its attitude, we have tried to develop within ourselves, despite our inheritance from the past, a belief in our eventual political destiny.” Tagore viewed the colonisation, the world war, as well as the regime of fascism in Germany as the by-product of the exploitation of patriotism and national consciousness of the common folk. For him, nationalism became a manifestation of the greed of individuals and the nation-state should be a mere organising, administrative principle. The ideals of humanity should be greater than the pretty interests of a country. In his meeting with Gandhi, in 1921 at his home in Calcutta, Tagore warned Gandhi about ‘a thin line that divides nationalism and xenophobia.’ It is interesting to note that Pope Francis also describes about the people who “tend to disguise and expand the very individualism that finds expression in xenophobia and in contempt for the vulnerable (no. 43) and he warns against the temptation to “raise walls, walls in the heart, walls on the land” (no. 27). Tagore had a dream to achieve the ‘unity of humanity by destroying the bondage of nationalism.’
Pope Francis also criticises the populism of our age. It exploits people, divide the society which is already fragmented, polarize people into different groups, foment selfishness, manipulate the systems just for the sake of personal gain and popularity. Instead of “healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good” many politicians use “slick marketing techniques” to discredit others and “hyperbole, extremism and polarization” have become the modern political tools to attain the political powers (no.15). In order to gain temporal gain and power and to “maintain their comfortable consumerist isolation” people do not refuse to use “hostility, insults, abuse, defamation and verbal violence” (no. 44). Along with the political degeneration, the engulfing of neoliberalism that discard the undesirable, unproductive, the vulnerable and the poor attack is a threat to the dignity of personhood. The unbridled market forces grab rather than a service to the common goodsees the foreigner as a threat, not as a brother.

New Dreams of ‘A Better Politics’

The world is in need of a better politics. Many would be remembering the slogan after the brutal massacre of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe!” In fact, it is a cry of millions of people in the present world under the tyrannical reign of many elected-autocrats. Political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in the book, How Democracies Die, points out the different ways of the formation of the elected- autocracy. According to them there will not be any direct acts of violence or emergency like ancient autocrats and the process of democracy operate as usual, but through small incremental steps democracy is subverted. When political commentator Van Jones announced in tears the victory of Joe Biden as US president, telling “it is easier to be a parent this morning. It is easier to be a dad to tell your kids character matters, being a good person matters,” the world heard a sigh of hope and an expression of relief.
The strong political message of Fratelli Tutti is clear in its fifth chapter entitled, ‘A Better Kind of Politics.’ However, the idea of a better politics runs throughout the encyclical. For Pope Francis, the basis of a better politics is the concept of interconnectedness, which can “increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all people in solidarity” (no 138). Politicians have a unique opportunity not only to help others, but also to nourish better conditions of human life. Politics has fallen into disrepute because of corruption, individualism, and unhealthy populism. What we need today is “a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of common good” (no 154). Apart from narrow slogans and marketing, politics should bring long-term changes and effective solutions to the problems of our time.
According to Pope Francis, politics is a noble profession, provided it “makes room for a tender love of others.” This tenderness is nothing, but the “love that draws near and becomes real” (no 194). It is a movement starting from our hearts and reaches to the weakest, the poorest and smallest in the society. It offers opportunities for all and protects the right of every single individual. In a way, Pope goes back to the Aristotelian view of politics, that encompasses two fields such as ethics and philosophy. For Aristotle, politics is a normative or prescriptive discipline, rather than a purely empirical inquiry. Though he speaks of four causes for the existence of city-state, the emphasis is given to the community (koinonia), that is, “a collection of parts having some functions and interests in common.” Without practising true and authentic love, political activities will be mere individualistic and opportunistic expression of egoism and self-love.
The theological foundation of a better politics is the parable of the good Samaritan. For the ‘good Samaritan’ the barriers of the egoistic ghettos were not a hindrance to practice the ‘social charity,’ neither has it prevented him to do his fundmental duty to the one who in in need. The sight of the discomfort of the badly wounded man and his suffering prompted him to ‘cross all barriers and boundaries’ and act for the needs of the stranger (no 68). In the journey to achieve the highest goals “politics must not be subject to the economy” rather “what is needed is a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis.”More clearly, “healthy politics… capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia” (no. 177).
The main segments of ‘a better politics’ of Pope Francis can be summarised as follows; First, politics should be shaped by social and political charity “that transcends every individualistic mindset” (n 182). It primarily recognises that “all people are our brothers and sisters and makes us to love the “common good.” This should be accompanied by “commitment to truth,” which goes beyond mere petty personal self-love (no 184) and be actualised through concrete efforts when the good of others is at stake (no.185). In a broader sense, it is an openness to everyone, to listen the other points of view and making room for everyone (no. 190).
Second, politics should promote political love. He calls charity as “the spiritual heart of politics” (no.187). Through the political act, the politician practices the virtue of charity so that “one’s neighbour will not find himself in poverty” and “the poor to be acknowledged and valued in their dignity, respected in their identity and culture, and thus truly integrated into society” (no187). It is an act of charity to assist one who is suffering. More than mere charitable actions or some humanitarian works, it is an invitation to change the social conditions that causes one to suffer. Our political activities should help one to overcome the temporal hurdles that degrade the value of human dignity. The task of a politician is to “build bridges” (no. 186)with a view to change the social conditions.
Third, politics should be fruitful and achieve results. In order to overcome the individualistic and uncritical culture of today what we need is the ability to change our hearts, attitudes and lifestyles (no.166). Without these changes, political propaganda will continue at the service of the economic and selfish interests of the powerful. The primary concern of the politicians should not be on ‘a drop of polls,’ rather they have to look into the effective solutions of many social and economic problems of our time like human trafficking, sexual exploitation, the trade of weapons and drugs, terrorism, hunger etc., (no. 188, 189).
Finally, it is a call to cross all boundaries and barriers. For the Samaritan, to act while confronted with needy, national boundaries were not a barrier. At the sight of the discomfort of the wounded man, he has not thought of the cultural stigma or social distance, rather he saw only ‘a human being’. Based on this gospel insight, Pope also argues that ‘rights have no boarders’ (no 121) and “each country also belongs to the foreigner” (no.124). It invites the global community towards an ethics of international openness and relationship. Differences in colour, religion, talent and birthplace should not be consideration to the actualisation of the fundamental human rights. When the basic needs of many thousands are not met properly, or when many are victimised because of the system, we cannot celebrate the “feast of universal fraternity” (no 110). Seeing human in all life condition is more important than all kinds of barriers like nation, religion, cast etc,. Fratelli Tutti thus requests to experience the universal fraternity beyond all kinds of limitations created by the narrow individual interests.

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