Pope Warns Populism Is ‘Weakening the Multilateral System’

Pope Francis looks on during a mass for the Cardinals and Bishops who have died over the course of the year at the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on November 3, 2018. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

Pope Francis compared today’s emergence of populist and nationalist movements to the days of Nazi Germany in an address to a group of diplomats accredited to the Holy See Monday.

The upcoming year will mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the League of Nations, the pope said in his annual address, which represented “the beginning of modern multilateral diplomacy, by which states try to remove mutual relations from the logic of oppression that leads to war.”

Difficulties with the League of Nations led exactly twenty years after its birth to “a new and more lacerating conflict, which was the Second World War.”

“The indispensable premise of the success of multilateral diplomacy is the good will and good faith of the interlocutors, the willingness to a fair and sincere confrontation and the willingness to accept the inevitable compromises that arise from the confrontation between the parties,” he said.

“Where even one of these elements fails, the search for unilateral solutions prevails and, ultimately, the overwhelming of the weaker by the stronger,” he said, and unfortunately, “we note that the same attitudes are still undermining the stability of the main international organizations.”

The pope went on to put forward his belief that globalist organizations are key to the maintenance of peace and international stability.

I consider it important that “even in the present time the will of a peaceful and constructive confrontation between the States does not fail,” he said, “even though it is evident that relations within the international community, and the multilateral system as a whole, are going through difficult times, with the re-emergence of nationalistic tendencies.”

These tendencies “undermine the vocation of international organizations to be a space for dialogue and meeting for all countries,” he said.

The rise of populism, the pope suggested, is partly due to the inability of the multilateral system to offer effective solutions to unresolved situations, and in part it “is the result of the evolution of national policies, more and more frequently determined by the search for an immediate and sectarian consensus, rather than by the patient pursuit of the common good.”

It is also partly due to an attempt on the part of multinational organizations to “impose their visions and ideas, triggering new forms of ideological colonization, not infrequently disrespectful of the identity, dignity, and sensitivity of peoples,” he said.

During the period between the two world wars, he said, “populist and nationalistic propensities prevailed over the action of the League of Nations. The reappearance of such impulses today is progressively weakening the multilateral system, with the result of a general lack of confidence, a crisis of credibility of international politics and a progressive marginalization of the most vulnerable members of the family of nations.”

In his address, the pope lamented the “re-emergence of tendencies to pursue and prioritize individual national interests without resorting to those instruments that international law provides to resolve disputes and ensure respect for justice, including through international courts.”

This rise in nationalism is in cases the result of a “heightened malaise” that is experienced by the citizens of many countries, who perceive the dynamics that govern the international community as “ultimately far from their actual needs,” he said.

Curiously, nowhere in his 5,600-word speech did the pope mention “subsidiarity,” the central principle of Catholic social thought that protects the freedom of individuals, families, and communities from the interference of state and international bodies.

The Catholic Church has consistently reaffirmed the vital principle of subsidiarity, which determines that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”

As a result, Catholics believe that international bodies should never be all-encompassing or invasive regarding the internal life of nations but should limited their activity to areas of life that cannot practically and effectively be governed by the nations themselves.

The sovereignty of nations should never be compromised by overly aggressive international legal or political structures. Importantly, according to Catholic thought, subsidiarity is a fundamental component of the common good and not a counterbalance to it, and where it is disrespected, the common good suffers.

Although subsidiarity is fundamentally a limiting principle on the interference of a society of a higher order in the life of a society of a lower order, it furthers the common good by defending essential freedoms and the autonomy of societies of a lower order, including that of individual nations.

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