Globalization with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization

By Himes, Kenneth R. | Theological Studies, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Globalization with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization


Himes, Kenneth R., Theological Studies


DURING A 2001 SPEECH to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, John Paul II stated, "Globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it." (1) That statement suggests three initial points of importance for discussing globalization and Catholic social teaching (CST). First, globalization is not a fully formed and developed reality; it is in the process of coming to be. Second, globalization is not predetermined by impersonal forces that are beyond human influence; it is a reality that will be shaped by human choice and action. Finally, globalization, precisely as a set of processes that are humanly guided, is subject to ethical assessment, and such evaluation does not presume globalization is inherently right or wrong. In the first part of this article, I comment further on these three initial claims about globalization. I then take up the topic of what CST has to offer regarding an assessment of globalization, and conclude with a discussion of how CST must develop in order to respond effectively to questions and challenges presented by globalization.

PRELIMINARY COMMENTS ON GLOBALIZATION

At the end of a recent book on CST and globalization, one of the coeditors observed that there was a consensus among the contributing authors that no fully satisfactory definition of globalization was available. (2) Despite uncertainty about how to define globalization, there is abundant empirical evidence that it is happening. Trade, travel, and currency exchanges among nations all dramatically increased during the decades of the 1980s and 1990s. In the past 20 years we have seen a tremendous expansion in the number of globally active nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). We have also witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of students studying abroad, as well as in international conferences, congresses, and research teams. (3) There are other obvious examples of global linkages like the Internet and influence on climate change in the contemporary world.

One reason the definition of globalization is contested is that there are globalizations, not just a singular globalization. Daniel Groody points out that globalization means different things to political scientists, economists, sociologists, and anthropologists; (4) one might also add social activists, consumers, diplomats, and artists to that list without exhausting it. A common distinction is made between two globalizations, from above and below. The former includes the activities of large institutional actors in politics and business (governments, banks, corporations), while the former refers to other actors, groups or individuals, who are engaged in forging a globalized civil society (e.g., artists, hobbyists, interest groups, and social activists).

Globalization can be thought of as a braid with distinct yet intertwined strands. Politics, economics, communications, religion, education, environment, culture, technology--all are strands forming the braid. The feature that unites the multiple elements into the reality we call globalization is the experience of increasing interconnectedness on a planet where distance is shrinking and time is accelerating, compared to the experience of life just a few decades ago. (5) Yet each strand has its own distinctive look and represents a particular form of globalization. The variety within globalization can be overlooked due to the tendency to focus on one strand, the economic.

Running throughout the commentaries on globalization is the implication that it is inevitable, impervious to human resistance, and beyond moral agency. According to African moral theologian John Mary Waliggo, the "first and most hideous injustice of globalization" is that the people in the developing world are "told over and over again that they have no choice but to accept it" or face even further marginalization. (6)

In one sense, there is an inevitability about globalization; processes that will shrink the world and heighten interdependence describe our future accurately. …

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