Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Globalization and the Insights of Catholic Social Teaching

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Globalization and the Insights of Catholic Social Teaching

Article excerpt

With the process commonly referred to as globalization embracing the planet, many Christian social thinkers have naturally begun to write extensively about the question. Yet, before they enter into the details of this issue, it is reasonable that Christian scholars give serious consideration to the matter of how they think about globalization. If they are to avoid the common error of simply articulating secularist bromides in the language of Christian theology, they need to begin by looking to the unique intellectual apparatuses that have been bequeathed to Christians by the Church. Thus, from the standpoint of Roman Catholicism, careful reflection upon magisterial teaching about socialization, subsidiarity, and the common good should allow Catholic scholars to think through the phenomenon of globalization in a way that yields insights that may escape the attention of orthodox secularist thought.


The word globalization is on everyone's lips. For some it means what we are bound to do if we wish to be happy, while others view it as a primary cause of their unhappiness. What is clear, however, is that globalization appears to be an intractable, even irreversible, process that affects everyone. It is also evident that the very word globalization is used in such a variety of positive, negative, and neutral senses that it is increasingly difficult to be precise about what people mean when they use the term. As the Polish-Jewish sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, notes: "All vogue words appear to share a similar fate: the more experiences they pretend to make transparent, the more they themselves become opaque.... 'Globalization' is no exception to that rule." (1)

What, then, is globalization? Rather than enter into a long discussion of its definition, we content ourselves here with simply noting some of the tendencies commonly associated with the word, without passing judgment on whether such developments are essentially positive or negative in nature. These include:--the proliferation of transnational organizations and movements both of a "private" (e.g., multinational corporations) and "public" (e.g., international judicial bodies) nature;

--a diminishing--though not an extinction--of the decision-making abilities and sovereignty of nation-state governments in favor of some of these transnational bodies;

--the emergence of planetary dimensions to business, finance, trade, technological, and information flows;

--the diminution of many hitherto common political and economic barriers such as tariffs;

--an increasing degree of cultural homogenization; and

--the unparalleled expansion of personal relationships beyond the level of the family, local communities and associations, and even nations.

Globalization, then, has social, cultural, and political manifestations. Unfortunately, much discussion about globalization and its implications for the state has already degenerated into a somewhat sterile debate about whether the tendencies associated with globalization are essentially good, inevitable, and to be welcomed unquestionably, or fundamentally regrettable, destructive, and to be resisted at every turn. (2)

This article, however, does not involve itself in that discussion, nor does it concern itself with examining globalization's implications for the role of national governments in specific policy areas. Prior to involving themselves in such discussions, it is surely reasonable that theologians and church leaders undertake some basic preliminary work on the issue of how Christians should approach the subject of globalization, because this will help determine the nature of their response to this phenomenon.

This, of course, is a potentially inexhaustible subject. As a way of presenting some brief preliminary contributions to this methodological issue, this article draws upon the resources of modern Catholic social teaching as articulated by the Papal and Conciliar magisterium to ask:

--How Christians might comprehend the nature, origin, and consequences of globalization;

--How Christians might situate globalization within a specifically Christian vision of history; and

--How Christians might think about the role of the state in light of globalization. …

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