Love in Truth is uneven in style - not uncommon in such documents - and has been roundly criticized for incoherence by George Weigel, but I find it an extremely impressive text. It naturally has to cover a vast field, but it does so brilliantly, consolidating and updating the teaching of previous popes (particularly Populorum Progressio and Centesimus Annus) in the light of changed circumstances, but also boldly advancing strong arguments that take Catholic social teaching to a whole new level. As anticipated in previous posts, there are echoes of John Milbank's point that "we need a new sort of market, and a new sort of politics, in which economics and politics are no longer defined in isolation from each other (exclusive regard for the power of money, or the power of law)." Similarly, Michael Sandel had spoken of the fundamental importance of remembering life as a "gift", and stated that "Economics is not a 'value-neutral science'." While avoiding reference to certain specific controversies around “capitalism” (he prefers to speak of the “market economy”) and “climate change” (he speaks of our responsibility to preserve natural resources), the Pope maps out the principles that must guide us in engaging with these controversies and others.
Closely related to the Pope’s two previous encyclicals, on Love and on Hope, this one starts from the fact revealed in Christ that “God is love”. Love is the heart of the Church’s social doctrine and as such is applicable to everyone, Christian or not. But what gives meaning and value to charity, saving it from sentimentality, is truth. Love is not merely a mood or a feeling, but “Logos”, intelligible order. This is what gives the encyclical its teeth, in line with the Pope’s appeal elsewhere to the need for us to broaden our concept of reason, rather than confining it to purely material concerns (31). In chapter 5 he describes the deepest foundation of human solidarity and subsidiarity, namely the nature of the human creature as spiritual, being “defined through interpersonal relations” (53), in the image of the Trinity (54), and growing to maturity by living these relations properly. The Trinity is the basis for diversity at every level within an overall communion. Thus the Pope calls for the social sciences to work with metaphysics and theology in order to do justice to “man’s transcendent dignity” as a social and therefore relational creature. We need “a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation” (53). Connected with this emphasis on wisdom and metaphysics is an insistence that God and theology cannot be excluded from the public realm (cultural, social, economic, political) without damaging or seriously distorting human development (56).
At a practical level, in response to the new circumstances – “global interrelations, the damaging effects on the real economy of badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing, large-scale migration of peoples, often provoked by some particular circumstance and then given insufficient attention, the unregulated exploitation of the earth's resources” (21) – the Pope advocates sustainable and holistic development that takes account of all the dimensions of the human person and remains open to the transcendent. In chapter 4 he examines several threats to the integrity of human development. One of these is the proliferation of rights detached from duties, which takes place when rights are no longer understood as rooted in the nature and authentic needs of the person. Another is the impoverishment of sexuality and the imposition of materialistic ideas and policies with regard to the family. Human development on every level will be thwarted by continued attacks on marriage, the unborn, the elderly. He mentions also the excessive centralization of certain development programmes, which take little account of the need for subsidiarity and effective local management. Finally, he stresses the enormous range of duties that arise from our relationship to the environment, which is bound up with our relationship to the poor and towards future generations. Nature is a gift of the Creator containing an inbuilt order which we must respect. Once again, stewardship of the environment cannot be separated from respect for human life, sexuality and the family – “the book of nature is one and indivisible” (51).
One important theme that runs through the encyclical is the inseparability of justice and charity (6). Giving and forgiving transcend justice but also complete it. This is developed further in chapter 3, which establishes the priority of the “gratuitous” (including truth as gift) over the contractual arrangements of the market (35). With this the Pope overturns the model of homo economicus – the self-interested individual who plays such a central role in textbook economic theory. Economic action and commercial logic cannot, he says, be detached from political action and the principle of the common good (36), for the economic sphere is never ethically neutral (36). Economic life depends on three “logics”: not only contractual exchange, but also political justice and unconditional gift (on which justice today depends). Flowing from this is a call to create space within the market for economic entities aiming at a higher goal than pure profit. The “principle of gratuitousness” is not to be confined to civil society or delegated to the State. It is to be fully integrated within the market through the presence (alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and various types of public enterprise, and hybridizing with them) of commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends – for example, by taking account of the interests of all the stakeholders and not just the shareholders (38, 40).
The Pope has opened the door here to the “new economics”, or the development of new economic entities that do not fit the old distinction between for-profit and non-profit enterprise, which perhaps make a profit but treat this always as a means to a social end, including cooperatives, credit unions, micro-finance, and the “economy of communion” (46) – not to mention new “hybrid” forms of economic activity that must be encouraged to emerge in the future (38). He has integrated this with a strong vision of human and environmental ecology, while purifying the latter of materialist ideology, and goes on in chapter 6 to tackle the whole question of technology, in which the distinctive problems of modernity come to a head. There many of these threads come together in his claim that “the development of peoples goes awry if humanity thinks it can re-create itself through the ‘wonders’ of technology, just as economic development is exposed as a destructive sham if it relies on the ‘wonders’ of finance in order to sustain unnatural and consumerist growth. In the face of such Promethean presumption, we must fortify our love for a freedom that is not merely arbitrary, but is rendered truly human by acknowledgment of the good that underlies it” – the fundamental norms of the natural moral law (68).
Technological progress is a legitimate response to God’s command to “till and cultivate” the earth, but this must be comprehended within the “covenant” between human beings and the environment which “should mirror God’s creative love”. Otherwise technology becomes an “ideological power” holding us back from being and truth. (There are important paragraphs on social communications and biotechnology in this connection.) Here as elsewhere, integral human development is prevented by a confusion between ends and means, as if our goal could be limited to the attainment of scientific knowledge, the consolidation of power, or the maximization of profit.
Human development, the Pope concludes, depends on our “rising above a materialistic vision of human events” to include the spiritual dimension, the “beyond” that technology cannot give (77), in a “humanism open to the Absolute” (78). In other words, we must become aware of our constitutive relation to the transcendent, our “calling” towards God for the common good of all, in love and truth.