This is a guest post from Nathan Paxton, Professorial Lecturer in the School of International Service at American University and a 2015-2016 APSA Congressional Fellow.

Now that Pope Francis has jetted back to the Vatican on “Shepherd One”, we have the chance to talk about the theoretical underpinnings of the pope’s international politics. I hope you’re as excited to have a political theory discussion as I am. Primarily, I want to discuss what I think the papal view of politics is, how it fits in with liberation theology, and what that means to those of us who care about international and comparative politics.

Philosophical foundations

Pope Francis’s message to Congress was shot through with the idea that politics can at its best be a means for the flourishing of each individual human person. That flourishing is the end of human community, and the goal of all human society should be to maximize the common good. Importantly, however, politics is a mean, not an end per se.

Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. (Address to Congress)

The emphasis on community and personalism is one of the best indicators that we have that the pope is not a liberal, either in the classic political theory sense nor in the impoverished contemporary American political discourse sense. He’s a pre-Burkean conservative, in that his emphasis is on the traditional, the communal, and what historian Brian Porter-Szücs calls “harmonious social relations.” Because “classic liberalism” promotes both individual liberty and free-market capitalism, it is an atomizing force, prizing and exalting the individual above the ensconcing community and so providing the basis for eventually breaking down that community as every individual pursues what seems to them their own good. Continue reading

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