Europe: The Road to Justice and Peace?

Flag_of_EuropeThe failure of the European Union as a whole to address the refugee crisis with any coherent vision of human dignity is a matter of deep shame, which Pope Francis has recently highlighted in one of his powerful gestures. Some very ugly political forces are crawling out from under stones. The Euro has become a nightmare, in which democracy has been subjugated to the interests of French and German banks, the taxpayer made liable for their reckless lending, and no account at all taken of the interests of the poor. UK politicans take turns in giving thanks that we have opted out of both Schengen and the Euro. Yet are not a common currency and a common border the hallmarks of a unified Europe? Is that project, that ever-closer union, now dead?

Some will say Britain was never part of it, though the treaties state otherwise and even David Cameron’s recent opt-out from further integration can be reversed, with UK consent. The EU cannot be understood except as a political project; it was never just about free trade and economics, even if, for the most part, that is how it has been sold to the British electorate. Trade is merely the path to peace and justice, or such is the hope. Pope Francis said to the EU Parliament:

“I encourage you to return to the firm conviction of the founders of the European Union, who envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the peoples of this continent.  At the heart of this ambitious political project was confidence in man, not so much as a citizen or an economic agent, but in man, in men and women as persons endowed with transcendent dignity.”

Since Pope John XXIII, the Catholic Church has held that the future lies with a global political authority, the cession of a degree of sovereignty to the global level. As our world becomes economically, militarily and environmentally ever more interconnected, political authority needs to keep pace. Yet it is essential that such an authority arise from mutual agreement and not be imposed, nor be understood as a global super-State. After all, Napoleon Bonaparte also had a vision of a united Europe – united under him.

The European Union of 500 million people in 28 states is the largest political grouping ever formed, and so far maintained, entirely by consent. Even the United States is not only smaller but had to endure a terrible Civil War to keep it together; Europe’s ‘civil wars’ preceded the formation of the Union. The wonder of the EU is not that it sometimes works rather badly but that it works at all. The challenge is to make it work better and make it something the peoples of Europe feel proud of once again. The real decision – and it is a real choice – is whether the British people want to be a continuing part of that project.

An abridged version of a talk given at Sunderland Minster on 13 May 2016.

Dr Mark Hayes holds the St Hilda Chair in Catholic Social Thought and Practice.

The Idea of Freedom

boy-1226964_1280“Amartya Sen is the person I most admire in post-war social science”, said Professor Stuart Corbridge, Durham’s new Vice-Chancellor. Evidently relishing the opportunity to escape the burdens of office and speak freely as a scholar, the VC was delivering part of a tag-team lecture together with myself and Dr Augusto Zampini-Davies, a theological advisor to CAFOD, and Dr Séverine Deneulin, a specialist on international development at the University of Bath. Our theme was “The Idea of Freedom: reading Amartya Sen from a Catholic perspective” and the four contributions fitted together rather well.

Professor Corbridge and I set the scene in terms of the general context of Sen’s work within welfare economics and his seminal contribution to the so-called “capability approach”, in which personal freedom is both the means and the end of development. We then heard a really lucid exposition by our two colleagues of the similarities and differences between Catholic Social Thought (CST) and the Capability Approach.

For Augusto Zampini-Davies, while there are some areas of tension, there is much common ground. I was struck by his comment that in Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si, we find that the main principles of CST – the common good, the universal destination of goods, subsidiarity, participation and solidarity – are to be understood as tools, what matters more is seeing ‘the signs of the times’ as they are, just as for Sen the Capability Approach provides a language for addressing social reality. There are three particular areas where CST can draw upon Sen’s approach: the need to hear the cry of the women, on whom global poverty weighs most heavily; a concrete perspective on the economic meaning of development beyond money income; and the understanding of a process of participation and dialogue.

Séverine Deneulin posed the reverse question: how can the Capability Approach draw on CST? She in turn identified three main areas: a more relational anthropology, beyond ethical individualism; a more realistic account of human weakness, including the manner in which individual freedom can produce structures of sin, which can only be redeemed through conversion at the level of community; and a stronger motivation, in the awareness of our common origin and mutual belonging, for exercising the personal responsibility to use our freedom to work towards greater justice.

I sensed that I was witnessing the formation of a new synthesis and that this collaborative lecture was outlining a truly fruitful way forward, both for academic research and the Church.

Audio of the full lecture together with the slides can be found here, and the slides are here: Sen final with all speakers.

Dr Mark Hayes holds the St Hilda Chair in Catholic Social Thought and Practice.MGH

Smoke and Mirrors on Welfare and Work by Mark G. Hayes

Hayes, Durham, Theology, Catholic Social ThoughtThe announcement in the Queen’s Speech of a proposed Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill might suggest that the Conservative Workers’ Party had listened to the Archbishop of York’s call for a return to the values of Temple and Beveridge (see this blog , On Rock or Sand?, 17 February 2015). ‘Full employment and welfare’ suggests a concern for the dignity of work and a preferential option for the poor.

Beveridge defined full employment as a seller’s market in labour, meaning that every willing worker enjoys competition among employers for his or her services. Mr Osborne has redefined full employment to mean something completely different: the highest proportion of the working-age population in employment in the G7. Full employment in Mr Osborne’s sense is to be achieved partly by making unemployment as unpleasant as possible. So cuts in working-age benefits are to be justified as promoting full employment: hence the linking of ‘full employment’ and ‘welfare’ in the same sentence. The Bill is intended ‘to ensure that it pays to work rather than to rely on benefits’. Continue reading