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Living in Hope or Fear in Difficult Times: The Culture of Encounter and Global Governance

By: Scott Thomas

August 23, 2022

Religions and Encounter as a Global Challenge

“Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned [from the Covid-19 pandemic] was the need to improve what we are already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.”
Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, 7

“The only reason we engage ourselves in the field of education is the hope for a new mankind, in another possible world .... Our objective is not only to form ‘useful individuals for society,’ but to educate persons who can transform it.”
- Pope Francis/Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Education for Choosing Life: Proposals for Difficult Times (2005, 2014)

The keynote addresses by Archbishop Paul Gallagher and Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., complement each other in remarkable ways. Both engage the culture of encounter in a way that demonstrates its relationship to one of the central questions in the theory of international relations—does international society exist (realists say no), and if it does exist, what is international society, and what is the nature of the social bond between states that constitutes international society? The Catholic Church has always believed in the “natural society of nations,” and this position is elegantly restated in relation to the culture of encounter by Archbishop Gallagher. He refers to many principles, practices of international relations that are already a part of global governance and international relations, and argues they should be, or need, as Pope Francis has argued, especially in Fratelli Tutti, to become a much stronger part of global governance (e.g. slavery, human trafficking, human rights, dispute settlement, etc.)

Rev. Sosa examines in greater detail the concept of culture and cultures to highlight the value and importance of cultural diversity. He also recognizes this Catholic position on the natural society of nations (law, institutions, and community) but emphasizes how the culture of encounter and the dialogue between cultures (plural) is increasingly going to become a foundation for international law, international institutions, and international order, as states are embedded in different cultures and religious traditions. In fact, at a time when the Americans were preoccupied with communism, a similar type of position—now quite prescient in an increasingly global age—was articulated by the early English School of international relations, founded in Britain after World War II, as a way of coming to terms with the rise of nationalism, decolonization, independence, and the impact of these new nations and cultural diversity on international society.

The complementarity between these keynote addresses can be clarified by the way they both, while emphasizing different aspects of the culture of encounter, relate to the levels of analysis in international relations—how the international level, the primary location of problems of global governance, is also fundamentally related to the individual, societal, and state levels of analysis. Archbishop Gallagher begins with the Gospel’s message of peace, and perhaps this is not so surprising. It is the same place John Epstein begins The Catholic Tradition of the Law of Nations, prepared by the Catholic Council for International Relations, and published for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1935). 

However, what is new is the way Gallagher links the Gospel’s message of peace to what can be recognized as the levels of analysis, and to dialogue and encounter, the formation of the culture of encounter as a lifestyle, or a way of living (at the individual and society levels of analysis). People are in dialogue with those they encounter, at each of the multiple levels of analysis, those who  are involved with their lives. He argues for “education in the art of peacemaking, drawing individuals, nations and peoples” at every level of analysis, “out of the spiral of war, resentment and hatred, and guiding them to the path of dialogue and the pursuit of the common good.” In other words, he recognizes, in a far more radical way, a more holistic and integrated understanding of what scholars call the “security dilemma” in international relations. This is the paradox that any attempt to increase our security inadvertently makes others feel less secure in a vicious circle or spiral of insecurity that operates at each level of analysis. He points towards the role of education (a key concern of Pope Francis since his time in Argentina), as the art, even the craft of peacemaking, which engages all of us at every level (i.e. being trained in those virtues and practices and enabling each of us to become persons of peace at each level of analysis we encounter and are in dialogue with others). This theory and theology has a direct bearing on politics: “Good politics will seek ways of building communities at each level of social life, in order to recalibrate and reorient globalization and thus avoid disruptive effects” (FT, 182, 138, 142, 189, 259, 261, 280).  

Both keynote addresses, echoing Fratelli Tutti (9-54), point quite seriously to the dangerous condition of contemporary international relations—the possibility of fear—but also more imaginatively towards hope and expectation for the future. Why might this be the case? Both keynotes are rooted in the Catholic concept of the “natural society of nations,” which to some extent, during the interwar period (1919-1939), was distorted by “the peace through law” approach to world peace, famously criticized in E.H. Carr’s The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939 (1939, 1946). Archbishop Gallagher also seems to be implicitly criticizing this limited approach when he refuses, “to see human and international relationships in purely legal categories,” an understanding of international society as something contractual and constructed (Gesellschaft), a rational, functional response to global interdependence. So, regardless of whether you are a realist or a liberal, culture and religion are irrelevant, and the so-called “logic of anarchy” (among a variety of independent states with no overarching authority) can lead to international cooperation. 

It can be argued that this is exactly what Pope Francis was criticizing in the epigraph above—the effort to “improve what we are already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations,” rather than to recognize that what is needed is an entirely new paradigm of how we see the world and to interpret what is going on within it (Evangelii Gaudium, 15, 73, 74; Fratelli Tutti, 48, 166, 177). Another flaw with this approach is that it is really based on an unstated Western hegemony of the international order. This view is now collapsing with the rise of multipolarity and new non-Western great powers, and so Rev. Sosa’s emphasis on culture, cultures, encounter, intercultural encounter, and dialogue is very important. What is the basis of global governance and international order with the rise of new emerging great powers in an increasingly global and multicultural international society? 

In fact, another understanding of international society (Gemeinschaft) recognizes the cultural foundations of international order. International relations is a social world as much as a legal, political, and economic world. International society is something that grows organically from shared culture, involving bonds of common sentiment, experience, and identity (e.g. the ancient Greek city-state system, the European state-system, or the pre-colonial Igbo city-state system in Nigeria, dramatized in Chinua Achebe’s novels). This understanding of international society is social; in a global and multicultural international society, diplomacy, foreign policy, and any legal, contractual, or functional relations increasingly will depend on intercultural encounter and dialogue and understanding.