The introduction of Gaudium et Spes continues with the acknowledgement of the high hope for justice based on human power:
Meanwhile the conviction grows not only that humanity can and should increasingly consolidate its control over creation, but even more, that it devolves on humanity to establish a political, social and economic order which will growingly serve man and help individuals as well as groups to affirm and develop the dignity proper to them.
This might be one area in which the world has seen a significant change in the intervening forty years. I don’t think there’s as much of a sense of human control in the secular world. The past few decades have reinforced the notion that there is no such thing as a new world order, at least not a more just one. Communism is replaced with organized crime in Russia. China makes just about every consumer good. The rich, at least, seem to profit more from a pseudo-peace in developed countries. I just wish they’d find something more lucrative than weapons for war.
As a result many persons are quite aggressively demanding those benefits of which with vivid awareness they judge themselves to be deprived either through injustice or unequal distribution. Nations on the road to progress, like those recently made independent, desire to participate in the goods of modern civilization, not only in the political field but also economically, and to play their part freely on the world scene. Still they continually fall behind while very often their economic and other dependence on wealthier nations advances more rapidly.
People hounded by hunger call upon those better off. Where they have not yet won it, women claim for themselves an equity with men before the law and in fact. Laborers and farmers seek not only to provide for the necessities of life, but to develop the gifts of their personality by their labors and indeed to take part in regulating economic, social, political and cultural life. Now, for the first time in human history all people are convinced that the benefits of culture ought to be and actually can be extended to everyone.
Still, beneath all these demands lies a deeper and more widespread longing: persons and societies thirst for a full and free life worthy of (men and women); one in which they can subject to their own welfare all that the modern world can offer them so abundantly. In addition, nations try harder every day to bring about a kind of universal community.
The “universal community” is more a fact of the dominance of western culture and the phenomenon of computer-aided communication than any political reality. Here, too, I think GS betrays a blind confidence in the political world of the 60’s. Perhaps colonialism and the alliance against fascism hid too much of the undercurrent of simmering ethnic tensions in eastern Europe, African and south Asia. I’m sure a rewriting of GS today would have to include the tendency of the world community to split itself along lines of historical resentment, religion, and ethnic rivalries.
Since all these things are so, the modern world shows itself at once powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deeds or the foulest; before it lies the path to freedom or to slavery, to progress or retreat, to brotherhood or hatred. Moreover, (people are) becoming aware that it is (their) responsibility to guide aright the forces which (they have) unleashed and which can enslave (them) or minister to (them). That is why (they are) putting questions to (themselves).