Pacem In Terris 80-84: Relations Between States

Today in Pacem in Terris, we begin Part III. Let’s leap into international relations:

80. With respect to States themselves, Our predecessors have constantly taught, and We wish to lend the weight of Our own authority to their teaching, that nations are the subjects of reciprocal rights and duties. Their relationships, therefore, must likewise be harmonized in accordance with the dictates of truth, justice, willing cooperation, and freedom. The same law of nature that governs the life and conduct of individuals must also regulate the relations of political communities with one another.

Let’s keep in mind these words were written fifty years ago. Many things have changed, but the fabric of conflict still wraps the world, despite shifts in alliances and the ups-and-downs of some fortunes.

81. This will be readily understood when one reflects that it is quite impossible for political leaders to lay aside their natural dignity while acting in their country’s name and in its interests. They are still bound by the natural law, which is the rule that governs all moral conduct, and they have no authority to depart from its slightest precepts.

82. The idea that (people), by the fact of their appointment to public office, are compelled to lay aside their own humanity, is quite inconceivable. Their very attainment to this high-ranking office was due to their exceptional gifts and intellectual qualities, which earned for them their reputation as outstanding representatives of the body politic.

Anarchists might quibble here:

83. Moreover, a ruling authority is indispensable to civil society. That is a fact which follows from the moral order itself. Such authority, therefore, cannot be misdirected against the moral order. It would immediately cease to exit, being deprived of its whole raison d’être. God Himself warns us of this: “Hear, therefore, ye kings, and understand: learn, ye that are judges of the ends of the earth. Give ear, you that rule the people, and that please yourselves in multitudes of nations. For power is given you by the Lord, and strength by the Most High, who will examine your works, and search out your thoughts.” (Wisd. 6:2-4)

84. And lastly one must bear in mind that, even when it regulates the relations between States, authority must be exercised for the promotion of the common good. That is the primary reason for its existence.

Another five sections, but short ones. What conclusions can we explore? First, that nations are not exempt from the basic principles of morality and justice. If something is wrong for an individual, it is wrong for a nation. If individuals have rights and duties, so do nations. If governments are bound to uphold the principles in favor of a common good, then international relations are likewise bound.

Section 84 suggests that the main reason for international relations is to promote the common good. This would be true of defense alliances, trade agreements, cultural associations, or any such inter-governmental situation.

Any comments?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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