Fratelli tutti and popular politics

In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis explores what contribution the Catholic tradition can make in politics, writes Amy Daughton, Lecturer in Practical Theology in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham.

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?1

Like T. S. Eliot’s Stranger, Fratelli tutti asks us many questions. They are questions that strike at the heart of our political life. It asks each of us to consider for ourselves ‘What mark did I leave on the life of society? What real bonds did I create?’ (197). It asks us whether law itself will not fail if it does not stand on the principle ‘that each human being is sacred and inviolable?’ (207). It asks us ‘What is tenderness?’ (194).

It is the question of the Stranger that stands behind each of these – what is the meaning of our lives together? What is our collective life for? This encyclical is a summons to seek better answers than mere convenience.

Catholic social teaching has been a tradition of thinking that opposes itself to the cynicism that can characterise contemporary political commentary. Its modern emergence in the late nineteenth century focused on concrete injustices, expecting that they might be changed by moral exhortation. Its ancient origins conceive of community as gathering about a plentiful table, if our relations were really founded in love of neighbour and the goodness of creation were shared and not hoarded. Fratelli tutti continues in that trajectory by taking seriously that ancient possibility of love, casting it here as a specifically political task: ‘Politics too must make room for a tender love of others’ (194). For that purpose, love is here cast as social friendship, founded in a recognition of universal kinship between people. The outworking of that social friendship is a ‘better kind of politics’ (V).

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