Nowadays, many people wonder with uncertainty what the post-pandemic world will be like and try to find answers from different sources. Reading Fareed Zakaria’s book Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, published in 2020, some things began to resonate with Fratelli tutti, the third encyclical of Pope Francis, which led me to think: How could this man of liberal democratic ideology, a reputed presenter and opinion maker, a writer for The Atlantic and The Washington Post, a senior political analyst for CNN, and an academic with a doctorate from Harvard University, be saying the same things as Fratelli tutti? This book is a national and international political analysis from a liberal perspective that at first glance should be far from Francis’ critique of liberalism and neoliberalism in Fratelli tutti.
Contrasts are present in the analyses. In Lesson Number 3, Zakaria identifies the danger of market hegemony and gives recipes for state intervention for society to adapt to the challenges presented by the market economy. However, in paragraph 12 of the first chapter of the encyclical (“Dark cloud for a closed world”), Francis focuses on the most personal, individual level to reach the common good for everyone, putting our identity as people before the roles of consumers or spectators imposed by the market. These differences are important because in Zakaria’s book the focus is on the economy, the state and society, while for Francis, it is the human, focusing mainly on the weakest and the hearts of the people. Francis’ message gives hope to a desperate world that is a reality for many people and not mere TV news. This makes Fratelli tutti a prophetic text for today’s world. Like the words of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and other great prophets of the Bible, it points to calamities and offers hope that comes from the experience of God. This hope reaches the most vulnerable among us and the most intimate parts of each person to give light to what may lie ahead. However, “Nothing is written,” as Zakaria titles the conclusion of his book, and Francis calls for the recovery of the priority of the dignity of the person over the markets.
Zakaria sees that inequalities have increased with the liberalisation of markets (p. 64). However, he recognises that inequalities can be inevitable, even though in a moral sense all human beings are equal (p.166), as indicated in his Lesson Number 7: “Inequality will get worse.” The two authors have different attitudes towards this reality. One calls for a reform of the economy, resigned to the impossibility of a great change in the status quo, while the other calls for a change of the economy with the hope for structural changes with people’s dignity as a central priority. The footprint of God is markedly noted with these differences in attitude and determination. These differences expose the prophetic depth of the Fratelli tutti, its relevance and its ability to illuminate and move the current powers towards the construction of a more just, fraternal and peaceful common destiny. Was this determination to build a more just, fraternal and peaceful kingdom the reason Jesus was assesinated?
Zakaria points out another aspect that stands out and is the need for empathy when he talks about experts in Lesson Number Four. Due to his New Deal experience as President of the United States and how he suffered from polio, he came to be recognised as the champion of the poor and dispossessed (p.94). Although Roosevelt’s way of connecting with the people, his pain and suffering from polio, and his empathy for the poor may hint at Christian charity, Zakaria’s message should not be confused with the appeal in Fratelli tutti. The empathy that Zakaria describes is for the elites with the people and the people with the elites. However, Fratelli tutti goes further; the word Francis uses is ‘love.’
The word ‘love’ is present throughout the encyclical, appearing 123 times, beginning with the first paragraph of the document. The encyclical ends by conjugating the verb ‘to love’ in the penultimate word, before the ‘amen’ that closes the final prayer of the text. Francis invites love to permeate us at the individual, community, structural, and global levels in all spheres of life. Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as a basis, he calls for this love to be not only an individual openness towards others but also at the social, political, religious and cultural levels. It is in Chapter 5, “A better kind of politics,” that the word ‘love’ appears most often, 28 times. Politics is where love is most needed and from where great changes are needed so that humanity has a fairer course.
Curiously, the word ‘politics’ appears in the encyclical 30 times and the word ‘political’ 60 times. Francis appeals for the regeneration of politics, making a profound call for a transformation of the meaning of politics, what it is and how it is conducted. Francis calls for the practice of charity from ‘political love’. He defines it as “recognizing each human being as a brother or sister and seeking a social friendship that integrates everyone …” (Pr 180).
Love and charity are the dynamos of change for the transformation from within structures, social organisations and the legal order (Paragraph 183). From this political charity, Francis proposes to overcome the individualistic mentality to which the current globalisation leads us so that we become one people through the search for the common good and the practice of a unifying social charity. The encyclical says that one is only fully a person when one is part of a people (Paragraph 182). This concept of a people was already present in the words of the Biblical prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel, but Fratelli tutti speaks of the universal dimension that includes all humanity, quoting from the book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus): “The compassion of man is for his neighbour, but the compassion of the Lord is for all living beings” (Sir 18:13)”. The prophetic line of love and charity in this encyclical had already begun in the Old Testament, and Francis keeps it alive as the fruit of discernment and the presence today of the Spirit of Jesus speaking to us.
Zakaria, like Francis, recognises a need for international cooperation in the face of this pandemic, which will require elements of collective decision-making. Zakaria points out that this is possible, as happened with the smallpox eradication campaign that required cooperation between the two enemy superpowers of the cold war, the USSR and the United States, starting in 1958, or how the European Union has been able to approve and coordinate a common economic recovery plan in response to the economic impact of Covid-19 (pp. 238-239). However, this is still at the political level of governments. Francis does not remain at this level but recognises the role of civil society in responding to some groups’ difficult situations and the lack of response from other important actors in the international community (Paragraph 175). Francis analyses the evolution and challenges of today’s society in the face of reality. Society is an important theme in this encyclical as is attested to by the 95 times the word appears in the text. He makes a call to put religion at the service of society. He speaks of the peaceful role of religions and, together with Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, calls for peace, justice and brotherhood. It is a prophetic announcement of a path of brotherhood for humanity, where every human being is considered a child of God, regardless of differences.
Both authors recognise the dangers of populism in political methods today. Zakaria uses the example of Trump’s populism against immigrants and the flow of goods and services to promise a Garden of Eden that has never existed (p. 73). However, in this case, the concept of the people is presented as a passive and manipulable group of persons. Francis, on the other hand, tries to restore the people; the word ‘people’ appears 163 times in the encyclical. Francis tries to rehabilitate the concept of people, pointing out how it is reviled by individualistic liberalism.
In noting these manipulations of the words ‘people’ and ‘populism,’ Francis calls for a resignification of the words to return to their original, positive, and dynamic meanings. Nowadays, awareness of these details of the meaning of words is necessary because it is with language that the constructions of the perception of reality and its transformations begin. If we want to see society as something more than the sum of individuals, Francis says, then the word ‘people’ is needed. These bonds are not static; they are constantly dynamic and transformational, to respond to the challenges and difficulties we face as human beings and as a people. Zakaria reminds us of Aristotle, demonstrating in his analysis that, despite technology, we are social animals. It is this concept of people that Francis wants to be the engine of transformation towards love, not only locally but also internationally, recognising all human beings as part of the peoples with a common destiny on and with the earth.
The degradation of the words ‘populism’ and ‘popular’ risks delegitimising both the people and the basis of democracy, which is government of, by and for the people. Francis calls for a return to the popular, identifying it with the search for the common good of the people, respecting their differences, but without excluding one from the others, which is what leads to an insane populism. He calls for a return to a neighbourhood spirit that is seen in popular neighbourhoods and can be transposed internationally between countries. The culture of solidarity, democracy, companionship, and fraternity that exists in popular movements and neighbourhoods cannot be erased and must continue to be an example for the fraternity that we want to build in this world. Perhaps this way of transforming the concepts of the ‘people’ and the ‘popular’ is an example of prophesying from the theology of the people, which Francis has been discerning and performing for a long time.
We try to find answers and explanations in the face of the uncertainty that this pandemic has raised and the crises it has unleashed: economic, political, social, health, mental, and labour. The figures of prophets or visionaries, as people capable of foreseeing what is happening and what may happen, are highly sought after. However, two different ways of prophesying can be perceived in the works of Zakaria and Francis. One prophesies from the analysis of reality within the parameters of an ideology, providing solutions at the political, economic, and social levels for better functioning of the system. The other prophesies from the analysis of reality and the experience of God, continuing the storyline of prophets that runs from the Old Testament to the present day, to announce the divine message of charity, love, and hope. The latter does not seek to solve the functioning of the system but rather to mobilise the world from where God speaks to the hearts of the people for the construction of a fraternity that transcends all structure and differences. As the encyclical states, this is the mission of every Christian and every human being because we are part of humanity, all brothers or, as the Italians say, “Fratelli tutti.”
[Images from Wikimedia Commons]