Supranational government and the demographic question

Last night, we noticed on Twitter a discussion about our piece, The ghost at the Brexit feast, that seemed to focus on our assertion that supranational government has to be founded upon Catholic principles. Of course, that is not really our assertion; it is the inescapable conclusion of the teachings of St. Pius XSt. John XXIII, and Benedict XVI. Setting that to one side, the discussion included the fact that Catholics are only 17.8% of the world population. The implication being either that Catholics are not in a position to establish supranational government along Catholic lines because there aren’t enough Catholics to do it or that Catholics need to convert the nations. Either way, the implicit criticism is that supranational government founded upon Christ and His Church is not possible due to demographic problems.

Ordinarily we do not respond to Twitter discussion of our posts. (We recall that we promised to reconsider our comment policy here, which we are still doing, albeit very, very slowly.) However, this Twitter discussion seemed to raise some interesting points, not least since we did not consider the demographic angle when we wrote our original piece. However, the discussion was very interesting and led us to work through some of the implications of the demographic issue on the question of supranational government.

In short, we think the best response is along the lines of the point that Henri Grenier (and Pius XII, at the very beginning of the Second World War) made: all nations, Catholic or not, are bound together with mutual and reciprocal moral and juridical bonds. And, whether Catholics constitute a demographic minority or not, this interaction and interrelationship of all nations exists and is ultimately founded upon the divine law. Pius XII observed:

[I]t is indispensable for the existence of harmonious and lasting contacts and of fruitful relations, that the peoples recognize and observe these principles of international natural law which regulate their normal development and activity. Such principles demand respect for corresponding rights to independence, to life and to the possibility of continuous development in the paths of civilization; they demand, further, fidelity to compacts agreed upon and sanctioned in conformity with the principles of the law of nations.

The indispensable presupposition, without doubt, of all peaceful intercourse between nations, and the very soul of the juridical relations in force among them, is mutual trust: the expectation and conviction that each party will respect its plighted word; the certainty that both sides are convinced that “better is wisdom, than weapons of war” (Ecclesiastes ix. 18), and are ready to enter into discussion and to avoid recourse to force or to threats of force in case of delays, hindrances, changes or disputes, because all these things can be the result not of bad will, but of changed circumstances and of genuine interests in conflict.

But on the other hand, to tear the law of nations from its anchor in Divine law, to base it on the autonomous will of States, is to dethrone that very law and deprive it of its noblest and strongest qualities. Thus it would stand abandoned to the fatal drive of private interest and collective selfishness exclusively intent on the assertion of its own rights and ignoring those of others.

(Emphasis supplied.) All of this is to say, then, that there are connections between all nations that create a community of mankind. The common good of this community requires supranational government insofar as there are major issues confronting the community of nations that are too great for any one country to solve. Christ and His law, Pius XII teaches us, are the very foundation of these connections. This, of course, makes perfect sense in light of what St. Pius X teaches us in Notre charge apostolique: Catholic charity is the only foundation for meaningful, effective solidarity. Thus, Catholics may only constitute 17.8% of the world population, but that does not change the fact that Christ and His Church are the very bedrock of the international community and the only hope for effective international solidarity. The demographic issue is, strictly speaking, simply not relevant.

However, that is a profoundly unsatisfying answer, because, in concrete terms, demographics do matter. (Just ask anyone who ever lost an election.) It is, of course, important to think in concrete terms when considering questions like supranational government, especially a supranational government that challenges some of the assumptions currently governing supranational authorities. To put it another way: if Catholics are to think about what must be done, the consideration of how it must be done is hugely important. And, in politics, how it must be done often involves a serious consideration of demographics. Yet, at the same time, we must avoid giving the impression that the teachings of the good and holy popes of the modern age—indeed, the teachings of Christ and His Church more generally—are but one voice among many, competing in the marketplace of ideas. That is manifestly not the case.

Thus, we can say that the demographic consideration, while not strictly relevant to the basic doctrinal approach to the question of supranational government, is an important one in concrete terms. How one grapples with demographics is, of course, a different question altogether, and one somewhat more difficult. However, to propose a potential line of inquiry, we wonder whether it might not be more productive to consider Catholics as a percentage of a given country, rather than as a percentage of total population. When considering supranational government, a country either joins and submits to the authority’s jurisdiction or it does not. Thus, the number of Catholics as a percentage of a given country’s electorate is more important, we think, that the number of Catholics as a percentage of the world’s total population.