Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Latin in the Vatican - the Papacy and the European Union

Over at A Fistful of €uros there has been considerable discussion on the issue of whether Latin is a solution to the EU’s language problems

Dave Schuler from The Glittering Eye offered the following:

Let me repeat the suggestion made by Jacob Grimm more than 150 years ago: Hungarian. It's a living language and standardized but not spoken natively by enough people that it's not likely we'd see Hungarian hegemony. It's very regular, doesn't have any difficult sounds, and, unlike Latin or English, has a perfect orthography.
In many respects I would agree but my own experience is that Hungarian is not an easy language to learn, and, unlike English, is not very forgiving where matters of pronunciation are concerned. As an aside I would add that the origins of the Hungarians, and their language, are questions that even Hungarians do not always agree upon - as good a starting point on this as any might be Chapter One of The Timeless Nation.

To return to the matter of Latin. Latin was the language used to announce the new Pope yesterday. Latin also forms the title of a post at The Glittering Eye entitled, Habemus papam, which links to the Benedict XV’s encyclical on matters philosophical which contains gems such as; "It is not our intention here to repeat the arguments which clearly expose the errors of Socialism and of similar doctrines". Habemus papam is also, co-incidentally, the title of a post over at Rogue Classicism which also discusses the Latin language.

What one might ask does the Pope have to do with the European Union? Joseph Ratzinger will take the title Benedict XVI - St. Benedict is the patron saint of Europe – the European tradition appears to have triumphed at the Vatican, and the Papacy does indeed have a bearing on the EU.

If the new Pope, who has expressed reservations about Turkish membership of the EU, also holds similar views on economics to those attributed to his predecessor, by a Polish intellectual in an article entitled John Paul the Moderniser, then maybe we will soon see France ditch the secular state!

I commend the above article even though there appears to be an implied justification of the European Social Model. Whilst I respect the views expressed I remain to be convinced that the European Social Model is anything much more than an unrealistic objective that is holding back the process of economic growth in much of "Old Europe".

Here is some what is written on the late John Paul’s views on economics:
.... the words of the Pope are clear and leave no doubt. “It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. But this is true only for those needs which are ‘solvent,’ insofar as they are endowed with purchasing power, and for those resources which are ‘marketable,’ insofar as they are capable of obtaining a satisfactory price.” But the Pope added: “[T]here are many human needs which find no place on the market.”

That encyclical also contained a second fundamental statement concerning the idea of profit. “The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well. When a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied.”

Once again, the Pope added a caveat: “But profitability is not the only indicator of a firm's condition. It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and yet for the people — who make up the firm’s most valuable asset – to be humiliated and their dignity offended. Besides being morally inadmissible, this will eventually have negative repercussions on the firm's economic efficiency.”

John Paul II was no follower of neo-liberalism. For him, markets and profits were not a solution to human problems, but a mechanism to be used for moral purposes. Indeed, we often forget that both Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer’s reasoning are very similar. Both of them – the two greatest thinkers that promoted the idea of the free market – were also moral philosophers.

For them, as for John Paul II, the free market and profits were ways to improve humanity. They were sometimes naive, as when Spencer hoped that rich citizens would nearly automatically be good citizens and thus find it natural to help those who were not so successful. John Paul II might have been naive, too, but only up to a point.

Everything depends on our idea of human nature. If we believe, as the Catholic Church believes, that human beings bear the burden of original sin, but are perfectible; that human beings can understand what is good and bad and can choose between them because we have free will, then approval of the free market is understandable and not naive. By this one encyclical, John Paul II moved Church teaching from the Middle Ages to modernity.

The debate the Pope began on the relationship between the free market and moral problems remains unfinished. Eliminating the abuses that accompany capitalism and harnessing it for the benefit of society and human morals still needs to be tackled. John Paul II had the courage to raise the fundamental questions that needed asking. We will continue to ask them without his leadership and prompting?