Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira



Supranational structures in the teaching of Pius XII





"Catolicismo", December 1951

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Today we conclude our comments on the allocution of the Holy Father to the leaders of the Universal Movement for a World Confederation.

Let us see how the allocution deals with the problem of the juridical organization of international society.

In their general theoretical lines, the terms of this problem are very clear.

The terms of the problem

In every man we see two kinds of attributes. Some are inherent to men’s very nature and constitute that whereby they are neither plants, nor stones, nor angels. These attributes evidently are common to all men. Others, on the contrary, are proper to certain nations. Thus, for example, traits distinctive to Frenchmen are not at all those of Germans. In every country, in turn, regions have not only the national characteristics but also those peculiar to them. Thus, in Italy, how many differences one could point out between people from Florence and from Sicily! Finally, in each province, the city, in each city, the family, in each family, at times, the branch – and in each branch, the individual has his unmistakable spiritual and physical characteristics.

Accordingly, each individual, as a member of a series of concentric groups ranging from his home all the way to international society, has, so to speak, waves of personality susceptible of their own development, ranging from the generic and common traits of all humanity to the smallest minutiae of each individual’s extremely personal profile.

The question is to know whether all characteristics are according to human nature and inherent to it, or whether they are extrinsic to it and opposed to its true dignity. In the former case, nations, regions, and municipalities should subsist as welldefined moral and spiritual ensembles, and thus have their own culture, civilization, and government. Otherwise, they should disappear by merging into one single whole.

This is the crux of the matter.

Diversity of opinions, institutions, customs and ways of being – which used to be considerable among nations of yore – as well as dialects, regional dances, typical attire, customs and artistic manifestations in each province or region are quickly disappearing. Is this good or bad? Modern industrial technology, based on machines strictly impersonal, inexorably anonymous and inflexibly uniform in their whole production have led to the standardization of all objects of personal use and increasingly tend to prevent contemporary man from manifesting his own personality. Is this grave? Or is it merely a trifle? In short, can all peoples and nations be merged into only one universal people, into one common motherland? In that case, would it be possible to establish, not so much a super world government (that is, a government with a sphere of action superior to local governments but which would let them live), but only one world government under which all local authorities would play only an administrative role? Would that be useful or according to the natural order of things?

An answer to these problems depends essentially on the preliminary question. This sufficiently shows how important it is.

This is a burning issue

Nor is this issue obsolete, far from it. Since the 14th century, with the fall of feudalism and the germination of the modern State, a powerful unifying tendency began to emerge. Thus, little by little, with the decadence of feudal authority, which was intrinsically local, regions gradually passed under the full dominion of the kings, who acted essentially as centralizing forces. On the other hand, thanks to wars or dynastic successions, a large number of States gradually reunited under only one scepter: Leon (12th century), Granada (15th cent.), Aragon (15th cent.), Spanish Navarre (16th cent.) to Castile; Ireland (12th c.) and Scotland (17th c.) to England; the Low Countries (15th c.), Bohemia (16th c.), Hungary (17th c.), etc. to the House of Austria. In 1789, when modern times came to an end and the contemporary period was inaugurated, that process of agglutination had advanced enormously in every country. Of course there existed a theoretically independent Navarre with its own customs and institutions, linked to France by the mere circumstance that its king was also the king of France. But this was so theoretical that it took the Revolution, so to speak, only the strike of a pen to merge Navarre (and a fortiori mere feuds like Brittany) to France in order to form only one State, massive like a steel bar, which is today’s France. In this sense, France was a harbinger. In the 19th century, political and administrative centralization in all European States increased more and more so that even theoretically existing kingdoms such as Algarves and the “kingdoms of Spain” were merged together with the same ease with which Navarre was absorbed in the 18th century. At the same time, two great unifying movements transformed two large nations into compact States: Germany, which from a mere “Germanic Confederation” became an Empire in 1870, and Italy, into which were merged the Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Tuscany, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and finally, with the fall of Rome, also in 1870, the Papal States.

In the opposite sense, it is true that some decentralization occurred in the European map during the 19th century, under pressure from the principle of nationalities and other factors. From 1829 to 1870, several Christian monarchies, Greece, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Serbia and Rumania detached from the Ottoman Empire. In 1905, Norway separated from Sweden to form its own separate kingdom; in 1830, Belgium was established as a State distinct from Holland and France; After World War I, the AustroHungarian monarchy dismembered into several sovereign republics, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and part of its territory was incorporated into Yugoslavia (Serbia plus Montenegro, etc.) and into resurrected Poland.

However, the centralizing phenomenon turned out to be durable, while the decentralizing one was fleeting. Indeed, after the peace treaties of 1918, no State was dismembered any longer. Instead, the grouping movement in smaller countries became ever more pronounced. That movement became particularly conspicuous after the war. Certain small States, realizing the insufficiency of their economic and military resources in the great contemporary upheaval, were led to group together in order to establish a more effective suprastate organization. The most characteristic example of this is the socalled “Benelux,” formed by Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. Also the Baltic nations — Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland — tend to establish a union similar to Benelux. More remote, but much more important, is the establishment of an organization to be called the “United States of Europe.” Churchill devoted to this undertaking much of the leisure time afforded by his recent ostracism; and everything leads one to believe that his rise to power will considerably accelerate studies and negotiations to that end. On the other hand, the Arab League is setting itself up as a powerful confederation in Africa and Asia. And the Latin Union, opportunely inaugurated in Rio de Janeiro, is a seed that appears rich in fruits in the federalist sense.

In contrast to these unifying triumphs, we certainly could mention the apparent failure of the two great attempts at forming a superstate, that is, the League of Nations and the U.N. However, no one is realizing that a de facto superstate is already about to come true, albeit in a different way. Indeed, all nations of the world are grouped into two large hostile blocs, and each of them increasingly takes on the appearance of a superstate in relation to the peoples that compose it. To the degree that the armed peace lasts, both blocs gain in cohesion and homogeneity. When the war breaks out, the winning bloc will take over the vanquished one and the whole world will be unified under the iron fist of the winning bloc’s leader nation. Thus, with or without the U.N., or even against it, if need be, events would lead us toward unification.


a) the regionalism of the ancient State was replaced with the centralism of the modern State;

b) small nations merged to constitute large States, forming important international blocs;

c) nations of the same race or on the same continent tend to form huge federated blocs;

d) for its part, the whole world is already divided into only two great enemies. After the war, the leading nation of the winning side will dominate and unify the world, barring intervening circumstances.

So it was necessary to establish the position of Catholic thinking regarding this centuriesold, powerful, universal and extremely momentous movement.

This alone suffices to prove the urgency and importance of the problem which the papal allocution has dealt with.

The position of the Church

What is the Catholic position regarding this problem? Is the Church opposed to this movement?

Yes and no, the papal allocution tells us. On the one hand, it recognizes that the existence of a supranational organism destined to maintain and enforce the principles of International Law and to work for the good of peoples, is fully in accordance with the natural order, and thus highly desirable.

On the other hand, however, the allocution makes it very clear that it is not at all indifferent to the way that agency might be structured. For, if it is centralizing and entails the destruction of nations, the Church will oppose it. However, if it respects the existence and rights of all peoples, the Church will approve it.

What, precisely, are these rights and existence?

The full existence of peoples

A people exist fully and normally when they have their own soul and sufficient liberty to structure their institutions, customs, culture and way of life according to that soul. Thus, a world organization should absolutely not aim at destroying national or regional characteristics. On the contrary, it must see them as treasures of humanism (in the good sense of this complex vocable) and thus protect them with all its might. The Church provides an example of that wise attitude. All peoples live peacefully in her bosom. As a good Mother, the Church seeks to have them love one another as brothers. But a mother does not do so by destroying their psychological traits and personalities. She educates them so that each of them will uprightly and fully develop its own personality and get along perfectly well with the others. And while the Church works in earnest to have all peoples love one another, she does not want the Swiss, Scottish or Turks to be less characteristically national than they are. Any supranational organization worthy of the name should do the same. This is how one respects all peoples’ right to exist. Incidentally, this right is not unlimited. There are some national characteristics that cannot be respected, and which a supranational organization should proscribe. They are those which contradict the principles of natural and Christian morals, such as the habit some savages have of burying alive some of their offspring.

The independence of nations

At least in thesis, it is easy to define the rights of a people. There is a most important principle of Catholic doctrine which fully applies here in its fullness. It is the principle of subsidiarity.

Normally, each individual must do by himself everything within his competence. The family exists to do what man cannot manage to do by himself. The municipality exists to do what families are unable to; the province, to supplement municipalities; and the State, to supplement the provinces. Thus, the family is subsidiary in relation to individuals, and the same is true of the other intermediary bodies all the way up to the State.

The end of each of these entities is not to destroy or absorb the lower entities but to favor them. Thus, the family will do all it can to increase the individuality and capacity of action of each of its members. And the province will be keen to respect the sphere of competence of the municipalities and help them develop their normal activity in its fullness; and the country has a duty to do the same with its provinces. And, as a consequence, the supranational organization must act only and exclusively in a sphere that transcends the specific interests of each State and concerns the highest end of their shared common good.

In this sense, the Church would approve a supranational organization, but not if it meant the absolute domination of a people upon all others or the absorption of all States into a single one.

Number and quality

The papal document also has another important lesson. It is on how nations should be represented at the supranational organism.

Indeed, the Sovereign Pontiff shows that merely numerical considerations are not sufficient. These considerations, upon which the contemporary representative regime was based, have led to the failure of the modernday State. It would be a grave error to establish them as the basis for the supranational organism.

Indeed, Iraq has more inhabitants than Switzerland; Asia has more nations than Europe. If numbers are the exclusive criterion to be taken into account – the number of individuals or the number of States — the leadership of the world will be taken from the more cultured nations to be transferred to more backward ones.

But there are other kinds of numerical considerations that should not prevail.

The United States and the USSR are the leaders of the two world blocs. In case of war, we hope with all our hearts that the Americans defeat the Soviets all the way. Nevertheless, we do want to state that neither America nor Russia are appropriate to lead their respective blocs. Russia, for obvious reasons. First, because in a bloc comprising Latins and AngloSaxons there is not the least reason for leadership to be left to the latter. And, should it be the case, it had better be left to the British, superior in almost all things nonnumerical.

All these considerations lead us to salute with effusive sympathy the Latin Union, created in Rio. And with this salute we close the present commentary.

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