Catholicism Faces the Illiberal World Order

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Drew Christiansen SJ

 Drew Christiansen SJ / Church Life / 18 April 2019


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The Liberal World Order that grew up after the Second World War and matured after the European revolutions of 1989 is now in decline. Values like human rights, the rule of law, democracy, the free movement of peoples, religious and cultural pluralism, and free trade are under challenge.

The allure of internationalist liberalism began to fade in the last decade with the failure of the Arab Spring. Today, with the resurgence of ethno-nationalism across Europe and the United States, it seems to be gravely damaged.

This article examines the close, though not uncritical, relationship between Catholic Social Teaching, the Church’s social-pastoral strategies and the Liberal World Order over the last 70 years.

It also inquires as to what the Church’s role will now be in an Illiberal World Order marked by electoral democracies led by autocratic rulers, where rampant xenophobia and ethno-nationalism are on the rise, where subversion of the rule of law has become normal, the abuse of human rights has lost its stigma and disdain for treaty obligations, international law and international organizations has become routine.

The liberal world at a low ebb

The Liberal World Order (LWO) refers to a set of institutions, practices and values that emerged after World War II, beginning with Western Europe and the United States, spreading later to the rest of the world, notably post-1989 Eastern Europe. The first institutions included the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Later, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the World Trade Organization were added, and finally came the International Criminal Court, along with truth and reconciliation commissions.

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