Violence, Development, and Yearning

By: Drew Christiansen

March 2, 2015

Responding to: Violent Extremism, Integral Development, and Catholic Social Thought

Violence, Development, and Yearning At the close of the First Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield, 1990-1991), the late Pope John Paul II called for “a concerted worldwide effort to promote development.” “Just as there is a collective responsibility for avoiding war,” he wrote, “there is a collective responsibility for promoting development” (Centesimus Annus, no. 52). Saint John Paul was appealing to a maxim first voiced by the late Pope Paul VI in 1967 and now a truism in Catholic social teaching, “Development is the new name of peace (Populorum Progessio, no 76).”

Last week when President Obama proposed to a White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism that development should be a tool to wean young Muslims away from violence, New York Times columnist David Brooks rebuffed the president for believing that materialist incentives would deflect young people “in quest of glory that can be won only by showing strength in confrontation with death.”

Brooks went on, “You can’t counter a heroic impulse with a mundane and bourgeois response,” as he alleged the administration hoped to do. “You can counter it only with a compelling heroic vision. . . . Terrorism will be defeated only when [the alienated, yet aspiring young] find a different fulfillment, even more bold and self-transcending.”

At first glance, it may seem that Mr. Brooks’ critique applies equally to recent popes and to President Obama. The church has a long and consistent teaching on development. Development, however, is only one component of the “convoy concept” of peace that includes human rights, political participation, and environmental quality, an ideal quite close to the Hebrew notion of shalom, where peace is a word for overall well-being shared by the whole community.

The ideal of development in Catholic social teaching contains two elements that make it different from the economists’ ideal of development as Gross Domestic Product per capita. For one, it needs to be a quality of life broadly shared across the society. The distributivist strain in modern Christian economic thought takes a decidedly egalitarian turn in contemporary Catholic teaching.

Church teaching aims not at a leveling equality, obliterating all class differences, but at a policy that holds inequality in check, so that everyone can share fully in the life of society. Amy Gutman, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, has called this “liberal equality,” that is a sufficiently equal distribution of wealth to allow genuine participation in a democratic society. My sense is that the Catholic conception would involve more than political participation alone, but other things like education and culture as well, along the lines of Martha Nussbaum’s “capabilities approach” to development.

For the Catholic conception is one of integral development of the person and of all persons. Integral development recognizes there are many human capabilities that are waiting to be activated, and the socioeconomic development permits more and different capabilities to be developed over time in a movement “from less human to more human conditions” and still more human conditions of a religious nature.

John Paul II, like David Brooks, understood that material progress alone would not satisfy the soul. He put his finger on a “radical dissatisfaction” in situations of “superdevelopment,” manifesting itself in a profound restlessness. It is a restlessness that young jihadis in the Arab world experience due to underdevelopment and the denial of political participation.

It is a dissatisfaction potential ISIS recruits in the West also suffer due to superficiality and purposelessness that democratic capitalism in its current state offers them. Only the subordination of econometric measures of development to programs of authentic, integral development that activate a range of human capacities, including religious aspiration, can save us from a future of violence generated by misdirected spiritual yearning.

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