Universalist Response to Particularistic Regression: Political Philosophy behind the Pope Francis Encyclical Fratelli tutti

Mikhail Minakov is Senior Advisor at Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars

The modern history of humanity is driven by several contradictions, one of them being the conflict between universalism and particularism. In a nutshell, numerous universalist frameworks are grounded on the idea that norms and values relate equally to all humans, to all living creatures, or—even more widely—to all forms of being. Universalism strives for unity that transcends all possible differences. Many particularistic agendas do the contrary: they chose a particular quality of one individual group of phenomena, and essentialize that quality. This prescription of essence to a selected group aims at establishing the ontological difference of the chosen faction compared to all other forms of existence.

In today’s world, this contradiction of universalist and particularistic agendas is manifest in many processes, for example: recent globalisation and today’s protectionism, liberal interventionism and conservative sovereignism, new solidarism and reinvented ethnonationalism. And currently, it looks as if particularism—with upstreaming demodernisation [1], with increasing illiberalism, with declining liberal democracy [2], with the world fragmented to find local responses to the global pandemic—is winning.


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Fratelli tutti: A Marvelous Gift of Pope Francis

Rafael Domingo is Spruill Family Professor of Law and Religion at Emory University and Alvaro d’Ors Professor of Law at the University of Navarra

Pope Francis has just published a far-reaching encyclical that is destined, with time, to become his spiritual legacy to mankind in the realm of social issues. It is not surprising, therefore, that the pontiff wished to sign and present his document in Assisi, Italy, before the tomb of his beloved Saint Francis, from whom he took his name as pontiff seven years ago and from whom he now takes one of the saint’s own phrases as the title for his encyclical: Fratelli tutti (All Brothers).

In vivid terms, Francisco lays out an unvarnished snapshot of current world affairs with its myriad problems and challenges, from the lacerating COVID-19 pandemic to the multiple open wounds on society caused by misguided immigration policies, racism, unemployment, discrimination against women, human trafficking, abortion, populism, wars, rampant financial speculation, abuse of power, and the death penalty. Throughout his lengthy document, the pope dispenses advice ranging from the intensely personal—such as cautioning against “a frenzy of texting” in pursuit of instantaneous knowledge at the expense of real wisdom (para. 49)—to the grandly collective, such as calling for reforming the United Nations and for setting clear legal limits on financial and global institutions to “avoid power being co-opted only by a few countries” at the expense of weaker ones (para. 173).


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Religious Peacebuilding in Fratelli tutti

Montserrat Gas-Aixendri is Full Professor of Law and Religion at Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain) 

The post-9/11 world was marked by an urgent need to theorize about the relationship between religion and violence, but at the same time, it sparked a growing interest in the role of religion in peacebuilding. Much of what has been written on this subject in recent yearsis based on Scott R. Appleby’s work The ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation (2000). In this book, religion is understood as an internally plural and multifaceted phenomenon, which generates ambivalent responses, ranging from violence to militant pacifism.


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