Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pacem In Terris VI - Against Meritocracy

All men are created equal, in terms of having the same human nature. All men stand equally in need of a Savior. But men are not all equal in term of having the same gifts and abilities: I will never be a Pavarotti; Pavarotti was not a(n?) Usain Bolt. Unfortunately, some folks have the idea that because they're smarter than others (at least in their own eyes), or better educated than others (or at any rate, have a degree from a "better" university than others), they are thereby qualified to dictate to others how they ought to live their lives. Pope John XXIII says No to this in Pacem in Terris:
As we know from experience, men frequently differ widely in knowledge, virtue, intelligence and wealth, but that is no valid argument in favor of a system whereby those who are in a position of superiority impose their will arbitrarily on others. On the contrary, such men have a greater share in the common responsibility to help others to reach perfection by their mutual efforts [§87].
This is a terrible temptation for elitists of every stripe, particularly since it is a perversion of things that we would all find obvious. It is right and proper for our leaders to have gifts that uniquely qualify them for their offices. We would want them to be well-educated in the hope that knowledge and training would assist them in the exercise of wisdom in governing. But they have no authority nor right to strip away from citizens their freedoms and their right and responsibility to order their lives according to wisdom themselves. The elitist reduces citizens to the level of children (or, even worse in some cases, to the level of mere things to be managed) when he presumptuously usurps that responsibility. It doesn't matter whether it be true that the elitist could make better decisions than Joe Sixpack; Joe is responsible for ordering his own life, and the elitist dare not suppose otherwise.

Pope John goes on to say that the same considerations apply when we consider the standing of nations in relation to each other.
So, too, on the international level: some nations may have attained to a superior degree of scientific, cultural and economic development. But that does not entitle them to exert unjust political domination over other nations. It means that they have to make a greater contribution to the common cause of social progress [§88].
It's not unsurprising for any nation to consider itself to have cultural advantages that would bless other nations, and patriotism isn't a bad thing, so long as it doesn't go berserk. But no nation has the right to inflict its ways of doing things on others by force.

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