Universal fraternity and social friendship: Utopia or Realpolitik?

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A reading of Fratelli Tutti from a political perspective (part 2/2)

(from the Alphonsian Academy Blog)

Having presented in a previous post the position of the Brothers all on populism and migration, we now want to consider the themes of universal brotherhood and social friendship as the basis of the Pope’s response. The keyword here is “base”. These two terms do not constitute a specific political proposal or even a concrete moral evaluation but express two fundamental attitudes that should be at the basis of every policy and every ethics.

To understand the terms universal fraternity and social friendship, one must first understand family fraternity and personal friendship, or brother and friend first.

Who is a brother? I have three in my family. We are children of the same father, and we have played, fought and shared as brothers do. The word “fraternity” in a family context expresses a whole constellation of affections, emotions, feelings, attitudes, dispositions and customs.

Who is a friend? I lost one two years ago, died at the age of 60. We have been fraternal friends for 40 years, in happy times and in hard times. The word “friendship” also expresses a whole range of attitudes, aspirations, shares and reactions. We note well that the initial attitude necessary for the development of all these qualities is a primordial opening posture. (Martin Heidegger says that openness is not only a characteristic of the human being but a definition of him).

What happens when the Pope removes these words from the family or personal context and makes use of them in the ideas of universal brotherhood and social friendship? It happens that we are invited to flood our concepts of fraternity and friendship without losing all these nuances that we have just noticed. I cannot be a brother, family or personal friend of 7 billion people, but I can decide to have the same initial posture towards everyone.

So we come to the question about Utopia or Realpolitik? My answer is that the ideas of universal brotherhood and social friendship are utopian ideas in the positive sense of the term; that is, they are ideals that can guide our thinking and acting. Precisely as such, they can constitute a true Realpolitik. If 7 billion people were to decide for this form of openness, this would be a real political fact of enormous power. This political fact would be felt at every social level: interpersonal, family, local, regional, national, international, global. It would also be felt at the level of political parties: someone who sincerely decides to assume a position of primordial openness cannot consistently vote for a populist party or a party closed to migrants. Utopia and Realpolitik are opposites if we understand Utopia as illusion and Realpolitik as cynicism. Still, they are complementary if we understand Utopia as the ideals necessary to plan life and Realpolitik as the strength that each of us really has to determine our own attitude towards our neighbour.

Fr. Martin McKeever, C.Ss.R.

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