Pacem in Terris: A case for Shared Security

Doug Bennett

“We are asked to equip ourselves with courage…” Doug Bennett at the Shared Security consultation at Pendle Hill

by Doug Bennett

Half a century ago, Pope John XXIII released the Encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth).  He called not just for peace – a common enough hope – but for a fresh commitment to human community based in equal respect for all human beings.

In this powerful statement, you can find the groundwork of the vision of foreign policy we are calling Shared Security.  Quakers are hardly alone in calling for a foreign policy rooted in an understanding that all human lives are equally precious and equally deserving of protection.

In April 1963, prospects for world peace did not seem especially bright.  The Cold War was at its height: only six months before we had witnessed the scary showdown of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Vietnam War was beginning to heat up. At home in the U.S., Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders were in jail in Birmingham, Alabama.

Pope John XXIII had only two more months to live, but still he persevered through illness and pain to finish Pacem in Terris.  He had a powerful message to deliver while he still drew breath.

“Peace on Earth” is really the first three words of the Encyclical.  Its actual title is “On Establishing Universal Peace In Truth, Justice, Charity, And Liberty.” Pope John XXIII did not believe we could establish a lasting peace unless we could also establish good relationships among people grounded in truth, justice, charity and liberty.

The first sections of Pacem in Terris thus lay out an understanding of human rights and duties, and of the proper relationships between human beings and their governments. Pope John took care to emphasize the growing – and he thought legitimate – equality that was emerging among human beings and also among governments.

It is only after he had laid this foundation that the Pope turned to relations among nations. Here, too, he argued, mutual respect for rights and duties must be paramount.

He acknowledged that there will inevitably be clashes of interests among nations as each strives for its own development. But, he says, “When differences of this sort arise, they must be settled in a truly human way, not by armed force nor by deceit or trickery. There must be a mutual assessment of the arguments and feelings on both sides, a mature and objective investigation of the situation, and an equitable reconciliation of opposing views.”

He lifted up the plight of refugees, and expressed “deep distress” at the enormous stocks of armaments that have been, and continue to be, manufactured in the economically more developed countries.”

Pope John XXIII utterly denied that any country had the right to put itself first, considering only its own security.  He utterly denied that moral duties stop at a country’s borders. Rather, he says, “Relations between States must be regulated by the principle of freedom. This means that no country has the right to take any action that would constitute an unjust oppression of other countries, or an unwarranted interference in their affairs.

He added, “On the contrary, all should help to develop in others an increasing awareness of their duties, an adventurous and enterprising spirit, and the resolution to take the initiative for their own advancement in every field of endeavor.”

This is a vision of shared security: “The prosperity and progress of any State is in part consequence, and in part cause, of the prosperity and progress of all other States.”

On April 16, 1963, three days after Pacem in Terris was released, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “We are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly’.

About the author: Douglas Bennett is clerk of AFSC’s Friends Relations Committee, a member of AFSC’s Corporation, as well as as a member of AFSC’s Standing Nominating Committee. Doug is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. His scholarly publications include Transnational Corporations Versus the State: the Political Economy of the Mexican Automobile Industry, co-authored with Kenneth Sharpe (Princeton University Press, 1985), and many articles on transnational corporations in developing countries, immigration, and other topics in public policy and in higher education. Doug serves on the FCNL General Committee. In the past Doug has served on various of AFSC’s advisory committees.  He is married to Ellen Trout Bennett, and has two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).   He is a member of First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, part of the New Association of Friends that is forming in the midwest. You can learn more about Doug at his blog.


One thought on “Pacem in Terris: A case for Shared Security

  1. Pingback: Pacem in Terris: A Case for Shared Security | River View Friend

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