It’s been two years since Pope Francis released Fratelli Tutti, his remarkable encyclical on fraternity and social friendship. When Laudato Si’ came out in 2015, I wrote “Ten Quick Takeaways” for Commonweal magazine. Now I’ve decided to do the same thing for Fratelli Tutti. Why two years late? Well, when it came out I was putting the finishing touches on Cathonomics. I knew I wanted the book to be informed by the encyclical, and I just barely got it in (I wasn’t able to incorporate Pope Francis’s book, Let Us Dream, released that December). And since then, other things have gotten in the way. So here it is – better late than never! Yet recent political developments have shown that Fratelli Tutti is a prophetic encyclical that will have long legs.
So without further ado, here are my ten quick takeaways from Fratelli Tutti.
1. Pope Francis issues a stinging rebuke of nationalism, nativism, and populism.
For decades, says Pope Francis, there was a slow movement toward integration – dreams of a united Europe, a growing desire for unity within Latin America, a strong belief in multilateralism. But there has been backtracking in recent years, especially with “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” on the rise. In too many countries, hyperbole, extremism, and polarization reign supreme. Countries have constructed “a culture of walls” to prevent the encounter with other peoples and cultures.
2. The pandemic provided a moral test for humanity.
Fratelli Tutti was written during Covid-19, and Pope Francis wants us to emerge into a better world. He believes that the pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are part of a global community, in the same boat, whereby one person’s problems are the problems of all. It helped us to see that faith in the market was not enough to keep us safe. But if we shift back into egoism and consumerism, jettisoning this newfound sense of fraternity, we will have learned nothing.
3. He issues a thundering denunciation of individualism.
For Pope Francis, individualism does not make us more free, more equal, or more fraternal. The mere sum of individual interests is not capable of generating a better world for the whole human family. Rather, individualism is like a virus that is really hard to eliminate – because it causes us to believe that “everything consists in giving free rein to our own ambitions.” There is a tendency today to claim ever-broader individualistic rights, not connected to the common good and not tied to duties.
4. We must become neighbors, not associates.
Associates are merely partners in the pursuit of particular interests. With associates, the tendency is to ask how a person serves our own interests, instead of willing the good of the other for its own sake – which gives rise to a true common good. The key point is that human beings cannot live, develop, or find fulfillment except in sincere gift of self to others. Pope Francis argues that we need open societies that integrate everyone in a spirit of fraternity – true neighbors, as it were.
5. He denounces neoliberalism and stresses the universal destination of goods.
Fratelli Tutti notes the defects of the neoliberal faith – magical theories of “spillover” and “trickle” that fail to benefit the poor – leading instead to inequality and a throwaway culture. Pope Francis also criticizes how finance tends to overwhelm the economy. Instead, the economy needs to be structured on the universal destination of goods. This means we need to re-envisage the social role of property, recognizing that the right to private property is only a “secondary natural right.”
6. Liberty and equality must always be seasoned by fraternity.
For Pope Francis, fraternity is greater than liberty and equality, and in turn enhances them. With no fraternity, liberty becomes living as we will, “free to choose” whatever we desire. Liberal approaches reject the important concept of a “people”, as society is simply regarded as the sum of coexisting interests. And without fraternity, equality is also hollow – a closed world of associates. Liberal values are therefore not to be dismissed, but seasoned with fraternity.
7. Migrants must be welcomed at the border.
Fratelli Tutti spends a lot of time calling for countries to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees – a moral injunction that comes under the universal destination of goods. Pope Francis criticizes both populist and liberal approaches, which (for their own reasons) seek to prevent the flow of migrants. He stresses that every person has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally. A key point is that the arrival of those who are different can be a gift, an opportunity for enrichment and the integral human development of all.
8. Globalization must neither paper over cultural differences nor give priority to those with economic power.
For Pope Francis, a person cannot encounter the other unless they stand on firm foundations – love for their own land, people, culture. In his telling, universal does not mean bland, uniform, or standardized, based on a single prevailing cultural model. Likewise, we should be concerned with a globalization that has been co-opted by powerful economic and financial interests. Multinational companies often exploit globalization for profit, Pope Francis notes. Globalization tends to strengthen the rich and powerful but diminishes the poor and the weak.
9. It is very difficult to think of any war as just.
Fratelli Tutti insists that peace is not merely the absence of war, but rather a tireless commitment to recognize, protect, and restore the dignity of our brothers and sisters. In conflict situations, there is a need for tireless negotiation, mediation and arbitration, under the auspices of the Charter of the United Nations. While the Church sees a case for legitimate defense, it has become very difficult to speak of a “just war” in light of the destructive potential of modern weapons. Rather, for Pope Francis, “war is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil.”
10. The death penalty is inadmissible.
Drawing on Pope John Paul II’s assertion that the death penalty was no longer necessary as part of the justice system, Pope Francis declares it to be inadmissible and calls for its worldwide abolition. All Christians and people of good will, he says, are called upon to work for the abolition of the death penalty in all its forms, and also to work for the improvement of prison conditions. Along with avoidance of war, this is part of the culture of life.
Originally published as “Ten Quick Takeaways from Fratelli Tutti” on Tony Annett’s Substack, Tony’s Newsletter. Subscribe to Tony’s Newsletter to hear from Tony on the intersection of economics, ethics, sustainable development, and Catholic social teaching. This post is public so feel free to share it.
Image: Adobe Stock. Sunrise view of Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Italy. By dudlajzov.