A world in which every human being with personal dignity and inalienable rights is perceived as a “complete work of art”.
Roughly 100 years ago, the young Belgian worker priest and later cardinal, Joseph Cardijn, began by setting up the “Young Christian Workers” (YCW) to encourage apprentices and factory workers by calling out to them: “Every young worker is worth more than all the gold in the world!”
Unfortunately, in the last century European history chronicled two dreadful World Wars and afterwards the division of the continent with the “Iron Curtain”, which did not fall until 1989. It had divided Europe into people who were lucky to live in the free West and people in the “Eastern bloc”, whose opportunities in life were stolen for decades by the Communist dictatorships. Since the fall of the wall, however, there have been increasing voices saying that without real socialism a form of capitalism geared solely to maximising profit had prevailed the world over and also in Austria.
But, behold: the coronavirus led to something totally different! The Austrian federal government, which for the first time in 60 years under Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz managed to present a budget without deficit and aimed to repeat that this year, pulled the emergency brake and granted “priority!” to human beings. Of course, this means that the rules of economy are not overruled and in future we will still need balanced budgets and orderly public finances, but when the finance minister literally says “No matter what it costs” – because the health and survival of people is the priority, this first station of social doctrine is not only reached, but also implemented in an exemplary way.
And let it be said to those who are already complaining again about the costs caused by this consistent attitude: there are spheres we are not allowed to submit to the economic cost-benefit calculation, which we have to keep out of this “calculation”. A shining example is Sunday, which reminds us every week that the question of what it costs not to work on one day is inadmissible. If we can save Sunday in the “new normality” as a day that stands for other values than those traded over the counter, we have achieved something crucial for the “human being, the complete work of art”!
Franz Gosch is FCG (Group of Christian Trade Unionists) Regional Chairman for Styria & GPA (Trade Union for Workers in the Private Sector, Printing and Journalism) Federal Executive Director
Andreas Gjecaj is FCG Secretary-General, ÖGB (Austrian Trade Union Confederation) Secretary and Editor of the “Vorrang Mensch” team
A society that builds on common good and enables everyone to achieve their humanity.
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” is an oft-quoted sentence from the inaugural speech of the American President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The coronavirus crisis has very abruptly dumped us into the conflict between representing personal freedoms and our own interests against those of our fellow citizens and of the country as a whole. Of course, the dignity, unity and equality of every human being also includes their health. In Austria we have decided to renounce to individual freedoms in order to protect the health, particularly of those specifically threatened by a virus infection owing to their previous illnesses or their advanced age.
The federal government specified this way in spring 2020; the population went along with it to a large extent and in doing so assumed responsibility for the common good. This is all the more remarkable, since at the beginning of the 21st century and the “digital age” in many countries there is the risk of a loss of connections with sense and reality. Digitisation seemed to strengthen a lifestyle which, out of convenience, indifference and thoughtlessness, no longer wanted to acknowledge any responsibility. Yet in view of the global challenges of globalisation, digitisation, climate change and demographic shift, a button saying “Click here to save the world!” will not be enough. The crisis has reminded us that taking responsibility is inconvenient and it often seems risky to leave our “comfort zone”.
Not only the coronavirus has spread the world over rapidly, common good must also be thought of all over the world and a form of humane globalisation be aspired to. To create universal common good respecting and safeguarding the historical and cultural idiosyncrasies of every country, in a “new normality” a higher degree of international order and more stable relations between states will again be needed. The basic idea could be another sentence from the inaugural speech: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
The aspiration for fair distribution to the greatest possible extent because the Earth is there for every human being.
The famous quotation of Mahatma Gandhi’s: “The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed”, has proven its timeless relevance in the coronavirus crisis. In truth the “general provision” of our Earth’s goods is known as an identifying principle of social doctrine. Every human being must have the opportunity to make use of the goods required for his/her development. Examples are the natural and human environment, drinkable water, clean air, as well as access to information, knowledge, education and training. On at least two levels, we in Europe have sacrificed the fair distribution of goods on the altar of fear and greed during the “corona crisis”: by the “panic buying” of many citizens and the “export bans” of individual governments.
Those states that imposed an export ban on medical goods (protective clothing, masks, etc.) such as France and Germany must ask themselves how that would be justified. In the early 21st century and among member states of the EU, is German health and German life to be more worthy of protection than that on the other side of the state border, i.e. Polish, Czech or Austrian life? And when one thinks of the shelves empty because people went panic buying with shopping trollies brimful of tinned food, flour and toilet paper out of a mixture of fear and greed, the only thing probably left is shame for this unmasking behaviour.
Social doctrine demands the opposite of us, viz. not to forget our fellow human beings – the poor in particular. Pope Saint Gregory the Great wrote on this: “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”
Even in the biggest crisis, fear is not a good guide. For a “new normality” we should practise behaviour based on mutual trust. This means complying with concluded agreements, our being able to trust one another and not losing sight of the poorest. An example was set by emeritus bishop Johann Weber, who died in May 2020: “Trust is more perseverant than fear! I thank you!”
More subsidiary strengthening of small units like families and communities, and less centralism.
No matter how awkward and strange the word “subsidiarity” may sound, it is still very insightful. The “helpful succour” (derived from the Latin “subsiduum – help”) is help to self-help and invariably knows two sides: on the one side, everything produced by smaller units like families and communities must not be taken away from them at all. On the other side, it is the task and duty of larger units like states or the EU to provide help where the “small ones” are overburdened. This is a key balancing act for our social order, one that constantly has to combat the risk of excessive centralism and at the same time must not refuse essential help.
In spring 2020, both sides appeared in the coronavirus crisis: qualities almost forgotten were shown in large numbers of families. “Home schooling” was reinvented for children every day with energy and creativity, often in addition to shifting office work into the “home office” and coping with all the housework. Neighbours also grew closer together, assumed responsibility for one another and clearly took greater care of fellow human beings who were alone and lonely. As surprising and positive as this behaviour was, at the same time the crisis revealed mercilessly the weaknesses of the EU.
The spread of the virus was in fact not like a lawn mower sweeping throughout Europe, it hugely affected individual regions – with thousands of fatalities – and only slightly touched others. What was required was an immediate “fire-fighting operation” in which doctors, nurses and medical supplies and equipment from regions little affected went to the “hot spots” with a “flashing light” to overcome the crisis in a common exertion. Instead, all the member states of the EU apparently left the word “Union” out of their consciousness and put their own programmes into practice within national borders.
From these experiences it is evident what we have to do differently and better in a “new normality”: our neighbours will still be alone after corona, our precious families need love to live, and the EU needs reform!
In their pastoral letter for a “spiritedly renewed normality”, the Austrian bishops write “A particular concern of ours is the European dimension of connectedness. Instead of celebrating 25 years of membership of the EU and along with it greater freedom of movement in the Schengen area, we looked on closed borders. The struggle against the pandemic shows again how important and also how fragile our common Europe is”. Democracy stands and falls with the active co-responsibility of the citizens, as individuals but also as societal groups, such as political parties. That is why democratic raising of awareness is one of the great concerns of a responsible, free society, and of a trade union movement. The coronavirus crisis has brought to light how difficult to maintain the “common” ostensibly enshrined by treaties is in the EU, because – almost like a reflex – the borders of the national states were raised. This is all the more astonishing, as early on in the 21st century nation states are called into question time and again: firstly, because global challenges like the climate crisis cannot be overcome by individual states, but call for continental, if not global solutions; secondly, because digital “platforms” – likewise acting globally – use new dependencies to turn previous state citizens into users and “followers” who, as Prof. Christoph Türke writes, find themselves “in digital loyalty on the way into a new global tribal society”. Numerous conspiracy theories have also spread rapidly across the Internet.
The task of strengthening democracy in the EU is also huge 75 years after the end of World War II, and thus the demand of the former Austrian federal chancellor Dr. Wolfgang Schüssel plausible: “We must think of Europe on a larger scale!” If we in a “new normality” wish to ensure a flourishing of democracy, we must not let the EU be degraded into a project of commissions and commissioners, instead we have to commit ourselves as active citizens in passionate collaboration against nationalistic small-state mentality. It is not about more or less EU, it is about a better EU!
Practised solidarity, in which human beings stand up for one another in “mutual responsibility”.
The sentence “All are equal before the virus!” is a throwaway remark, said Prof. Paul M. Zulehner in the “Weizer Pfingstvision”, adding “All are equal before the virus. But the virus does not affect all equally!” It affects People of Colour in the USA more than the whites. Rich Austria can help itself much better than economically hard-pressed Ecuador. And the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un can sit in his private luxury train and travel to a protected seaside resort. But people crammed into refugee camps do not have these options. The coronavirus bluntly reveals existing inequalities in this “One World”.
This calls for solidarity, as personal liability with universal scope and at the same time as a structural principle of the society in which human beings stand up for one another in “mutual responsibility”. Solidarity which encourages us to support those more affected by the virus than others. In light of the fact that globalisation already made us neighbours long ago without us knowing one another and assume responsibility for one another, this understanding of solidarity is not a socio-romantic option, it is a survival strategy that brooks no alternative. Or should global networking really restrict itself to just “YouTube and YouPorn”?
Solidarity encompasses resolute interest in and effective commitment to the life and wellbeing of other human beings. It stands for fairness, which creates peace. In Psalm 85 it says “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other!” A standing order for us and for all politicians: instead of “sermons”, take very specific steps that create greater fairness – only in this way can solidarity grow. In a “new normality” we have to leave the corona infection behind us and let ourselves be infected by a “pandemic of solidarity”, as called for by Prof. Zulehner. This does not mean a feeling of vague compassion or superficial emotion about all the suffering, it means firm and constant resolve, an attitude. In his latest book Matthias Strolz writes: “The last freedom we always have is the attitude with which we approach circumstances.”
A civilization of sustainability, in balance between economic competition, social protection and preservation of the foundations of life.
"The ecological conversion required to create a dynamic of sustainable change is also a communal conversion" writes Pope Francis in the encyclical "Laudato si". Even before the global corona crisis forced a "breathing space" on all of us, thanks to the "Fridays for Future" movement founded by Greta Thunberg, the dead rivers, the cleared Amazon forests, the devastating pollution of the world's oceans, the melting polar caps, the storm and flood events and all other climatic disasters were brought to the forefront of attention.
Clearly, humanity is facing the greatest challenge for generations in relation to the climate crisis. Our living space, our "common house", as Pope Francis calls it, our biosphere, is on the verge of collapse. If things continue as they are, our planet will not be able to survive much longer, and we will have no future. In a book on the consequences of the Corona crisis, doctors from Carinthia have described the fork in the road where we stand: "Man can decide whether he deserves this world and returns, or better yet, say goodbye to this planet with a gigantic sigh, so that the unicellular organisms can start all over again; with the great experiment of life. If the future of humanity is indeed massively threatened by our way of living and doing business, then an introduction to the knowledge of social life, socialization, does not mean incarnation for the individual and future for society, but exactly the opposite. With regard to the exacerbated situation of human society, Paul M. Zulehner once formulated: "What is required is to open up access to new patterns of life. in the hope of changing society so that it once again has a future."
In a "new normality", we must set off in the direction of a worldwide "eco-social market economy" which seeks and finds a new balance between fair competition - which takes place in every market economy -, a just regulatory framework in the welfare state and the vital protection of the environment. Only in this way will we move from a "civilisation of overexploitation" to a "civilisation of sustainability"!
The values of “Christian social doctrine” invited us to reflect in spring 2020. Even if we are apparently stuck “to the full” in the market system, we may ask where we want to go with our hearts and minds. In this, social doctrine has valuable focuses for a “new normality” – after overcoming the crisis:
PRIORITY TO HUMANS: We must preserve spheres that we must not view from the cost-benefit calculation of economics, because they are about human dignity. An example is the gift of Sunday.
COMMON GOOD: Globalisation must not be guided solely by economic requirements, it must create universal common good. For this it needs an international regulatory framework.
FAIR DISTRIBUTION: Every human being must have the opportunity to make use of the goods of the Earth required for life. This calls for controlling fear and greed, and for developing mutual trust.
SUBSIDIARITY: Great things were done in many families during the crisis. The economic, social and cultural habitat must be secured for the future of families. Social balance is also needed.
LIVING DEMOCRACY: To strengthen democracy in the EU, we must not let the EU degrade into a project of commissions and commissioners; instead we must commit ourselves politically as active citizens.
SOLIDARITY: The global pandemic which has affected human beings to totally different extents and revealed injustice must be followed by a “pandemic of solidarity” which calls for fairness to allow solidarity to grow.
SUSTAINABILITY: In the restart after the economic pits, instead of a “free market” we have to create a “fair market” that strikes a new balance between economy, welfare state and protection of the environment.
Every reflection, every focus gives the opportunity to change direction. In the crisis, three deficiencies became particularly evident in our society: the lack of social justice, the lack of community and the lack of sense. Yet behind these threats, new “signs of life” are becoming visible, referred to by Paul M. Zulehner as “traces of Heaven”. He encourages us to look forward: “Deepen your life, leave the prison of your fear and become loving human beings in true solidarity!”