Covid: through a common evil we rediscover the common good
Healthcare, education, security – these are the linchpins of any nation which should not be subject to making a profit. Economist Luigino Bruni, one of the experts Pope Francis called to be part of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission, is convinced that the lesson of the pandemic will help us rediscover the profound truth connected with the expression "common good". This is so because, as he believes, everything is fundamentally a common good: politics in its true sense, the economy which looks to humanity before seeking to make a profit. In this new global vision that can be born after the pandemic, the Church, he states, must make itself a "guarantor" of this collective patrimony, in so far as it is lies outside the logic of commerce. Bruni's hope is that this experience, conditioned by a virus that has no boundaries, will help us not forget "the importance of human cooperation and global solidarity".
You are part of the Vatican COVID 19 Commission, Pope Francis’ response mechanism to an unprecedented virus. What do you personally hope to learn from this experience? In what way do you think society as a whole can be inspired by the work of the Commission?
R. – The most important thing I have learned from this experience is the importance of the principle of precaution for the common good. Absent for the most part in the initial phase of the epidemic, the principle of precaution, one of the pillars of the Church’s social doctrine, tells us something extremely important. The principle of precaution is lived obsessively on the individual level (it’s enough to think of the insurance companies which seem to be taking over the world), but is completely absent on the collective level, and thus makes 21st century society extremely vulnerable. This is why those countries which have preserved a bit of a welfare state have demonstrated themselves a lot stronger than those governed entirely by the market And then the common good: since a common evil has revealed to us what the common good is, so has the pandemic forced us to see that the common good requires community, and not only the market. Health, safety, and education cannot be left to the game of profit.
Pope Francis asked the COVID 19 Commission to prepare the future instead of prepare for it. What should be the role of the Catholic Church as an institution in this endeavor?
R. – The Catholic Church is one of the few (if not the only) institution that guarantees and safeguards the global common good. Having no private interests, it can pursue the good of all. It is because of this that she has a vast hearing. For the same reason, she has a responsibility to exercise it on a global scale.
What personal lessons (if any) have you derived from the experience of the pandemic? What concrete changes do you hope to see after this crisis both personally and globally?
R. – The first lesson is the value of relational goods. Not being able to exchange hugs in these months, I have rediscovered the value of an embrace and of contact. Secondly, we can and must have many online meetings and working remotely, but for important decisions and for decisive meetings, the internet does not suffice. Physical presence is necessary. So, the virtual boom is making us discover the importance of flesh and blood contact and the intelligence of the human body. I hope that we do not forget the lessons learned in these months (because people forget very quickly), in particular the importance of politics as we have rediscovered in these months (as the art of the common good against a common evil), and that we do not forget the importance of human cooperation and global solidarity.
Preparing for the post-Covid world includes forming future generations, who will be forced to make decisions that forge new paths. In this sense, can education be considered only as a “cost” to reduce, even in times of crisis?
R. – Education, above all that of children and young people, is much more than an “expense”… It is a collective investment with the highest rate of social return. I hope that in those countries where schools are still closed, a national holiday will be designated when they are reopened. Democracy begins at the school desk and there it is born again in each generation. The first heritage (patres munus) that we pass on through the generations is that of education.
Tens of millions of children around the world do not have access to education. Can article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be ignored, which affirms that everyone has the right to free and mandatory education, at least regarding elementary education?
R. – Clearly this must not be ignored, but we cannot ask that the cost of education be entirely sustained by countries without sufficient resources. We must quickly give life to a new international cooperation under the slogan: “educating children and adolescents is a global common good”, where countries with more resources help those will fewer resources so that the right to free education becomes real. This pandemic has shown us that the world is a large community. We must transform this common evil into new common, global goods.
Educational budgets have undergone sometimes drastic cuts even in rich countries. Could there really be a desire not to invest in future generations?
R. – If economic logic takes over, reasoning such as this will increase: “Why should I do something for future generations? What have they done for me?” If do ut des ‘(I’ll give something only if I get something out of it), the commercial mantra, becomes the new logic of nations, we will always invest less in education, and we will always create more debt which today’s children will pay off. We must become generous once again and cultivate non-economic virtues such as compassion, meekness, and generosity.
Though it finds itself in economic difficulty, the Catholic Church is on the front lines offering education to the poorest. As we’ve seen during this pandemic, lockdowns have had a considerable impact on Catholic schools. But the Church continues to welcome everyone, without distinctions based on creed, making space for encounter and dialogue. How important is this aspect?
R. – The Church has always been an institution for the common good. Luke’s parable does not tells us about the faith of the half-dead man who the Good Samaritan assisted. It is precisely during the gravest crises that the Church rediscovers her vocation as Mater et magister (Mother and teacher), that the esteem of non-Christians grows toward her, that the sea that gathers everything in, then gives everything to everyone, above all to the poorest. The Church has always known, after all, that the indicator of every common good is the condition of the poorest.
What contribution can education about religion and religions offer young people, especially in a world increasingly driven by divisions and which fosters the engagement of fear and tension?
R. – That depends on how they are taught. The ethical dimension which exists in every religion is not enough. The main teaching that religions can offer today regards the interior life and spirituality, because our generation, in the space of just a few decades, has squandered a thousand-year-old heritage which contained ancient wisdom and popular piety. The world’s religions must help the young and everyone else to rewrite a new “grammar” of the interior life. If they do not do that, depression will become the plague of the 21st century.