April 23, 2001
Globalization an Opportunity or a Threat?
Interview with Philosophy Professor Jesús Villagrasa
ROME (Zenit.org) - The summit
of the Americas, which ended in Quebec on Sunday, rallied a diverse group of
protesters around a perceived common enemy: globalization.
In order to understand the implications of globalization, ZENIT interviewed
Father Jesús Villagrasa, a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Athenaeum
Regina Apostolorum, who has just written a book on the topic: "A Better
World? Guidelines for Living in the Global Village" (Logos Press, Rome,
Father Villagrasa's work summarizes John Paul II's thought on globalization,
illuminated by Church social doctrine.
--Q: Is globalization a danger, a threat or an opportunity?
--Father Villagrasa: It is an event, a fact, a seemingly irresistible and
irreversible phenomenon, which will become increasingly important. It is not a
fatal fact, because it is the result of free choices. Like all human endeavors,
it is full of promises and opportunities, but also of grave dangers.
A few months ago, the Pope referred to globalization as a "great sign of
our time." The Church is reading this sign very carefully; in its social
doctrine, it offers guidelines for reflection, criteria for judgment, and
directives for action.
The book refers to the most important of these. Above all, globalization is a
moral challenge: Very many critical issues regarding man's destiny are at stake.
There are opportunities that must be taken advantage of, and obstacles that must
--Q: The Pope speaks of positive and negative aspects of globalization. What do
you think these are?
--Father Villagrasa: At least three dimensions must be distinguished, because
globalization is such a complex phenomenon: the technical/economic, the
sociopolitical and the cultural.
Mixed together, there seem to be positive elements: the increase in efficiency
and production, intense relations between countries and cultures, the
strengthening of the process of unity among peoples, the new possibilities to
express solidarity with less fortunate members of the human family.
The risks [are] the preponderance of the economy over any other human value,
which robs cultures of their soul; the logic of the market, whose unjust
competition increases the gap between the rich and poor; the great powers that
tend to establish monopolies, cancel national sovereignty, and make culture
models uniform. In any case, it is better to spell out the issues: For whom is
this aspect of the present globalization positive?
--Q: Critics of globalization see it as something fateful, controlled by a few
power groups. Is there no way of breaking this "perverse" system?
--Father Villagrasa: Globalization is not "intrinsically perverse." It
is not right to attribute all existing evils to it. Neither is it a fatal
process. Historical and cultural processes depend, to a certain extent, on the
freedom of men. And there is also God's providence. I very much doubt that
globalization is a "controlled" process. Of course, there are
important power groups that exert strong, though hidden, tyrannies.
Globalization should not necessarily lead to new oligarchies.
Although it might seem simplistic, I think the way to break "perverse
systems," wherever they are found, is evangelization: the evangelical
commitment of Christians in the economy, politics, the drafting of legislation,
education, the media. There are no recipes, but the principles of the social
doctrine of the Church acquire extraordinary relevance in the new context of
--Q: Can this theological reading of reality be proposed?
--Father Villagrasa: I don't see any better one. In itself, the phenomenon of
globalization has a great future because it is in keeping with human nature: We
aspire to communion and communication with others. By origin and end, we men are
called to form only one family, as "children of Eve," and
"children of the Father who is in heaven."
However, God places man's destiny and future in [man's] hands. With his help, we
are the builders of that "human family" and "community of
nations" -- something that is not easy, because sin and its global
consequences are patent.
In constructing the Tower of Babel, men aspired to "global" unity, but
things did not go well. For the time being, globalization seems to be a
phenomenon of Babel: By ignoring God, divisions among men become deeper.
However, God can do what men on their own cannot do: gather humanity into one
The Church, sacrament of unity of the human species, was born on the day of
Pentecost, and is a family speaking all languages; the architects of the new
global order, including nonbelievers, would do well to listen to its magisterium.
We need a Pentecostal globalization, not one like Babel's.
--Q: The Pope warns about the danger of "uniformity," a danger he
defines as "cultural imperialism." What is the threat and how can it
--Father Villagrasa: In his exhortation "Church in America," the Holy
Father warned about the imposition of new scales of values, often arbitrary and
materialistic, in face of which it is difficult to maintain adhesion to Gospel
values, and which destroy the values of local cultures in favor of a
However, this situation is not avoided by isolating or "folklorizing"
cultures. Cultures need "internal life," not customs [barriers] or
walls. The Church, by its proclamation of the Gospel and Catholic universality,
vivifies cultures from within and serves a cultural globalization that respects
differences. The challenge for the Church is old and new: inculturation, the
transformation of genuine cultural values through their integration in
Christianity, and the establishment of Christianity in the different cultures.
Globalization puts religions and cultures, which are living realities, in touch;
with the exception of some repressive regimes, there are "juntas and
uprisings," each one with its pretension of worth. The magic words of
"tolerance and dialogue" do not solve anything; the problems continue
Tolerance has its own limitation: to determine what is intolerable. Tolerance as
an "ideology," not as a virtue, is dangerous because it is
relativistic and the seed of totalitarianism. In order to be genuine, dialogue,
including between cultures, must take place within certain criteria and be based
on the "grammar" of the spirit, which is the universal moral law
engraved in the human heart. Again, the Church's magisterium is giving
--Q: Don't you think that, basically, the Seattle protesters were right?
--Father Villagrasa: There is a bit of everything among them. A certain unity
was seen in the World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre [Brazil] at the end of
the month of January.
The declaration made by the social movements retains the ideological tone of the
old Left; however, the Parliamentarians' Social Forum rightly criticizes
deficient aspects of the present market system and associates itself with
laudable campaigns, which support the cancellation of the debt of poor
countries, favor their exports, and contrast the lack of concern of rich
countries' multinationals with the impact of their decisions on poor countries.
Globalization is a fact and multinationals must assume the responsibility for
the global consequences of their decisions. It would be a regrettable error to
equate these claims and demands with the utopian pretensions of violent or
In any case, I don't think anyone has made such radical demands as John Paul II.
He is not an exaggerated critic of globalization; his magisterium is very
enlightening because it is evangelical, realistic and exacting, directed to
constructive, reasonable and operative proposals. He is not a critic [of
globalization], because he sees so many latent opportunities in this complex and