Globalization and Public Opinion

Michael F. Hull

January 27, 2006


“Globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad,” according to the late Pope John Paul II, “it will be what people make of it” (Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences [February 27, 2001], no. 2). Earlier in his pontificate, just after the 1999 Synod on the Americas, the late Holy Father recognized both the benefits and dangers of globalization in his post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in America. One of those dangers is the loss of local cultures through the domination of a global mass culture fueled by worldwide business ventures (see EA, no. 55 et passum). This is easy for us to see, because as has already happened and continues to happen, global market forces wield deleterious effects on local customs and mores. The expansion of international media conglomerates across the globe prompts a question: What is the relationship between public opinion and published opinion in a setting of globalization? In other words, is there any guarantee that public opinion will be accurately represented in published opinion—print, radio, television, and internet media—so that we do not become slaves to the media?

            We must be mindful that multinational media corporations are just that—corporations. They are responsible to their shareholders, who are in turn indebted to their advertising sponsors, from whom these corporations turn their profit. While there certainly is a moral responsibility for the media to present public opinion honestly, there is a strong temptation to influence public opinion vis-à-vis the material profit of their sponsors. And while the public may demand the truth on one level or another, the economic supremacy of other interests may make it impossible for the people’s demand to be realized or even heard. Thus, globalization runs the risk not only of eliminating traditions and ways of life and replacing them with a monoculture formed in the interests of global corporate revenue, but also of stifling their voices should their voices be deemed incompatible with those interests.

            The Church was prescient at the Second Vatican Council when it spoke of modern advances in the sciences as providing man with “the technical means of molding the lives of whole peoples”; likewise, it was prophetic in describing an “accelerated pace of history” and a new development in that history wherein the destiny of mankind can be viewed as a “complete whole” (Gaudium et spes, no. 5). The ensuing unity of globalization has the potential to be valuable to mankind insofar as it respects the imago Dei (Gen 1:26­­­–27) inherent in man and his incumbent dignity reflecting God’s goodness in creation. However, it also has the potential to be injurious insofar as it demeans him by regarding him as little more than a consumer or commodity.

The Church recognizes the advantages of a free-market economy; but as the late Holy Father wrote in Centesimus annus, the market must be regulated by the community for the common good (see nos. 34 and 58). Such legitimate control cannot come about if the people’s voices cannot be heard. Globalization cannot be allowed to debase man by alienating him from his neighbors through a disassociation from or misrepresentation of public opinion in published opinion. The only way to guarantee that globalization does not enslave mankind in this fashion is for us to be very careful what we make of it. We must turn to the truths of the natural moral law and divine revelation, turn to creation in God the Father, salvation in God the Son, and wisdom in God the Holy Spirit, the Trinity from whom we know the truth that sets us free (see John 8:32).