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"Corona" (Covid-19) and the Ethics of Global Solidary Charity

The Corona crisis brings together, like a convex lens, a series of initially only loosely connected perspectives from various social, cultural and scientific disciplines and points of view in a way that could hardly have been imagined. This is especially true of the extent to which covid-19 has caused far-reaching changes to human co-existence, heightened the primacy of need for the best possible health care and optimized survival insurance, and awakened a renewed discussion of the sense of global common good. In this sense, the Corona pandemic reveals the necessity of a new understanding of global solidarity and global care for every human person; and the question that arises is one of responsibility and competence: who, in society, is best equipped to take charge of such “global solidarity”, depending on how it is defined?

Without a doubt, the eruption of the Corona crisis (covid-19 pandemic) represents the most massive disruptive force in human life and history since the outbreak of the Second World War. This is mainly due to two factors:

Firstly, a new worldwide economic and tourist globalization is accelerating the spread of what would otherwise be only a local or a regional epidemic. A similar experience in the past was the devastating Spanish flu of 1918-1920. It was called “Spanish” because Spanish newspapers were the first to report it in that country, which was neutral during the First World War. It was subsequently diagnosed in the USA and did spread throughout the world, claiming the lives of about 50 million people: more than the entire First World War.1 Thus, what began in the Fall of 2019 as a Chinese national public health issue has in just six (6) months become a pandemic with an aggressively intrusive effect on all structures of life.

Secondly this pandemic coincides with the medicalization of at least Western society, and with an experience of capitalism that has been emerging since Adam Smith (1723-1790) and which is now typical of modernity.2] These raise the issue of costs and the economics of healthcare in the treatment of covid-19.

It is true that since its emergence, the covid-19 pandemic has often been presented and talked about in the media using military language. There is talk about an outbreak of a pandemic, which causes casualties, which is a public enemy, which needs to be fought/combatted against and which requires a strategic plan. Thus, the corona crisis is said to have heightened awareness about an unprecedented conflict over different types of trade-offs and impact assessments which include the concrete and real evaluation of scarce resources in the health care sector: in hospital care and also in intensive care, vis-à-vis patients’ health histories and their recovery prognoses. Ultimately, the covid-19 pandemic has generated the unpleasant situation of doctors having to decide on the rights and freedoms of patients to live and to survive. This dramatic situation also includes the evaluation of the health interest and the chances of survival of patients over 60 years of age, giving preference to younger people who are less affected by the risk of viral infection and have greater potential to serve the interests of the economy, especially small and medium-sized enterprises and the skilled trades.

If all of these dramatic and challenging experiences take place in healthcare institutions, then the question that bubbles up is about the meaning, scope and extent of the State’s intervention in the individual rights of citizens in these institutions and in the name of maintaining public health and health care. Here, clearly, various rights of freedom compete directly with each other, such as, the right to health, the right to freedom of movement (e.g. to go on a vacation and even to walk one’s dog!), as well as the right to exercise a profession and to earn a living.

According to an enlightened modern view, the State’s power is at the service of the individual, the human person and his pursuit of happiness, as, for example, in the United States Declaration of Independence: „We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.“ Such State power exercised in the service of the person (as an individual and a social being) is, according to modern interpretation, always democratically regulated and channelled; and that means, everyone is allowed to ask anyone a question, except the all-important question “What do you need it for? For what purpose and goal are you existing?”. This question, however, is literally a taboo, and its respondent is sacrosanct, although, according to St. Augustine (De civitate Dei), this question is the basis of every human society since Cain and Abel. For, it is the question that underlies all use and exercise of human freedom, and therefore, its motivation and its intention.

Accordingly, the impossibility or the inability or the irrelevance of asking this question either betrays the purposelessness of human dignity and freedom in a State/Republic, or, as in Germany, the Constitution provides an answer: “Human dignity shall be inviolable” (Article 1 of German Basic Law); and this is affirmed by the people, “conscious of their responsibility before God and man …”.3 A commentary on the Article reads: “I consider this sentence central because it shapes the spirit of the Basic Law and thus of the Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time, it goes far beyond any legal text; it forms the basis for peaceful coexistence in general, in other parts of the world as well as here.” On this basis, of course, everything can and must be questioned, questioned and discussed in a republican and democratic manner on the basis of unconditioned human dignity, as the first condition of peace and peaceful living together, especially in a secular age!4]

Sociologically and economically, nothing, indeed, will be the same after the corona pandemic, whenever that time will come. Reflecting on the covid-19 crisis, Pope Francis believes that nobody emerges from a crisis the same way. A crisis brings challenges; but it also brings opportunities! That is also why Pope Benedict XVI, reflecting on the financial crisis of his day also observed that the crisis “presents us with choices that cannot be postponed concerning … the destiny of man, …”5 He observed further: “The complexity and gravity of the present economic situation rightly cause us concern, but we must adopt a realistic attitude as we take up with confidence and hope the new responsibilities to which we are called by the prospect of a world in need of profound cultural renewal, a world that needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future. The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time.”6

As an opportunity for discernment, the covid-19 crisis sets us on a search not only for the merger of freedoms to promote the dignity of every person in an inclusive experience of the common good, but also the task of the State to ensure and to promote the common good in a crisis situation, like this pandemic.

This makes us want to revisit Heinz Bude’s representation of solidarity: a new understanding of solidarity, which, in a situation like the present pandemic,  calls on the State to organise such a solidarity for the benefit of vulnerable members of society and to provide, in the future, much more freedom and protection for each other.7 There is no doubt that, in a social-market system of governance (soziale Marktwirtschaft)8 that Germany is, the Corona crisis has accelerated this future and has fashioned a new understanding of State and market based solidarity at a desirable pace.

The state will have to gain new strength to order individual freedoms and gains in freedom, to commit profits and assets to the common good, not least in favour of efficient and effective climate protection, but to protect completely new endangered risk groups in a society of individuals living in solidarity, who see themselves as persons, namely, as morally obliged to each other. This is increasingly true in the field of health and care, not least with regard to adequate payment for people working in care and the protection of their increased health risks, but also in the field of globalization, in the field of investments and employment and integral human development, also in the field of financial risk protection, which would not be possible at all in times of a pandemic without state protection. And this unfolds a new global facet of the social market economy in the direction of a preventive and forward-looking solidarity of social and political actors who are clearly aware of their own vulnerability and thus of the necessary solidarity of all. Such renewed and deepened solidarity is called solidary Charity or, according to the new encyclical Fratelli tutti, fraternal love.

1 Cf. Spinney, Laura (2017): Pale Rider. The Spanish Flu of 1918 and how it changed the world. London.

2 Cf. Conrad, Peter (2007): The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders. Baltimore.

3 Cf. Dreier, Horst (2018): Staat ohne Gott. Religion in der säkularen Moderne. München, pp. 171-188.

4 Cf. Taylor, Charles (2007): A Secular Age. Cambridge, Mass. ; cf. Lebrun, David (2017): “La sécularisation Salon Charles Taylor.” In: Van Reeth, Jan and Pottier, Bernard (eds.): Secularisation & Europe. ’s-Hertogenbosch, pp. 93-100.

5 Caritas in veritate, 21.

6 Idem (emphasis taken from the original).

7 Cf. Bude, Heinz (2019): Solidarität. Die Zukunft einer großen Idee. München.

8 Cf. Franco, Giuseppe (2015): Da Salamanca a Friburgo: Joseph Höffner e l´economia sociale di mercato. Città del Vaticano.


Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson is Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. In September of 2013 Pope Francis confirmed him as head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and, in 2016, appointed him as the first Prefect of the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. On March 20, 2020, Pope Francis created the Vatican COVID-19 Commission and placed it under his responsibility at the Dicastery. He previously served as Archbishop of Cape Coast (Ghana). He was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

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All articles in this issue

"Corona" (Covid-19) and the Ethics of Global Solidary Charity
Peter Turkson
On the Refusal to Capitulate to Suffering
Katharina Klöcker
Corona as a Security Risk: On the Role of the Military in an Insecure Society
Markus Vogt, Rolf Husmann
Vulnerability and Resilience in Times of the Corona Pandemic: A Geopolitical Approach
Herfried Münkler
"Follow the Science": The War on Covid-19, Strategic Ignorance and the Monopolies on "the Science" and "Truth"
Anna Rößing


Torsten Stemmer Willi Schmidbauer, Dennis Matthias Ritter Philipp Wolf