Two “Popes” to Speak for the World: The Pope and the United Nations Secretary General in World Politics

Journal Article
The Review of Faith & International Affairs

Despite recent studies on leadership, the discipline of International Relations is still reluctant to engage in studies of individual agency in the international structure. Two prominent examples are the leader of the Catholic Church, the pope, and the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General (UNSG). Neither of them is a leader in control of considerable hard power, yet both exemplify the puzzle of how institutions, individuals, and moral authority relate in leadership. I argue that it is a combination of individuals in institutions that leads to unexpected and unintended effects such as the evolution of the papacy and the UNSG as instances of moral authorities. While pointing out their potential for moral leadership, this article presents a conceptual framework of how to perceive the Pope and the UNSG in world politics. The article unfolds in three sections: in the first, I look at the potential of comparing the two positions in terms of moral leadership and their emphasis of the common good. In a literature review, I then outline the current state of the literature on the two positions and what it misses. The remainder of the paper proposes a conceptual framework on how the two positions fit into the current literature and what promising future research for International Relations it conceals.


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