No social action without doctrine It is not possible to “construct the new city on the clouds”

There is a tendency in politics to impose vision and views with strong and fiery declarations separated entirely from an underlying and weak theoretical system that comes across in words that end up being innocuous. On the contrary, as Msgr. Giampaolo Crepaldi writes in his book[1], it is necessary for there to be something “at the foundations of politics”, something based on “finalities that go beyond politics”. The “non negotiable principles”, for example, have precisely this as their “pre-political and meta-political aim”. Opportune would therefore seem to be advance preparation regarding contents, which in no way conflicts with ensuing and energetic competition among political parties.

Now that seventy years have passed since the birth of the Christian Democratic Party in Italy, it would be advisable to understand that only a political party firmly grounded on (and not just inspired by) the Social Doctrine of the Church can call itself Christian and have a minimum possibility of influencing the world in a Christian manner. The expression “drawing inspiration from Christ” has often been used as a pretext for expanding dominion over individual conscience: Christ, yes, but also liberalism; Christ, yes, but also travelling in the company of social-Communism.

Much less accommodating were the tones used by Giuseppe Toniolo when founding democracy in a Christian sense: “Before being founded on right, the social order, as it is, is founded on duty in all its applications and relations”[2]. Toniolo actually spoke about a “triple duty”: the duty of “religion towards God”, the duty of “justice towards oneself and others”, and “the duty of charity”. In other words, the social order was “based” on duty, not just vaguely inspired by it. For Toniolo, therefore, where is the “essence of democracy”? It is in that social order which “operates and works by means of a hierarchy of duties”, and which “is pre-established by God for the common good of all”.

Not every democracy is legitimate, not every common good is to be pursued if it does not also contemplate supernatural perfection. Christian democracy (not the political party) either has a foundation, or it collapses. It does not suffice to declare a resolute intention not to reach a compromise on themes such as life and the family if such a declaration is not openly based on doctrine. The project pursued by Toniolo and other supporters of the nascent Catholic movement was rather ambitious because it foresaw the restoration of society at large, society then split into factions by the social issue. Flanking the broad scope of the project were the clarity and solid nature of the programme. Evident among other things was a clear distancing from the “false liberal democracy” of Jacobin inspiration that emerged after the French Revolution.

Priority in nature all the more today during this age of the triumph of radical anarchism – otherwise known as anarchic socialism – is a clear break away from any anti-Christian suggestions in a programme, thereby taking the place of enthusiastic and zealous involvement bereft of any constituent substance.  Important to this end is the prior formation of Catholics who may wish to become involved in politics. Toniolo does not mince words about this: the people will be able to acquire important political standing only if “emancipated, honored, elevated and educated”. Good intentions are not enough. Necessary is formation over the long term, precisely because the anarchic-individualistic apostasy planted deep and long-lasting roots over the long term.

Saint Pious X had dealt with “false democracy” in “Notre charge apostolique[3]. False democracy draws inspiration from a “new Gospel – rather inconsistent with the Gospel of Christ – with its “exaltation of feelings”, “blind goodness”, and “philosophical mysticism with a component from the age of Enlightenment”. The false democracy, observed the Pope, divides man into two: “the individual, who is Catholic”, and “the man of action, who is neutral”. Evident here is the well known praxis of the “the adult Catholic”, who separates the secular realm from the supernatural one.

Above all, however, Saint Pious X teaches us that social action is impossible without doctrine: “During these times of social and intellectual anarchy when people strike the pose of beings scholars and lawmakers, it is not possible to construct the city in any way other than the way God constructed it; society will not be edified if the Church does not lay the foundations and direct the works; no, civilization is no longer to be invented, nor is the new city to be constructed on the clouds”.

Silvio Brachetta



[1] Giampaolo Crepaldi, Il cattolico in politica. Manuale per la ripresa, Cantagalli, 2010, p. 78.

[2] Giuseppe Toniolo, Il concetto cristiano della democrazia, 1897.

[3] Pio X, Lettera apostolica Notre charge apostolique, 25 agosto1910.