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Robert Schuman on Democracy  

Europe is the embodiment of a generalised democracy in the Christian sense of the word (from his book: Pour l'Europe).

There was a time - not very long ago - when the French were in bitter discussion amongst themselves about their political regime. Democracy had its fierce opponents.  Nowadays without there being unanimity on the subject  - unanimity is rare in this world - emotions have cooled. The subject can be raised calmly and frankly. That is unquestionably a great stride forward. 

We should first understand what we mean by the term 'Democracy'.  What characterises a democratic state are the objectives that it sets and the means it deploys to attain them. democracy is at the service of people and works in agreement with it. I can find no definition simpler and less technical. It fits in with that of President Abraham Lincoln: 'government of the people, by the people and for the people'. You can notice that it does not concern itself with the form of government. Modern democracy in the sense that I have just expressed it can be just as well a constitutional monarchy as a republic.

Often the term democracy is applied to republican states and not monarchies. I maintain that this is wrong: some monarchies such as Great Britain, Belgium and Holland, if we only refer to our nearest neighbours, are more clearly and traditionally attached to democratic principles than some republics where the people have only little direct influence on the direction and political decisions of the country. This statement makes it unnecessary for me to discuss the choice a democracy can make among various forms of government.   All we need to do is to exclude what is antidemocratic in the sense that I will now elaborate.

This is where the Christian doctrine comes in. Democracy owes its existence to Christianity. It was born the day that man was called  to realise in this temporary life, the dignity of each human person, in his individual liberty in the respect of the rights of each and by the practice of brotherly love to all. Never before Christ were such ideas formulated. Democracy is therefore bound to Christianity, doctrinally and chronologically. It took shape with it by stages and with periods of stumbling, sometimes at the price of errors and falling back into barbarism. 

Jacques Maritain, our great Christian philosopher that we French made the mistake of sending to a far-off university instead of ourselves profiting from his seminal teaching, has remarked on this parallelism of development between the Christian idea and democracy. Christianity teaches equality of the nature of all men, children of the same God, redeemed by the same Christ, without distinction of race, colour, class or profession. It identified the dignity of work and the duty of us all to comply with it. It recognised the primacy of spiritual values, which are the sole to ennoble man. The universal law of love and charity made each man our neighbour and on this is built social relations in the Christian world.  All this teaching and the practical consequences which devolve from it have changed the world. This revolution took place under the progressive inspiration of the Gospel which fashioned the generations slowly and sometimes accompanied with painful struggles. In fact the progress of civilisation has neither been automatic nor in one direction only: recollections of the past and base instincts of a repugnant nature have weighed on this development and continue to oppose it.  If that is true for those of us who are privileged, and who have been Christians for generations, how much is it applicable to those who have just had their first contacts with Christianity. 

In the long and dramatic development of Christian civilisation, it was not and moreover is not always the most convinced believers who made the most decisive progress for democracy. Christian ideas survived and acted in people's subconscious, long after they ceased to practice a dogmatic religion but they continue to be inspired by its great principles. These became and remain the characteristics of contemporary civilisations. Thus for example, the rationalists of the eighteenth century proclaimed and popularised the rights of man and the citizen which are essentially Christian.

These principles became part of the first democratic constitution, that of the United States where the bond between Christianity and democracy is deeply felt and manifest in everyday political life. Prayers are said publicly and together even at banquets, congresses, electoral meetings, without  this practice, led by ministers from different churches, provoking the least irony or protest. Nobody considers that the official separation of the churches and the state is opposed to great religious traditions. Such behaviour goes beyond what we would call tolerance or respect for traditions. The religious idea is a factor officially recognised in American public life; it has inspired certain initiatives and appreciations which can sometimes surprise us and antagonise us, as for example, anticolonialism.  This is a reflex which is more sentimental than reasoned  and recalls the time when Americans had something to complain about in European colonialism.

If we find strong clues relating to Christian ideas in contemporary political life, Christianity should not be identified to a particular political regime, or with some form of government of democratic hue. On this point as on others, it is necessary to distinguish between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.

The two powers have each their own responsibilities. The church should be concerned with natural law and revealed truths; her role, on the other hand is not to pass judgement on concrete choices which should be made according to practical perspectives of opportunity and according to the possibilities of fact, which arise from psychological and historical development. The task of the responsible politician consists of reconciling, sometimes in a delicate but necessary synthesis, the two orders of consideration, the spiritual and the profane. The politician's life is often thrown into the dark by the labyrinthine of problems and options to take and by passionate arguments. But there are no unsolvable conflicts between the two imperatives, that of unchangeable doctrine about principles and that of wise application of changing contingencies for which one must take account in the life of peoples as with that of individuals.

A theocracy does not recognise the principle of separation of the two powers. It imposes on religious thought responsibilities which do not belong to it. Under such a regime the  political differences risk degenerating into religious fanaticism; holy war is the most frightening expression of a bloody exploitation of religious feeling. 

Since the beginning, Christ was opposed to fanaticism because he accepted to be its most awe-inspiring victim.  His kingdom was not of this world. That signifies that Christian civilisation should not be a product of violent and immediate revolution but of a progressive transformation and of patient education under the action of great principles of charity, of sacrifice and humility which is at the base of the new society. Only after long centuries of internal struggles and successive purification can such a civilisation evolve towards the great ideal proposed, extricate itself from the dross of pagan humanity at the price of painful convulsions and multiple quests.

Today Christianity, rich in this experience lived out through the course of its own history, must help less developed peoples adopt to the same way of human regeneration. The colonising nations have not always understood fully and from the start the role which has devolved to them.  The colonist and the missionary have not always had the same generous and noble inspiration. Economic capitalism gave itself too easily to selfish methods of exploitation and neglected a sense of human responsibility which came to be formulated in the preamble of the French Constitution of 1946: 'France intends to lead the people of which  she has taken charge to freedom of self administration and to manage democratically their own affairs.'   

Such a programme implies not only the emancipation of the native populations, but supposes in advance their individual, family and group training, that is their capacity to take on political and social responsibilities that France would transfer to them when it freed them from its former trusteeship. We took notice of this aspect of the problem too late. We were too exclusively preoccupied with preparing the transfer of political and administrative functions:  we did not understand sufficiently the needs and aspirations of human development and cultural enrichment. The concern for technical progress led us to neglect the need for a balance between two factors of all real progress: material knowledge and moral self-discipline. For this our undeniably great task in Africa, our missionaries, badly understood and supported,  but  understanding spiritual needs, strove to provide  the supplement of the soul by the examples of their devotion and sacrifice. The spiritual needs are immense for such populations still left behind by a modern world with which they suddenly made contact, without preparation and without sufficient transition.

Democracy is above all not something made quickly; Europe has taken more than a thousand years of Christianity to fashion it. In Africa we were forced to burn our bridges. Not only did we give the vote to an often illiterate population but what is worse, we turned power over to men who often had no training and who were exposed defenceless to all temptations of capriciousness and injustice. We tried to slacken the rhythm, to bring in controls; these were only frail preventive measures against the thrust of nationalism. I would like to be able to quote on this subject what Jacques Maritain, following Bergson, wrote more than twenty years ago, at the time when a more generous and Christian policy on our overseas territories was being elaborated. I will just keep to a few pertinent phrases:

'We must realise that the part that instinct and irrationality plays is much larger role in the animation of a group than an individual. At a time when one people enters history claiming their political and social adulthood, large sections of mankind remain in a state of immaturity or suffering from an unhealthy reactions accumulated during the course of time and are still only sketching out or preparing themselves culturally to be called a people. Let us understand that to enjoy one's privileges as an adult person without the risk of bankruptcy, a people must be capable of behaving as adults...

'Nothing is easier for political fraudsters to exploit good principles for an illusion, nor is anything more disastrous than good principles badly applied...'

I conclude with Bergson that 'democracy is essentially evangelical as it has love as its motor.'

Democracy will be Christian or it won't exist. An unchristian democracy is a caricature which sinks into tyranny or anarchy.

The position of democracy can be defined thus: it is impossible for it to accept that the State systematically ignore religious concerns, that opposes them with a bias bordering on hostility or disdain. The state cannot ignore without injustice or damage to itself the extraordinary reality of religious inspiration in the practice of civic virtues, in the very necessary safeguard against forces of social disruption which  are present everywhere. We are not thinking of reducing the church to the role of policemen or gendarme; the ideas of the Empire or the Restoration are definitively behind us. But we need to recognise the immense moral authority which is spontaneously accepted by a large number of citizens and the high value of its teaching that no other philosophical system has been able to attain up to the present.  On the international level, the same sort of claim can be made: (1) the solidarity of believers of all countries; (2) the Vatican by its independence, by its disinterested impartiality and by its policies that are so humane and sensitive to all distress and all dangers which threaten the peoples, whatever their beliefs, has become the  most listened to and the best informed adviser.

In France where believers and unbelievers live side by side, where the cooperation of all citizens of good will is more than ever a necessity, we accept the neutrality of the State in public schools as in all official institutions. The State as such can no more be partial in religious or philosophical doctrine. But it must assure that everyone has the means to act and grow within the limits of public order for which the State has responsibility. Modern democracies -- the real ones which have more than just the name, falsely applied -- give us the example of a fair understanding of spiritual and religious values. We hope that after the fortunate pacifying of long time disputes and the dissipation of distrust, the moment will come when the relationships between the churches and the democratic State will  be founded on a new basis which will respect freedom and the responsibilities of each other.

Democracy must thus define its relations with the church. The way that it does it is the result -- as we have shown -- of a historic development which is not altogether free of contradictions and struggles.  Conflicts break out between the profane power of the church; they originate mostly in a disagreement about the borderlines which separate or distinguish their fields of action.

To define the mission of the Christianity simply as church services and good works is to bizarrely underestimate and confine it. Christianity, on the contrary, is a doctrine that intends to define moral duty in all areas, at least in general principles. Without pretending to have an infallible recipe for all practical problems -- where the choice must come from the circumstances -- the church is involved in seeing that the great interests of the human person are safeguarded: his liberty, dignity, and development. It is opposed to all things that might impede them.

It also objects to all totalitarian regimes, be they of the right or of the left. By resounding encyclicals, Pius XI condemned successively Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, when they were at the summit of the their power and were seizing from the democratic governments unjust concessions and putting peace in peril.

The Latran agreements of 1929 and the German concordat of 1934 were an attempt on the part of the dictators to disguise their real designs, to cajole the church by giving it advantages that it could legitimately claim itself. These arrangements were moreover maintained by the subsequent democratic governments. They did not prevent the pope from disavowing with a vehement courage all the dangers to liberty that the dictatorship committed afterwards, in Germany as in Italy.

Hitler had the frankness to proclaim his hate for the democratic idea. The so-called 'Peoples' Democracies' of the East, on the contrary, seek to gain recognition by hypocritical disguise. It is not possible to apply the term democracy to a regime that refuses to recognise the existence of a people, that is a living community, which holds an original heritage with its own aspirations and its own mission that it intends to pursue openly and freely; a government which repudiates the idea even of freedom and personal responsibility, which stifles critical and divergent opinions by violence under the pretext of criminal deviation. Under such conditions the most servile conformism will not preserve anyone from the worst consequences: obedience to present day leaders will become a heresy tomorrow, because all the masters of the moment claim the same infallibility and exercise the same intolerance. The sham of rehabilitations of the dead and public confessions cannot take away its character as but a sinister caricature of democracy.

In a real democracy there is only one limit to freedom: the foundation of the State and society must be protected from violence and destructive assaults. Every reform, every claim can be the subject not only for free discussion but moreover of  individual or collective action towards the government in  conformity with the law. There is no place here for a dogmatism which claims only unchanging and absolute truths  revealed and sanctioned by God, the only master and judge of consciences.

The limit traced by the law between liberty and licence is likely to vary according to circumstances of time and place. The rigors of the times of war or when the existence of the nation hangs in the balance are not applicable in normal times. There are differences in the appreciation of the margin that is left to liberty  according to the habits and needs of each country. Thus in the United States we are sometimes surprised to find what we consider to be an excess of press freedom, while we find on the other hand an anti-trust legislation with such severity  that no European legislator has dared to take up here in spite of the notorious abuses. 

Finally, democracy is a continuous creation; it knows that it can always be improved. Totalitarianism entertains the illusion of possessing not only  the complete but the immediate and definitive truth. It cannot wait nor admit stages, especially when it is personified in a man who know full well his mortality and wants to his completion without delay. Democracy takes into account the development of ideas and the corrective measures that experience, that is the lessons of success and failure, provides under the control of a free discussion and a free appreciation.

The initiation of a vast programme of generalised democracy in the Christian sense of the word finds its fruition in the construction of Europe.

Already the Coal and Steel Community, Euratom and the Common market, with the free circulation of products, capital and people, are institutions which are modifying deeply and definitively the relationships between the associated States; they are becoming in some way the sectors or provinces of the same whole. This ensemble should not and must not remain an economic and technical enterprise: it needs a soul, the conscience of its historical affinities and its responsibilities present and future, a political will in the service of the same human ideal.



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