Catholicism and Democracy:
“How Democratic Is Christian Democracy?” asked H. Stuart Hughes in COMMENTARY’S May number, in an article discussing Michael Fogarty’s book, Christian Democracy in Western Europe, 1820-1953. Professor Fogarty, who is in the Department of Industrial Relations at the University College of South Wales, here takes issue with Professor Hughes’s views, and the latter, in his reply, elaborates his misgivings about the clerical direction of the Christian Democratic parties. Professor Hughes, who teaches history at Harvard, is a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY. He is the author of Oswald Spengler (1952) and The United States and Italy (1953); Knopf will soon bring out his new book, Consciousness and Society.
Michael P. Fogarty:
Reviewing my Christian Democracy in Western Europe in COMMENTARY for May, Professor Hughes writes that I have left out of account the implicit tensions between Christianity and political democracy in Continental Europe. I thought I had put it right in the center. But anyway, here goes for an attempt at better communication.
Democracy is a technique of government which Christians, like others, can value both for its own sake—liberty as a consumer good—and as a means of solving social problems. Only, of course, like all techniques, it has to be learned. The learning process in Continental Europe in the 19th and late 18th century had two parts. Part one was the insistence, largely by humanist liberals and socialists, especially in the countries along the Rhine, but also by Calvinists and an important section of Catholics, that government of the people by the people is a good thing. Part two was the insistence, largely by the Christians, that this good thing has its limits. In their earlier totalitarian phase the liberal and socialist movements made claims for the rights of majorities, notably in the cultural sphere, which no reputable democrat today would endorse. The great service of European Christians to democracy was to defeat these claims, and so fix the limits of majority rule.
Here lies the point of what I said in my book about Pope Pius IX’s definitions of dogma; that they are the hard rock on which Catholic support for Christian Democracy is based. Dr. Hughes, I take it, has some convictions that he will not sacrifice however the majority may vote. So have we; and we feel all the firmer on our feet, and the better able to work with our neighbors in a democratic society, when these convictions are defined and set out for all to see. The test of democratic convictions is not “other-direction,” a readiness to accept the group view whatever it may be. It is on the contrary only those who have clear and profound convictions, and are willing in the last resort to sacrifice all to them, who are profitable citizens of a democracy. Democracy calls for that hard crust of unshakable conviction that Kurt Lewin used to locate in the center of his ideal personality type. And the test of democratic government is the extent to which, respecting the supreme value of human personality, it enables all the citizens to live according to their convictions. A democracy which (to take Dr. Hughes’s example) faces its citizens with a choice between their religion and the maintenance of democratic forms has already, as a democracy, ceased to exist.
Out, at any rate, of the fusion of the liberal-socialist insistence on the rights of majorities with the Christian insistence on their limits, has come the common view of democracy that is today shared more or less from the Liberals on the right of European democratic politics, via the Christian Democrats in the center, to the Social Democrats on the left. These are the parties on whose basic community of view—their unity in the sense in which Republicans and Democrats are basically united on the American Constitution—democracy in Western Europe depends. It is perfectly fair to argue that the contribution of Continental Christians to the evolution of this common view, though recently very great and positive, was at the start often (not always!) that of Her Majesty’s Opposition. But it is not fair to forget that the contribution of an opposition, though negative, is necessary and constructive. European democracy could not have been built without it. And this leads to an important point which Dr. Hughes mentions but does not fully bring out. This tendency to become Her Majesty’s Opposition is characteristic, not of all Christians faced with the growth of democracy, but particularly of those in certain countries of Continental Europe: also, for similar reasons, of Latin America. Why did Continental Christians so often take up an Opposition role, whereas in Ireland or Britain or the U.S. it was largely Christians, though to start with at least as conservative as those of Europe, who promoted and built democracy?
The answer is that the Continental Christians were in opposition largely because they were put there: they had so much to resist. We European Christian Democrats (for I would call myself one), with all our faults, have to change gear rather sharply to understand those who see us as benighted saboteurs of the Sir Galahads of humanism and liberalism. We see ourselves rather as members of a Church blasted out of existence by one set of liberals in the French Revolution, forced to defend its liberties against another in Switzerland by civil war, harassed and deprived of the elementary freedoms of education, association, and at times even of worship: wherever, especially in Latin Europe, the unholy inquisitors of anti-clericalism could insert a pair of tongs. And these old antagonisms die hard. If, for instance to come right to the present day, the Fourth Republic should finally expire in France, I think that history will return a verdict of manslaughter, if not of murder, against old-style anti-clericals like the Socialist M. Deixonne, who have again and again used the lever of laicity to split the left-center groups—the core of French democracy—apart. In addition to these liberal-agnostic attacks we have had to put up with those of the authoritarian unbelievers. We have been assaulted and battered by Voltairean despots, Hegelian Prussian bureaucrats, Nazi worshippers of blood and soil, Marxian dialectical materialists, anarchist Bakuninists, and plain radical but equally godless Fascists.
Furthermore, in addition to direct attacks, we have had to put up with the subtler technique of the smear and the whispering campaign. An example is the efforts so often made—and I see that even Dr. Hughes has swallowed some of this line—to deny or cover up the fact that it is regularly the Christian Democrats who are left to carry the can of democracy at Europe’s danger points. French democratic politics, heaven knows, are nothing to admire just now. But let it at least be said that the waters would have closed over the Fourth Republic long ago, in view of the fallen credit of both Socialists and Radicals, if the Christian Democrats had not swelled to five times their prewar parliamentary strength (even more in the first years after the war) and given the center such strength and cohesion as it has had. The main feature of Italian politics is not the imperfections of Christian Democracy, great though these are, but the collapse of democratic humanist parties into insignificance and their inability to attract even those who share their lack of faith. Of Germany also it can be said that neither liberal nor socialist humanists have produced a policy that makes sense to the German people in the present world and so provides a firm foundation for democracy. I think they, and especially the socialists, will eventually do so: the socialists have for some time been struggling to sort themselves out. But in the meantime it is the Christian Democrats who have carried the can, and not too unsuccessfully, through the key period of recovery from the war.
I say all these things not only as a matter of history, and to bring out the emotional climate behind Christian Democracy, but also to remind Dr. Hughes that, if he wishes to cast doubt on the democratic sincerity of people such as those I have written about, it would have been graceful to begin with a modest disclaimer or two of his own. He has come to us clothed in the robes of the Scribes and the Pharisees, and thanking God (if there be one) that he is not as other men are, a sinner, even as is this Catholic. Let me assure him that so long as he stays on that line he will get the Irishman’s answer. But if he will start by agreeing that democracy is something we all had to learn, and that the record in this respect of non-believers is (let me put it mildly) about as bloody as that of believers, then we might be able to talk. I will trade him Franco, Salazar, and Louis Veuillot for Khrushchev, Tito, and petit père Combes. I may still have to point out where he has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. For instance, he treats the Christian Democrats’ tendency to leap straight from tactical details to moral judgments, neglecting the “middle principles” of political strategy, as evidence of basic decay, which it is not, instead of as simple, and diminishing, immaturity. But I will readily grant, given the right sort of atmosphere, that we Christians do have some real and dark blots on our escutcheon. Indeed, if he will raise me a big enough grant, I will round off my historical account of Christian Democracy with a fuller book on recent developments, in which I guarantee that no stone capable of concealing a crawling creature shall be left unturned and no dirty linen unwashed.
After that, perhaps, the two of us might get together to build a world fit for both of us to live in, each according to his kind. For surely the essence of the matter is this. Neither belief nor unbelief necessarily implies commitment to democracy. To the Catholic with his theory of natural law, as to the rationalist, judgments about the right form of government in modern society are a matter of intellectual conviction, of induction from the facts of society. But intellect can go astray. Of those rationalists who make the necessary intellectual effort, some end by agreeing with Thomas Jefferson and others with Karl Marx. Of those Catholics who make it, some end up on the side of Salazar and others of the Christian Democrats. In neither case is there a higher authority to which to appeal. If you cannot convince a rationalist, that is all there is to if he remains unconvinced. If you cannot convince a Catholic, it is no good appealing to the Church, for the Church leaves forms of government open, to be decided according to circumstances at each time. As modern society has developed, the Church has admittedly hinted pretty strongly that in such a society democracy is a good thing. I think myself that the finest recent definition of democracy was given by the deputy Secretary of State of the Vatican in a letter to a congress of Italian women’s organizations in July last year:
By democracy the theme of this Congress implies a society where the common rule of life and motive of thought, feeling, and action, in both public and private affairs, is the principles of: the equality of all men; the supreme value of human personality; support and goodwill for the demands of the common good; natural solidarity, mutual relations being understood as service of one’s fellow-men, reaching beyond the cold and narrow limits of law and institutions.” [Documentation Catholique, 1258, cols. 1042-3]
“Democratic life,” the statement goes on, “offers good ground for the perfect realization of a Christian life.” But it remains open to Catholics to think that democracy, whatever its attractions, is not the best for their particular country, or even that it is generally unsuitable in this imperfect world. I would certainly maintain,, like the people about whom I wrote Christian Democracy, that Catholics who deny that democracy is the right rule for modern society are suffering from an intellectual defect. I dare say Professor Hughes would say the same of the rationalist who agrees with Nikita Khrushchev. But there you are. We professors ought to know by now that some people just can’t or won’t think.
Let us take it, then, as a fact of life, about which in the short run nothing can be done, that some of both rationalists and Catholics can and will be convinced democrats, and others not. I shall still argue that there is a greater statistical probability, other things, such as education and history and social structure, being equal, of a right judgment being reached by those who have the benefit of the Church and the Sacraments than by those who have not, and Dr. Hughes will no doubt still argue the opposite. Let us agree anyway that some rationalists and Catholics catch this disease of democracy: also that it cannot be predicted a priori which these are. It is no use for me to try to deduce the more or less democratic convictions of Dr. Hughes from a knowledge that he is an agnostic. It is likewise no use for him to try to convict me of democracy or undemocracy on the basis of my acceptance (which by the way is not in the least, to take up his phrase, symbolic) of Catholic dogma, or to reach conclusions about Protestant or Catholic Christian Democrats in Europe from an inspection of their respective theologies. But I would be delighted to call round on Dr. Hughes and have a drink with him. Then, maybe, I could see if he, personally, smelt like a real democrat, and not like Khrushchev or Deixonne, and he could do the same for me. Maybe, also, if the drink was good enough, I could convince him that a lot of Continental Christian Democratic politicians, in spite of sharing the vices of the Power Elite of all countries (how far, alas, all politicians are from the Boy Scouts!) fundamentally smell right too. If, meantime, he prefers to keep his powder dry, let me assure him that I shall be doing the same. I think he and I agree that the right formula for Catholic-agnostic relations is the one I quoted in Christian Democracy from Sarah Battle on whist: “a clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour of the game.”
One other point. Dr. Hughes is worried lest my criticism of Marc Sangnier and Romolo Muni as “woolly” arose from their being condemned by the Vatican. It didn’t. V. I. Lenin is also not admired in the Vatican, but I have never called him woolly. Long-winded, yes: woolly, no. When I call a man like Sangnier woolly, I mean exactly what Professor Hughes would mean if he used that word to a graduate student. I mean that he had a mind like a dandelion gone to seed, fertile but fluffy.
H. Stuart Hughes:
It is just as I feared. The great difficulty for us agnostics in entering into controversy on religious or quasi-religious matters is that we find ourselves so often tangling not with the intolerant or the benighted, but with the most decent and liberal-minded people. Obviously the latter is the case with Professor Fogarty. Every word of his rejoinder (as of his book) breathes a spirit of rugged fair play. At the same time—to repeat his own self-definition—it suggests a certain Irish combativeness. Hence, despite a temperamental reluctance to carry the battle further, I feel that the “rigor of the game” demands a counter-rejoinder. My ancestors, after all, came from that imaginative, slightly daft, and exasperating people among whom Professor Fogarty now teaches. As Welshman and Irishman we can perhaps have a grand Celtic free-for-all, ending in a trans-Atlantic drink of reconciliation which I too would like to see materialize.
The central point of the controversy, it seems to me, is that Professor Fogarty and I start from a radically contrasting experience and a substantially different view of the last century and a half of European history. I quite agree with him that in the past thirty or forty years a new definition of democracy has emerged on the European continent, and that this new view is more liberal, in the best sense, more tolerant of the rights of minorities, than its Jacobin predecessor. But I differ with him in my notion of how and under whose auspices this change came about. I also see the outlines of a third phase of democratic history, which Professor Fogarty has hinted at in his book, but on which he has not chosen to elaborate (it will doubtless figure in his promised future work). To the extent that he has suggested this third phase, however, it bears disconcerting resemblances to my own view of the matter—except that he applauds the new tendencies while I distrust them profoundly. In brief, while agreeing on many of the facts of the present situation, he and I differ sharply in the attitude we adopt toward them: we see different persecutors and different persecutees. Who is currently provoking whom, who currently has the upper hand, as between the religious and the unbelievers—that is the nub of the question.
After this somewhat sibylline beginning, let me explain briefly what I mean by each of the foregoing statements. The new and more tolerant attitude among democrats that has been apparent on the European continent since the First World War, I would not ascribe, as Professor Fogarty does, primarily or even substantially to the activities of Christian political leaders. As I see it, the Christian Democratic parties and movements reflected or profited by, rather than brought about, a change that was already occurring in the breasts of their agnostic adversaries. And this change was becoming apparent even before the outbreak of the First World War. Not too long after the turn of the century, secular-minded statesmen like Giolitti in Italy or Briand in France were already beginning to mitigate the rigors of anti-clericalism in their respective countries. The way was being prepared for the acceptance of Christian Democracy as an equal partner in the European democratic tradition. Why was this? I do not believe that it was so much because of anything that the Christian Democrats themselves had said or done—although, as we shall see in a moment, this had its importance also—as on account of a vast change in the political situation itself. By 1913, in a formal sense at least, the battle for democracy in Western Europe had largely been won. The German Empire alone was still holding out against the democratic onslaught; virtually everywhere else parliamentary regimes based on universal manhood suffrage had become the rule. And with the triumph of electoral democracy the political power of the Catholic Church had been broken: the clerical danger that once offered the rallying cry for democratic politicians had lost its immediacy. (At this point I should like to associate myself most warmly with Professor Fogarty’s strictures against le petit père Combes and his anti-clerical excesses during the first years of the century.)
Of course I have simplified the story greatly. But the point I should like to stress is that just at the moment when the Christian Democratic leaders were giving irrefutable proof of their democratic sincerity—just at the time when they were in a position to guarantee to any fair-minded person that the old equation between religion and reaction no longer necessarily held true—at this very point the secular-minded (who still dominated the political scene) were already engaged in a substantial revision of their earlier attitude. Naturally the Liberals and the Radicals seldom said in so many words that they were abandoning their anti-clerical positions: to have done so would have been politically inadvisable—the old slogans were still the most reliable ones for electoral purposes. But in practice they had come a long way from the “priest-eating” paroxysms of “little father” Combes.
At the same time this new tolerance for religious values in political life was not granted unconditionally. It was granted on the understanding that the tolerance would be reciprocal—that the religious-minded would not seek to impose their values on the “humanists” and the unbelievers, in the fashion in which the latter had once tried to impose an agnostic philosophy on the religious. If in the second quarter of the 20th century so many liberals and radicals (and eventually even socialists) came to admit that their former efforts had been mistaken—if they were prepared to wink at evasions of the laws against the holding of property by religious bodies and to give tacit approval to the reopening of Church schools on a vast scale—it was because they believed that clericalism was indeed a thing of the past. The implied corollary of the new attitude of tolerance among secular-minded democrats was a similar attitude on the part of the religious. It was the conviction that Christian Democracy, rather than clericalism, would soon be the dominant ideology among Western European Christians (more particularly among Catholics) that made possible what Professor Fogarty correctly defines as the second phase of European democratic development.
And then the unexpected happened: clericalism revived. Of this third phase the outlines are only just beginning to become clear. In the years since 1945 clericalism has proved that it is far from dead—but it has changed its form and its modes of action in such a way that it is often difficult (particularly for those of genuine Christian Democratic conviction like Professor Fogarty himself) to recognize it for what it is. Briefly, what has happened is that the clerical attitude has revived within the Christian Democratic movements. Under the sheltering umbrella of parties ostensibly hostile to Church interference in political life, clericalism has in fact once again become a threat to the European democratic tradition. It was all very well when Christian Democracy consisted of minority movements, still battling their way for recognition as equals. Under those circumstances there was no particular attraction for the non-democratic or the clerical-minded to climb aboard. But after leaders like Adenauer and De Gasperi had made their parties the dominant force within their respective nations, the temptation to participate in the Catholic victory became overwhelming. Thousands of new recruits flocked to the majority party—recruits whose democratic convictions were only verbal and whose true loyalties lay in the sacristy.
There was also an important difference between generations. De Gasperi and men of his age and type were liberals by conviction, rooted in the parliamentary tradition, men who had tempered their democratic faith in the fire of Fascist oppression. And—to take the case of Italy again, which is the most familiar to me and also, perhaps, the most important—they had gone through the searing experience of disavowal by the Pope himself. The younger leaders came from quite different origins: their youth was passed under Fascism, they never had a chance to participate in parliamentary life, and the mentality of the authoritarian state left its traces upon them. By conscious conviction they became anti-Fascists, but in their habitual mental responses they still betray the influence of the atmosphere of official paternalism and corporative economics in which they grew up.
I can cite as evidence a recent book by a young Christian Democratic leader Dino del Bo, Italian Catholics in Crisis (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press). In Italy, the author ranks as one of the main hopes of the reforming left wing of Christian Democracy. He is certainly a man attuned to the contemporary world, well aware that the overriding issue for his party is that of winning away the industrial and agrarian workers from their Communist allegiance. Yet his general approach is not precisely what one would call liberal: his preference for corporative solutions to economic problems and his distaste for secular democracy are all too evident; he is obviously impatient for the day when his party can get along without its present vestigial remnants of secular alliances. Through the vague and wordy phraseology of his book, the vision of the future that emerges is one of a vast union of spirits—a paternalistic Catholic state dedicated to the welfare of the laboring masses. His essay suggests the cardinal error that so many outsiders make in assessing the current trends within Christian Democracy, both in Italy and elsewhere. Taking their cue from the “modernist” period of the early part of this century, they tend to equate social reform with liberalism, and these in turn with latitudinarianism in dogma, describing all three in terms of a Catholic “left.” Around 1905 such was indeed the case: liberalism in politics, a sympathy for the peasants and workers, and a “modernist” interpretation of dogma generally went hand in hand. Today this is far from true; indeed, as in del Bo’s case, the younger, reform-minded leaders are frequently the more authoritarian in their general approach to politics. And when they describe themselves in terms of a Catholic “left,” it is certainly not Christian dogma that they have in mind. In dogmatic matters the young reformers may well be more uncompromising and orthodox than their elders.
For at this point it is not irrelevant to note that the pontificate of Pius XII has been one of hardening and reinforcement in the sphere of Catholic dogma. A papal reign that has witnessed the canonization of Pius X—a reactionary in the strict sense of the word, in matters both political and dogmatic—cannot have failed to have some influence on the young. Here again a distinction is in order: in terms of social policy, in terms of the tradition embodied in Rerum Novarum and Quadrigesimo Anno, the present Pope may perhaps be said to be more “left” than “right”—but in terms of dogma he is distinctly a conservative. Thus, as I see it, the present danger of a new clericalism exists in two forms, which, despite their ostensible hostility to each other, are in fact mutually reinforcing. The first and more obvious form is, of course, the penetration of Christian Democratic movements by conservatives whose true sentiments are more clerical than democratic. Of this I have already spoken. The second and more subtle form is the evolution of so many younger Christian Democratic leaders, only half-consciously and often against their announced intention, toward a position that in fact if not in name is similarly clerical. This tendency of the young toward dogmatic rigor and obedience to ecclesiastical direction is, I believe, something that Professor Fogarty has left almost wholly out of his account.
One’s judgment of this new phenomenon naturally depends on the perspective and life-situation from which one starts, or, as Professor Fogarty puts it, on which end of the stick one gets hold of. He, with his eye fixed on the Rhenish “heartland,” views the emerging third phase of European democratic development in positive terms, in terms of a new fellowship arising out of Christian movements that are more social than political—in terms of a “break-through” beyond the constituency of church-goers to a wider gathering-in and reconciliation of whole populations to Christian values. I, with my experience rooted in Italy—and in Massachusetts—see something more threatening: an imposition of Christian values on a secular or “humanist” minority. And in justifying my own stand, I think it not irrelevant to recall that Italy shelters the headquarters of world Catholicism, and that Massachusetts is the stronghold of Catholicism in the United States. As a citizen of the latter state, I must necessarily protest against the clerically inspired measures that seek not only to limit our reading and the films we are permitted to see, but also to impose on us the Catholic view of the proper size of families.
And so I come to the reckoning with Professor Fogarty’s more strictly political points. I would certainly not try to deny the plain fact that in Italy and Germany—and, to an extent, even in France—Christian Democracy “carried the can” for the values of freedom in the trying postwar years. And I would also agree that the results of this labor were more positive than negative. Where I differ with him is in refusing to grant that the passing of the initiative to Christian Democracy betokened any radical deficiency on the part of the secular democratic parties. The former simply had more votes—and surely I do not have to remind Professor Fogarty that God is not necessarily on the side of the big battalions! Indeed, one might even argue that in the latest and most dramatic series of events on the European continent, secular democracy proved rather more sure of its own values than did the democrats of Christian inspiration. The coming to power of de Gaulle is certainly not comparable to the advent of Mussolini or of Hitler—but there are important points of resemblance. Once again in the vote of investiture of June 1, 1958, Christian Democracy simply folded up—as in 1922 and in 1933. Radicals and socialists provided nearly all the democratic opposition votes.
To continue: when Professor Fogarty proposes to trade me Franco and Salazar against Khrushchev and Tito, I think he is neglecting an important distinction. Franco and Salazar, however much he may dislike them, share his religious faith: Khrushchev and Tito have a faith at variance with my own and that of the overwhelming majority of secular-minded democrats. The leaders of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia, in theory at least, are Marxists: their opposite numbers in the Socialist parties of Western and Central Europe are not. Certainly traces of Marxist phraseology remain—but again it is mostly for electoral purposes. And this tendency among European Social Democrats to abandon Marxian guidance is steadily gaining in strength. Indeed, the single most encouraging new trend within continental democracy is the effort among the Italian majority Socialists—Western Europe’s last outpost of revolutionary maximalism—to abandon their classic dogma and their Communist alliance and to grope their way toward more liberal courses. Thus we “humanists” are in a position to disavow Khrushchev and Tito in a more thoroughgoing fashion than is possible in the case of Professor Fogarty and his Iberian co-religionists. I am aware that in saying this I may seem to be clothing myself once again “in the robes of the Scribes and the Pharisees.” (A thrust that hit home, ferreting out as it did a certain undertone of smugness in my earlier article, for which I apologize.) This time I shall try to make myself perfectly clear: I do not claim that we agnostics are more virtuous than the believers—the contrary may well be the case. I simply claim that we are freer—freer to admit our errors and to change our minds. And one of the greatest admissions of error of the present century has been the abandonment of dogmatic Marxism on the part of the European Socialists and on the part of so many secular-minded Americans of my own generation.
We humanists are sure of very few things—most of them certain rather simple ethical precepts which we follow in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Generally we are not at all sure what the right course of political action may be, but we have a fairly good idea of the course that is radically wrong—and by that I hope it is quite clear that I mean the procedure pursued by Khrushchev or Franco. On these fundamentals there is no disagreement between Christian Democrats and democrats of a secular turn of mind, and within the limits of such a consensus, the widest latitude of political alliance is both possible and essential: I agree with Professor Fogarty that the tragedy of the Fourth French Republic—as of Italy from 1919 to 1922—lay in the failure of Christian Democrats and Socialists to reach a common program of social reconstruction. Beyond this minimum of agreement, however, beyond the basic ethical principles that we hold in common, Catholics and secularists necessarily diverge. And I think Professor Fogarty agrees with me on this. Where the Church itself is concerned, where clericalism, new or old, enters the scene, each side must be on its guard. In his book Professor Fogarty strongly implied that Christian leaders should behave toward the godless with some reserve. In my review I replied, rather more bluntly, that the feeling was mutual. I like what Professor Fogarty says about keeping our powder dry. I also like Giolitti’s classic definition of church and state as parallel lines that should never meet. For when they do meet, explosions are bound to occur. To avoid such explosions in a period of clerical resurgence—Protestant as well as Catholic—requires something more than the sort of polite looking the other way that has become de rigueur in American politics. It requires a willingness to speak out—even at the risk of wounding one’s best friends—a willingness which, I trust, both of us have displayed in the present controversy.