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Europe's democratic institutions
Robert Schuman on Democracy
is the embodiment of a generalised democracy in the Christian sense of
(from his book: Pour l'Europe).
(from his book: Pour l'Europe).
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
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
the term democracy is applied to republican states and not
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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:
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...
is easier for political fraudsters to exploit good principles for an
illusion, nor is anything more disastrous than good principles badly
conclude with Bergson that 'democracy is essentially evangelical as it
has love as its motor.'
will be Christian or it won't exist. An unchristian democracy is a
caricature which sinks into tyranny or anarchy.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
initiation of a vast programme of generalised democracy in the Christian
sense of the word finds its fruition in the construction of Europe.
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