26 April 2021

The Popes and Democracy - Part I. General Notions 6. What is Democracy?

It is first of all necessary to understand exactly what the word "democracy" means. Strictly speaking, democracy means "government by the people". It is in this political sense that it is generally used. However, it possesses a secondary meaning, i.e. "movement of benevolence for the benefit of the people". This has no political implication, it only denotes a social awareness of the needs of the people. It could also be found in, say, an absolute Monarchy (Cf. Pius XII, 1944 Christmas message). But it would be more aptly named "demophily" (love for the people). It is in this latter sense that Leo XIII and Pius XII used the word "democracy" in their Encyclicals. In view of this, these Encyclicals cannot be cited to justify political democracy. To do so would be to disregard the Popes' express teaching: "Many excellent men find the term Christian Democracy objectionable. They hold it to be very ambiguous and for this reason open to two objections. It seems by implication to covertly favour popular government, and to disparage other methods of political administration... Under the shadow of its name, there might easily lurk a design to attack all legitimate power either civil or sacred... It would be a crime to distort this name of Christian Democracy to politics, for although Democracy implies popular government, yet in its present application it is so to be employed that, removing from it all political significance, it is to mean nothing else than a benevolent and Christian movement in behalf of the people... This is what Catholics are to think on this matter." (Leo XIII, "Graves de Communi") (Quotations from Pius XII will be given later.)

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