Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

La democracia representativa: génesis y desarrollo

(Address delivered in Spain in April 2013)

Whenever I have to give a talk on the present theme two quite contradictory names immediately come to mind: Woodrow Wilson and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Although one does not normally hear these two men mentioned together---and for good reason---both are very useful for making clear just how different judgments regarding the reality of representative democracy can be. For Wilson, making the world safe for such a system of government was tantamount to guaranteeing social order, eternal peace, and personal happiness. For Céline, as one of his characters in Journey to the End of the Night explains, all that the victory of modern representative democracy ensured was the personal financial destruction of the average man and his permanent mobilization for perpetual conflict as well.

One of the best ways of shedding light upon these contradictory judgments, along with the emergence and value of representative democracy as a form of government in and of itself, is with reference to the writings of the Jesuit educator and writer, Luigi Prospero Taparelli d’Azeglio, S.J. (1793-1862). Born into an aristocratic Piedmontese family, Taparelli’s initial fame rested upon his tenure as Rector of the Roman College (1824-1829) and his influential Saggio teoretico di dritto naturale appoggiato sul fatto (1840). His later career was linked with the Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, which began its activity in 1850. While serving as an editor and paterfamilias of this highly influential review---one of the main stimuli behind the publication of Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors and the whole subsequent development of Catholic Social Doctrine---Taparelli produced numerous articles on the relationship of individuals, society, Church, and State. Many of the most important of these were then collected together in 1854 in a book entitled Esame critico degli ordini rappresentativi alla moderna.

In order properly to appreciate Taparelli’s discussion of the emergence and value of representative democracy it is essential to realize that it is intimately connected with that broad but comprehensive guideline for all of human action that he provides his readers underneath the name of diritto ipottatico: a term that may be translated as Hypostatic---or perhaps better still---Incarnational Law. This is founded upon the belief that it is solely by keeping one’s eyes focused firmly upon the full message of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity as Jesus Christ the God-Man that even those concerns which at first glance appear to be purely “natural” ones can properly be addressed. Why? Because it was only through the Incarnation’s supernatural confirmation of the goodness of God’s Creation that man was given sufficient intellectual stimulus and grace courageously to accept the importance of his natural gifts, to correct their sinful distortions and insufficiencies, to order them according to a proper hierarchy of values, and to put them to serious, harmonious, practical use in service of his final end---with human Reason at the top of the list of the tools so brilliantly mobilized.

A key lesson of diritto ipottatico is that the individual must be perfected in and through society. This truth is revealed by the call of all human persons, body and soul, to a new and higher life as sons of God, and the teaching that the “divinization” that such a new life makes possible must be achieved through membership in and submission to the “society” of Christ; a society which is continued in time by means of His Mystical Body, the Church.

Diritto ipottatico indicates that whatever is taught concerning the individual’s direct relationship with the Creator and Redeemer also holds true with respect to his dealings with the entirety of God’s handiwork. What this then signifies is that all things natural---each and every one of them confirmed as being essentially good and capable of “divinization” by the very fact of the Incarnation itself---can only be brought to fruition through cooperative social action; through the work of societies to which individuals on the path to perfection submit themselves; through associations which in turn submit to the society of the Church for that correction and transformation in Christ rendering them fully suitable to the task of benefitting human persons. Each of these many societies promotes some natural gift or value in a unique way, encouraging individual growth in virtue and avoidance of vice in ways that the others cannot do, thereby making all of them supremely useful to God’s plan, and any arbitrary interference with their work supremely destructive.

But how are cooperative natural societies formed? Here, too, one learns the answer by looking to Christ. The society of the Church, based upon the innate truth, goodness, and strength of the living God, was formed through the authority of her founder. Similarly, the innumerable natural societies that aid the human race to use created things to move individual men from earth to heaven are formed through the social authorities that activate their innate truths and strengths, harmonizing them with divine wisdom so as to purify them of the flaws due to Original and personal Sin.

Authority, for Taparelli, thus can be defined as the “form” of the many societies to which human persons must submit in time to make their lives happier and perfect themselves for eternity. It is authority that makes societies “real” for the individuals who cannot help but benefit from them, naturally and supernaturally. And given the multiform society that the work of activating the multitude of diverse natural phenomena dictates, this means that the fullness of social authority ensures the fullness of personal protection from the ravages of lawless men corrupted by sin and the fullness of personal freedom to grow and develop in every natural and supernatural respect:

When the right of command, or authority, is exercised in all its fullness, then all individuals, even the most weak, may use in all fullness their own rights; with the result that the fullness of liberty corresponds precisely to the fullness of authority, while, in contrast, the prevalence of either public force or of the multitude against right corresponds always to slavery.

Still, “authority” as such is a spiritual and intellectual principle. The Incarnation, the foundation for diritto ipottatico, teaches us that in order for such a principle to be proportioned to a world of individual human persons it has to “take flesh”. This can only come about through an historical action, as it did in the case of the God-Man Himself, by being born of a specific woman in a specific place at a specific time. An abstract spiritual authority could only be the ruler of an abstract “human nature”. But such a human nature does not exist apart from human persons. Distinct creatures of flesh and blood required distinct leaders in order effectively to be moved by authority. This is why the common tongue equates the words “superior” and “authority”, the former identifying the concrete aspect of the force that the latter term points to in the abstract. This is also why the Christian reveres possessors of authority, with the divine character of the natural function rendering the person wielding it somehow “sacred” as well. To avoid such “divinization” of authority, one would have to ensure that fleshly objects in no way spoke to man of the spirit, and that “the consecration of the sacrifice does not also render sacred the chalice in which it is offered”. Yes, authority in and of itself is something different from its possessor in time and space. Yes, this authority must always be exercised in union with the laws of God and Reason for the ultimate benefit of those subject to it and be capable of being shown to do so. Nevertheless, authority can only practically serve as the “form” of a society when some historical event incarnates its beneficent powers in a given individual or group, and that authority is regularly obeyed as such---as authority---separate from any day-by-day approval of each and every one of its actions on the part of its subjects.

In short, the right of command not naturally being in the hands of any person, it is necessary that it become his by means of some fact; and this fact---the reason not for the authority but for his investiture with it---may often (whatever its opponents say) not depend on the will of him who obeys, whenever not obeying would be a violation of the rights either of the ordering Creator either naturally or supernaturally, or of man assisted by the usual laws of the natural order.

Specific historical facts can incarnate the authorities serving as the form of the many different societies of a highly complex universe in innumerable ways. If disobeying the commands of the historically incarnated authorities to which individual Catholics find themselves subject is detrimental to the good of the other members of the societies that they rule, then faithful followers of Christ cannot thwart them. Yes, they may discuss their flaws and even work to realize changes in them, but only with full respect for such authorities’ pre-existing rights, and without withdrawing their obedience from them as such. This was especially true of the incarnate authorities of the State, which, for Taparelli, was the noble coordinating guarantor of the smooth functioning of all of multiform human society. And hence, despite a personal preference for hereditary monarchy, he was convinced that he had to accept any form of government incarnated by historical facts that was not “a living error” and regularly detrimental to the common and individual good as identified through diritto ipottatico.

Let us note that in discussing different forms of government Taparelli did not contrast “democracy” with “hereditary monarchy”. Hereditary monarchies had very often been shown to be deeply concerned with ascertaining and responding favorably to serious popular desires, thereby proving themselves to be eminently democratic in spirit and practice. What he did contrast with hereditary monarchy---along with a myriad of other possible historical incarnations of State authority---was a government that based possession of its specific right to command upon the will of some or all of the governed. Once again, when Taparelli saw that historical facts had created such systems---as, for example, with the Roman and the Venetian Republics, the Swiss Cantons, and the Kingdom of Belgium---and when he realized that disobedience of the commands of these incarnate authorities would regularly hinder attainment of the common and individual good----then he fully admitted that they too possessed an undeniable droit de cité. Aside from inevitable problems in some respects not dissimilar to those of hereditary monarchies---namely those connected with an electoral politics that could produce “an interregnum exposed to the assaults of a thousand ambitions”---nothing in and of itself prevented representative governments from responding to the demands of diritto ipottatico. Catholics, regardless of personal preference, were obliged to submit to them and obey them, working conscientiously, as they always must, for their purgation of any evils due to human sin.

For Taparelli, essential difficulties with respect to governmental forms emerge only through political visions that openly defy and reject diritto ipottatico, along with its emphasis upon the symbiosis of nature and the supernatural and the beneficent union of the individual and society. Unfortunately, he lamented, such visions dominated the modern political landscape, filling it with tyrannical, and ultimately untenable and self-destructive governmental debris. Anti-incarnational theories had been used to corrupt hereditary monarchies. And they could be and were continually used to corrupt the democratic representative governments whose genesis and development we are addressing here today as well.

Let us approach this deadly assault on diritto ipottatico on modern representative governments with reference to the insistence on the part of many of their proponents that their legitimacy be based solely upon “popular sovereignty”. In one abstract sense only, Taparelli argued, could “The People” be said to be universally sovereign: they clearly indicated throughout all of history that they universally willed to be ruled by social authorities. But one could not make a statement regarding the origins of any given functioning government with an abstract concept lacking an historical bridge to the world of nature. A qualitative jump of this sort required a qualitative change in instruments. Some historical fact always had to incarnate social authority, that placing The People at the foundation of the system included.

Unfortunately, the real historical facts incarnating attempts to create governmental systems based upon “popular sovereignty” repeatedly reveal the truth that calls for “democratic” rule have regularly served merely as a useful cover for the satisfaction of some willful individual or oligarchic desire hostile to Reason as well as to Faith; i.e., the imposition of a power inimical to diritto ipottatico. This was already visible in the efforts of the Kings of France to use blatantly manipulated meetings of the Estates-General to orchestrate an outraged “popular opinion” supposedly mandating regal attacks on Boniface VIII, the Knights of the Temple, the Church, and subsidiary societies in general. But the full reality of just what such “mandated response” to the “People’s Will” actually entailed was made crystal clear through the anti-papal “conciliarist” movements of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For practically all of the contradictory, pseudo-mystical, and tyrannical consequences of the “democratic” arguments that one finds in a Jean-Jacques Rousseau can be found in one or the other theory regarding the “popular constitution” of the res publica christiana propounded in the late Middle Ages.

Take, for example, Marsilius of Padua’s writings on behalf of the Emperor Louis IV in his battles against Pope John XXII. Here, Marsilius argues that his master’s ultimate political legitimacy lies in submission to the “Will of the Roman People”. Now the real Roman People in the fourteenth century were a particularly wild, unreliable, flighty, and downright treacherous bunch, but that was no particular problem for Marsilius. According to his theories, the task of the prince, aided by his intellectual advisors, was to awaken in that unfortunate mob the kind of popular will that he might want to respond to in the first place. Papal opposition to the political Will of the Roman People---as created by the prince and his advisors---could then be overcome by summoning a General Council representing the Will of the entire Christian population. Of course this population’s religious will, as expressed through the Council, also had to be “prepared” by theological experts to give the answers expected of it. And this could provide endless employment for hungry men of letters and ideologues of all stripes.

William of Ockham tells us clearly what really forms the political and religious “Will of the Roman and Christian People” as prepared by the prince and his advisors. It is certainly not the dictates of Faith and Reason as understood by Socratic philosophers and orthodox Catholic theologians. Instead, it turns out to be the individual, disconnected, strongly felt earthbound desires of the already existing authority---the Emperor---all of which are associated with a will of God and demands of Reason that he, like all extreme Nominalists, prohibits discussing logically lest such speculation degenerate into useless babble. Ockham’s guide to the People’s Will emerges as a political philosophy that is simultaneously blatantly materialist and irrationally mystical in character; a civil religion that in many respects foreshadowes that of the American pluralist system of the twentieth century. “One comes to wonder”, as Georges Lagarde notes, “if the justification at all costs of the established order is not the first and last word of this rather poor philosophy of society and history”.

Political propagandists continued to exercise enormous influence as real powers behind further incarnations of governments supposedly based upon popular sovereignty in the centuries to come, although the primary open agent of their manipulation of the “Will of the People” in Taparelli’s own day was no longer an individual king or emperor, but, rather, a wealthy bourgeois oligarchy. The men of ideas at the service of this oligarchy made sure that it always had arguments at its disposal to explain why that popular Will must reflect its own particular individual material desires, particularly its concerns for unlimited economic freedom. In one way or another, whether consciously or unconsciously, these arguments reiterate a theme most associated with Rousseau: namely, the need for mature, awakened, truly nature-focused individuals to speak for and guide those who were under the spell of retrograde, superstitious, and unnatural principles such as those of diritto ipottatico---majority of men though these poor deceived folk might actually be. Such arguments gave to individuals with the right ideas---that is to say, the members of the oligarchy--- the justification for dismissing democratic votes that did not accord with what popular will really ought to mean. This confirmed the oligarchy in its democratic mission as Vanguard of the People; in its role as unquestioned educator of the befuddled masses longing to support what they really should support, even if it did not benefit them one temporally or eternally one whit. Taparelli quotes with deep disdain an Italian Minister of Education representative of this mentality and therefore opposed to any and all retrograde and unnatural Catholic influence over the population, no matter how much support for such religious guidance the population expressed:

But among us, the citizen is the property of the State. The law of conscription binds him to the soil of the fatherland during the most florid period of life. The State has, therefore, the right and the duty of exercising over him an almost parental tutelage. It scarcely would be able to hold itself responsible to the laws of the country if it had been delinquent, or permitted that its moral or political education be perverted by others. It would only half understand the office of legislator, if it did not claim for itself the domination of education.

Aside from making use of these ideas to deprive democracy of its sting, the dominant bourgeois oligarchies of the nineteenth century sought to pursue their goals by reducing the many possible forms of government that “popular sovereignty” might seemingly approve to one constitutional representative system imitating Whig/Liberal England. Once again, insofar as this system was based upon historical facts seriously incarnating it in its homeland, Taparelli most certainly recognized its legitimacy, hoping that the inertia of Tradition might accidentally preserve a certain Catholic consciousness correcting its flaws.

Alas, these flaws were all too many, because the English model was sorely vitiated by a spirit that was detrimental to diritto ipottatico, reflecting Protestant ideals hostile to social authority that were rendered still more individualist, materialist, and destructive of the full message of the Incarnation by the teaching of John Locke. Such a spirit, bad enough in its homeland, was still worse when the institutions it corrupted were exported to countries that had no experience of the historical facts incarnating them in Britain and possibly still mitigating their perversion. But it was precisely this anti-incarnational spirit and a-historical set of circumstances that made the popular sovereignty-based constitutional representative system suitable for promotion and manipulation by the oligarchies. For wherever such a spirit and such alien machinery went into operation, the beneficent influence of the Church over the State immediately disappeared and the system that was created became inhuman, ungovernable, and tyrannical in consequence:

Man being essentially one, though composed of two substances, whoever commands man must of necessity influence both parts substantially composing the same individual. To exclude the Church, therefore, from commanding the body, and the State from obliging conscience, is a separation against nature. The two powers will always find themselves on the same field, either united for the purpose of order, or combating and triumphing over one another. Those, therefore, who through hatred of the Church or out of a desire for unlimited freedom, promote separation cannot do anything other than permit either full anarchy of consciences or chain them under material force.

With the prime supernatural foundation for diritto ipottatico removed, all things natural lost their strength as well, and irrational, pseudo-mystical, late medieval, Protestant, and Lockean individualism and materialism invaded the whole of the body politic. The government, even when democratically elected, could no longer represent anything substantive and useful to human beings. If any good could be accomplished by it, it had to be purely the result of accident or of the dying remnants of a Catholic spirit—anything but the product of the system itself. “Tell me frankly that the law is the expression of fortuitous combinations”, Taparelli begged liberals, but “please {do} not tell me that in your system it represents the {true}will of the nation”.

How could it be otherwise? Representation in the modern constitutional order was atomistic, based upon individuals separate from the societies and social authorities that seriously disclosed their needs, their virtues, their vices, and thereby perfected them. Such representation was as little reflective of true human persons and their concerns “as a calf would be by that heap of macerated flesh to which it is reduced by the knife of a butcher”. How were such individual representatives supposed to be experts, simultaneously, on foreign policy, agriculture, and commerce? Legislators could not appreciate society’s final spiritual end, justly coordinate men as they actually are, body and soul, hear the messages of nature spoken by organic corporations, and think about what they might mean. Legislation was reduced to clashing vulgar interests in the eternal war of all against all accidentally and temporarily coalescing and shaping purely conventional state “laws” backed by force rather than Faith and Reason.

But the liberal State had no clear, effective, incarnate head to administer such arbitrary, force-backed pronouncements. The checks and balances created to deal with the political war of all against all evaporated the powers of the executive. These were hedged around with restrictions so effectively emasculating the Head of State that he ceased to be such in any practical sense. Even if he could overcome the limitations to his authority imposed by a legislature incapable of representing true popular will, his power and that parliament’s self-interested “laws” would be contested by a judiciary viewing any action of social authority as pregnant with the destruction of all individual “liberty”.

This inference…could be applied to everything a man has on earth and that is governed in society by authority. The language of the citizen, we could say, becomes useless, as soon as the sovereignty of the State can prohibit contumely and curses. Human action is destroyed from the moment that robbery and homicide are prohibited. The home is done for when it cannot be used to organize plots and fires. In sum, if the governor has the right to order society, if he possesses power, society becomes valueless {for the liberal}.

Hence, despite its seeming potential for irrational tyrannical action, the history of democratic, constitutional representative systems is one of helplessness, lack of confidence, and paralysis, making any decisive action, arbitrary as well as just, almost impossible. But men desire order. In the democratic constitutional representative system described above it is not the State qua State that can give it. It is the oligarchic party organized by the liberal bourgeoisie that provides men the order that they crave. Driven by a will to power, the party pulls the marionette strings of the democratic constitutional State. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the State do what the party wants them to do with whatever authority the party gives them. The party tells the people that the government is implementing the popular will while it actually serves the oligarchy’s interests. It sacrifices its helpless executive-legislative-judicial “ruler” puppets as expiatory victims should the population react against its oppression. The pointless liberal “State” is held responsible for the crimes that the real authority---the liberal bourgeois oligarchy, operating through the pseudo-society of a political party—continue to perpetrate.

Horrified as he was at the manipulation of the democratic representative system by liberal bourgeois oligarchies for their narrow self-interested purposes, Taparelli realized that maintenance of their power was by no means inevitable. On the one hand, their victory had only been made possible in union with philosophical and theological dreamers whose high-minded political theories actually tied unchained human will together with that of God and provided “democratic” arguments in support of any number of parochial materialist passions detrimental to the true well-being of the individual---not just those of liberal capitalist magnates. On the other, liberal ascendancy in recent times had most often been assured by alliance with Bonapartist and Sardinian-Prussian warmongers giving free rein to “might makes right” military ambitions that at least temporarily seemed to be “good for business”. The Wilsonian visionaries could believe what they wished about the value of modern representative government, but the average man whose eyes were open to the world around him knew that the critic from the Journey to the End of the Night was right. When the word “democracy” rules the roost, the only certainty is that the average man has to “pay and march”.

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