01-12-2007 - Traces, n. 11


Politics and Desire
The presidential campaign is here. Why do we care about it? What criteria should we use to vote? “There is a word,” said Father Giussani, “which corresponds to the idea of a true man, and, therefore, of true politics: the word freedom.” And its meaning is not what you are hearing from the media...

by Marco Bardazzi

This is going to be an intense and uncertain election year, one that may mark an era. America has not seen a presidential campaign with so many new faces in decades, given that neither the President nor the Vice-President in office are among the candidates. The race for nominations started off with the idea that 2008 may be remembered as the year of the first woman president, or the first African American, the first Italian American, the first Mormon, or the first Hispanic. But these, after all, are just statistics for history books. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) summarized what is really at stake, in a document of about forty pages published in November. In this document, the bishops proposed what they defined as reflections on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (www.faithfulcitizenship.org).“Our nation,” they wrote, “faces political challenges that demand urgent moral choices. We are a nation at war, with all of its human costs; a country often divided by race and ethnicity; a nation of immigrants struggling with immigration. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty; part of a global community confronting terrorism and facing urgent threats to our environment; a culture built on families, where some now question the value of marriage and family life. We pride ourselves on supporting human rights, but we fail even to protect the fundamental right to life, especially for unborn children.”

In accordance
with the truth

Looking at the current situation, those who care for the future and who responsibly observe all aspects of reality to judge the present cannot but wonder what criteria to use when voting. In this regard, the bishops have reaffirmed that the responsibility of the Church is “to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with the truth, so they can make sound moral choices in addressing these challenges.” What is at stake here then is truth, that is, “the destiny for which we have been made,” as the 2007 Rimini Meeting title suggested. To give in to the attraction of truth makes every person a new protagonist in history. And a better voter, too.
The bishops also added, “We do not tell Catholics how to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests with each person and his or her properly formed conscience.” Thus, taking part in the most important moment of the life of democracy, voting, is a question of education. Heading toward Election Day, then, it is important to first understand the reasons why one should be interested in politics.
“Politics, since it is a more accomplished form of culture, must have
the human person as its primary concern,” Father Giussani explained 20 years ago. And culture, Pope John Paul II pointed out, must always “consider man in his totality, the whole man, in all the truth of his individual spiritual and physical characteristics.” What gives form to this unity of the “I,” as Father Giussani said, is the religious sense, “the dynamic element that, through fundamental questions, leads man’s personal and social expression.”
Politics concerns man in his totality. What defines man, as Father Giussani said, cannot be power–“otherwise, he would be destined to being a slave and alienated.” Man is, fundamentally, what Father Giussani defined as desire, which opens him up to reality, causes him to act, and encourages him to build and to try to meet his needs.
Politics and desire, two words that are not normally associated with each other in today’s world… They seem to have little to do with what one sees in debates between candidates on CNN, on Fox News, or in pundits’ long analyses. Yet, this is what it is all about. If politics is responsible for dealing with man’s desire, the first human need it has to face is freedom.

Freedom as criteria
 “Man’s freedom, in its full meaning, must be the focus,” states Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete. “A candidate’s attitude toward freedom, the space he or she is ready to give to the possibility of being present in reality, his or her openness to a different reality: these are interesting criteria that may be applied to evaluate a candidate without letting oneself be blinded or deceived by ideology.”
“There is a word,” Father Giussani said in 1987, “which corresponds to the idea of a true man, and, therefore, of true politics: the word freedom… which is not the one defined by power through mass media. Freedom is a word one has to learn by observing one’s own nature. If freedom comes from fulfilling one’s desire, then this means that nature points us to freedom as the ability to achieve final satisfaction, that is, the ability to be happy.”
The Church bursts into the arena as one who has a say in the matter, someone worth listening to. “For the Church,” Monsignor Albacete says, “entering the scene as a presence in the political debate is a challenge that may be defined as theological. This is what Saint Augustine described when writing about the city of God and the city of men.
Without justice, Saint Augustine would say, the state is nothing but organized crime. And where is this justice to be found? Augustine pointed to the Church.”
The bishops’ document provides a compass for the election year. “As Catholics,” they wrote, “we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”
This goes along with the bishops’ exhortation to remember that “both opposing evil and doing good are essential…The basic right to life implies and is linked to other human rights to the goods that every person needs to live and thrive–including food, shelter, healthcare, education, and meaningful work.
The use of the death penalty, hunger, lack of healthcare or housing, human trafficking, the human and moral costs of war, and unjust immigration policies are some of the serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.”

The Pope’s visit
Choosing the right candidate is the result of a journey, of a debate, of an education. Considering the role the Church proposes to have in this process, Pope Benedict XVI’s planned visit to the United States precisely in an election year is a great gift for America. The Holy Father will be in Washington, DC, and New York April 15–20, 2008. His presence will provide one more opportunity to be able to judge reality–and politics–apart from the common mentality. The Pope, after all, has always shown a great interest in American society, being so unique, and in American Catholics. “It is also thanks to the significant contribution of Catholics,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 2004, “that American society has maintained a Christian consciousness.

Democracy and charity
Their contribution is more important than ever at a time of profound, radical transformations in the Protestant world. [...] Today, American society–because of massive immigration from Latin America and the growing pressures of secularization–is forced to address serious new challenges. One could say, however–at least in my opinion–that in the United States there is still a civil Christian religion, although it is besieged and its contents have become uncertain” (Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, Basic Books, 2006).

Benedict XVI will probably offer observations to help us reflect on the very concept of democracy in the election year, and thus go further to the root of this political issue. “For our Christian mentality,” Father Giussani said, “democracy is living together, that is, recognizing that my life implies the existence of the other. Dialogue is the instrument used to be able to live together.” This dialogue, though, starts from the proposal of who I am, without having to come to a compromise or giving something up. “Democracy,” Father Giussani added, “cannot be founded, within itself, on certain common ideologies, but on charity, that is, on man’s love rightly motivated by his relationship with God.”