Religious Sense,

Works, and Politics

We offer here Father Giussani's address to a meeting

of the Italian Christian Democratic Party in Milan in 1987.

A contribution for living with greater awareness the current political situation in America, on the eve of the presidential election. The possibility to live in a reasonable way and to judge everything is offered by the Christian experience

The dynamic element

As politics is the most accomplished form of culture, it cannot but keep man as its fundamental concern. In his speech to UNESCO (June 2, 1980) John Paul II said, ìCulture is always situated in an essential and necessary relationship to what man is.î1


Now, the most interesting thing to note is that man is one in the reality of his ìI.î In that same speech the Pope says that in culture it is always necessary to consider ìman as a whole, in his entirety, in the whole truth of his spiritual and bodily subjectivity.î We must ìnot impose on cultureñan authentically human system, a splendid synthesis of spirit and bodyñpreconceived divisions and oppositions.î2

What determines, what gives shape to manís unity, this unity of his ìIî? It is that dynamic element that, through the fundamental questions and needs in which it expresses itself, guides manís personal and social expression. In short, this dynamic elementñwhich, through the fundamental questions, guides manís personal and social expressionñI call religious sense; the form of manís unity is his religious sense. This fundamental factor is expressed in man through questions, promptings, and provocationsñboth personal and social. Chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles presents St. Paul explaining the great, relentless migration of peoples as a search for God.3

Thus, manís religious sense appears as the root from which values spring. A value is ultimately that perspective of the relationship between something contingent and totality, the absolute. Manís responsibility, through all the kinds of provocations that reach him in the impact with reality, commits itself in answering those questions that are posed by manís religious sense (or manís ìheartî as the Bible calls it).


The power

When man commits his responsibility before these values, he has to deal with power. By power I mean what Romano Guardini, in his book of the same title, defined as the outlining of the common goal and organization of things in order to attain this goal.4

Now, either power is determined by the will to serve Godís creature in its dynamic evolution, that is to say to serve manñpower is culture and the praxis deriving from thisñor power tends to reduce human reality to its own aim; thus a State that is source of all rights will reduce man to ìa piece of matter, or an anonymous citizen of the earthly city,î5 as Gaudium et Spes says.


The tragedy of our time

If power has only its own aim in sight, it has to attempt to govern manís desires. For desire is the emblem of freedom since it opens man to the horizon of the category of possibility; whereas the problem of power, understood as I have said, is to ensure the maximum consensus from a mass that is more and more determined in its needs. Thus manís desires, and therefore his values, are essentially reduced. The reduction of manís desires, of his needs, and therefore of values, is pursued systematically. Mass media and public education become tools for a relentless induction of certain desires, and for the obliteration and the ousting of others. In the encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), the Pope points out, ìThis is the tragedy of our time: the loss of freedom of conscience on the part of whole peoples achieved by the cynical use of mass media by those in power.î6


The great homologation

The landscape of social life becomes more and more uniform, grey (think of the ìgreat standardizationî of which Pasolini spoke)7 so I am tempted to describe the situation by the formula I use at times with the youngsters: we need to beware lest P (power) be in direct proportion with an I (impotence), for in that case power would become a high-handedness faced with an impotence that was contrived, precisely by means of a systematic reduction of desires, needs, and values.

A passage of the interview that the great Czech writer, V·clav Belohradsky, gave to LíAltra Europa says, ìEuropean tradition means never to be able to live beyond the bounds of oneís conscience, by reducing it to an anonymous apparatus, like the law or the State. This firmness of the conscience is an inheritance of the Greek, Christian, and bourgeois tradition. The irreducibility of manís conscience to institutions is under threat in the era of mass media, of totalitarian States, and of the general computerization of society. In fact it is very easy for us to imagine institutions organized so perfectly as to impose their every action as legitimate. It is enough to have an efficient organization in order to legitimize anything. We could sum up the essence of what threatens us in this way: States are programming their own citizens, industries are programming their consumers, publishing houses are programming their readers, etc. Little-by-little the whole of society becomes something the State is producing for itself.î8

This flattening-out of desire gives origin to bewilderment in the young and to cynicism in the adult. And in the general lack of energy what alternative is there? A voluntarism with no breath and no horizon, with no genius and no space, and a moralism that sustains the State as the ultimate source of consistency for the human flow.


Movements and works

A culture of responsibility must keep alive manís original position from which spring his desires and values, the relationship with infinity that makes the person a true and active subject of history. A culture of responsibility can start only from the religious sense. This point of departure brings men to join together. It cannot fail to bring men to join together. Not for a short-lived reward, but substantially: to join together in society with a totality and a freedom that are surprising (the Church is the most exemplary case of this), so that the springing up of movements is a sign of liveliness, of responsibility, and of culture that make the whole social set-up dynamic.

It is necessary to note that these movements are incapable of confining themselves to the abstract. In spite of the inertia or the lack of intelligence in those who represent them or participate in them, the movements cannot remain in the abstract, but tend to prove their truth by facing the needs in which manís desires take flesh, by imagining and creating operative capillary and timely structures that we call ìworks,î ìforms of new life for man,î9 as John Paul II said at the Meeting in Rimini in 1982, re-launching the Churchís Social Doctrine. Works constitute a new contribution to the novelty of the fabric and face of society.

Works generated by an authentic responsibility must be characterized by realism and prudence. Realism is connected to the importance of the fact that the foundation of truth is the conforming of the intellect to reality;10 whereas prudence, which in St. Thomasís Summa is defined as the right criterion for doing things,11 is measured by the truth of the thing rather than by morality, by the ethical aspect of goodness. A work, precisely because of this need for realism and prudence, becomes a sign of imagination, sacrifice, and openness.

It is therefore by the commitment to defend this primacy of free and creative sociality in the face of power that the strength and the durability of personal responsibility is demonstrated. The culture of responsibility is safeguarded by the primacy of society over the State. The primacy of society, then, should be a fabric created by dynamic relationships between movements, which, in creating works and aggregations, constitute intermediate communities, thus expressing the freedom of persons empowered by the associative form.


The task of politics and of parties

Now Iíd like to draw some conclusions. A party that would stifle, rather than foster or defend, this rich social creativity, would contribute to the creation or the maintenance of a State that bullies society. Such a State would end up serving only the plans of those in power, and responsibility would then be called for only in order to get consent for what has already been decided; even morality would be conceived of and affirmed in function of a status quo, which they also call ìpeace.î

Pasolini said sadly that a ìPower State,î such as we find so often nowadays, cannot be modified12ñit leaves at the most a little room for utopia, for this doesnít last, or to individual nostalgia, for this is impotent. True politics, on the contrary, is that which defends a novelty of life in the present, capable of modifying even the power set-up.

Let me conclude by saying that politics has to decide whether to favor society exclusively as a tool manipulated by the State and its power, or to favor a State that is truly a lay State, that is at the service of social life according to the Thomistic concept of the ìcommon good,î which was vigorously picked up by the great, though forgotten, magisterium of Pope Leo XIII.13

I have made this last observation, obvious as it may be to all, in order to recall that it is a journey which is anything but easy; it is as hard as any other journey to the truth in manís life. But even here we must not fear what the Gospel says, ìHe who clings to his things, to his life, will lose them, and he who gives his life for Christís sake will gain it.î14





1 cf. John Paul II Human Life is Culture. Address to UNESCO, June 2, 1980.

2 Ibid.

3 cf. Acts 17:26-28.

4 cf. R. Guardini, Power and Responsibility, Sheed and Ward, NY, 1960, p. 3.

5 cf. Gaudium et Spes 14, 2. Vatican II. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965.

6 cf. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 11.

7 cf. P.P. Pasolini, Scritti corsari, Garzanti, Milano, 1993, 23, 41, 45ff., 50, 54.

8 cf. V·clav Belohradsky (interview), ìLíepoca degli ultimi uomini,î in LíAltra Europa, 6 (1986), 5 ff.

9 cf. John Paul II, Christ is manís greatest ìresource,î Rimini, 1982.

10 ìVeritas est adaequatio intellectus ad remî (St. Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones Disputatae De Anima, III 1, 1-2). cf. Also Summa Theologiae 1, q. 16 art. 1&2. For a more complete treatment see L. Giussani, The Religious Sense, p. 3 ff.

11 ìPrudentia est recta ratio agibiliumî (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae II-IIae, q. 47, art 8c.)

12 cf. P. P. Pasolini, Scritti Corsari, Garzanti, Milano, 1993, p. 64.

13 cf. Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum.

14 cf. Mt 10:39, 16:25; Lk 9:24, 17:33; Mk 8:35.