Christianity and Democracy – Marc Sangnier [1] (1906)

Translated by Wilson Pruitt

I. We have given many definitions of democracy[2], the etymological definition: government of the people, by the people, for the people, being only mediocrely precise, rather superficial, and not indicating the internal conditions of existence of a democracy.

We propose the following definition:

Democracy is the social organization which maximizes the conscience and the civic responsibilities of each person

In order to be in a democracy, it is not enough to be the government through good social laws, to benefit from tutelar work; it is important that each citizen is the guardian of public things. That he collaborates effectively at common work and that—even though he would remain attached to the humbler jobs if he realizes exactly that he collaborates on it.

II. The great obstacle to the realization of one such democracy is the conflict between private interest and general interest. The individual will see his good in opposition with the good of the State. He will be tempted to enrich himself in impoverishing the city, to fortify his power in lessening the good of the nation. Similarly, the prosperity of a family may be contrary to the prosperity of the home country, the profit of a trade or profession to the good of the whole of the other professions. The conscience and the responsibility of particular interests will offend the conscience and responsibilities of the general interests.

III. For democracy to be possible, it is thus necessary that these two interests cease to be disassociated..[3]

The strength which will not only bring them together but identify them, we find it in Christianity.

Christ is for us, at once, the largest expression of the general interest and the narrowest expression of particular interest:

  1. Justice, truth, fraternal love is not to our eyes theoretical entities, simple abstractions of the mind their highest and most complete expression, it is God, and God is making Godself man and communicating Godself to man, that is to say Jesus Christ. The reign of God on the earth, for us, the most general of general human interests.
  2. But this Christ does not rest in the distance of an inaccessible heaven. He draws everything to him. Much more, he descends in each one of us; he seizes us, divinizes us, since, according to the expression of the Apostle, we must become like Christs.

In the same measure where we will be given to this general interest, we will therefore have served our most true particular interest, and because we cannot accomplish the work of salvation, that is to say to be eternally happy by Christ and because we cannot fully realize our destiny, we only arrive at our complete blossoming if we live the true Life that he brings us with him.

General interest and particular interest can no longer therefore oppose themselves, since—not from a theoretical way and for the whole of the race, but for each one of us and at each instant—we can only reach our individual ends in serving the deal ends of the most universal of humanity.

IV. We understand, therefore, how Christianity is useful, to not say indispensable to democracy such that we conceive it.

But, one will say, if I do not believe in Jesus Christ, I cannot however admit to such argumentation.

—How then! …we have no way here tried to prove the divinity of Jesus Christ, but just that the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ is a strength which, in subordinating particular interest to the general interest, renders democracy possible.

—Yet, if this belief is false?

— Ah well! I do not believe in Islam and yet I say: The muslim soldiers figure that it suffices them to die on a field of battle, whatever the disorders of their past life, in order to play eternally in paradise. —I affirm that they are wrong and yet I recognize that this error in fact of the fanatical and invincible soldiers.

If this must be the attitude of our adversaries, who pretend to know that our religion is false, what should not be therefore the situation of those more numerous, who affirm nothing of an ability to know?

On this terrain, which is the true one, we are unshakeable in the discussions. The remainder, this attitude, is it not the most loyal and most opportune?

It matters however, over all, to prove this democratic excellence of Christianity, not only by a sequence of reasons, but by the beneficent and public experimentation of the social virtues of Christianity.

This is the work of Sillon. If our duty is outlined in this way, [then] we must accomplish it.

This is the starting point for all apologetical work (but which rests outside of the design of this presentation.)

1. Marc Sangnier, L’Esprit démocratique, Perrin et cie, Paris, 1906 (7ème édition), 290p. à p. 166-172.
2. The Christian democracy that we have defined in the preceding chapter, can be developed in all countries, and—good that it is more particularly the modern form of justice and social charity of catholicism—in all times also. Elsewhere, all catholics need to admit, by the sole fact that it is catholic, this Christian democracy. The democracy that we define in this chapter is not confused with Christian democracy. Animated from the Christian spirit, our democracy will be, if we can, one of the particular aspects of Christian democracy. The Pope possesses the necessary conditions of all Christian democracy. Each people, each group of individuals conceive a certain type of their social organization. Catholic citizens, like others, have total liberty to use their civic rights and initiatives. The Catholic ideal, which is universal, receives thus from the multiple and various applications. Christ having, elsewhere, distinguished the two powers, we do not have the right to expect from the Church other things that the expression of eternal truths which she has custody and directions which are proper to her and which always relate to her religious magisterium.
3. A monarchy identifies the private interest of the king and of the reigning family to the interests of the State. If the country is rich, powerfully glorious, the king is, at the same time, rich, powerful, glorious. It cannot be the same in a democracy: it is no longer then, in effect, a man and a family which symbolize and incarnate the temperament and ideal of a nation. This deals must remain in each citizen who keeps it (There is not division, but multiplication). Therefore, in each one, the conflict can occur.
4. Christianity, more excellent still, integral Christianity that is catholicism—appears like something positive: what, in some of the most noble utopias of the socialists and anarchists, is an aspiration, a dream, an unsuitable and without doubt inaccessible becoming, is realized in Catholicism. The divine is no longer there as the ideal smoke which  emerges from the best desires of man; the divine is there what there is most true, most real. That is exactly what makes Catholic doctrine much more important than its socialist plagiarisms.
5. Often, opponents become indignant at the egoism of Christians, who only practice the good by hop in heaven and by fear of hell. We know what we must believe of this allegation. The Church teaches that the perfect love of God consists, justly to do good, because it is the will of God, that is to say—if we speak the language of those who do not believe—because it is good. Here, no argument is useful. Punishment and the hope of recompense will never do more than a perfect love. Similarly, is it in the regret of faults or contrition which, even in order to be imperfect, requires a begging of disinterested love of God.
6. It remains to know if the internal qualities of Catholicism are not worthy as proof of its divinity, if an error can give a sense of life, than no experience can contradict, satisfy the deepest aspiration of the human soul after having enlightened, purified, and disciplined