Assago 1987. Religious Sense, Works, and Politics

Address at the Convention of the Christian Democrat Party of Lombardy, Assago 1987, in L. Giussani, L’io, il potere, le opere. Contributi da un’esperienza [The “I,” Power, and Works. Contributions from an Experience], Marietti, Genoa 200
Luigi Giussani

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, “Culture is always situated in an essential and necessary relationship to what man is” (cf. John Paul II, Human life is culture. Address to UNESCO, June 2, 1980).
1) Now, the most interesting thing to note is that man is one in the reality of his “I.” In that same speech the Pope says that in culture it is always necessary to consider “man as a whole, in his entirety, in the whole truth of his spiritual and bodily subjectivity.” We must “not impose on culture–an authentically human system, a splendid synthesis of spirit and body–preconceived divisions and oppositions” (Ibidem).
What determines, what gives shape to man’s unity, this unity of his “I”? It is that dynamic element that, through the fundamental questions and needs in which it expresses itself, guides man’s personal and social expression. In short, this dynamic element, which, through the fundamental questions, guides man’s personal and social expression I call religious sense; the form of man’s unity is his religious sense. This fundamental factor is expressed in man through questions, promptings, provocations both 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 (cf. Acts 17:26-28).
Thus man’s 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. Man’s responsibility, through all the kinds of provocation that reach him in the impact with reality, commits itself in answering those questions that are posed by man’s religious sense (or man’s “heart” as the Bible calls it).
2) 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 organisation of things in order to attain this goal (cf. R. Guardini, Power and Responsibility, Sheed and Ward, New York 1960, p. 3).
Now, either power is determined by the will to serve God’s creature in its dynamic evolution, that is to say to serve man, culture and the praxis deriving from this, or it tends to reduce human reality to its own aim; thus a State that is source of all rights will reduce man to “a piece of matter, or an anonymous citizen of the earthly city”, as Gaudium et Spes says (cf. Gaudium et spes 14, 2. Vatican II. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965).
3) If power has only its own aim in sight, it has to attempt to govern man’s 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 man’s desires, and therefore his values, are essentially reduced. The reduction of man’s 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, the Pope points out, “This 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” (cf. Dives in Misericordia [Rich in Mercy], 30 November 1980, 11).
4) The landscape of social life becomes more and more uniform, grey (think of the “great standardisation” of which Pasolini spoke) (cf. P.P. Pasolini, Scritti corsari, Garzanti, Milan 1993, 23, 41, 45ff., 50, 54), 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 to a 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. (…)
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.
5) A culture of responsibility must keep alive man’s original position from which spring his desires and values, the relationship with the infinite 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 man’s desires take flesh, by imagining and creating operative capillary and timely structures that we call “works”, “forms of new life for man”, as John Paul II said at the Meeting of Rimini in 1982, re-launching the Church’s Social Doctrine. Works constitute a new contribution to the novelty of the fabric and face of society (cf. John Paul II, Christ is man’s greatest “resource”, Rimini 1982).
Let me conclude by saying that politics has to decide whether to favour society exclusively as a tool manipulated by the State and its power, or to favour a State that is truly a lay State, that is at the service of co-existence according to the Thomistic concept of the “common good,” which was vigorously picked up by the great, though forgotten, magisterium of Pope Leo XIII (cf. Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter, Rerum Novarum).
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 man’s life. But even here we must not fear what the Gospel says, “He who clings to his things, to his life, will lose them, and he who gives his life for Christ’s sake will gain it” (cf. Mt 10:39, 16:25; Lk 9:24, 17:33; Mk 8:35).