Democracy. A word in common use, even in its declination as an adjective.
It is widely used. It suggests a value.The dictatorships of the twentieth
century identified it as an enemy to be defeated. Free men have made it a
flag. Both a conquest and a hope that, at times, one tries, in an unscrupulous
way, to mortify by putting its name in support of partisan theses.
There is no debate in which it is not invoked in support of its position.
A fabric that the opponents of democracy would claim to be worn out. The
interpretation that is given to this essential fabric of our life sometimes
appears instrumental, not taken to a sufficient extent as a basis of mutual
respect. It has even been said that values such as freedom and democracy
can be opposite to each other, with the latter artfully usable as a limitation of
the former. It is not out of place, then, to ask whether there is, and what, a
soul of democracy. Or does this only translate into a method? What inspires
What does the backbone that supports the body of our institutions and the
civil life of our community do with it? It is a question that has accompanied
and accompanies the progress of Italy, of Europe: Alexis de Tocqueville said
that a soulless democracy is destined to implode, not for the formal aspects
of course, but for the value contents that have disappeared. Speaking in
Turin, at the first edition of the Biennale of Democracy, in 2009, the President
of the Republic, (at the time Giorgio Napolitano n.o.t), turned his gaze to the
construction of our republican democracy, with the acquisition of the
principles that have placed our country, since then, in the wake of Western
liberal-democratic thought.
After the obsessive "constraint" of the fascist regime, the "breath of
freedom" was blowing, with the Constitution as a framework and guarantee
of citizens' rights. The breath of freedom first of all as a rejection of any
obligation of social and political conformism, as the right to opposition.
Democracy, in other words, does not end with its rules of operation, without
prejudice to the indispensability of defining and respecting the "rules of the
game", because, – as Norberto Bobbio reminded us, – the minimum
conditions of democracy are demanding: generality and equality of the right
to vote, its freedom, alternative proposals, the irrepressible role of elected
assemblies and, last but not least, limits to the decisions of the majority, in
the sense that they cannot violate the rights of minorities and prevent them

from becoming, in turn, majorities. It is the practice of democracy that makes
it alive, concrete, transparent, capable of involving.
What are the reasons for the reference to the breath of freedom when talking
about democracy? There is no democracy without the protection of the
fundamental rights of freedom, which represents what gives meaning to the
rule of law and to democracy itself. The challenging theme that you have
placed at the center of the reflection of this Social Week strongly challenges
everyone. Democracy, in fact, is made true every day in people's lives and in
mutual respect for social relations, in changing historical conditions, without
this being able to lead to submissive attitudes about its quality.
Abstentionism and the risk of a "majority democracy"
Can one think of being satisfied that a democracy is imperfect? To be content
with a "low intensity" democracy? Can we think of surrendering,
"pragmatically", to the growth of absenteeism of citizens from the issues of
"public affairs"? Can there be a democracy without the consistent exercise of
the role of the voters? To put in mind the defection/desertion/renunciation
that occurred by citizens in recent electoral rounds.
Care must be taken to avoid making the mistake of confusing taking sides
with participating. Rather, it is necessary to work concretely so that every
citizen is in a position to be able to take part fully in the life of the Republic.
Rights are established through democratic exercise. If this is attenuated, the
guarantee of their effective validity is reduced. Imperfect democracies
violate freedoms: where there is a modest electoral participation. Or where
the "one man-one vote" principle is distorted through devices that alter the
representativeness and the will of the voters. Freedoms would be even more
vulnerated by hypothesizing weakened democracies, weakened by illiberal
Bobbio also comes to our aid here when he warns that we cannot resort to
system simplifications or restrictions of rights "in the name of the duty to
govern". A democracy "of the majority" would be, by definition, an
irreconcilable contradiction, due to the confusion between the instruments
of government and the protection of the effective condition of rights and

At the heart of democracy are the people, the relationships and communities
they give life to, the civil, social and economic expressions that are the fruit
of their freedom, their aspirations, their humanity: this is the cornerstone of
our Constitution. This keystone of democracy operates and supports the
growth of a country, including the functioning of its institutions,
1) if beyond ideas and multiple interests there is the perception of a way
of being together and of a common wellbeing.
2) If we do not give in to the obsessive proclamation of what opposes us,
of revenge, of delegitimization.
3) If the universality of rights is not undermined by conditions of social
imbalance, if solidarity remains the connective tissue of a sustainable
economy, if participation is alive, widespread, aware of its value and its
In the change of era that we are given to live in, we feel all the difficulty, and
sometimes even a certain breathlessness, in the functioning of democracies.
Today we see unprecedented critical issues, which are added to older
problems. Democracy is never conquered forever. On the contrary, the
succession of different historical conditions and their changing
characteristics requires a careful, constant awareness.
In the complexity of contemporary societies, in addition to known critical
issues, which put the lives of states and communities at risk, there are new
epochal risks: environmental and climate, health, financials, as well as the
challenges induced by digitization and artificial intelligence.
Ours appear more and more to be societies of risk, to face which
technocratic solutions are sometimes designed. It is far from improper, then,
to question the future of democracy and the tasks entrusted to it, precisely
because it is not simply a method, but constitutes the "public space" in
which the leading voices of citizens are expressed.
Over time, unfortunately, the question "what is democracy for?" has been
asked several times. The answer is simple: to find: because they pre-exist, as
indicated by art. 2 of our Constitution – and to make the freedoms of
individuals and communities successful.
Karl Popper has indicated how democratic forms of life essentially create
that "open society" that can maximize the opportunities for the constitution

of social identities destined to be transferred, then, to the political and
institutional terrain. The Italian experience itself in the last thirty years is an
example of this. In the seventy-eight years since the referendum of 1946,
liberal freedom and democratic freedom have contributed to the "open
construction site" of our republican democracy, with the diversity of
alternatives, the realities of life and the different mobilizations that rose.
The freedom of the liberal tradition reminds us of an intangible area of
fundamental rights of people, and of the unavailability of these with respect
to the contingent succession of majorities and, even more, to ephemeral
exercises of aggregation of interests. The freedom expressed in twentieth-
century events, with the eruption of the social issue, then brought into focus
the dynamics of the expectations and needs of collective identities in a
society in permanent transformation.
It is a issue known to the Catholic movement, if it is true that that a young
and brilliant member of the Constituent Assembly, Giuseppe Dossetti, posed
the problem of "the true access of the people and of the whole people to
power and to all power, not only political, but also economic and social,"
with the definition of "substantial democracy” thus marking the transition to
the contents that would later be consecrated in the articles of the first part of
our Constitutional Charter. Among them are economic and social rights. A
demanding reflection with the ambition of aiming at the "common good"
which is not the "public good" of the interest of the majority, but the good of
each and every one at the same time, as the Social Week of 1945 already
wanted to indicate.
The path of Catholics – with their contribution to the cause of democracy –
has not been occasional or recent, yet it must be recognized that doctrinal
adherence to democracy and was less remote because it was conditioned by
the "Roman matter" with the bumpy path of its solution. But, already, the
eighth Social Week, in Milan, in 1913, felt no hesitation in affirming the
fidelity of Catholics to the State and to the Fatherland – the latter placed
higher than the State – urging, at the same time, the right to reject any
attempt to "transform the Fatherland, the State, its sovereignty, into so
many hostile institutions… while we feel that we are second to no one in the
fulfillment of those duties that bind us to one and the other". An expression
of mature responsibility. The theme that was raised was fundamentally a
theme of freedom – including religious freedom – and this concerned the

whole of society, not exclusively bilateral relations between the Kingdom of
Italy and the Holy See.
I have just recalled the 19^ edition of the Weeks, in Florence, in October 1945.
On that occasion, in the expressions of an eminent jurist – later constituent –
Egidio Tosato, we find the theme of the balance between the values of
freedom and democracy, with the identification of constitutional guarantees
to safeguard citizens.
Democracy as a form of government is not enough to guarantee the
protection of rights and freedoms to a complete extent: it can be distorted
and violated in the claim of superior goods or common benefits. The
twentieth century reminds us of this and admonishes us. This is also where
the idea of a Supreme Constitutional Court has made its way. Tosato
challenged Rousseau's assumption that the general will could not find limits
of any kind in laws, because the popular will could change any norm or rule.
He did so in very clear words: "We all know by now that the presumed
general will is in reality only the will of a majority, and that the will of a
majority, which is considered to be representative of the will of the whole
people, may be, as has often been shown, more unjust and more oppressive
than the will of a prince." A firm no, therefore, to state absolutism, to an
authority without limits, potentially prevaricating.
Awareness of limits is an essential factor of loyal and undeniable democratic
vitality. Guido Gonella, a leading figure in the Italian Catholic movement and
then a distinguished statesman in the republican season, also a speaker at
the Florence Week in 1945, had no hesitation in finding in the Constitutions a
"higher and more universal form of life", with the presence of constant
"ethical categories" and variable elements, according to "historical needs",
warning of the risks posed by an excessive conservative rigidity or by a too
easy demagogic flexibility that could have characterized them, with the
result of being able to pass with indifference from absolutism to
demagoguery, to fall backwards towards dictatorship. The distinction
between the first and second parts of our Constitution is based on this. The
message was clear: it was wrong and risky to give in to contingent
sensitivities, driven by the daily temptations of political contention. As is
likely to happen with the frequent temptation to insert references to
particular themes in the first part of the Constitution, ignoring that the latter,

as a result of the wisdom of its drafters, includes them in any case on the
basis of its basic principles and values.
The Constitution was able to give a new meaning and depth to the unity of
the country and, for Catholics, adherence to it coincided with a commitment
to strengthen, and never weaken, the unity and cohesion of Italians. A
precious spirit, as Cardinal Zuppi recently recalled, because sharing around
the supreme values of freedom and democracy is the indispensable glue of
our national community.
Pius XII, in his Christmas message of 1944, was full of important and fruitful
indications. Allow me to dwell on that text in order to recall its indication
which, in addition to the link between freedom and democracy, unites the
theme of democracy with that of peace. Because war suffocates, can
suffocate, democracy.
The democratic order, the Pope recalled, includes the unity of the human
race and of the family of peoples. "From this principle derives the future of
peace." With the invocation "war on war" and the appeal to "banish once
and for all the war of aggression as a legitimate solution to international
disputes and as an instrument of national aspirations". It was not a matter of
a due "irenicism", of the Church's obvious pacifist deference in the face of
the tragedy of the Second World War. It was, rather, first of all, a firm moral
reaction that interprets the civil conscience certainly present in believers –
and, in any case, in the conscience of the European peoples – destined to
intersect with the sensibilities of other ideal positions. Proof of this was the
generation of the Constitutions after the Second World War, in Italy as well as
in Germany, Austria and France.
For Italy, Articles 10 and 11 of our Charter, aimed at defining the
international community to pursue peace. It would be Professor Pergolesi,
again in Florence 1945, who affirmed the citizen's right to internal and
external peace with the proposal to include this principle in the
Constitutions, thus giving rise to a new conception of relations between
States. If in the past democracy was established in the States – often
opposed and in any case with rigid, insurmountable borders – today,
precisely on the continent that was its cradle, there is a need to build a solid
European sovereignty that integrates and gives concrete and not illusory
substance to that of the Member States. That allows and strengthens the

sovereignty of the people designed by our Constitutions and expressed, at
the level of the EU institutions, in the European Parliament.
The democratic path, launched in Europe after the defeat of Nazism and
Fascism, has made it possible to strengthen the institutions of the member
countries and expand the protection of citizens' rights, giving life to that
architrave of peace that was first the European Community and now is the
Union. A more effective European unity – stronger and more efficient than we
have been able to achieve so far – is today a condition for safeguarding and
progressing our systems of freedom, equality, solidarity and peace.
Returning to the reflection on the cornerstones of democracy, it should be
emphasized that democracy involves the principle of equality because it
recognizes that people have equal dignity.
Democracy is an instrument for affirming the ideals of freedom. Democracy
is the antidote to war. 
When we ask ourselves whether democracy has a soul, when we ask
ourselves what democracy is for, we easily find clear answers. The effort that
you are preparing to make for the national community on this occasion as
well recalls the words with which Cardinal Poletti, in 1988, at the 30th
General Assembly of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI), accompanied,
after twenty years, the resumption of the Social Weeks: "the diaconate of the
Italian Church to the country". With your contribution you have enriched, in
these almost one hundred and twenty years since the first edition, the
common good of the homeland and, for this, the Republic is grateful to you.
Our democracy has taken root, it has developed, it has become an
indispensable trait of national identity (while it has also become European
identity) supported by parties and movements, which had achieved
democracy in the course of their journey and were refunding their political
action on it in the new historical phase. Today we must turn our gaze and
attention to what is happening around us, in an increasingly collected and
interconnected world.
Alongside the resurgence of neo-colonialist and neo-imperialist temptations,
new geopolitical changes are also driven by the growth rates of previously
less developed continent-states, by territorial, ethnic and religious tensions
that often lead to dramatic wars, demographic trends and gigantic migratory

We are going through phenomena – these and others – that profoundly
change the conditions in which we lived previously and that it is impossible
to delude ourselves that they can return.
From the national dimension of the problems – and the consequent decision-
making spheres – we have moved on to the European and, in some respects,
to the global one. This is the condition of which we are part and in which we
must ensure that the future of citizens prevails and not of the
superstructures formed over time.
The opposite of cooperation between equals is the return to the spheres of
influence of the strongest or best armed – which is being practiced and
theorized, at the international level, with war, intimidation, prevarication –
and, in other areas, of those who have economic strength that exceeds the
size and functions of states.
The historical vision and sagacity of Alcide De Gasperi stands out with the
choice of freedom of the Atlantic Pact made by the Republic in 1949 and with
his courageous European apostolate.
Twenty years ago, in Bologna, the 44 th Week addressed the theme of the new
scenarios and new powers facing democracy. It is necessary to measure
oneself against history, to confront the state of health of national and
supranational institutions and the political organization of society. New
fences are always lurking to undermine the foundations of social
coexistence: the foundations of democracy are neither exclusively
institutional nor exclusively social, they interact with each other. What helps
us? To give answers that see the political and social rights of peoples
contribute together to the definition of a common future.
Let us take up for a moment the encyclical "Populorum Progressio" of Paul
VI: "To be freed from poverty, to guarantee one's subsistence and health in a
more secure way, a fuller participation in responsibilities, outside of all
oppression, sheltered from situations that offend their dignity as human
beings, to enjoy greater education, in a word, to make known and to have
more in order to be more: this is the aspiration of the men of today, while a
great number of them are condemned to live in conditions that make this
legitimate desire illusory." Is there anyone who could refuse to subscribe to
these indications? I fear so, actually, but no one would have the courage to
do it openly.

For this reason, too, the exercise of democracy, as we have seen, is not
reduced to a simple procedural aspect and is not even consummated only
with the irrevocable expression of one's suffrage at the ballot box on
electoral occasions. It presupposes the effort to elaborate a vision of the
common good in which individual freedoms and social openness, the good
of freedom and the good of shared humanity, are wisely intertwined –
because they are inseparable from each other. Nor is it a question limited to
state spheres.
Monsignor Adriano Bernareggi, in his conclusions of the Social Week of 1945,
argued, quoting Jacques Maritain, that a new Christianity was appearing in
Europe. The unity to be achieved in modern civil communities no longer had
a single "spiritual basis" but an earthly common good, which had to be
founded precisely on the inviolable "dignity of the human person". This is the
awareness that has been the basis of a season of peace on the European
continent. The then bishop of Bergamo continued, "democracy is not only
government of the people, but government for the people."
Addressing the discomfort, the democratic deficit that is at risk, must start
from here. From the fact that, in obviously different terms, each time we start
from the ability to make the principle of equality come true, from which
conscious participation originates. So that everyone knows that they are
protagonists in history. Don Lorenzo Milani exhorted us to "give the floor",
because "only the tongue makes equals". To be an alphabet in society.
The Republic has been able to go a long way, but the task of ensuring that
everyone takes part in the life of its society and its institutions never ends.
Every generation, every era, is awaited to the test of "literacy", of the
realization of the life of democracy. Today, this test is more complex than
ever, in today's technological society.
Well, fighting so that there can be no "illiterate democracy" is a primary,
noble cause that concerns us all. Not only those who hold responsibilities or
exercise power. By definition, democracy is an exercise from below, linked to
community life, because democracy is walking together.
I hope that there will be many of you who will find themselves on this