Forgotten Truths
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The Masses Are the Main Enemy
of True Democracy

In his 1944 Christmas message, Pope Pius XII addressed the question of the true and false democracy. He made an important distinction between “the people” and “the masses.” While members of the people have an organic life that comes from within and are aware of their responsibilities, the masses are inert, moved only from the outside and ready to be exploited.

As the World War II was coming to a end, the Pope included in his criticism the Western democracies as well as the masses that allowed the totalitarian regimes of Nazism and Communism to take over Germany, Italy and Russia. We see that the same 'massification' is still present in Western democracies. It is, therefore, useful for our readers to know this concept to see through the social-political reality that surrounds us.

Pope Pius XII

Hence follows a first conclusion with its practical consequence, the State does not contain in itself and does not mechanically bring together in a given territory a shapeless mass of individuals.

It is, and should in practice be, the organic and organizing unity of a real people. The people and a shapeless multitude (or, as it is called, "the masses") are two distinct concepts.

The people lives and moves by its own life energy; the masses are inert of themselves and can only be moved from outside. The people lives by the fullness of life in the men who compose it, each of whom – at his proper place and in his own way – is a person conscious of his own responsibility and of his own views.

The masses, on the contrary, wait for the impulse from outside, an easy plaything in the hands of anyone who exploits their instincts and impressions; ready to follow in turn, today this flag, tomorrow another.

From the exuberant life of a true people, an abundant rich life is diffused in the State and all its organs, instilling into them, with a vigor that always renews itself, the consciousness of their own responsibility, the true instinct for the common good.

The State also can utilize the elementary power of the masses, deftly managed and employed in the ambitious hands of one or of several who have been artificially brought together for selfish aims. The State itself, with the support of the masses, reduced to the minimum status of a mere machine, can impose its whims on the better part of the real people. The common interest remains seriously, and for a long time, injured by this process and the injury is very often hard to heal.

Hence follows clearly another conclusion: The masses – as we have just defined them – are the capital enemy of true democracy and of its ideal of liberty and equality. In a people worthy of the name, the citizen feels within him the consciousness of his personality, of his duties and rights, of his own freedom joined to respect for the freedom and dignity of others.

In a people worthy of the name all inequalities based not on whim but on the nature of things, inequalities of culture, possessions, social standing – without, of course, prejudice to justice and mutual charity – do not constitute any obstacle to the existence and the prevalence of a true spirit of union and brotherhood.

On the contrary, so far from impairing civil equality in any way, they give it its true meaning; namely, that, before the State everyone has the right to live honorably his own personal life in the place and under the conditions in which the designs and dispositions of Providence have placed him.

As against this picture of the democratic ideal of liberty and equality in a people's government by honest and far-seeing men, what a spectacle is that of a democratic State left to the whims of the masses:

Liberty, from being a moral duty of the individual becomes a tyrannous claim to give free rein to a man's impulses and appetites to the detriment of others.

Equality degenerates to a mechanical level, the sense of true honor [takes on] a colorless uniformity; personal activity, respect for tradition or dignity – in a word, all that gives life its worth – gradually fades away and disappears.

And the only survivors are, on the one hand, the victims deluded by the specious mirage of democracy, naively taken for the genuine spirit of democracy, with its liberty and equality; and on the other, the more or less numerous exploiters, who have known how to use the power of money and of organization, in order to secure a privileged position above the others, and have gained power.

Pius XII, 1944 Christmas Message on the subject of democracy,
National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1945, nn. 21-34

Posted July 21, 2016