1. We recall the principle of “subsidiarity”. In that principle the Church calls for the opportunity for people in their small associations to have a voice. In case they have no place and cannot voice out and cannot take initiatives for their own growth, the “higher” levels of society—such as the government—will have to “subsidize” them; help them stand on their own.
2. Subsidiarity has its risks, however, because of the tendency for a “ghetto” mentality. In other words, when a small association encloses and folds in, it will be interested only in its private affairs. It becomes a “ghetto”. Now the Compendium then opens the discussion for “participation”. Get out of the ghetto; open up to the wider society. Hence, participate.
3. This is why the Compendium sees participation as a duty (#189). It is, indeed, a right to be in-charge of our own private initiatives, but it is also a duty to open up to the wider society. We cannot just stay locked in our small associations. “Occult” privileges must be avoided.
4. Participation calls for opening up to social reality—including the higher levels of social life. This means then being really involved in what runs the whole country. (In fact the Compendium goes international too!) In fact, even the most disadvantaged in society must have a participation (#189). The Compendium even says that, in fact, people really like to participate. It is “one of the greatest aspirations of the citizen” (#190).
5. If participation is one of the aspirations, it is also a pillar of democracy. What exactly is “democracy”? It is an assigning “of powers and functions on the part of the people, exercised in their name, in their regard and on their behalf” (#190). The word “democracy” has two roots: “cracy” and “demos”. It is the “cracy” of the “demos”; the rule of the people. Technically then a democracy is a system in which social members have a voice and influence on where the society wants to go. The government of a democratic system aims at people’s participation. Democracy thus is by nature participative (#190).
6. Barriers to participation must be overcome. The Compendium cites the CCC (1917): “It is incumbent on those who exercise authority to strengthen the values that inspire the confidence of the members of the group and encourage them to put themselves at the service of others. Participation begins with education and culture”. This citation from the CCC can make us think of empowering members of society through allowing them access to information—as “education and culture” suggest. The problem in many societies is that people do not even know where they can really and fully participate because they just “do not know”. (Is it not true that many in our countries do not even read the morning papers?).
7. The Compendium seems to say that a certain level of knowledge and information is necessary for participation. A “cultivation” not just of information but also of moral virtues may be necessary. Why do we say this?
8. The Compendium notices “inadequate or incorrect practice of participation” (#191). Let us mention them:
9. One practice is in “making deals” for “advantageous conditions”. People use institutions for their private agenda—for the “service of their selfish needs” (#191). Just think of making partnership with the police; conniving with the judiciary; lobbying with politicians.
10. Another practice is limiting participation to the electoral process. In other words, many think that casting their votes is enough and sufficient in their participation. The Compendium sees this as a very limited and narrow participation. In many cases some do not even vote. If this happens, then participation is reduced to zero. (See #191).
11. The Compendium ends this section with a worry against totalitarian tendencies. In some countries participation in society is denied because it is considered a threat to the State itself (#191). We may not be experiencing this now but is worth mentioning it. In fact, we are reminded of a story recalled by Pope Francis.
12. Pope Francis, while addressing a “popular movement” assembly (in October 28, 2014), told a story told by a Rabbi of 1200’s. The Rabbi was talking about the tower of Babel. To make the tower, said the Rabbi, a lot of effort was needed. Bricks had to be made. Mud and hay were mixed, cut to square pieces and then baked. Then they were brought to the worksite for constructing the tower. If a brick fell it was considered a tragedy. The worker who dropped it was punished horribly. But if a worker fell, nothing happened. That, said the Rabbi, was what can happen in a society where money is a god.
13. This story may describe a totalitarian regime. But can we not say that even in our social contexts this “dictatorship” (of the market) can be highly influential too? Workers building the Tower of Babel did not really participate. They were simply “used”. Is it not true today that many workers are simply “used”? What do you think?