Cardijn, promoter of democracy

One aspect of Cardijn’s personality that is often overlooked is his commitment to the promotion of democracy based on what he called “democratic virtue.”

How to achieve this? Through education and organisation.

In this he mirrored the work of Marc Sangnier’s French movement, Le Sillon (The Furrow), which had so inspired Cardijn as a seminarian.

Indeed, the Sillon had developed its own definition of democracy as the social system that “maximised the conscience/consciousness and responsibility” of each citizen.

In this article written in June 1919 — just months after the end of World War I – for the launch issue of a new Belgian magazine called “Le démocrat” (The Democrat), a title clearly inspired by the Sillon’s own daily newspaper, La démocratie (Democracy), Cardijn explains his conception of democracy based on education for democratic virtue.

For Christian workers – Le Démocrate

We have just finished reading the first edition of Le Démocrate (The Democrat). Every friend of Christian democracy will rejoice that we have our own newspaper at last. In it, we loyally and passionately defend our doctrine, our organisation and our program.

OUR DOCTRINE is based on the notion that democracy is fundamentally a question of education and organisation. As long as the great principles of justice, fraternity, responsibility, competence, discipline and authority fail to penetrate our customs and morals, and fail to inspire our institutions and the exercise of power, democracy will exist only in name.

Auction-style acrobatics will lead to a battle of wills. General well-being needs to take priority over individual interest. Free and cordial cooperation must become the basis of all activity.

Only in this way will we manage to avoid demagogic decline and succeed in promoting “social uplifting.”

For us as Christians, truth is found in the Gospel and the doctrine of the Church. This means making it known and adapting it in increasingly concrete terms to the current economic and social conditions that we aim to achieve.

Our trade union, economic, social and educational ORGANISATIONS are like the apple of our eye.

The Right of Association is the best antidote to statism, bureaucracy, incompetency and political exclusivity. Any kind of attack on the right of association, whether practised by violence or through legal means, amounts to a betrayal of democracy.

Trade union freedom, freedom of opinion, conscience and teaching are the only guarantees of a healthy and life-giving public atmosphere. Without this, we will languish in oppression and slavery.

OUR PROGRAM. In our ruined country, the first thing we are aiming for is “reconstruction.” In line with this, we are prepared to make every possible concession to promote collaboration and unity among all patriots.

Tolerance and confidence are democratic virtues. To intensify reconstruction, it will be necessary for the working masses to become more directly involved in production.

While working for the transformation of our economic and political regime, we urgently desire to correct employee abuse by gaining recognition for the vital rights of employees, including minimum salary, maximum working hours and freedom of association.

The housing issue is as urgent as the need for a labour contract.”


Joseph Cardijn, For Christian Workers – Le démocrat (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Stefan Gigacz