Community and State
We have seen the hesitations of the young Arizmendiarrieta, after his encounter with laborism, on the topic of the relations between society and the State. It will be fitting to return the topic from its beginning.
Indeed, the topic places us squarely in political problems, to which Arizmendiarrieta seems to have always felt an invincible internal resistance. Starting from an initial ethical-cultural or moral concept of the crisis, which was eminently religious, Arizmendiarrieta has expanded his vision, moving, in the second half of the ’40s, to a socio-economic analysis of it. But we see that there, Arizmendiarrieta stops. He does not manage to take one more step, and recognize the political crisis ensconced in that crisis, in spite of this being manifest. Here, we can demonstrate that, in Arizmendiarrieta’s reflections, the political aspects will be the most neglected and least developed. On political topics, he will always appear shy.
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In his first writings (1941-1945), Arizmendiarrieta conceives of the family, the State, and the Church as a institutional pyramid, wisely arranged.
To create life and respond to most intimate needs of human beings, the institution of natural right has emerged, which is the family (SS, II, 121-122).
Many human needs exceed the limits of this first institution. The same natural impulse, by the drive of the social nature of man, then gives rise to another, wider institution, civil society, which Arizmendiarrieta sometimes identifies with the State (ignoring the forms that this may take), while at other times, the State is identified with the form of government. The State as civil society provides man with those elements of progress, happiness and well-being that man alone could not provide to himself, with the resources that he has at the family level. In this spontaneous and natural way, man, obeying his instincts, becomes his own providence, for his own natural perfection, and on the path of his temporary and limited happiness (Ib. 122).
For his supernatural perfection and eternal happiness, the institution that congregates and guides mankind is the Church, which is uniquely authorized and responsible for salvation and spritual matters (Ib. 124). The three degrees require and complement each other mutually.
State (Civil Society) and Church
Other times, referring more concretely to the relations between the Church and the State, this perfect pyramidal harmony is supplanted by the model of the two parallel and independent societies. Here, Arizmendiarrieta explains the origin of civil society, or the State: "The mother meets the needs of her baby, and for this, nature has given her everything that the child has need of in its infancy, in which it cannot be self-sufficient. Later, man, to provide himself with other things that he has need of in his life and which he cannot provide for himself, induced by the same natural instinct, has given rise to other entities, to other associations; among these institutions that were born obeying a natural impulse and to meet the materials needs of man, is civil society, is the State. In the State, the sociability of man culminates, the State is supreme society, the most perfect society of all the many that have had origin in the sociability of humanity. Man seeks his first complement in marriage, and so conjugal society is the first degree of society. But, having to confront, in turn, after constituting that society, other, broader societies, man seeks in those broader societies, whether of the professional, economic, or political type, more effective, more profound aid for his needs and problems. And the society called the State, constituted whether by men of the same race, or united by geographic or topographical homogeneity, or by the community of the destiny, or whatever it is called, sprouts from human need, and exists to serve the material prosperity of man. Its end is to serve the material prosperity of man. Its existence does not obey whim, but rather a need" (SS, II, 107-108).
In accordance with this end, the State "in everything having to do with ordering well-being or public prosperity is independent of any other authority, is perfect and sovereign its authority" (Ib. 108).
What form of State best suits mankind? Arizmendiarrieta shows himself to be extremely cautious. The State, he tells us, "can dress itself any way, whether democratic, monarchical, oligarchic, etc.; the just form of authority is that which, in each place, and in each country, and even each circumstance, best provides and promotes that public prosperity, best promotes that well-being" (Ib. 108). The choice of the best way in each case, he tells us, the Church leaves to the opinion of men: there is not one, on principle, that is most adequate in the eyes of the Church. He insists that Jesus Christ, whose life was lived in the most precarious political circumstances imaginable, refrained from political options, and observed a conduct of great respect for authority. He refused to compromise his ministry by making the subsistence of the Church incompatible with this or that form.
What Jesus Christ did, says Arizmendiarrieta, was give life to another society, the Church, with a supernatural nature and ends, "whose life, however, does not limit or compromise the life and the rights of civil society in any way" (Ib. 109). From her, and from no one else, should men receive doctrine concerning the soul, doctrine concerning all problems that transcend the material order: everything regarding the moral and spiritual order is incumbent to her.
"Two spheres, two societies with different purposes: behold, Catholic doctrine" (Ib. 110).
What must the relationship between these two societies be? Until Jesus came to the world, civil power held spiritual power, or jurisdiction spiritual, at the same time. Plato and Aristotle recognize the interest of the State as the supreme standard, even accepting (Aristotle) infanticide as legitimate, as being in order, for the good of the State; or approving of standards that intrude on private life and on the conscience of men, without any limitation, for the good of the State (referencing some of Plato’s laws on family life). "These doctrines of the ancients, this way of considering the relationship of individuals to the State or society, explains very well why castes and slavery were seen among them as the most natural thing" (SS, I, 124). In Greece and Rome, "service to the State and to the common good was what gave human life content and meaning" (Ib. 110).
Jesus Christ, then, established the separation of the two orders, natural and supernatural, material and spiritual. With this, he did not want to want disturb the peace, for he came precisely to bring peace (SS, II, 110). "Jesus Christ, through the establishment of another society, could not intend to disturb public life, and had to choose a solution and a harmonic development between both powers. We see that he did not get into debates about the justice of established power. Maybe getting involved in it, he could have found a formula to extract himself from obedience to the authorities in Palestine, who, in the end, were foreigners and oppressors; but, passing over such matters, he observed a correct and respectful conduct, in this way, showing his church the path to follow, which we see, over the course of centuries and across space, has coexisted with the most diverse political and social forms. He could not impose a struggle between the powers. He, who in all, sought peace and harmony, had to desire an intelligence between both powers, as long as there was no greater obstacle" (Ib. 110-111).
The doctrine of human nature as being composed of body and soul, which should not be conceived of as two separate and independent entities, seems to have very little influence on all these explanations. Body and soul, material and spiritual (moral) needs, seem to be two perfectly separable and separate spheres. Let us recognize, finally, that both the pyramidal outline and that of the two societies rest on very classical traditional foundations, even though Arizmendiarrieta has not bothered to harmonize the two positions.
When do these texts date from? It is the question that arises immediately. Once more, we find ourselves with the difficulty that one finds with the voluminous material written of Arizmendiarrieta’s that carries no date, nor can this be determined by internal criteria. We can suppose that they are from the early ’40s (1941/1942?), because, first, from 1945 on, there is no lack of manifest criticism of the "absorbent" State (of which no indication is seen in the texts just discussed) and democratic demands; some texts that, though they also carry no date, can still be situated with all confidence around the time of the Second World War, likewise manifest a rather less respectful tone towards the State, which, he will now tell us, whether democratic or "collectivist" (a concept that does not appear in these texts and, instead, will be very frequent in those we assume to be from a couple of years later), invades the field of conscience, and tries to take full ownership of man, excluding the Church. Note, too, that in the cited texts, it is argued that the "community of destiny" is a possible foundation and origin of the State: texts we assume are somewhat later, but belonging to the years of the Second World War, quote that same community of destiny expressly among the collectivist "myths" of the false modern saviors.
The ideas that we just discussed may well be the immediate reflection of the education that Arizmendiarrieta received in Seminary. A certain underlying polemical tone against a "nationalist" Basque Christianity also calls that to mind (Jesus Christ did not oppose the Romans, even though they were "foreigners and oppressors"!), as well as the insistence on respect due by the Church to civil authority in any circumstance, that Jesus Christ came to bring peace, etc. In contrast, we can cite a text of Arizmendiarrieta’s we assume was drafted around 1943/1944 (certainly in the middle of the Second World War): "We do not believe in the promises of those who do not respect man as a man, of those do not see in man anything more than an animal, a subject with no more mission than that of being advantageous or useful to society, nor do we believe in the Christianity of those have the name of God on their lips, but whose God is not the Christian God, who is the only sole and absolute objective of human life, God the Father, who has other children who deserve the same consideration and the same treatment… who must be respected and loved, because they are also children of God, and have the same destiny as us, the Creator and Redeemer God who has redeemed man and not the State, the Redeemer God who shed his blood for man and not for the State, the remunerative God, who must remunerate man, who is the only immortal and eternal, who has a supernatural destiny" (SS, I, 11: cf. Ib. 128, where he repeats the same expressions). Here already, Arizmendiarrieta bluntly adds that no one should believe, "as seems to often be believed, that the political order is independent of Christianity, a sphere in which Christ and his doctrine have no entry; nor should it be believed that, while the crucifix hangs on the walls, we are excused from other duties" (Ib. 127). Here, a revolutionary Christianity is demanded, free from myths of race, destiny, etc., opposed both to absorbent statism and degrading collectivism (Ib. 117), committed in the construction of a new order: "We Christians, contrary to what is assumed about us, cannot be conservative, in the sense that we should cling to those old ideas, in name of which that inhumane exploitation was possible, which has resulted in such a deep division between rich and poor; we Christians cannot be conservative, in the sense of settling for the social and economic structure of that world that does not know how to distribute well-being to the whole social world, that has been created by the constant progress of society and the effort of all; but nor we can be reformers or revolutionaries, such that we consent to the despotic domination that, so far, is exercised by the wealthy, the capitalist, a fairly anonymous person, but no less tyrannical and cruel, being exercised by what can be called State or society" (Ib. 115).
Now, and in relation precisely to modern States, it will be said that they are "created on principles that are, in themselves, corrosive, principles that lead, over the long term, to decomposition, to war, to injustice" (SS, II, 160).
The (Spanish) State and Church
In the early ’40s, the topic of the relationship between the Church and civil society or the State is one that generates many debates and much confusion, as Arizmendiarrieta recognizes (SS, II, 192). The Church is accused "of unworthy servility, on the part of some, and by others, of an absorbent ambition" (Ib.). Let us return to this topic already dealt with briefly above.
Especially in times of regime change, says Arizmendiarrieta, not having clear ideas about what the relations between the Church and the State should be provokes confusion, resistance, disappointment. "We have seen curious cases of all this in recent years in which we have been witnesses to the most diverse and strange political vicissitudes. During the Republic, suspicion against the intentions of the Church was spread by quite a numerous sector, which was addicted to doing so, because the Church was seen doing everything it could to create a perception of the Church as being with those who were ostentatious about their authority, who injured and harmed its political interests, who struggled to wrap themselves in a religious flag. Later… just the opposite happened. The very ones who had then perhaps rejoiced at this close relationship of the Church to those who were ostentatious about their authority were scandalized, perhaps too much, by the perception and the agreement between the Church and the Authorities" (Ib.).
The Church is, naturally, well above such vagaries and fulfills its commitment to obeying any civil authority punctually, seeking to maintain relationships of peace and harmony with it…
And what to say about the oath provided by the Bishops to the Chief of State? How does it fit with the principle of separation of the two powers? In principle, Arizmendiarrieta responds, no civil authority may require an oath, either of loyalty or of any other kind (nor in public trials), from any of the ecclesiastical establishment, from the lowest subdeacon to the Bishop (Ib. 37). However, in the countries that have concordats with the Holy See, the custom has spread that certain high offices provide a loyalty oath to civil power. "It is a lesser evil that the Church tolerates, which we should not think of as becoming the ideal, since, while it is an expression and a testimony of deference and even of adhesion, it is a custom that has been imposed by suspicion of the civil authority of ecclesiastical authority, out of fear that the latter will hinder the purposes of the former" (Ib. 38). The Holy See, at any rate, has had and continues to have a rule of never sacrificing the essential freedom of its hierarchs (Ib.).
The ostentatious presence of civilian authorities in ceremonies religious can be, and is for many, a reason to harshly criticize the Church, a motive to become "accidental enemies" of public worship, which they consider more political and propaganda than religious. "As anything can be exploited, we are not going to say that this has not been and is not also exploited for partisan, and therefore debatable, purposes," responds Arizmendiarrieta (…) "Those who do such things are sacrilegious, and will not have to wait long to receive punishment for their audacity and impiety, which is covered with piety. However, the participation of the authorities in these acts does not, itself, imply their desecration by any means. Those who are true authorities, or whose are least ostentatious about their authority, should participate in the name of the society they represent in these acts, and in simple participation, there is no reason to single out these acts as political maneuvers, and therefore, to be able be excused from attendance or participation" (Ib. 43-44)…
The positions that Arizmendiarrieta adopts on these matters are, to say the least, surprisingly naive, even recognizing that they belong to the period immediately following his training in Seminary. Arizmendiarrieta had also been a soldier and a prisoner of war. It seems, then, legitimate to suppose something more than fidelity to doctrine received in his training period or the simple naivety of a new priest.
From the end of the nineteenth century, coinciding with the loss of the Fueros and with the industrial explosion, two ideological tendencies clashed harshly in the Basque Country, and never stopped influencing the cleric, as well, mostly after the war: socialism and nationalism. These two tendencies, which can be distinguished briefly (at least in reference to the cleric) as a political current and a social current, both, in the end, of a conflictive character, have historically been irreconcilable until recent times, by the different nature of their respective claims (national, social). With very few exceptions, those who took up social demands were confronted by those who preferentially took up (national or nationalist) political demands, and vice versa. We consider it unnecessary to go any further on this topic.
On the other hand, ignoring for now the question of whether or not it has had an effective historical influence, the Church has officially proclaimed its mission as social since the nineteenth century, while, on the contrary, it has continued declaring itself, up to our day, entirely apolitical. The Church, according to this, does not intervene in politics, but does in social issues (politics, in Euskadi, has frequently been equated with nationalism). This distinction was accentuated, out of necessity, after the war: to dedicate himself to social matters became, for a priest, if not a need, at least a worthy and meritorious chore; politics ("nationalist sympathies"), on the other hand, was the most absolute taboo.
Arizmendiarrieta displayed his tendency and his sensitivity to social topics very early, a perfectly legitimate thing in the official doctrine of the Church, sanctioned by the Roman Pontiffs themselves and, in that moment, by the ruling hierarchs of the Spanish Church. All interest in political topics remained, on the contrary, prohibited by the Roman Pontiffs themselves and the hierarchs, as improper for the priest, and for the Church in general.
Let us conclude, finally, that the situation in Mondragon, politically and socially, is very divided (SS, II, 226-227). Arizmendiarrieta understood that his priestly mission consisted precisely of achieving unity, beyond political differences. He wanted to be "just a priest," taking the greatest care not to allow himself to be boxed in to any political group, an independence which he judged absolutely neccesary and essential for his priestly and unifying work, given the circumstances of the locksmithing town (PR, I, 15-20).
For various reasons, we can already conclude that Arizmendiarrieta lived his first years of priestly activity with an attitude of strong rejection of politics, that, as a consequence, meant a rejection of so-called nationalism. It can be presumed, even, that some aspects of this (racism, etc.) repelled him profoundly.
It seems, in effect, that the debates and objections around the Church, especially about the relations between the Church and State, that Arizmendiarrieta tries to clarify, came from the political (which is to say, nationalist) field, which he, a young priest, could not esteem very highly, as indicated, even though he himself had previously been an activist in that current. A detailed analysis of the objections and responses allows this conclusion to be established with sufficient solidity.
In a text like the following, trying to explain the specific, independent and apolitical mission of the Church—and some would like to see "its cause confused with the cause they defend" (SS, II, 115)—it is difficult not see clear allusions to Basque nationalism: "The true Messianic ideal degenerated and was reduced to a purely political ideal (…). But that Savior for Israel did not have to be more than a warlord who had no more mission than proclaiming the independence of his Homeland under foreign power (…) It seemed that the interests of all mankind were no more than the interests of a single people. It seemed that over and above political interests, there were no other values; it seemed that there was no other way to carry out the restoration of the order lost by sin than by proclaiming the independence of a people. It seemed that peace and the welfare of mankind were precisely linked to the eternal glory of a nation, of a people. And this was the narrow mentality of those Hebrews" (Ib. 116). However, Jesus refused to be the champion of such a cause, he disavowed it fully, resolutely opposed such a Messianic conception. The Church will likewise oppose any attempt at being politically instrumentalized.
Let us look at one more text, this one about the relations of the Church and the State. "Regarding this, the doctrine contained in the gospel itself is sharp and clear. The example of Christ in this particular does not offer itself to misrepresentations. Christ first teaches with his example and then ratifies with his words what has already been taught. The political circumstances of Palestine in the times of Jesus Christ were the most sensitive that can be imagined. Palestine is a country that, for almost two hundred years, has been struggling for its independence (…) How strong was this national consciousness! We see it in their struggles against the Greeks and the Romans. But, at last, they fell under Roman domination which, for discreet as it was, was unbearable to them. Jesus obeys the decree of the census, or registration. He respected Roman laws (…)" (Ib. 193). Jesus complied fully with political authority, despite being the son of an oppressed and struggling nation.
And this is also, in Arizmendiarrieta’s opinion, the history of the Church. "She has ambitions that are more generous, more humane than any caudillo, any party, and any system in the world. She cannot be reduced to… coordinating or subordinating those coarse, narrow, national, social or racial ambitions… and so, She must suffer and withstand being the enemy of all. For some, the fundamental value is blood, the greatest mission is to conserve the purity of that blood… making everything all else secondary to that… sacrificing everything… freedom, dignity… everything, to the purity of that blood… and when the Church says that spirit is above blood, when she recognizes that purity is fine… but more purity of the spirit, She will become their enemy. Others will say that there are exploited classes… and that currently, the first mission is their rehabilitation… that is well and good, but She will say that the happiness of the world, its well-being, does not only depend on that, and that, as a consequence, other factors must be taken into account… other rights of every human being must be taken into account… whoever they are… She will have earned their enmity" (Ib. 116-117).
Arizmendiarrieta wants, then, for the Church, a cleanly separate and independent position, over and above mundane matters, which he believes was implanted by Jesus Christ by implanting in the world the kingdom of "the unique and transcendent truth" (Ib. 118). For the moment, She appears to be above, not only political issues, but also, and no less, the different social schools.
At a point that is difficult to determine exactly, around 1944 or 1945, presumably, Arizmendiarrieta begin an evolution of his positions. On political issues, the observable changes could be described as going from indifference on systems (monarchy, oligarchy, etc.) to a demand for democracy in 1945, a change that could have been motivated by the message from Pius XII on democracy (cf. CAS, 40). His evolution was stronger in the social field. There, of the early thesis of the transcendence of the Gospel and of the Church, all that will remain is the impossibility of equipping the Church’s social doctrine with a concrete social formula. Otherwise, the Church will be seen as clearly committed on social demands of all kinds. On the contrary, Arizmendiarrieta has never spoken of political demands, which can be demands for equal justice, except to ask for freedom to unionize, which also belongs to the political-social field; the need for democracy will be based, not politically, but socially.
The issue of Church-State relations can seem (and, in reality, is, when considered by itself) secondary and marginal in the aggregate of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought. It is, however, of the greatest interest, if we relate it to Arizmendiarrieta’s central thought: the emancipation of the working class. In the political conception of the proletarian revolution, [the conquest of] the State plays a decisive role. That assumes recognition, even if only passing, of the positive role played by the State in the transformation of society. Arizmendiarrieta never ceases to give, at least at first, a certain recognition, that we could call "learned" from the manual, of the state. But, in the end, the recognition is more verbal than real, and does not go beyond being something to get out of the way. We can say, in brief: in his reflection on worker emancipation, the State will play no role (except causing his distrust in it). Arizmendiarrieta’s thought left out the State factor from the beginning; it will never be positively assumed. This is an aspect to take into account in understanding why Arizmendiarrieta opts for cooperation as the path of worker emancipation, rather than the political struggle or even unions. The idea of a church that fulfills its mission in society, outside all politics, and misunderstood by the state, will have its reflection later, in his conception of the apolitical and neutral cooperative experience.
The young priest Arizmendiarrieta has clearly "fled," for whatever reason, from politics, which is to say, from the nationalism of his student and soldier days. It will be his social determinations those that will lead him to adopt positions that are very critical of the State even before the Second World War ended.
The absorbent State
It may seem symptomatic that Arizmendiarrieta spoke so rarely of the State; that he almost always did so, except in the first years, to criticize it in some way, is doubtlessly more than symptomatic. This attitude remains invariable over the years.
Authority, destroyed in the great crisis in which Arizmendiarrieta sees mankind immersed, is so necessary to man, who has adopted totalitarian systems, fleeing from chaos (SS, II, 3): when the authority of God is not respected, humanity falls into tyranny, and the absolute authority of God is assumed by mortal men.
As the crisis and chaos produce tyranny, this, in turn, produces the apathy in the people. This will be Arizmendiarrieta’s most frequent criticism of the State, understanding this to be, generally, the Spanish State, which he repeatedly describes as absolutist. The absolutism of the state is sometimes explained as the predominance of one factor of production, by which he means capital, which reserves all rights to itself, and under whose shelter selfishness and greed flourish; other times, as the undue appropriation on the part of the State of more functions than are appropriate, using public funds always on the basis of the purposes of capitalists or praetorians, not for public services (Ib. 309). The notes on which we commented seem to be a rough draft or sketch to be able to explain himself freely; phrases are incomplete, nonetheless, the meaning does not offer great difficulty: "Capital continues enjoying of all its prerogatives… of absolutism… and the State.. is not seen thinking of correcting its absorbent, centralizing politics… which bring such large budgets that they must be extracted from those who work…" (Ib. 309-310).
"Absorbent" is the description that invariably appears each time Arizmendiarrieta refers to the State: absorbent State, absorbent effort of the State, absorbent politics… "The State, in our time, has taken many functions for itself and has a financial power that is capable, with its measures, of dispossessing whole classes for the benefit of others, altering the course of economic laws with arbitrary redistributions of goods, or disproportionate impositions. An elemental knowledge of the engines that move economic life give us an idea how little the best social policy can amount to when it is not supported by a financial policy inspired by the same motive. Today’s pesetas or subsidies can apparently be the same tomorrow, but have a far lower acquisitive value, for the mere fact that the State wants it to be so. Social advances can immediately be distorted by financial measures the State takes" (CAS, 40). Arizmendiarrieta concludes that "the State needs to be controlled more than ever in our time," which is to say that social justice requires, as a necessary condition, "a free and organic political system, so that the complaints against injustices will be effective" (Ib.; texts from 1945).
On two occasions, Arizmendiarrieta criticizes State intervention into wage issues. The first time, in some incomplete notes that are difficult to date, which could be from 1950/1951 (?) (SS, II, 309-310); the second, in 1969, concerning the wage thaw measures: "While, up until now, the price of the economic recession was paid primarily by the worker, it now turns out that in a situation of increased demand, there is also a call for sacrifice by the working masses, to prevent the system from being definitively overwhelmed. An issue that affects the large majority of the people is decided, without any prior consultation or participation of the affected, and through a Decree-Law. That just shows very clearly the purely passive role that capital assigns to labor. Neither when it is time to offer his work, nor when it is time to spend his income, does the laborer have the slightest possibility of controlling a single factor" (FC, III, 253). Thus, it is clear that we live in "an economic situation in which salaries are not free, and do not possess any initiative, and are absolutely subject to other coordinates in a system whose survival is pursued above everything else, and which subjugates everything else" (Ib.). The State’s assumption of more functions than are appropriate has another effect, in the sense that "the number of its functionaries multiplies unscrupulously, functionaries who must be maintained with public funds, public funds that are not money which the authorities can have at will. An absolutist concept of authority leads to it paying preferential attention to its own judgment, and this easily leads to not serving the public well-being with the justice and accuracy it deserves" (SS, II,310).
The paralyzing State and citizen initiative
"Despite the absorbent zeal of the state," Arizmendiarrieta says, there is much to be done in favor of the worker, fields in which the priest and Catholic Action can labor fruitfully in an apostolate with works, which is what the laborer needs (PR, I, 92): organization of mutual aid for various purposes, like for marriage or the construction of houses, military service, vacations, etc.
In Arizmendiarrieta’s writings, a repeated insistence is found that citizens should unite and develop their own initiatives, without waiting for the State to intervene. State intervention generally is considered a lesser evil at best (more expense, more uniformity, etc). "It is necessary," he told Guipuzkoan businesspeople, "to continue advancing with resolve and spontaneity, without always waiting for the impositions of authority, because to do otherwise shows our lack of humanity and consideration towards our peers" (CAS, 205). The principle of subsidiarity is maintained consequently: the State should not intervene where citizens by themselves are enough to find solutions to their problems. But, for the State to not need to intervene, it is necessary for citizens, for their part, to develop the needed initiatives. "If we continue waiting for the baton of the State for everything, we’re going to arrive late, at least in the sense that, every day, the spirit of class struggle penetrates deeper, and social distances grow more profound" (Ib. 171).
"In those zones of human activity in which the initiative and possibilities of individuals, or entities, or lower associations of them, can achieve their purposes, it is not necessary to wait for or desire the intervention of public entities to a greater extent and proportion than their collaboration will turn out to be truly advantageous, and not just in appearance" (PR, II, 11).
Arizmendiarrieta remembers the danger that many people believe that, with their laments, they will be excused from doing something more; or who always hope that it will be others who do the work. If each one, he says, fixed those problems they find at hand, undoubtedly we would have gotten farther. And while this does not happen, we uselessly wait around for the solution to many problems that demand a quick resolution. The State is distant, and arrives late. Responsible citizens should be pulling the cart, according to their own image, not following it.
On the other hand, Arizmendiarrieta finds it understandable that citizen initiatives do not arise: "in the current circumstances, I recognize that, unfortunately, there are many excuses for inaction. On the one hand, we have some public institutions engaged in thinking that it is enough for authority to think about or handle fixing things, as if collaboration was not needed for the most insignificant thing, and every collaboration demands a stimulus. Naturally, people fall into apathy and indolence, and it will take a lot of effort to pull them out of this lethargy, and awaken their awareness of their own responsibility, but there will be no other choice" (SS, II, 253).
With respect to the role that public institutions should play in social life, Arizmendiarrieta stands between the two extreme positions: an obsolete concept of the State, he says, works to reduce its intervention to simple functions of urban police and district attorney, trusting in the free acting of citizens for everything. The less the State does, and has to do, on its own, the better. It can be deaf and dumb to unsatisfied public or general needs, so as not be seen entangled in commitments. The opposite position sees the State replacing and supplanting the citizen in all its initiatives, meddling, with no one calling for its collaboration or presence, in all matters. Over the long term, insists Arizmendiarrieta, this way of acting puts an end to true dynamism and social vigor, because the first source of this dynamism and vigor has to be the spirit of each one of the members of society. Likewise, the management entrusted to a public entity, when it could be carried out by individuals, only complicate things further. In the long run, bureaucratic routine asphyxiates the best companies (PR, II, 13).
For Arizmendiarrieta, the function of public institutions is to provide for those needs that common citizens and other groups or associations of a private nature cannot meet satisfactorily (remember the institutional pyramid), intervening exclusively or collaborating to the extent necessary, on a case-by-case basis, in all those activities and efforts aimed at the achievement of the common good. (Ib. 13-14).
"The individual has the right to demand the support of social institutions, and likewise, of the municipality, which is the first of social institutions of the public and general type, of the state, and is the most perfect of them. The insufficiency of the individual demands, in the first place, assistance from the first public entity, which is the municipality" (Ib. 12), in problems like, for example, housing, teaching, etc.
But, for this, citizens must first develop their dynamism, which also requires a certain level of culture. Social dynamism is conditioned by the level of each society or people (EP, I, 273). On the basis of work and culture, citizens can and must develop dynamism that leads them to their emancipation. It is only where their strength cannot do this that they can, and should, turn to State help. "Let us go to the government or higher bodies if necessary, but let us not feel that this excuses us from doing what is within our reach and, above all, let us not give up our initiative" (Ib.). "We cannot be at the mercy of what a government resolves and decides, because for as agile and omnipresent as it would like be, it is always at enough of an inevitable distance to make it necessary for other responsible people to take a role in the matter" (Ib.).
Let us look at three cases in which citizen initiative and the intervention of public institutions can be combined: social assistance, housing, and professional teaching. We will see that Arizmendiarrieta’s position is critical of the three with respect to the dominant praxis.