From the perspective of Catholic social doctrine, democratic self-governance is not inevitable, it’s only possible; and its possibility can never be taken for granted. Even established democracies can decay, to the point where what Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism”””the use of coercive state power to impose regimes of lifestyle libertinism in the name of tolerance, while marginalizing those who object in the name of classic moral truths””becomes a real and disturbing possibility. That possibility is well advanced in parts of Europe. It cannot be ruled out in the United States.
It takes a certain critical mass of citizens, living certain habits of mind and heart, to make democracy and the free economy work properly. The formation of those habits is an essential task of the free associations of civil society, and the Church plays a critical role in shaping the moral understandings that animate those free associations. “History” continues because the task of forming the virtuous citizens that make freedom work never ends.