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Full text of the letters La Pira-Zaccagnini


Dear La Pira,

I call to mind, as you yourself like to do, a saying of Teilhard De Chardin: “the past has shown me the construction of the future”, and I apply it to the historical and political situation of today. From this – making every effort to overcome controversies, uncertainties and weaknesses – it becomes increasingly clear that we must not lose sight of the ideas that gave birth to democracy in Italy: that is the design and the methodology which were at the base of the entire edifice.

The design remains that of a pluralistic democracy in the form of concentric circles which, centred on the family, gradually expand to the level of ever larger communities until reaching the international level. The methodology seems to me to be equally essential: that of dialogue between all those elements which helped to defeat Fascism which – like every authoritarian regime – led inevitably to the devastating frenzy of war.

I have called to mind this essential moment in Italian political life because of the equally essential role played in it by the Democrazia Cristiana, a reference point for free, liberal-hearted men, and still today a lynch-pin in the democratic stability of the country, and also because, conditions having changed in many ways for the better, we need to resume that project with the spirit that animated the members of the Constituent Assembly and with the intellectual and moral integrity which in you have never been wanting.

The necessary solidaristic, unifying vision which is at the Antipodes from rampant and deceptive pseudo-libertarian individualism imposes on all of us a resolute recovery of those values which were at the basis of the commitment of Catholics active in public life, because they are now more valid than ever.

The appeal I am making to you is that in this battle of great importance to democracy in Italy you should consent to be once again at our side.

We need your presence in Florence as head of the D.C. list and also in the constituency of Montevarchi for the Senate.

I am certain that you will accept this request and even now thank you sincerely both in my own name and that of the D.C. party leadership.

With the most cordial good wishes,


Benigno Zaccagnini

Rome, 15 May 1976



Dear Zaccagnini,

Yes, this is not the moment for weaknesses and uncertainties, but the moment for courage entrusted to enlivening intelligence and careful, constructive thought. Controversy, anywhere, produces only sterility and bitterness, I quite agree with you.

You ask me to resume the project which we of the Constituent Assembly devised with a harmonious and, in a certain sense, unique and original design. What is to be done? That is what I ask myself. The appeal you make to me, also in the name of the central Directorate, is extremely demanding and, as is only natural, I would prefer it if others were to continue the work undertaken. You know, here in Florence stands Giotto’s campanile which was not built in a day, but designed by him and was thereafter the work of Andrea Pisano and Francesco Talenti. But you ask me to take my place in the mutual effort to resume the “project” which has remained incomplete – not because it has suffered the ravages of time – but because its construction was incomplete, on two levels: that of the national community and that of the international community.

As regards the Italian community, one of the conquests of the Constitution was that of guaranteeing the essential rights of the individual, but it was considered equally essential to the new democratic state to introduce and safeguard social rights, without which the very liberty of the individual would not have been sufficiently guaranteed.

This organic construction is plainly visible in the Constitution: the right to economic initiative cannot be in contrast to its social utility (art. 41); the right of private property is oriented towards its social function (art. 42); the structure of businesses is directed towards participation (art. 46).

In the minds of the members of the Assembly, and with great insistence on the part of the Catholics, the introduction of social rights into the system of the inalienable rights of the individual necessitated a change. The structural acceptance of the legal and economic system, not only in total contrast with that of Fascism, but also as a counterbalance to the idea of middle-class liberalism:          because, in a state of advanced capitalism, to entrust ourselves to the sole laws of free competition and of the market would mean the creation of monopolies which in actual fact limit and discriminate against equality and liberty. Liberty for all, therefore, yes; but also jobs for all, hospitals, homes, schools etc.

Now, in spite of the progress made, which is evident, let us not forget that the “expectances of the poor” have not been properly met, and that today we have even more political (which is also moral) obligation to exploit all those spiritual, human and intellectual energies so that those values which you mention, and which have been and remain a precious asset of our political commitment, are not left by the wayside.

To those who think that, albeit with difficulty, they have arrived at facile convictions, and to the new generations, we must restore confidence that we will strive to be a force which fights day by day to increase the growth of the conditions for complete justice, for honest labour and for brotherhood, by firmly safeguarding every sort and kind of political, cultural and civil pluralism.

I also agree with you that this battle is “of great importance to democracy in Italy”. With the most absolute respect for the convictions of others, let us each one pledge himself to rediscover the deepest roots of his own identity. We will thus be able to avoid any danger of questioning the pact on religion that was one of the points ever present in the minds of the makers of the Constitution.

As regards the international community, the steps taken in the direction of that “project” have been extremely significant, despite the many stumbling blocks placed in the way. 

There is a growing conviction that war can no longer be a means of settling international disputes (“Either a metastrophe or a catastrophe”, as Jean Guitton puts it) and that the confrontation between blocks has to be followed by the dissolution of the old ideas of a balance of power based on terror in favour of a new-found coexistence.

The foundations of this are beginning to take on form in the Helsinki Accords – a genuine prototype of the new “navigational chart” of the nations – and show humanity its irreversible way forward.

But our commitment has still other essential goals: the genuine building of peace and therefore general and complete disarmament, and freedom and progress founded on justice.

In the two orders, the national and the international, the method to follow is that of “building bridges”, of dialogue, which you have so rightly pointed out. Let us therefore set hand once more to the great project of the “casa comune”.

Against all trickery and short-sightedness, let us measure up to the concrete problems of every day without ever losing sight of the spiritual and civic goals towards which every people has a right to strive, by regaining for our time that optimism which our Christian concept of life permits us, working in all honesty and spirit of service for the good of our country and the world at large.

“Spes contra spem” is still the motto which must guide our political action.

Yours most affectionately,

Giorgio La Pira.