Gaudium et Spes now turns its gaze to politics. Chapter IV of Part II is titled, “The Life Of The Political Community,” and it begins by recognizing the upheaval in political structure of the 50’s and 60’s:
In our day, profound changes are apparent also in the structure and institutions of peoples. These result from their cultural, economic and social evolution. Such changes have a great influence on the life of the political community, especially regarding the rights and duties of all in the exercise of civil freedom and in the attainment of the common good, and in organizing the relations of citizens among themselves and with respect to public authority.
The end of European colonialism in Africa preceded Vatican II, that must have been one of the foremost considerations, along with the advance of Marxist-Socialism.
The council supports a generosity in the rights to public expression:
The present keener sense of human dignity has given rise in many parts of the world to attempts to bring about a politico-juridical order which will give better protection to the rights of the person in public life. These include the right freely to meet and form associations, the right to express one’s own opinion and to profess one’s religion both publicly and privately. The protection of the rights of a person is indeed a necessary condition so that citizens, individually or collectively, can take an active part in the life and government of the state.
A diagnosis of the increasing call for civil rights, and the increase of tolerance in some societies:
Along with cultural, economic and social development, there is a growing desire among many people to play a greater part in organizing the life of the political community. In the conscience of many arises an increasing concern that the rights of minorities be recognized, without any neglect for their duties toward the political community. In addition, there is a steadily growing respect for (people) of other opinions or other religions. At the same time, there is wider cooperation to guarantee the actual exercise of personal rights to all citizens, and not only to a few privileged individuals.
Yet the bishops recognize that in 1965, some political systems were not in compliance. Likewise the widespread corruption in the world (I can’t just say Third World anymore, can I?) damages human society on the local, national, and universal levels:
However, those political systems, prevailing in some parts of the world are to be reproved which hamper civic or religious freedom, victimize large numbers through avarice and political crimes, and divert the exercise of authority from the service of the common good to the interests of one or another faction or of the rulers themselves.
And an optimistic (some might say naive) hope:
There is no better way to establish political life on a truly human basis than by fostering an inward sense of justice and kindliness, and of service to the common good, and by strengthening basic convictions as to the true nature of the political community and the aim, right exercise, and sphere of action of public authority.