He starts from perhaps an unexpected place - the Marxist critique of democracy. Of course, the pope is opposed to Marxism, it is a godless (and thus an inhumane) economic system that lead to widespread corruption and misery in the lands where the Marxist experiment was tried. However, he, being an honest man and an honest thinker, recognizes, in line with Catholic Social Teaching from Rerum Novarum to Benedict's own Caritas in Veritate, the validity of Marx's discomfort with democracy,
One cannot simply push aside the Marxist criticism of democracy: How free are elections? To what extent is the people's will manipulated by publicity, that is, by capital, by the agency of a few people who dominate public opinion? (Truth and Tolerance, pg. 242-243)
We tend to think we are "free," in the political sense, simply because we can vote. This hallmark of American (indeed Western) freedom, though, is hollow. Not just because nearly half of those who could vote, don't, but because, as Benedict rightly saw, the public will is all too easily "manipulated by publicity." Those in the mainstream media, in higher education (and lower education for that matter), and the wealthy are able to dominate the public square and thus dominate the thinking of "Joe Six Pack." Which leads Benedict to ask,
Is there not a new oligarchy of the people who decide what is modern and progressive, what somebody enlightened has to think? (Ibid.)Oligarchy. There is a word most Americans don't care to apply to our system of governance. Isn't that some horrible vestige from earlier (and less "free") times? Hasn't democracy done away with such power structures? Of course, a democracy which bases itself entirely on half of the voting populace turning out every four years to vote between two candidates that are barely different on substantive issues is not really a democracy at all. It is an illusion of democracy. When the powers that be bring to bear the power of shaming as unenlightened bigots anyone who disagrees with the popular narrative of "what is modern and progressive" the real lie of democracy is even more apparent. Indeed, Benedict points to the real power of this new democratic oligarchy,
How fearsome this oligarchy is, the way they can publicly execute people, is well enough known. Anyone who gets in their way is an enemy of freedom because he is preventing freedom of expression. (Ibid.)Yes, anyone who dares to deny what the enlightened shapers of public opinion has declared "modern" is to be tarred and feathered. Just look at the sudden rise of the "gay marriage" movement. in 2008, even Barack Obama was opposed to legally recognizing the intrinsically impossible - a marriage without members from each sex. Today, someone holding "the first gay president's" former opinion - like Brendan Eich, former head of Mozilla - is branded a "hater" and a "homophobe" and is dismissed as "not modern."
Writing nearly a century ago, GK Chesterton smirked at this modern tendency,
This is the only period in all human history when people are proud of being modern. For though today is always today and the moment is always modern, we are the only men in all history who fall back upon bragging about the mere fact that today is not yesterday.... For whatever the medieval faults, they went with one merit. Medieval people never worried about being medieval; but modern people do worry horrible about being modern. (ILN, Mar 12, 1932)
What, then, is the solution? Not Marxism clearly. But not rule via media enforced public opinion either. No, real freedom can only come within a framework of just laws. This framework can only be established in the Truth, which is why Orestes Brownson could boldly declare,
If, then, you would insure the liberty in any country, strive to make your children solidly religious. But religion you will seek in vain, except in the Church which Christ has founded. If nothing else, sad experience will show you that liberty is impossible without religion, and religion without the (Catholic) Church. (Catholicity and Political Liberty)
A system based on anything less, on any error, will ultimately lead only to slavery - slavery to money, to power, to political opinion, and ultimately to the crushing slavery of sin. Finally, it is only the truth that can ever set us free (cf. Jn 8:32). True freedom requires laws founded on the truth, the ultimate truth about man, life, and society. Anything less, will lead to imprisonment.