Some introductory sources on integralism

In the wake of Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Rev. Marcelo Figueroa’s essay at Civiltà about American fundamentalist protestants and Catholic integralists—about which we have written here and elsewhere—there has been some discussion of integralism. It remains our contention that Spadaro and Figueroa never actually defined integralism and seemed to think, as Matthew Walther observes in a column at The Week, it is somehow the same thing as being conventionally conservative. This is flatly wrong. However, instead of criticizing Spadaro and Figueroa again, though there is much to criticize there, we thought we would point to some sources on integralism.

Before pointing to sources, a word on the project. Reclaiming integralism in 2017 is almost necessarily a project for autodidacts, and, therefore, it runs the risk of all projects for autodidacts. That is, one can accumulate a bunch of scraps of knowledge and imagine that one has mastered the field. Worse, one can accumulate a bunch of scraps of knowledge and imagine that one knows more than most. It is important, we think, to emphasize that integralism is simply Catholic political thought until the 20th century. One must, therefore, take care to think with the Church and with the Church’s authorities when one begins to look to integralism. This is not to say that one should not educate oneself on these matters; one will like have to take the initiative. Instead, it is to urge anyone interested in questions of integralism to proceed slowly and choose the best sources.

What are the best sources? Why, the ones we identify.

The best source is Pater Edmund Waldstein’s “Integralism in Three Sentences” at The Josias. One can get into the weeds quickly on this stuff, but Pater Edmund boils the theory down to its basic contentions. It’s a dense three sentences, requiring one to know more than nothing, but most educated Catholics can pick up the argument.

Also by Pater Edmund is the essential “The Good, the Highest Good, and the Common Good,” also at The Josias, which explains some of the terms that are used not only by integralists but also by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the popes. Indeed, it is impossible to discuss these matters without a clear understanding of the good, the highest good, and the common good. One will quickly lose the thread without such an understanding.

Taking a step into the realm of the philosophers and the theologians, Charles De Koninck’s The Primacy of the Common Good Against the Personalists is an important text for integralists. Likewise, St. Thomas Aquinas’s De Regno. There are obviously other texts, such as Fr. Henri Grenier’s influential manual, Thomistic Philosophy, but it is by no means necessary at first to get into the weeds of the literature. However, with St. Thomas and De Koninck, one will be able to articulate in a very general way some of the philosophical and theological arguments behind integralism. We assume, by the way, that educated readers will have some familiarity with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. If not, it would behoove the interested reader to go back and get some familiarity with those texts, which are widely available in any number of formats.

Turning from the philosopher and theologians to the magisterium, Leo XIII’s encyclical on the Christian constitution of states, Immortale Dei, and his encyclical on the origin of civil power, Diuturnum illud, set forth some of the crucial magisterial teachings in support of integralism. While there are many other magisterial teachings that contribute to what we call integralism, Immortale Dei and Diuturnum illud are probably the most important. (His encyclical on Christians as citizens, Sapientiae christianae, is also important, but it develops upon Immortale Dei and Diuturnum illud and is perhaps not essential reading at the outset.) Leo’s style is clear, direct, and forceful. As we say, integralism is simply Catholic political teaching up until the 20th century and Leo, coming at the end of the 19th century, had an opportunity to restate that teaching. One will not go far wrong following Leo in these matters.

This is not a comprehensive introduction by any means, but we think it will provide the reader with enough of an understanding of integralism—that is, the Church’s traditional political thought—to weigh the matter intelligently. We offer, finally, this passage from St. John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason, Fides et Ratio:

Eclecticism is an error of method, but lying hidden within it can also be the claims of historicism. To understand a doctrine from the past correctly, it is necessary to set it within its proper historical and cultural context. The fundamental claim of historicism, however, is that the truth of a philosophy is determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period and a certain historical purpose. At least implicitly, therefore, the enduring validity of truth is denied. What was true in one period, historicists claim, may not be true in another. Thus for them the history of thought becomes little more than an archeological resource useful for illustrating positions once held, but for the most part outmoded and meaningless now. On the contrary, it should not be forgotten that, even if a formulation is bound in some way by time and culture, the truth or the error which it expresses can invariably be identified and evaluated as such despite the distance of space and time.

(Emphasis supplied.)

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