Aristotle, Thomas, and the “City of Rod”

Rod Dreher has released his book, The Benedict Option, setting forth one more time that which he has set forth many, many times in various essays and blog posts. Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, a leading voice among Catholic leftists, has reviewed the book at great length and, frankly, panned it. Dreher has responded to Bruenig’s review at equally great length, and you can read the whole exchange at the links above. (We will not bore you by summarizing all of Bruenig’s critiques and Dreher’s responses.) However, our attention was grabbed by one passage in Dreher’s response:

As I say in the book, Christians have to stay engaged in ordinary politics, if only to protect our religious liberty interests. (I believe we have to stay involved for other reasons too, but even if you don’t agree, you can at least agree that religious liberty is absolutely vital.) But we cannot put as much trust in politics as we have in past eras. The great error of the Religious Right over the past 30 years or so is not to have gotten politically involved. It’s to have thought that advancing the Kingdom of God was more or less synonymous with helping the Republican Party ascend to power. Our leaders (and a lot of us followers), often without knowing what we were doing, put way too much focus on political engagement, and way too little on personal spiritual formation, and what the Benedictines call “conversion of life.”

(Emphasis supplied.) For someone who claims—as Dreher does—to be encouraging Christians to recover a premodern tradition to fight the corrosive influence of liberalism, this is a stunning statement. Indeed, it constitutes nothing less than a rejection of the premodern tradition regarding politics. Let us put it another way; Bruenig is not the most stringent critic of Dreher on this point—Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas are.

A very brief review of the relevant points is perhaps in order. You no doubt know, dear reader, that Aristotle taught that man is a political animal and that the state arises from nature (Politics I.1, 1253a3–4). Aquinas follows this teaching when he observes, in the context of the natural law, that it is proper for man to know truths about living in society (ST Ia IIae q.94 a.2 co.). And this point remains noncontroversial in the tradition. Leo XIII, for example, reaffirms that it is natural to man to live in society in Immortale Dei. The great pope further reminds us that, in nature, rulers are necessary for the direction of society, even if a particular kind of ruler is not necessary (cf. ST Ia IIae q.90 a.3 co. & ad 3). And the ruler makes laws in order to make the members of the society good (ST Ia IIae q.92 a.2 co.; Ethic. X.9, 1180b24–28). Finally, politics, Aristotle tells us, is simply the practical art of making good laws (Ethic. X.9, 1180b24–25, 1181a22–b1; cf. ST Ia IIae q.95 a.2 co. & ad 3).

With these very basic principles in mind, the extent of Dreher’s error becomes obvious. Man participates in politics, either as ruler or ruled, naturally (cf. ST Ia IIae q.90 a.3 ad 1). The notion that man could withdraw from politics naturally is ridiculous (cf. Politics I.1, 1253a4–6). The notion becomes more ridiculous when one considers that the civil power comes from God, regardless of the political mechanism for its exercise and transmission. We won’t beat this dead horse further by discussing the duties of the state to God and true religion, to say nothing of the indirect subordination of state to Church. The bottom line is that the idea that a Christian could—much less should—limit his or her political engagement simply misunderstands what politics is. Now, one may say that one ought to express his or her engagement in a given way—a Catholic may vote for a pro-abortion politician only in certain circumstances when his opponent’s position on another grave matter requires it—but if that is what Dreher means, you could have fooled us.

Especially because Dreher goes on to say:

Right now, a lot of Christian conservatives believe that we dodged a bullet with the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. I agree that things aren’t as dangerous for us now as they would have been under Clinton. But it’s simply delusional to think that Trump is going to turn things around. Even if he were a saint, he couldn’t do that. As Bruenig makes clear early in her review, there is increasingly little space for us Christians, at least those who don’t go along with the latest iteration of liberalism, in the public square.

Richard John Neuhaus hoped that we would have a place there. That project has failed, it seems to me. What now? Yes, we still have to be engaged in politics, but what happens when and if we lose? We don’t suddenly cease to be Christian, or to have the obligation to serve Christ, even if we have to suffer for it. How are we going to do that? How will we find the faith and the courage within us to know when we are being asked to believe or to accept something that we cannot if we want to be faithful? Where is our “Here I stand, I can do no other” line? How will we know when we are being asked to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, living as we must as resident aliens in Babylon, and how will we find it within ourselves to go into the furnace singing, as did Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego?

(Emphasis supplied.) Given all of this, it is passing hard to imagine that Dreher simply meant to say that we have to temper our engagement, while remaining politically active as nature requires.

It is, however, not hard at all to see how Dreher loses the thread. A sharp friend of ours has observed that Dreher’s work as a journalist has influenced his thinking on this point. Recall what he said a little bit before what we just quoted:

The great error of the Religious Right over the past 30 years or so is not to have gotten politically involved. It’s to have thought that advancing the Kingdom of God was more or less synonymous with helping the Republican Party ascend to power. Our leaders (and a lot of us followers), often without knowing what we were doing, put way too much focus on political engagement, and way too little on personal spiritual formation, and what the Benedictines call “conversion of life.”

(Emphasis supplied.) In essence, Dreher’s complaint is that American Christians are bad at politics. One does not have to be a journalist reporting on politics and culture—like Dreher—to see that the deal that conservative Christians have cut, knowingly or not, with Republicans has not been a good deal historically. This is obvious. And we will not bore you with all the ways in which it is obvious. You can recite them as well as we can. But it is clear that Dreher’s reporting on this situation has affected how he thinks politics work in general terms.

And this, of course, is the great temptation for a traditionally minded or integralist Catholic (or Christian more broadly): the culture—political, popular, and otherwise—of the United States is undoubtedly disordered. Part of this disorder is the hostility to Christians generally and orthodox Christians specifically. But it extends far beyond that. And confronted with this, the temptation for a serious Christian is to react to the situation itself. But this is ultimately the wrong approach. St. Thomas tells us that law—and therefore politics—is an exercise of reason ordered to the common good (ST Ia IIae q.90 a.2 co. & ad 1). While there is certainly room for the application of discretion and judgment, consistent with the common good and the divine and natural law, in given circumstances, one must be careful not to jettison the conclusions of reason itself based upon those circumstances.

Dreher falls into just that trap. He observes correctly that the culture of the United States is bad, and he reacts to this situation by deciding that Christians should participate in politics only on limited terms. No. Dreher is right that the way out is by recovering the premodern tradition, but recovering the premodern tradition means understanding that political participation is natural to man.

An Ash Wednesday reflection

Matthew Walther is one of the funniest writers working today. If you have not read his columns for the Washington Free Beacon about the 2016 presidential election, you have missed a great treat. (It’s not too late, though!) He is also a very serious, traditionally minded Catholic. Today, at the Catholic Herald, he has an excellent column about his return to the Church, sparked by T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday. It would be unfair to excerpt it, so we will say instead that you should read it there.

We observe, in passing, one bit in particular from Walther’s essay: the music at the Ash Wednesday Mass he attended was in Latin. And his is not the only story we have read in which the majesty of the Church’s liturgical tradition has drawn Catholics back to the Church or made converts of non-Catholics. (If anyone validly baptized can be said to be a non-Catholic.)

 

A very brief provocation

In keeping with our recent theme of ressourcement of an Aristotelian-Thomistic political vision, we have been sketching, mostly for ourselves, some theses. However, in preparing these (impossibly) rough drafts, we had occasion to review this passage of the Summa:

as stated above, a law is nothing else than a dictate of reason in the ruler by whom his subjects are governed. Now the virtue of any subordinate thing consists in its being well subordinated to that by which it is regulated: thus we see that the virtue of the irascible and concupiscible faculties consists in their being obedient to reason; and accordingly “the virtue of every subject consists in his being well subjected to his ruler,” as the Philosopher says (Polit. i). But every law aims at being obeyed by those who are subject to it. Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is “that which makes its subject good,” it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect. For if the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on true good, which is the common good regulated according to Divine justice, it follows that the effect of the law is to make men good simply. If, however, the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on that which is not simply good, but useful or pleasurable to himself, or in opposition to Divine justice; then the law does not make men good simply, but in respect to that particular government. In this way good is found even in things that are bad of themselves: thus a man is called a good robber, because he works in a way that is adapted to his end.

(ST Ia IIae q.92 a.1 co.) (Emphasis supplied.) It seems to us that this passage contains, in germ, much of the framework for Aristotelian-Thomistic politics generally. (And, if not the passage, then the whole of q.92 a.1.) But this is a discussion for another time.

We have been taken with a more interesting notion: perhaps we should start taking St. Thomas at his word when assessing various political settlements.

Young Catholics and “The Young Pope”

We have watched several episodes of Paolo Sorrentino’s series, The Young Pope, which Matthew Schmitz has reviewed at First Things. Ultimately, we find The Young Pope to be neither as good nor as bad as claimed, and it unfortunately suffers from the all-too-typical HBO treatment. (Too much sex, if we may say so without scandalizing you, dear reader.) But many young Catholics are very enthusiastic about it. Schmitz rightly connects the reaction of many of the show’s viewers to a “sense of dislocation and disinheritance” among young people. He asserts,

Among the young people I know, there is a vague, floating sense of dislocation and disinheritance. They have been schooled in rebellion but have nothing to rebel against. This is the cause, I think, of the enthusiasm many young people show for ritual, ceremony, and all things traditional. Having been raised in a culture of unending pseudo-spontaneity, they have had time to count its costs. They prefer more rigid forms.

Of course, Christ is not another Confucius seeking the restoration of earthly order. He disrupts our easy lives by asking us to order them toward him. Sometimes this will mean pitting father against son, but after years of mistrust between Catholics old and young, I think we need a new Elijah, a man who will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is correct. In this regard, one may draw a line between the enthusiasm for The Young Pope—and traditionalism more generally—among young Catholics and a broader rejection of Boomer liberalism and hedonism among young people.

From what we have seen, The Young Pope is a show that defies easy characterization. “Cardinal Voiello,” the scheming secretary of state, is not a one-dimensional villain. Indeed, he’s quite human. Likewise, “Pius XIII” is not a plaster saint; he’s irascible, demanding, and sardonic. Among other things. And the themes of the show, as far as we can tell, extend well beyond the questions of traditionalism and liberalism that Schmitz discussed. (Candidly, we stopped watching the show for a variety of reasons, most of them related to the unnecessary sexual content.) But, in our estimation, the characters in The Young Pope are all haunted, to a various extent. Sorrentino does not create a sun-drenched world, free from concerns, into which the fanatical “Pius XIII” is thrown like a sudden thunderstorm.

And it is the soft, lazy libertarianism of the Boomers that haunts the show more than anything else, both in the specific case of “Pius XIII” and in the Church more broadly. (We will not expand further on that point, lest we spoil some plot points for you.) In a sense, the show is an extended fantasy about what happens when someone rejects liberalism as a conscious reaction to the post-1968 world. Schmitz observes,

The Young Pope hits on what life has been like for the children of the baby boomers. They are a generation of orphans, and not just because so many of their parents divorced and remarried. The baby boomers defined themselves by revolution, and even after that revolution failed, they refused to take on the stern trappings of authority. Rather than forbid and command, they sought to be understanding and therapeutic. They refused to take on the hard roles of father and mother, and so they made their children into orphans.

(Emphasis supplied.) Perhaps Schmitz overstates it when he says that this has rendered a generation or more “orphans,” but the basic idea is sound. Parents who prefer to be therapists and confidants more than parents have an effect on their children, for good or for ill.

But it is more than a mere abdication of authority, especially within the Church. Certainly St. John Paul and Benedict XVI projected authority—and were, we observe, wildly popular among young Catholics. No. It is a sense, we think, that something of great value has been hidden. This extends beyond liturgy and ceremony to doctrine. We could point to specific doctrines, but to do so would understate the problem. It is the idea of doctrine itself—and the implicit requirement that one conform one’s belief and conduct to that doctrine—that has been hidden in many places and replaced with a soft, condescending “do your best” attitude. It is, as Schmitz says, an understanding, therapeutic mentality—and it is ultimately infantilizing. And this is, we think, part of the attraction of a “Pius XIII” figure: when he tells us, in effect, that our best is not good enough in a matter as important as our eternal salvation, whatever else he may be doing, he is not infantilizing us.

Would that his example were more widely followed. We note that the upcoming Synod of Bishops has taken as its theme “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”  However, in what we will call “The Young Pope Moment,” the Synod bureaucracy shows little understanding of the situation or, indeed, of the young people they’re supposed to be talking about. This strikes us as strange, since the Synod secretariat appears to grasp, if a little dimly, the problem. The preparatory document observes,

Young people do not see themselves as a disadvantaged class or a social group to be protected or, consequently, as passive recipients of pastoral programmes or policies. Many wish to be an active part in the process of change taking place at this present time, as confirmed by the experiences of involvement and innovation at the grass-root level, which see young people as major, leading characters together with other people.

Young people, on the one hand, show a willingness and readiness to participate and commit themselves to concrete activities in which the personal contribution of each might be an occasion for recognizing one’s identity. On the other hand, they show an intolerance in places where they feel, rightly or wrongly, that they lack opportunities to participate or receive encouragement. This can lead to resignation or fatigue in their will to desire, to dream and to plan, as seen in the diffusion of the phenomenon of NEET (“not in education, employment or training”, namely, young people are not engaged in an activity of study or work or vocational training). The discrepancy between young people who are passive and discouraged and those enterprising and energetic comes from the concrete opportunities offered to each one in society and the family in which one develops, in addition to the experiences of a sense of meaning, relationships and values which are formed even before the onset of youth. Besides passivity, a lack of confidence in themselves and their abilities can manifest itself in an excessive concern for their self-image and in a submissive conformity to passing fads.

(Emphasis supplied.) But the remainder of the document reverts to the now-standard language of discernment and accompaniment.

In fact, at no point does the document suggest that the answer to “a willingness and readiness to participate” is a clear proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church, much less the uncompromising demands of a “Pius XIII” figure. Indeed, the document trades in more “understanding and therapeutic” language:

Pastoral vocational care, in this sense, means to accept the invitation of Pope Francis: “going out”, primarily, by abandoning the rigid attitudes which make the proclamation of the joy of the Gospel less credible; “going out”, leaving behind a framework which makes people feel hemmed-in; and “going out”, by giving up a way of acting as Church which at times is out-dated. “Going out” is also a sign of inner freedom from routine activities and concerns, so that young people can be leading characters in their own lives. The young will find the Church more attractive, when they see that their unique contribution is welcomed by the Christian community.

(Emphasis supplied) It goes on to observe:

As opposed to situations in the past, the Church needs to get accustomed to the fact that the ways of approaching the faith are less standardized, and therefore she must become more attentive to the individuality of each person. Together with those who continue to follow the traditional stages of Christian initiation, many come to encounter the Lord and the community of believers in other ways and later in life, for example, coming from a commitment to justice, or from contacts outside the Church with someone who is a credible witness. The challenge for communities is to receive everyone, following the example of Jesus who could speak with Jews and Samaritans and with pagans in Greek culture and Roman occupiers, seizing upon the deep desires of each one of them.

(Emphasis supplied.) Such language, more at home in 1967 than 2017, would be funny—if only its consequences were not so well known in the Church. We have had fifty years of felt banners, uninspiring liturgies, and horrible music on the backs of “leaving behind a framework which makes people feel hemmed-in” and being “more attentive to the individuality of each person.” And to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the modern history of the Church, such language portends more of the same. And all of these things add up to the infantilization we discussed above.

In other words, the Church, confronted with a generation of young people who are fed up with the standard liberal approaches to religion (gotta be hip! gotta be up to date!) sure sounds like it is getting ready to offer more of the same liberalism. Perhaps the Synod process will result in clarifications, not least from pastors with actual pastoral experience, to say nothing of experience with young people. But we are not sanguine about the possibility. We suspect that the Synod secretariat will produce a relatio that looks like the preparatory document and a post-synodal exhortation that looks like the relatio. This is certainly what happened at the last Synod, as you may recall. This seems to us like a profound miscalculation at a time when young people generally, but particularly young Catholics, are sick and tired of infantilizing liberal solutions.

We do not expect the Church to take note of a program like The Young Pope, to say nothing of the reaction to the program. But the dissatisfaction with tired liberal modes of expression and engagement can be found without the help of “Pius XIII.” One need not tune in to HBO or check Twitter after the show to discover that young people want a Church unashamed to claim tradition. One needs only go to tonsures and ordinations for the traditional orders. Or to look at the young people (and the large, young families) in the pews at Extraordinary Form Masses. Or to see that the response of young Catholics to certain innovations in recent years has been far less than enthusiastic. If the Church offers more of the same, 1960s-vintage answers to the questions of these young Catholics, we suspect that the Church will be forced to revisit all of these questions sooner rather than later. As the preparatory document says, young people “show an intolerance in places where they feel, rightly or wrongly, that they lack opportunities to participate or receive encouragement. This can lead to resignation or fatigue in their will to desire, to dream and to plan.”

Young Catholics, it seems to us, are making known their desire to participate.

Leonine radicalism and ressourcement

I.

It is high time for Catholics to rediscover the magisterium of Leo XIII. There is a sense, we think, that the modern, liberal order is at a point of inflection, if not a point of crisis, and the cleverer among us are beginning to think about “what’s next.” Likewise, Leo’s pontificate, beginning in 1878 and continuing to 1903, took place during a similar moment of crisis—essentially between the revolutions of 1848 and 1870 and the First World War. And in this atmosphere, Leo taught often and at great length about the rightly ordered civil state, correct relations between the Church and states, and the duties of Christians in civil society. His lessons, however, have been forgotten, particularly as the Church itself has acceded, perhaps merely as a prudential decision, to the postwar liberal order.

Leo has not been forgotten, however, with his encyclical Rerum novarum considered the beginning of the Church’s social teaching. Yet even Rerum novarum is dragged into the service of the liberal order and construed as a great support for free-market capitalism. It is, of course, anything but. It is of a piece with Leo’s other great encyclicals on social matters, including Immortale Dei, Libertas praestantissimum, and Diuturnum illud. Throughout Leo’s social encyclicals, including the encyclicals about the constitution of the state, so to speak, he articulated what we would today call integralism. The state, no less than the individual, has duties to God, and the State is at least indirectly subordinated to the Church, since the end of the Church is much, much more excellent than the end of the state. This is profoundly illiberal thought.

But it is thought in keeping not only with the teaching of the Church but also the broader philosophical underpinnings (i.e., Aristotle) of that tradition. In other words, it poses none of the risks of other, no less illiberal ideologies that are in the air right now, including nationalism. It is, we think, time for a ressourcement of the Leonine magisterium. Catholics should return to Leo’s thought to see what the first principles of a rightly ordered state are. Obviously, such a project will have to be undertaken by individual Catholics or Catholics in groups, as the post-Conciliar amnesia of tradition applies to no one more strongly than Leo XIII. However, if this is an inflection point for liberalism, it will be necessary, we think, to be prepared to right the sinking ship of modern life. And that requires, ultimately, Christian principles of society.

Of course, the Leonine magisterium has a reputation for being conservative, not to say reactionary. For example, subsequent treatments of his magisterium, like St. Pius X’s syllabus Fin dalla prima nostra, tended to present it in a very conservative light. And to be sure, Leo was concerned with maintaining, if not the then-existing order, then respect for rulers and majesty, which seemed to him, correctly, to be in peril. However, it is, we think, a mistake to try to force Leo’s teachings into narrow political terms. Not least because some of his teachings were, to modern liberal eyes, quite radical. That is not to say that they are remotely controversial in doctrinal terms; simply that a modern liberal subject would likely consider them radical. And a project of Leonine ressourcement must include a fair assessment of even these teachings.

II.

To give an example of “Leonine radicalism,” we turn to the question of when a Christian must disobey the law. One may assume that a supposed conservative like Leo would, of course, hold, as the Church has taught from St. Paul down to the present day, that Christians have an obligation to obey the law. Leo emphasizes, however, that this is not absolutely true. We shall see that a Christian may have a positive duty to disobey the law, and, moreover, this duty is not inconsistent with the obligation of a Christian to obey the civil authorities. We begin with  his 1890 encyclical “On Christians as Citizens,” Sapientiae Christianae:

Hence, they who blame, and call by the name of sedition, this steadfastness of attitude in the choice of duty have not rightly apprehended the force and nature of true law. We are speaking of matters widely known, and which We have before now more than once fully explained. Law is of its very essence a mandate of right reason, proclaimed by a properly constituted authority, for the common good. But true and legitimate authority is void of sanction, unless it proceed from God, the supreme Ruler and Lord of all. The Almighty alone can commit power to a man over his fellow men; nor may that be accounted as right reason which is in disaccord with truth and with divine reason; nor that held to be true good which is repugnant to the supreme and unchangeable good, or that wrests aside and draws away the wills of men from the charity of God.

Hallowed, therefore, in the minds of Christians is the very idea of public authority, in which they recognize some likeness and symbol as it were of the Divine Majesty, even when it is exercised by one unworthy. A just and due reverence to the laws abides in them, not from force and threats, but from a consciousness of duty; “for God hath not given us the spirit of fear.”

But, if the laws of the State are manifestly at variance with the divine law, containing enactments hurtful to the Church, or conveying injunctions adverse to the duties imposed by religion, or if they violate in the person of the supreme Pontiff the authority of Jesus Christ, then, truly, to resist becomes a positive duty, to obey, a crime; a crime, moreover, combined with misdemeanor against the State itself, inasmuch as every offense leveled against religion is also a sin against the State. Here anew it becomes evident how unjust is the reproach of sedition; for the obedience due to rulers and legislators is not refused, but there is a deviation from their will in those precepts only which they have no power to enjoin. Commands that are issued adversely to the honor due to God, and hence are beyond the scope of justice, must be looked upon as anything rather than laws. You are fully aware, venerable brothers, that this is the very contention of the Apostle St. Paul, who, in writing to Titus, after reminding Christians that they are “to be subject to princes and powers, and to obey at a word,” at once adds: “And to be ready to every good work.” Thereby he openly declares that, if laws of men contain injunctions contrary to the eternal law of God, it is right not to obey them. In like manner, the Prince of the Apostles gave this courageous and sublime answer to those who would have deprived him of the liberty of preaching the Gospel: “If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye, for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) Consider the radicalism of the idea that it is a duty to resist an unjust law—more on that in a moment—and a crime to obey. And not merely a crime against God, but also a crime against the state. Now, there is some room for prudential discussion about what it means to “resist” or to “obey” an unjust law. However, that is a secondary issue.

We note that Sapientiae Christianae was not Leo’s sole treatment of civil disobedience. For example, in Diuturnum illud, his 1881 encyclical “On the Origin of Civil Power,” he taught,

The one only reason which men have for not obeying is when anything is demanded of them which is openly repugnant to the natural or the divine law, for it is equally unlawful to command to do anything in which the law of nature or the will of God is violated. If, therefore, it should happen to any one to be compelled to prefer one or the other, viz., to disregard either the commands of God or those of rulers, he must obey Jesus Christ, who commands us to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” and must reply courageously after the example of the Apostles: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” And yet there is no reason why those who so behave themselves should be accused of refusing obedience; for, if the will of rulers is opposed to the will and the laws of God, they themselves exceed the bounds of their own power and pervert justice; nor can their authority then be valid, which, when there is no justice, is null.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) This is a capsule summary of the treatment, as we see it, in Sapientiae Christianae. Thus, we may say comfortably that Leo’s magisterium includes as a major theme the duty to resist unjust laws and the compatibility of such a duty with obedience to the civil authorities.

Of course, Leo’s notion of the power in law is profoundly Thomistic. This is, really, no surprise, given the importance that Leo placed on Thomas’s thought. Looking at this question in his Treatise on Law in the Summa, the Angelic Doctor taught:

Laws framed by man are either just or unjust. If they be just, they have the power of binding in conscience, from the eternal law whence they are derived, according to Prov. 8:15: “By Me kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things.” Now laws are said to be just, both from the end, when, to wit, they are ordained to the common good—and from their author, that is to say, when the law that is made does not exceed the power of the lawgiver—and from their form, when, to wit, burdens are laid on the subjects, according to an equality of proportion and with a view to the common good. For, since one man is a part of the community, each man in all that he is and has, belongs to the community; just as a part, in all that it is, belongs to the whole; wherefore nature inflicts a loss on the part, in order to save the whole: so that on this account, such laws as these, which impose proportionate burdens, are just and binding in conscience, and are legal laws.

 On the other hand laws may be unjust in two ways: first, by being contrary to human good, through being opposed to the things mentioned above—either in respect of the end, as when an authority imposes on his subjects burdensome laws, conducive, not to the common good, but rather to his own cupidity or vainglory—or in respect of the author, as when a man makes a law that goes beyond the power committed to him—or in respect of the form, as when burdens are imposed unequally on the community, although with a view to the common good. The like are acts of violence rather than laws; because, as Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5), “a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all.” Wherefore such laws do not bind in conscience, except perhaps in order to avoid scandal or disturbance, for which cause a man should even yield his right, according to Mt. 5:40,41: “If a man . . . take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him; and whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two.”

Secondly, laws may be unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing to idolatry, or to anything else contrary to the Divine law: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed, because, as stated in Acts 5:29, “we ought to obey God rather than man.”

(ST Ia IIae q.96 a.4 co.) (emphasis supplied). However, Leo seems to go beyond Thomas’s teaching, however (and not for the only time). Thomas observes that laws at variance with the common good, essentially, do not bind in conscience, though a subject may make a prudential decision to submit to the law to avoid scandal or disturbance. In other words: violence. But human laws at variance with the divine law specifically cannot be obeyed at all, violence or no violence. Leo, on the other hand, teaches that human laws at variance with the divine or natural law are null and void, and that man must obey God’s laws rather than man’s in case of conflict.

This apparent extension can, we think, be explained by the Thomistic concept of natural law; that is, the natural law is the participation in the eternal law by reason (ST Ia IIae q.91 a.2 co.). Now, Thomas’s treatment of natural law is broader and more complex, especially as the natural law relates to virtue and vice versa, but this is a good enough statement of the law, so to speak. If, then, the natural law is our participation in the eternal law, then a violation of the natural law has consequences in the realm of the eternal law. To hold otherwise would be to introduce a division between the natural law and the eternal law, and Thomas himself repudiates the notion that the natural law and the eternal law are somehow separate (ST Ia IIae q.91 a.2 ad 1). Thus, a law that violates the natural law violates also the eternal law.

It is also worth observing, perhaps idly, that Thomas also taught that just laws flow from the natural law (ST Ia IIae q.95 a.2 co.). In particular, there are two ways this works. One, the lawgiver may draw conclusions from the premises of the natural law. Two, the lawgiver, acting as a craftsman, may give a particular shape to this or that idea inherent in the natural law. All this explains, in part, why there is a diversity of human laws, instead of one set of implementations of the natural law (ST Ia IIae q.95 a.2 obj. 3 & ad 3). It also gives us some pause about adopting a too-ferocious attitude about what is or is not consistent with the natural law. In the words of Thomas Gilby, O.P., the natural law is not “a kind of grid that could be laid on the plan of human life; it is the first stage in the working out of the living idea in divine government for incompletely intelligent and loving creatures, moving them to their fulfillment” (Blackfriars Summa v.28 appx. 6, p. 178). Gilby also makes manifest the connection between the natural law and the common good (ibid.). In some instances, it will be readily obvious that a human law contravenes the natural law. Take the laws on abortion in many western countries as an example. But, in other cases, it will not be so obvious that the law violates the natural law or harms the common good. In these cases, careful reasoning is required.

However, to a modern mind, or, indeed, even a particularly patriotic mind, there is a bigger problem than whether Leo goes beyond St. Thomas or whether there is an apparent difference between a law that violates the eternal law and a law that merely violates the natural law. There appears to be a serious contradiction between a duty to resist and a duty to obey. In part, this is due to liberalism, which rejects the idea that a law contrary to the eternal or natural law is no law; instead, the will of the sovereign, however that is defined, is sufficient to provide authority to law. It is also due to a disordered concept of the state, which tends toward positivism. Nevertheless, there may appear to be a contradiction between a duty to disobey unjust laws and true obedience to the state. But such a contradiction may be resolved, we think, by the profound resonances between this treatment in Sapientiae Christianae and a very interesting passage in Au milieu des sollicitudes, Leo’s 1892 ralliement encyclical. There, the pope taught, after condemning revolutionary activity generally:

it must be carefully observed that whatever be the form of civil power in a nation, it cannot be considered so definitive as to have the right to remain immutable, even though such were the intention of those who, in the beginning, determined it.… Only the Church of Jesus Christ has been able to preserve, and surely will preserve unto the consummation of time, her form of government. Founded by Him who was, who is, and who will be forever, she has received from Him, since her very origin, all that she requires for the pursuing of her divine mission across the changeable ocean of human affairs. And, far from wishing to transform her essential constitution, she has not the power even to relinquish the conditions of true liberty and sovereign independence with which Providence has endowed her in the general interest of souls… But, in regard to purely human societies, it is an oft-repeated historical fact that time, that great transformer of all things here below, operates great changes in their political institutions. On some occasions it limits itself to modifying something in the form of the established government; or, again, it will go so far as to substitute other forms for the primitive ones—forms totally different, even as regards the mode of transmitting sovereign power.

And how are these political changes of which We speak produced? They sometimes follow in the wake of violent crises, too often of a bloody character, in the midst of which preexisting governments totally disappear; then anarchy holds sway, and soon public order is shaken to its very foundations and finally overthrown. From that time onward a social need obtrudes itself upon the nation; it must provide for itself without delay. Is it not its privilege—or, better still, its duty—to defend itself against a state of affairs troubling it so deeply, and to re-establish public peace in the tranquillity of order? Now, this social need justifies the creation and the existence of new governments, whatever form they take; since, in the hypothesis wherein we reason, these new governments are a requisite to public order, all public order being impossible without a government. Thence it follows that, in similar junctures, all the novelty is limited to the political form of civil power, or to its mode of transmission; it in no wise affects the power considered in itself. This continues to be immutable and worthy of respect, as, considered in its nature, it is constituted to provide for the common good, the supreme end which gives human society its origin. To put it otherwise, in all hypotheses, civil power, considered as such, is from God, always from God: “For there is no power but from God.”

(Footnotes omitted and emphasis supplied.) In other words, Leo distinguishes between the civil power itself and its political form or mode of transmission. The government, so to speak, exercises and transmits the civil power, but it is not the civil power itself. Now, one can—and no less an authority than Roberto de Mattei has—criticize Au milieu and ralliement for a variety of reasons. Perhaps there is a tension between Leo’s illiberal—that is to say, Christian—politics and his embrace, likely for prudential reasons, of ralliement.

However, as we said, it seems to us that there are resonances between Sapientiae Christianae and Au milieu. That is, the division between the civil power and the political government explains—considered in addition to the authority of Holy Writ—the apparent contradiction between a duty to disobey unjust laws and a simultaneous claim to obedience. The civil power, constituted by God “to provide for the common good,” would not—cannot—be at variance with the divine or natural law, for the divine and natural law are the common good in a meaningful way. However, political governments, made up of men, can be at variance with the divine or natural law, insofar as man considered individually may sin. The political government, when it is at variance, ceases to exercise the civil power in that instance. The government, in purporting to promulgate an unjust law, has lost its divine sanction. But recall that it is not the civil power; it is simply the political form and means of transmission. Thus, the Christian obeys the true civil power while rejecting the invalid act of the political government. The duty to resist is thereby harmonized with true obedience.

It seems to us that Catholics have lost this sense of higher obedience. Instead, they have adopted the dreary liberal notion that the laws must be respected, right or wrong. The Catholic’s sole recourse in the case of a bad law is to pursue change of the law through the designated channels. Of course, it is perhaps unlikely that a government that implemented a bad law would leave open meaningful channels for Catholics to agitate for change. To resist the law more openly is, for many, sedition. Leo explains that this simply is not the case, and it is in the context of these erroneous attitudes that Leo’s teaching may be called “radical.” It is, as Leo explains, true obedience to the civil power to resist unjust laws. The political form of government is not the civil power. This does not create a sanction for revolutionary activity, of course, as Leo’s discourse in Au milieu is in the immediate context of condemning revolution, but neither does it require a sort of fatalistic quietism. It is a crime to obey an unjust law. Worse than that, by promulgating an unjust law, the political government has lost, at least in the scope of the law, its divine sanction to rule.

The Christian, then, confronted with a government that has abdicated its divine sanction to rule, must remain obedient to the immutable civil power, which is from God, which may include obedience to the government where it rules justly. In other words, the contradiction between a duty to resist unjust laws and obedience to civil authorities is only apparent. With a correct understanding of what the civil authorities are—and are not—the contradiction disappears. One may resist a government without resisting the civil power if the government has ceased to exercise the civil power justly, which is to say altogether.

III.

You may, dear reader, object for whatever reason to the sort of analysis we have engaged in here. However, our point, even if we are wrong in our assessment of the Leonine magisterium on this question, is that the Leonine magisterium must be recovered by Catholics attempting to navigate this political moment. We submit, perhaps not quite as humbly as we ought, that this analysis is an example of what Catholics ought to be doing: returning to sound authorities and reconstructing a notion of politics in accordance with right reason. Leo’s teachings open up a vista onto other authorities, such as St. Thomas and Aristotle, who are themselves necessary to construct this politics. A politics, as it were, worthy of the name.

 

Eagleton and traditionalism

An earlier version of this post misidentified Eagleton’s new book. The post has been edited to include the correct title of the book. –pjs

At Commonweal, there is an essay by Terry Eagleton, which appears to be an excerpt from his recent book, Materialism, about the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s politics. While interesting reading on its own, Eagleton makes a point we thought worth sharing with you:

What is the secret of the seeming contradictions in Wittgenstein’s politics? How can one be suspended in this way between Marx and Nietzsche? There seems little doubt that this fastidious traditionalist did indeed hold a range of left-wing views. Perhaps some of these faded in later years. But it may also be that his sympathy for Marxism sprang in part from what Raymond Williams has called “negative identification.” As a conservative, culturally pessimistic critic of middle-class modernity, Wittgenstein felt able to link arms in some respects with his Communist colleagues while repudiating their convictions in others. It is a case of adopting one’s enemy’s enemies as one’s friends; or, if one prefers, of the landowner’s secret rapport with the poacher, as against the petty-bourgeois gamekeeper. The traditionalist, after all, has a fair amount in common with the socialist. Both camps think in corporate terms, as the liberal individualist or free-marketeer does not. Both regard social life as practical and institutional to its core. Both view human relations as the matrix of personal identity, not as an infringement of it. Both seek to chastise a rationality that has grown too big for its boots, returning it to its proper place within social existence as a whole.

(Emphasis supplied.) We encourage you to read the whole thing, and not just for this interesting and provocative observation.

But since the observation is so interesting and provocative, we encourage you to consider, for example, this passage from Pius XI’s great Quadragesimo anno:

It follows from what We have termed the individual and at the same time social character of ownership, that men must consider in this matter not only their own advantage but also the common good. To define these duties in detail when necessity requires and the natural law has not done so, is the function of those in charge of the State. Therefore, public authority, under the guiding light always of the natural and divine law, can determine more accurately upon consideration of the true requirements of the common good, what is permitted and what is not permitted to owners in the use of their property. Moreover, Leo XIII wisely taught “that God has left the limits of private possessions to be fixed by the industry of men and institutions of peoples.” That history proves ownership, like other elements of social life, to be not absolutely unchanging, We once declared as follows: “What divers forms has property had, from that primitive form among rude and savage peoples, which may be observed in some places even in our time, to the form of possession in the patriarchal age; and so further to the various forms under tyranny (We are using the word tyranny in its classical sense); and then through the feudal and monarchial forms down to the various types which are to be found in more recent times.” That the State is not permitted to discharge its duty arbitrarily is, however, clear. The natural right itself both of owning goods privately and of passing them on by inheritance ought always to remain intact and inviolate, since this indeed is a right that the State cannot take away: “For man is older than the State,” and also “domestic living together is prior both in thought and in fact to uniting into a polity.” Wherefore the wise Pontiff declared that it is grossly unjust for a State to exhaust private wealth through the weight of imposts and taxes. “For since the right of possessing goods privately has been conferred not by man’s law, but by nature, public authority cannot abolish it, but can only control its exercise and bring it into conformity with the common weal.” Yet when the State brings private ownership into harmony with the needs of the common good, it does not commit a hostile act against private owners but rather does them a friendly service; for it thereby effectively prevents the private possession of goods, which the Author of nature in His most wise providence ordained for the support of human life, from causing intolerable evils and thus rushing to its own destruction; it does not destroy private possessions, but safeguards them; and it does not weaken private property rights, but strengthens them. 

(Emphasis supplied.)

Catholics and liberalism in the Trump moment

Donald Trump has been elected the forty-fifth president of the United States, defeating, to the surprise of many, not least her supporters, Hillary Clinton. Clinton had been strongly favored to win this election, but by the evening of November 8, it was obvious to all observers that Clinton’s candidacy was in serious trouble. Mortal peril, it turns out.

Already there has been the usual routine following a presidential campaign, especially one with a surprise ending. Trump’s supporters are overjoyed (they thought they’d lose); Clinton’s are devastated (they were entitled to victory). And already the narrative is shaping up that the 2016 election was really about class and economic anxiety. This explains why voters rejected in key “Rust Belt” states the shopworn combination of dreary liberal policies and identity politics that Clinton seemed to prefer to meat-and-potatoes proposals for improving their lives. Of course, there was likely more to it than that, and Clinton’s supporters aren’t completely wrong when they decry bigotry among Trump’s supporters.

The bottom line is that Trump has won and Catholics now have to figure out what to do in the Trump moment.

This will not be easy. Trump has been particularly vexing for serious Catholics since he declared his candidacy. His policy proposals, his personal life, and his demeanor all troubled, though in different dimensions and to different extents, Catholics considering pulling the lever for Trump. We note, to take one brief example, that many of Trump’s signature policies are reconcilable with Catholic doctrine only with great difficulty. Pius XII condemned, in Exsul Familia, the absolutist attitude toward immigration that Trump adopted, identifying instead a natural right of migration that must be respected by nations. And Trump, occasionally calling for measures best described as economic populism, nevertheless hewed fairly closely to conservative American orthodoxy on some economic points, which, despite the protestations of some Catholics in the media, is reconcilable with Catholic doctrine not at all. This is all in addition to the darker side of Trump’s candidacy. It cannot be denied that Trump brought out bigoted elements of society. Everyone knows that he demonized immigrants from Mexico and Latin America and promised to build a wall to keep them out. This led to some nasty elements—racists, for lack of a more decorous word—latching on to Trump. And Trump, ever the showman and entertainer, flirted with those elements. Many Catholics, acknowledging the Church’s teachings about xenophobia, disordered nationalism, and racism, objected vehemently to Trump on these grounds.

But, at the same time, there was strong support for Trump among Catholics. In fact, Trump snapped a long trend of a majority of Catholics voting for the Democratic nominee. (Before Trump, according to the Pew study we just linked, the last Republican in recent years to win a majority of Catholic votes was George W. Bush in 2004.) Part of this was, of course, the deep Catholic antipathy for Hillary Clinton, who marked herself out long ago as a staunch opponent of the Church’s positions on abortion and contraception. Clinton made her radical pro-choice positions such a central part of her platform that Trump started out with an advantage among many Catholics. And she went far beyond previous Democratic candidates by promising to repeal the lifesaving Hyde Amendment, for example. On the other hand, given Trump’s promises to rescind some of Obama’s executive orders, including the anti-clerical contraception mandate, and to appoint pro-life judges to the federal judiciary, it is understandable that his initial advantage carried through to the polls. But we suspect that Trump’s message of economic populism also resonated with many Catholics, many of whom no doubt come from Rust Belt states with long traditions of organized labor, all of which have suffered greatly under the neoliberal policies of the last thirty years.

Whatever the reason, in the end, Catholics did pull the lever for Trump.

All of this meant that Trump was, perhaps rightly, an extraordinarily divisive figure in Catholic circles. Consider the First Things crowd as one example of many. Rusty Reno and Mark Bauerlein, the bosses of the publication, came out, eventually, for Trump. George Weigel and Robert George, two longtime contributors, on the other hand, were strongly opposed to Trump during the campaign. Even the dismissal of Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher from the National Catholic Register seemed to be a function of some of the division that the Trump candidacy caused among Catholics. And this is without discussing the enthusiastic Trumpists in the clergy, including, for example, Fr. Frank Pavone, who managed to create a serious controversy with a pro-Trump infomercial he made over the corpse of an aborted child. Of course, perhaps all of this is a function of the general politicization of Catholic life. Conservatives read the Register; liberals read the Reporter. Conservatives support Republicans enthusiastically; liberals support Democrats enthusiastically. So on, so forth. At any rate, it does not appear from the early reactions that Trump will be any less divisive now among Catholics than he was during the campaign, especially as Catholics begin to figure out how to navigate the Trump moment.

Consider, if you’ll bear with us, some of the early comments from Catholic media. At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin has a long interview with Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, a prelate no doubt well known to readers of Semiduplex, about the election. Cardinal Burke articulates a fairly sunny view of Trump’s election. A selection:

Your Eminence, what is your reaction to the news of Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president?

I think that it is a clear sign of the will of the people. I understand that the voter turnout was stronger than usual, and I think that the American people have awoken to the really serious situation in which the country finds itself with regard to the common good, the fundamental goods that constitute the common good, whether it be the protection of human life itself, the integrity of marriage and the family or religious liberty. That a candidate like Donald Trump — who was completely out of the normal system of politics — could be elected is an indication that our political leaders need to listen more carefully to the people and, in my judgment, return to those fundamental principles that safeguard the common good that were so clearly enunciated at the foundation of the country in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution.

(Italics in original; emphasis supplied.) The Cardinal goes on to say,

Some are calling this a golden opportunity for the Church, particularly because of Trump’s position on life issues and religious freedom.

Exactly; what he has said about pro-life issues, family issues and also issues regarding religious freedom shows a great disposition to hear the Church on these matters and to understand that these are fundamentally questions of the moral law, not questions of religious confession. They are questions of the moral law, which religion in the country, as the Founding Fathers understood from the start, is meant to support and to sustain. The government needs the help of religious leadership in order to hold to an ethical norm.

(Italics and hyperlink in original; emphasis supplied.) The whole interview, however, is well worth reading. Cardinal Burke is not one of these clerical Trumpists who trade their birettas for their Make America Great Again caps; he acknowledges that it will be the duty of Catholics to speak up against any of Trump’s policies that are incompatible with the true faith. But, on the whole, it is apparent that Cardinal Burke is supportive of Trump as he conceives of him.

It is unfortunate, however, that Cardinal Burke embraces so wholeheartedly the idea that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution enunciate principles that safeguard the common good. (Don’t worry, dear reader, we are not wasting your time; this will all be relevant shortly.) They simply do not, insofar as the Declaration and Constitution deny the truth about God and man’s duty to profess the true religion, as reason and revelation make it intelligible to him. In point of fact, they articulate an erroneous liberalism, as they attempt to create a neutral sphere in which individuals exercise free choice without constraint. This is unacceptable from a Catholic standpoint. In Immortale Dei, Leo XIII clearly articulated the principle that,

[T]he State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose everbounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its teaching and practice-not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion — it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will. All who rule, therefore, would hold in honor the holy name of God, and one of their chief duties must be to favor religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws, and neither to organize nor enact any measure that may compromise its safety. This is the bounden duty of rulers to the people over whom they rule. For one and all are we destined by our birth and adoption to enjoy, when this frail and fleeting life is ended, a supreme and final good in heaven, and to the attainment of this every endeavor should be directed. Since, then, upon this depends the full and perfect happiness of mankind, the securing of this end should be of all imaginable interests the most urgent. Hence, civil society, established for the common welfare, should not only safeguard the wellbeing of the community, but have also at heart the interests of its individual members, in such mode as not in any way to hinder, but in every manner to render as easy as may be, the possession of that highest and unchangeable good for which all should seek. Wherefore, for this purpose, care must especially be taken to preserve unharmed and unimpeded the religion whereof the practice is the link connecting man with God.

(Emphasis supplied.) One may find similar principles articulated in Diuturnum illud and Libertas praestantissimum. One sees, therefore, that the Declaration and the Constitution are in some meaningful way opposed to this truth, and, insofar as they are opposed, the extent to which they serve the common good is debatable. Perhaps one could argue that they further the common good defined as the highest natural good, and that that is somehow sufficient, though such an argument would be contrary to the teaching of Immortale Dei. (The common end of the polity is peace, we note.) It would also be nonsensical, since the state would conceivably pursue the common good through natural reason, but St. Paul and Dei Filius teach us that natural reason is sufficient to learn of the existence of God and the dictates of natural religion. At that juncture, one becomes responsible for learning what God has revealed, St. Pius X teaches in Pascendi. The bottom line, however, is that Cardinal Burke’s comments reveal the extent to which liberalism has penetrated into conservative Catholic circles. There is no other way to characterize the Declaration and Constitution. They are fundamentally liberal documents. And that is a problem for a Catholic.

We’ll come back to this in a few minutes.

There are other takes on Trump from the Catholic world, not so rosy as Cardinal Burke’s. At America, of all places, C.C. Pecknold calls Trump “America’s biggest gamble.” And there are still more critical views of Trump to be found. For example, at the Catholic Herald, Marc Barnes writes,

Despite the general disappointment that the United States has just elected an incompetent, immoral buffoon to embarrass us before the nations, there are several reasons for American Catholics to celebrate a Trump victory. By “celebrate”, I mean “to quietly, timidly, and ironically shrug thy shoulders skyward”, for these are not victories guaranteed or even strongly assured. They are the campaign promises of a business mogul with no reputation for heartfelt sympathy with the moral concerns of Catholics. Nevertheless, we’ve been promised a conservative Supreme Court nominee, a pro-life leader, and the protection of religious freedoms. Insofar as we can genuinely hope to get them, we can allow ourselves a smile.

There. We smiled. Now it is time to frown. The main argument made by conservative Catholics pulling their eyebrows out over who to vote for was that, in comparison with Clinton, “Trump is the lesser of two evils.” Very well: We have elected an evil. If we have an elected an evil then an active Catholic celebration of Donald Trump would be disingenuous in the extreme. At the very least, it would show that all this “lesser of two evils” talk was just that – talk – and that conservative Catholics who so argued are wedded to conservatism; flirting with Catholicism.

(Emphasis supplied.) The thrust of Barnes’s argument is that Trump’s prescriptions for improving the lives of ordinary, working class Americans are, by and large, drawn from the basic Republican playbook. He says,

We cannot mindlessly assent to the capitalism that Trump offers up as our salvation – it is not individual self-interest and market competition, but a genuine pursuit of the common good, that will make America great again. We are still called to agitate (with Leo XIII, Pius XI, Benedict XVI, Francis, and all the rest) for a just wage for labourers, a wage “sufficient to lead a life worthy of man and to fulfil family responsibilities properly” (Pope John XXII, Mater et Magistra). A Catholic economy is not a liberal economy any more than a Catholic morality is a conservative morality. It is time to make the distinction.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is, of course, a hugely important insight. Just as a Catholic, following Immortale Dei and Diuturnum illud, cannot profess without reservation to support the fundamentally agnostic order enshrined in the Declaration and Constitution, neither can a Catholic, following Rerum novarum, Quadragesimo anno, and Caritas in veritate, profess without reservation to support the liberal economic order. Indeed, it must be observed that the religious agnosticism and economic liberalism are bound up inextricably in a broader liberal ideology that is fundamentally opposed to the Church. That is, there is one doctrine that contradicts both Immortale Dei and Rerum novarum, and that doctrine is liberalism. Insofar as Trump proposes mere liberalism to solve the economic problems confronting many Americans, Catholics should be chary at best. Remember Henri Grenier’s lesson that liberalism is corrosive of society itself (3 Thomistic Philosophy no. 1154), as we have all observed over recent years.

This is, of course, where we must, very regretfully, part ways with Cardinal Burke. To the extent that the Cardinal sees Trump as a return to the liberalism enshrined in the Declaration and the Constitution, we cannot see that Trump’s victory is a good thing. Indeed, given his aggressive postures on so many issues, it seems like the worst possible thing. The liberalism of the Obama government, though implacably opposed to the Church, was at least bloodless and technocratic. Liberalism dressed up in populism and intolerance would be a significantly worse outcome than four more years of Obama-style liberalism. Of course, one may distinguish the good liberalism of the Founders from the bad liberalism of Obama; however, finding the principled basis to make such a distinction is harder than it seems. Liberalism is liberalism, and it is always ultimately corrosive to orderly society.

But one silver lining to a Trump presidency is the effect that Trump’s victory has had on liberalism, especially in the context of global trends. Matthew Schmitz, best known as an editor at First Things, has a piece at the Spectator, in which he argues:

In her concession speech, Clinton said her goal had been ‘breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams’. This is the dream of liberalism, which seeks freedom from any social or economic constraint. Elites like Clinton feel confident that they can navigate a deregulated society in which class, gender, and race are all fluid. They support deregulated markets as well, confident that free trade and open borders will serve their own interests in the near term and the whole country’s in the longer term

The rest of America isn’t so sure. The people who put Trump into office want security and solidarity, not creative destruction. They look askance at the Trans-Pacific Partnership and transgender rights. They do not want broken barriers and shattered ceilings, they want four walls of adobe slats and a roof over their heads. 

In mild and radical ways, people across the world are turning away from a liberal belief in open borders, open markets, and the ability of formal procedures to ward off debate over fundamental questions. We can see this in the choice of British citizens to vote for Brexit; in the fact that France’s leading presidential candidate is Marine Le Pen. In Austria, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party has entered the run-off for the presidential race. In Hungary, Viktor Orban has moved the country toward Christian nationalism and an alliance with Russia. The Law and Justice party, socially conservative and economically interventionist, has moved Poland away from the liberal consensus of free-market secularity. 

(Hyperlinks in original; emphasis supplied.) Schmitz goes on to conclude:

Voters sense the need for a deeper solidarity and a higher order than liberalism can give them. They don’t want to shatter ceilings if it means they have no roof in a storm. Trump offers protection to some Americans but leaves others out in the cold. Who will articulate a politics that is hospitable to all?

(Emphasis supplied.) Knowing Schmitz’s body of work, we suspect that we know who he has in mind—Catholics. Especially those Catholics who have come to realize what we have briefly sketched out above: it is impossible to be a good Catholic and a good liberal.

To implement this solution, obviously, Catholics must present clearly and firmly the Church’s economic teachings, but to whom? In the first place, it is a part of the Catholic mission to remind politicians that the Church, which has a divine mandate to interpret and protect the natural law, has pronounced upon these matters. Maybe some politicians will listen. Barnes points to the speech Bernie Sanders gave at the Vatican during the Democratic primaries as an example of a more thorough engagement with Catholic social teaching. And it is hard to disagree with that point. Sanders’s speech is an example of a politician who has at least made an effort to engage with the Church’s economic doctrine (or deputed a staffer to do it). It is nothing groundbreaking or especially insightful, but it is a fair reading from a place of engagement:

The essential wisdom of Centesimus Annus is this: A market economy is beneficial for productivity and economic freedom. But if we let the quest for profits dominate society; if workers become disposable cogs of the financial system; if vast inequalities of power and wealth lead to marginalization of the poor and the powerless; then the common good is squandered and the market economy fails us. Pope John Paul II puts it this way: profit that is the result of “illicit exploitation, speculation, or the breaking of solidarity among working people . . . has not justification, and represents an abuse in the sight of God and man.” (Para43).

We are now twenty-five years after the fall of Communist rule in Eastern Europe. Yet we have to acknowledge that Pope John Paul’s warnings about the excesses of untrammeled finance were deeply prescient. Twenty-five years after Centesimus Annus, speculation, illicit financial flows, environmental destruction, and the weakening of the rights of workers is far more severe than it was a quarter century ago. Financial excesses, indeed widespread financial criminality on Wall Street, played a direct role in causing the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

(Emphasis supplied.) Certainly, politicians who take the time to engage with the social teaching of the popes are bound to find new approaches to the questions presented by the modern age, approaches set forth with authority. Yet, Barnes notes that Sanders was a hopelessly conventional Democratic politician on the questions of abortion and contraception. No doubt, Sanders would seek to sever the Church’s economic teachings from her teachings about morality and the proper course of life.

But any attempt to divorce, say, the Church’s economic teaching from the Church’s teaching about the right ordering of society or the Church’s moral teaching is doomed to failure from the outset. In fact, it is ultimately liberalism. Recall Schmitz’s point that liberalism seeks to break down barriers and make all things fluid. Grenier would say that this is because liberalism atomizes society and makes the individual the measure of all things. Whatever the pathology, the answer is clear: one cannot propose the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics but attempt to claim no room for the Church on the state’s obligations to God or the right ordering of economic life, and one cannot call for a just wage as demanded by the good and holy popes of modernity without also calling for the state to recognize and foster the true faith of Christ, handed down by His Church.

To demand that the Church leave any one arena is to give science or philosophy of one sort or another supremacy over the Church. This is what liberalism demands, because liberalism, being fundamentally agnostic, requires science and philosophy to support its conclusions. Thus, the liberal has to privilege science and philosophy over Catholicism in order to achieve his desired result. This is, however, St. Pius X explains, the favored method of the Modernists:

This becomes still clearer to anybody who studies the conduct of Modernists, which is in perfect harmony with their teachings. In the writings and addresses they seem not unfrequently to advocate now one doctrine now another so that one would be disposed to regard them as vague and doubtful. But there is a reason for this, and it is to be found in their ideas as to the mutual separation of science and faith. Hence in their books you find some things which might well be expressed by a Catholic, but in the next page you find other things which might have been dictated by a rationalist. When they write history they make no mention of the divinity of Christ, but when they are in the pulpit they profess it clearly; again, when they write history they pay no heed to the Fathers and the Councils, but when they catechise the people, they cite them respectfully. In the same way they draw their distinctions between theological and pastoral exegesis and scientific and historical exegesis. So, too, acting on the principle that science in no way depends upon faith, when they treat of philosophy, history, criticism, feeling no horror at treading in the footsteps of Luther, they are wont to display a certain contempt for Catholic doctrines, or the Holy Fathers, for the Ecumenical Councils, for the ecclesiastical magisterium; and should they be rebuked for this, they complain that they are being deprived of their liberty. Lastly, guided by the theory that faith must be subject to science, they continuously and openly criticise the Church because of her sheer obstinacy in refusing to submit and accommodate her dogmas to the opinions of philosophy; while they, on their side, after having blotted out the old theology, endeavour to introduce a new theology which shall follow the vagaries of their philosophers.

(Emphasis supplied.) But it cannot be denied that a true liberal switches back and forth between sound Catholic doctrine and liberal economics and history with ease. And why shouldn’t he? Liberalism tells him that he is the judge of all things, and liberalism the only verdict worth reaching. But Christ’s Church tells Catholics that it doesn’t work that way. One cannot have everything both ways. In other words, a Catholic cannot stop at proposing the Church’s economic teaching to politicians; a Catholic must propose all of the Church’s teachings to a politician, lest he fall into the trap of liberalism and Modernism.

And, of course, a Catholic must propose the Church’s teaching to his or her fellow Catholics. It is plain, as we can see, that liberalism holds a strong grip on the minds of many Catholics, including high prelates. As the Holy Father’s Year of Mercy comes to an end, we must recall that it is a spiritual work of mercy to instruct one’s brothers and sisters in Christ in the true doctrine of Christ’s Church, which is the pure apostolic faith, protected and handed down over the centuries. Correcting them when they profess liberalism, which is incompatible with the Catholic faith, is a great work of mercy. No Catholic should be content to see a fellow Catholic mired in liberalism and Modernism. It is also a prudent political decision, since more Catholics demanding that politicians retreat from the social and spiritual poison of liberalism will surely garner more attention from politicians.

There is, of course, the possibility of progress under a Trump administration. Perhaps Trump will dismantle, even in part, the legal support for abortion in the United States by appointing judges committed to upholding the natural law. Perhaps Trump will rescind the anticlerical decrees of the Obama government. And perhaps Trump will attack the foundations of economic liberalism in the United States. He has said he will do all this. But it is equally possible that Trump will articulate immigration policies that have been roundly rejected by the Church. He has said he will do this. It is possible that he will encourage racist and xenophobic behavior. He has done this. And it is possible that, despite his promises, he will fail to appoint pro-life judges. And it is possible that his solution for the economic failures that swept him into office is little more than more economic liberalism. Certainly, no one would accuse him of being hugely consistent. The bottom line is that, where Trump is serious about governing consistently with the Church’s teachings, Catholics ought to support him, if from a distance. And where he contradicts the Church’s teachings—especially on immigration and racism—Catholics ought to resist him.

But above this, Catholics in the Trump moment ought to strengthen one another’s faith in Christ and one another’s understanding of the teachings of the Church. Catholics ought to also propose to politicians and our countrymen the fullness of Catholic teaching. Not only will this be to their spiritual advantage but it will also be to the nation’s material advantage. Let us be realistic: Donald Trump is a human politician. The best-case scenario is that he will disappoint Catholics one way and other. All politicians do. And, to be even more realistic, we know him well enough by now to know that the best-case scenario is a reach. But, though Trump will probably disappoint, Catholics must recognize that the forces that brought him to power are not going to disappear simply because he is an ineffective or inconsistent leader. People will still be dissatisfied with all the corrosive effects of liberalism. And, if (when?) Trump drops the ball, Catholics ought to be ready to step into the void to tell the politicians and voters who supported Trump—as well as the people who shared some of their concerns, but could not look past Trump’s evident flaws as a candidate—that there is another way to fight liberalism.

One needs only to look to Peter.