They don’t get paid to take vacations

At The Josias today, there is a fascinating series of fragments on the subject of integralist penal law. I would, of course, think they are fascinating not least because I wrote them. However, in the debates about integralism, the absence of integralist proposals for the penal law is often advanced as a criticism of integralism. The implication is that integralism is simply underdeveloped—or, worse, that there is a certain prudence on display. That is, in the latter case, the implication is that the integralist penal law would be disqualifying in some way or another. However, there are problems with that view, not least because there are questions that would have to be answered before a hypothetical integralist regime could promulgate penal law. The fragments I have put together are aimed, for the most part, at those questions.

Integralism and the right

At City Journal, Park MacDougald has a very interesting piece about Catholic illiberalism in the wake of the French-Ahmari debate. In full disclosure, I spoke with MacDougald and am quoted in the piece. On the whole, MacDougald’s presentation of the status quaestionis is fair. Much fairer, indeed, than some of the sharp critiques leveled at integralists by other Catholics. Part of this, no doubt, is the author: MacDougald has been writing about the intellectual currents on the right for a while. For example, he has been writing interesting pieces about various authors and events on the right for New York magazine for a year or two now. However, part of this has to be the moment.

Indeed, the debates that MacDougald summarizes for a general audience seem to me to be part of a broader moment. I have written a lot here about liberalism generally and the potential crisis of liberalism that is emerging along social and cultural lines. But it must be observed that the debate is, for the most part, a debate taking place on the political right. Sohrab Ahmari and David French are both—at least in terms of how they describe themselves—men of the right. Most people would say that National Review and First Things are both right-wing publications; indeed, both would probably be among the most influential right-wing publications today. The other participants in the debate are also generally men and women of the right.

Even the prominent Catholic critics of integralism, such as Massimo Faggioli, are ultimately not conventional secular progressives. Whatever my disagreements with the Catholic critics of integralism, I have little doubt in my mind that they are no more enthusiastic about the excesses of identity politics, political correctness, intersectionality, or whatever else you want to mention than Sohrab Ahmari. Indeed, some of them, such as Ryan Anderson, boss at the integralism-obsessed Public Discourse, made their names expressing right-wing views on social-cultural issues. And even if a critic like Faggioli wanted to make common cause with the secular left, he would find out that the left gets to define who is a leftist and very few Catholics ever make the cut.

Consequently, the debate over integralism is, in broader terms, a debate on the right. And it cannot be denied that the right generally is ascendant at the moment. The rise of populism since 2008 or so has been, for the most part, a right-wing phenomenon. Even Hillary Clinton, whose campaign against Barack Obama in 2008 was structured along broadly populist lines, abandoned a left-wing populism when confronted with Donald Trump’s right-wing version. Throughout Europe, right-wing populists are achieving significant successes, the most notable of which is the departure of England from the European Union. Nigel Farage’s farewell speech in the European Parliament yesterday, for example, was, in part, a defense of populism against the dominant EU ideology. Enough has been said about Viktor Orban and Matteo Salvini.

Voices on the left recognize that leftists have been increasingly excluded from power. Sam Kriss—the leftist blogger who was sort of cancelled during the height of Me Too, though he has sort of made a comeback except on Twitter—wrote a piece following Jeremy Corbyn’s defeat in the English general election. I think it is worth dwelling on one passage in particular:

The left has a tendency to lapse into a kind of vulgar Kantianism here. Du kannst, denn du sollst: it’s necessary, therefore it must be possible. All we need is enough hope. What if it isn’t? Gramsci attacks ‘the sweet illusion that events could only follow a certain sequence, as we predicted, in which they would inevitably run into the dikes and channels that we constructed’ – but what if the dikes and channels are all working exactly as intended, and they were built by our enemies? We have to win, or it’ll be a disaster – but disaster is already triumphant. The crises of neoliberalism haven’t done much to dull its effects; if anything, they’re strengthened. They’re in our communicative media; they’re in the air we breathe. I thought the financial crash of 2008 would lead to a revitalised left, but the oppositional movements that followed were scattered and useless, reduplicating the worst aspects of neoliberalism under the banner of resistance. I thought the collapse of liberalism in 2016 would leave us poised to inherit the earth, but it’s produced a reactionary paradise in which we struggle to gain a foothold.

(Emphasis supplied.) Now, this is obviously contingent. As I write, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are essentially tied for the lead in the Iowa caucus polls. For many people, including a large (or at least extremely online) contingent of Catholics, Bernie Sanders, the cantankerous democratic socialist from Vermont, represents the old left. That is the left before it became bogged down with identity politics and political correctness and intersectionality. The left in the good old days when Marxist students and UAW members at Buick City in Detroit marched toward a fairer economy.

Even more significantly, Sanders represents a left-populism that is far more vibrant than Hillary Clinton’s politics of resentment from 2008. While it is true, therefore, that right-wing populism has made significant political gains and ushered in the triumph of disaster for the left, it seems to me that there remains a possibility that the left will recover at least some of those losses through Sanders’s candidacy. Now, it may all go wrong: Joe Biden might win Iowa, Sanders might win New Hampshire, Amy Klobuchar might win South Carolina, and the front runner after Super Tuesday might get shellacked by Mike Bloomberg. But until it does go wrong, I think it is necessary to admit that Kriss’s despair, while entirely rational, is contingent.

But it is entirely rational to see the left in disarray and despair even if only for the moment. And it is therefore worth thinking about integralism and the right more generally. Obviously, there can be no compromises with respect to integralism, not least since integralism is simply the perennial doctrine of the Roman Church with respect to its relations with states and the obligations states owe God. But it is worth thinking about what integralists can offer to the right more generally. MacDougald quotes Ross Douthat to the effect that integralism will pull Catholic intellectuals to the left economically and to the right with respect to civil liberties and censorship.

To put it another way, unless and until the left proves that it has any vitality left outside Brooklyn, integralists’ engagement should not be an engagement with leftists. It should be engagement with the right. Certainly, to the extent that leftist thought has unique insights not otherwise contained in the Church’s teaching (a debatable proposition if one believes Pius XI and Paul VI), there may be some sense in engaging with leftist thought. But at the moment, there is not really a political expression of leftist thought with any access to state power. Consequently, such engagement can happen as easily within integralist circles as it can in dialogue with the left, not least since integralists are more likely to realize and grapple with the real limitations of leftist thought, especially from a doctrinal standpoint.

However, this process does not happen in a vacuum and as Catholic intellectuals are drawn into a new posture, it stands to reason that these debates will be noticed. Indeed, MacDougald’s piece, among others, proves that these debates are being noticed. There does not appear to be any reason why this should ultimately be a passive project for integralists. Currently there are exciting discussions on the right about industrial policy, state power, and economic justice, all of which can be informed by integralist views. Likewise other aspects of the right-wing moment, such as populism, have a long history with the Church and can be informed by authentically Catholic teaching.

One should not be overly optimistic. The institutions on the right are, in all probability, as hostile to the Church’s teaching as the institutions on the left are. Politicians, no matter how earnest and high minded they may be at any given point, often make compromises, usually at the expense of true believers. But in a moment where the right is ascendant and the debates among Catholics about integralism and liberalism are attracting broader attention, it would be perverse not to advocate forcefully for integralist positions—prudently, of course, recognizing always the constraints that exist.

A quick note

Professional and personal obligations have kept us from updating Semiduplex as frequently as we would have liked over the past three months. We have just published a comment on the exchange at Church Life Journal between Timothy Troutner and Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist. We also intend to publish a follow-up piece to our essay on St. Thomas Aquinas and Frederick II, in part taking aim at the assertion that Aquinas directly rebuked Frederick in the Summa Theologiae. We would also like to return to one of the originally stated purposes of our blog and talk about books and music. For example, who wouldn’t want a Semiduplex review of the recent memoirs floating around out there from prominent young Catholic authors like Michael B. Dougherty and Sohrab Ahmari? As Donald Trump likes to say: We’ll see!

Abhinc duos annos

Dear Reader:

October 4th—the greater double feast of St. Francis, a fact which has escaped us until this moment—is the anniversary of Semiduplex. Last year, we wrote a fairly lengthy post reflecting upon the past year. We will spare you a similar post. Instead, we will simply thank you for your time and attention.

Yours very truly,

P.J. SMITH

Things we have not been writing about

You may have noticed, dear reader, that we have not been writing about some topics of considerable interest in the Church today. We thought we’d give you a brief rundown of them and explain, briefly, why we have not been writing about them:

  • The SSPX Situation. So far, we have found that Bishop Fellay and Archbishop Pozzo have been pretty transparent. They have repeatedly said that discussions are ongoing and proposals are being evaluated. So far, despite rumors that something is imminent, things appear to be proceeding along the lines they have marked out. We are confident that if (when) something changes, Bishop Fellay and Archbishop Pozzo will let us know, and we look forward to commenting then.
  • The (Order of) Malta Situation. It is regrettable that Fra’ Matthew Festing was forced out of his sovereign position by the Secretariat of State. However, it is not so surprising that the Secretariat of State would come down so definitely on the side of monied Germans, is it? As for Cardinal Burke, it has been for quite some time clear that his career is not going to advance during this pontificate. At any rate, Edward Pentin, Edward Condon, and Edward Peters have covered this situation admirably, and we would not want to repeat their commentaries ad nauseam.
  • The (Dioceses of) Malta Situation. We were a little surprised by the reports that the Maltese bishops, including Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who was a close collaborator of then-Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, doing really heroic work to clean up the filth in certain quarters, have gone in so enthusiastically for the most radical interpretation of Amoris laetitia. (Then again we have never asked too many questions about why Universae Ecclesiae wound up the way it did.) Again, there are many excellent reports on this topic, and we don’t want to try your patience by telling you what you already know.
  • Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s Book. An interesting study, to be sure, but we will wait until it comes out in English to read it and offer comments.
  • The Posters, the Parodies, and the Statements. We are sure that hypercritical posters, parodies of L’Osservatore Romano, statements by cardinals constituting the pope’s crown council, and statements by the Secretariat of State promising to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who misuses the image of the pope or the various heraldry of the Holy See are part of every pontificate and so commonplace as to be beneath comment.

We hope these brief explanations answer any questions you may have. The bottom line is that we do not want to bore you by regurgitating information you may well have read at other sources.

Abhinc unum annum

Dear Reader:

Today marks the first anniversary of Semiduplex. While we said that we did not have a program when we launched this blog—and, indeed, we did not—events soon ran ahead of us. If you’ll recall, the Ordinary General Session of the Synod of Bishops convened a few weeks after Semiduplex went live. Who could forget? And that experience has really set the tone for Semiduplex since then.

We anticipated writing that we were going to try to adopt a more eclectic focus, returning to our initial plan to have no plan. Certainly, we wish we had written more about music and books over the past year. On the other hand, developments in the Church, ranging from Amoris laetitia to the decidedly underwhelming reforms of the Curia, have called for some comment. And to a certain extent, that is probably as it should be. It seems perhaps a little frivolous to avoid talking about these developments in favor of lighter things. That having been said, we plan on trying to include more of these lighter things in the future, if only to break up the monotony.

We have occasionally written on political matters and the liturgy, and some of our most popular posts have been on those subjects. We plan on writing more on these topics too, especially on political questions, but the presidential election has reached a point where we are no longer especially interested in commenting upon it. That said, we have the sense—others do, too—that we are at the end of an era politically. American-style liberalism has never looked weaker or less attractive than it does now, and more than ever people are turning to the Church and its teachings for clear guidance on navigating an increasingly complex political environment. Traditionally, the Feast of Christ the King was on the last Sunday in October, which seems more than usually significant this year. At any rate, we think we ought to start discussing these questions a little more regularly.

Turning from content to reaction, we have been surprised at the popularity (or infamy) of some of our posts. We have been linked by much bigger operations, and we have had some thousands of visitors and many thousands of page views. Of course, we are still small potatoes, even within the world of traditionally minded Catholics, and we don’t anticipate that that will change. (However, we are always tremendously gratified to see that we’ve had a visitor with a Vatican City IP address. Tell your friends about us! Leave us up on public computers in Santa Marta!) We have been linked to by other blogs, mentioned on Twitter, and even have gotten some emails from readers. Not fan mail, alas, but it’s a new year. Earlier, we indicated that we might liberalize our content policy, but then we never got around to doing it. That people have linked to us or mentioned us on Twitter indicates to us that our initial instinct is correct: people don’t need our combox to comment on us. So, for now, we’re going to stick with the current commenting regime.

A post like this is terribly self indulgent. We will, therefore, refrain from trying your patience any more than necessary and say, simply, that we are deeply grateful that you have chosen to spend a little time with us on matters that we both take very seriously. We hope that we have repaid your time with something that is, at the very least, interesting. Or, if not interesting, at least infuriating. After all, as a famous woman said, isn’t it better to be angry than bored? (Probably not spiritually, we must admit.) We close by saying that we hope, very much, that this upcoming year is much less eventful than the past one.

Yours very truly,

P.J. SMITH

Reconsidering the comment policy

When we started Semiduplex last fall, we decided not to allow comments, believing that anyone who wanted to say something about one of our posts could take to Twitter, Facebook, or their own blog, or some other new social-media platform that has so far escaped our notice. However, we note today that we have had our six-thousandth page view and over twenty-five hundred unique visitors from all over the world. (Not exactly big-time stuff, we know, but impressive to us.) Since folks have been so kind as to read Semiduplex—and we really do appreciate your time and generosity, dear readers—we wonder if we ought to reconsider the comment policy. And so we are. Thus, we may start enabling comments on selected posts (with some mild moderation controls) in the near future. (We will indicate the posts on which comments are enabled.)