The legends of liberalism

The Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture had its fall conference not too long ago. This year, the conference explored the relationship between Church and state. It closed with a panel discussion between Harvard Law’s Adrian Vermeule, Gladden Pappin of the University of Dallas, Patrick Deneen, and V. Philip Muñoz, both of Notre Dame. Rod Dreher basically liveblogged the proceedings and offered a characteristically behemoth post summarizing his thoughts. In the coverage of the final panel discussion, it occurred to us that much of the resistance to liberalism is premised upon some legends about liberalism. However, upon closer inspection, some of these legends bear little resemblance to the facts as they are.

In this, we are reminded of the Black Legend—the set of stories told about the Spanish Empire, usually by English, intended to present Spanish rule as incomparably cruel. The Black Legend relies on exaggerations and misrepresentations of existing facts about Spanish rule, along with a certain economy with the truth about events and persons who might contradict the overarching narrative of bigoted, vicious Spaniards subduing and tormenting across several continents. Such legends, it seems to us, exist about liberalism. However, liberalism’s legends may properly be called White Legends. That is, they are the inverse of the misrepresentations and omissions of the Black Legend. Liberalism does not, as a rule, directly misrepresent illiberal doctrines or omit key facts about them. Instead, liberalism misrepresents itself as the sole defense against the implicit wickedness of illiberal doctrines.

In a certain sense, none of this matters in the broader debate about integralism. John Joy has convincingly argued that Quanta cura and Syllabus are infallible and irreformable. Moreover, as we have noted (following Pappin’s lead), the canonical authority F.X. Wernz held that Leo XIII’s encyclicals have an intimate relationship with the infallible declarations of Quanta cura and Syllabus. Finally, Thomas Pink has shown at great length, whether you find it altogether convincing or not, that Dignitatis humanae does not contradict the Pio-Leonine magisterium. In other words, from a doctrinal standpoint, the onus probandi is clearly on the liberals. And given the careful arguments advanced by Joy and Pink, it is unclear that liberal urgency about tyranny or statism is much of an answer to the definitive status of integralism as Church teaching.

On the other hand, the recent agony on Twitter about whether integralism is “Catholic fascism” or totalitarianism or any of a whole parade of horribles shows that, from a forensic standpoint, the white legends of liberalism are hard to avoid. And there is a temptation to decline to do other people’s homework. However, given some of the horrible advanced by Muñoz and Dreher, it is clear even public figures are invested in liberalism’s white legends. Thus, integralists have some obligation, we think, to rebut these legends. For our part, we will address two of them here. Nothing we say will be particularly groundbreaking—and we suspect that this may be repetitive of earlier posts—there is some value to the exercise of outlining integralist teaching in the context of some of liberalism’s white legends.

The first white legend of liberalism is that liberalism alone is concerned with preventing the state from falling into tyranny. To reject liberalism, the liberals claim, is to start down the road to totalitarianism and tyranny. Adrian Vermeule and Gladden Pappin have both written about liberalism’s bad habit of taking credit for procedural safeguards that it did not introduce. This perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this white legend: liberalism takes credit for the Church’s ideas, and then deploys them against the Church. However, the problem goes well beyond specific procedural safeguards. Catholic thinkers—illiberal Catholic thinkers—have considered the problem of tyranny at great length and well before the rise of liberalism. To suggest that liberalism is preeminently concerned with preserving liberty is, therefore, to misrepresent the fact that Catholic philosophers and theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas preeminent among them, were considering the same problem and coming to sound answers.

Aquinas thought at length about how to keep a ruler from going sour, as it were, and becoming a tyrant. Not quite a year ago, we wrote about a seeming development in Aquinas’s thought regarding the mixed constitution (partly monarchy, partly aristocracy, partly democracy). While Aquinas argues strongly in favor of monarchy in the De regno, by the time he wrote the Prima Secundae of the Summa Theologiae, he implies that a mixed constitution would serve as a strong bulwark against tyranny. Additionally, he argued against the idea that the ruler is totally free from his laws. It is true that the sovereign is not bound by the law, Aquinas admits, in the sense that the coercive power of law comes from the sovereign and no man is bound by himself (ST I-II q.96 a.5 ad 3). More to the point, if the sovereign violates the law, there is no one who can pass sentence on him. However, Aquinas insists on the directive force of the law on the sovereign. That is, before God, the sovereign is morally responsible for keeping his own laws, and he should do so by his own free will. In other words, the sovereign is morally bound to follow his own laws, even if he is free from their coercive power.

Moreover, Aquinas imposes limits on the power of the sovereign’s laws. On one hand, unjust laws do not bind subjects in conscience (ST I-II q.96 a.4 co.). Aquinas identifies several kinds of unjust law. First, a law beyond the competence of the prince is unjust. Second, a law that is not aimed at the common good, instead being ordered toward the ruler’s cupidity or vainglory is unjust. Third, a law that may well be aimed at the common good yet still be unjust if it inflicts disproportionate burdens. Finally, a law contrary to the divine or natural law is no law at all. Aquinas goes so far as to call these unjust laws acts of violence rather than laws. The moral law which imposes upon the ruler the obligation to obey his laws can also free the ruler’s subjects from the obligation to obey his laws.

We might also discuss Aquinas’s notion that human law should not try to repress all vices (ST I-II q.96 a.2). His argument turns basically on the idea that law should forbid only the more grievous vices, which tend to destabilize society altogether (ST I-II q.96 a.2 co.). He lists murder and theft, but it may be possible to come up with a longer list. The upshot of Aquinas’s argument is that law is a rule for human action designed to lead men to virtue, but this process is gradual (ST I-II q.96 a.2 ad 2). Forcing all men, including the less virtuous, into the life of the virtuous, who avoid all vice, would cause greater evils than permitting some vices.

This is, by the way, a really difficult point in discourse about integralism and Aquinas. The purpose of law, especially for Aquinas, is not to create some baseline condition of liberty suitable for maximum flourishing. It is to order people to virtue (ST I-II q.95 a.1 co.). To be sure, some people are naturally sort of virtuous and avoid vice through wise paternal teaching. However, other people, Aquinas argues, are depraved and inclined to vice. Law teaches these people to be virtuous by forbidding by force certain vices. Over time, the vicious, thus forbidden by force, might become virtuous. At the very least, they might leave others in peace. This is a more active and more energetic role for the regime that some like to imagine. It also requires certain choices to be made at the outset that are generally seen as choices regimes ought not to make. Put another way: one cannot be neutral about virtue and expect to frame laws designed to lead the vicious to virtue.

Changing gears a little, as Alasdair MacIntyre has discussed, criticizing the (purportedly) absolutizing and centralizing tendencies of King Louis IX of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Aquinas recognized the value of custom as an interpreter and source of law (ST I-II q.97 a.3). Aquinas’s argument is interesting. He argues that all law proceeds from the reason and will of the lawgiver. However, the reason and will of the lawgiver can be made known through action just as through speech (ST I-II q.97 a.3 co.). And custom is nothing more than repeated actions, so custom makes known the reason and will of those participating in the custom. Thus, custom can make and interpret law. Responding to an objection, Aquinas holds that custom obtains the force of law both for a people free and capable of giving itself laws and for a people under authority of another, insofar as those in authority tolerate the customs (ST I-II q.97 a.3 ad 3).

This sketch, which could profitably be expanded into a lengthy treatment, shows, we think, that Aquinas was acutely concerned with ensuring that the ruler does not become a tyrant and the regime does not become a centralizing, totalizing entity (Whether he goes as far as MacIntyre would have him go is another question.) It is no answer to claim Thomas for liberalism, either. One has only to read Aquinas’s treatment in the Secunda Secundae of coercion of heretics or the limited toleration to be afforded to nonbelievers to see that Aquinas’s vision of good government is far removed from modern liberal ideals such as freedom of religion or separation of Church and state. Instead, it must be recognized that even an illiberal Catholic like Thomas Aquinas can be concerned with tyranny and propose means of avoiding tyranny without endorsing modern concepts of liberty.

To the extent that liberalism advances its white legend that only liberalism is especially interested in preventing tyranny and totalitarianism, that is plainly false. Integralism no less than liberalism is concerned with preventing the well ordered state from decaying into tyranny (or dissension, though this is a matter for another time). Moreover, Aquinas’s thought on the limits of state power—both in terms of when it ceases to bind in conscience and in terms of the implicit decentralization represented by custom—shows that integralism is, in fact, far removed from an all-embracing totalitarianism.

The problem, of course, is that Aquinas’s thought permits a broader range of action for the regime than most American conservatives would like to tolerate. This demonstrates not a limitation or risk of integralism so much as a limitation or risk of trying to wedge Catholic political thought into an American left-right context. Vermeule discusses a little bit of this in his piece we linked above. The risks of applying American politics to Catholic economic thought are well known. The risks of applying American politics to Catholic political thought are no less acute. More on this in a minute.

The second white legend is the idea that liberalism prevents corrupt prelates from exercising too much authority. Dreher gets at this when he says, “integralism looks like Blaise [sic] Cupich and Ted McCarrick putting their loafers on your neck forever.” In other words, integralism means that morally compromised prelates will gain significant temporal authority; liberalism, on the other hand, ensures that these prelates will be kept far from the levers of power. (Perhaps this is a black legend after all!) Such an approach shows an admirable naïveté regarding secular politicians, especially in Dreher’s home state of Louisiana or Cupich’s state of Illinois. The realities of secular politicians alone explode any idea that integralism is a change for the worse. However, Dreher’s anxiety—naïve or not—gets to back to a more obviously white legend: liberalism is all that prevents theocracy.

Is this not really what Dreher is anxious about? Under integralism, prelates of the Church would have, so he implies, significant power that could be implemented by the civil authorities. The prelates become theocrats, which is worrying if they are unworthy. Of course, this ignores the history of actually existing integralist regimes. Frederick II’s Sicily was formally as integralist as Louis IX’s France, and Frederick spent much of his adult life locked in battles of varying intensity with Gregory IX and Innocent IV. This is especially noteworthy when one remembers that Sicily was a papal fief and Gregory IX and Innocent IV both claimed the power to depose the king of Sicily. And Andrew Willard Jones’s magisterial study of Louis IX’s France, Before Church and State, does not depict a theocratic state. The presumption that civil authorities will be entirely passive with respect to the Church does not appear to have strong support in historical fact.

Moreover, Leo XIII’s explanation of integralism in Immortale Dei states that the state and the Church are supreme in their separate spheres. It is when the spheres overlap that the subordination of state to Church comes into play. And Leo makes the salient point that, without such subordination, these instances of joint jurisdiction (so to speak) would result in conflict. Now, given the Church’s teaching on morality, which includes economic relations, perhaps these subjects of joint jurisdiction are particularly important. However, nothing in Immortale Dei suggests that integralism results in the Church obtaining plenary jurisdiction over the state. Moreover, in Cum multa, after condemning the error of separating Church and state, Leo XIII condemned the opposite error: confounding the Church and a given political party.

The bottom line is that liberalism’s claim to be a defense against theocracy has no more merit than its claim that it defends against tyranny and totalitarianism. Historically, integralist regimes have been far from theocracies, and Leo XIII’s teaching on integralism (teaching that is, after all, infallible and irreformable) rejects the notion of priests or prelates becoming dictators. Dreher’s (no doubt carefully chosen) image of “Blaise [sic] Cupich and Ted McCarrick putting their loafers on your neck forever” under integralism is mere hyperbole.

To a certain extent, these debates are unnecessary. No one really thinks integralists support fascism or totalitarianism or theocracy, whatever those terms may mean (and in the case of totalitarianism, it is the Catholic thinker Charles De Koninck who provides the most coherent and intelligent definition). The problem at Notre Dame and on Twitter and elsewhere is that integralism does not square nicely with American right-left politics. And, while integralism would hand culture warriors big wins, it would hand big losses to small-government conservatives who drone on (and on and on and on) about the virtues of personal liberty and personal virtue. Whether they would, in fact, prefer to have liberty over morality is another question for another time.

Recordings of Harvard conference now available

Back on March 2 and 3, the Thomistic Institute held a conference at Harvard University on “Christianity and Liberalism.” We were unable to attend, though we know quite a few people who did. However, as you may remember, March 2 and 3 were bad days to be in Boston with a windstorm battering the northeast. Thus even people who planned to attend met with great difficulty in getting to Boston. Recordings of the conference are now, we are told, available on the Thomistic Institute’s Soundcloud page. (The page is a goldmine for anyone with an interest in Catholic thought, with many interesting lectures recorded and freely available.) One may now catch up on what we are reliably told was one of the most exciting events in a long time.

A Conciliar postscript

To some comments we have made over the past few weeks, we offer this postscript—offer without comment—taken from Gravissimam educationis, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education, confident that you will find it edifying:

Omnibus christianis, quippe qui, per regenerationem ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto nova creatura effecti, filii Dei nominentur et sint, ius est ad educationem christianam. Quae quidem non solum maturitatem humanae personae modo descriptam prosequitur, sed eo principaliter spectat ut baptizati dum in cognitionem mysterii salutis gradatim introducuntur, accepti fidei doni in dies magis conscii fiant; Deum Patrem in spiritu et veritate adorare (cf. Io 4,23) praeprimis in actione liturgica addiscant, ad propriam vitam secundum novum hominem in iustitia et sanctitate veritatis (Eph 4,22-24) gerendam conformentur; ita quidem occurrant in virum perfectum, in aetatem plenitudinis Christi (cf. Eph 4,13) et augmento corporis mystici operam praestent. Iidem insuper suae vocationis conscii tum spei quae in eis est (cf. 1 Pt 3,15), testimonium exhibere tum christianam mundi conformationem adiuvare consuescant, qua naturales valores in completa hominis a Christo redempti consideratione assumpti, ad totius societatis bonum conferant. Quare haec S. Synodus animarum Pastoribus gravissimum recolit officium omnia disponendi ut hac educatione christiana omnes fideles fruantur, praeprimis iuvenes qui spes sunt Ecclesiae.

Parentes, cum vitam filiis contulerint, prolem educandi gravissima obligatione tenentur et ideo primi et praecipui eorum educatores agnoscendi sunt. Quod munus educationis tanti ponderis est ut, ubi desit, aegre suppleri possit. Parentum enim est talem familiae ambitum amore, pietate erga Deum et homines animatum creare qui integrae filiorum educationi personali et sociali faveat. Familia proinde est prima schola virtutum socialium quibus indigent omnes societates. Maxime vero in christiana familia, matrimonii sacramenti gratia et officio ditata, filii iam a prima aetate secundum fidem in baptismo receptam Deum percipere et colere atque proximum diligere doceantur oportet; ibidem primam inveniunt experientiam et sanae societatis humanae et Ecclesiae; per familiam denique in civilem hominum consortionem et in populum Dei sensim introducuntur. Persentiant igitur parentes quanti momenti sit familia vere christiana pro vita et progressu ipsius populi Dei.

Educationis impertiendae munus primario familiae competens totius societatis auxiliis indiget. Praeter igitur iura parentum ceterorumque quibus ipsi partem in munere educationis concredunt, certa quidem officia et iura competunt societati civili, quatenus eius est ea ordinare quae ad bonum commune temporale requiruntur. Ad eius munera pertinet educationem iuventutis pluribus modis provehere: parentum scilicet aliorumque qui in educatione partes habent officia et iura tueri eisque adiumenta praebere; iuxta subsidiarii officii principium, deficientibus parentum aliarumque societatum incoeptis, educationis opus, attentis quidem parentum votis, perficere; insuper, quatenus bonum commune postulat, scholas et instituta propria condere.

 

Before a parting of the ways

At Mere Orthodoxy last week, Jake Meador wrote a piece about “The Parting of Ways Among Younger Christians.” Despite being a protestant, Meador has followed Catholics’ discussions of integralism and liberalism fairly closely and is, unlike some other protestants, a fairly sympathetic observer. Meador is commenting upon a note by Alan Jacobs about the recent blowup over the Mortara case—particularly Fr. Romanus Cessario’s First Things essay defending Bl. Pius IX. Meador’s piece is well worth reading—Jacobs’s is not: it’s another entry in the genre of essays wondering how First Things could be so unecumenical as to publish a Catholic priest defending Catholic doctrine—not least because Meador sees this as the end (or nearly the end) of the ecumenical project of Catholics and some protestants working together. That is, as Catholics and various kinds of protestants explore their own traditions, there will be fewer and fewer ecumenical projects. Meador is not (at least he does not seem) brokenhearted by this. However, others may be.

We won’t waste your time by quoting from Jacobs’s piece at length. However, he is clearly hysterical at the prospect of a First Things in the hands of Roman Catholics who believe what the Church of Rome teaches. His overheated reaction is very understandable. For a long time, First Things represented one of the places where Catholics and some protestants met on grounds of broad agreement to defend a vision of liberalism against the encroachments of another vision of liberalism. What Jacobs does not understand—and what Meador understands very well—is that young Catholics, including young Catholics who write for First Things, have begun the laborious process of recovering the Church’s anti-liberal tradition. What this means is that some writers are less committed to any vision of liberalism, which has serious implications for the project altogether. However, other regular contributors, like George Weigel, remain as committed as ever, as near as we can tell, to the old First Things vision. Meador understands that, as the Church’s anti-liberal tradition is recovered, as it must be, the ecumenism made possible by the Church’s engagement with liberalism at the Second Vatican Council and its reception, especially by American conservatives under the guidance of St. John Paul II, becomes less possible.

Meador is not wrong to call this a parting of the ways. But before this parting of the ways, it is necessary, we think, to consider where we are and what the possible paths forward are. In short, Catholics are grappling with liberalism, the disastrous effects of which are on display in almost every walk of life, and the debate over liberalism is directly effecting the ability of Catholics to participate in ecumenical projects. There are two modes of engaging with liberalism in the Church today. One, inspired broadly by the Second Vatican Council, seeks to preserve the liberalism of the years immediately following the Second World War. This group has historically found much in common with protestants and those of non-Christian faiths, and it has historically sought to form broad coalitions aimed at preserving the “good liberalism” of the 1950s and 1960s. The other, inspired broadly by the Church’s preconciliar teaching, seeks to look beyond liberalism. Therefore, these Catholics tend to be more suspicious of ecumenical projects, especially, as Meador notes, the indifferentist aspects of ecumenical projects. Moreover, they are not nearly so interested in reestablishing the liberal consensus of the 1950s and 1960s. The fundamental tension between the two groups, we think, comes from the ongoing debate within the Church about the Second Vatican Council.

I.

 

Fifty-two years and counting after the close of the Council, Catholics can question whether the Church’s engagement with liberalism worked. The enthusiastic opening to the postwar order contained, more or less, in Gaudium et spes, Dignitatis humanae, and Nostra aetate, among other documents, did not deepen the dialogue between the Church and the world. It resulted in liberalism receiving dogmatic status in the Church. Perhaps this would not have been the worst thing, if liberalism had remained what it was in the 1950s and early 1960s. Certainly we see in sources as disparate as Ross Douthat and the Paris Statement, signed by such luminaries as Ryszard Legutko, Pierre Manent, Roger Scruton, and Robert Spaemann, a desire to return to that initial postwar liberalism. In other words, for these thinkers, there was a moment before—let us call it the Moment Before—liberalism went wrong. If the slide can be arrested and the order reset to that moment, then the faults of liberalism will disappear. It follows, we think, that under such a notion, the Church’s engagement with liberalism is only contingently imprudent.

As we say, the Council and the major documents of the Council are at the very center of this discussion. Here, the Villanova Church historian and social-media genius Massimo Faggioli’s Twitter feed is essential reading. He argues, we think, that various Council documents, especially Dignitatis humanae, are clearly corrections of the Church’s prior illiberal teachings. In his view, the Council plainly brought the Church in line with postwar liberal democracy. To insist upon a more traditionalist reading of the Council documents, a reading that begins but does not end with Benedict XVI’s hermeneutic of continuity, in Faggioli’s mind, is to challenge the Church’s commitment to liberal democracy. Indeed, to insist that Pius IX’s Quanta cura and Syllabus remain valid teachings, along with Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei, Libertas, and Diuturnum, and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo anno, is to come very near to what Faggioli somewhat breathlessly calls “Catholic fascism.” (That Pius XI also issued Non abbiamo bisogno and Mit brennender Sorge does not seem to figure much in Faggioli’s calculations.) In other words, the more political pronouncements of the Council and liberalism are inextricably linked, pull at one thread and the whole seamless garment, if you’ll excuse the joke, comes apart.

Now, there are problems with the anti-liberal argument that has Faggioli so panicked, which both traditionalists and alarmed liberals need to consider carefully. Notably, they need to consider what Leo XIII’s ralliement policy, as outlined in Au milieu des sollicitudes, means for the Church’s anti-liberal posture in the 19th and early 20th century. Obviously, the ralliement policy came off the rails during St. Pius X’s pontificate, as Vehementer nos shows. But it is not enough to say that practically Leo’s initiative failed. The implications for ralliement in the context of Leo’s anti-liberal thought ought to be considered carefully. The pope of Immortale Dei is the pope of Au milieu des sollicitudes, and the nature of the French Third Republic was well known to Leo. Yet Leo urged Catholics to support the Third Republic. Whether ralliement is enough to complicate the Church’s anti-liberal doctrine significantly is an open question. We have our doubts, but we are also not hugely interested in avoiding the Church’s anti-liberal doctrine.

At any rate, a great debate could be had about Faggioli’s point, though Bishop Bernard Fellay of the SSPX is no doubt pleased to hear a prominent progressive theologian concede Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s point. Nevertheless, this is another reason why the furor over Fr. Romanus Cessario’s First Things article about the Mortara case reached such a fever pitch. Cessario’s argument is clearly drawn from the tradition of the Church and—despite Nathaniel Peters’s valiant effort to mention only about half of the essential Thomistic sources—is essentially unanswerable. As such, it serves as a sort of confirmation of liberals’ deep fear that the openness to liberalism that Catholics have shown is not much older than 1965 and is not broadly supported in the tradition of the Church. In other words, there is a sense that if the Catholics start poking around too much in their tradition, if they start looking behind the copy of the documents of Vatican II on their bookshelves, they will find teachings incompatible with liberalism. Indeed, they will find that the Church, within living memory, was squarely opposed to liberalism. It will be impossible to articulate a Catholic vision of the search for the Moment Before when Catholics figure out that the Church taught, until fairly recently, that there was no Moment Before.

A couple of observations. First, the idea of the Moment Before has profited Catholics almost nothing. Despite fifty years of explanations of how Catholicism and the Bill of Rights in the federal Constitution are entirely reconcilable, every major social decision has gone against the Church. From Roe to Obergefell, the engagement of Catholics with the liberal American order has resulted in defeat after defeat. The American bishops have, in the face of increasingly draconian “anti-discrimination” laws, mounted a last stand on “religious liberty,” but it is unclear whether this battle will result in some breathing room for the Church. The idea of a Moment Before seems to involve resetting the clock, so to speak, to right before Catholics started losing all these important political and legal contests. However, it is only infrequently mentioned that these political and legal contests were fought and lost during a period when the Church was enthusiastically engaged in the liberal American order. In other words, the Church, inspired by the approach mapped out at the Second Vatican Council, was actively participating in and, more important, supporting American political life—and it still lost the debates. To put it another way, the idea of a Moment Before involves returning to the conditions that produced the current state of affairs.

Second, the tension between Catholic liberals searching for a liberalism that is truly liberalism and Catholic integralists delving into the Church’s anti-liberal tradition is inevitable. We have seen that everyone agrees, more or less, that liberalism and the Council are inextricably linked. Everyone also agrees that we are in the process of receiving, as they say, the teachings, such as they are, of the Council. The debates over the Council within the Church are going to inevitably implicate the posture of Catholics toward liberalism. Catholics seeking a deeper understanding of tradition, particularly on the social question, have begun to look back beyond the Council into the teachings of Pius XII, Pius XI, St. Pius X, and Leo XIII in particular. And in those teachings, as we say, they have found the Church’s anti-liberal doctrine. Things get extremely sticky from that point.

II.

Things get stickiest along the lines Meador and Jacobs identify. If Catholics start receiving the political thought of the Church, it will turn out that the broad consensus represented by Evangelicals & Catholics Together was illusory. Or, more precisely, it was based entirely on the Church’s posture at the Council and in the wake of the Council, which was not the Church’s historical posture. What do we mean? Well, before the Council, the Church was opposed to liberalism, root and branch. There was no Moment Before when there was a good liberalism. There might be pragmatic reasons to temper active opposition to liberal regimes, such as the mortal peril of Marxism-Leninism in Europe. But in terms of liberalism simpliciter, the Church’s judgment was clear. The Council then did something—some might say it made a pragmatic judgment due to the mortal peril of Marxism-Leninism in Europe, some might say it corrected the earlier extremism of the popes—and opened itself up to liberalism. The agenda sketched out in Evangelicals & Catholics Together relies entirely on that openness insofar as the enthusiastic cooperation with the American order outlined in that document is enthusiastic cooperation with liberalism.

Other thinkers are challenging the idea of a Moment Before. Patrick Deneen’s book, Why Liberalism Failed, presents the idea—not a new one, necessarily—that the problems we see in the liberal order today are essentially baked into liberalism. Deneen’s book has brought out numerous responses, including an insightful review from Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule at American Affairs. Building on an essay in First Things some time ago, Vermeule argues essentially that integralist Catholics ought to consider populating elite institutions and, occupying positions of power, use their authority “to further human dignity and the common good, defined entirely in substantive rather than procedural-technical terms.” Where Douthat and others would say that Christians must engage with the liberal order to return to the Moment Before, Vermeule seems to argue that, first, there is no Moment Before to return to, and, second, integralist Catholics must engage with the liberal order to supersede it.

There are superficial similarities between the two approaches. Neither Douthat nor Vermeule retreats into gated communities or enclaves of Holy (Russian) Orthodoxy in the bayou, as Rod Dreher sometimes suggests and sometimes denies suggesting. Indeed, in both men’s visions, you will see intelligent Christians educated at elite schools entering the service of the regime. Some will go into government, some will go into the institutions the government serves, like finance, and others will go back into elite schools to prepare the next wave. In time, perhaps not a very long time, you will see the regime get better. But this is where Vermeule and Douthat’s visions diverge sharply. At a certain point, Douthat and the signatories to the Paris Statement and those who agree with them will recognize their Moment Before. Liberalism is itself again, they will say. Vermeule will say, simply, that we are well on our way to our goal.

To a certain extent, evangelicals like Meador, concerned by the rise of integralism among intelligent Catholics, should cheer Vermeule’s strategy. For the moment, it provides a way that integralists can remain part of the broader Christian conversation in the United States. Vermeule urges integralist Catholics to engage and populate liberal institutions and—and this bit is important—simply discharge their duties according to human dignity and the common good. There is, at least at the outset, little for Meador to be concerned about with respect to the intolerant integralist Catholics. The Catholic confessional state that he spends as much time as anyone worrying about would not emerge overnight. It might not emerge for a long time. Until that point, it would be exactly the sort of activity that the signatories of Evangelicals & Catholics Together would want to see. However, we would be surprised if Meador—or, for that matter, Alan Jacobs—would cheer Vermeule’s strategy all that enthusiastically.

Puzzlin’ Evidence

One of our favorite scenes in David Byrne’s (sort of uneven) 1986 film True Stories is the scene where the preacher, played perfectly by John Ingle, begins spooling out an entirely secular web of conspiracy theories. Ingle’s preacher hits every note of the 1980s evangelical preacher as he sings “Puzzlin’ Evidence.” It is a shame that the album version of “Puzzlin’ Evidence” on the True Stories soundtrack is a version by Talking Heads with vocals by David Byrne. Whatever Byrne’s talents as a vocalist, he does not bring the same rollicking style to “Puzzlin’ Evidence” that Ingle did. At any rate, we could not help but think of “Puzzlin’ Evidence” as we saw some of the reactions to Fr. Romanus Cessario’s very fine piece in First Things about the Mortara case.

Princeton professor Robert George, one of the grand old men of the interfaith coalition of neoconservatives, reacted to Cessario’s piece with horror. On Twitter and Facebook he decried the very idea of baptizing a child against the will of his or her parents as “an unspeakable injustice,” condemned by no less an authority than Thomas Aquinas. Somewhat surprisingly, George does not note that the current canon law of the Church, promulgated by St. John Paul II in 1983, notes that an infant—whether the child of Catholic parents or non-Catholic parents; it does not matter—in danger of death is baptized licitly even against the will of his parents (can. 868 § 2). The same code states that a child in danger of death “is to be baptized without delay” (can. 867 § 2). This, by the way, was the law under the 1917 Code, which clearly authorized baptism even of the children of non-Christians in danger of death (1917 can. 750 § 1). By the way, did you know that pastors have long been supposed to teach their subjects the correct way to baptize, in case of emergencies (can. 861 § 2; 1917 can. 743)? Stop for a moment and think about this: the law of the Church practically directs the faithful to baptize infants in danger of death notwithstanding any objections by their parents, and it commands pastors to make sure that the faithful know how to do this. Despite this clear teaching, George calls the baptism of Edgardo Mortara “an unspeakable injustice.” Does George really mean to say that the law of the Church for the past century, if not longer, constitutes an unspeakable injustice?

Plenty of the responses to George have happily pointed this out. One might also ask George what he thinks Matthew 28:19 means, to say nothing of the canons of the seventh session of the Council of Trent (March 3, 1547). We wish to emphasize another point, however, which might be overlooked otherwise. We come to the puzzling evidence.

In George’s haste to decry the baptism of Edgardo Mortara as “an unspeakable injustice,” he echoes some of the most vicious modern critics of the Church. In his (revolting and revoltingly titled) attack on Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens cited Teresa’s order’s practice of baptizing the dying as evidence of her “hypocrisy.” Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth: the saint consistently baptized those persons in her care. Fr. Leo Maasburg recounts that in Communist Armenia—where baptism was by no means a risk-free proposition for anyone—a hospital under Mother Teresa’s direction made sure that children (and some adults) dying were baptized. Nevertheless, the entirely true allegation that Mother Teresa baptized the dying has become one of the favorite slurs of the secularists against the Saint. In a review of Hitchens’s book for the New York Review of Books, Murray Kempton gleefully took up the charge. Indeed, Kempton is spurred to heights of fury rarely seen even in the explosive pages of the NYRB by the idea that an Albanian nun might want to succor the dying spiritually. The charge that Teresa baptized the dying remains one of the more popular charges, even twenty-some years after Hitchens’s book: Michael Stone, writing at Patheos in 2016, found nothing but horror in the idea that Teresa might baptize the dying.

Is there really any difference between George’s language regarding the Mortara case and the savage polemics directed at Mother Teresa? Is there any difference, really, between the spirit of George’s frantic denunciation and the lacerating blows directed at the Albanian saint? George calls the baptism of Edgardo Mortara and its consequences “an abomination” and “an unspeakable injustice.” Hitchens calls the baptism of many of Teresa’s patients a “hypocrisy.” Murray Kempton calls her baptisms “tickets of admission contrived in stealth and sealed with a fraudulent stamp.” And the Patheos blogger called them examples of “her moral corruption, and her callous attitude toward the sick and dying in her care . . . .” He goes on to call this “[t]he stuff of horror movies.” Surely George does not mean to indict Mother Teresa in the same terms that her most hateful critics have used! Surely he would find some way to distinguish his outrage over Romanus Cessario’s mild, intelligent defense of Pius IX from the gleeful, spiteful attacks of Christopher Hitchens and Murray Kempton! But try to think how you can indict Pius IX and exonerate Teresa. Try to think how you can distinguish contempt for Pius IX and Cessario’s argument from contempt for St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Harder than it looks, isn’t it?

A development in Aquinas’s thought on the constitution

One point that integralist Catholics have to consider from time to time is the proper form of the state. It is not uncommon to cite Thomas’s De regno in support of the proposition that monarchy is the best form of the state. Consider this passage from the De regno (c. 3):

Ad hoc enim cuiuslibet regentis ferri debet intentio, ut eius quod regendum suscepit salutem procuret. Gubernatoris enim est, navem contra maris pericula servando, illaesam perducere ad portum salutis. Bonum autem et salus consociatae multitudinis est ut eius unitas conservetur, quae dicitur pax, qua remota, socialis vitae perit utilitas, quinimmo multitudo dissentiens sibi ipsi sit onerosa. Hoc igitur est ad quod maxime rector multitudinis intendere debet, ut pacis unitatem procuret. Nec recte consiliatur, an pacem faciat in multitudine sibi subiecta, sicut medicus, an sanet infirmum sibi commissum. Nullus enim consiliari debet de fine quem intendere debet, sed de his quae sunt ad finem. Propterea apostolus commendata fidelis populi unitate: solliciti, inquit, sitis servare unitatem spiritus in vinculo pacis. Quanto igitur regimen efficacius fuerit ad unitatem pacis servandam, tanto erit utilius. Hoc enim utilius dicimus, quod magis perducit ad finem. Manifestum est autem quod unitatem magis efficere potest quod est per se unum, quam plures. Sicut efficacissima causa est calefactionis quod est per se calidum. Utilius igitur est regimen unius, quam plurium.

And in Phelan and Eschmann’s translation:

This question may be considered first from the viewpoint of the purpose of government. The aim of any ruler should be directed towards securing the welfare of that which he undertakes to rule. The duty of the pilot, for instance, is to preserve his ship amidst the perils of the sea. and to bring it unharmed to the port of safety. Now the welfare and safety of a multitude formed into a society lies in the preservation of its unity, which is called peace. If this is removed, the benefit of social life is lost and, moreover, the multitude in its disagreement becomes a burden to itself. The chief concern of the ruler of a multitude, therefore, is to procure the unity of peace. It is not even legitimate for him to deliberate whether he shall establish peace in the multitude subject to him, just as a physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal the sick man encharged to him, for no one should deliberate about an end which he is obliged to seek, but only about the means to attain that end. Wherefore the Apostle, having commended the unity of the faithful people, says: “Be ye careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” Thus, the more efficacious a government is in keeping the unity of peace, the more useful it will be. For we call that more useful which leads more directly to the end. Now it is manifest that what is itself one can more efficaciously bring about unity than several—just as the most efficacious cause of heat is that which is by its nature hot. Therefore the rule of one man is more useful than the rule of many.

(Emphasis supplied.) We have discussed previously that the unity of peace is the secular common good, and that the state must be ordered to that end. One finds Aquinas’s point intuitive: it is easier for one person to order the state to the unity of peace than for a group of people, among whom dissensions will inevitably emerge. Indeed, Aquinas makes just this argument (multitudes mean dissensions) in criticizing group rule in the De regno:

Dissensio enim, quae plurimum sequitur ex regimine plurium, contrariatur bono pacis, quod est praecipuum in multitudine sociali: quod quidem bonum per tyrannidem non tollitur, sed aliqua particularium hominum bona impediuntur, nisi fuerit excessus tyrannidis quod in totam communitatem desaeviat. Magis igitur praeoptandum est unius regimen quam multorum, quamvis ex utroque sequantur pericula.

In our trusty translation:

Group government most frequently breeds dissension. This dissension runs counter to the good of peace which is the principal social good. A tyrant, on the other hand, does not destroy this good, rather he obstructs one or the other individual interest of his subjects—unless, of course, there be an excess of tyranny and the tyrant rages against the whole community. Monarchy is therefore to be preferred to polyarchy, although either form of government might become dangerous.

In other words, rule by a group of people is in a sense more dangerous than tyranny: a tyrant might obstruct the particular goods of this or that subject or group of subjects, but, unless he is opposed to all of his subjects, he might not wound the unity of peace as badly as group rule. We admit: this argument is somewhat opaque, but it has a certain force. Thus, the danger of tyranny—a monarchy gone rotten—is not so acute as the danger of group rule when the band breaks up, as it were.

However, in the Summa Theologiae (Ia IIae q.105 a.1 co.), Aquinas makes a very different point:

circa bonam ordinationem principum in aliqua civitate vel gente, duo sunt attendenda. Quorum unum est ut omnes aliquam partem habeant in principatu, per hoc enim conservatur pax populi, et omnes talem ordinationem amant et custodiunt, ut dicitur in II Polit. Aliud est quod attenditur secundum speciem regiminis, vel ordinationis principatuum. Cuius cum sint diversae species, ut philosophus tradit, in III Polit., praecipuae tamen sunt regnum, in quo unus principatur secundum virtutem; et aristocratia, idest potestas optimorum, in qua aliqui pauci principantur secundum virtutem. Unde optima ordinatio principum est in aliqua civitate vel regno, in qua unus praeficitur secundum virtutem qui omnibus praesit; et sub ipso sunt aliqui principantes secundum virtutem; et tamen talis principatus ad omnes pertinet, tum quia ex omnibus eligi possunt, tum quia etiam ab omnibus eliguntur. Talis enim est optima politia, bene commixta ex regno, inquantum unus praeest; et aristocratia, inquantum multi principantur secundum virtutem; et ex democratia, idest potestate populi, inquantum ex popularibus possunt eligi principes, et ad populum pertinet electio principum.

In the English Dominican translation:

Two points are to be observed concerning the right ordering of rulers in a state or nation. One is that all should take some share in the government: for this form of constitution ensures peace among the people, commends itself to all, and is most enduring, as stated in Polit. ii, 6. The other point is to be observed in respect of the kinds of government, or the different ways in which the constitutions are established. For whereas these differ in kind, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5), nevertheless the first place is held by the “kingdom,” where the power of government is vested in one; and “aristocracy,” which signifies government by the best, where the power of government is vested in a few. Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rules are chosen by all. For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.

(Emphasis supplied.) This seems to cut strongly against the points Aquinas makes in the De regno. That is, we hear in the De regno that the risks of a monarchy (i.e., a tyranny) are less dangerous than the risks of group rule (i.e., dissensions). Now, in the Summa, we hear that everyone should take part in the government, since this better preserves peace among the people.

Moreover, Aquinas, in a reply to an objection (obj. 2 / ad 2), seems to hold that a tyranny is worse than dissensions:

Ad secundum dicendum quod regnum est optimum regimen populi, si non corrumpatur. Sed propter magnam potestatem quae regi conceditur, de facili regnum degenerat in tyrannidem, nisi sit perfecta virtus eius cui talis potestas conceditur, quia non est nisi virtuosi bene ferre bonas fortunas, ut philosophus dicit, in IV Ethic. Perfecta autem virtus in paucis invenitur […]

In translation:

A kingdom is the best form of government of the people, so long as it is not corrupt. But since the power granted to a king is so great, it easily degenerates into tyranny, unless he to whom this power is given be a very virtuous man: for it is only the virtuous man that conducts himself well in the midst of prosperity, as the Philosopher observes (Ethic. iv, 3). Now perfect virtue is to be found in few […]

And in the notes to Phelan and Eschmann’s translation to the De regno, it is observed that  Aquinas’s chapter on the avoidance of tyranny (c.7) is incomplete. They suggest, following Carlyle, that if Aquinas had completed the section, he probably would have wound up at the same place as the Summa: advancing the form of a mixed polity. And this seems at least plausible in some respects. The reply to Objection 2 in Question 105 certainly suggests that Aquinas had tyranny on his mind when considering this matter. However, this argument does not address Aquinas’s point in the Summa that a democracy—even a limited democracy—is desirable to ensure the unity of peace. Certainly he is correct when he suggests that dissensions arise among groups of people, and it is inevitable that in the group of all persons in the polity (however one wishes to qualify eligibility) there will be more dissensions. One replies to this, one suspects, by arguing that the monarchical aspects of the mixed constitution will tame the dissensions threatened by the aristocratic and democratic aspects of the constitution. Perhaps this is true.

It is an interesting question, however, and one best considered through Aquinas’s various positions on the question. It is clear, we think, that Aquinas’s thought developed, perhaps even as he wrote the De regno, but certainly by the time he wrote Question 105 of the Prima Secundae Partis, from the position that monarchy is the best constitution, if a constitution with risks, to the position that a mixed constitution is the best constitution. This development is worth considering, not least because of the reasons implied in the De regno and in Question 105. It is also worth considering because grappling with Aquinas’s thought on these matters is an essential part of reclaiming the Church’s political thought and determining how best to implement that thought today.

 

 

An addition to Felix de St. Vincent

At The Josias, the estimable Felix de St. Vincent has a new essay, Four Basic Political Principles in Christian Philosophy. It is an excellent essay that sets forth simply and directly the four eponymous principles and answers some misconceptions about the thought of Augustine and Thomas. More than that, it is an excellent critique of liberal political thought. One understands, after reading St. Vincent’s piece, precisely how liberal political thought rejects the classical Christian conception of politics. (And, therefore, the conception of politics that governed the west until, practically speaking, the day before yesterday.)

We would suggest, however, that by focusing on Thomas’s Treatise on Law, St. Vincent overlooked a text that resolves the question of mastership in the state of grace, particularly with respect to Augustine’s thought. We won’t spoil St. Vincent’s carefully wrought argument for you, but we will say, by way of introduction, that one of the objections St. Vincent answers is the claim that Augustine believed that politics were a function of the fall. That is, when sin entered the world, so too did politics. Now, a Thomist, following the Stagirite, would necessarily be leery of this claim. St. Vincent rejects the claim at some length using the Treatise on Law. However, the text St. Vincent may have overlooked is Ia q.96 a.4. We shall quote it at length, first in Latin:

Respondeo dicendum quod dominium accipitur dupliciter. Uno modo, secundum quod opponitur servituti, et sic dominus dicitur cui aliquis subditur ut servus. Alio modo accipitur dominium, secundum quod communiter refertur ad subiectum qualitercumque, et sic etiam ille qui habet officium gubernandi et dirigendi liberos, dominus dici potest. Primo ergo modo accepto dominio, in statu innocentiae homo homini non dominaretur, sed secundo modo accepto dominio, in statu innocentiae homo homini dominari potuisset. Cuius ratio est, quia servus in hoc differt a libero, quod liber est causa sui, ut dicitur in principio Metaphys.; servus autem ordinatur ad alium. Tunc ergo aliquis dominatur alicui ut servo, quando eum cui dominatur ad propriam utilitatem sui, scilicet dominantis, refert. Et quia unicuique est appetibile proprium bonum, et per consequens contristabile est unicuique quod illud bonum quod deberet esse suum, cedat alteri tantum; ideo tale dominium non potest esse sine poena subiectorum. Propter quod, in statu innocentiae non fuisset tale dominium hominis ad hominem.

Tunc vero dominatur aliquis alteri ut libero, quando dirigit ipsum ad proprium bonum eius qui dirigitur, vel ad bonum commune. Et tale dominium hominis, ad hominem in statu innocentiae fuisset, propter duo. Primo quidem, quia homo naturaliter est animal sociale, unde homines in statu innocentiae socialiter vixissent. Socialis autem vita multorum esse non posset, nisi aliquis praesideret, qui ad bonum commune intenderet, multi enim per se intendunt ad multa, unus vero ad unum. Et ideo philosophus dicit, in principio Politic., quod quandocumque multa ordinantur ad unum, semper invenitur unum ut principale et dirigens. Secundo quia, si unus homo habuisset super alium supereminentiam scientiae et iustitiae, inconveniens fuisset nisi hoc exequeretur in utilitatem aliorum; secundum quod dicitur I Petr. IV, unusquisque gratiam quam accepit, in alterutrum illam administrantes. Unde Augustinus dicit, XIX de Civ. Dei, quod iusti non dominandi cupiditate imperant, sed officio consulendi, hoc naturalis ordo praescribit, ita Deus hominem condidit.

(Emphasis supplied.) Now in English:

I answer that, Mastership has a twofold meaning. First, as opposed to slavery, in which sense a master means one to whom another is subject as a slave. In another sense mastership is referred in a general sense to any kind of subject; and in this sense even he who has the office of governing and directing free men, can be called a master. In the state of innocence man could have been a master of men, not in the former but in the latter sense. This distinction is founded on the reason that a slave differs from a free man in that the latter has the disposal of himself, as is stated in the beginning of the Metaphysics, whereas a slave is ordered to another. So that one man is master of another as his slave when he refers the one whose master he is, to his own—namely the master’s use. And since every man’s proper good is desirable to himself, and consequently it is a grievous matter to anyone to yield to another what ought to be one’s own, therefore such dominion implies of necessity a pain inflicted on the subject; and consequently in the state of innocence such a mastership could not have existed between man and man.

But a man is the master of a free subject, by directing him either towards his proper welfare, or to the common good. Such a kind of mastership would have existed in the state of innocence between man and man, for two reasons. First, because man is naturally a social being, and so in the state of innocence he would have led a social life. Now a social life cannot exist among a number of people unless under the presidency of one to look after the common good; for many, as such, seek many things, whereas one attends only to one. Wherefore the Philosopher says, in the beginning of the Politics, that wherever many things are directed to one, we shall always find one at the head directing them. Secondly, if one man surpassed another in knowledge and virtue, this would not have been fitting unless these gifts conduced to the benefit of others, according to 1 Pt. 4:10, “As every man hath received grace, ministering the same one to another.” Wherefore Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix, 14): “Just men command not by the love of domineering, but by the service of counsel”: and (De Civ. Dei xix, 15): “The natural order of things requires this; and thus did God make man.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Thomas does some interesting things here. One, he implies that nature itself requires a ruler to order the state to the common good. Two, he argues that a natural ruler—one surpassing others in knowledge and virtue—may have emerged. (Aquinas teaches us in Ia q.96 a.3 that there would have been inequality even in the state of innocence.) This natural ruler would have directed others to the common good as a result of his excellence. Then, Aquinas quotes Augustine in support of his argument.

Aquinas discusses in several places throughout his works, from the De Regno to the Summa, some of these ideas; that is, that political life requires a ruler to orient the state toward the common good and that inequality is natural. (But go back to Ia q.96 a.3 to see what Aquinas means by inequality.) These are important ideas in the subsequent magisterium, especially the political teachings of Leo XIII and St. Pius X, even if they are decidedly unpopular ideas in post-enlightenment liberal thought. St. Vincent points toward these ideas in his excellent essay. However, we think St. Vincent’s essay is improved—even if indirectly—by having in mind the place where Thomas addressed the issue directly of politics in the state of innocence.