Nascent Political Catholicism – The Torch



The hegemony of the modern liberal state has produced many discontents. In response to a society and political system often hostile to Christianity – despite Christianity being the root of Western civilization – a movement has arisen in American politics to counteract and supplant the current order. Known as “political Catholicism” or “integralism”, it seeks to reject the notion of “separation of church and state” and to integrate (hence “integralism”) the political and religion in public life in order to create a more authentically Christian political system. and cultural.

It is important to set the precise terms of the discussion so as not to be ambiguous. “Modern liberal state” does not refer to the political prescriptions of any political party in the United States, but rather to the overarching philosophy that characterizes modern politics as a whole: secularism, disregard for the spiritual life of man and its ultimate end, positivism, proceduralism, neutrality in the public sphere, an endorsement of the continued progression of individual autonomy maximalism without regard for the moral order, and a skepticism of the moral order and morality imposed by the state.

Integralism seeks to reverse most of these tendencies of the modern state. According to The Josiahsfull publication:

Catholic integralism is a tradition of thought which, rejecting the liberal separation between politics and concern for the end of human life, holds that the political rule must order man to his final goal. However, since man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that govern him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since the temporal end of man is subordinated to his eternal end, the temporal power must be subordinate to spiritual power.

For political Catholics, this movement, although a reaction to the secularization of American society (a society that Rod Dreher calls “post-Christian”), reflects not only a force of human will, but rather a truth about the human person as such: we are spiritual beings who have supernatural ends.

Political Catholicism draws on a rich tradition of political, religious and moral philosophy developed over two millennia of Christian thought. Today, political integralism has formed coherent political theory through a growing body of scholarship in fundamentalist publications and summits with scholars and commentators. Publications such as New regime, The Josiahs, and Ius and Iustitium provide space for the development of theory and practice that could restore Christianity to a political order whose fundamental assumptions clash with the truths of the Christian faith.

In the political realm, authors such as Harvard professor Adrian Vermeule, seek a policy rooted in the common good as understood in the classical legal tradition. By “common good”, we mean “a unitary good (“one in number”) and capable of being shared without being diminished”. Far from focusing solely on the individual, fundamentalists look to a good that can be shared, and see the role of civil authority in enshrining it in law and policy. In this way, political Catholicism takes a much broader view of the role of government, and has an elevated view of the potential for public authority to know and effectively implement that which is conducive to the true flourishing of people whose she is in charge.

But how do we reconcile the fundamental tenet of the philosophy (integration of religious and political orders) with our understanding of the First Amendment in the United States, which prohibits Congress “from passing any law respecting the establishment of any religion or prohibiting the free Exercise of it”? Christianity forbids forced baptism, so how can fundamentalists hope to override their political and religious priorities on non-believers? The answer to this question requires a more political theory, in particular an understanding of political “neutrality”.

The principle of neutrality in politics holds that the state has no role to play in asserting a single position on an issue. For a clear example, take the idea of ​​neutrality between two countries in a war: the neutral country stays out and does not take sides. In the theo-political sphere, neutrality would mean the government taking no sides (“respecting no establishment of religion”) and letting the people make these important decisions themselves (or prohibiting free exercise).

The problem with neutrality is that it masquerades as the tenets of the liberal political order. Like Sohrab Ahmari explained to me during a conference :

The conceptual error has been to think that all of this is the product of something called culture or something called religion, which is innocent of any political dynamics, which is not distorted by the way whose people work and earn their living, [as if] it’s just its own autonomous thing…there will always be an altar inscribed in the public square – you will never have a neutral public square, so as a catholic political actor your ultimate goal might be that the True God be adored, that the altar on the right is installed in the public square.

The modern state’s lucid distinctions between the public and private spheres, and a strict separation between what happens in the public and political sphere, and what happens in the private, religious and cultural spheres, is what motivates the liberal order and movement towards an increasingly secularized society. But Gladden Pappin, Ahmari and others take a broader view of the role of state power in informing people’s opinions and beliefs. In other words, this sharp distinction is actually much fuzzier than most modern political theorists like to pretend.

Due to its proceduralism, the political theory behind the modern state has no internal mechanism to oppose the creeping fundamentalist trend towards integration without appealing to a set of norms that characterize political morality. Given this inevitable state of affairs, the charade of neutral proceduralism falls and the modern liberal state is exposed as just as norm-laden as the ideal fundamentalist regime, the difference being that fundamentalists bluntly state their substantive priorities and their basic assumptions.

Since a set of standards Homework predominate, the movement towards neutrality is akin to tyranny masquerading as anarchy. This stems from the false distinction between facts and values. Replacing religion with “objective science” or an alternative legitimizes one set of ideas (the social sciences and basic tenets of liberal faith) while stifling the other in the public eye (Christianity). So much for neutral.

The final extension of this discussion worth noting here is between the relationship between positive law and moral law. Claims to neutrality in public life lead to the creation of law. The assertion that “you cannot legislate morality” is, according to fundamentalists, incoherent babble that misunderstands the nature of law. Every law enshrines some morality, a corollary of the refutation of neutrality in matters of establishing a state religion. The only question is what moral content will be embodied in our law, which political Catholics hope will be a return to American traditions of natural law. by Adrien Vermeule Common good constitutionalism is a detailed and well-articulated exposition of this tradition as part of a larger fundamentalist project.

Just as there is no true neutral public square or “free market of ideas”, neither is there a “neutral free market” which randomly chooses winners and losers without any consideration more large. As Josh Hammer, although not himself a fundamentalist, said at an ISI conference on American political economy: “The state cannot be neutral…c t is the vanity of liberalism in its purest, most David French-ist, positivist form. The state should put its thumb on the scales. Though perhaps not the purest method of economic organization effective, fundamentalists, while respecting property rights, focus on the economic development of the community. Far from being removed from the jurisdiction of the state, the economic development of the community must be directed towards the good common to the whole community, finding its full expression in Rerum Novarum and Centesime Annuswhich inspires Catholic social doctrine.

This movement is unlikely to succeed in its primary goal of creating a Catholic regime in the United States. As a minority Catholic position in a society whose premises are outside Overton’s American window, the main obstacle to integralism is its widespread appeal. And yet, like Chad Pecknold pointed out, “the awakened ideology…has definitely taken over the Western public square, although its sincere followers form a tiny part of the population”. Perhaps the shift to cultural Christianity will first restore the Faith to prominence and reverse the aggressive campaign of secularization in America.

To be clear, the claims of political Catholics in America, while consistent with Church teaching, are not the official teaching of the Church, and no Catholic need reconcile their politics with the claims from one of the authors or journals mentioned. But its ascendancy among many post-liberal Catholics shows how the Church responds to what the world lacks. And more specifically, they bet that where the modern political order has become rotten, Christians will reenter that order in a way that points to and focuses on Christ and his Church.

Thomas Sarrouf
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