Secularized Fraternity or Solidarity and the Failure of the European Union

The Preamble to the Treaty of Lisbon, recognizes the influence of “religion” on its “values,” but it sees these values— including solidarity between peoples— as universal and secular. Thus it states:

DRAWING INSPIRATION from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law […] DESIRING to deepen the solidarity between their peoples while respecting their history, their culture and their traditions […]

Now that Brexit has become Brexibat, and the supposed ‘direction’ of European history has been called into doubt, Pope St. Pius X (if he were still alive today) might be forgiven for saying “I told you so.” In his Apostolic Letter Notre Charge ApostoliqueSt. Pius X rejected the idea that “universal solidarity” or “fraternity”  could be established on any firm basis apart from the Catholic Faith. Fraternity founded on “the love of common interest or, beyond all philosophies and religions, on the mere notion of humanity” is soon swept away by “the passions and wild desires of the heart.” No, he writes, “there is no genuine fraternity outside Christian charity.” Indeed, even if it could succeed a fraternity merely based on enlightened self-interest and a common recognition of humanity would not even be desirable:

By separating fraternity from Christian charity thus understood, Democracy, far from being a progress, would mean a disastrous step backwards for civilization. If, as We desire with all Our heart, the highest possible peak of well being for society and its members is to be attained through fraternity or, as it is also called, universal solidarity, all minds must be united in the knowledge of Truth, all wills united in morality, and all hearts in the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ. But this union is attainable only by Catholic charity, and that is why Catholic charity alone can lead the people in the march of progress towards the ideal civilization.

This thesis of Pope St. Pius X’s is actually a common place of Catholic Social Teaching. Russell Hittinger has even argued  (with only slight exaggeration) that of the three ideals of the French Revolution— liberty, equality, and fraternity — the Roman Pontiffs have been especially troubled by fraternity. Quite recently, in Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI echoed his predecessors on this point:

Will it ever be possible to obtain this brotherhood by human effort alone? As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the Father, who loved us first, teaching us through the Son what fraternal charity is. (¶ 19)

Catholic Social Teaching has long noted that three ideals of the French Revolution are secularized Christian ideals. Pope St. John Paul II was re-iterating and old thesis in his controversial (and often misunderstood) homily at Le Bourget in 1980. Unfortunately, however, parts of the le Bourget homily, and other recent magisterial teachings, seem to be endorsing a secularized universal fraternity. As the Lake Garda Statement puts it:

Today, however, the Church’s leaders present her role as merely that of proposing a “contribution” to a vast and quite hopeless neo-Pelagian project in which the United Nations or some other “world political authority” would serve as the juridical framework for a solidaristic world order in which “believers,” regardless of religion, and unbelievers would be co-equal participants.

And this despite the fact that St. Pius X’s words do seem to have been born out in the 19th and 20th centuries. The universal brotherhood declared by the French revolutionaries had little weight against “the passions and wild desires of the heart.” The intellectual grasp of common humanity was drowned in the powerful pseudo-religions of nationalism, and ever more internecine wars tore Europe apart, culminating in the previously unimaginable carnage of World Wars I and II.

But after World War II it seemed that a new beginning was possible. The Schuman Declaration recognized that a merely abstract rational solidarity was not enough, and proposed taking concrete steps to fuse the interests of European nations together, hoping that out of the ‘de-facto solidarity’ of national self-interest well understood, a deeper solidarity would develop. Schuman himself, like many of the founding fathers of the EU, was devout Catholic. As Alan Fimister shows in his brilliant study of Schuman and Catholic Social Teaching, Schuman was hoping that the EU would become a new Christendom, inspired by a Faith, which at the time seemed to be reviving. But that is not what happened. As Fimister puts it in a recent article: “Schuman well understood […] that the European project of Christian Democracy, if it became anti-Christian, ‘would be a caricature which would sink into either tyranny or anarchy.’”

As Adrian Pabst has eloquently put it, the actual development of the EU has seen a fusion of “Anglo-Saxon free-market economics with continental bureaucratic statism.” That is, the “common interest” of EU has pursued by means of a violent and anti-traditional economic mechanism, and it’s rational “notion of humanity” has been given form (to quote Pabst again) in “Kantian morality of context-less duties, Weberian statecraft void of virtue, and Bismarckian quasi-military management of citizens through centralised welfare,” yielding a uninion that is “abstract, administrative and alien vis-a-vis its citizens.”

And yet, Pabst was arguing against Brexit, and many of his colleagues in Radical Orthodoxy have done the same. In his reaction to Brexibat, John Milbank writes:

Christians are duty bound for theological and historical reasons to support the ever closer union of Europe (which does not imply a superstate) and to deny the value of absolute sovereignty or the lone nation-state. Tragically, the Reformation, Roundhead, nonconformist, puritan, whig, capitalist, liberal version of Britishness last night triumphed over our deep ancient character which is Catholic or Anglican, Cavalier, Jacobite, High Tory or Socialist. The spirit of both Burke and Cobbett has been denied by the small-minded, bitter, puritanical, greedy and Unitarian element in our modern legacy.

Is this true? Can much of the spirit of either Burke or Cobbet be found anywhere in practical politics today? There certainly seems to be very little of either spirit on either side of the Brexit debate. Would that Leave and Remain could have both lost! One prominent Burkean, however, has made an argument virtually opposite to Milbank’s: Sir Roger Scruton. Scruton argues that the EU is really anti-European, and that by leaving the European Union the United Kingdom will have a chance at saving the best parts of the European heritage. But as for me, I think that Edmund Burke himself was right when, over two hundred years ago, he declared the glory of Europe was gone forever:

But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists; and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom.

10 thoughts on “Secularized Fraternity or Solidarity and the Failure of the European Union

  1. As an historian specializing in French history, you are brilliantly insightful.

    While it may not work as it should, the impulse behind the French welfare state is totally Catholic. “We can’t let one of ours starve to death or die in the street without medical care.” The French may no longer attend Mass, but their DNA remains profoundly Catholic.

    Wheras here the USA, everyone is fantatical Protestant–not Lutheran but of the later, most radical sort. Thus they are totally selfish “individualists” that want no taxes, no State, no “public thing (rei publica).” What USAers call “government spending” on the poor or for the common good (i.le. roads and bridges), they also consider to be always evil. They don’t even want a police force; they says everyone–no matter how criminal or crazy–has a right to own, carry, and use her own machine gun. The American goal is Nihilism, which they mistakenly call Libertarianism. (Since even Libertarians always have said that it is legitimate to have a police force and judges to hang cattle thieves.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • The notion of the welfare state says that it is the duty of the state to do what in fact is the duty of the Christian to do. The job of the welfare state is to make personal works of mercy unnecessary because the State has already provided for everyone. That is why the welfare state is an anti-Church and a sign that the “Catholic DNA” has mutated into something else. Maybe the impulse is correct, but the assignment of this mission to the state is un-Catholic. Our Lord said, “Fee the hungry. That’s your job.” He didn’t say, “Petition Caesar to feed the hungry. That’s Caesar’s job.”


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  3. You had mentioned in a previous blog post about how France often acted the spoiler for preventing pan-European unity under the Habsburgs, but if this was true of France that it was even more true of England. It was English nationalism after all that provided fertile ground for liberalism. This kind of English chauvinism and Anglo exceptionalism that can be found even starting in medieval writers like Fortescue has to be one of the most powerful and enduring political myths to have ever existed. The forging of an English nationality separate from Europe was really the decisive blow in the destruction of Christendom. Having read most of the big names within the Catholic counterrevolutionary traditionalist school almost all these figures Bonald, Cortes and up to contemporary thinkers like John Rao recognize England as the main culprit and exporter of liberalism.

    While I am not a fan of the EU as it is currently constituted one has to wonder that if the EU was such an evil entity and so “antidemocratic” as people like Farage charged, the EU would have made an exit much more difficult. The EU let Britain go a lot easier than Britain let most of its colonies go. This also ignores the very obvious truth that Great Britain is still a satellite state of great power. Perhaps Brexit will only strengthen Britain’s place within Washington’s sphere of influence as Britain is forced to rely on the US for aid and defense. From my standpoint I see Washington and not Brussels as the harsher master.

    So on the whole I guess I find very little to celebrate. I’ve always said that if some kind of traditionalist order were to return to Europe it would most certainly return somewhere on the continent and that Britain would fight against it and try to undermine it.

    Liked by 1 person

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