“The Integrists in Quebec”

In the midst of the controversy over Charles de Koninck’s book, On the Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists, Jacques Maritain dismissed de Koninck and those who followed him as reactionary intégristes, unable to meet the true challenges of the age:

I was deeply touched by the article of Fr. Eschman in The Modern Schoolman. He has masterfully exploded Koninck, and we can now enjoy entering a fine period of scholastic controversy worthy of the Baroque age. While the world is in its agony, and Monsieur Sartre offers to the intellectuals an existentialism of nothingness, the integrists of Quebec will doubtless raise the cry of alarm in the presbyteries of the New World against the Neo-Liberalism, Neo-Individualism, and, as our good friends at the Tablet call it, Neo-Pelagianism menacing the Holy Church.

J ’ai été profondément touché par l’article du Pére Eschmann dans The Modern Schoolman. Il a mouché Koninck de main de maître et nous aurons la joie d’entrer ainsi dans une belle période de controverses scolastiques dignes de l’age baroque. Pendant que le monde agonise et que M. Sartre propose aux intellectuels l’existentialisme du néant, les intégristes de Québec vont sans doute jeter dans les presbytères du nouveau continent le cri d’alarme contre le néolibéralisme, le néo-individualisme et, comme disent nos bons amis du Tablet, le néopélagianisme qui menacent la sainte Église. (Jacques Maritain to Etienne Gilson, November 15, 1945; via Francesca Aran Murphy, to whom I owe part of the translation)

And yet, seven decades later, de Koninck’s book, and those who used it to combat certain forms of “personalism” seem remarkably prescient. There was indeed in the thought of certain Catholic intellectuals eager to speak to the concerns of the age a danger of neo-liberalism, neo-individualism, and, neo-Pelagianism. The effects of it are ever more apparent.

Christian Roy has argued that de Koninck’s book was,

in some ways… a prophetic warning of a notable drift towards hedonistic secular individualism, which progressive Christian personalism unwittingly helped usher in Catholic societies such as Quebec.

That is, it was a warning that the attempt of a certain kind of attempt by Catholic intellectuals to, as it were, co-opt or subvert the spirit of the age was counter productive, and led to the opposite result of that hoped. Instead of a reversal of secularization there was a huge acceleration. But it was also a warning that even among those who remained in the Church a new liberalism and a new Pelagianism would take hold. A candid examination of debates within the Church in the past few decades— especially in Western Europe— show just how prophetic such warnings were. This is one reason, why, to the great annoyance of a certain relation of mine, I have tried to reclaim the (to his mind sinister) term integrist/integralist to name my own approach to thinking about the common good as a Catholic in the modern world.

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7 thoughts on ““The Integrists in Quebec”

  1. Pingback: De Koninck and the modern age – Semiduplex

  2. One need only look at the disaster of Quebec itself today to see Maritain was as wrong as wrong can be. The birth rate, to mention just one objective fact, went from among the highest in the world, something like 6 per woman in happy Catholic families, to well below the 2.1 replacement level — and a lot of that is Muslim and other immigrants — as the people turn in despair to euthanasia. As to Maritain’s worry about Sartre and Existentialism, that was a passing fad, even in hideous “humanities” departments long gone to Derrida and Foucault. Maritain’s Integral Huminism did not save “the world in its agony,” but plunged it down deeper.

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  3. Pingback: Yves Simon’s Correspondence with Charles de Koninck and Jacques Maritain on the Common Good | Sancrucensis

  4. Dear Father,

    I’m aware what I’m about to ask is quite off-topic but formulations of this kind occur not infrequently and I’d be very grateful to hear your thoughts on this question. In the older “false Gospel of Progress” blogpost of yours to which you linked above, you wrote this:

    It was thought that the World was ready to recognize that purely secular progress was an illusion, that to prevent a recurrence of the disaster of National Socialism it was necessary to see every human person as a child of God endowed with dignity, that religion was necessary for true humanity.

    While I’m in agreement with your general point I’ve been wondering about the supportive claim that all human beings are children of God. My understanding has rather been that the dignity of the human person flows from his being God’s special creature, not God’s child per se — special because of his intellectual, and hence immortal, soul. In other words, the dignity proper to all humans is essentially associated with merely the potentiality of being a child of God. Not all people are actually children of God, although every human person is potentially an (adopted) child of God, where this potentiality can be actualised through the regenerative waters of baptism.

    The claim that all people are children of God tends to occur in the context of the theory of natural rights (where I think this case also belongs) or ecumenical/interfaith efforts. Still, as I tried to explain above, I don’t think it is true. However, given how common the conviction appears to have become, I cannot but ask: Is the notion of “child of God” actually broader than I take it to be?

    Once again, thank you very much for your answer, Father.

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    • I think that is an important point that you make. The Baptized are called “children of God” in a very real analogical sense, because they share the Divine Life. God is their Father because he has communicated his own life to them. When one calls all people “children of God” this is only a metaphor; the unbaptized are like children of God, because God cares for them like a father cares for his children. The dignity of human persons, as you say, comes from the rational soul, which enables them to share in the common good of the universe through knowledge and love. But the dignity of the baptized is actually much greater because they participate in the good in higher (supernatural) way.

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  5. Pingback: Links RNC 581 U.S. 12075 – Subsannabit

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