Over at The Josias, we have just posted a thought-provoking essay on Leo XIII policy of ralliement and its implications for our situation today by Felix de St. Vincent. Yesterday, Patrick Smith had posted a reflection on the same topic at Semiduplex, with some interesting quotes from Leo XIII’s letter Notre consolation, in which Pope Leo defended the policy against its critics. (Notre consolation has yet to be translated into English; we hope to offer a translation at The Josias soon). On Wednesday I had myself offered a reflection on ralliement in the form of an introduction to Pope Benedict XV’s letter Celeberrima evenisse.
All three pieces, to a greater or less degree, are concerned with the relevance of the question of ralliement to the present day. How can Catholics be active in politics today without being coöpted by a fundamentally un-Catholic political order? That is perhaps the basic question.
One thing that is sometimes forgotten in discussions of ralliement, it seems to me, is the change that the strategy underwent in the 20th century. For Leo the ralliement was meant as a stage towards an integral restoration of Christendom. That is, Catholics were to work for the common good in the current un-ideal framework of a state that did not recognize the superiority of spiritual over temporal authority, but the hope was that this would lead eventually to a restoration of an integrally Catholic state. But, as Aelianus argued in a comment on an earlier piece of mine on ralliement, this goal was later to be modified among Catholics engaged in political action, largely under the influence of Jacques Maritain. Maritain, seeing how remote the restoration of Christendom seemingly was, decided that the goal of Catholic political action should rather be a new kind of Christendom in which people of good will of all faiths and none would coöperate in conforming positive law to natural law, without, however, formally recognizing the superiority of spiritual authority to temporal power, and the social Kingship of Christ. As Aelianus suggests in his comment, this move of Maritain might (paradoxically) be seen as being marked by the same flaw that had earlier animated his involvement in Action Fraçaise with its slogan of “politics first” (politique d’abord); an impatience with the slowness of the fermentation of the yeast of the Gospel, and the desire to take short-cuts through coöperation with unbelievers:
…the degeneration of the Ralliement into an acceptance of Liberalism is a post WWII phenomenon… Maritain must bear a significant proportion of the the blame for this by his having infected the Ralliement with ‘la politique d’abord’. The interwar period was one in which huge political and social movements were offering anti-liberal solutions to the problems of modernity. Leonine Thomism was, like Marxism and Integral Nationalism, standing against liberalism but unlike them in offering to preserve and vindicate the mixed polity. The menace of communism after WWII temporarily augmented the political clout of non-royalist political Catholicism but the anti-liberal context had gone and the movement was diverted into whig Thomism and Integral Humanism to its own destruction.