The Unintended Liberalism

In a conference at the University of Dallas on “America, Liberalism, and Catholicism,” Patrick Deneen gave a talk (video embedded above), in which he argued that the early American Republic was far less liberal than soi-disant “conservatives” (funded as they have been since the Cold War by big business) have thought it to have been. The particular states even had a kind of “Prostestant integralism” as he argues—established religion, laws aimed directly at fostering virtue, etc. A similar point was made by Matthew Petterson in a recent lecture for the Thomistic Institute. That is, the American founders may have established (at least) soft liberalism at the federal level, but many of them wanted to continue to allow a kind of pre-liberal magisterial Protestantism at the state level. I think it is a useful point, especially as part of an argument for a politics of virtue and the common good in contemporary America.

An important question was, however, raised by Ross Douthat at the end of the Q&A to the panel above. He asked whether there was not something logical about the development from Protestantism, with its particular kind of “individualism,” towards a more individualistic kind of politics. Deneen gave a very gentle, ecumenical answer. But there is a lot of evidence for another answer.

In another panel at the same Dallas conference, Gladden Pappin showed how liberalism is always opposed to the authority of the Church, which it has always wished to deny the status of a societas perfecta, with the ability to make laws, and reduce to the status of a voluntary club. But, of course, this denial of the authority of the Church was one of the main points of the Protestant Reformation. The “liberty of the Christian” was taken to be opposed to the authority of the Church. Luther was very clear that this understanding of an opposition between liberty and authority did not extend to the authority of magistrates in the visible kingdom (hence his opposition to the Peasants’ War, etc.). Nevertheless, it was not surprising that the false opposition between liberty and authority that Luther wanted to contain to the invisible kingdom was later extended to deny political authority (Enlightenment and French Revolution), and even the authority of God (some of the more extreme philosophes, and then Feurbach and Marx in the 19th century). That was of course against the intentions of Luther and Calvin, who would probably have advised the magistrates to put Feurbach and Marx to death if those philosophers had lived at the time of the Reformation. But we have here a kind of reversal of intentions and effects, of the sort that Max Weber delineated in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, or (even more) Brad Gregory in The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society.

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The Meaning of Words

Chad Pecknold gave a brilliant a brilliant summary of De Koninck on the common good at a panel at a recent conference in Dallas (embedded above). The discussion that followed, moderated by Ryan Anderson, was also very good. Anderson’s questions were quite trenchant.

Pecknold’s Gegenüber was Daniel Burns who raised a question about the love of one’s country, including love of one’s regime (in the Straussian sense of politeia) as a prerequisite to effective political action. I think that Pecknold and Anderson answer it quite correctly: To love one’s politeia rightly is to love what is good in it and wish to improve it by correcting what is not good. This is also a point that Gladden Pappin made at a recent conference in Steubenville: following Aristotle, he argued that action taken to “preserve” a “regime” in the right way actually changes it for the better. And, as Pecknold argues so persuasively, to make something better you need to have the right standard. How such “preservation” might be done in the current American was indicated with much insight by Patrick Deneen in another panel at the same conference.

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Responding to a Burkean Objection

Over on twitter.com I responded to an objection that Yoram Hazony brought against a Josias essay of mine on the common good. My response is largely based on a longer paper, which will be appearing soon here, but here is my thread (automatically derived from twitter by wordpress magic, excuse the formatting):


My thanks to Yoram Hazony for this clear articulation of a Burkean objection to my account of the common good. It gives me an opportunity of clarifying my position.

Incidentally, Roger Scruton brought up a similar objection in responding to a letter in First Things:

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/10/letters

The objection is that my understanding of the political common good is too abstract, too far removed from actual political communities and their habits and traditions…

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Saint Joseph: Most Just and Most Chaste

Sermon, Feast of Saint Joseph, Saint Peter Church, Steubenville, March 19th, 2021.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The liturgical texts for the Feast of St. Joseph emphasizes one of his virtues more than all the rest: namely, his justice. Justus ut palma florébit: sicut cedrus Líbani multiplicábitur / The just man shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon, the schola chanted in the introit. And in the Gospel we heard: Joseph autem, vir ejus, cum esset justus et nollet eam tradúcere, vóluit occúlte dimíttere eam / Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. In the Preface I will sing: Qui et vir justus, a te Deíparæ Vírgini Sponsus est datus: et fidélis servus ac prudens, super Famíliam tuam est constitútus / who, being a just man, was given by Thee as a Spouse to the Virgin Mother of God, and, as a faithful and prudent servant was set over Thy Family.

Saint Joseph is the just man. 

The iconographic tradition puts more emphasis on another one of his virtues: chastity. He is depicted with a lily the symbol of purity. Joseph is resplendent with the spiritual beauty of chastity.

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Founding the Christian Society Conference: Steubenville, March 19th-20th

I will be giving a talk in Steubenville in March at the conference “Founding the Christian Society,” organized by the good people of New Polity. Here’s the schedule:

FRIDAY, March 19th – THE ECONOMY

Introduction10.00aJacob Imam
Talk 110.30aBrad Barlow
Talk 211.45aJohn Médaille
Lunch12.45-1.30p
Talk 31.45pGladden Pappin
Talk 43.15pThomas Hackett
Panel5.00p-6.30pHackett; Barlow; Plato; Médaille; Pappin; Imam
Friday Social7.30p-10.00pOptional for all participants

SATURDAY, March 20th – THE STATE

Talk 19.30aAndrew Willard Jones
Talk 210.45aPater Edmund Waldstein
Lunch12.00-1.00p
Talk 31.15pD.C. Schindler
Panel3.00pR.R. Reno; Schindler; Jones; Waldstein
Break4.30p
Talk 44.45pMarc Barnes
Panel5.15pOpen Panel

Two Loves, One Fearlessness, and One Fear

The whole art of being a parish priest can be summed up in two loves, one fearlessness, and one fear.

The first love: Love of God. My predecessor in Sulz, the late Pater Norbert, used to spend an hour kneeling in prayer in the parish Church before Sunday Mass, and many of his parishioners have told me how moved they were by his evident friendship with God. Nothing inspires to prayer as much as seeing someone fulfilled by prayer.

The second love: Love of the parishioners. This means willing their good, and that necessitates being interested in their lives, remembering their names, suffering with those who suffer and rejoicing with those who rejoice. There is a priest in the Archdiocese of Vienna who carries a bouquet of flowers to every married couple in his parish on their wedding anniversary every year. Most every day he has several bouquets to deliver.

The one fearlessness: In order to truly love his parishioners it is important that a priest not fear them, that he not be dependent on their praise and approval, that he not be too weighed down by their criticisms. People will always be upset about something or other (“You coward! How dare you follow the Bishop’s directives on the Corona prevention!” etc.). It is important to be able to accept their anger with patience and good humor.

The one fear: The Fear of God. Nothing drives out the fear of human persons more than the fear of God. One has to realize that one will be answerable at the judgement Seat of Christ for every time that one gives way out of respect of persons.Obviously, these habits are easy to blog about, but are difficult to live in real life, as I am discovering through experience.

Circus Belloni

I visited the Circus Belloni today. The Ringmaster, Carlos, gave me a little tour. His family has had this circus for seven generations, but now they are in danger of going down on account of the pandemic. They they haven’t been allowed to have any performances. They usually winter at stables in Germany, but the pandemic has now stranded them here in Austria. They have been calling up parishes, asking for donations, so I brought them a small one today.