Dialogue with Douthat

The latest issue of First Things includes an essay by Ross Douthat on Maritain and Catholic post-liberalism, with a response by me, and a reply by Douthat. My thanks to Douthat for his thoughtful essay and reply.

I do want to note one thing about his reply. In my response I had made the following point about the foundations of modern culture:

The twin foundations of the Enlightenment philosophy, which had such great influence on the social, economic, and technological changes in modernity, are the rejection of teleology in nature and the rejection of the authority of the church. To oppose one without opposing the other is to fight with one hand tied behind one’s back.

In reply Douthat wrote:

I am not sure this is true. After all, a belief in “teleology in nature” is hardly unique to Catholic Christendom: It belongs to pre-Christian antiquity, to non-Christian civilizations and our fellow Abrahamic monotheists, and to the ecumenical Protestantism that was foundational to the American republic. To insist that one must accept not just Christianity, not just the theological claims of Catholicism, but the political claims of the medieval or nineteenth-century church in order to reject eliminative materialism and gnostic superstition seems both intellectually and historically false. And the idea (traditionally associated with this journal) of an ecumenical alliance against these errors still seems like a more immediately effective way to answer them in a pluralist society than does arguing that teleology stands or falls on papal authority to an audience that is a great distance from being converted to the Catholic faith.

This rather misses the point of the metaphor. Of course it is possible to fight with one hand tied behind one’s back. But why would you? And of course it is possible to reject materialism without rejecting political secularism. That’s not the point. The point is that it is more difficult to overcome an adversary with one hand behind one’s back, and it is more difficult to combat modern secularist culture if one only opposes one of its principles. The emergence of our “secular age” (to use Charles Taylor’s expression) was a contingent event, rooted in contingent developments. Ecclesial corruption and scandals certainly had their part to play, but they are present at any given time. There were, however, two particularly important contingent developments that were peculiar to modernity:

1) The emergence of a neo-Democritan, a-teleogical understanding of nature as the dominant scientific view. Democritans and Epicureans have existed before, obviously, but they were not able to establish their view as the consensus. In modernity they were, and their view was institutionalized in the practice of modern natural science, modern technology, and modern industrial capitalism. Not that it would have been impossible to have analogous scientific and technological advances without the denial of teleology, but rather that the contingent way in which those things developed in modernity tended to reenforce that premise.

2) The construction of political secularism—i.e. the insulating of political action from “religious truth” claims. This political secularism (dis-integralism) was institutionalized in the modern state with its claims to “sovereignty” in the peculiarly modern sense of that term.

While there are other developments that one could add to those two, I believe those two are crucial. Moreover, I believe that to overcome modern secularist culture all of its foundations have to be radically challenged. Not because they are inseparable (they are not), but because they are all false, and the anti-culture of our day rests on all of them. Of course one can oppose 1 without opposing 2. But I think that one ought to oppose both. One can even oppose 2 without being fully integralist (as the post-war Maritain did), but, as I argued, to oppose it more fully one must oppose it more radically.

Marcel de Corte on Charles De Koninck

Over at The Josias we have published a new translation of a wonderful essay by Marcel de Corte on Charles De Koninck. It begins with de Corte’s memories of meeting De Koninck, whom he loved and admired. They were both of Belgian peasant stock, although De Koninck was Flemish and de Corte Walloon. (Hence the “De” in De Koninck is capitalized and means “the,” whereas the “de” in de Corte is not capitalized and means “of”). He goes on to give profound reflections on De Koninck’s realism, and the way in which his practical philosophy depended on his speculative realism.

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:


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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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:


Introduction10.00aJacob Imam
Talk 110.30aBrad Barlow
Talk 211.45aJohn Médaille
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


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

Wolfgang Waldstein’s Jurisprudence

Wolfgang Waldstein with Cardinal Erdő in Hungary

Ius & Iustitium is a new blog on legal and juridical matters associated with The Josias. I was very happy to be able to get a text posted there by my grandfather, Wolfgang Waldstein: “The Significance of Roman Law for the Development of European Law.” I believe that my grandfather exemplifies precisely the sort of realist common good jurisprudence, founded on the natural law and enriched by the centuries old tradition of the application of natural law in the Roman law and the legal traditions based on Roman Law that Ius & Iustitium is trying to promote.

Wolfgang Waldstein at the summit of the Dachstein

Racial Justice and Social Order

Do we Live in a Society? This question came up in a recent Josias Podcast episode. Serious doubts were raised about whether we do. The discussion focused on the United States, where my interlocutors live. I lived almost half of my life in there, but it has now been almost 14 years since I left. In another sense, however, as a German rock band says, “we’re all living in Amerika.”

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Finis cuius and finis quo

St. Thomas distinguishes between two senses of the end: finis cuius (the end of which or for which), and finis quo (the end by which). The finis quo is the activity by which I attain to an end. For example, eating by which I attain to the end of ice-cream, or knowing by which I attain to the end of knowledge. The finis cuius usually means the end itself that I attain by my activity, for example ice cream, or knowledge. Thus St. Thomas writes:

As the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 2), the end is twofold—the end for which (cuius) and the end by which (quo); viz., the thing itself in which is found the aspect (ratio) of good, and the use or acquisition of that thing. Thus we say that the end of the movement of a weighty body is either a lower place as thing, or to be in a lower place, as use; and the end of the miser is money as thing, or possession of money as use.

The grammar here might seem a little puzzling. Why is ‘the thing itself’ in which the ratio of good is found indicated by the genitive pronoun, cuius? Why is it not indicated by the accusative, as being the direct object of the activity that attains to it? Why do we not say finis quem, the end which, rather than the end of which? Wouldn’t the finis cuius be more appropriately applied to the one for whom the end is a good? Say I have a person who wants ice-cream. Wouldn’t the most logical way of dividing the end be to say that we have an end by which (eating), an end which (ice-cream), and an end for which (the person)?

In fact, if we look at St. Thomas’s commentary on the passage of Aristotle’s Physics referred to in the quote above we see that there he does use finis cuius to mean the beneficiary of the good:

It must further be noted that we use all things which are made by art as though they exist for us. For we are in a sense the end of all artificial things. And he says ‘in a sense’ because, as is said in first philosophy [Metaph. XII:7], that for the sake of which something comes to be is used in two ways, i.e., ‘of which’ (cuius) and ‘by which’ (quo). Thus the end of a house as ‘of which’ (cuius) is the dweller, as ‘by which’ (quo) it is a dwelling.

What is going on here? I think the key is the remark that he makes at the beginning about art. ‘For we are in a sense the end of all artificial things.’ Here he is considering the products of art as useful or pleasant goods. And useful and pleasant goods are ordered to those who use or enjoy them. That is, the one using or enjoying such a good is really better than the good attained. But when we are talking about the primary case of the good: the honorable good (bonum honestum) we are talking about something that is really loved for its own sake. In loving an honorable good we are not directing it to ourselves—even though we are certainly the beneficiary of it, and we delight in it—but rather we are directing ourselves to it. Thus, a person loves the honorable good of truth not only more than his own knowledge of the truth, but in a sense, more than his very self. He is willing to give his life for the truth. Hence it is fitting to use the genitive finis cuius primarily to refer to the the thing pursued as an end itself. Because it is that which is primarily for the sake of which (cuius causa, or cuius gratia) an action is done. In the case of useful or pleasant goods, the person is himself the primary end, and can be called finis cuius, but in the primary instance of good, it is the good thing pursued that is the true finis cuius for the sake of which all is done.

Mortara, Integralism, Liberalism, and Monastic Life

Over at the bloggingheads spinoff meaningoflife.tv I have a conversation with Aryeh Cohen-Wade, in which we discuss the Mortara case, debates about liberalism and integralism among Catholics, and finally the monastic life.  The conversation was enjoyable, though I was a bit groggy from flu and flu medications.

We discussed an interesting essay by Nathan Shields at the Jewish magazine Mosaic,  liberal propaganda about the wars of religion, and Gelasian Dyarchy (I’m afraid I forgot to mention The Josiasthe integralist website for which I have written a number of pieces), and then a little about the monastic life and the practice of lectio divina.