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.

Integralism Today

Artur Rosman invited me to write something on integralism for Church Life Journal, and so it went up today under the title “What Is Integralism Today?“— a reference to Balthasar’s “Integralismus heute“. Here is a snip:

All political agents, whether they admit it or not, imply some definite conception of the good for man in their action. As Leo Strauss used to tell his students, all political action is concerned with change or preservation. When it is concerned with change it is concerned with change for the better. When it is concerned with preservation it is concerned with preventing change for the worse. But the concepts of better and worse imply a concept of the good. Therefore, all political action is concerned with the good. The Weberian account of separate spheres of social activity, each acting according to its own inherent rationality, conceals more than it reveals of modern social life. There is not and cannot be a neutral “political rationality” that reduces politics to a technique of achieving certain penultimate objectives. For, such penultimate objectives can only become objectives pursued by human beings when they are ordered to an (implicit) ultimate objective. And if the ultimate objective is not the true end of man, the City of God, then it will be a false end, the diabolical city.

Read the rest at Church Life Journal.

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.

 

Online Reading Group: Before Church and State

I have been reading— almost devouring— Andrew Willard Jones’s new book new book, Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX.  Having been thinking about the relation of temporal and spiritual power for a long time now, I have found it highly illuminating, and therefore also highly exhilarating and exciting. Jones describes is own exhilaration on discovering John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory, and Before Church and State has had a similar effect on me.  Wanting to go through it again more slowly, I have decided to start an online reading group, with some friends from The Josias, and anyone else who would like to join us. We will go through the book slowly, one chapter a week. The discussion of the introduction will start on Thursday, June 1st. To sign up, fill out the following form:

Meador, Feil, and Smith on Integralism and Dyarchy

In an intelligent piece on six different Christian responses to political liberalism, Jake Meador,  the energetic editor of Mere Orthodoxyvice-president of The Davenant Trustproper football blogger, and old-fashioned Magisterial Protestant, gives serious attention to Catholic Integralism. He also features Catholic Integralism in an amusing quiz: What Political Theology Are You?

It pleases me that the term “Integralism” has caught on a little in the blogosphere in recent years. The term had fallen somewhat out of use after Vatican II in languages other than French, but its German equivalent was used in an essay of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s, from which David Schindler adopted the English form for his classification of different Catholic responses to political liberalism in Heart of the World, Center of the Church. Balthasar and Schindler had used the term in a pejorative sense, but I adopted it with commendatory sense first in an obituary on Ronald McArthur and then in a long essay in defense of the idea. I have unfolded the idea of Catholic Integralism further with other writers over at The Josias.

One reason that serious, Magisterial Protestants like Meador are glad to see work being done on Catholic Integralism is that they agree with much of the Integralist critique of liberalism. But another reason, I think, is that Protestant political theology was largely developed in polemical Abgrenzung to the Catholic Integralist tradition. Thus, having Catholic Integralist to whom they can point helps them expound their own position.

Predictably, Meador agrees with one of the standard objections that has always been brought against Integralism. Namely, that it does not preserve the distinction between spiritual and temporal power; that it does not render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Integralism, so the objection has gone for centuries, pays lip-service to the dyarchy of powers, but really it is monarchical, striving for a universal monarchy of the Pope over all other powers. JA Feil at The Josias and P.J. Smith at Semiduplex have both posted responses to Meador, defending Integralism against that objection. They both argue that Integralism does really preserve the distinction of the two powers. The temporal end is indeed subordinate to the spiritual end, but the Integralist tradition, even in its strongest formulation by Pope Boniface VIII, never took this to mean that the temporal power is subordinate to the spiritual power the way a lesser officer is subordinate to the general in an army. There is nothing that a lesser officer does that is outside the authority of the general. But Integralists have always accepted the teaching that by the will of Christ, the spiritual power only judges the temporal when the temporal acts directly contrary to the supernatural end. They have always upheld Pope Gelasius’s teaching in Tractate IV that the reason for this limitation is that Christ wanted to give a remedy to human pride:

For Christ, mindful of human frailty, regulated with an excellent disposition what pertained to the salvation of his people. Thus he distinguished between the offices of both powers according to their own proper activities and separate dignities, wanting his people to be saved by healthful humility and not carried away again by human pride, so that Christian emperors would need priests for attaining eternal life, and priests would avail themselves of imperial regulations in the conduct of temporal affairs. In this fashion spiritual activity would be set apart from worldly encroachments and the ‘soldier of God’ (2 Tim 2:4) would not be involved in secular affairs, while on the other hand he who was involved in secular affairs would not seem to preside over divine matters. Thus the humility of each order would be preserved, neither being exalted by the subservience of the other, and each profession would be especially fitted for its appropriate functions.

The actual application of this teaching was the cause of a great deal of tension in the Middle Ages, and in part the Reformation was born out of the desire of doing away with that tension. And what was the result of the Reformation? It was thought by some that a more perfect independence of Christian magistrates would actually make Europe more Christian.  But the “human pride” of the Protestant magistrates, unchecked by a superordinate spiritual power, had free reign. At first many of them tried to promote spiritual ends. But eventually, contrary to their intention, those magistrates (and their Catholic imitators) contributed to the rise of the secular culture of the modern West that only recognizes temporal ends.

“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.

Auctoritas, Potestas, and Integralism

I have posted an essay over at The Josias  in which I give my fullest account to date of what I call “integralism.” I argue that integralism gives the most satisfactory reading of Pope St. Gelasius’s teaching on the relation of the auctoritas sacrata of pontiffs and the potestas of emperors.  I also consider the postmodern, Augustinian radicalism of the likes of John Milbank and William Cavanaugh, and argue that while they make some important points, their theory ultimately suffers from an inadequate theology of grace. Finally, I take another look at Whig Thomism, and locate one of the the roots of its failings in a “personalist” theory of political community.