All posts tagged: liberalism

Integralism and the Logic of the Cross

I. Timothy Troutner’s Objections to Integralism Catholic integralism is the position that politics should be ordered to the common good of human life, both temporal and spiritual, and that temporal and spiritual authority ought therefore to have an ordered relation. As a consequence, it rejects modern liberal understandings of freedom. Timothy Troutner, in a recent article, strongly objects to the integralist position. Troutner argues that integralists in reacting to liberalism become liberalism’s mirror image. Liberalism, he claims, is understandable as a reaction to real errors in Christendom, and promoted, though in a distorted way, the precious Christian truths of the goodness of liberty and equality that Christendom had forgotten. In simply rejecting liberalism as a deception of the Anti-Christ, Troutner argues, integralists end up defending indefensible crimes of Christendom, and condemning important truths associated with liberalism. Integralists commit a fatal error, Troutner thinks, in attempting to attain spiritual ends by means of coercive, temporal power. In this, he suggests they play the role of the devil. Just as the devil tempted Christ in the desert …

The Integralist Mirroring of Liberal Ideals

I. A quarter century after Francis Fukuyama proclaimed liberalism “the end of history,” it is nearly impossible to avoid stumbling across rumors of its demise. With increasing populist dissent from the post-war global order, liberalism—not American left-wing politics but a combination of economic, legal, and social arrangements and their philosophical underpinnings—has received new scrutiny, especially among Catholics. Often attributed to John Locke, this system of free markets, free speech, and freedom of religion seeks to accommodate pluralism and avoid violence by focusing on procedures for getting along, rather than by legislating a vision of the good life. Although strains of liberalism differ, liberalisms typically claim to provide a neutral space for the exercise of freedom, which is construed as the highly individual project of self-creation. Among the most outspoken of liberalism’s critics are “Catholic integralists.” Although the term “integralist” has a complex history, this essay focuses on the contemporary, predominantly American variety, which alleges that liberalism’s maintenance of neutrality inevitably clashes with Catholic efforts to shape society according to Christian notions of the common good. …

Can Schmitt’s Political Theology Be Redeemed?

A sure way to establish enduring significance as a thinker is to combine sophistication with carefully constructed ambiguity and, if necessary, outright contradiction. The odd combination of precision and ambiguity is something of a goldmine for interpretation and debate. To exponentially amplify it, the thinker just needs to be involved in some form of notoriety that makes a determinative interpretation all the more significant in order to illuminate what went wrong. One need only look at the complexity of Heidegger’s legacy to see how public and important such discussions can become. The notoriety licenses all manner of analyses—Is his or her work entirely undermined by such transgression? Does their thought lead to failure or is some contextual explanation a possible exoneration? The contrast of intellectual achievement and moral failure strikes us viscerally by touching on one of our most basic fears: that markers like high intellect and education cannot always protect against violence and hatred. Like Heidegger, Carl Schmitt is such a thinker of great sophistication, ambiguity, and notoriety. The famous German jurist and political …

Justice and Rights in Europe Today

In all the ways that I have indicated earlier in this six-part series, one can readily argue that liberalism, even Kantian liberalism, is not, after all, metaphysically agnostic. To the contrary, the other aspect to its ethical minimalism is clearly a materializing and reductive ontology. This observation therefore challenges the assumption that liberal societies are really neutral as to belief or to metaphysical assertion. Perhaps such neutrality is impossible, in which case one could argue that the public and established bias ought to run towards nobler, more “ideally realist” beliefs and affirmations, likely to be more romantically inspiring. Besides, as I have already suggested (in the long-term wake of the French romantic philosophers Maine de Biran and Félix Ravaisson), the liberal conviction, which holds that our “additions” of habits to nature are not fully natural and not objectively valuable for anything more than human preference, is not really livable, and does not actually accord with our tacit assumptions, even if we claim to be agnostic or atheist. But how might all this relate to contemporary …

Maritain’s Postwar Compromise of Natural Law

Compared with Edmund Burke’s unsourced Thomism (see: previous instalment in this series) concerning natural law, Jacques Maritain’s version, from the mid 20th century, was far less authentic. Contrary to his unhelpfully ecumenical proclamations after World War II, the metaphysical and theological foundation of natural law, so well sustained by Burke, is not a matter of indifference with respect to the content and understanding of rights.[1] For without it the social will not tend to be seen as original and constitutive, and accordingly rights will be embraced on an assumption of ontological violence, which can only be channelled and newly wielded in all its arbitrariness, if the absoluteness of right is itself, paradoxically, to be upheld. For this reason all rights-based or rights-preponderant theories are pessimistic views which limit the scope of justice and in the case of the former, as with Hobbes (who remains always the arch-theorist of right, as Strauss correctly discerned), of its ultimate non-reality, save for the dismal notion that it is the established ruling fiction of God himself. For this reason, …

The Advent Corrective to Locke’s Lonely Liberalism

The Nativity is astonishing. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born of a woman. The King of the Universe entered the world as a fragile infant, a bundle of needs who was utterly dependent on his mother. What a terrifying fact. The vulnerability of Our Savior’s gestation and early life is enough to take your breath away. The Advent and Christmas seasons are an invitation for us to examine our own dependence on relationships of love, a dependence that is constitutive of our lives. In reflecting on the method through which Christ came into the world, we can enter more deeply into this aspect of our creation in his image and likeness. 1. John Locke and Charles Taylor on the Human Person The logic of Advent and Christmas runs counter to our modern notion of the individual, the main foundation upon which the liberal order rests. This notion can largely be traced back to the thought of John Locke, whose theory of personhood advances a robust autonomy and individualism. Locke grounds this theory …

What Is Integralism Today?

In the Catholic Church old debates that might seem to have been left behind are constantly returning. Thus, the debate in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries between “liberal” Catholics and their opponents, sometimes called “integralists,” has recently given signs of revival. One such sign is a seminar offered this semester at Harvard Law School entitled “Law and Catholic Thought: Liberalism and Integralism.” The seminar’s co-teachers can be seen as representing liberalism (Princeton University’s Professor Robert P. George) and integralism (Harvard’s own Professor Adrian Vermeule) respectively. George is certainly not a “liberal” Catholic in the sense in which that term is opposed to “conservative”—he is indeed one of the standard bearers of conservatism in the American Catholic Church. But he is a liberal as opposed to an integralist, because he thinks that political authority exists for the sake of the protection of individual rights, that one of the most important of those rights is the right of religious liberty, and that political authority should therefore not officially favor one religious confession more than others. Vermeule, …

The Search for the Holy Grail of a Conservative Socialism

With the ghost of the visionary William Morris hovering somewhere in the background, The Politics of Virtue is nothing short of a brilliant, sometimes quirky, compendium of political, economic, and theological perceptions and insights. It is perhaps something only gifted artists such as John Milbank and Adrian Pabst could have produced. As a former classicist and something of a Dorothy Day Catholic, I am drawn by instinct to visions such as this. Even as I have some mental reservations. Divided into five major sections (Politics, Economy, Polity, Culture, and World), the book reads something like an extended position paper for a human-scale future utopia. Not that the authors’ two-part thesis cannot be summarized fairly quickly. First, they assert that post-Cold War notions of the end of history and the supposed universality of liberalism have been shaken by two developments: the extra-civilizational challenge of Islamism after 2001 and the intra-civilizational financial and civil breakdown after 2008. Moreover, the exposure of the role in these events of the social-cultural liberalism of the left since the 1960’s, and …

The Post-Liberal Spirituality of John Rawls

The discovery and publication of John Rawls’s senior thesis can be compared to the impact of the early writings of Karl Marx. It was only with the appearance of the latter that readers could gain an appreciation of the humanist roots of Marxian thought that, in its mature formulation, was centered more narrowly on economic theory. A similar pattern applies to the ever more rigorous elaborations of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice that, despite their prolixity, never quite capture the inspiration from which his thought springs. The relatively recent publication of A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith[1] enables us to glimpse the long submerged origin in one of its most touchingly unguarded moments. We are led into the inner hidden Rawls, and begin to see a whole new way of perceiving this emblematic figure of contemporary liberal political thought. Of course this is not to suggest that the “discoverer,” Eric Gregory, or the editor, Thomas Nagel, have let us in on a secret that ought not to have seen the light …

3 Theological Reflections on Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed

Patrick J. Deneen’s thesis in Why Liberalism Failed is clear and direct. “Liberalism has failed”, he writes in the introduction, “not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself. It has failed because it has succeeded” (3). He argues that liberalism stands on a faulty foundation, fractured from the start under the weight of its own hubristic self-certainty. The book has already been reviewed extensively including thrice in the New York Times (1, 2, 3), in the Wall Street Journal, in the Federalist, and elsewhere, and these reviews have covered a substantial amount of critical ground for Deneen’s project. Leaving the evaluation of his argument to others, I instead want to trace the theological consequences of what Deneen perceives so as to orient the calamity of liberalism’s inevitable end to three fundamental errors in its premise: the first is about the meaning of the (un)created world, the second is about the basic anthropological claim and the natural state of human beings, and the third is about the human project and what constitutes …