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New book presents scholarly, but accessible, presentation of Integralism

A review of Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy by Fr. Thomas Crean O.P. and Dr. Alan Fimister.

Many of us are uncomfortable when we have to think about the intersection of religion and politics. Yet our politics are undoubtedly informed by our religion. None of us who believe that abortion, euthanasia, and gay “marriage” should not be legal can ignore the fact that most of our political opinions are shaped by what we believe about God, the purpose of life, and human nature. Yes, these truths can be defended from reason, but it is not the logicians but the Christians who actually hold the right premises and draw the correct inferences. Catholics, for example, hold that every human life to be sacred because each person is created in the image of God. What does mean when it comes to laws and policies?

The time has come to ask ourselves how much our Faith should affect the political realm and how much room there will really be for the faithful in that realm a few years hence if we are too modest in our answers.

A new book, titled Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy, addresses this topic in a thorough and detailed manner, starting from the most basic foundations and assumptions. One of the co-authors, Fr. Thomas Crean O.P., is a friar of the English Province of the Order of Preachers and has published on apologetics, liturgy, and natural theology. The other, Dr. Alan Fimister, is Assistant Professor of Theology and Church History at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. He has published on European political history and Thomistic political philosophy.

Crean and Fimister offer a manual of political philosophy and a comprehensive account of Integralism, that is, of the theory of Christendom. Their argument rests on one crucial premise:

Politics, like all moral philosophy, must be instructed by divine revelation. This is because, in contrast to speculative reason, the first principle in moral and practical philosophy is the final end: before deciding what to do, we must first know what to aim at.

Helpfully, especially for the reader who has not been exposed to political philosophy from this perspective, the authors begin from the most basic of concepts: society, the perfect society, the common good, the origin of authority, the family, and property. Understanding that the common good is higher than the private good is not easy when everything and nearly everyone around us screams out that the purpose of society is to help us to accumulate and enjoy private goods.

The chapter on the family should pique the interest of those of us who have taken it for granted that the individual is the basic unit of the society. The assumption of individualism in our political discourse has driven us toward policies that in the end have been contrary to the good of human society and of the person. Crean and Fimister argue that because of God’s institution of marriage, historically in the Garden of Eden and timelessly in virtue of nature itself, it is in that primordial relationship that the first society which strives for the common good is formed. The family is endowed with the power to form wider human society including the temporal polity: “The family and not the individual citizen is the basic unit of the temporal commonwealth, and hence it is fitting to vest certain office in families and not merely in individuals.”

The organization and government of multiple families creates the need for temporal authority, because once an individual becomes an adult, he needs an authority above himself for the proper functioning of society. The authors, in the chapters on authority, criticize liberalism, which has been the dominant ideology in the West since the French Revolution. Liberalism’s promotion of free will or free action as the highest aim of civil authority is not, they argue, compatible with reason or the Christian worldview. As a creature, man is necessarily created for an end (although he cannot that end without divine revelation) and his own actions cannot be his ultimate destination.

However, human beings are fallen and are prone to avarice, hubris, and greed. Because Our Lord knows the frailty of His creation, He has distinguished between the wielders of the spiritual and temporal powers. Thus the need to appoint two powers: one to guard that divine revelation and one to facilitate man’s attaining, by divine grace, a nature healed of its ills. Pope Gelasius I, the Old Testament, and the Gospel of St. John (where Our Lord asks St. Peter to put away his sword) are used as sources to explain the necessity for this separation.

The two chapters on the nature and function of authority attempt to refute one of the most common objections to Integralism, namely, that it proposes a Catholic theocracy. As someone who grew up with the specter of Sharia, this objection remains my biggest concern when discussing Catholic Integralism. Yet, at the same time, the failure of the liberal state and the Western descent into the madness of secularism make the arguments offered by Crean and Fimister compelling, even seductive. The most important of these is that “in any given society the spiritual power cannot annul the law that determines the manner in which temporal power is obtained, unless that law be perverse.” God gave families the power to decide the political order under which they wish to live and the spiritual power confers this order and its executors full legitimacy by ordering and directing it to its end.

One of the oft-heard objections to Integralism is that it exclusively promotes Catholic monarchy as opposed to other forms of polity. Crean and Fimister deny that Integralism demands or requires any particular form of government and, with ample references to St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Thomas, and several Church fathers and popes, lay out why a mixed polity with monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic elements would be the most stable and suitable method of governance. The American system, in this regard, would be an excellent example of mixed polity with the Presidency as its monarchic element, the Supreme Court as the aristocratic, and Congress as its democratic element.

The chapter on political economy offers a vision of a system that honors private property and the necessity of paying the worker a just wage, while allowing the temporal power to regulate private ownership for the common good, though without excessive or even partial use of taxation. Both Socialism, the ownership of the means of production by the temporal power, and crony Capitalism, a distortion of the market economy by usury, are unjust, though the authors content that Socialism lends itself to greater injustice.

Integralism provides an accessible and deeply sourced review of political philosophy and lay Catholic ecclesiology at a time when many Catholics have significant questions about the Church’s place and direction in public affairs. A serious and academic (yet eminently readable) book such as this, one hopes, will lead to other works that will explore further faith’s place in politics. For despite all the talk to the contrary, man cannot separate himself from his core beliefs while he engages in politics and economy.

Whether one is inclined to agree with Crean and Fimister or not, Integralism makes the case for Christendom with clarity, while providing the groundwork for an informed discussion that can be postponed no longer. As Alexis de Tocqueville stated in his classic work Democracy in America:

Men who live in Democratic times are, therefore, predisposed to slide away from all religious authority. But if they agree to such an authority, they insist at least that it is unique and of one character for their intelligence has a natural abhorrence of religious powers which do not emanate from the same centre and they find it almost as easy to imagine that there is no religion as several […] our descendants will tend increasingly to divide into only two parts, some leaving Christianity entirely and the others embracing the Church of Rome.


Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy

by Thomas Crean and Alan Fimister
EDITIONES SCHOLASTICAE, 2020
Paperback, 290 pages


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About Derya M. Little 15 Articles
Derya M. Little has a PhD in politics from Durham University, England and an MA in history from Bilkent University, Turkey. She is the author of several books, including From Islam to Christ: One Woman's Path through the Riddles of God (Ignatius Press, 2017) and A Beginner's Guide to the Latin Mass (2019). She can be visited online at DeryaLittle.com.

13 Comments

  1. Interesting dichotomy.

    I have always found it odd that in “polite society” the two topics which are generally considered off limits are politics and religion.

    I ask you, what subjects are more worth exploring?

    Even stranger is the assertion by some politicians that their religious beliefs do not inform their policy initiatives: “I don’t feel that I should impose my beliefs on others.”

    If our faith is not of sufficient value to inform — indeed, improve — every one of our moral actions or decisions in every single area of life, then why did we ever commit to it?

  2. Ah, the great fantasy of being ruled by a Christian King. No need to evangelize or change the culture, because you can just force everyone to be moral. These people live in a fantasyland. The only thing you can say about integralism is that it is an ivory tower exercise, a mental exercise, with no connection to reality, or the real world. Or, it is not really integralism, it is the idea that religious values should somehow affect politics, but it is never spelled out exactly how this happens. So we are back at square one. Philosophers philosophizing, no need to connect to the real world .

  3. I have watched with interest how the Catholic media and some priests/bishops have become much more right-wing oriented since working for the election of John F. Kennedy. Then came Vatican II and later, Roe v. Wade. Then came all of the child abuse claims. I have worked for Catholic Charities and also a Catholic University over the years and have noted the leanings toward one political party over another change dramatically. Jesus taught care of the sick and the poor. He taught forgiveness of enemies, inclusivity with the welcoming of immigrants, as well as loving-kindness, humility and peace-making. I see these divisive conflicts in various religious communities and am saddened that my church has become more “political” than Christ-like. I can only wonder how many young people will continue to support a church which appears to be more political than spiritual. I pray that after this virus has run its course, my church’s pews are full again, but I am very concerned with some church leaders and media leaning toward political activism while neglecting many other teachings of the Divine Holy Trinity.

    • The bishops of Latin churches lean towards political activism but not primarily of the “right-wing” sort, and there is a danger that this political activism will discredit them.

      The 60s are over.

    • And by this, you are indicting the church’s leftist leanings and commitment to progressive causes, right? No one who’s paying any attention can justly accuse the church’s leaders of being too conservative. It’s the leftist ideology that is driving people away.

      • Interesting comment that the leftists are driving people from the church. I don’t support American bishops who have been duped by Pres. Trump any more than those who have been duped by the other side. I only want a church which faithfully follows the teachings of Jesus the Christ, spiritually-ethically-morally. Maybe Jesus was a progressive? Would HE encourage voting for Trump or even anyone at all? I don’t know that HE would encourage voting for ANY American political party today. These are questions we will soon be faced with in this country if we chose to vote. I don’t think the church should be involved in politics. If they want to do that, then let them pay taxes like the rest of us. I do however encourage prayerful consideration of what our Savior taught us before casting any vote. Peace!

        • “Maybe Jesus was a progressive?”

          Maybe He wasn’t, attempts by intellectuals and Christians to replace the Gospel with some version of liberalism notwithstanding.

          Civil legislation is created not from selective proof-texting and eisegesis, but through knowledge of the precepts of the Divine Law, in conjunction with the moral reasoning necessary for the creation of legislation, which can be said to require both art and science (in the case of Christians, a well0developed moral theology).

          The Church, i.e. the Christian faithful should be participating in politics. But they should not do so with the misunderstanding that the Gospel is a form of liberalism.

  4. The yearning in hearts ,for The Spirit to take hold , being expressed in various ways and places , including the Laudato Si proclamation , call for Christian unity and through the above book , those who have the responsibility , to use the voting power to make less polluted and wiser decisions .

    Rule of carnal powers as the end point of the goal of life – the world has been very much under the effects of that lie and to this day , prevailing in faiths and hearts , thus manifesting in its after effects of greed and envy and fears and all related evils .
    Our Lord came to show us that cleansed and healed of such , being bestowed the holiness in Him ( esp at the Holy Mass ) we can be restored to the ‘original innocence ‘ , to thus become a people who can join each other and all of heaven , for the Oneness of praise to The Father , in the power of The Living Water of The Spirit – https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/gods-living-water-satisfies-deepest-desires-pope-reflects
    Thank you for sharing the drops and springs of that truth , in various ways .

    • I like your comments and the webpage you cite in your comment. Pope Francis certainly has his hands full and needs our prayers. Thank you and may God send you many blessings!

  5. So now, despite his detractors (CWR, May 20), do we possibly see why George Weigel felt a need to say something about integralism?

    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/05/20/games-intellectuals-play/

    BUT instead of the possible merits and deficiencies of TEXTBOOK INTEGRALISM, another view is that Church functionaries will simply brand the emerging new world order as “solidarity”: “NEW PARADIGM” INTEGRALISM! (Bishop Sorondo’s pontification to a waiting world that China is “the best implementer” of Catholic Social Teaching, and then Secretariat of State Parolin’s choreographed (?) betrayal of millions of Chinese Catholics on the road to a Polygonal Church of tomorrow!)

    Under a possibly new “integralism” the Vatican is preparing to celebrate the Fifth Anniversary of Laudato Si, a difficult encyclical, perched between the domains of science and the Church. Galileo groans and the USCCB is tooling up for the celebration:

    QUESTION: Who among the USCCB will move Laudato Si beyond its omissions? Laudato Si suggests new “environmental impact statements” (since 1969 federally mandated in the United States; so now, with credit given, what works and what doesn’t work)?

    QUESTION: Will the USCCB have anything to say about institutional architecture? Laudato Si blurs the difference between world governance (subsidiarity and solidarity, always both together) and a “true world political authority” (n. 175; editorial lip service to subsidiarity in n. 196). Who managers the managers?

    QUESTION: Where they do exist, will the USCCB seek out and celebrate ecological success stories?

    Not much mention in Laudato Si about the corporate triple-bottom line (profits, social, environmental), nor positive public-private programs such as the transnational Nature Conservancy (since 1950!). For example, its major and sustained reforestation initiative in the Amazon—Pope Francis’ poster-child “lungs of the planet”).

    QUESTION: What is the difference between a USCCB paper mill and effective and informed moral leadership?

    The seasoned and now dismissed Pope St. John Paul II knew how to both (a) engage the people and (b) distinguish the moral theology of “solidarity” from the political Polish Solidarity movement. What does the Vatican mean by a garbled (?) Church Climate Movement?

  6. America’s Constitution is the best governing design for a de facto pluralistic society. If it’s followed in accord with the mind of the framers as compared to the notion of a living document. The latter a euphemism for departure from Constitutional law and practice. Furthermore, integralism presumes a singular moral code that the authors Fr Crean Dr Fimister does not resolve for such a diverse society. That is if that code were dependent on religion. Whereas the fundamentals for integralism are found in Natural Law. For example the Right to Life is not exclusive to religious belief, rather it’s fundamental to Justice. Catholicism’s role should be a focus on Natural Law to which all can and should agree as some theologians are couching the abortion issue.

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