Reflections on integralism in an age of (supposed) pluralism and tolerance

If we want state power to recognize a limit, then we want to organize politics in a way that subordinates it to something that transcends it.

(Images: us.fotolia.com)

People have been talking about integralism recently. What is it, and what should we know about it?

In a short discussion I can only give my own interpretation, but will start with a definition by a proponent, Fr. Edmund Waldstein. According to him, integralism is the view that

  • “Political rule must order man to his final goal.”

  • “There are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power.”

  • “The temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.”

All of which makes general sense. Politics and religion both affect the whole man, so they ought to work together, and ultimate concerns ought to take precedence over lesser considerations. Also, public institutions should be guided by what seems true in matters that are practically important. These include religion no less than engineering, medicine, and economics.

Even so, most Catholics with an opinion on the matter reject integralism—some vehemently. A few clarifications may soften opposition somewhat.

“Political rule must order man to his final goal” might seem too strong a statement. We must cooperate voluntarily in our own salvation, so a ruler can’t directly order us to God. But temporal government can promote favorable conditions, and it seems that it should.

It would do that by tending to temporal matters with spiritual ones in mind. That would make a difference in education, family law, public ceremonial, and other settings. Just where and how much it would matter would depend on judgment and circumstances. As always, government is difficult and people disagree about what it should do, but some resolution or accommodation is eventually reached.

To some people “the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual” suggests the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That provision gave the federal government the power to decide the scope of its own authority and ultimately turned the small and limited government of 1789 into today’s Leviathan. So they’re concerned that a similar development might eventually turn an integralist state into an absolute theocracy.

That seems unlikely. The federal government could back its claims with physical force, while the Church has to rely on moral suasion in its dealings with secular rulers. That severely limits the dangers of ecclesiastical overreach. The Church hierarchy can’t force a ruler to do something if he thinks it is wrong or none of their business.

A common objection to integralism is that it has no relevance to the current situation, so it’s silly to talk about it.

It does seem practically irrelevant. The superiority of the state to any church has been basic to Western public order since the Peace of Westphalia (1648) established the principle that princes determine the religion of their territories—cuius regio eius religio.

Since then the secularizing tendency has only gotten stronger, so much so that today our political leaders neither know nor care about man’s final goal. Nor do they recognize a spiritual power, although they expect spiritual leaders to support them, for example by blessing the troops in wartime and talking about “welcoming the stranger” when they want to import cheap labor.

The holders of spiritual authority are largely content with that situation. They feel unable to contend against the current order of things, and collaboration gives them a comfortable and outwardly respected life as caretakers of a declining institution.

Under such circumstances, giving the Church an official position and monthly check from the government would only allow her leaders, secure in well-paid positions, to let her teachings slide. Present-day Germany provides an example. And making the spiritual authorities officially superior to the political authorities would only put the former in a position like that of the Queen of England, who in theory heads both Church and State but in fact is a figurehead who does and says what she is told. The result would be further suppression of religion as an independent force.

These arguments show convincingly that integralism would make no sense in practice without a radical transformation of the political and social situation. You can’t have Catholic integralism unless the people who run things are Catholic enough to accept it as a principle of cooperation, just as today they accept “science” and “human rights.” That doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

But does that mean we shouldn’t hold it in principle? Current practicalities cannot be our ultimate guide. And integralism is of great interest as a matter of principle. Denial that Christianity should be socially authoritative suggests that it isn’t really true, or isn’t basic in human life, or is less rationally supportable than the technocratic hedonism now dominant. These ideas are deeply wrong. If accepted they’re likely to lead us astray in a variety of ways.

Many Catholics argue that experience shows integralism is bad in principle. We see, they say, that the Church does better where she’s been separate from the state, as in the United States, rather than where she’s been united with it, as in Spain and Quebec. They conclude that integralism is self-defeating.

Such arguments are weaker than people think. It’s true that recently the Church has mostly prospered in America compared with places where her connection to society had historically been much more pervasive, but today she’s falling apart here as well, and it remains to be seen how things end.

Many people, including critics of integralism, complain that American prosperity has lacked spiritual depth. Viewing religion as a particular department of activity within a secular order seems at odds with devotion to transcendent goods, and it remains to be seen where the Faith will have the resources that enable it to revive in better times.

Critics also point to bad things that happened during the Christian centuries. They burned heretics at the stake. Crusaders massacred innocents. The clergy became corrupt and dissolute.

They say these examples show that joining religion to government encourages government to abandon good sense and justice in its pursuit of an absolute. They note that Fr. Waldstein himself has put in a good word for the right of the Church to call on state assistance in compelling heretics to return to the Faith—and even, in some cases, burning heretics at the stake.

Most people find such opinions outrageous. Even so, we should remember that every government has a highest principle that serves as an absolute and sometimes leads to excesses. The Soviets had the Revolution and killed millions in its name. And the liberal West has democracy and individual autonomy. These have meant a 20-year war to reform Pashtun gender relations, the incineration of Hiroshima to force the unconditional surrender of an illiberal adversary, compulsory thought reform in the form of sensitivity training, prosecuting blasphemy against sacralized figures like George Floyd, and sexually mutilating confused young people in the name of human autonomy.

Pluralism and Tolerance, it turns out, are neither plural nor tolerant. The means by which liberal states enforce official views are usually milder than those used in the past, but that is because of the greater power of the modern state. Pre-modern states tried to make up for their weakness by making punishment terrifying, but that is no longer necessary. If an integralist state prosecuted heresy today, it would likely proceed the way modern European states proceed against Holocaust revisionism.

So there’s no reason to think integralism leads to more abuses than other principles. To the contrary: if we want state power to recognize a limit, then we want to organize politics in a way that subordinates it to something that transcends it. That means integralism or something similar. And historically the tension between Pope and Emperor, which existed only because the Emperor recognized the spiritual authority of the Pope, was favorable to freedom and reason in the West.

The relation between power and the Good, Beautiful, and True is always a mess, but we have to do our best. Power isn’t intrinsically evil, and Catholics shouldn’t try to maintain purity by avoiding its difficulties. If the Faith is relevant to the whole of life then wanting government to accept its guidance is not—as critics of integralism claim—a matter of choosing power over love. It is an aspect of our responsibility to love God, neighbor, and justice. Why arbitrarily carve out and deny part of that responsibility?


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About James Kalb 138 Articles
James Kalb is a lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism(ISI Books, 2008) and, most recently, Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).

23 Comments

  1. If anyone wants to embrace and promote integralism as it should be, one must not take the path many American Catholics wrongly do. One has to begin studying and applying in political engagement the Catholic Social Teachings, not the neo-liberal capitalist ideology or the GOP propaganda points.

  2. We read: “Pluralism and Tolerance, it turns out, are neither plural nor tolerant. The means by which liberal states enforce official views are usually milder than those used in the past…”

    This reader is reminded of what Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) said almost two centuries ago: ““If Jesus Christ were to come today, people would not even crucify him. They would ask him to dinner, and hear what he had to say, and then make fun of it.”

    Today, instead of “dinner” maybe some international food circus, or a drive-through with federally-required calorie-counter labels posted.

  3. “Current practicalities cannot be our ultimate guide. And integralism is of great interest as a matter of principle. Denial that Christianity should be socially authoritative suggests that it isn’t really true, or isn’t basic in human life, or is less rationally supportable than the technocratic hedonism now dominant. These ideas are deeply wrong.”

    The only experience that the founders of America had with an established religion was the false religion of Anglicanism. The tyranny of the same certainly ought not to reflect on an ideal Catholic confessional state.

    The fact is that the Catholic Church could – and will according to prophecies – completely reform society, but we would need to jettison the most evil principle currently in use: license masquerading as freedom of expression.

    All this being said, a state where the Catholic Church is the official religion would justly discriminate against non-Catholics. My understanding was that it might have been partly a result of the increased tolerance of Protestants which led to the French Revolution. However, the true cause was likely a lack of “inquisitorial” (i.e. proactively investigative) enforcement of law with regards to secret societies.

    “If an integralist state prosecuted heresy today, it would likely proceed the way modern European states proceed against Holocaust revisionism.”

    There can’t be any penalty for formal heresy less than capital punishment. The world would have been much different if Martin Luther had been quickly executed. It was the laxity of the state – and probably the Church – which led to the circumstances which caused the demise of the influence of the Catholic Church on politics.

    Of course, “Holocaust revisionism” – unlike heresy – has no implications for the Catholic faith. That makes it essentially different.

    That said, fraud or really bad science could likely be criminalized and – at least – censored. It is the highly likely fraudulent germ theory of disease which has recently directly impacted the lives of billions of people on Earth.

  4. We read: “The only experience that the founders of America had with an established religion was the false religion of Anglicanism.”

    Beginning with more precise history, we note that more than one established (tax-supported) church existed in the colonies (all except Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania), and that they were later disestablished in the years following 1775: Congregational (1818, 1819, the last in Massachusetts: 1833), and Anglican (1776, 1778, 1786). (Thomas Bailey, The American Pageant [Boston: Heath, 1965], 75.

    As for speculations, given the rise of nation-states and cultural differences north and south of the Alps, the notion that history would be different if Luther had been executed is a simplistic proposition.

    Different in what way? At the tip of the iceberg, what if, instead, Tetzel (the “indulgences” salesman who triggered the Luther event) earlier had been summoned to Rome? Almost makes us wonder, today, what if Bishop Batzing (the “synodal path” salesman) had been summoned to Rome nearly two years ago, as had been recommended to Pope Francis…

  5. “A ruler can’t directly order us to God” (Kalb). The heart of the issue is here, all else is peripheral and subject to this premise.
    Saint Thomas Aquinas had good reason to formulate a distinction between human, or civil law, and divine law. Free will.
    Kalb offers his bottom line, that is, our “Responsibility to love God, neighbor, and justice”. Fr Waldstein’s 3rd principle is vacuous because it’s simply repetition of the 1st, “Political rule must order man to his final goal.” Political rule elicited from this premise is not merely subordination to a spiritual power, as in refrain from positing political mandate contrary to the faith, rather that it be designed to follow through with the first premise.
    What is neglected in both Waldstein’s formula for integration, and the essays’ bottom line [although it’s implied in Kalb’s, A ruler can’t directly order us to God] is a government that permits free will, and in respect to free will tolerance of what is of itself immoral, prostitution, sexual privacy among adults. Added that government provides no obstacle to the expression of free will and freedom of religious expression. As such the founding fathers got it right.

    • We read: “…the founding fathers got it right.”

      Yes, and the influence of this American model on the Second Vatican Council’s Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Freedom), through theologian John Courtney Murray, offers fertile ground for an abundance of elaborating and nuanced footnotes as found in the Abbott printing of the Documents of Vatican II. Among which is the numbered section 6 on the tension between establishment and “the right of all citizens and religious bodies” to religious freedom (freedom from coercion), together with this fn. 17:

      “This paragraph is carefully phrased. The Council did not wish to condemn the institution of ‘establishment,’ the notion of a ‘religion of the state.’ A respectable opinion maintains that the institution is compatible with full religious freedom. On the other hand, the Council did not wish to canonize the institution. A respectable opinion holds that establishment is always a threat to religious freedom. Furthermore, the Council wished to insinuate that establishment, at least from the Catholic point of view, is a matter of historical circumstance, not of theological doctrine. For all these reasons the text deals with the issue in conditional terms.”

      • It’s worth noting that Dignitatis Humanae “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” Further, the exercise of religious freedom is to be limited by “the just demands of public order.” These include “a proper guardianship of public morality” – which would presumably include the very important moral duty just mentioned. (All that, as traditional doctrine recognized, is subject to considerations of prudence under the circumstances.)

  6. What does a “politics of the common good” mean? Does it mean the ruler governs with an eye primarily toward the common good of his own, limited group of people, or does it mean he governs with an eye toward not only his own people, but equally toward the common good of the whole human race?

    I am pretty sure Mr. Kalb and I would agree on this question. I am not so sure about the integralists. My longstanding impression is that they are inclined to share the globalist and neoconservative indifference toward local, particular loyalties & obligations, which is why I can’t get too excited about their movement. Globalism is just a bad, inhuman ideology, even when sprinkled with holy water.

    • I’ll go with Catechism 1903, “Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it.”

      So a government seeks the common good of its own people, but not in a way that violates justice in dealing with other governments and peoples. (I agree by the way that the specific views presented by people who identify their views as integralist are often pretty quirky.)

  7. Mr. Kalb actually succeeded in arousing in a certain amount of sympathy for integralism from me with this piece. Perhaps it is because he didn’t couch his argument in the usual obnoxious anti-American Founding rhetoric that is so common among many of integralism’s proponents. I have two criticisms, or maybe they are just observations. Once the Protestant Revolt occurred and took root in many countries, integralism (certainly a Catholic version) for all intents became a nearly impossible dream in those places, at least, no? Given the reality on the ground in the thirteen colonies in late 18th century America, it seems like the religious tolerance of the US constitutional system gave the Church the best opportunity to establish itself here. Then for quite a while, it did thrive, despite some problems. Its decline over the last sixty years has mostly been self-inflicted.

    Secondly, the current revival of interest in the theory and calls for the revival of confessional states seem to be a case of putting the cart before the horse and maybe before the wheels have been installed. Before we can build Catholic states, we must get the Church itself back on sound footing. Right now, it is rushing headlong in the other direction. The next step would be to bring about conversions of the formerly Catholic or at least Christian populations of the West. Once we have accomplished those two minor goals, perhaps we would be in a position to argue for some form of integralism for America and other nations.

  8. The article avoids all of the hard questions, as most integralists do, and sells ‘integralism’ as if it were merely a commitment for politicians to act on their religious or moral beliefs. Which is false. Integralism is, quite specifically, the view that establishment of the Catholic Church is normative.
    Integralism is then much more than a commitment merely to the ideal that “politics and religion both affect the whole man, so they ought to work together, and ultimate concerns ought to take precedence over lesser considerations,” or that “public institutions should be guided by what seems true in matters that are practically important.”
    Let me concede – off the bat – that we should follow what is true in our political deliberations. There is no ideal, from a natural law perspective such as mine, for the typical ‘secularist’ state that excludes religious or moral beliefs from playing any role in public policy, nor for a classically liberal ideal of a state that remains neutral on matters of ‘ultimate value.’ Instead, on my POV, moral or religious beliefs can be true/false and those might justifiably, under many circumstances, inform our public decision making.
    My problems thus lie not with the idea that government should dispose us to live a virtuous life or even to promoting (according to circumstances) conditions for a properly religious one. My problem lies specifically with the normative thesis of the integralist that establishment of the Church is necessary/ideal/morally required. This thesis sets up problems in two directions.
    First, there is the fact of pluralism. By which I mean, specifically, religious pluralism (although I think integralists ignore the possibility of reasonable moral disagreement too). The problem lies simply in the project of ‘ordering’ the State to the Church when many members of the State are not Catholic. You are not justified in ordering other peoples’ lives when those persons are your moral equals and have done nothing to merit being the target of the coercive power of the State.
    While I could and have argued this at length, this course of action of ‘ordering the State to the Church’ in a pluralistic society such as those that exist everywhere today will inevitably constitute an injustice to non-Catholic citizens. I agree that the State and the lives of the citizens should be ordered to higher spiritual goods, religious truth, etc., but I disagree that establishment is required to accomplish this end. The integralist insistence on the normative character of establishment is grounded upon negligence of the (natural) rights of non-Catholics citizens in our countries.
    A pluralistic State abiding by the natural law, maintaining a regime of religious freedom in light of the surpassing good of religion and allowing the Church its rights in evangelization, can be just as reasonable a way to accomplish the goal of ‘subordination’ of temporal to higher ends. So I agree on the fundamental goal but deny that establishment constitutes anything like a normative sine-qua-non (an ‘ideal’) for Catholic politics.
    It therefore remains a total non-sequitur to hold that integralism is somehow required for denying that “Christianity… isn’t really true, or isn’t basic in human life, or is less rationally supportable than the technocratic hedonism now dominant.” I simply deny both these skeptical theses and the integralist one.
    Second, there is a problem of absolutism in integralist authors that tends very clearly against the good of the separation of powers in government. Whereas I take the first problem to be a matter of principle and theory, inevitable from the normative theory of integralism, necessarily requiring denial of the relevant moral claims of non-Catholics, I think this latter problem is more a matter of practicality and inclination (but I do think it results indirectly from those basic issues of moral principle).
    The author of the CWR piece seems ignorant of any possible danger in giving the Church hierarchy a supervisory role in directing civil policy-making. “…the Church has to rely on moral suasion in its dealings with secular rulers. That severely limits the dangers of ecclesiastical overreach.” But, if you follow many popular integralist advocates (Crean/Fimister come to mind), the ideal political structure is such that the Church does have legally-recognized *rights* to utilize State coercive (physical) force for its ends. A state of affairs where policy-makers voluntarily cooperate with the hierarchy’s directives on the force of the latter’s moral persuasion would be identical with the current state of affairs in any liberal democracy – that’s simply not an integralism worth caring about.
    The author’s defense, for example, of Fr. Edmund Waldstein’s claims about how the Church today should be given the right to ‘call on state assistance’ and burn heretics is incredibly weak:
    “…every government has a highest principle that serves as an absolute and sometimes leads to excesses.”
    Except – to quote Ian Malcolm – if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists. I much prefer a government which, if it does go to an extreme, does not lead to burning heretics at the stake. Liberal democracy has lots of problems, and I think we can improve upon the basic framework without throwing out the baby (liberal institutions, e.g., protection of fundamental rights and separation of powers) with the bathwater of those social dysfunctions it has acquired in recent years.
    It is just foolish, if not insulting, to equate the horrors of Stalinist Russia with those faults of contemporary liberal democracies. That kind of hyperbole especially fails to recognize the real danger of reverting to totalitarian and authoritarian statism which threatens our current world. And that highlights a serious danger at the heart of the integralist project: it fails to affirm and recognize the good that has been EFFECTIVELY protected (and more so than by any ‘classical’ regime) by those liberal institutions it so much derides. There is something to be learned from the modern experience of living with pluralism.
    In concluding, the CWR piece author asks, “If the Faith is relevant to the whole of life then wanting government to accept its guidance is …an aspect of our responsibility to love God, neighbor, and justice. Why arbitrarily carve out and deny part of that responsibility?”
    I answer: I do not arbitrarily carve out and deny any such responsibility. It is a paradigm of IRRESPONSIBILITY on the part of integralists to ignore the rightful claims of non-Catholics within our countries or to ignore the rightful place of what I’ve called ‘liberal institutions’ in securing the common good. Treating such goods/rights as if they are mere obstacles to the achievement of a more perfect State looks, at best, incredibly foolish or short-sighted.

    • Thank you for your comments. A few of my own, which I hope are helpful in some way:

      I agree integralism calls for the Church to be established. I think of it as giving the Church something like the position now jointly held by the various academies of science and courts of human rights. It would be the authoritative spokesman for the highest recognized standards. As such it would be outside the structure of government but political authorities would accept its determinations in some cases.

      The moral claims of non-Catholics would then be in the position the cognitive claims of fringe science types or the legal claims of people with non-standard views of human rights are today. Even assuming there might be something to them and we must respect every person’s exercise of his reason life must go on and not every thought of every person however sincere can be given equal status.

      A basic issue is whether a pluralist society, one in which basically different views of God, man, and the world have equal standing, is possible except as a shifting accommodation among a limited number of participants.

      I don’t think so. Man is a social and religious animal. His ultimate view of things affects a great many aspects of his life that bear on the lives of others. What decides how people will live together and who wins in case of conflict?

      To sharpen the issue, there are aspects of how we live, and how we live with others, that aren’t a matter of natural law but are important socially. For example, what shall be treated as sacred? Should schoolchildren be taught that they have an eternal destiny? Our government feels called upon to reform social attitudes and human relations. On what basis, and to what ideal should they be working toward?

      “Pluralism” answers those questions ever more clearly. If so, how is it pluralistic to take pluralism as the highest standard? Until recently we’ve lived under a mixed regime, part liberal pluralism, part the unstated residue of traditional integralism. That made “pluralism” look pluralistic. Now it’s working itself clear and becoming totalitarian. Liberalism does indeed progress. I think that’s what’s provoked the interest in integralism.

      Natural law not tied to any particular religious tradition isn’t enough. Apart from other problems, it’s too abstract. Philosophers and lawyers argue about it forever with no generally accepted conclusions on specifics.

      So government has to be based on a particular authoritative tradition so definite answers are available. But then what makes the tradition authoritative? And who’s the authority that says what answers are right?

      It might be just the factual tradition of the political community. Questions come up, they get answered somehow, then that’s mostly accepted because it’s too troublesome to relitigate and you’ll probably lose anyway. But submission to brute factuality doesn’t seem the ideal basis for government.

      It seems better to look for something acceptable to human reason that tells us things that exceed or at least are more definite than human reason can provide. The arguments for Catholicism are arguments that the Church fits the bill.

      On other issues: I don’t defend Fr. Waldstein’s claim. I mention it as an objection and say it doesn’t show that non-integralist political standards are less prone to abusive extremes. And I don’t compare Stalinist Russia with contemporary liberal democracies. I compare both to integralism.

      • The question is whether establishment is morally/politically required, not moral neutrality or equal status for all religious views before law or whatever. I am simply disagreeing that establishment is so required. I will only remark on two points:

        [1] The chief problem for the integralist view remains and gets conceded by your response: integralism treats all non-Catholics as de facto unreasonable citizens in society. The problem is that this is unjust. The fact that someone has non-Catholic religious beliefs does not, by itself, constitute any moral excuse to exclude such persons from equal and free participation in the life and governance of the State. But that is, in essence, what the integralist proposes. To insist again: “You are not justified in ordering other peoples’ lives when those persons are your moral equals and have done nothing to merit being the target of the coercive power of the State.”

        [2] There is a subtle shift in your response between various considerations about religious truth and those of morality, as if the State would be bound to refrain from moral considerations unless it officially recognized Catholicism. But that distinction between morality and supernatural truth is precisely what I (and the Catholic tradition) emphasize as critical for these purposes. Truths about morality can be discovered and debated and taken as presuppositions for public policy making without any appeal to supernatural revelation or, by extension, the Church’s teaching authority. So your response, from my POV, is premised on a false dichotomy of State moral neutrality or integralist establishment – which I deny vehemently.

        But then these claims that moral claims would be too abstract or controversial or unable to guide action without supernatural revelation strike me as involving another subtle shift, with what are likely heretical presuppositions. What your response seems to do is shift between uncontroversial claims that the moral law would be hard to know sans revelation or grace to highly controversial conclusions that we would be unable to know the truth about moral/political matters without supernatural authority (e.g., “what makes the tradition authoritative? And who’s the authority that says what answers are right?”). I do not see that the conclusion that we need religious establishment would follow unless you assume some stronger thesis that moral/political truths are unknowable without revelation. By contrast, it is Catholic dogma that the moral law can be known without revelation. Moral truths are binding in conscience without knowing anything about Catholicism or the Church. I deny whatever presuppositions are in the background: e.g., that the moral law would be somehow unknowable or moral truth unable to be acted upon without knowledge of Church authority, etc. Without such presuppositions, I see no logical route to the intended conclusion that we need establishment and adherence to revealed religious truths in order for the State to know/act upon naturally-knowable moral truths.

        While it is certainly true that the moral law is known in its entirely only with difficulty apart from revelation, etc., this would not give us any special reason for establishment. The fact that we need grace to keep the moral law, or revelation to know it in its entirety, does not license the leap to holding that the State must therefore recognize revelation or attempt to use its coercive power to promote the Church’s mission. So I can answer all of your questions in effect by conceding that religious truths and grace should influence the souls of *individuals,* whether voters or law-makers, and therefore should guide public reasoning indirectly, without ever conceding that establishment is therefore a necessity. This is, in effect, the situation where the Church is given freedom to operate by the State and where the Church therefore orders civil society to higher goods by pursuit of its proper mission of evangelization and moral persuasion, without any appeal to the temporal coercive power of the State in enforcing those aims. The Church operating under a robust regime of religious freedom in a pluralistic society seems more than capable of achieving all the stated aims you outline.

  9. As to your first comment:

    How have I said that integralism treats non-Catholics as unreasonable people? Integralism doesn’t say they’re unreasonable or morally not my equals, it says they’re wrong.

    You seem to be saying that nothing can be treated as true by public authority unless anyone who disagrees is simply being unreasonable. Otherwise we’re treating our fellow citizens disrespectfully. But that’s not the human condition. Sometimes we disagree and a decision must be made. Excluding unreasonable people isn’t enough to come to a decision. What then?

    As to the second:

    You seem to be saying that as a practical matter natural law is enough for a political system, so that no authority is needed to specify its demands in particular cases. We can all just reason their way to the answer and act accordingly. (Or maybe you’re saying that such an authority can be created based on pure natural law considerations?)

    I can’t connect that with the world around me. It seems to me that we need an authority to decide things, and specific authorities are not and cannot be created by pure natural law. That is not “a false dichotomy of State moral neutrality or integralist establishment.” It is a dichotomy of neutrality and thus non-rule and establishment of some sort of authority.

    To be part of a rational system of government such an authority must have a good way to appeal to ultimate loyalties and realities. Otherwise it’s just based on force and factuality.

    In addition, I note that there are lots of pressing practical questions, like what to treat publicly as sacred and what to tell schoolchildren about God, man, life, and the world, that pure natural law doesn’t answer.

    So the question becomes who to have as an authority on ultimate questions. Today, as noted, we rely on some combination of scientific societies and human rights bodies. Newman’s illative sense tells me the Church is a better and indeed the best possible authority. Do you have a better candidate or a more rational way of deciding who the authority should be?

    Also: what we see around us suggests that “a robust regime of religious freedom in a pluralistic society” is a fantasy, except maybe as a transitional stage between a society that recognizes the good as authoritative and one that makes will authoritative. Where does this robust regime come from when the ultimate standard is pluralism – everybody going for what he wants, as much and equally as possible? Why is Bill’s religious freedom better than Bob’s sexual freedom or Ted’s economic freedom? And why are any of them better than Chelsea’s right to have hir vision of what xe is equally validated?

    What we are seeing more and more in the West is a society that makes pluralism the supreme standard. But that society is no more pluralistic than any other. It too has ceremonies, dogmas, sacred figures, and highest standards that are beyond question. So (among other features) it will tolerate Catholicism only if Catholicism becomes an expression of pluralism – if it becomes at bottom a religion of tolerance, encounter, accompaniment, nonjudgmental support etc.

    As my piece notes, at present integralism is also a fantasy. But unlike a “robust regime of rf in a pluralistic society” it is coherent and could exist stably. So it makes more sense as a standard.

  10. Fascinating dialogue and worth reading more than once. Yours truly is reminded of a line encountered as a high school lad in a Gilson’s “Elements of Christian Philosophy,” to the effect that natural law is part of divine law. How does that really work, I wondered…
    So, three comments.

    First, the question arises from St. Augustine: midway between the City of God and the City of Man, how “to construct a third city, which would be temporal like the earthly city, yet just in a temporal way, that is striving toward a temporal justice obtainable by appropriate means.” Continues Gilson, in his foreword to “City of God” (Image, 1958): “Such an idea seems never to have occurred to St. Augustine; at least, he never spoke of it.” Back to basics?

    Second, rather than integralism or not, what about a trilogy where (a) one realm is built around the natural law (both of the above, more or less), (b) another marginalizes or denies both natural law and God (radical secularism), and (c) one realm still overlaps parts of the natural law but instead of coherence with revelation (Aquinas), propounds the inscrutable double-truth of revelation disconnected from philosophy (Averroes, and Islam)?

    Third, at the risk of appearing to preen, or possibly even doing so, as my non-credentialed attempt at this larger framing (increasingly relevant to today?), I tender my daily toil from 2007 through 2012: “Beyond Secularism and Jihad–A Triangular Inquiry into the Mosque, the Manger & Modernity” (University Press of America, 2012).

    For those readers not seeking a cure for insomnia, here’s the much shorter author interview with Catholic World Report (2017; 100 pages of small-print footnotes): https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/04/29/the-mosque-the-manger-and-modernity/

    • Sorry for how late this is – nobody’s likely to see it so it’s mostly a note to myself.

      To my mind the question regarding your (and Gilson’s) city of natural justice is whether something like that could actually exist, given that it would need a purely human authority to decide what natural justice specifically requires.

      That authority would have to (1) embody a tradition of pursuing natural justice that’s stable, intelligent, well-balanced, and disinterested enough to arrive at reliable answers, and (2) be able to acquire and hold supreme state power.

      Basically, you’d have to have Plato’s Republic, corrected to correspond with whatever true natural justice requires. (Presumably, it doesn’t require e.g. community of women.)

      It’s an interesting concept but it doesn’t seem real enough to be a political ideal.

      On the polity based on revelation disconnected from philosophy, that sounds like the sort of irrationalist theocracy people today worry about when they hear the word “integralism.”

      • Dear Mr Kalb:

        We long for such justice! The Christian has hope because it is documented and promised to all believers in Jesus Christ by means of Holy Scripture. Our wait seems endless and fraught with all manner of difficulties, yet we have hope, together with faith and love for God and our fellow man.

        Thank you for promoting the better way. You have not buried that talents the Lord has given you.

        Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

        Hebrews 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

        Romans 12:18-19 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

        Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

        Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

        Revelation 3:12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

        God bless you,

        Brian

  11. “Critics also point to bad things that happened during the Christian centuries. They burned heretics at the stake. Crusaders massacred innocents. The clergy became corrupt and dissolute.”
    “Corrupt and dissolute” clergy? Yes, that was true back then– and it is still the case now! Even though those good old days of Integralism are gone…
    Get real! Put our own house in order. And then let the 90% of the world’s people who are not Catholic form their own consciences, inspired (we hope!) by our newly-appearing good example.

    • I totally agree! The question addressed by the column is whether it would then be right, once people who ran things were persuaded enough by Catholicism to think it made sense as a way to think about the purpose of all their efforts, for government to recognize Catholicism as true and promote it as they (we hope) promote other true and beneficial things.

      As the column notes, that’s not a practical issue at present. But it’s important theoretically because it has to do with the truth, public importance, and public knowability of the Faith. Hence the column.

  12. Much to my surprise, I agree with Fr. Rooney. (Hitherto, I have *always* agreed with James Kalb — 100%!)

    (Now I guess it’s just 99.99%.)

    ([Sigh.])

    But if we substitute the word, “coercion,” for “government,” I think the issue becomes clearer. After all, coercion is the primary function of government. Government is and does nothing without coercion.

    It’s worthwhile to reflect that, while truth and beauty and justice and wisdom — along with all of Jesus’ teachings — are objectively worth valuing in this life, they are worth nothing if that pursuit is coerced.

    Virtue must be pursued voluntarily — preferably, at significant sacrifice — for its benefits to accrue to the pursuer.

    Jesus Himself *never* coerced anyone to act virtuously or to believe what He said.

    He always respected the nature of each person He met by granting them the freedom that He endowed them with when He created them.

    I say that any worthwhile government must afford its citizens the same rights and dignities that our Creator did while He was on earth.

    Integralism, it seems to me, is just the other side of the same coin as leftism.

    Both ideologies seek to coerce what they view as right actions.

    By doing so, they deny individuals their God-given freedom.

    Government coercion ought to be extremely limited — speed limits, tax law, no murder, no littering, raising armies, delivering mail — and involve the practical considerations of living in community. The founders were absolutely right about this.

    One last note. Couldn’t sharia law be considered a kind of integralism?

    And how is that working out for many non-Muslim citizens of Muslim countries?

    • “Government coercion ought to be extremely limited — speed limits, tax law, no murder, no littering, raising armies, delivering mail — and involve the practical considerations of living in community. The founders were absolutely right about this.”

      On your view the government has no role in education and can’t e.g. prohibit live action billboards featuring virtual kiddie porn opposite the local elementary school. Is that really what you want to say?

      Nor can government spend extra tax dollars to build a more beautiful courthouse. That would be coercing aesthetics. It can’t establish public parks. That would be coercing some idea of how to spend your leisure. And it can’t declare public holidays or spend money for monuments and celebrations to honor great men and great principles. That would be coercing ethics.

      The powers the Founders gave the federal government had nothing to do with what they thought government should be able to do in general. They gave the federal government a few delegated powers and left the general powers of government to the states. These general powers included the police power – e.g., promoting religion and safeguarding morals. That’s why the adoption of the Constitution didn’t interfere with state religious establishments.

      Sharia establishes religious law for all human relationships. Integralism establishes the Faith as an ultimate standard of what’s right and legitimate. That seems quite a difference. There’s always going to be some ultimate standard. What do you think it should be?

      Also: libertarianism doesn’t seem real world. It proposes that government self-limit. Is that going to happen? To me it seems better to have some arrangement whereby government recognizes the authority of an institution that stands for the highest social principle but doesn’t have direct political power. That way government admits it is not the standard for its own conduct but the superior institution doesn’t have direct power to impose its will so it’s less likely to become corrupted.

      Today we have academies of science and courts of human rights to perform that function. Integralism proposes that it would be better to have the Church. I think that would be a better standard more inclusive of all aspects of the human good.

      • James, I am most grateful for your response to my comment. And you make some excellent points. But I still have deep misgivings about integralism.

        You wrote:

        “To me it seems better to have some arrangement whereby government recognizes the authority of an institution that stands for the highest social principle but doesn’t have direct political power. That way government admits it is not the standard for its own conduct but the superior institution doesn’t have direct power to impose its will so it’s less likely to become corrupted.”

        I’m not sure how an alliance between government and “the superior institution” means less power to impose its will. Such an alignment would have unlimited power, it seems to me.

        Much like the alliance between leftism and government today. The leftists are utterly convinced of their own rectitude and so they feel free use government to promote their agenda and attack their opponents without compunction.

        Now, I utterly agree that the Church’s standard of what is good and true will be superior to all other human institutions or ideologies.

        But the fact that I am convinced of that doesn’t give me the right to impose my view on others who might disagree. Not even Jesus Himself presumed to do that.

        As far as the live-action child porn billboards — or abortion, for that matter — governments could presumably protect powerless individuals from the predatory behaviors of others without imposing any ideology or world view of their own.

        And as far as missing out on the aesthetic courthouse renovation, I’m okay with that.

        Honestly, public works projects such as giant clothes pin sculptures or one of Frank Gehry’s office buildings shaped like a wad of crumpled aluminum foil don’t generally impress me.

        In fact, honestly, I think that’s a very good argument *against* integralism.

        Again, I thank you for your response. And Godspeed on your efforts to reform our deeply disturbed (read, insane) culture.

        • Thanks for your comments! My response:

          If there are two separate authorities with different concerns, kinds of personnel, spheres of activity, geographical jurisdiction, and sources of authority and support there’s more likely to be a problem getting them to work together productively than keeping them from joining together and acting tyrannically. Look at the conflict between pope and emperor in the middle ages.

          Also, as noted, the higher authority has no physical power without the cooperation of the lower. All it can do is deprive the lower of moral authority, to the extent its conduct maintains its own moral authority.

          Not much of that applies to the relation between the left and government. The left is only interested in politics. It doesn’t care about anything other than what the government does. Like the government, it cares only for practical advancement of this-worldly goals. So there’s no diversity of nature and concerns. The two are more likely to merge for the sake of greater effectiveness than argue with each other.

          On other issues: virtual kiddie porn isn’t predatory. It’s just a horrible disruptive degrading influence. Maybe someone would say that public virtual kiddie porn billboards would impose someone’s depraved sensibility on everyone. But the same could be said of a billboard showing a sentimental image of “gay marriage,” or (from an opposing point of view) one with inspirational Christmas scenes.

          It’s impossible to draw clear principled lines regarding such things on the basis of neutrality. You have to look at basic moral principles. But then you’re establishing some particular view of what’s good and bad, right and wrong. You’re going beyond the strict libertarian view you presented. You’re imposing your moral outlook. But then the question becomes how to do that in a principled way that will stand up. Maybe bringing the best possible authority on good, evil, etc. into the picture will help.

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  1. Reflections on integralism in an age of (supposed) pluralism and tolerance – Via Nova Media

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