A couple of months ago, I wrote an anodyne column about integralism, the view that political should be subordinate to spiritual authority.
It said that today the subordination would be reversed in practice. Its real effect would be to deprive the Church of what independence she had and make our pastors more like German and Anglican bishops.
Even so, I argued that integralism is important as a matter of principle, and if conditions were different—in particular, if the people who ran things thought Catholicism made sense as a basis for cooperation—then government should recognize the Faith as true, and promote it as it promotes other true, important, and beneficial things.
The Church would then hold something like the position now held by academies of science and human rights bodies. It would be the authority on the highest standards, accepted as such by government, and in some cases its determinations would have legal effect.
That, I thought, would count as integralism, and it seemed right for Catholics to hold it as an ultimate political goal.
I also dealt with objections, arguing for example that notwithstanding Fr. Waldstein’s favorable views on burning heretics, the risk of unjust excesses is less with integralism than other principles of government.
To my surprise, the piece violently triggered some conservative Catholics. Intelligent men who work with words and ideas for a living said I sounded like Machiavelli and that I literally wanted to burn heretics.
What was going on? Every argument must be dealt with on its own merits, but the overall situation called for explanation. Why does “integralism” provoke the same fear and outrage among many conservative Catholics that “MAGA” does among secular progressives?
It seems to me the reason is the same: these two very different non-liberal tendencies both appeal to realities like man’s social and religious nature that liberalism excludes from public consideration, and my critics were sympathetic to some form of political or philosophical liberalism.
Basically, liberalism sees man as an independent individual, and society as a contract among sovereign individuals to help them pursue whatever reasonable goals they may have.
On such a view, a political appeal to man’s social or religious nature is fraudulent, an attempt to deprive him of his rights for the sake of an image of higher unity that is in fact nothing more than an expression of the will to power of those promoting it.
So a call for national greatness is not a call for something that elevates each of us because nationality is part of us, just as we are part of the nation. And a call for a Catholic society is not a call for social recognition of our most humanly necessary goal: communion with God. Instead, each is an attempt by a few people to bamboozle the public into sacrificing their own freedom and dignity to the projects of their would-be masters.
In line with that outlook, these critics demand that government be neutral: it should recognize nothing as authoritative beyond what can be demonstrated to every individual by natural reason. For them, that apparently includes natural law as the Church understands it, but not the Church itself. So the views of secular thinkers in favor of contraception and abortion can be disregarded as unreasonable, while their rejection of the authority of Revelation cannot.
To discuss that distinction, we’d have to weigh the force of various reasonings, which seems complicated. So let’s agree for now that, in principle, rejecting arguments against contraception and abortion is unreasonable while rejecting the evidences for Revelation is not.
But that doesn’t affect the reality that people don’t and aren’t likely to agree on any of these issues. Regardless of what positions are theoretically reasonable or unreasonable, as a practical matter, there has to be a visible social authority with the power to decide who’s right and who’s wrong on these and other contentious issues.
Currently, such issues are decided by the consensus of educated, influential, and well-connected people—top academics, journalists, lawyers, bureaucrats, and so on. Bodies such as the Supreme Court and United Nations Human Rights Council are expected to develop, express, and give concrete form to that consensus. (There’s a fuss when they don’t, as in the Dobbs decision.)
With that in mind, it’s natural that human rights orthodoxy increasingly presents the self-idealization of technocratic society, and thus of rule by global commercial and bureaucratic institutions. That’s why “human rights” increasingly emphasize procedural regularity and social uniformity, along with the importance of equal access to career, material well-being, and rational development and use of human resources.
That emphasis, which is manifested in slogans like “inclusiveness,” is equivalent to a demand for conversion of the social world into a uniform and orderly industrial process devoted to satisfying manageable preferences. As such, it comes at the expense of family, religion, particular cultural community, and other traditional arrangements. These are given lip service, but increasingly deprived of definition and social authority, so much so that social recognition of a principle basic to most traditional arrangements—the existence of two sexes that differ in ways that matter—is now thought to violate human rights.
That situation shouldn’t please Catholic critics of integralism, but it is a natural outcome of their position. If there is no socially authoritative transcendent standard that tells us what life, law, and politics are ultimately about, we’ll get a standard that emerges from the everyday workings of political and social life. And in a dynamic society dominated by huge institutions concerned purely with the things of this world—and thus with their own pragmatic success—that will inevitably be an idealization of rule by those institutions.
The main response by critics to such concerns, apart from repeating secular liberal perspectives, is to identify integralism with totalitarianism. The problem in totalitarian states is less the state than the political party that guides it and stands for the regime’s ideals. So why wouldn’t the relation between the Church and an integralist state be like that between the communist party and the Soviet state?
On that point, Augusto Del Noce had it right:
It is hard to imagine a greater historical error than confusing medieval theocracy with totalitarianism. … The latter—inasmuch as it subordinates every spiritual activity to politics, and in fact to the judgment of the politicians—affirms the “primacy of the temporal”, which is the complete negation of what justified the former, at least in theory.
Church and state have different habitual goals and spheres of activity. They also have different geographical jurisdictions, kinds of personnel, ways of acting, and sources of authority and support. So there’s more likely to be a problem getting them to work together productively than keeping them from joining together and acting tyrannically. The conflict between pope and emperor in the Middle Ages is an obvious example of the tension inherent in their relationship.
In contrast, totalitarian parties are interested only in politics. Like the state, they care only for practical advancement of this-worldly goals. So there’s no diversity of nature and concern, only in degree of involvement in immediate practicalities. Party and state are thus more likely to become indistinguishable than argue with each other.
Liberals, including philosophically liberal Catholics, miss that point because they believe that only the individual and the state can have social authority. On that view, the big political problem is how to limit the Leviathan state, but the increasingly tyrannical nature of liberalism makes it evident that without a third force no solution can be more than temporary.
The social understanding behind integralism is very different: political authority is natural to society, but so are other authorities including Church, family, and particular cultural community. Basic social institutions should work together, so it is the duty of the state to recognize and support these other authorities.
The great problem of politics today is how the contemporary vision of social life, whose atomic individualism leads to totalitarianism, can be overcome and the more complex, adequate, and humane traditional vision brought back. At bottom, then, what most need discussion in connection with integralism are the understandings and social conditions that make it impossible for many intelligent people to see it as anything but clerical tyranny. Until that issue is dealt with, the discussion goes nowhere.
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We read: “Until that issue [the misperception of clericalism] is dealt with, the discussion goes nowhere.” But also, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”(Psalm 11:3).
Maybe the “integralist” issue is only secondarily about Church and State, or atomism, and more originally about a foundational “integral humanism”—meaning the universal self-discovery of our inborn natural law (as always prior to the state)? The first step, then, is to remove the pretense that the U.S. Constitution authorizes atomizing Aztecism. (In the Dobbs decision, a beginning and a truly “great reset”!).
As for broad subsidiarity, maybe first the stark realism of St. Augustine at the front end of post-Roman history…Upon the sacking of Rome in A.D. 410 A.D. and the signaled dismantling of both Pax Romana and the inseparable cosmos, he sermonized: “this is grievous news, but let us remember if it’s happened, then God willed it; that men build cities and men destroy cities [today’s grief], that there’s also the City of God and that’s where we belong.”
First, “belonging” which is absolute; this as the gifted foundation for earthly subsidiarity.
After this discovery (not a construction or compact), then Kalb’s insight (and proposal) involving “other authorities including Church, family, and particular cultural community. […] so it is the duty of the state to recognize and support these other authorities.”
“Recognize and support” meaning neither confer nor oppose?, and possibly not necessarily/ only an integralist/confessional state? What would this look like? True, St. Augustine never addressed this question; instead, only his strangers in a strange land.
Yes, I think the point of the piece is that your “integral humanism” a.k.a. recognition of natural law comes before discussion of Church and State.
As for support: the state supports families, the Church, and the pre-state cultural community that makes a people a people e.g. through family law, the law of non-profit organizations, the defense of borders. Also in a variety of other ways – public holidays and rituals, what kind of education it supports, tort and criminal law (is pornography or desecrating a church illegal?), and social interventions generally – do they weaken and disrupt authorities other than the state?
The more state social interventions there are the more difficult that last point becomes. So they should be looked on with reserve – that’s the kernel of truth in libertarianism.
As to non-confessional states – you do what you can. If the people who run things don’t think Catholicism is a sensible standard then it’s hard to have a Catholic system. But I’m looking at things from the standpoint of someone who’s trying to decide how to set up a government, which is the position modern political thought puts us all in at least ostensibly. I don’t think that was Augustine’s position.
” If the people who run things don’t think Catholicism is a sensible standard then it’s hard to have a Catholic system.”
Yet, for intents and purposes, the Catholic Church brings blessings through the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Missionaries have struggles, however the message is vital and needs to be proclaimed. Kindness opens doors and with God as our guide, the unexpected may happen! The Catholic Church is needed and ambassadors of truth can change hearts and minds.
Thank you for your work.
Psalm 18:35 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.
James 3:17-18 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Your examples are well-taken. Today we have only a Holiday wreath and barely have a Mothers’ Day, while we cannot escape a Gay Pride Month (!) which is run up the flagpole at many a city hall. Even a rainbow White House.
And, as for education, the monied Department of Education was invented in 1979-80 by President Carter as a reward to the National Education Association for supporting his 1976 election. A political payoff. Then, the redefinition of education, to be followed by the redefinition of marriage. And, apace, by the redefinition of all things natural, like an unborn child as an “alien” or a disease meriting a “health care” technocratic reset.
As for St. Augustine, his view of the state (contrary to Thomas Aquinas) was that the state is not a dimension of natural law, but rather a consequence of original sin. An intriguing and very minority view shared by the late aristocrat/intellectual Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn who, in today’s world, favored constitutional monarchy over our democratic amateurism. (Of Kennedy’s successful Camelot election: “the legs of Jackie,” he said.)
Would a coordinator of interests (the state) be necessary in a pre-Lapsarian world where all interests were non-exclusive and where any necessary mediation at all locales and levels was as natural and graced as breathing and incense? Would one or many still have to “set up a government?” The Lord consented for the Israelites to have kings (mostly to better resist the non-Chosen but better organized Philistines), but He also warned them…
It’s hard to visualize a pre-lapsarian world but it seems you’d still need someone to coordinate efforts where a variety of results might be considered just – where to put bridges, roads, parks or whatever. Or the exact scope of property rights – can I build a 10 story building up to the lot line on a piece of land? How much noise can I make how late at night for what reason without commiting nuisance? You would have different rules in different places but which places get which rules?
Conceding your perspective, halfway, but for the sake of congenial and pre-Lapsarian (!) dialogue (I dare not say “argument”), dost thou speakest too much like a lawyer—a profession which might look quite different in a deep culture of communio and spontaneous and continual mediation?
Transcendent human beings might actually thrive on differences, forever, rather than dividing and litigating. Additive compromise, rather than splitting the difference.
The “someone to coordinate” would then be the everyone (!) who, in communal harmony, precede the superfluous someone. “Bridges, roads parks or whatever,” of these quaint industrialist artifacts, I speaketh after a full career as a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning dealing capably/incapably with many such matters (bless me Father for I have sinned!).
Looking back, my pointy-headed hat goes off to those prominent and rare attorneys or planners who broke ranks to serve, instead, as direct and multilateral mediators apart from the more administrative, bureaucratized, compartmentalized and legalistic option. And my ire goes ballistic against those elected/non-elected bureaucrats of “the state” who too often sabotaged imaginative outcomes for the sake of rote proceduralism (versus content), and for personal photo-ops.
Even monarchies–more of a dynastic or family thing than a state–offered a different path than that of inevitable rationalization and modernity. Sometimes good, too, take St. Louis IX, for example. Might we need more a state of “the union,” rather than a union of “the state”?
Like I said, a pre-lapsarian society is hard for us to imagine. But I’d imagine perspectives and inclinations would still differ on all sorts of issues. So some way to come to a just and reasonable mutual accommodation would still be needed, and that means a decision procedure – and continued employment for lawyers!!!
Again, for the sake of dialogue, is a “decision procedure” necessarily “the state?” I can’t resist; here are 101 lawyer jokes: https://www.scarymommy.com/lawyer-jokes
There would be a public authority. It wouldn’t be set up to enforce its decisions by force, so people wouldn’t call it a state.
To James Kalb,
Yes, not a state in name nor even in fact… Instead an abundance of fully integral human beings in a fully integral society, each and all trying to outdo each other in hospitality and ever-broadening charity/justice–as one and the same. Additive compromise where solidarity and subsidiarity also are redundant synonyms. Just trying to imagine such a non-fallen world…
Author Kalb asks, is a bromide [anodyne] on integralism superior to “Fr. Waldstein’s favorable views on burning heretics, the risk of unjust excesses is less with integralism than other principles of government”.
Considering the current climate of weaponization of the Justice Department raids on outspoken Republicans, Mega people, parents who criticize school boards the risk may conceivably be justified. When we consider the facts, that our children are being forcibly perverted, sexually mutilated the risk of heretic burning seems rather proportionate.
Third force solution, the Church can be effective in a return to medieval theocracy. That opium salon dream is imagination. Catholicism today can hardly offer the public a consistent message. If that were possible it would nevertheless, Kalb says be considered clerical tyranny.
James Kalb responds negatively to his own question. It really can’t be done in our world, as it is dominated by individualism prone to political domination. Perhaps, the apparent no solution issue may only be addressed by more thoughtful bromides [anodynes] to keep our thought processes sharpened. Or, we can pray for the highly unlikely but still possible mankind’s conversion to Christ, and do our best to instill values.
Should we therefore cease discussion on resolving the seeming unresolvable issue of an integral Church political dynamic. No. Intelligent discussion based on perennial principles, specifically natural law [frequently referred to in previous discussions], inherent to all [although not adhered to by all] has potential, since grace is always at work.
“Even so, I argued that integralism is important as a matter of principle, and if conditions were different—in particular, if the people who ran things thought Catholicism made sense as a basis for cooperation—then government should recognize the Faith as true, and promote it as it promotes other true, important, and beneficial things.”
The reason that Catholic doctrine doesn’t “make sense” is the same as why Jesus Christ was murdered. Those who do evil don’t want to be opposed. St. Augustine was correct with his two cities analogy. Right now it appears that the “city of the world” has gained the ascendancy in culture. It isn’t surprising given original sin, but neither is it excusable – or tolerable.
But so long as “democratism” – i.e. “justice” determined by (corrupt) votes – is the unquestioned “dogma” of the vast majority of the world’s population, then it will continue to be preyed upon by those who are in power and who are living in the “city of the world.”
“To my surprise, the piece violently triggered some conservative Catholics.”
Actually, they are at least material heretics – not Catholics. And they also live in “the city of the world.”
“and my critics were sympathetic to some form of political or philosophical liberalism.”
If this is true, then they ought to read the book “Liberalism is a Sin.” My understanding is that political liberalism comes from the “philosophical” (i.e. false philosophy) liberalism. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a good article on the history of “philosophical” liberalism. Also, anti-liberalism can be best observed in Pope Pius IX’s “Syllabus of Errors.”
“Basically, liberalism sees man as an independent individual, and society as a contract among sovereign individuals to help them pursue whatever reasonable goals they may have.”
But all humans have one goal – Heaven. That is the way that the universe is constructed.
Of course, circumstances determine that every person has a different part to play with regards to God’s will. However, no human can – morally – be contrary to God’s will.
“The social understanding behind integralism is very different: political authority is natural to society, but so are other authorities including Church, family, and particular cultural community.”
All authority comes from God, but authority is a natural requirement for rational creatures. The Catholic Church isn’t natural, it is supernatural.
With regards to family, the authorities there are the husband and – with regards to the children – his wife.
The state has no business in interfering with the family except for in the most extreme of circumstances. This would be in a very high conflict family situation. And the solution would be either a temporary separation or – perhaps – a night of jail time for the quickly judged guilty party.
“At bottom, then, what most need discussion in connection with integralism are the understandings and social conditions that make it impossible for many intelligent people to see it as anything but clerical tyranny. Until that issue is dealt with, the discussion goes nowhere.”
You are assuming the good faith of these arguers. That is doubtful. I don’t believe that non-Catholics are incapable of being reasoned with and brought to embrace the truth. That said, the fact that they aren’t Catholic indicates a probable – and irrational – prejudice against the Catholic Church.
The problem is that these people are taken seriously – and given a platform. We don’t – or ought not – to take those who “teach” that 2+2=5 seriously. So we shouldn’t be kind to revilers, libelers, slanders, and incorrigible heretics who oppose the Catholic Church.
The whole point of a Catholic confessional state is to foster uniformity of doctrine – essentially concerning faith and morality. Those who won’t agree that the Catholic Church ought to strongly – but not necessarily directly – influence politics, and be recognized for what She is by the state ought to be subjected to prior censorship. Technically, they are at least material heretics. And if there was a Catholic confessional state, they could be subjected to the death penalty.
It is beyond question that if Martin Luther had been quickly executed, then the history of the world would have changed – likely for the better. That he was not was likely either a defect in understanding Catholic doctrine or – more likely – a weakness of the civil authorities who were seduced by Martin Luther – and their greed for Church property.
A few thoughts:
Error points people in the wrong direction, so its results can be very serious. Even so, it can be accepted without bad intention, for example if the pastors of the Church do not treat it as error.
We don’t really have a democracy – more like a bureaucratic/commercial oligarchy, with a democratic principle to legitimate it and act as a reality check. That’s needed, because any government needs the general support of the people and our rulers have no idea what’s going on at that level.
The need for general support from the people – especially influential people who run things – means that Catholic government can’t really be forced. As with every government (read Tocqueville on the lack of actual freedom under American democracy) there would be some degree of formal or informal compulsion, but there’s a limit.
Outside the laboratory enforced purity is hard to achieve. Life is difficult because there are lots of people involved. So governments are always imperfect and prone to corruption. And enforced conformity is corrupting – why stay honest or correct errors when you can always shut people up who complain?
Luther’s movement didn’t go places because he was Luther but because he had princely support. This was a period of state consolidation and destroying Roman authority helped states consolidate. The Catholic rulers turned out not to be so Catholic. That’s always likely to happen. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Even in the Church we have issues with our custodes.
Conclusion: you do what you can but realize that life is hard to manage and others are also struggling and often failing. Yes, there are bad people but they’re hard to identify and neutralize. Hence the parable of the wheat and the tares.
Practicality is the correct response as you suggest. We would require a society perfectly converted to Catholic moral principles. Although, within a society we also have economic, political principles that may conflict as reasonably understood by some. Vatican City is a Christian government that continues to have such issues regarding finances, personal comportment and so forth.
“Practicality,” especially with regard to economic and political principles. In the United States, during the 19th century of westward expansion, Chicago became the rail hub for most of the continent…
Today, under integralism, are we seriously to believe that Chicago’s Cardinal Cupich could get the trains to run on time?
Another out of the ballpark quip. Your humor keeps getting better.
Your opinion is why this will never be implemented?
We did have what you suggest during Christendom, within the confines of Catholic Europe. Even then, there were anomalies of poor papal policies, crime, embezzlement within the Church and worse. To expect Catholics today to do better may be your opinion. Not to say it’s impossible, although as I suggest highly unlikely. So if you’re critical of a reasoned opinion that’s fine. Although it doesn’t follow by what I’ve said that I’m ruling out a possibility.
You raise an important issue Patty, which refers to the notion of a millennium post the Second Coming of Christ, a perfect 1000 years of Christianity [the idea has been repudiated by at least one pontiff]. It suggests a perfect form of practice in this world.
Insofar as perfection, that can only be achieved after final judgment and the purification of the soul. As long as we’re in this world the faithful strive for that perfection, although even the saints, for example, the illustrious Saint Paul the Apostle recognized his own failings. That is why the saints, and the Church recognize only God is perfect, which is why Christ mysteriously says, when he’s called good, that only God is good [although he is God].
Where I say in my initial comment, “Or, we can pray for the highly unlikely but still possible mankind’s conversion to Christ, and do our best to instill values” I admit the possibility, although it’s highly unlikely.
I was commenting on Shawn’s post. We can’t talk about executions and the death penalty for not being Catholic. This will never be taken seriously if people spout that rhetoric, it makes us sound like David Koresh types.
Yes, I agree Patty. Theocracy hasn’t been a successful option [I believe Shawn favors a theocracy]. In pre revolutionary New England theocracies took hold and with that severe penalties and removal of basic rights. The British were wise enough to enforce the Royal Charter that restored those rights based on principles of the natural law found in the Common Law of England.
The Papal States were better but still involved the faith in politics and international affairs which didn’t work out too well either.
At any rate my mistake in responding to your reply to Shawn offered me the opportunity to address what I hope has some value for the reader.
Luther may not have been the first to posit the thoughts that led to his excommunication, however, what do you see as a flagrant violation of his duties as a follower of the Catholic Church. One point would be sufficient.
You feel strongly on the subject (suggesting he should have been dispatched) yet does that truly reflect your POV?
“So let’s agree for now that, in principle, rejecting arguments against contraception and abortion is unreasonable while rejecting the evidences for Revelation is not.”
Unless, of course, Revelation, is, in essence, The True Word Of God, and thus one cannot make the argument that in comparison anything is neutral.
A liberalism that is not first and foremost grounded in The Word Of God Incarnate, will leave one “a slave to sin”
So the question is, how can you have liberalism without integralism?
The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: And Why Philosophers Can’t Solve It: Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: And Why Philosophers Can’t Solve It https://a.co/d/8CQMZ7e
Detailed study of this debate
Couldn’t one form of integralism, while ceding no state power to the Church, affirm the full authority of the magesterium? If we recognize that the essence of government is to resolve controvertible issues according to some conception of the good and we affirm the full authority of the Church, then it must also be understood that the common good cannot be separated from Mans ultimate end. This is not a “theocracy” in the sense that Rome has power over the state. Power remains with the nation state, but that power must be used to advance the common good as understood by the magesterium. In short, state power and Church authority.