Matthew Shadle, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Marymount University, has posted a surrebuttal at Political Theology Today to my earlier critical remarks concerning his piece, “The Paradoxes of Postmodern Integralism.” One of my original contentions was that Shadle had misunderstood the intents and purposes of the new Catholic integralism, reducing integralism to the level of a preference. Shadle denies this, though he aims to reiterate his belief “that contemporary integralism does, and indeed must, present itself as a choice has a direct bearing on whether it is the right one or not” (emphasis his). Shadle then goes on to present an arguably muddled account of the history of integralism, starting with counterrevolutionary Catholic thinkers such as Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, and Juan Donoso Cortes before stopping in the 1930s with integralist support for fascist or quasi-fascist political movements (though he doesn’t explain which ones or why they tended to draw integralist (Catholic) support). What this mini-history does is give a decidedly false impression that integralists of recent vintage are simply the uncritical heirs of Catholic thinkers and movements which have their own complicated histories. Shadle also operates under the incorrect belief that integralism is all about power and authority for the sake of raw power and authority. This could not be further from the truth, as I explained in an essay for The Josias, “Catholic Integralism and the Social Kingship of Christ”:
Contrary to popular belief, Catholic integralism—or what I shall refer to simply as “integralism” for the duration of this essay—is not first and foremost a political program. For the integral understanding of Christianity begins first with the supernatural society established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, namely the Corpus Mysticum, the Holy Catholic Church, which transcends the temporal sphere and has for its end the salvation of souls. By carrying out its mission in the world, the Catholic Church possesses indirect power over the temporal sphere which is exercised for the good of souls. This indirect power in no way sullies the Church’s divine mission nor dilutes it by way of overextension since the civil authority retains at all times direct power over temporal matters.
Sitting at the head of both the ecclesiastical and civil authorities is Christ the King. Contrary to distortions which entered the Church’s liturgy nearly a half-century ago, the Kingship of Christ is not exclusively spiritual. Although Christ’s spiritual rule in this world began 2,000 years ago and can in no way be abrogated, the temporal acceptance of this rule, that is, the recognition of Christ’s reign in its full integrity and truth only came about after the course of centuries whereby the civil rulers, whose authority was never their own and always from God, accepted the divine mission of the Church and her supernatural constitution. While the nations of this world have drifted far from accepting this reality, their denial cannot with any true effect “uncrown” or “dethrone” Christ. His social reign may, through ignorance or sin, be unrecognized and unimplemented by the present civil authorities, but they possess no right to do so. As Pope Pius XI made clear in his great encyclical Quas Primas, “It would be a grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power.”
Turning back to Shadle’s attempt to link Maistre, Bonald, and Cortes to contemporary integralism, while it is true that all three have bequeathed writings which continue to assist Catholics in grasping the dangerous of liberalism, socialism, and modern forms of democracy, none of them are looked to as unproblematic paragons of integralist thinking. Maistre was a very learned man, but he wrote largely outside of the Thomistic tradition, often arguing on the basis of unspoken historicist premises than natural right. Cortes, who was a very unsystematic thinker, could sometimes fall prey to his own rhetorical excesses and Manichean worldview—something which integralists today seek to strenuously avoid. As for Shadle associating integralists with fascists, that’s a smokescreen—one I have already addressed.
With respect to Shadle’s claim about integralism-as-choice, it would be useful to quote him in full on the matter:
Today’s integralist has no choice but to recognize their identity as a choice, even if in their eyes the “right choice,” and their movement as one dependent on its “power to persuade,” in Sanchez’s words. But, as I have been saying along, a faith based on choice and persuasion is quite different from the faith that existed in the traditional, pre-modern order, and if it is different, then integralisn’s claim to embody a timeless, unchanging faith is false. That is why I believe forms of Catholicism that can give a more adequate account of the role of choice and commitment in faith, while resisting the culture’s idolatry of choice, provide more promising ways of living the faith in contemporary society.
It is difficult to make clear sense out of these words for the simple fact that they seem to indicate that Shadle believes Catholic integralism is a different faith, which is a different religion, than the Catholicism of yesteryear or the Catholicism of today. Unless integralists have committed to serious errors which have separated them from the communion of the Catholic Church, it is impossible to follow Shadle’s line of thinking here. But perhaps Shadle’s confusion is due to a narrow understanding of what integralism is, namely a romantic longing for some past golden age in Church history. Without denying that there may have been, and may still be today, integralists intoxicated with medievalism, rest assured that neither this integralist nor those with whom he aligns are in any sense romantics who believe that some traditional model of social order can be simply grafted onto the (post)modern world with nary a moment’s notice paid to what has transpired intellectually, politically, and scientifically over the last several centuries. Integralists seek out the timeless wisdom of the past not because it is from the past but precisely because it is timeless. Integralists do not squabble over who can find the oldest source for some principle or position; they openly debate whether any principle or position, no matter the source, is right in the light of nature reason and divine revelation.