Professor Matthew Shadle over at Political Theology Today has some kind—and critical—words for yours truly concerning “the paradoxes of postmodern integralism.” After surveying the emerging integralism which I have discussed in several places, including The Josias and Front Porch Republic, Shadle comes to the following, arguably premature, conclusion:
Although the return to an apparently more robust, cohesive, even aggressive form of Catholicism might have appeal, a revived integralism will inevitably be, in important respects, postmodern, and therefore quite different from the earlier movement it seeks to emulate. Of course, I do not mean that it will embrace some form of postmodern philosophy, but rather that by necessity it will take shape in, and be shaped by, the postmodern condition in which we live. This is certainly true of any form of Catholicism today, but in the case of integralism I believe this condition will leave it unable to make a lasting impact on either the church or American society, although it does not preclude it garnering a significant following.
Why? Because, according to Shadle, integralism today can only be “an individual lifestyle choice” which happens “to lack support of the episcopal hierarchy.” For these two loosely interrelated reasons, integralism doesn’t have much hope of amounting to much more than a posture, a sort of semi-romantic, quirky, and, for all practical purposes, irrelevant longing for a dead age which probably doesn’t deserve resuscitation. Let me consider both of these charges in order.
First, with respect to the lifestyle choice matter, while Shadle is undoubtedly correct that in this time of seemingly endless choices that covers everything from religious orientation to sexual satisfaction it will appear to be little more than one other choice among many. Sticking within the realm of Catholicism, it could be argued that the choice for integralism is no different than the choice for, say, Catholic/liberal fusionism (e.g., First Things) or refreshed radicalism (e.g., Ethika Politika), as if all of these choices rest on the same plane. They do not, or so integralists such as myself have, and continue, to argue. The choice for integralism is not intended to be a blind choice or even a mere “lifestyle choice”; it is presented as the right choice rooted in the indefectible doctrines of the Catholic Church and sound philosophy. Although much might be written about the “sociology of integralism” and why it is starting to appear more and more attractive at this period in time, such a “sociology” would be incapable of getting to heart of things, namely whether or not integralism, with its rejection of liberalism in all of its manifestations, properly promotes the common good in political society. Unlike certain “Options” which have been bandied about lately (see here and here), integralism is neither faddish nor retreatist. And, at this relatively early stage in its reemergence, integralism does not come packaged with a 12-step program for practical success. If integralism is to have a future, it will be because of its power to persuade and the fruit it bears. Given how much interest has attached to integralism again over the last year, it seems many are already hungry for this fruit.
Second, with respect to the hierarchy, the “policy shift” away from integralism following the Second Vatican Council has been noted by myself and others before. Integralists are well aware of the situation. But marching orders can change, especially in light of the reality that the Council has, by and large, failed to deliver on many of its arguably naïve promises. The optimism of the 1960s is deteriorating quicker than the minds of those men in the Church who still think she is in the midst of a “New Springtime” informed by a “Second Pentecost.” A lack of concrete institutional support today does not mean it will be absent tomorrow. Besides, one of the main tasks of the new integralism is to help all of the members of the universal Church—laity, religious, priests, and bishops—to better understand the present crisis in the Church and society at large, and from there press for correction. Such an upbuilding, constructive project takes time, and no integralist I know of has any illusions concerning the myriad of obstacles which lie in their path. The worst thing an integralist could do right now is fall into despair or surrender the fight in order to purchase some passing relevancy among ecclesial and/or political elites. Both of those temptations are from the devil, and it is against his influence in the world today that not only integralists, but all orthodox Catholics, fight.