A Critique of Integralist Thinking Worth Reading

Originalist legal scholars William Baudes and Stephen E Sachs have issued a scathing critique of administrative law scholar-turned-integralist guru Adrian Vermeule’s recent book, Common Good Constitutionalism. The review, which is slated to appear in the Harvard Law Review, is available in draft form from SSRN here. Though lengthy, the article is well worth reading both for the detailed way it takes apart Vermeule’s flimsy constitutional theory and how it (perhaps unwittingly) exposes larger problems with (neo-)integralist thinking generally. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion:

[W]hile [Vermeule’s] forceful writing will win him wide readership and some applause, it also keeps him from engaging carefully with alternative views or recognizing potentially shared ground. Opposing views are composed of “myths,” “shibboleths,” “chatter,” “horror,” and “panicky, bewildered outrage” (pp. 18, 34, 62, 67), while his own views are pugnaciously, though inconsistently, expressed. A rhetorical pose in which common good constitutionalism must always be victorious, its enemies always cringing and pitiful, lends itself more to political than to intellectual advance.

Some readers might not mind. They might favor common good constitutionalism for the outcomes it promises to license, or even just for the combative posture it lets them take. We have little to say to these readers: one doesn’t need to read a book to lobby for preferred outcomes or to start fights online.

As another critic of integralism recently told me, much of online integralism (which is the only “place” it seems to actually function) is little more than rhetorical posturing with critics tarred n’ feathered as “liberals” who, in the integralist imagination, are unrepentant enemies of God’s Holy Church. Integralists may at times try to present their positions as cogent, sane, and supported by the clear and unambiguous magisterium of the Catholic Church, but a disproportionate amount of their already thin intellectual resources is directed to ridiculing their opponents rather than developing a positive program for socio-political reform. To the extent Vermeule’s book is intended to remedy this lacunae, it must be adjudged a failure, not only for the reasons articulated by Baude and Sachs, but the numerous others presented by the work’s numerous critics. At the end the day, the “common good” (at least in integralist hands) remains a conceptual empty vessel into which its proponents may pour in any number of policy positions ostensibly backed by divine and natural law. It is telling that few if any Catholics outside of the narrow integralist circle have come to Vermeule’s defense.

A Note on David Bentley Hart Contra Integralism

I do not want to continue harping on (neo-)integralism, at least not for the moment. Having learned recently there is a critical book in the works, my suspicion is that I should await publication and fill in any “gaps” that may appear in the narrative. This is not to say that I will never mention integralism again. I simply do not want this web-log to become an anti-integralist hub in the way I once, modestly speaking, used it to promote integralism. (Those interested in the topic are free to comb the archives; I still stand by some of what I wrote.) Where integralism crosses over into public discourse, I may have a thing or two to say. I remain very interested in what the critics pen, though historically I have been unimpressed by anti-integralist screeds. Most miss the mark by failing to understand what integralism is, or at least what integralism is intended to be. These days, I am a tad more forgiving because integralism has casually blended with all sorts of noxious right-leaning ideologies and movements. Nobody is wrong necessarily to think of integralism as degraded Trumpism with incense.

It should surprise no soul to find out that David Bentley Hart is not a fan of integralism. He has some choice words for it in his recent book, Tradition and Apocalypse, and continues to berate it over at his Substack, Leaves in the Wind. Not wanting to interfere with Hart’s hustle, I won’t block-quote too much of the content he has tucked behind a paywall, but rather recommend his ongoing series regarding Christian politics (or, as he calls it, “Notes Toward the Definition of a Christian Political Sensibility”). Hart has touched on politics in the past, including bringing the ire of the Acton Institute down upon him for suggesting that early Christianity was communist.

According to Hart, integralism “is basically a neo-Falangist fascism.” Hart continues:

Predictably, [integralism] professes a special solicitude for the working class, for revered cultural institutions, and for the nuclear family, as all fascisms do. But this does not mean that labor, revered institutions, or families would be protected from state coercions under Integralist rule. These Integralists believe in nothing so fanatically as the duty of the “crown” to determine the licit forms of all civil associations. Nor is there any extremity of the state’s coercive powers—capital punishment not excepted—that they see as illegitimate for the suppression of heresy, blasphemy, sexual immorality, and other deviations from the sacral social order.

As I mentioned in my prior post, “[i]tegralism’s primary pathology is an obsession with power,” a feature that Hart also detects. Where I perhaps part ways with Hart is his seemingly dismissive attitude toward the “special solicitude” integralism (and fascism) ostensibly has for “the working class, for revered cultural institutions, and for the nuclear family[.]” This “solicitude” is not always insincere among fascists and indeed may always be very sincere, albeit poorly expressed. With respect to integralism, it is at its core a white, educated, upper-income movement with nothing approaching a faint echo of legitimate sympathy toward the working classes among its members. While integralists pay lip service to Catholic social teaching, economic encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno play almost no role in its socio-political imaginings. The raw exercise of authority is what matters.

Due to integralism’s easygoing mixing with Trumpism, QAnon Catholicism, and other detestable elements of the so-called alt-right, labor rights and unions are likely seen as an impediment to the “common good” (whatever that means). Race plays little-to-no role in integralist thought, though it is possible to find some adherents who will gin up conspiracy theories about racial politics or act as if racial divisions are either “natural” or in some sense “prudent” in order to maintain good social order. And of course class conflict is anathema; “class cooperation” under the watchful eye of a centralized power is needed. And even if integralism could devise an economic ordo that takes into account just wages and wider property distribution, the elites—that is, those white, educated, upper-income individuals (almost exclusively male) who promote integralism—must remain at the top of the hierarchy lest too much localized self-governance disrupt what is ultimately integralism’s final end, that is, an aesthetic state painted in the gaudy colors of romantic longing for an age that never existed.

Further Remarks on (Neo-)Integralist Pathologies

By way of follow up on my post from the other week, “Distributism vs. (Neo-)Integralism: Some Remarks,” I want to make mention of a handful of pathologies evident in the integralist or, rather, neo-integralist outlook. This list, which is admittedly impressionistic, is hardly exhaustive. Moreover, I am going to bypass drawing distinctions between integralism, which I still have some faith in as a spiritual-intellectual project, and neo-integralism, which is the dominant (and distorted) contemporary iteration of that “tradition of thought.” Although integralism is a Catholic tradition at its core, its influence and connections are detectable outside of strictly Catholic circles.

Victor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, is an integralist hero despite being a member of the Calvinist Hungarian Reformed Church. The charlatan pseudo-journalist Rod Dreher, who has made a living off appropriating Catholic intellectual currents while simultaneously crapping on the Catholic Church, is ostensibly an Eastern Orthodox Christian; his political idol, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is allegedly one, too. Dreher once locked horns with integralists online, but he has found common cause with them as of late due to his recent divorce (from reality). Various online pockets of far-right miscreants, the sort who thought storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was “cool” until the FBI got involved, express integralist sympathies at times even if they are not invested in smells n’ bells Catholicism.

Integralism’s primary pathology is an obsession with power. While integralists pay lip service to power being exercised in accordance with divine and natural law, few (if any) integralists are prepared to incorporate thick conceptions of either into their work. The closest they come is so-called “common good constitutionalism” which appears plastic enough to ordain a plethora of political arrangements without regard to right. Banal examples of common good constitutionalism in practice, such as having elemental rules of the road rather than chaos on the highways, does little to assuage skeptics’ fears that this integralist offshoot desires only basic background rules that allow a society to “flourish.” Such a conception of law is little different than the classical liberal legal order suggested by libertarian scholar Richard Epstein, whose Simple Rules for a Complex World is at least honest in its aims.

Why integralists are reticent to “fill in the blanks” on common-good constitutionalism or any other political-legal concept they promote is because it is important to them that it align with the wishes of a concrete (and at least mildly sympathetic) political authority. Integralists mortgaged their credibility during the Trump Administration by overtly or covertly embracing the “neo-Constantinian” justification for supporting a borderline madman unfit for office. Some in the integralist camp really believed that with a second Trump victory would come positions of power for themselves; the disappointment over his uncontestable defeat was bitter.

Another integralist pathology is tribalism. With their guru Adrian Vermeule leading from behind, integralists quickly circled their wagons online to ensure no “false thinking” weaved its way into their ranks. When brown-shirted thuggery on social media fails to work, integralists quickly dispatch their heads into the sand lest they acknowledge serious challenges to their sideways outlook. At times integralists will decry the downfall of academic freedom (or, really, their place at the discussion table since “academic freedom,” like “free speech,” is a sullied principle in their eyes), but they have a limited interest in real scholarly engagement. Even fellow Catholics who question the integralist project, particularly in light of post-Vatican II Church teaching, are often ignored or shouted down. And though integralism felt compelled in the early stages of its reemergence to connect deeply with Catholic social thought, few if any integralists bother these days.

All of this points to a third pathology in integralist thought, namely its irreconcilable endorsement of hyper ultramontanism with an empty anti-liberalism. Nary a word is mentioned concerning the sea change that occurred in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council, particularly with respect to the relationship between church and state. For integralism to be coherent, the 19th and early 20th century socio-political encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI, and to a lesser extent Pius XII need to be in play. Yet integralists routinely reject what is called the “hermeneutic of rupture” approach to Vatican II in practice, though I know of no serious hermeneutical theory advanced by an integralists on this matter. Whether he considers himself an integralist or not, Thomas Pink surely comes the closest with his detailed analysis of Dignitatis Humanae and whether it represents a policy rather than a doctrinal change. Even if Pink’s assessment is correct, that does not paper over the fact that most integralists are wary to wade into hermeneutical waters lest their comedic fealty to whoever happens to be the pope is questioned.

There can be no serious doubt that Pope Francis is not an integralist, yet the ultramontane integralists rabidly defend him in their usual thuggish manner. The papacy, like Catholicism itself, has instrumental value for integralists. It represents a seat of seemingly unlimited power, one that has the benefit of lying beyond human convention. It is a “model” of sorts for them, albeit a poor one. Cast in a Schmittian light (such as what the former Nazi penned in Roman Catholicism and Political Form), the papacy is uninfected structurally with liberalism. (No words of comfort are offered on whether papal policies can be infected with liberalism.) This is perhaps why integralists are not bothered by papal blessings for liturgical deforms and doctrinal distortions; if they come from the top, they must be defended as good.

Three Paragraphs on Russia, Ukraine, and Integralists

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is now in its fourth week, is prime time news all over the world. Even without the dramatic video packages supplied by cable news, social media provides an incessant stream of images and videos (many horrific) chronicling the carnage from Kyiv to Kharkiv. Deep-dive analysis, the sort which purports to penetrate through the “fog of war,” is available for those who care to search it out, but there are serious gaps in what the public knows about the conflict. Even the best assessments remain qualified. Militarily speaking, one of the few things everyone agrees on is very little has gone “according to plan” from the Russian perspective. Fierce Ukrainian resistance coupled with poor Russian planning equals protracted hostilities. How long Ukraine can hold out remains uncertain. And while some continue to hope that Russia will, in time, throw in the proverbial towel, that outcome seems unlikely unless the near-unthinkable happens, namely Vladimir Putin and his murderous regime find themselves on the business end of a political revolt. Then there is a myriad of “X” factors, such as potential NATO intervention; the alignment of other world powers such as China for (or against) Russia; and nuclear weapons.

Situated against the backdrop of this ongoing tragedy, specifically in the lowest part of the lowest corner rather than front and center, is the bloodless but not inconsequential “apologia for Russia” embraced by certain unsavory segments of the Catholic world. Barking-mad traditionalists join forces with round-shouldered integralists for the purposes of promoting the idea that Russia’s bloody hand has been “forced” with respect to Ukraine. Never mind that almost the entire Eastern Orthodox world not directly under the thumb of the Moscow Patriarchate has condemned the conflict at the risk of irking the largest member of its ecclesial confederacy. Never mind as well that one of the targets of Russia’s aggression is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, that longsuffering communion that continues to bridge the sometimes irritating and often illusory “divide” between Eastern and Western Christendom. And of course, never mind that nothing about the conflict’s prosecution fits within even the most expansive conception of “just war.” This conflagration, in the ideologically poisoned minds of its Catholic supporters, is a battle for civilization, with the forces of anti-liberal Light marching against the Dark Forces of Western decadence. Like all ideological constructs, this one, too, is remarkably resistant to empirical falsification.

As the dolorous weeks go by, some have been forced to temper their views. A Cistercian monk, who lamentably allowed himself to become the spiritual head of movement coopted by lunatics who privately believe Donald Trump should still be president, has opted to call the war what it is rather than retreat into silence. Many in the integralist camp, however, are still looking for ways to blame shift even if images of dead children and hollowed-out hospitals compels them to cease open genuflection before their Eurasian idol. The latest narrative trick is not so much to support Putin but to “understand” him, as evidenced by a recent article in new Sohrab Amari’s brand-new rag, Compact. “Understanding” is not always a bad thing, but it would be daft to pretend that the sort of “understanding for Putin” promoted by his Catholic fanboys is in any sense neutral. It is, in the end, a sympathetic understanding, one which is synonymous with muted support in the face of fierce criticism. Contemporary integralists have never been accused of hoarding courage.

Silent Integralists

One of the main problems with integralism, specifically the refreshed concept of integralism now gaining traction in certain sectors of Anglophone Catholicism, is that so few claiming to be integralists seem to know what it means. This is unfortunate insofar as it allows critics of integralism, that is, those who reject any political form that is not essentially liberalism to denounce, dismiss, and degrade integralists as romantic, backwards-looking monarchists incapable of practically managing a GameStop store. Some enjoy calling themselves “integralists” in the same ways teenagers who have never held a job like calling themselves “socialists”; it seems edgy and different, but requires no real commitment. Others like the idea of integralism as a form of “anti-liberalism” which is not socialism per se, but beyond that they have no interest deepening their understanding of integralism or promoting it as a future-viable alternative to the liberal status quo.

Then there are those I would call “silent integralists” or “substantive integralists.” These are Catholics who may or may not have heard of integralism, but still espouse its core tenet that the spiritual has priority over the temporal. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the fraternity he established, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), is a prime example. Lefebvre no doubt knew the term integralist (or integrist), but to the best of my knowledge he never availed himself of it. He didn’t need to. Lefebvre and his followers never shied away from the social rights of Christ the King or the unique and privileged position the Catholic Church ought to be afforded in society. Moreover, unlike some contemporary integralists, Lefebvre believed there was an inextricably link between the doctrine of Christ’s Kingship and the traditional Roman liturgy. For Lefebvre, it was the old Mass that embodied the fulness of the Faith, and it was the traditional celebrations of the Roman Calendar which affirmed holistically Christ’s tripartite office as Priest, Prophet, and King.

Another example would be the saintly leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. Metropolitan Andrei’s role extended far beyond being the spiritual leader of his Catholic communion; he was essential to the development of Galician society and the stalled formation of an independent Ukrainian state. Indeed, from the time Galicia came under Austrian rule up through World War I, the UGCC was integral in nation-building along authentically Catholic lines. There was to be no liberal separation of church and state, but rather an authentic Ukrainian Church, in communion with Rome, that guided the people and encouraged the formation of Catholic lay groups. Even today, as Ukraine finds itself in the midst of war and civil turmoil, the UGCC remains a prophetic voice that embraces both catholicity and particularity. It may not avail itself of the term “integralism,” but there can be no doubt that it has had and continues to have an integral role in contemporary Ukraine.

In the United States, matters remain dire. The American Church is once again embroiled in a massive sexual abuse scandal and the Vatican, thus far, has done little to instill confidence in the faithful that this tragedy will be thoroughly addressed. Critics of integralism claim, wrongly, that the type of “theocratic” arrangement integralists long for would leave the door open to future abuses by effectively placing the Church above the law. While such claims are silly, particularly in light of historic ecclesiastical legislation which stripped clerics of all privileges of their state in matters of gross sexual immorality, popular fear of being seen as aiding or abetting rapist clerics has the power to freeze integralism in its tracks. Who, after all, wants to be associated with a socio-political form that may be seen as making current woes worse?

Even if the time is not ripe for anything like an “integralist moment,” certainly Catholics of all stripes can take the present state of both the Church and society as a reason to explore the rich tapestry of Catholic social teaching. It is only through a firm understanding of that teaching that integralism can, in any sense, be “operationalized” into a viable political form. Integralists, to date at least, have given little mind to practical problems, ranging from economics to the contours of a sensible legal system. There is also the practical question of organization and advocacy, what was historically known as Catholic Action. It would seem that integralists have a long way to go on that front—a long way to go beyond Twitter.

The New French (and American) Catholic Right

Mark Lilla, the Columbia professor and political observer who seems to irritate all ideological comers, has a new piece in The New York Review of Books, “Two Roads for the New French Right.” As some may recall, Lilla has chronicled the French Right in the magazine before, as I discussed previously here. While Lilla is anything but a writer of the Right, he has gained himself both high praise (from conservatives) and ire (from liberals) for his 2017 book, The Once and Future Liberal. It is difficult to shake the feeling that Lilla is a tad bit envious of the Right, particularly as it is manifesting itself across the pond. The Right, or the various political movements and parties that represent the Right, may not represent a coherent body of thought, but it is offering some ways ahead that provide a way past the neoliberal consensus that emerged after 1989 and which, surprisingly enough, provides a voice once again to religious (primarily Christian) conservatives.

Instead of focusing on Lilla’s piece in detail, I want to highlight some of Lilla’s remarks concerning Catholic involvement in the New French Right, particularly younger writers. Here is Lilla:

This past summer I spent some time reading and meeting these young writers in Paris and discovered more of an ecosystem than a cohesive, disciplined movement. Still, it was striking how serious they are and how they differ from American conservatives. They share two convictions: that a robust conservatism is the only coherent alternative to what they call the neoliberal cosmopolitanism of our time, and that resources for such a conservatism can be found on both sides of the traditional left–right divide. More surprising still, they are all fans of Bernie Sanders.


The intellectual ecumenism of these writers is apparent in their articles, which come peppered with references to George Orwell, the mystical writer-activist Simone Weil, the nineteenth-century anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt, the young Marx, the ex-Marxist Catholic philosopher Alasdair Macintyre, and especially the politically leftist, culturally conservative American historian Christopher Lasch, whose bons mots“uprootedness uproots everything except the need for roots”get repeated like mantras. They predictably reject the European Union, same-sex marriage, and mass immigration. But they also reject unregulated global financial markets, neoliberal austerity, genetic modification, consumerism, and AGFAM (Apple-Google-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft).

Lilla could have gone further had he wanted in distinguishing these French Catholics from their (distant) American brethren. Setting aside those conservative Catholics who still embrace some form of liberalism (say Actonites and old-guard First Things types), it is true that there is a growing wing of Catholics, many on the younger side, who are at least suspicious of liberalism, if not openly hostile toward it. The difficulty with some of these folks is that they trade a stale brand of liberalism for the “fresher” form that looks unsurprisingly like the carefree, commitment-free, and ultimately thought-free variant of socialism children pick up on when they go off to Ivy League schools. The end result of this “movement,” so far at least, has been…well…nothing much at all. These IPA-sipping socialists have yet to put together a sustained platform and most of their efforts thus far have ended with infighting (perhaps brought on by outside ridicule).

Then there are the even more-to-the-Right American Catholics who, openly or not, identify with some variant of integralism, be it the “big tent” sort associated with The Josias or the slightly more narrow forms found in various segments of traditional Catholicism. The Josias probably comes to the closest to (unwittingly?) following New French Right Catholics insofar as many of its writers embrace some form of “intellectual ecumenism” or, to put it another way, have no problem marching toward the Promised Land with the “spoils of Egypt” lifted from decidedly non-Catholic intellectual environs. Some remain skeptical of this project, not the least because for much of the past 50-60 years, Catholics who take seriously the social kingship of Christ and the indirect temporal authority of the Church have found themselves living in an intellectual ghetto where a certain form of manualism was their only bulwark against the more pernicious aspects of late modernity.

Returning to the Catholics of the New French Right, Lilla finds their numbers populated with environmentalists and “alter-feminists” who reject the capitalist-compromised form of feminism that remains all the rage. Lilla is clearly impressed by all of this even while keeping his critical distance. He’s right to highlight a disorderliness in the thinking of these French Catholics, but that is not the same as a dismissal. There is much to be said for what Lilla calls “thinking big in little magazines.” As Lilla remarks, “Modern history has taught us that ideas promoted by obscure intellectuals writing in little magazines have a way of escaping the often benign intentions of their champions.” Yes, there is a sinister ring to Lilla’s words, but he’s not wrong.

Of course, I find nothing at all sinister in the thought and work of these French Catholics, nor do I find anything sinister about integralism (regardless of what the critics say). Integralism remains, at best, a highly marginal movement within Anglophone Catholicism and some of its most visible intellectual representatives may not actually be integralists at all. More fruitful than going on about who is or is not a “true integralist” is asking, “How do I live as a Catholic in public life?” There is a place for ideas, even big ideas built out of disparate parts, but there should be greater space given for considering, and then acting upon, what it would mean to be Catholic while, say, practicing law, teaching in schools, laboring in a factory, and so on and so forth. Lilla acknowledges in his piece that French Catholics have already begun to do that, albeit perhaps in some eccentric ways reminiscent of the early days of the defunct Catholic journal Caelum et Terra.

Maybe the Americans can catch up again.

Rod Dreher Doesn’t Understand Integralism

Rod Dreher has been a tear the past week writing about integralism. The only problem is that he doesn’t seem to understand what integralism is. In his latest attempt to wade into waters which he has not properly scouted, Dreher declares that integralism “is a philosophy that would subjugate the state to the power of clerics.” This is a grossly misleading way to frame the integralist thesis, especially since just days earlier Dreher quotes from Pater Edmund Waldstein’s compact but thorough explanation of that thesis:

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that rejects the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.

Integralism, as can be seen from Waldstein’s definition, is not the clerical fascism that Dreher fears, and yet Dreher does nothing to correct his mishandling of the integralist thesis. Here is Dreher again:

I can easily imagine myself around 1998, as a younger Catholic, full of ardor and ideology, finding the clarity and logic of integralism appealing, but having spent years writing about the abuse scandal, and seeing how terribly clerics can screw things up—not because they’re clerics, but because they are human beings, and their ordination does not change that—there is no way on God’s green earth I would stand for an integralist regime. I say that mostly as someone who wants the Church to flourish. A church that has too much temporal power imperils itself in a different way from a church that it [sic] completely at the mercy of the secular state—but imperil itself it does.

No one denies that clerics “can screw things up,” but then again, so can secular politicians and the people who vote them into office. It happens all of the time. Still, this is beside the point. The real problem with Dreher’s panicky remarks is that they miss the point of integralism almost entirely. Integralism does not recommend that priests and bishops should be handed the reins of political power. Indeed, integralism keeps in clear view the distinction between the temporal and spiritual, recognizing in line with Church tradition that the spiritual only exercises indirect temporal authority while keeping the spiritual realm safe from temporal encroachment. This is not true in what appears to be Dreher’s preferred political model, Byzantine-style symphonia. Although symphonia contemplates a distinction between the temporal and the spiritual, the practical result in history is that the weaving of the two results in the spiritual becoming the handmaid of the temporal. Much of the history of the Byzantine Empire and, later, the Russian Empire attests to this lamentable problem.

Dreher’s scattered remarks implying that integralism would, among other things, give cover to clerics who sexually abuse children are beyond grotesque. Nowhere does Dreher point out how integralism provides cover to anyone—clerical, religious, or lay—who violates divine, natural, or rightly ordered civil law. Dreher’s casual juxtaposition of the sex-abuse crisis with his misguided remarks on integralism read as little more than a childish attempt to besmirch integralists in the mind of his audience. If anything, integralists, almost all of whom are conservative-to-traditional Catholics who routinely uphold classical moral teaching, would press for a legal and penal system that deals far more harshly with sex crimes than what we find under liberalism. Moreover, as staunch defenders of the priesthood’s dignity and the proper formation of seminarians, integralists are likely to champion strict screening procedures for candidates to the priesthood.

It is sad that Dreher, a man who frequently claims that he is misunderstood and read uncharitably by his critics, is content to treat integralism so thoughtlessly. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, it is understandable that Dreher might have some reservations concerning integralism, especially since his chosen confession—as I have argued before—lacks a genuine integralist tradition. However, having reservations is no excuse for calumny. Dreher admits that The Josias is a solid repository of integralist thought. Perhaps he should take some more time to read it and read it carefully. Until then, it would behoove Dreher, as a Christian, to cease making irresponsible claims about integralism while misleading his readers into thinking that an integralist state would necessarily be rife with abuse, scandal, and the covering up of unspeakable crimes. No integralist state will be perfect and no integralist is promising paradise on earth. Rather, the integralist state can help order man toward his final goal, which is Heaven.

Integralism and Lefebvre

I have it on good authority that a new printing of They Have Uncrowned Him, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s masterful expose and critique of liberalism, is in the works. It is, if I recall corrective, the first Lefebvre book I picked up from the Society of Saint Pius X’s (SSPX) chapel in Oak Park on the border of Chicago in 2011. I went on to collect the rest of the Archbishop’s oeuvre in English, though nothing else resonated with me the way Uncrowned did. Not even Lefebvre’s dubia concerning religious liberty held such favor with me, perhaps because, by necessity, its presentation is dry and mechanical whereas, in reading, Uncrowned you can detect the moments when the Archbishop’s blood begins to boil. Never forget that Lefebvre was on hand during the Second Vatican Council and was instrumental in advancing, albeit unsuccessfully, conservative opposition to the novel doctrines being bandied about by periti and hierarchs who, only years earlier, were on the Holy Office’s radar.

Recently (as in today), my friends at The Josias released the second episode of their podcast with the primary subject being integralism. In the course of discussing the term and its background, nary a mention was made of Archbishop Lefebvre or the priestly society he founded nearly half-a-century ago. This strikes me as strange since giving an account of the history of integralism without mentioning either the Archbishop or the SSPX is like delivering a history of professional wrestling without mentioning the National Wrestling Alliance. Though Lefebvre and the priests and bishops of the Society have not always deployed the term “integrealism,” no other established forced within the Catholic Church has kept the spirit of integralism more alive than the SSPX. Indeed, without the Society, “integralism” would be a blanket epithet deployed by neo-Modernists and liberals to smear anyone and everyone they happen to disagree with. But to read Lefebvre, to listen to some of the sermons and talks of Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, and to take seriously the writings of many of the SSPX’s priests over the decades is to be inculcated with integralism at both a conceptual and practical level.

I make mention of this not to throw shade at The Josias, but to remind those persuaded by the integralist thesis to not ignore a reservoir of authentically integralist thought simply because—ironically—that thought came from a wellspring which, let’s be honest, is not exactly “politically correct.” Still, why should that matter? Integralism, which has been castigated recently as both reactionary and fascist, is hardly “politically correct” in a day and age where liberalism is not just considered normative, but inevitable. As one of The Josias podcast’s hosts points out, liberalism has this unsettling power to dissolve the imagination, rendering those living under it incapable of imagining a world without it. To be anti-liberal is not to be simply “backwards” or “simple,” but dangerous. For anything which opposes liberalism, regardless of whether or not it comes marching down the street with a jackboot, orchestrates famines, or preaches Christ crucified, is equally an enemy which must be eradicated in the name of “humanity.” Liberalism is not content to win an ostensibly neutral “battle of ideas” (for it cannot win it); it must instead demonize, degrade, and ultimately destroy that which calls liberal ideology into question. Conversion is out of the question.

For my part, I cannot conceive of seriously studying, and being persuaded by, integralism without taking a serious look at what Archbishop Lefebvre wrote and witnessed to over the course of his life. Integralism for the Archbishop, the priests he formed, their heirs, and the countless faithful who are attached to the SSPX is not an abstraction but a way of life. It is a way of life informed by the reality of Christ’s Social Kingship, a way of life which looks for the restoration of Chirstendom over an endless discussion over theological minutiae which rests on the peripheries of life.

While reasonable people can disagree over some of Archbishop Lefebvre’s words and decisions, and those of the SSPX as well, what cannot be denied is their indispensable role in keeping the integralist spirit alive during decades where liberalism appeared as the only horizon in both society and the Catholic Church. For that they deserve the gratitude of integralists everywhere.