After Talking About Integralism

Last Friday I gave a talk on integralism for a Catholic men’s group here in Grand Rapids. It was my fourth talk for them, the most “popular” being my lengthy lecture on the (in)compatibility of libertarianism with Catholicism. Much of what I had to say was built upon articles, blog posts, and my ever-expanding book manuscript. At the outset of the talk, I half-jokingly said that integralism is nothing more than Catholics following what the Church has always taught, not just with respect to politics and society, but all facets of natural and supernatural life. It became clear to me over the course of my 90-minute speaking engagement that I wasn’t saying anything “new.” That is, I was not attempting to advance a pet ideology or catchy socio-cultural posture; I was imply explaining, inter alia, the relationship of spiritual and temporal authority; the social kingship of Christ; and the duty of all Catholics to follow divine and natural law, even when they conflict with civil positive law.

So it is strange (and depressing) to look at ostensibly Catholic publications, blogs, and social media to see so many self-professed conservative and traditional Catholics promoting ideas, positions, and candidates which are at odds with what the Church professes to be true. Pragmatism—and a last desperate grasp at political relevance—seems to be animating far too many Catholics to support the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump along with policies that uphold economic liberalism, war mongering, and religious indifferentism. Granted, this is not a new problem. For more than a century, American Catholicism has capitulated to the spirit of the times in order to prove that Catholics, like Protestants, Jews, and atheists, can be “good Americans” while (privately) holding fast to their (personal) religious beliefs.

A year ago I had thought that, given the deplorable state of American political life, this election cycle would witness a noticeable rise in outspoken Catholics who simply cannot abide by the despicable choices secular democracy has furnished us. Instead, what I see are more and more Catholics who love to go on about “orthodoxy” and “tradition” doubling-down on liberalism because they have duped themselves into believing that our state of affairs will be noticeably improved by the Republican Party over the Democratic Party. Granted, some of the panic-button pushers are willing to concede that the GOP is a shell of its former self with very little left on its platform to appeal to so-called social conservatives or the religious right. However, these same folk fear that another four (or eight) years of Democratic rule will yield catastrophic results for both Catholicism and the United States.

Personally, I am not willing to give in to fear, at least not yet (and, God willing, not ever). No credible evidence, coupled with a cogent argument, has yet been presented to convince me that I ought to cast a single vote this November which runs contrary to conscience—a conscience shaped by reason and revelation. If someone asks me what integralism “looks like” in action, that is it. Integralism means following the Church, not the Zeitgeist. Integralism means foregoing compromises with evil even at great professional and personal cost. Integralism, above all else, means upholding the social rights of Christ the King and never genuflecting before earthly powers and temporal thrones which have divorced themselves from God’s appointed spiritual authority, our Holy Mother Church.

More From Pater Edmund on Integralism

Pater Edmund Waldstein, whose writings on monarchism and integralism have had a profound impact on my own thinking (see here), has an outstanding new article up at The Josias entitled “Integralism and the Gelasian Dyarchy.” More than just a restatement of the integralist thesis, Waldstein’s piece provides a powerful critique of radical Augustinian and Whig Thomist approaches to spiritual and temporal power. Here is a brief excerpt:

What (for lack of a better term) I call Augustinian radicalism comes close to abandoning the idea of dyarchy altogether. It takes a highly pessimistic view of earthly power, which it associates with Augustine’s city of man, it emphasizes the temporal, passing nature of such power, and sees a quasi-inevitable conflict between it and the Church. The Church on this account should reject the coercive means used by earthly power, and by already living in an anticipatory fashion the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem, serve as a sign of contradiction to the powers that are passing away. This position comes in many forms and degrees. The writers of whom I am thinking in particular are Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Baxter, C.S.C, John Milbank, and William T. Cavanaugh as well as Dorothy Day, whose practical example serves as an inspiration to many of the others.

Whig Thomism on the other hand, takes a much more positive view of temporal power. The Whig Thomists emphasize the distinction between the two powers. Welcoming a certain form of the separation of Church and state, they reject any juridical subordination of the state to the Church, and hold that the influence of the Church on the state should come only through the Church’s influence on the consciences of individual citizens. By far the most eloquent and insightful expositor of Whig Thomism was John Courtney Murray, S.J.

The question of the relation of spiritual to temporal power is intimately connected to the question of the relation nature and grace. Christianity is able to distinguish between the two powers, because it is a religion of grace, which does not destroy the order of nature, but presupposes, elevates, and perfects it. I shall argue that Augustinian radicalism tends to exaggerate towards a monism of grace, in which the natural loses all standing. Whig Thomism, on the other hand, tends to exaggerate the distinction, not sufficiently understanding that nature is for the sake of grace. Only integralism fits well with a fully satisfactory account of the elevation and perfection of natural teleology in grace.

Waldstein’s words warrant careful and deep reflection, particularly during an era where the most “popular” alternative available to our present situation is one or another escapist “options” which appear to be rooted more in certain lifestyle aesthetics than Scripture or tradition.

One Paragraph Before Sunday Liturgy

A thought: How far is the average American Catholic willing to go to sacrifice the principles of the faith in exchange for some form — even a grotesque form — of socio-political relevance? That is to say, at what point does this Catholic decide that St. Thomas Aquinas and numerous other theologians of the Church were wrong to assert that if one loses a part of the Faith, they lose it all? For today the Catholic Faith, like much of anything in this world of moving parts and endless preference fulfillment, is not only “negotiable,” but malleable. This piece is outdated (or inconvenient), and so it can be cast aside. Another piece provides existential comfort, so it can stay and yet another works as a soapbox upon which to stand in the midst of the so-called “culture wars.” This is the reality of Christian living today; it is the reality of all living. Those who lack faith of any sort, whose horizon expands no further than to the Apple Store, cannot be blamed entirely for living lives which are subject to serious (or a-serious) revision at a moment’s notice. Fads change; tastes change; people change, and no one wants to be left clinging to an outmoded posture or cultural form unless clinging to some outmoded posture or cultural form is indeed what is most current at the time. Life becomes — to lift from Leo Strauss — little more than the joyless pursuit of joy; everything terminates in entertainment. Should not a Catholic find this gross spectacle of waste nauseating? One Catholic did. Writing nearly nine decades ago in his seminal work The Concept of the Political, Carl Schmitt saw that the apotheosis of liberalism is entertainment — a life without seriousness or grandeur or even much of a point. But today’s American Catholic wants to be a good liberal, meaning a good consumer who carries around a few moralizing positions in their side pocket (e.g., abortion, birth control, death penalty, etc.) and a wallet full of bank cards in the back. “Give me religious liberty or, absent that, give me a house in the suburbs, two cars, and a fantastic vacation package to Disney World.” Where have gone the gifts of counsel, understanding, and fortitude? They have been exchanged for a “lifestyle choice.” Господи Помилуй

Tuesday Comment on Christ the King

Mattias A. Caro, writing over at Ethika Politika, calls on Catholics to detach themselves from the petty things of this world in order to better serve Christ the King. I couldn’t agree more. Quoting Pope Pius XI’s Quas Primas, Caro reminds readers that before Christ can reign in society, He must first reign in our hearts, minds, and wills. In most instances, Christ’s social reign begins in the home and then moves outward into the schools, workplaces, and seats of political authority. It is a pious practice for Latin Catholics to enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their homes, reciting this prayer nightly:

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