Web-logging about complex phenomena is always a fraught enterprise, particularly when no single blog post can hope to capture the density of religious and political life in Europe during the last century. Yesterday’s entry, “Comments on the Cross and the Sword in Ukraine,” may have left some readers with the (false) impression that the intersection of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) with national political life amounted to little more than the subservience of the UGCC to bald nationalistic interests. Nothing, I would argue, could be further from the truth. For while it is true that some segments of the UGCC became too involved in the affairs of Ukrainian nationalism at the expense of its God-ordained vocation, the sticky truth of the matter is that the UGCC, since the 18th Century at least, found itself placed in a complicated role of both forging a political living space for the faithful it served and putting itself in the service of saving souls.
Anton Shekhovtsov’s chapter, “By Cross and Sword: ‘Clerical Fascism’ in Interwar Western Ukraine,” published in the illuminating, albeit imperfect, volume Clerical Fascism in Interwar Europe (Routledge 2008), adds needed depth to understanding the role of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) in building the Ukrainian state, or at least an iteration of the Ukrainian state which did not survive the Second World War. The term “clerical fascism,” as Shekhovstov notes at the outset, is problematic, though he manages to settle on the following working definition: “[A]n authoritarian socio-political current, which emerges within clergy holding nationalist views, legitimizing and supporting fascisticised politics as a means of creating a state, in which religion’s authority, once forfeit, is expected to be revived, bringing order and earthly salvation to the nation.” Whether this definition—which Shekhovstov refers to as a “heuristic construction”—properly encompasses the full range of Greek Catholic clerical involvement in early 20th C. Ukrainian political life is questionable. Even more questionable is whether it can be meaningfully applied to other religious and national contexts, though that query can be dealt with at another time. Even if Shekhovstov’s definition holds for some aspect of 1920s/30s Ukrainian national realities, it is not immediately clear what should be thought of such realities today.
The “Options” phenomenon is quite out of control, and even Rod Dreher, progenitor of the so-called Benedict Option, seems to recognize it. In a recent American Conservative blog post, “Benedict and the Omnibus of Options,” Dreher attempts to defend “his option” (which he ultimately credits to Alasdair MacIntyre) against the plethora of others floating around out there. Devastated though I was to see no mention of my own comprehensive list of “Options” in Dreher’s post, that devastation quickly gave way to confusion over what exactly the Benedict Option is other than a call for Christians to retreat, set-up shop away from the world at large, and wait for the present storm to blow over. If that is what the Benedict Option is at its core, then it is an option set-up for a select few persons who have the means to relocate from their current jobs and find (or invent) new ones. Not everyone writes for a mainline conservative magazine after all, and very few these days have the agrarian or artisan chops to make it in one of the communities Dreher idealizes as embodying the Benedict Option.
Symphonia, as a theological-political concept, is practically dead in our times. Maybe, just maybe, a few glimmers exist in contemporary Russia, though a large body of critics, including political scientists and churchmen, think otherwise. What may look something like symphonia at first blush is merely a (post)modern form of caesaropapism, with the Russian Orthodox Church serving as the handmaid of the Russian state. The Moscow Patriarchate’s “Russian World” ecclesial ideology fits snugly with secular Russia’s larger international ambitions—ambitions that have made themselves violently felt in places like Georgia and Ukraine over the past several years. In other parts of the so-called Orthodox world nothing like sympahonia exists. It certainly does not exist in the Middle East nor in Greece, where the state finds its future crushed on the heel of the European Union while the Orthodox Church remains almost powerless to provide firm moral guidance under seemingly impossible conditions. Integralism, which has become a rallying cry for a small (but dedicated) band of Catholics, is certainly not dead, but it remains, at best, a theory and, at worst, a concept without teeth. There are more than a few of those floating around right now. May we forever be spared the suggestion of a coming “Integralist Option” or, for the symphonia crowd, a “Justinian Option.”
Yesterday on Twitter someone raised the question whether I now reject integralism in favor of symphonia. The reason behind this query is simple: I now dwell somewhere East of Rome. Superficially speaking (though hopefully not too superficially), I do not see integralism and symphonia as contradictory terms, at least not if this pithy definition of the latter holds: “A distinction is drawn between the imperial authority and the priesthood, the former being concerned with human affairs and the latter with things divine; the two are regarded as closely interdependent, but, at least in theory, neither is subordinated to the other” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, pg. 771). A slightly longer definition of integralism, one which I supplied in an article for The Josias, runs as follows:
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.
Are there slight differences in emphasis? Perhaps. And has their respective concrete historical manifestations yielded distinct practical results–both good and ill? Absolutely. At this juncture in history it seems to be more imperative to look at their commonalities than fall into carping over trivial distinctions.
Today, over at First Things (FT), Brandon McGinley’s article “Liberal Limits—And Our Opportunity” represents another in a growing line of (mostly) Catholic commentary expressing exhaustion with liberalism. Now that same-sex marriage is perfectly legal and fresh attention is now being paid to stripping religious institutions of their tax-exempt status if they fail to fall in line, it is now a tad more respectable to suggest that the promise of liberalism was never more than a lie. Concepts like pluralism, relativism, and tolerance made for easy consumption when people—including many devoutly religious persons—believed their absence could only mean insularity, persecution, and hatred; now it’s starting to become clear that all three will be dealt out freely against any man, woman, or child who dares to speak ill of the Supreme Court’s attempt to do the impossible, namely redefine the meaning of marriage. Liberalism, according to McGinley, is giving way to a more destructive post-liberalism, but in the midst of this post-liberal chaos McGinley sees an opportunity. Here are his words:
I have written previously on the so-called “Benedict Option” and the difficulties it presents (see, e.g., here, here, and here). It appears that commenting on the “Benedict Option” — or any other “option” — is turning into a growth industry. A quick glance at Ethika Politika reveals several pieces on the topic, including Andrew Lynn’s “Saving the Benedict Option from Culture War Conservatism” and Jeff Guhin’s “No Benedict Option Without Benedictines.” The latter piece is rather pessimistic, declaring that not only is “liberalism is hard to shake” but that “[w]e are all liberals now.”
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”:
Just to clarify, Wednesday’s post on the “Age of Francis” was in no way, shape, or form intended to disparage the good work conducted over at Solidarity Hall or to discourage anyone from picking up a copy of their new anthology, Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis. Having now had the chance to get through about half of the book, I can say, without reservation, that it is a very thoughtful collection expressing views which are both interconnected and diverse. A full review of the work is no doubt in order and if time permits I will attempt one. In the meantime, I want to offer some very provisional and rather general thoughts on what the contents appear to be saying about what has come to be known as radical Catholicism and where their thinking converges, and in other points departs, from the new wellspring of Catholic integralism. At this point I am not going to name individual authors and their essays, and I want to stress that radical Catholicism is not monochromatic and there are certainly individual writers who are more or less integralists in their thinking, even if they wouldn’t necessarily define themselves as such.
Yesterday’s online dustup over “friendly fascism” and liberalism involving two champions of Catholic libertarianism—John Zmirak and the Acton Institute—reveals more than just the obvious fact that Catholics disagree strongly on the relationship between the Catholic Church’s principles and concrete socio-economic policy. It also shows the extent to which the libertarian wing of the Church chooses to remain ignorant of their critics. (Before proceeding, let me be clear that despite Acton’s claim to be a non-confessional enterprise, its core leadership is Catholic, and many of its activities have a conscious Catholic bent to them.) For those who have been monitoring the “great debate” concerning Catholicism and liberalism which has again picked up steam over the past decade, none of this is entirely surprising. Acton’s members, for instance, have been subjected to withering criticism for years by a broad base of Catholic (and a few non-Catholic) thinkers, particularly Distributists and others who are concerned with upholding the integrity of the Church’s social magisterium. Acton’s response, at least thus far, has been to either ignore those criticisms or, worse, manipulate the debate by presenting caricatures of its critics. At the Institute’s annual “Acton University” (a misleading name if there ever was one), a “course” on Distributism is regularly offered, albeit one taught by Todd Flanders, an economic liberal who has little-to-no clear sympathy for the Distributist tradition. Having been graciously afforded the opportunity to listen to last year’s lecture, I can say with full confidence that the presentation was imbalanced, superficial, and, at points, lacking in seriousness.