Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher has some thoughts on the furor that has erupted over a handful of Catholic academics and writers rallying behind George Weigel and Robert P. George’s public statement against Donald Trump. (I have written a bit on the matter here.) Dreher wonders aloud if this isn’t the end of “neoconservative Catholicism,” that is, the marriage between conservative Catholics and once-mainline Republican Party politics that was inaugurated in large part by the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and the magazine he helped found, First Things. Here is Dreher:
This is an astonishing political and cultural moment on the Right. When grassroots orthodox Catholics no longer believe that their leaders, both ecclesial and lay, speak and lead in their interests, the world as we conservatives have known it for at least the last 30 years begins to fall apart. Personally, I don’t fault these Catholic leaders (some of whom are friends of mine) for taking a stand on an issue that they feel strongly about, especially one as critically important as the American presidency. But I also understand why these conservative Catholic readers interpret the statement as an attempt to shore up a party establishment that has failed, even on Catholic terms.
I’m reminded of something a friend of mine, a well-known journalist, told me about a conversation he had during the run-up to the Iraq War with a prominent conservative Catholic. The journalist, a secular liberal, said he challenged the conservative on why he and his Catholic ideological confreres were standing in favor of the Iraq War, and against their hero, Pope John Paul II. He said that the conservative Catholic told him that yes, he had more misgivings than he was letting on publicly, but it was important to maintain solidarity on the Right. If we (meaning social conservatives) want to see progress on the issues we care about, the conservative reportedly said, then we have to give on these other issues.
The whole situation reveals one of the critical flaws in contemporary (American) Catholicism, namely the belief that liberal democracy can still provide the pathway to a better future. It won’t. Although I will be the last man in Michigan to mourn the death of neoconservative Catholic politics, I am fine with elbowing my way to the front of the line to declare that no Catholic in good conscience should support Donald Trump or any of the other disappointing choices on offer this election cycle. Conservative-to-traditional Catholics who support Trump are no less seduced by Americanist ideology than those who commonly (and perhaps thoughtlessly) pull the lever for Democrats on the belief that the latter rigorously uphold Catholic social teaching. Instead of taking this moment in American history as a sign that we have no earthly political home (at the moment), Catholics are at war with one another over which earthly messiah will save us. Better, I think, to recognize our post-political situation and prepare for the storm on the horizon rather than squabble over which brand of liberalism will best satiate our basest longings.