Some years back, before I became invested in Catholic social teaching and Christian integralism, there was a massive dustup involving IHS Press and the now-defunct Legion of St. Louis. The latter organization, as best as I can tell, was dedicated to traditional Catholic Action as expressed in the works of Fr. Denis Fahey. Fahey, for those unaware, was a politically active Holy Ghost Father who promoted the social doctrine of Christ the King in books and pamphlets which also took an extremely negative view of communists, freemasons, and rabbinic Judaism. In the post-Vatican II Catholic Church, Fahey became persona non grata for his alleged anti-Semitism and apparent support of anti-Zionist conspiracy theories. While not everything Fahey wrote about Jews and Judaism is defensible (an observation that could also be extended to the likes of Belloc and Chesterton as well), most of Fahey’s works are dedicated to exploring Catholic social doctrine and applying it to the modern world. What’s wrong with that?
The problem which seems to plague some of Fahey’s current followers is that they take his writings as a “package deal.” If Fahey (or any other writer on Catholic social teaching) believed this-or-that conspiracy claim about Judaism, then it is acceptable and safe for us to do so as well. That is, to say the least, sloppy thinking, the sort which contemporary Catholics dedicated to the Church’s authentic social magisterium ought to distance themselves from as quickly as possible. While charges of anti-Semitism are too often overblown, particularly when emanating from ideologically bent institutes like the Southern Poverty Law Center, they can deliver an immediate credibility death blow to even the most well-intentioned endeavors.
Not that faithful Catholics should cave to politically driven bullying. Although the Legion of St. Louis is no more (perhaps for the best), IHS Press—with its excellent catalog of classic and contemporary works on distributism, Catholic Action, and other social topics—continues on. Praise be. Unfortunately, there still exists a fringe culture of ostensible Catholics who continue to associate with organizations and movements which are unambiguously linked to not only anti-Semitism, but white supremacism, hyper-nationalism, and militarism as well. Such groups could be easily ignored if it wasn’t for the fact that their behavior is often used to tar-and-feather Catholics who know full well that racism and Church teaching are fundamentally incompatible.
On more than one occasion I have seen Catholics who are dedicated to third-way economic systems attacked by their neoliberal/libertarian critics as being associated with the so-called “Third Positionist” movement which loosely shares their social concerns while harboring a number of racialist and nationalist beliefs that are antithetical to Catholic doctrine. This type of uncharitable smearing is no different than the sort promoted by the Acton Institute’s Todd Flanders with regard to distributism—a movement he links to fascism in his “course” on distributist thought given each year at “Acton University.”
Catholics who are seriously committed to the Church’s social magisterium in an integral manner need to be prepared to deal with this and other types of nonsense. Neoliberal/libertarian Catholics have been driven back to the ropes in recent years and are now looking to swing back hard. While the main battle raging seems to be between the so-called “Radical Catholics” and the old-guard conservatives who once populated the pages of First Things, barking-mad libertarians and a newer generation intoxicated by socialist principles have also started to join in the fray. Integralism, in my estimation, provides a meaningful and doctrinally secure alternative to all of these factions, though its reemergence has—up to this point—been slow. Maybe that is a blessing in disguise. There is still considerable retrieval work to be done regarding classic Catholic social teaching. The foundation is not fully set, but it’s getting there.