Tomorrow Christendom, the late Abbot Dom Gerard Calvet’s call for the reestablishment of Christian society, is a book seldom read by Catholics on this side of the pond. In fact, the English translation is now out of print. Even if it were widely available still, would we, good Catholics of America, have the cultural tools to comprehend its message? A resplendent glimpse of that message can be found in Calvet’s 1985 Pentecost sermon, what I and others have dubbed “The Illiberal Catholic Manifesto.” In it you will find a call to reclaim society not for free-market ideology or hawkish nationalism, but for our Lord Jesus Christ, King of all creation, rightful ruler of every man and nation. How foreign—how moth-eaten—that call must seem to us as we prepare to binge on beer and hotdogs before blowing off the tips of our fingers with illicitly acquired fireworks, all to honor the colonial rebellion against Great Britain in the name of libertas.
Now, to be clear, I do not hold freedom in contempt so long as that freedom is rightly ordered. The freedom to acquire untold amounts of pornography or contraception on the taxpayer’s dime is no freedom at all; it is license to sin, a pathway to slavery. True freedom comes from obedience to authority and all true authority comes from God alone. We American Catholics have forgotten that, intoxicated as we are with a constitutional order that vests the people, not God, with authority. None of the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” cannot be undone by legislative action, executive prerogative, or judicial fiat. Even the so-called Bill of Rights, which some once held to be indefectible and universal, can be distorted to mean so much more, or so much less, than what folks of an earlier time would have understood. This is not to say that all of those alleged rights are rights worth preserving; it is only to suggest that when it comes to right and morality, there are no permanent things in this land of ours.
It would be wise for us to take a hard look at that reality and what fuels it, if only we could get over our pointless pride in democratic governance. In his brief commentary on St. Thomas Aquinas’ De Regimine Principum, an English translation of which will soon be available, the great Dominican theologian Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, spoke frankly on the perils of democratic government. I quote from a draft of the forthcoming translation:
Democracy is an imperfect regime, as a regime in ratione regiminis, as a result of the lack of unity and continuity in the direction of interior and exterior affairs. Also this regime should only be for the perfect already capable of directing themselves, virtuous and competent enough in order to pronounce upon, as is fitting, the very complicated problems on which the life of a great people depends. But it is always true to say as Saint Thomas noted that these virtuous and competent men are extremely rare; and democracy, supposing such perfection among subjects, cannot give it to them. From this point of view, democracy is a bit in politics what quietism is in spirituality; it supposes man has arrived, at the age or the state of perfection, even though he still may be a child, and in treating him as a perfect person, democracy does not give him what is required to become one.
To American ears, even American Catholic ears, Lagrange is preaching heresy. Good. Our “orthodoxy” is stale, but the truth never is. Prudentially speaking it may not behoove us at this time and place to contemplate practical means for excising ourselves from so imprudent a governmental form. That does not mean we should fall into the vice of becoming flatterers of democracy nor turn a blind eye to its many grave defects. Coming to grips with the gross imperfections of our governmental form provides deeper insight into the even grosser imperfections of our politics and the costs which accompany the unholy union of Catholicism with all forms of liberalism: religious, political, and economic.
We still have time to act, to take action. We may not be sufficiently wise or virtuous enough to handle our own affairs independently, but we do not need to. There is a ray of truth that shines in this world yet and its source is the Holy Catholic Church established by Jesus Christ through His Apostles nearly 2,000 years ago. No new prophet-king should be expected to rise up in our midst and lead us safely through these tumultuous times. God will not save us if we show no interest in saving ourselves. We have been given, by the leave of God, material goods, comforts, and security never imagined by the greatest kings and prognosticators of earlier epochs, but we have also been given two great trials: one external, one internal. Why? It is not for any of us to say; it is only incumbent on us to act in true freedom with neither spite nor malice towards those who, lost in a haze of lies, contend against the rights of the Church and the social rights of Christ the King.
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. Tomorrow is the close of the Fortnight for Freedom. Tomorrow let us pray, not for liberty qua liberty, but for the last remnants of Christendom and the souls of sages like Dom Calvet and Fr. Lagrange who despaired not, but rather looked toward rebuilding Christian society on those remains.