Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Aquinas:"First Whig?" - Novak's Catholic Whig Tradition

The debate which is the focus of this website is often characterized as one between "Whig-Thomists" and "Augustinian-Thomists." Given that "Whig-Thomist" is a label commonly applied (usually in a derogative manner, although not quite as maliciously as "neocon") to the Catholic philosopher Michael Novak, I'd like to devote a post to the origins and history of the term, as it originates in Lord Acton and later in the "Catholic Whig" proposal of Michael Novak.

Lord Acton, Thomas Aquinas and the "Whig Theory of Revolution"

The meaning of the term "Whig-Thomist" is originally derived from a passage from Lord Acton's famous speech "The History of Freedom in Christianity" delivered to the members of the Bridgemouth Institute on May 28, 1877, in which he credits St. Thomas Aquinas with having proposed an early form of "The Whig theory of revolution":

Here are the sentiments of the most celebrated of all the Guelphic writers: -- "A King who is unfaithful to his duty forfeits his claim to obedience. It is not rebellion to depose him, for he is himself a rebel whom the nation has a right to put down. But it is better to abridge his power, that he may be unable to abuse it. For this purpose, the whole nation ought to have a share in governing itself; the constitution ought to combine a limited and elective monarchy, with an aristocracy of merit, and such an admixture of democracy as shall admit all classes to office, by popular election. No government has a right to levy taxes beyond the limit determined by the people. All political authority is derived from popular suffrage, and all laws must be made by the people or their representatives. There is no security for us as long as we depend on the will of another man." This language, which contains the earliest exposition of the Whig theory of the revolution, is taken from the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, of whom Lord Bacon says that he had the largest heart of the school divines. And it is worth while to observe that he wrote at the very moment when Simon de Montfort summoned the Commons; and that the politics of the Neapolitan friar are centuries in advance of the English statesman’s.

In "Was Aquinas a Whig? St. Thomas and Regime" (Faith & Reason Fall 1994), Kenneth Craycraft, Assistant Professor of Theology at St. Mary's University (San Antonio, TX), challenges Lord Acton's interpretation / summary of Aquinas. "While language similar to some of that which Acton attributes to Thomas may be found at various places in Aquinas," Craycraft notes, "the 'quote' is at best an interpolation, at worst a fabrication." With respect to Acton's reading of Aquinas itself:

Though Acton does faithfully convey part of Aquinas' thought, he ignores the very "un-Whigish" premise of the passage, as well as an important qualification to the right to depose the tyrant. First, Aquinas, unlike Acton or any other liberal, advocates the rule of one man as "the best" and "to be preferred." Aquinas would not remove the king in order to establish liberal democracy, but rather in order to establish another (just) king.

Craycraft goes on to note points of similarity and discrepancy between Acton's paraphrasing of Aquinas and direct passages from Aquinas himself:

. . . for the Whig Acton, no political good is higher than individual freedom. "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end," he asserts. Liberty "is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for security in the pursuit" of individual preference. ["History of Freedom in Antiquity", 1877]. For Acton liberal democracy, not monarchy, is the best "regime." Still less could one ever argue that tyranny ought to be endured under some circumstances.

For Aquinas, though, liberty is not the highest good, political or otherwise, and democracy is not the best regime. Though giving carefully qualified grounds for deposing the tyrant, Aquinas affirms two very un-Whigish political doctrines: monarchy as superior to democracy, and order as precedent to liberty. "The more efficacious . . . a government is in keeping the unity of peace, the more useful it will be," explains St. Thomas. "For we call that more useful which leads the better to the end. Now it is manifest that what is itself one can more efficaciously bring about unity than several. . . . Therefore the rule of one man is more useful than the rule of many."

Craycraft concludes:

Acton's quilted paraphrase, while containing some authentic echoes of Thomas' writing, clearly cannot be called a quote. Moreover, the meaning Acton tries to convey by the paragraph is clearly a departure from Thomas' own thought. While one may or may not conclude that Thomas' thought was a precursor to liberalism, he certainly advocates nothing like a liberal theory of revolution, nor can he be called a Whig. The essential point of Acton and the Whig theory he represents is that liberal democracy is not the least imperfect option among many, but that it is the best regime (or, rather, non-regime), in accord with man and his nature. The more refined is liberalism the more just the system; the less pure the less just. Thought of as a continuum, monarchy is the least just regime.

But for Aquinas, rule by one wise man is the best regime, both because it is consistent with nature and it works best. Since no man is sufficiently wise or above temptation toward evil, other types of regime are mixed with the best regime to arrive at the most workable. But the essential point is that the regime is closest to being most natural when it is headed by the single wise king. For Aquinas, the best regime is monarchy; democracy and aristocracy are mixed with monarchy only because of the possible failure of the king to remain just. Thus to call St. Thomas a Whig is to ascribe to him exactly the opposite opinion of the just regime.

and closes with a citation from Pierre Manent:

Despite the authority of Lord Acton, it is not possible to describe Thomas Aquinas as a liberal. Saint Thomas was not a liberal. Nor was he anti-liberal, which goes without saying. He described, analyzed, and pronounced what appeared to him to be the objective order of things and the nature of man, founded on an objective hierarchy of what was good. Now, it was such a "dogmatic" presupposition that was rejected by those authors who developed the liberal viewpoint. The starting point of the idea and of the liberal undertaking was skepticism: the idea of what was good is an uncertain one and that is why men fight. As Hobbes and Locke took pleasure in proclaiming, there is no summum bonum. . . . It is certain that, by radically criticizing the idea of good, the idea of conscience, and the idea of an objective morality, they undermined a vital presupposition of Christian doctrine.
(Which, of course, raises the separate issue of what kind of liberalism is being advocated by the "Whig-Thomists" -- but that's another debate for another time).

I thought it best to open up with Craycraft's critique, just so we will have no illusions that there is a "direct line" of development between St. Thomas Aquinas and liberal or constitutional democracy, as envisioned by Lord Acton. As we'll see, I think it would likewise be deliberately misleading -- that is to say, a "straw man" -- to assume that Novak is arguing for such a "direct line" or a literal understanding of Aquinas as "The first Whig." A plain reading of Novak indicates otherwise.

From Acton to Hayek, Murray, Novak

According to Craycraft, Lord Acton's assertion was "approvingly cited" by Friedrich Hayek ("In some respects Lord Acton was not being altogether paradoxical when he described Thomas Aquinas as the first Whig" - The Constitution of Liberty U of Chicago Press, 1960, p. 457, fn 4) and John Courtney Murray ("‘A free people under a limited government' . . . is a phrase that would have satisfied the first Whig St. Thomas Aquinas" - We Hold These Truths, Sheed & Ward, 2nd ed., 1986, p. 32).

Novak calls Aquinas the "first Whig," and lists Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Adam Smith, Lord Acton and Friedrich von Hayek as representatives of this political philosophy. See Novak, This Hemisphere of Liberty (Washington, DC: The AEI Press, 1990), pp. 107ff.; "The Return of the Catholic Whig," , No. 1 (March 1990): 38-42; "Thomas Aquinas, the First Whig," Crisis, October 1990: pp. 31-38; and Free Persons and the Common Good (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1988), pp. 29-30; 80.

Novak Makes His Case for "Catholic Whiggery"

The Hemisphere of Liberty is the key text for an explication of what Novak means by "Catholic Whiggism". Novak provides the following summary of his book on his website (

Lord Acton called Thomas Aquinas the first Whig. The ancient Whig pedigree, far older than the now defunct British and American parties of that name, includes Bellarmine, Alexis de Tocqueville, Acton himself, Jacques Maritain, Yves R. Simon, and others. Catholic Whigs, like Progressives, believe in the dignity of the human person, in human liberty, in institutional reform, in gradual progress. But they also have a deep respect for language, law, liturgy, custom, habit, and tradition that marks them, simultaneously, as conservatives. With the conservatives, the Catholic Whigs have an awareness of the force of cultural habit and the role of passion and sin in human affairs. With the liberals, they give central importance to human liberty, especially the slow building of institutions of liberty. The Catholic Whigs see liberty as ordered liberty – [quoting Lord Acton] not the liberty to do what one wishes, but the liberty to do what one ought.

In an appendix to This Hemisphere of Liberty, Novak lays out his case for dubbing Thomas Aquinas "The First Whig" ("Thomas Aquinas: The First Whig, pp. 107-123). He begins by noting some of the contexts in which we recognize Aquinas' philosophy -- from courts of law to international relations, in the distinction of the sacred from the secular, the use of concepts like 'secular,' 'conscience,' 'will' and 'person'; in the poetry of Dante and the mysticism of St. John of the Cross,

"The Western Tradition rests upon Aquinas as the sturdy bridge from the ancients (Moses and the prophets, the Greeks, Jesus, Cicero and the Church Fathers) to the modern age . . . remove Aquinas, and that bridge falls. Unlike Descartes, Hobbes, and other moderns, he really knew his ancients. A greater sophistication on their part might have saved generations of elementary confusions about the senses, the passions, the virtues, reason and the like.

The 'Integral Humanism' of St. Thomas Aquinas'

In spite of the dour time in which Aquinas lived ("to describe men as they actually behaved in the 13th century was not to hold an excessively optimistic view of human virtue", Novak quips), Aquinas possessed a positive vision of his fellow man and an "uncommon capacity for the dispassionate assessment of evidence." Through his discovery and analysis of accurate Latin translations of Aristotle's Ethics and Politics, Aquinas came to appreciate what man could discover by reason and reflection, independently of divine revelation:

Aristotle showed how humans might follow the imperatives written in their nature to become good men, and good citizens. Seeing that, Aquinas "saw that it was good." . . . If it was good for the Creator, that was plenty good for him -- not sufficient, perhaps, for all purposes, but legitimately and fully good, and to be praised, as far as it went.

In other words, Aquinas distinguished "good" from "saved." He wished to honor the work of the Creator, and by no means at the expense of the Redeemer. It is the advantage of Jews and Christians, Aquinas argued, that "their God is reasonable." . . .

This is the proudest boast of the Catholic intellectual tradition: through Thomas Aquinas it legitimated, within a Christian vision, all that is good about human nature and its strivings. . . . This Christian humanism, "integral humanism" as Jacques Maritain called it, is by no means blind to the weakness, sinfulness, and full capacities of evil in the human breast. This humanism nonetheless shares in the satisfaction the Creator took in his creation and, especially, his most beloved creature, man. The most realistic humanism, without illusions, is quite resolute against the nostalgia about the past or utopianism about the future. And it may also be the humanism least closed to the transcendent and most aware of the judgement of God. But humanism it most assuredly is.

According to Novak, the achievement of this particular kind of humanism "is the first sense in which it is legitimate to speak of Thomas Aquinas as 'the first Whig.'"

Hayek's "triple test" for Whiggery

Novak moves on to examine Friedrich von Hayek's "triple test" in defining the term "Whig" -- 1) a commitment to liberty; 2) a love for tradition ("Whigs place considerable weight the lessons of experience, on things tried and proved, on . . . values learned organically, implicitly, and often below the level of verbal articulation"); 3) a sense of realistic hope and modest progress -- that we can learn from the past, can "nudge human institutions to more tolerable practices". Lest their be any misunderstanding over the term progress, Novak clarifies:

As Hayek argues so poignantly [in "Why I am Not a Conservative", Constitution of Liberty pp. 397-411], to call one's self "progressive" these days is to be enrolled against one's will under a banner that is the euphemism given by the Left to sinister dreams of domination. By comparison with the progressives of today's Left, the Whigs have too much respect for tradition to fall into neodoxy, the doctrine that the unproved new is better. Still, on their other flank, believing in the free polity, the free economy, and the moral and cultural ideal of ordered freedom, contemporary Whigs can scarcely call themselves (in the colloquial sense) "conservatives"; the free society is always, under the inspiration of liberty, open to creativity. Thus, their conservatism is tempered by the desire to test new spirits, to prove the good results of experiments, and -- even when experimenting -- to provide many checks and balances against abiding tendencies to self-aggrandizement.

It is in the second sense, that Aquinas possessed "a zeal to vindicate these three principles of orientation," that he was a Whig. But of course, Novak admits, this is not enough.

Practical Principles for a "Catholic Whig" Political Vision

Novak agrees with Craycraft (or rather, anticipates Craycraft's rebuke):

It is, of course, misleading to treat a historical figure outside his context. By no means would it be legitimate to ask if Thomas Aquinas were a Whig in the same sense as Thomas Jefferson, James Madision, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Lord Acton, or Friedrich von Hayek. The more exact question is: What did Thomas Aquinas hold that might embolden those who today cherish the Whig tradition to count him in their number?
The answer, says Novak, is that Aquinas' political vision "laid down specific practical principles that were to be useful to later generations of Whigs, in the construction of new institutions of political liberty." Novak devotes the latter part of his appendix to laying down these (six) principles "that seem compelling to the Whig temper."
  1. Civilization is constituted by reasoned conversation - Thomas Gilby , O.P., and John Courtney Murray, S.J., offer the following summary of Aquinas: "Civilization is formed by men locked together in argument. From this dialogue the community becomes a political community." For Aquinas, the most decisive human trait is that we are truth-seeking animals -- free, reasoning, inquiring animals. They ought to be moved by rational persuasion, not by force -- and not by demagogy or seduction, either. . . . That regime is the more civilized which relies less on coercion and more on rational persuasion.

  2. The human being is free because he can reflect and choose Thomas Jefferson said "The God who gave us life gave us liberty." ("A Summary View of the Rights of British America"); According to Novak, the words are Jefferson's, but the thesis is that of Aquinas, as expressed in the following:
    "A special rule [of Divine providence] applies where intelligent creatures are involved. For they excel all others in the perfection of their nature and the dignity of their end; they are masters of their activity and act freely, while others are more acted on than acting.
    (Thomas Gilby, OP, St. Thomas Aquinas: Philosophical Texts pp. 355-356). God blessed man with the ability to reflect and to choose among ends proposed to us, and the means to those ends (the chief end being, of course, to love Him). In this lies our dignity as human beings.

  3. Civilized political institutions respect reflection and choice - Monarchs are judged by Aquinas according to the degree to which their regimes rule their subjects tyranically or through their consent. Novak grants that "to argue that Aquinas, before Montesquieu and Madison, foretold the shape of the practical institutions that might allow for the routine and regular expression of such consent by the governed would be to overreach." Nonetheless, Novak maintains that St. Thomas validated the search for such institutions":
    He announced their first principles. He insisted upon their proper measure: the more worthy institutions are of the human person's capacity to reflect and to choose, the more civilized they are. If institutions violate that capacity, they are by that much deformed."

    Furthermore, Novak maintains, while Aquinas did not yet speak of "inalienable rights," he recognized "indelible laws in man's being that command the respect of all, agencies of the state included" -- natural law as the criteria for the legitimacy of positive law. Temporal authority, then, should appeal to our inherent rational nature:

    For Aquinas, the foundation of law is the human capacity for reflection and choice: man's reasoning nature. On the one hand, to violate that capacity in the name of law is to empty law of its inherent claim to respect and obedience. On the other hand, civilized life demands order. Without authority, common life falls into listlessness, an incapacity for community action, and ultimately chaos. Order there must be, but not just any kind of order. Only a reasonable order does justice to the dignity of its citizens.

  4. True liberty is ordered liberty A genuine exercise of liberty should be unimpeded from within, resting upon "command of the passions, a sense of proportion, correctives against personal weaknesses." Liberty is attained through moral virtue:
    "Temperance, fortitude, a sense of proportion (justice), and practical wisdom . . . these cardinal habits give order to our capacity for human freedom. They are not easy to develop; they are partly a gift and partly earned by repeated effort. Thus, the conquest of personal liberty requires self-education in the virtues necessary to ordered liberty: no such habits, no actual liberty."

  5. Humans are self-determined persons, not mere individuals -- As individuals, we are only part of the whole and in this respect may be obliged to subordinate ourselves, even to the point of sacrificing our lives, for the whole. As persons, we are autonomous subjects participating in liberty proper to the Creator. For Aquinas,
    the internal capacities of the person transcend the purposes and limited powers of the state. From a purely philosophical point of view, each person has a responsibility to direct his own destiny. From a theological point of view, each person has been created to share in the life of God. . . .

    No matter how famous, successful, or wealthy a person may become, each person has been made to be restless until he rests in God, and each society stands under God's judgement. No state or no law is legitimate that blocks the free exercise of this quest for God."

  6. The regime worthiest of the human person mixes elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy - Here Novak refers to the passage from Aquinas' Summa Theologica Ia-2ae, cv. I:
    Two points should be observed concerning the healthy constitution of a state or nation. One is that all should play a responsible part in the governing: this ensures peace, and the arrangement is liked and maintained by all. The other concerns the type of government; on this head the best arrangement for a state or government is for one to be placed in command, presiding by authority over all, while under him are others with administrative powers, yet for the rulers to belong to all because they are elected by and from all. Such is the best polity, well combined from the different strains of monarchy, since there is one at the head; of aristocracy, since many are given responsibility; and of democracy, since the rulers are chosen from and by the people.

For Aquinas, it is these six theses that justified the inclination of Lord Acton and Friedrich von Hayek to labelAquinas "The First Whig" -- "in principle, not in institutional detail."

Where did it go wrong?

But that is not the end of the story. Novak goes on to note that "in the actual course of Western history, in the great historical experiments that led to our modern liberal societies, direct intellectual links with these six theses of Aquinas were broken" -- pointing to the neglect of Aquinas by Hobbes, Montesquieu, Locke, Rosseau, and others. For Novak, this intellectual rupture with Thomistic thought has had disasterous consequences for our culture, among them the failure of Enlightenment project to establish an ethic based on modern conceptions of reason (here Novak joins others in praising Alisdair MacIntyre's groundbreaking analysis After Virtue); the split between secular philosophy and religion which has "marooned the majority of churchgoers and isolated the academics and intellectuals."

Novak concludes:

In calling Aquinas with propriety the first Whig, therefore it would be wrong to derogate from the full, practical originality of the Whigs who appeared in history some four or more centuries later than he did. They had plenty to invent and to achieve on their own. So it would not do to give Aquinas more credit than he deserves -- or less. He helped to establish, and to justify in the Christian world, the Whig values of liberty, tradition and institutional progress. He paid high honor to the political vocation. He held together concepts that many later thinkers treat as dichotomies -- concepts such as freedom and order, person and community, knowledge through the senses and intelligence, passion and virtue, tradition and progress, the evil in man and the good, nature and grace, faith and inquiry On each of these matters, he may have been the deepest thinker in the Whig tradition. In trying to deepen the philosophical formulations of that tradition, and in particular to build a bridge between the philosophical and the religious ways of addressing questions of liberty, one could do worse than to seek some fresh starting points in Aquinas. [p. 122]

Related Links on "Whig-Thomism", Pro / Con

  • "Aquinas and the Heretics", by Michael Novak. First Things 58 (December 1995): 33-38. A rich essay in which Novak addresses Aquinas' professed intolerance of heresy in Secunda Secundae as a challenge to his Whig-Thomist proposition, since it "reinforces the views of those who believe that Catholic teaching is inherently intolerant."

  • In On Two Wings: "Ten Questions about the Founding" [pp. 120-123], Novak devotes a chapter to some brief Q&A on his premises, one of which is: "If Aquinas was the 'First Whig', why did it take so long for the right to religious liberty to become an operative part in political constitutions?" -- Novak responds by articulating the necessary social advances that must be achieved before a political regime of religious liberty can be established: 1) differentiation of the sphere of the state from society and the relevant authorities of each; 2) differentiation of the sphere of culture from politics, in such a way that loyalty to the state does not require unity of thought and belief"; 3) a theory of rights that sees justice (jus, right) inhering not only in things, but in persons -- "that rights inhere in subjects, not things."

    Novak credits the work of Brian Tierney (The Idea of Natural Rights: Studies on Natural Rights, Natural Law, and Church Law 1150 - 1625 Eerdmans, 1997) for pointing out that

    . . . while it is not likely that Aquinas had reached the subjective idea of natural right . . . what Aquinas did do is develop the idea of personal liberty in exquisite analytical detail, with precisions beyond the ken of earlier writers concerning such concepts as will, practical wisdom, liberum arbitrium, conscience, synderesis, and other aspects of liberty.
    Canonists would further develop Aquinas' thought on these matters, bringing it to bear in their own historical circumstances, "[leading] them to adapt the Thomastic language they inherited to new uses, beyond those employed by Thomas himself but -- so some canonists argue -- entirely consistent with his approach." Against the mistaken notion that modern rights theories are derived entirely from Hobbes, Tierney demonstrates "the history of the concept of jus naturale before the seventeenth century."

  • Two scholars have written detailed book-length critiques/rebuttals of the "Whig Thomist" proposition -- Robert Kraynak's Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God & Politics in the Fallen World U. of Notre Dame Press (September 2001); and Dr. Tracy Rowland's The Culture and Thomist Tradition After Vatican II Routledge; 1 edition (April 1, 2003) - click the links for further information and reviews. (They're currently on my "must-read" list, so I'm refraining from further commentary until I've actually perused them).

    Readers can get a sense of Rowland's approach in Part II of an interview with Zenit News Service, "Benedict XVI, Thomism, and Liberal Culture" (July 25, 2005), in which she lays out the points of dispute between the "Whig" and "Augustinian" Thomists. Lest anyone have any illusions regarding how she feels about Whig-Thomism: "While the Whigs argue that liberalism is the logical outgrowth of the classical-theistic synthesis, the Augustinian Thomists argue that the liberal tradition represents its mutation and heretical reconstruction, and they tend to agree with Samuel Johnson that the devil -- not Thomas Aquinas -- was the first Whig."

  • The Social Order As Community, by Thomas Storck. Caelum Et Terra Vol 6 no 4 Fall 1996 -- in which a section is devoted to the question: "Is there a 'Catholic Whig Tradition?'", with specific reference to the "6 theses" of Aquinas which are compatible with Whiggery. Stork concludes:
    In his attempt to justify Aquinas's standing as a Whig, Novak has to fudge a good deal. . . . Most of these six theses are not peculiar to the Whig tradition, number six, for example, has been a staple of political philosophers since pagan antiquity, and numbers two, four and five are likewise hardly peculiar to the Whigs. But in fact Novak does not really attempt to make a serious argument here. He does not attempt to show that these theses are uniquely Whig, nor that, to the extent St. Thomas held any of them, this fact should make us "count him" in the same tradition as John Locke. By Novak's method of reasoning, almost every classical political philosopher could be counted as a Whig.

Novak can be commended for crediting St. Thomas for his (howbeit long-term) contributions to liberal/Whig political philosophy, and the "Whig Pedigree" is useful for charting similarities among a range of scholars. Novak lists the model thinkers of the Whig tradition as Robert Bellarmine, Richard Hooker, the Jesuits of Salamanca, and Lord Acton; the recent exponents are Don Luigi Sturzo, Jacques Maritain, Yves R. Simon, John Courtney Murray, SJ, Friedrich von Hayek and his country man Wilhelm Roepke, among others.

At the same time, as Craycraft and Storck demonstrate, the claim that Aquinas was the "first Whig" contains great potential for confusion and misinterpretation (due to its ambiguity), and any reference would best be accompanied by further clarification.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

David Jones interviews Caleb Stegall

"Reconnecting with Reality" Sept. 18, 2005. - David Major Jones (la nouvelle théologie) interviews Caleb Segall, editor of The New Pantagruel, web-based journal and refuge for "Augustinian-Thomists" seeking respite from the con-game of liberalism. =)

Some brief thoughts upon reading:

[David]: This is the age of the blog—short, quick opinions. tNP is the antithesis of that—your articles are long and complex. What's been the reaction to that?

[Caleb]: It's a mixed bag. Many people love what we're doing, but others think we're stuffy arrogant prats.

The blog is commonly a vehicle for "short, quick opinions" ( comes readily to mind) but not necessarily such -- I hope I've disproved that in my own online ventures, likewise with a number of other blogs I read.

Mark Shea, for instance, hovers somewhere in the middle, his blog populated with quick sound-byte quips that generate a good laugh, but he's certainly not averse to substantial reflections on a topic. I. Shawn McIlhenney's Rerum-Novarum is definitely an acquired taste precisely because he puts a lot of effort into his writing and doesn't mind developing a lengthy argument. I also see a lot of substantial discussions going on in blogs like Cahier's Peguy, Mirror of Justice, etc. So just to say that blogging as a medium isn't necessarily an impediment to substantial conversation.

The New Pantagruel strikes me as an online alternative to First Things -- inasmuch as some of their articles are written in reaction to the positions and proposals of those who carry on the Murray Project. My hope would be that Fr. Neuhaus and co. would eventually see the benefit in cultivating a presence on the web (along the lines of National Review) and join the online conversation.

[Caleb]: When I talk about new enclaves of civility and culture, borrowing from thinkers like Alasdair McIntyre and T. S. Eliot, I think the point is that communities of tradition and practice need to be rebuilt along different non-liberal lines in a way that allows a real culture to flourish again. The church can never accept life on a reservation, but neither should it position itself to run what is already a decultured and post-Christian deformity—which is largely what late liberalism has become.

I think with the exception of a wholesale dismissal of an undefined/unclarified "liberalism" (is it the liberalism of Rawls? Maritain? Acton? Murray? Bentham? Mill? JPII?), there is a lot that the WT's would be sympathetic to, if not in agreement with.

I would like to see Caleb develop this more, in terms of laying out what a "community of tradition and practice" would look like if constructed along non-liberal lines, and more importantly, how does one establish such so as to avoid the ghettoization or "life on a reservation" that he describes.

Update! - Dan Nichols challenges Maclin Horton's praise that New Pantagruel is "Thoroughly grounded in the same insights and impulses that drove [the now-defunct online journal] Caelum et Terra", making some interesting points:

While CT always attempted to transcend the Right/Left paradigm, Mr Stegall comes down squarely in the camp of the Right, albeit more or less on the traditionalist wing of that camp.

But to deign a vaguely defined "Liberalism" as the "engine of religious and Christian destruction" is to paint with a broad brush indeed. In fact, historically speaking, both liberalism and conservatism, in the popular sense of those words, both have deep roots in [different] parts of the Christian tradition. It was "liberal" movements rooted in both Evangelical Protestant and Catholic social thought -and often led by ministers of the Gospel- that brought about such beneficial things as abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights for African Americans, and the labor movement. Belloc, after all, sat as a member of the Liberal Party in the English Parliment.

Of course modern liberalism has gone badly off track, while still broadly honoring such Christian values as compassion, altruism, and economic justice. Meanwhile, Ayn Rand, whose "chutzpah" Mr Stegall admires, rejects even these remnant Christian values in her godless "conservative" philosophy.

Of course here we are in territory where terms like "liberal" and "conservative" become meaningless.

By one definition "liberalism" would mean a philosophy of brutal free market economics. By this definition, Rand, whose espousal of selfishness reaches the pathological, would be a particularly rough-hewn kind of liberal. Of course this kind of liberalism is today called "conservativism" and indeed it is this alone which gives Rand -despiser of religion and tradition, promoter of an evil philosophy not far from Anton LaVey's - a place on the Right.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

John Allen Jr.'s Proposal for Dialogue . . .

Browsing the web I stumbled on this old story in John Allen Jr.'s column "Word from Rome" (National Catholic Reporter Oct. 4, 2002, which included details on his lunch with Fr. Sirico:

I was invited to a lunch Oct. 2 with Fr. Robert Sirico, head of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is devoted to the relationship between religion and liberty. Sirico is a leading Catholic defender of a free market and limited government. He and the Acton Institute recently collaborated with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on a compendium of Catholic social doctrine.

The lunch took place at the apartment of Gaetano Rebecchini, a councilor of the Vatican city-state and the son of a former mayor of Rome, on the Via della Conciliazione. (The view of the Vatican is truly spectacular.) Rebecchini is the founder of the Centro per Orientamento Politico, a kind of think tank with a conservative flavor, and Sirico was in town to speak at one of its conferences.

I ended up seated across from Sandro Magister, a talented Italian Vaticanista who leans somewhat to the right, and this arrangement led to predictable jokes about how with Magister and I both present, all the Catholic bases were covered. (Actually, in my experience, journalists tend to regard one’s “nose for news” as a far more fundamental value than ideology, which Magister and I confirmed by revealing that we are avid readers of one another’s work).

Though Sirico struck largely predictable notes, such as the perils of the United Nations and the need to distinguish Catholic social thought from liberation theology, I found him open and thoughtful. His analysis of how the crucial inter-religious conversation of the future will be between progressive Muslims and “faithful” Christians was especially penetrating.

A suggestion for Martino, incoming president at Justice and Peace: It would be fascinating to sponsor a public event in Rome that would bring Sirico into conversation with Catholic social thinkers from other points of departure – the Catholic Worker movement, for example, or even a liberation theologian such as Gustavo Guttierez. Given the polarization that too often poisons conversation in the church, there’s urgent need for dialogue, and this would be a marvelous model.

I expect that Fr. Sirico would welcome a good, civil, public dialogue with the Catholic Workers (I have in mind the Zwicks @ Casa San Diego, Houston TX). Although I'm compelled to wonder if they would respond with the same degree of enthusiasm?

Re: [Stephen Hand] "Democracy and Neoconservative Economics"

A quick response to the latest musings from Mr. Hand's blog (appropriately entitled TCRMusings): "To A Friend Who Wrote Regarding Democracy and Neoconservative Economics" (- Via la nouvelle théologie)

[Hand:] While I would rather live under any monarch who implemented the social justice teachings of JPII, than any democracy based merely on the will of the 51% or judicial oligarchy, I do not fault democracy per se.

Q: How would a monarch "implement" the social justice teachings of JPII?

[Hand:] In our case, it seems to me we have so many ambiguous statements in the Constitution that the court oligarchs can twist it whichever which way. In the last 40 years they have twisted it in the direction of Hell itself.

No disagreement there.

[Hand:] "If we could definitively and forever repair the ambiguities, plug the holes in that constitutional dyke (e.g., a "right to privacy" need NOT imply a right to abortion) then our system of government would be so much more helpful.

No disagreement there.

[Hand:] "So I have hope for democracy, but recognize that the patient in this country is very sick. "A little error in the beginning becomes a great error in the end," said St. Thomas.

I see very little disagreement btw/ the WT's and AT's as to the current state of our nation, the weakness of our institutions and the tyranny of the judiciary (see Neuhaus' Naked Public Square and First Things' "The End of Democracy") -- but they part company at the solution for society's ills.

Neuhaus ("Liberalism of John Paul II" First Things 73 May 1997: 16-21): "There is no doubt that the American experiment is constituted in the liberal tradition. Since we cannot go back to the eighteenth century and reconstitute it on different foundations, we must hope that the foundations on which it is constituted are not those described by Ronald Dworkin, John Rawls, Richard Rorty -—and David Schindler."

Question: If Schindler's diagnosis is correct, that liberalism is inherently perverted beyond all hope, that liberalism itself in all its myriad forms, whether that of the 18th century or the debased, secularized version of today, is at the root of society's ills -- what, then, is the "Augustinian-Thomist" solution?

Schindler (THREADS interview): "we need to reinstate a right relation to God on all levels -- not only at the level of intention, but at the level of the logic of our culture. Our relation to God has to inform not only our will, but how we think and how we construct our institutions." Given the poverty of recommendations as to how we can "[re]construct our institutions" in Heart of the World, one must wonder whether merely "plugging a hole in the [constitutional] dyke", propping up the liberal institutions of democracy, is an inevitably futile effort, inasmuch as it is a participation in the "con game" of liberalism.

[Hand]: "I truly think the seminal Catholic Neoconservatives (not any of their know-it-all nasty groupies) are very good men who really have the best interests of the world in mind

Couldn't resist getting a jab in there, could you, Stephen? -- Nevertheless, to the degree that we can eschew these kind of remarks, I daresay we might be on our way to a genuine, civil dialogue.

[Hand]: it's just that they mix Calvinist and Catholic notions and do not sufficiently recognize that the market cannot make moral decisions and distinctions. If the Playboy channel is popular, the market will reinforce it, the Gross National Product will reflect it, and Wall Street will bless it. We need moral men and women to regulate an amoral market economy with moral regulations / laws.

I'd like Hand to clarify the "mixture of Calvinist and Catholic notions". As far as the rest goes, there is possibility for agreement. For example, Novak would likely concur with Hand that "the market cannot make moral decisions and distinctions." He would likely add that we cannnot reify "the market" as some kind of disembodied entity. "The Market" as the sum of individual decisions is only as good as we make it, and individuals as such bear moral responsibility.

Stephen portrays Novak as an advocate of unbridled capitalist greed, unrestrained by law or morality. This picture simply doesn't cohere with my reading of Novak, who insists that business and the market economy cannot prosper without a moral foundation. Consider:

A capitalist system is only one of three systems composing the free society. The economic system is checked and regulated by both of the other two systems: by the institutions of the political system and by the institutions of the moral/cultural system. Capitalism does not operate in a moral vacuum. Those who fail to live up to the moral standards implicit in its own structure are corrected by forces from outside it. Thus, capitalism supplies only some of the moral energy present in the free society as a whole. There are moral energies in the democratic polity to call it to account. And there are moral energies in families, in the churches, in journalism, in the cinema, in the arts, and throughout civic society to unmask its failings and to call it to account.

This is as it should be. For the free society is not constructed for saints. There are not enough saints on earth to people a free society. A free society must make do with the only moral majority there is — all those citizens called to a noble destiny, indeed, but often weak, tempted, egocentric and quite imperfect. In imagining the free society of the future, it is important not to be utopian. This century has built too many graveyards in its so-called utopias. The citizens of the 2lst century will warn one another against the mistakes of the 20th.

In addition to systemic checks and balances, there must also be internal checks. James Madison wrote that it is chimerical to imagine that a free republic can survive without the daily practice of the virtues of liberty. A free society depends upon habits of responsibility, initiative, enterprise, foresight, and public spiritedness. It depends upon plain, ordinary, kitchen virtues. Citizens who are dependent, passive, irresponsible, and narrowly self-interested will badly govern their own conduct, and their project of self-government is bound to fail.

It is, therefore, a crucial act of statesmanship to identify and nourish the cultural habits indispensable to the practice and survival of liberty. The free society cannot be made to thrive on the basis of any set of moral habits at all. Where citizens are corrupt, dishonest, halfhearted in their work, inert, indifferent to high standards, willing to cheat and to steal and to defraud, eager to take from the public purse but unwilling to contribute to the commonweal, and entirely self-aggrandizing, self-government must fail. Many peoples of the world, in fact, have shown themselves incapable of making the institutions of liberty work. The road to liberty, Tocqueville warned, is a long one, precisely because it entails learning the habits of liberty. Not any habits at all will do. The road is narrow and the gate is strait.

From "Wealth & Virtue: The Moral Case for Capitalism", National Review Feb. 18, 2004.