The truth is that Father Richard John Neuhaus, the main figure in Linker’s book, is far more dangerous to American liberalism than Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell–precisely because he is much smarter than they are, and it makes sense to me that Catholics such as Wills and Sullivan would worry about this man’s “Syllabus of Errors” approach to modernity. ~Alan Wolfe

The quote above is one of The New Republic‘s writers responding to Baumann’s review (which I commented on here) of Linker’s Theocons.  Neuhaus’ Syllabus of Errors approach to modernity?  The comedy never stops!  Of course, most people who make references to the Syllabus of Errors often don’t know all of the things in it, so they assume any sympathy for any part of it would be an admission of the ultimate in blackest reaction, but it is nonetheless the symbol of anti-liberalism par excellence and thus the perfect thing to instill fear in unwitting liberal readers.  The fear of Catholics coming to eliminate the liberal order has a long pedigree, and it used to have some solid basis in reality, since Continental liberalism was born in stark opposition to and hatred of the Catholic Church and serious Catholics returned the feeling with gusto. 

This fear of Catholic reaction was the basis for the Kulturkampf in Germany and also in Austria and the general overt Catholic hostility towards Freisinnigen for the duration of the fin de siecle.  The latter has abated mostly because Catholics have given up fighting the old enemy, at least in many respects, while the fear and hostility to any kind of social or political Catholicism has never really departed from liberals, be they “classical” or modern. 

I cannot think of anything more misleading to say about Neuhaus than that he is some devotee of the anti-modernism of Pope Pius IX.  I find relatively little objectionable about the latter, so it is shocking to see someone so very, well, liberal in many of his political attitudes even mentioned in the same sentence with Pius IX’s Syllabus.  I believe that Catholics of Neuhaus’ stripe find the extremes of Catholic social and political anti-modernism of previous ages fairly embarrassing and something they have been desperately trying to make up for, so to speak, by concocting their rather elaborate model of Christianity-reinforced liberalism, and I think they would undoubtedly wholeheartedly agree with Pope Benedict’s recent refusal to make some sweeping attack on modernity.