Live blogging the closing Notre Dame colloquy about “Catholicism and the American Project.” Participating: Patrick Deneen, Adrian Vermeule, Gladden Pappin, and Philip Muñoz. Here’s the livestream:
UPDATE: Deneen said that a reconciliation of Catholicism and Americanism is the heart of Notre Dame’s mission, as the university understands it. The first problem is that there is a historical conflict between Catholicism and the heresy of “Americanism,” as defined by the 19th-century papacy. The second challenge is the longstanding American hostility to Catholics.
Early on, said Deneen, ND has worked very hard to deny the idea that Americanism was a heresy. At every football game at ND, part of the pregame ritual involved the entire stadium reciting from the Declaration of Independence — this, to show how patriotic the Catholic university is. Deneen says that part of the narrative was that American was really founded as a Catholic country.
“However, this story had limited traction, because it really wasn’t true,” Deneen said, to laughter.
The second narrative was that even if America was not founded as a Catholic country, then the American founding was in fact continuous with the pre-liberal tradition.
The third narrative holds that yes, the Founders were not Catholic, and even anti-Catholic, but they didn’t realize that America was really founded on Catholic principles. Deneen said this is the “the Founders built better than they knew” argument.
“These version have been the conservative-liberal way for conservative Catholics to tell the story of America’s compatibility with Catholicism” and vice versa, says Deneen.
On the left, the argument is that Catholicism is part of the American story because it’s about social justice and non-judgmentalism. “This leads to a kind of dimunition of doctrine and sacraments in favor of a set of works.”
Both of these are ways of rendering Catholicism and Americanism compatible, but it has had two consequences. First, it has divided Catholicism in a damaging way. Second, it has diminished the faith, “because it has tended to place politics as the central aspect for how we understand America and Catholicism.”
Orestes Brownson, the first “they founded better than they knew” Catholic, later went on to write to Isaac Hecker that American Catholics aren’t really Catholic in the way they think and live. He said that Americans place the national idea over the Catholic idea.
UPDATE.2: Gladden Pappin, who is a right-wing Catholic integralist (a Catholic who believes in some form of unity of Church and State), says that many people believe that American liberalism is fundamentally sound, but needs the help of Catholicism to supplement it. This has been called “Catholic fusionism.” But today, the gap between magisterial Catholicism and American values is so enormous that Catholic fusionism is untenable. People today need to ask themselves not “how can Catholicism be reconciled with Americanism,” but rather “what is the Church?”
Pappin said that integralism is making a comeback. It rejects “the separation of politics form the ends of human life.” It also asserts that the spiritual power is to be superior to the temporal. Statecraft is inevitably soulcraft. Progressives have understood this; conservatives have not. It is completely understandable, Pappin says.
He notes that China believes that the spiritual guidance of its people are a matter of the state, but we don’t. (I think he’s saying that we should be more like China — that China is more “Catholic” than the US in this sense.) He says also that the American Catholic Right has unjustly ignored some of the positive things that the American left has had to say about how political life should be organized.
UPDATE.3: Adrian Vermeule, also an integralist, is talking. He points out tht Pope Leo XIII said that it is not acceptable to believe that Church and State should be divorced. Vermeule, riffing on this, says it’s a fundamental mistake to treat the Catholic Church as just one organization among others. “I’m convinced that this teaching is unreformable,” Vermeule says. In other words, integralism cannot be explained away or gotten around.
“I think for Catholics in America in the short run, which might mean decades in political time, [they] will live in the sort of decaying liberal regime. The problem is it becomes ever more dangerous as it sees its own weakness… .”
What’s the best defensive approach of this kind of regime? “To populate in the governing counsels and courts of the regime to steer it away from wickedness.” He says the Old Testament is a good guide to helping “creative minorities” thrive under hostile circumstances.
“In the longer run, we are duty bound to fulfill Leo’s mandate. How that might happen is obscure. But I think it is a mistake to demand a specific blueprint” for how to do that. Vermeule says that he draws lessons from the Sexual Revolution, as well as from the fall of communism in 1989, that things that seem permanent are actually more malleable than we think. “It’s a mistake to be prisoners of our time-bound conceptions,” he said.
Finally, what is the alternative? He talks about the “communitarian version” of “well-ordered local communities” (he’s talking about the Benedict Option). He says he doesn’t think this is wrong, necessarily, but these little communities have to be protected by “Rome.” He brings up the example of the liberal state pushing hard against small communities.
“The point is that liberalism tries to dissolve all local communities into pure voluntarism,” he says. Liberalism will knock down any form of resistance that communities put up. In that world, the existence of these smaller communities will always be at the sufferance of the regime. The only way forward is to try to give Catholics a voice within the institutions of the liberal order.
UPDATE.4: Now comes Philip Muñoz, a politics professor at Notre Dame, and a West Coast Straussian. PM is a Catholic and defender of the liberal order.
“Usually I debate one on one, which is fine,” he jokes. Of the four panelists, PM is the only classical liberal on the stage.
“America is an experiment: can we build a political community based on the principle of equality, dedicated to liberty, where the people live by virtue?”
The fundamental principle of the American project is that all men were created equal. “We have to remember that equality is a claim about political authority. … Equality rejects the classical position that wisdom is a valid claim to rule. … Even the wise must rule by the consent of the governed.”
If you reject government by consent, you reject the principle of equality. Equality also rejects the idea that religious authority itself has legitimate authority to political rule.
Liberty: the purpose of political community is to achieve liberty. That’s why the state’s authority is limited. The state has no authority to declare what is true and false worship. The politics of liberty are limited.
PM says that God created us equal. We limit politics because we are to love and worship God in freedom. America’s politics of freedom do not reject religious authority or religious truth, but rather recognizes that our obligations to God are higher than our obligations to the State, that’s why the State’s authority must be limited.
What about virtue? How can citizens become virtuous under a liberal political order. This is why liberalism is an experiment. “The experiment will likely fail if people do not maintain their faith,” he says. Religion teaches us how to use our freedom well, according to Tocqueville.
“The Founders understood this” (that maintaining ordered liberty depended on the health of religion).
Religion makes a liberal polity possible.
UPDATE.5: Now we move to general discussion. Moderator Carter Snead points out that all the panelists agree that Things Are Bad today, but Muñoz alone believes that liberalism is not (broadly speaking) the cause of our current disorders.
PM: “I want to push the state back to its proper limits, but Adrian and Gladden just want to take it over.”
Snead asks Pappin to distinguish between religion and the Church. Pappin: “Religion is a state of life within the Church.”
Snead asks Vermeule to respond to PM’s comment that individual freedom and consent are sources of authority. Vermeule: “When Phil says the end of the liberal polity is to foster conditions that allow for the free worship of God, is that a falsifiable empirical hypothesis?” If it is, then it has been “spectacularly falsified”; the liberal polity has dissolved fully integrated worship of God. “What we’re left with is a social club with some strange rituals to it that doesn’t fully express the relationship between God and man’s communal life that we were promised.”
PM: Points to Gladden’s idea that the progressives understand the point of politics more than conservatives do. PM asks: What has corrupted the Church? Is it the principles of the founding? He claims that progressivism has been ruling the country for a hundred years, and it has betrayed not only the Founding, but the interests of the Church.
Pappin asks PM what’s the time limit to determine whether or not liberalism has succeeded or failed? PM responds that we should not forget all the good things that have come out of a liberal regime. “It’s easy to criticize that, but we should not forget that tomorrow we will all go to our place of worship, or not be forced to go to a place of worship, and that is a good thing. … That is a great human achievement.”
Deneen: Yes, the American experiment is unprecedented. I give great respect to the Founders for an idea of what a decent politics looks like. Based on the conditions under which they lived, they could see a people that they believed had some reservoirs of virtue.
Deneen: “I think the problem … is that they believed that the persistence of these virtues would be sufficient to populate this thin, emptied understanding of what politics and economy would be, and couldn’t foresee what we can now see in hindsight is that the adoption of this thin conception of human life is — the pursuit of pleasures and the expansion of individual rights — that the realization of the very philosophy they believed would be sufficient ultimately undermined the virtues that they believed, with good reason, would persist.”
It’s now time for people to admit this experiment hasn’t gone well, and it’s not enough to say that it’s the fault of progressives for spoiling the Founding. In fact, progressivism follows naturally from the principles of the Founding. “If it was a perfect founding, why was it susceptible to this foreign contagion?” asks Deneen.
Deneen says yes, we have the right to go to church, but church attendance is collapsing. We have the formal right, but what good is it if we are no longer a virtuous people.
Snead asks why Deneen is not an integralist. Deneen jokes, “Well, they’re kind of crazy.”
Vermeule asks Deneen to address whether or not he believes there should be an integralist polity. Deneen says he stands apart from all three of them. “I don’t think there’s any political solution that we can conceive of that makes the Church at home in the world,” he says. All three of them seem to be thinking of ways that the Church can be at home in the world, and Deneen doesn’t believe that’s possible.
“In some ways, our birthright is to be the pilgrim church on earth, and at some level to resist the idea that our purpose is to be at home in the world.”
Deneen says this is a prudential question — the relationship of the Church to the World. “I think that our situation is less looking at the 13th century and instead looking at the first century,” said Deneen.
UPDATE.6: Pappin asks what is the juridical authority of the Church over its members? It’s not sufficient to say that the Church is not at home in the world. We have to talk about what juridical authority the Church has in the world.
Vermeule says he doesn’t think it’s desirable or possible to return to the 13th century, but there are certain principles and outlooks that we need to recover. If the 13th century is where we need to look, then fine, let’s look there.
He says that a useful premodern way to think about freedom is that we should be held to vows we make because it is an expression of our highest freedom. “It’s extremely revealing that the place where liberal society allows us to be held to vows is commercial contracting, because that’s what allows the system to go,” Vermeule said.
Muñoz wittily challenges Deneen’s idea that the problem was in the Founding, not a perversion of it: “No-fault divorce is not a necessary consequence of the Declaration of Independence.”
PM goes on to say that Progressivism all come from a rejection of the natural law, which was at the core of the Founding.