Yes, but the secularist overreaching hasn’t actually succeeded in turning the U.S. into Europe, or anything close. If it did, though – well, Daniel accuses me of threatening Linker with an empowered, nuclear-armed Daniel Larison, but what I really meant to threaten him with was myself, the patriotic Catholic Christian who generally accepts the liberal bargain, at least as I understand it, despite having doubts about liberalism’s ultimate philosophical compatibility with my faith. If you ask me to choose between God and the liberal order, because that’s what the liberal bargain supposedly requires, I’ll choose God every time. ~Ross Douthat
I think I see where I was mistaken. When Ross earlier warned about Linker “vindicating” Christians and secularists who believe in the opposition of the Faith and liberalism, he was saying that if the “liberal bargain” really were as narrow and limited as Linker makes it out to be Linker would have succeeded in vindicating such arguments in Ross’ eyes. Linker would have proven these different critics of the bargain correct, forcing faithful Christians (previously friendly to what they thought the bargain was) to seek refuge elsewhere. As interesting as the prospect of a “nuclear-armed Daniel Larison” might be (I hereby renounce the first use of such weapons, in case anyone was worried), I see that Ross’ point was simply that Linker’s conception of the “liberal bargain” could radicalise even those who are willing to embrace a more expansive definition of the bargain.
Elsewhere, I see that Ross’ debate at TNR received some notice and some words of approbation at First Things itself. Not surprisingly, Michael’s remarks and my posts were met with rather less enthusiasm. Here is Neuhaus, who is referring to the posts linked in this Ross Douthat post:
Following the links from the above, you will note that some of the comments assume that my colleagues and I at First Things are trying to “baptize” the liberal tradition by equating our constitutional order with Catholic doctrine. That is far from the truth, as any thoughtful reader of First Things knows. Between God and Caesar, there are deep and perduring tensions, and will be until Our Lord returns in glory, at which point all Caesars will be dethroned.
But neither Michael nor I have said the things attributed to us. Not exactly. Michael wrote:
My own view is that this attempt to baptize modern liberalism is misguided. Like Daniel Larison, I hold out American small r-republicanism up a productive political model. There is no reason, historical or theological to turn mixed constituionalism into anything more than a wise and practical political form. There is no reason to believe that modern liberalism is ordained in some special way by God. We don’t have to believe this in order to remain sane participants in civil society. But for some reason, certain Catholic neoconservatives and certain West Coast Straussians believe we do. I would say that they are promoting an ideology, not Catholic truth or (to use an ugly phrase) gospel liberalism.
Michael did refer to the baptism of liberalism, which is at least partly metaphorical. He did not claim, and, so far as I remember, I have never exactly claimed that theocons “equate” “our constitutional order with Catholic doctrine.” If I ever did say that, I would have been badly overstating my case. No one, so far as I know, has talked of theocons’ engaging in any such equation of the two. I have referred before to “equating the “law of nature” with Catholic natural law tradition,” which seems to me to be rather different from equating our constitutional order with Catholic doctrine. Perhaps that statement of mine could stand to be refined, and perhaps that statement is inaccurate, but it does not match with Neuhaus’ description. At bottom, I “reject the presumption that unless one can concoct an elaborate theory of ideological compatibility between philosophy inspired by the Faith and liberal political philosophy that militates against basic truths of the Faith Christians are somehow necessarily opposed to or alienated from the political regime of their home country.”
We do say that there is an attempt to link or associate the political liberalism of “the Founding” with Catholic natural law teaching. I have elsewhere observed that there is a similar attempt among the Straussians as they try to understand different conceptions of natural law as essentially one unbroken, continuous tradition in Western thought (a tradition, of course, only fully understood by the genius that was Lincoln). But leave them aside for the moment. With respect to the theocons’ basic project, it seems to me, we are in agreement with Ross Douthat, according to what he said in part of his response to Linker:
But, for the most part, I suspect that you believe that the attempt to link the American Founding to the Catholic natural-law traditionâ€“which is at the heart of the “theoconservative project,” insofar as there is one [bold mine-DL]â€“marks a greater departure from America’s supposed secular ideal than did the God-soaked politics of, say, Bryan or King.
Now perhaps Ross has it all wrong and is not a “thoughtful reader of First Things,” but I don’t think so. As I would have thought my latest entries against Linker should have made clear, I am perfectly aware that theocons acknowledge “tensions” between God and Caesar (they would surely have no credibility if they did not acknowledge such “tensions”), but the “tension” between God and Caesar does not really address the question at hand.
I object to the claim that there is some basic compatibility and harmony between Enlightenment liberal understandings of natural law and their Catholic/Christian equivalents. As readers of Eunomia are aware, I don’t think there is any such compatibility between Enlightenment liberalism and Christianity generally because of the opposition of their basic assumptions about human nature. I object to investing liberal rights language with the weight of theological claims, not least because theories of natural rights tend to be subversive of hierarchies and because they detract from a theocentric understanding of our existence.
I have assumed one of the basic claims made by “theocons” is that there is such a compatibility and liberal rights language is significantly compatible with Christian ideas of justice and human dignity. According to this view, so I have thought, Christians can embrace the liberal tradition in this country and its assumptions about man and society because that tradition is fundamentally in agreement with Christian teachings. Stripped of its Continental anticlericalism and fanaticism, I understand the theocons to be saying, Enlightenment liberalism makes claims about natural rights that were sufficiently in agreement with the Faith that there is no cause for Christians to look askance on the liberal tradition. Because Christians understand the transcendent origin of the rights of man, they are better-fitted to defend an order supposedly built up around those rights than others. Furthermore, as I understand the argument, because this tradition is compatible with natural law arguments found in the Christian tradition, it is not only possible but imperative for Christians to be active in public affairs and also imperative for the liberal society to allow them to bring religion into the public square because it is not only relevant but essential to the survival of a healthy liberal order for them to do so.
For my part, I don’t think most of the claims of substantial agreement between Christianity and liberalism hold up under scrutiny, and I don’t believe that such an agreement needs to exist for two reasons: one, we do not need to reconcile ourselves to a Lockean synthesis to defend the ancient, mixed constitution, and, two, we do not need an elaborate philosophical architecture to justify the participation of religious believers in the affairs of the commonwealth. That is, in a summary form, how and why I object to the “theoconservative project,” which I do not believe I have ever claimed involved the equation of the constitutional order with Catholic doctrine (indeed, I am not even sure what that would mean).
Neuhaus concludes his post thus:
In the forthcoming November issue of First Things, I explain why a writer in Time is quite wrong to be worried by the fact that so many Christians in America say they are Christians first and Americans second. The right ordering of their loves and loyalties is what makes them, contra the proponents of the naked public square, better Americans.
This is noteworthy, if only because I just wrote something to very much the same effect earlier this week.