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On ‘Right-Wing Liberation Theology’

Michael Warren Davis on why integralism ('political Catholicism') is bad for the Church
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(Above, Charles Maurras, French integralist -- and atheist!)

The Catholic writer Michael Warren Davis has another great reflection on integralism -- the reactionary Catholic idea that calls for the synergy of Church and State, on the grounds that politics should be oriented around achieving the greatest good, as defined by the Catholic Church. (It's more complicated than that; see here.) Davis is a very conservative Catholic, but not an integralist. Even if, like me, you're not Catholic, this is worth reading because of its reflections on Christians, religion, and politics. Excerpts:


Some of you might still think I’m making too big a fuss about the integralists.  One longtime reader, whose opinion I esteem highly, suggested that focus too much on my differences with the integralists.  After all (he said), we both want to see the Church “envelop modern civilization.” 

And that’s true!  Still, I’m convinced that we should rebuild Christendom the same way it was built in the first place:  by expanding the Christian church and spreading the Christian faith.  As Maritain says, “A Christian political order in the world is not to be artificially constructed by diplomatic means; it is product of the spirit of faith.” 

That was Maritain’s disagreement with Maurras.  It’s also my disagreement with the integralists.  And, clearly, it’s not just a difference of means.  We’re disagreeing on what it means to be a Christian in the modern world. 

That’s why I’m afraid to encourage the integralism.  Like Charles Maurras, or Francisco Franco, or any twentieth-century adherent to “Political Catholicism,” I think they have the potential to do more harm than good.  Because—once again—their priorities are fundamentally un-Christian. 

He's not saying that Church and State were never deeply entwined. He's just saying that the Gospel does not require it. More:

We don’t hear about the Church Fathers trying to empower the masses.  But we don’t hear about them trying to empower themselves, either.  The first Christians weren’t like the first Muslims.  St. Peter didn’t head up a band of violent fanatics the way Mohammed did.  He didn’t charge around Europe beheading Roman governors and enslaving barbarian chiefs.  He told his flock to “honor the king.”  And when St. Paul talked about the “powers and principalities” of this world, he certainly wasn’t talking about his fellow bishops.

The first Christians just weren’t into politics.  They didn’t even seem to have a preferred polity. They were more concerned about spreading the Faith.

One more:

The point is that their [integralists'] priorities are almost exactly wrong.  For the integralists, “good government” not only becomes an end in itself:  it becomes the ultimate end—in practice, if not in theory. 

This is why I refer to integralism as right-wing liberation theology.  Integralists treat the Church, first and foremost, as an instrument for social and economic reform.  By placing this inordinate emphasis on this-worldly goods, they’ve already missed the whole point of Christianity—much like the so-called Christian Marxists of Latin America.


Read it all.

I believe one of the most important political lessons for Christians of my lifetime has been the insufficiency of politics to bring about virtue in a people. This is the meaning of forty years of religious conservatives helping elect Republicans, and getting right-wing leaders and judges, but losing the culture -- and many of their own children to the faith. I'm on the same side as Michael Warren Davis: convert the culture, and good politics will follow.

In Russia, the Orthodox Church has a similar integralist theory by which it lives. I have been told in the past by some Orthodox Russians that rather than the Church making the State good, the State has made the Church an instrument of its power. This is what worries me about any integralist polity or strategy: not that the Church will taint the State -- thought that is worth worrying about, especially if you are a member of a religious minority in an integralist state -- but the other way around.

(For the penultimate time, today this blog ends after twelve years. If you want to keep reading me -- and this time, commenting at will -- please subscriber to Rod Dreher's Diary, a daily Substack newsletter available for only $5/month, and $50/year.)


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Theodore Iacobuzio
Theodore Iacobuzio
Well, your leaving this site with Maurras is with a bang, then. If anybody's interested, here is the magisterial work in English on Maurras and his work:


You know who was a (critical) fan? M. Proust. He said of the paper Action Francaise that "la lecture constituait une cure d’altitude mentale".
schedule 7 months ago
Rod can you transfer this piece, or something like it, to your Substack so the conversation can get going over there?
schedule 7 months ago
Giuseppe Scalas
Giuseppe Scalas
But how is integralism relevant today? The Church's work is to be the ordinary means of salvation. This is achieved in different ways in different times. When Christendom existed and thrived, all Western societies were naturally integralist, and it was good and well.
Nowadays, Christendom doesn't exist anymore, the very concept of virtue is lost and a darker Paganism, devoid of the virtues of Classical religion, is the faith of the unmoored masses. So what are we talking about?
In a time of youth and virtue, integralism is almost natural, in a time of old aged-ness and decay, integralism is impossible.
To see how integralism truly looks like, you have to watch the scene of prayer at the Battle of Borodino in Bondarchuk's "War and Peace". In societies where such a scene is unthinkable, integralism is unthinkable too.
schedule 7 months ago
Fran Macadam
Fran Macadam
This is why I finally ended with the position of the original Anabaptists. The state has a monopoly on violence - what has that to do with the Gospel? Once again, Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor critique makes sense to atheists and agnostics, not just Christians, nor only Russian Orthodox Christians. It is understandable, however, that a state that loosed itself from persecuting Soviet Communism, might choose this path.
schedule 7 months ago