The Myth of Liberal Neutrality

Liberals preach that liberalism is good because it is neutral. But no political philosophy is ever neutral. Liberalism is built on a lie.

Liberal neutrality relies on a false distinction between the public and the private spheres of life. Many beliefs, especially religious teachings, are supposed to stay in the private sphere. Then, in the public sphere, beliefs must be justified by appealing to “law and order” or “logic and facts.” Liberalism ignores appeals to religion and tradition, because these are just private preferences. It also begins with the assumption that people are independent individuals, so appeals to the common good are always less important than “individual rights.”

This is supposed to be good, because it creates a society where everybody can hold their own private convictions and communicate in what Rawls, a liberal philosopher, calls “the language of public reason.”

Adrian Vermeule offers an insightful description of this supposedly neutral language: “Instead of pursuing substantive excellence and justice, we have circuitous conversations about statistical properties like ‘diversity’; instead of deciding what ought to be permitted, what condemned, we debate ‘civility’; instead of discerning truth, we quarrel over ‘religious liberty’; instead of protecting the most vulnerable, we conceal our vices and crimes under the rubric of ‘choice,’ in both market and non-market spheres (although to be fair there are almost no non-market spheres left any more). When we ask about Truth, liberalism answers: What is ‘Truth’? Your truth is not someone else’s truth, and it is no more legitimate to make your truth into public policy than it would be to force your taste in ice cream upon everyone else. All this is solely of private concern.” (“According to Truth”)

Looking deeper, we find that liberalism is hiding something. The “neutrality” of liberalism demands their own definitions of words (like “freedom”) and assumptions about human nature which never existed before modernity. People who believe in virtue and the common good can never win, because the legal principles and procedures are built to protect negative freedom and individualism.

Those who seek political change are forced to speak the language of liberal neutrality. Liberalism is not a polite or charitable tolerance of diversity; it is civic nihilism, civilly enforced.

Liberalism also has an indirect effect on religion and culture. The law is a teacher: people tend to assume that things which are legal are good. Liberalism undermines Truth by reducing faith to personal opinion within a private sphere. In culture, it promotes individualism, isolating people from their communities.

Most importantly, liberalism provides a cover for the endless growth of capitalism. Preventing any vision of the Good in politics allows Capital to seek only its own profit. The liberal form of private property is the only acceptable legal tradition, which forces out premodern, communitarian, and integralist ideals.

But as Vermeule point out, this is the reason that liberal politics is incredibly dissatisfying to many. “The Achilles’ heel of liberalism is the hunger to come to grips with the substance of the common good.”

What is Liberalism?

Liberalism is a political philosophy which came to power in the 18th century. It is radically different than all which came before it in the premodern world. Instead of basing government on the Divine, it is a system of secular government which bases its authority on “the will of the people.” Instead of serving the common good, it promises “liberty,” and has succeeded in redefining what freedom means in modernity. Liberal politics prioritizes the “rights” of the individual at the expense of the community. Finally, by loosening social customs and traditions, liberalism justifies the expansion and acceleration of capitalism.

There are many different strains of liberalism. The early thinkers of the Protestant Reformation, especially Luther and Calvin, were important for laying the foundations of “Christian liberalism,” which served as a transition between medieval Christendom and secular liberalism. Christian liberalism was more fully developed in England by thinkers like Algernon Sidney and John Milton who worked in Cromwell’s Commonwealth (which lasted from 1649-1660).

The first roots of secular liberal thought can be seen in Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza, who wrote in the 16th and 17th centuries. Though not initially popular, they laid the groundwork for the Enlightenment of the 18th century. This age of political and philosophic thought was led by thinkers like Locke, Voltaire, Rosseau, Smith, Jefferson, Hamilton, and so on. Their thought justified the French and American Revolutions. This strain of liberalism led to the creation of the first fully secular governments in human history. Now, it is known as “classical liberalism” and its principles still define our politics today.

Today, liberalism has divided into “conservative” and “progressive” strains. In many countries, especially the United States, the bitter debate between these two sides makes it seem like they are the only options to choose from. The conservative liberals destroy constraints on Capital by promoting the Free Market and the progressive liberals destroy the constraints of tradition by promoting individualism in matters of religion, family, and sexuality. In the words of Patrick Deneen, “the project of advancing the liberal order takes the superficial form of a battle between seemingly intractable foes, and the energy and acrimony of that contest shrouds a deeper cooperation that ends up advancing liberalism as a whole.” (Why Liberalism Failed, 2018, page 45) The two sides are not that different from eachother, they only disagree about how to advance liberalism. Centrist politicians disagree on a small number of policies.

Liberalism is ultimately an ideology built by capitalism, to justify itself. All throughout its history, its political movements have been funded and supported by the bourgeois, who gained more and more power through the English Civil War of the 1640s, the Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution in 1776, and the French Revolution in 1789. This is why these conflicts are called the “Bourgeois Revolutions.”

Liberalism has historically been opposed by the reactionary (fascist) tradition and the revolutionary (communist) tradition. Integralism is no less radical, but it follows the Church’s guidance in rejecting both these failed traditions.

What is The Good?

Integralists often talk about The Good. You might hear them calling for “a politics with a robust conception of the Good.” What does that mean?

(For a complete and thorough description, we recommend Pater Edmund Waldstein’s “The Good, the Highest Good, and the Common Good.” His 37 theses provide a basic overview of Aristotelian-Thomist thought.)

The basic meaning of “The Good” is the “end” or “purpose” (telos in Greek) of a particular thing. So if we talk about the Good of a knife, we are talking about its ability to cut. If we talk about the Good of a plant, we are talking about its ability to grow and blossom. If we are talking about the Good of human life, we mean virtue.

Virtue, though, is very difficult. That’s why we need help to live a virtuous life. God (Who is the source of all Goodness) gives His grace to help us, but while we are meant to have a personal relationship, we are also meant to have a community which leads us to God. The perfect community of God is His Church, but we also have to live in another political community. This worldly community shouldn’t be abandoned, but it should be perfected by the grace of God.

That’s where integralism comes in. Most integralists talk about politics having a real conception of the Good, because the purpose of law is to lead people to virtue. Political systems, rulers, and laws need to recognize their purpose. A knife expected to clean dishes, or a flower expected to catch mice, will fail. A human who doesn’t live a virtuous life will be unhappy. And a politics which doesn’t lead people to virtue will fail, just as liberalism has for centuries.

In liberalism, there is no real conception of the Good. Sure, the liberals say that “freedom” is the good of human life and of politics, but this isn’t a real conception of the Good. The “freedom” of liberals is negative freedom, not positive freedom. Their idea of the good isn’t objective; it’s defined by every individual differently. Because of this, liberal politics is just a compromise between many different versions of individuals who define their own “good.” Liberalism is civil nihilism, civilly enforced. The results are catastrophic.

Positive Freedom versus Negative Freedom

Positive freedom is “freedom for.” It is the possibility of living out your fundamental purpose. It means freedom for the Good.

Negative freedom is “freedom from.” It is the absence of barriers to do whatever you want. It means freedom from any restraints.

Positive freedom is the traditional understanding of liberty for Christians, Greeks, and Muslims. Practically every premodern religion, from the Buddhists to the Aztecs, had the idea that human desires had to be constrained, so that man could be free. Freedom meant participating in a virtuous community. In the words of Patrick Deneen, “Liberty had long been believed to be a condition of self-rule that forestalled tyranny, within both the polity and the individual soul. Liberty was thus thought to involve discipline and training in self-limitation of desires, and corresponding social and political arrangements that sought to inculcate corresponding virtues that fostered the arts of self-government.” (Why Liberalism Failed, 2018, pg 23)

But in modernity, “liberty was fundamentally reconceived, even if the word was retained.”  Modern philosophers like Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke helped slowly redefine the words “freedom” and “liberty” to refer to negative freedom.

Pater Edmund Waldstein, in his essay “Contrasting Concepts of Freedom,” analyzes these different definitions on three different levels:

Christian/Classical Definition Modern/Liberal Definition
External Freedom “Not being subordinated to another’s good, not being a slave. Politically such freedom is realized by a political rule that orders people to their own true common good—a good that is truly good for them. It is realized by the participation of all citizens in political rule—so that everyone can claim to be ‘self-ruled.’” “Not being commanded by another to act in one way rather than another. This kind of freedom is realized by limiting the scope of government to the preservation of external peace, leaving each citizen free to seek whatever he thinks is the good.”
Interior/Natural Freedom “The ability of man to understand what is good, deliberate about how it is to be attained, and choose means suitable to attaining it. Unlike the animals, man is not determined by instinct, but is able to deliberate about his actions.” “A completely undetermined self-movement of will. Man is free not only to deliberate about how to attain the good, but to decide for himself what the good is.
Moral Freedom “Being liberated from bad habits and disordered passions that lead us away from what we know is the good. To be morally free is to live in accordance with the nature that God has given us—it is to be virtuous and wise.” “Not being determined by cultural pressures, rejecting conformity for the sake of ‘authenticity’ and ‘originality’ deciding on one’s own peculiar way of living human life, based on one’s own ‘freely chosen’ (i.e. arbitrarily chosen) ‘values.’”

These distinctions must be remembered when we talk about ideas such as free love, freedom of religion, or the free market. These phrases, like many others, take the liberal definition of liberty for granted.

 

 

 

The Myth of Modern Progress

Technological progress is not the same as moral progress.

Because many do not know the difference between the two, they think that the modern world must be fundamentally better than everything that came before. Defenders of liberalism and capitalism will say that these things are what led to “the unprecedented growth of science, industry, and markets.” Whenever anyone objects to the politics of liberalism or the economics of capitalism, they say: “Well do you want to go back to the Middle Ages? Back then half your family would die as children, you would all starve whenever there was bad weather, and if you survived all that you would probably die of plague.”

This mystification tricks many people into thinking that liberal and/or capitalist social arrangements are what have led to the lowest infant mortality rates and the highest life expectancy in human history. In fact, all of these changes are the result of technological and scientific progress. The use of new farming techniques, fertilizers, and machines have produced unprecedented amounts of food. New discoveries in biology, physics, and chemistry have produced medicines and knowledge needed to improve human health.

The use of empirical study to understand the natural world goes back to Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). Roger Bacon, a medieval monk, and St. Albert the Great, a Doctor of the Church, both employed the exact principles of the scientific method to better understand God’s Creation. The basis of most human science was developed in medieval Christendom and many other premodern societies.

On the backs of these thinkers and their experiments, modernity has witnessed great technological progress. But due to capitalism and many other evils, the modern world has seen centuries of radical moral decline. Historically, the beginning of capitalism around 1500 involved massive increases in working time, but did not improve the amount of food people had to eat for centuries (Broadberry et al., 2010, Table 23). The First Industrial Revolution, from roughly 1760-1850, actually lowered the standard of living for workers (Szreter and Mooney, 1998, pg 110). Today, the incredible inefficiencies of capitalism have created a world where our surpluses of food and medicines are denied to those who need them. A 2012 paper from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states:

In principle, there is sufficient global aggregate food consumption for nearly everyone to be well-fed. Yet this has not happened: some 2.3 billion people live in countries with under 2,500 kcal, and some 0.5 billion in countries with less than 2,000 kcal, while at the other extreme some 1.9 billion are in countries consuming more than 3,000 kcal.”

Additionally, instead of serving the common good many capitalist technologies, in consumption and warfare alike, have been used to create a world of atomization, atrocity, and climate catastrophe.

Our technological progress is the reason for the improved health and prosperity of the modern world; our moral decline is the reason why these blessings are bestowed on far too few.

What is the Purpose of Law?

The purpose of law is to lead people to virtue and the common good. This is the measure of justice and the source of all true rights.

Aristotle states in the Nicomachean Ethics, that “the end of politics is the best of ends; and the main concern of politics is to engender a certain character in the citizens and to make them good and disposed to perform noble actions.” (1099b)

In the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Isidore is quoted as saying that “laws are enacted for no private profit, but for the common benefit of the citizens.” (I-II. Q90. A2. s.c.) Thomas also says that “the purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but gradually” (I-II. Q96. A2. ad. 2) and that “there is no virtue whose acts cannot be prescribed by the law” (I-II. Q96. A3. co.).

In modernity, because this politics of virtue and the common good has been suppressed by violence and propaganda, it has fallen to Catholic Social Teaching to uphold the truth of integralism. The Social Encyclicals of the Holy Fathers have constantly affirmed this tradition. For example, in Libertas § 9, Pope Leo XIII states that “human law, properly so called, consists [in], binding all citizens to work together for the attainment of the common end proposed to the community, and forbidding them to depart from this end, and, in so far as human law is in conformity with the dictates of nature, leading to what is good, and deterring from evil.”

St. Pope Paul VI states that “Political power… must have as its aim the achievement of the common good… it acts in such a way as to create, effectively and for the well-being of all, the conditions required for attaining man’s true and complete good, including his spiritual end. It always intervenes with care for justice and with devotion to the common good…” (Octogesima Adveniens § 46).

The opposite view comes from liberals, whether conservative or progressive, of all different kinds who agree that the purpose of law is to protect our “life, liberty [in other words, freedom], and pursuit of happiness.” They appear to disagree vehemently on the details, but the purpose of law lurking underneath their arguments is the same.

We can certainly agree that the protection of human life is central to justice, but the word “freedom” and the pursuit of “happiness” have both been completely redefined by liberalism. Liberals think that we have “freedom” and can pursue “happiness,” because the liberal governments of the world give us “rights” or “human rights.” Many governments constitutions lay out what “rights” citizens have and the United Nations published (in 1948) a “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Liberal errors about the meaning of freedom, however, lead to errors about the definition of “rights.” Such errors have been used throughout modernity to justify the outrageous evils of capitalism and the insanity of liberalism.

Re-introducing Easy Essays

Peter Maurin was a saintly and inspiring Catholic devoted to a life of prayer and service with the poor. Along with Dorothy Day, he founded the Catholic Worker movement. In 1934, he published a series of what he called “Easy Essays.” These very brief essays were powerful and to-the-point. They presented a radical vision for how Catholic Social Teaching can change our historical and political narratives, the life we live, and the world we all share.

In 2019, we call for new Easy Essays to continue building the Kingdom of God. Many people who are interested in integralism or the Catholic Worker movement aren’t sure exactly what all these ideas mean. Easy Essays will define important terms, explain the fundamental ideas of Catholic Social Teaching, provide historical insights, analyze data, and provide strategies to organize the Works of Mercy and take direct action.

All of this will be done in short essays, with simple language. Political life cannot be limited to only the academics. Long and complicated philosophic papers have their place, but the mission of our Easy Essays will be to provide straightforward answers to simple questions. Maurin’s Essays were about 100-150 words each. Ours will be bit longer, but never more than 500 words. It takes less than 5 minutes to read an Easy Essay.

We recommend reading more of Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays on the Catholic Worker website and this archive. Here are two of his Easy Essays which are still extremely relevant to integralism today:

Blowing the Dynamite

Writing about the Catholic Church,

a radical writer says:

“Rome will have to do more

than to play a waiting game;

she will have to use

some of the dynamite

inherent in her message.”

To blow the dynamite

of a message

is the only way

to make the message dynamic.

If the Catholic Church

is not today

the dominant social dynamic force,

it is because Catholic scholars

have failed to blow the dynamite

of the Church.

Catholic scholars

have taken the dynamite

of the Church,

have wrapped it up

in nice phraseology,

placed it in an hermetic container

and sat on the lid.

It is about time

to blow the lid off

so the Catholic Church

may again become

the dominant social dynamic force.

Church And State

1. Modern Society

    believes in the separation

    of Church and State.

 

2. But the Jews

    did not believe in it.

 

3. The Greeks

    did not believe in it.

 

4. The Romans

    did not believe in it.

 

5. The Mediaevals

    did not believe in it.

 

6. The Puritans

    did not believe in it.

 

7. Modern society

    has separated Church and State

    but it did not separate the State

    from business.

 

8. The State is no longer

    a Church’s State.

 

9. The State is now

    a Business Men’s State.

If you would like to contribute writing, art, or translations to our Easy Essays, please contact us. Keep up to date with Tradistae on Twitter and Facebook. Please consider supporting Tradistae on Patreon; every dollar we receive allows our contributors to spend more time promoting the politics of virtue and the common good.

Easy Essay List

This following list contains links to all the Easy Essays on Tradistae:

 

If you would like to contribute writing, art, or translations to our Easy Essays, please contact us. Keep up to date with Tradistae on Twitter and Facebook. Please consider supporting Tradistae on Patreon; every dollar we receive allows our contributors to spend more time promoting the politics of virtue and the common good.

 

An Integralist Voting Guide

Election day in the United States of America is November 6th.

Modern democracies, which claim to be governed by the voice of the people, are almost universally disappointing. Only those who worship the State, or a certain party, can be truly peaceful with the results of an Election. This ‘liturgy of liberalism’ is an extravagant ceremony, but it often comes off as insincere, rigged, and ridiculous.

For the rest of us, the time after an Election is a return to the usual agony of politics. We wait and see whether those who we elected do the things they promised to win our vote. By voting, we feel some degree of allegiance to our chosen candidate. The mental discomfort of such decisions is set aside when convince ourselves that we have made the right choice. Our pride demands that we cannot feel cheated, so we are tempted to pave over the inconsistencies between our values and the politics of whoever received our support.

There is, of course, an argument to be made for strategic voting. Because it has already been made at nauseating length, a brief summary suffices: When we think about the horror of abortion, the brutal mass murder of the unborn, our hearts justly burn for these innocent childrenand we might take the Republicans up on their promise. When we think about the plight of workers, the economic persecution of the family, we are rightly indignant at the outrages of capitalism—and we might turn to the Democrats for help. This debate should not be dismissed, but it should not be our only consideration.

In the past decades, Republicans have delivered only occasional anti-abortion policy, though they may nominate some judges who quibble with Roe v Wade. And most Democrats do nothing to dismantle capitalism, though they may expand the bureaucracy of the welfare state. There are some rare cases where a partisan candidate might do good on multiple fronts. But these are very rare indeed.

There are also third parties in America, despite what it seems. But the voting process—through gerrymandering, ballot access rules, and first-past-the-post—has made it structurally impossible for them to succeed. These important political organizations can do great good on the local level and in the national discourse: the American Solidarity Party is a promising place for the post-liberal politics of virtue to organize. But the ASP, as of yet, is not likely to field candidates for even one of the positions on any given local ballot; much less are they poised to win office.

So until the day arrives when there are just candidates, how does a Catholic vote, if at all? Barring the many obstacles of law or circumstance, he or she should vote, for it is the duty of Christians to “proclaim to the nations: the Lord is King” and the Church tells us that “co-responsibility for the Common Good makes it morally obligatory to exercise the right to vote” (CCC 2240).

One answer is this: a write-in vote for “Christ the King” in all offices. The purpose of this is threefold. First, it removes the temptation to defend the unjust actions of a strategic single-issue candidate who received one’s vote. Liberalism is constantly tempting us to an idolatry of the State. Second, it refuses to be stained by association with the wickedness any liberal faction. “Liberal democracy is the Devil’s tool to make us complicit in the sins of tyrants.” And third, it sends the clearest possible message about the allegiance of one’s heart. No one can discern the exact motives behind votes for various liberal parties, but a vote for “Christ the King” begs no such ambiguity. And while a dozen integralists voting in this way would amount to silence in the noise of our modern media, a growing movement of Christians with such a protest would eventually demand recognition. We may someday soon have candidates supporting the politics of virtue. Still, we cannot allow meaningful political activity to be reducible to voting. Integralists have much work to do throughout the rest of the year.

The world will not be redeemed through the ballot box. It is money, not the masses, that truly drives liberal politics. But we can nonetheless subvert the Devil’s weapon to praise his conqueror, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Christ the King

 

An Exegesis on Abraham and Lot: Communities of Virtue

by Isaac Miller

The next morning Abraham hurried to the place where he had stood before the LordAs he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and the whole region of the Plain, he saw smoke over the land rising like the smoke from a furnace.
Genesis 19:27-28

 

A commenter recently suggested fleeing the corruption of the Church as Lot fled from Sodom. This is an interesting take, but I think the analogy isn’t quite on target:

First, let’s rewind a bit. Abram was not told to bring Lot along when he left Haran to go to Canaan. But he did. He was told to leave his “country and kindred” and go to a land he would be shown. Upon returning from a brief period in Egypt, Abram and Lot’s herdsmen fight, so they decide to separate. Lot gets to choose first and chooses based on what he saw with his eyes—the well-watered areas of the plain of Jordan. There is nothing inherently wrong about rightly discerning the land most likely to yield prosperity. But what was Lot’s end? His end was oriented to prosperity and good living; Abraham’s heart was inclined to God.

Afterward, Abram was also told by God that the land he was in would be his and his seed would be as the dust of the earth—note that this only happened after Lot had separated from him. God knew what he was doing. Next, Lot’s presence in Sodom made him vulnerable to capture by the nations, so Lot had to be rescued by Abram, after which Abram expresses his disdain for the King of Sodom and famously encounters Melchizidek.

Some time passes, and Ishmael and Isaac are born. Abraham has the interaction with God where he pleads that if a certain number of righteous people are in the city, he will not destroy it. It is unclear if Abraham knows whether Lot is still there or not.

Notice that Lot returned to Sodom—despite having been captured by the nations and rescued, he returned to Sodom. He had figured out a way to coexist with the evils committed in Sodom. In other words, he did not attempt to change the society or its laws to be more in line with God or to change society’s end to incline itself to God. Many in the modern world are in the same situation. They live quietly without rocking society’s boat. It’s clear from Lot’s actions that he was a good man, overall—he noticed the angels, thinking they were men, and asked them to abide in his house and not in the street (since he knew the danger they would be in)—however, notice that Lot’s family did not receive his righteousness. His wife looked back, defying the commandment of the angels. His daughters got him inebriated to conceive incestuously. His son in laws thought he was joking. They didn’t take him seriously.

He may have been righteous himself, but because of the society he acquiesced to live in, his family paid a price. The Church today isn’t taken seriously because we have acted as Lot and not Abraham. The environment Lot lived in corrupted his family, and the incestuous relationship with his daughters produced Ammon and Moab, enemies of Israel. Lot learned to coexist with the world, and despite his own righteousness, he saved only himself.

Many of those who live as if they were Lot and not Abraham currently populate the Church. Some moan at the evils of Sodom, but many have become accustomed to it or participate in its evils themselves.

Abraham had the covenant relationship with God, as the Catholic Church does. St. Paul writes that “the gospel was preached beforehand in Abraham, saying, ‘In you all nations shall be blessed.’” Yet, Abraham didn’t hide among the world, avoiding political issues, merely saying “everyone should believe in X.” He built a community of security—the servants trained in his house. Individual spirituality is not and has never been the only dispensation of the gospel.

Abraham’s unique position empowered him to save Lot. Afterward, Lot still chose to dwell among the world and by its rules in spite of being saved from it. We are being derelict if we do not recognize that rejecting the social kingship of Christ has consequences.

The Lord Jesus says that the end days will be as the days of Noah and as the days of Lot. In the days of Lot, Abraham dwelt safely away from Sodom. We are called to seek to be part of a holy community, not merely an atomized righteous person in a sea of corruption. Ultimately, we are affected by those we allow to set policy. Our families are affected.

Our high calling is not only to be ready to leave Sodom if necessary, as Lot was forced to do, but to be Abraham, who, if necessary, blazes a trail to be a “Father of many nations.” Abraham was already building and maintaining his land. Integralism is not a fanciful idea that would be nice if it were possible. It is our high calling, and souls hang in the balance of the safeguards and communities we create.