Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

After Liberalism

As a student of late medieval political thought, I was happy to see that my friend and former colleague Patrick Deneen recognizes the contributions of “preliberal” thought to the development of modern liberal constitutionalism (“Unsustainable Liberalism,” August/September). However, as editor of the Norton Critical Edition of The Selected Political Writings of John Locke , I was disturbed by his linking”indeed equating”Locke’s liberalism with the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. In Deneen’s argument, Locke’s support of consent in the areas of marriage and family life somehow becomes endorsement of “the calculation of individual self-interest . . . without broader considerations . . . of one’s obligations to the created order and ultimately to God.”

What does Locke say about those obligations? In paragraph 6 of his Second Treatise , he states, “Though this [the state of nature] be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license . . . The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone.” As Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration , another founding document of liberalism, argues, conscience and religious duty transcend and limit self-interest and political obligation.

Deneen offers no hint of the Locke of God-given natural rights, limited government, and religious and political freedom”the Locke who profoundly influenced the Founding Fathers. The argument that Locke was a covert Hobbesian was first made in the early fifties by Leo Strauss in Natural Right and History . Unfortunately for Strauss, his book was soon followed by the publication of the English translation of Locke’s Essays on the Law of Nature , which drew heavily from Cicero and the scholastic tradition. Strauss’ argument was further undermined when a critic noted that his proof-text quotation from Locke’s description of the state of nature as “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions . . . as they think fit” had omitted his important qualification “within the bounds of the law of nature.”

The identification of Locke and Hobbes is necessary for Deneen’s central argument, the reductionist identification of any and all liberalisms with one central philosophical position”the “voluntarist” rejection of any limits on autonomous liberty, the aim of which is “the satisfaction of appetite.” But historic liberalism was and is a political concept. Opposition to government coercion in politics, religion, and personal life, and the belief that an overlapping consensus (a concept shared by writers as diverse as John Rawls and Jacques Maritain) can provide the shared values and limits that constitute the basis for what the Harvard Law School graduation formula calls “those wise restraints that make men free,” is not a bad summary of what is meant by “autonomous liberty.”

Paul E. Sigmund
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

Patrick Deneen’s contribution to the “After Liberalism” project is the most serious and most radical of the symposium. First Things needs more voices like his to remind us that the neoconservative and progressive political options in America are steeped in the metaphysical and theological mistakes of liberalism.

Nevertheless, it is worth testing one of Deneen’s central claims en passant . He argues that the liberal experiment depends upon preliberal resources that it increasingly seeks to undermine. These resources include “constitutionalism, the rule of law, rights and privileges of citizens, separation of powers, the free exchange of goods and services in markets, and federalism.”

Driving a wedge between liberalism and modern constitutionalism, he asserts that “the strictly political arrangements of modern constitutionalism do not per se constitute a liberal regime.” Can modern constitutionalism really be disentangled from an unsustainable liberalism?

Modern constitutionalism arises out of the same philosophical and theological milieu as do all the errors of liberal autonomy, voluntarism, and detachment from the natural order. The voluntarist principle in liberal politics goes back to the development of conciliarism”with William of Ockham and Marsilius of Padua on the proto-liberal side and Jean Gerson and Nicholas of Cusa on the proto-communitarian side”introducing quite modern constitutional ideas not only into ecclesiology but politics as well. By the time “voluntarism” reaches Machiavelli and Hobbes, proto-liberal philosophy is already conjoined to a modern constitutionalism that understands the regime as constituted by human consent.

One has to go back to the thirteenth century to find the kind of preliberal constitutionalism that Deneen rightly favors. He notes that for Aristotle and Aquinas, the human creature was “part of a comprehensive natural order.” Humanity was not required to conform to the regime that it formed through consent; rather, humanity was required “to conform both to its own nature as well as . . . to the natural order of which human beings were a part.” He then admits that “liberal philosophy” rejected precisely this kind of ancient constitutionalism. Can liberalism simply be excised, like miracles in Jefferson’s Bible, from modern constitutionalism?

Deneen gets us closer than ever to imagining what might come after us. He shows us that it will not be more of Hobbes and Locke. But might it be more Aristotle? Could it be more St. Benedict?

C. C. Pecknold
The Catholic University
of America
Washington, D.C.

Patrick J. Deneen replies:

I am doubly honored, not only to have been the beneficiary of the thoughtful and challenging responses by Paul Griffiths and Daniel Mahoney published alongside my essay, but now by these equally challenging letters.

Both of these letters come from friends and interlocutors of long standing, and in answering one, I am in danger of granting the premises of the other. For Paul Sigmund challenges my argument that the political philosophy of Locke represents a substantial break from medieval constitutionalism and resembles more the voluntarist and nominalist philosophy of Hobbes than the natural-law basis of the writings of Aquinas, while C. C. Pecknold accepts my suggestion of a radical disruption, and asks whether anything of modern constitutionalism, qua Lockeanism, ought to be retained at all. My friends have offered me a path narrower than that between Scylla and Charybdis.

Nevertheless, close readers of the Odyssey (including Aristotle) note that Odysseus does not attempt to sail through the middle but tacks closer to the lesser danger, and in this instance, I find that I must disagree more with Sigmund and grant more to Pecknold. No contemporary scholar has done more than Sigmund to remind us of the late-medieval influences in the philosophy of John Locke, and to point out a number of the inaccuracies in the assessments of both Leo Strauss and C. B. Macpherson, both of whom at roughly the same time pointed out the deep philosophical connection between Hobbes and Locke.

Space does not permit me a full response, but I would only note that Hobbes, no less than Locke, recognizes the existence of certain fundamental “Laws of Nature,” and so, by Sigmund’s reckoning, must also therefore be a late medievalist. However, it turns out we need to attend closely to the content of those “Laws,” which, for Hobbes no less than for Locke, give priority to the law of “self-preservation.”

This first Law of Nature is the foundation upon which both thinkers conceptually build the voluntarist society that arises from “the state of nature.” Locke’s “state of nature” is less vicious than that of Hobbes”and thus allows for the retention of more personal rights, including property”but the basic scheme is the same. Both ultimately place the origin and legitimacy of the polity, as well as the basic motivation for its creation, upon the judgment of the individual.

This individualist basis applies similarly in Locke’s understanding of religious belief”which locates the claims of “conscience” within the individual, and not the correctness of any belief in accordance with natural (as well as divine) law”as well as even Locke’s epistemic claims, reflected in the nominalism found in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding . Notwithstanding evidence of late-medieval and even some stated Christian influences, Locke is no less a nominalist and voluntarist than Hobbes, and to the extent that his philosophy underlies the American constitutional order, we should not be surprised that the regime created by his inspiration has been deeply shaped and increasingly governed by those beliefs.

In that case, Pecknold asks why we should defend “modern” constitutionalism at all. As Orestes Brownson recognized, even modern constitutionalism was unavoidably influenced by ancient constitutionalism. Constitutionalism itself is an inherited concept, including not only concepts such as the rule of law and divided powers, but the practices of “subsidiarity,” preserved in the “modern” constitution in the form of federalism. It is unclear to me whether the nominalist and voluntarist aspects of modern constitutionalism can be minimized, if not dissected”not necessarily by changing the words of the document, but rather the minds of the citizenry”in order to open space for a more corporatist and localist set of commitments and practices oriented toward the common good.

But it does seem increasingly obvious to me that without a conscious effort to differentiate a form of constitutionalism that accords with our reality as created and embedded creatures governed by a law outside ourselves, from one deriving from individualist assumptions that gives rise to collectivist outcomes, we will arrive at a decidedly unpleasant “end of liberalism.” At that point, like Pecknold, I think we will be in need of a new, but perhaps not so different, St. Benedict.

Sharia Statistics

I think we can all agree with Paul Griffiths (“Public Life Without Political Theory,” August/September) when he says we need data before expostulating on the state of the nation. But then he says about the health of societies ordered around Islamic law: “Constitutional democracies, with respect to measurable indices of their citizens’ flourishing, have no clear advantage over polities ordered by Sharia.” I am wondering: Does he have any data to back up that claim?

Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
University of St. Mary
of the Lake
Mundelein, Illinois

Paul J. Griffiths replies:

Fr. Oakes asks for data, and of course there’s plenty. We kill more people than they do, by a very wide margin. Our abortion rates per capita are many times theirs, and since 9/11 we’ve killed more of their civilians than they have of ours, by a factor of ten at least.

Faith’s Coercion

Publishing Thomas Pink’s “Conscience and Coercion” (August/September) was an ingenious tactical maneuver by First Things . Perhaps exemplifying a kind of Straussian “secret writing,” the article subverts the now quite common view that the magazine is a conservative Roman Catholic publication. Under the guise of demonstrating that Rome has in no way changed its doctrine on religious liberty, Pink’s analysis shrewdly gives new credence to sixteenth-century Protestant concerns”painting an unappealing picture of Roman Catholic teaching, while indirectly suggesting a need for real doctrinal change. This indirect approach undermines the stereotypical view of First Things far more effectively than any direct rebuttal could have done. Kudos all around.

Gilbert Meilaender
Valparaiso University
Valparaiso, Indiana

Thomas Pink’s central thesis is on target: The Catholic Church has the authority to see that her members fulfill their baptismal obligations (call this positive coercion) and can authorize baptized officials of Catholic states to use coercive force to this end. What has changed with Dignitatis Humanae is a matter of prudential policy: The Church presently does not wish any states to use coercive force.

I differ from him on the following. First, arguably, negative coercion”efforts to curb certain activities of false religions”is of greater importance than positive coercion. Negative coercion’s primary end is not conversion of heretics but protection of the faithful. Dignitatis Humanae leaves space for negative coercion when “public order” is threatened. Theologians will argue about what constitutes public order.

Second, Dignitatis Humanae focuses on the (civic) right to immunity from coercion, positive or negative. But an item left unsaid is the duty of individuals and states to recognize and promote the one true religion founded by Jesus Christ: the Catholic Church (see Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei and Pius XI’s Quas Primas , 1, 18, and 24, for example). This duty is key to the “traditional doctrine” left “untouched” by Dignitatis Humanae .

States that recognize all religions as equal inevitably trample the true religion (see Immortale Dei and ?Gregory XVI’s Mirari Vos ). Love alone can refound society. Disestablishment has brought ruin, for culture shapes morals and constitutions shape culture. Let martyrs’ blood be the seed of the Church, but let prudent minds appropriate the Church’s doctrine, which runs deeper than the circumstantially realizable sanctification of the day, reflecting on its proper application to society, guided by a right conception of nature and grace.

American Catholics’ present defense of liberty is anemic by the standards of Dignitatis Humanae , which declares that the Church’s liberty is no mere natural right but a divine right upon the recognition of which hangs the world’s welfare. Catholics run to the Constitution, whereas their Savior commands them to make the nations disciples.

Christopher J. Malloy
University of Dallas
Irving, Texas

I agree with Thomas Pink’s argument, but if the Catholic Church’s coercive authority over her members”in the present circumstances this means spiritual penalties or censure up to and including formal public excommunication”goes consistently unexercised, it will become merely a kind of abstraction, known only to canonists and the erudite. Unknown to ordinary Catholics, it will easily scandalize them should it ever be put into practice.

Such censures have been used almost exclusively against Catholic clergy and religious. It seems vitally important that such censures should be imposed upon prominent lay Catholics and above all those in positions of public authority who claim to be “practicing Catholics” or “Catholics in good standing,” precisely to make the point that one’s “good standing” as a Catholic is not a matter of one’s inner disposition or subjective judgment, but rests on an objective external determination by the Church’s magisterium.

Certainly, the public stances on abortion “rights” expressed by the late Senator Edward Kennedy or by Representative Nancy Pelosi, and in favor of same-sex marriage by governors like Martin O’Malley of Maryland or Patrick Quinn of Illinois, present a greater challenge to the Church’s magisterial authority and to the “obedience of faith” due from the Catholic faithful than do the ill-conceived notions of a nun working in a state bureaucracy. The adage “use it or lose it” seems as applicable to this question as to any other.

William J. Tighe
Muhlenberg College
Allentown, Pennsylvania

Thomas Pink’s essay on Dignitatis Humanae left me wondering whether we were reading the same documents, either from the nineteenth century or 1965. He writes that the encyclical is not about religious liberty in general but only “in relation to the state and other civil institutions.”

Yet it defines religious liberty as immunity “from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power.” It condemns coercion not just by the state but by the Church herself when it says that when spreading the faith “ everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion.”

Pink limits Dignitatis Humanae thus in order to argue that the Council changed Church policy toward the state and did not change doctrine. I agree with him that it did not change doctrine, but I cannot agree with his argument.

He claims that the nineteenth-century Church approved of the state’s coercive power in religion because it was the Church that was granting it. But in Immortale Dei , Pope Leo XIII writes that it is a chief duty of the state to favor, protect, and shield religion by law. It has this duty not as an extension of the Church’s power but as part of its own nature. It would be a sin “for the state not to have care for religion” as though it were “something beyond its scope.” The same pope writes in Libertas that religion must be preserved by the state because the state exists for the common good, a good unattainable if a man’s religion is not protected.

This is upheld in Dignitatis Humanae with the line, “Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare.” Where, then, is the change in policy?

Defending Dignitatis Humanae can be difficult. I know. But I’m afraid Pink’s attempt artificially limits its scope by straining the nineteenth-century teaching.

Omar F. A. Gutierrez
Omaha, Nebraska

Thomas Pink’s defense of the continuity of Dignitatis Humanae is blasphemy to the contemporary nation-state, whose very essence is the monopoly of coercive force to prevent its necessarily evil use by religious bodies and individuals for religious purposes. Although his presentation of one thoroughly anti-liberal attribute of the Catholic Church, which most of today’s prelates would rather see kept a secret, is revisionist theology at its best, the price he pays to unearth this teaching is to bury another. It’s not worth it.

The independent Thomist scholar John Lamont has written the best account I have ever read of the traditional Catholic teaching on Church and state and Dignitatis Humanae . In “Catholic Teaching on Religion and the State” (which can be found online), he upholds Pink’s claim that the Church teaches she has coercive power over the baptized, but refutes his claim that she teaches that the state is impotent in religious matters.

Pink claims that “The Church was the only body with the right to coerce on behalf of religious truth: to issue directives, and to back those directives up by the threat of punishments. The state could act only as the Church’s agent. It had no authority of its own in this matter.” Lamont argues that “fundamental positive teachings . . . justify the negative teachings on the nonexistence of rights to religious error, and the duty of the state to suppress such error.”

These teachings are, first, that “since the temporal good of man is subordinate to the eternal good of man, the state must subordinate its pursuit of temporal good to that of eternal good, and promote the pursuit of eternal good insofar as it can.” (Lamont provides copious evidence from popes through John XXIII for each of these ideas, but space doesn’t allow me to reference them.)

Second, this eternal good “is not determined by the moral and religious truths knowable by natural reason alone, but is given by the true religion, which is the Catholic faith.”

Third, “the sole judge of the Catholic faith, which is the pathway to the eternal good for man, is the Catholic Church. Therefore, the state, in respecting and promoting eternal goods, must follow the guidance of the Catholic Church.”

Fourth, the state can do so because it is not judging questions of religious truth but only recognizing “the true authority in religious matters, which is the Catholic Church. This identification is possible using natural reason alone, so it does not surpass the nature of the state.”

Fifth, “although the Catholic Church is the proximate source of the religious truth that the state promotes and respects, the ultimate religious authority that the State obeys is Jesus Christ, whose kingship is not only over individuals, but over all families, societies, and states.”

Finally, “acknowledgement and promotion of the true religion and the social kingship of Christ by the state serves the well-being of society and is necessary for it; states that reject the social kingship of Christ will suffer disaster and collapse.”

Thaddeus Kozinski
Wyoming Catholic College
Lander, Wyoming

Thomas Pink replies:

Dignitatis Humanae was intended to be understood within the framework of preceding Catholic teaching on liberty. It is important to get that framework right. I do not assert, as Thaddeus Kozinski supposes, that “the state is impotent in religious matters.” Nor was this the teaching of Suárez or of Leo XIII. The good for members of a political community includes their salvation. So Leo XIII certainly teaches an obligation on the state, under natural law, to recognize the true religion and worship according to it.

But a duty to recognize religious truth (which Dignitatis Humanae does not address) is one thing. The authority to legislate and to punish on its behalf (which Dignitatis Humanae denies the state) is quite another. The natural law may give someone a duty to believe and worship without also giving them any authority to coerce.

The truth of the Catholic faith is not given in the natural law at all, but by a revelation that comes with its own revealed law, the law of the New Covenant. And it is that revealed law that determines what authority there might be to coerce religiously on the Catholic faith’s behalf. According to that revelation, Leo XIII clearly teaches, the authority to legislate and punish in the service of the true, Catholic faith belongs to the Church, not the state.

Because of the importance of their salvation to the members of any political community, the state is not religiously impotent: Baptism may generate a political obligation on state rulers and officials to serve the supernatural end”an obligation that may engage the state’s coercive power. But the state’s coercive power is still properly so engaged only under the authority of the Church, not that of the state itself.

In Catholic teaching, there are two laws served by two distinct kinds of authority: natural law served by earthly institutions, such as that of the state, directed at the good natural to humanity; and a revealed New Covenant law served by the authority of the Church with a jurisdiction based on baptism and directed at the supernatural good. Omar Gutierrez objects that Dignitatis Humanae must address religious coercion generally, not just natural-law-based coercion by the state and other civil institutions, because it opposes religious “coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power.”

But “human” was already used in the 1917 Code of Canon Law not to pick out all forms of authority involving human beings, but precisely to distinguish authority serving ends natural to humanity from the authority of the Church. “The Church,” says the Code , “has the native and proper right, independent of any human authority , to coerce those offenders subject to her with both spiritual and temporal penalties.”

Any declaration intended to affirm, or deny, the specific right of the Church to coerce religiously would have to address revelation on the subject. But those preparing Dignitatis Humanae excluded any discussion of the New Testament passages traditionally used to support the Church’s coercive authority, the question of freedom within the Church herself, and the issue of the Church’s divinely given authority to punish.

The main argument of Dignitatis Humanae is expressly presented as being an argument from natural reason. The declaration’s subject is clearly not the coercive authority of the Church herself under revealed law, but only the right of natural forms of human association to coerce under natural law. So where the declaration opposes the use of what it takes care to qualify as specifically immoral ( inhonestam aut minus rectam ) forms of coercion by religious communities to impose belief, it is clearly addressing human communities involved in worship within the framework of natural law.

Nothing is said about the Church’s own traditionally claimed authority to use “rightful” coercion under the revealed law of the New Covenant, not in evangelization (a use that was always condemned), but to direct the belief of those already baptized and so already subject to her jurisdiction. Had the declaration wished to address or still more to change this teaching, it would have had to address divine revelation on the nature of baptism and its consequences for people’s obligations to the Church, as Charles Journet, to name one eminent Council father, knew very well. The declaration never does this, but merely preserves traditional teaching on such obligations integer ”unchanged.

Regarding nineteenth-century teaching, documents like Quanta Cura openly endorsed state coercion on behalf of the Catholic faith. Moreover, the councils of Lateran IV, Constance, and Trent all take the state to be acting as the Church’s agent under baptism in this matter, as Journet so learnedly discussed. What Immortale Dei adds is an explicit restriction limiting to the Church the authority to legislate and punish for religious ends”which means that the state can be involved in such coercion only under the Church’s authority, acting as the Church’s agent.

Neuhaus Letters

In “Cordially, Richard John Neuhaus” (August/September), Randy Boyagoda described Fr. Neuhaus’ ministry of letter writing. When I was a college seminarian attending Fordham in 2005, the university hosted the shameful Vagina Monologues . Fellow students and I searched for a way to respond. I emailed Fr. Neuhaus for his suggestions.

His counsel helped shape our response: a campus event that celebrated Christian feminism. We invited not only Alice von Hildebrand and the Sisters of Life to speak, but we also invited the Fordham girls who acted in the Vagina Monologues to hear about an alternative to Eve Ensler’s feminism. The whole thing was a great success.

Occasionally Father gathered seminarians for a meal in his home to get our perspectives on the Church and the priesthood. When I needed advice, I used the normal mode of correspondence of my generation: email. Boyagoda noted the thousands of letters Fr. Neuhaus penned in his apostolate of writing. I wonder how many thousand more emails he typed to his younger friends.

Fr. Charles Gallagher
St. Mary’s Church
Rockville, Maryland

As Patrick Deneen confirms in “Unsustainable Liberalism,” liberalism is to a certain and not minor extent founded on a programmatic repudiation of incarnational principles that necessarily underwrote the historical Pax Christiana. To those of us who loyally and gratefully read First Things while maintaining reservations regarding the rightness of the Murray project (so called), it is refreshing to see the arrival of a provisional consensus regarding the problematic aspect of classical liberalism in the pages of First Things , where the compatibility of Christian culture and American founding principles is almost always astutely discussed but sometimes taken too much for granted.

It’s a new twist, this, and its arrival evidently occasions a certain degree of nervousness”see, especially, Paul Griffiths’ genuinely entertaining quip about “Wendell Berry for paleoconservatives.” No doubt the growing awareness of the flawed aspect of classical liberalism is a function of our culture’s accelerating hostility to Christian cult and indeed all things permanent and gifted (is there any ground left, anywhere, for Edmund Burke to defend?), but I like to think that it is also the fruit of a commitment to lively and honest argumentation on the part of editors. Hence it was with dismay that I discovered Randy Boyagoda’s uncharitable and unwarranted dismissal of former Caelum et Terra editor Daniel Nichols and his sometimes blunt but often key contributions to the debate about whether American and Christian ideals can be linked.

So far as I can tell, Nichols’ charges regarding Neuhaus’ omission of worker-themed Centesimus Annus language would be difficult to counter under any circumstances. Perhaps that is why Neuhaus was exasperated, and perhaps too that is why Nichols never received the letter Boyagoda quotes, for if Neuhaus was the honest man he consistently appears to be, he might have thought better of his heated response and focused instead on nuancing his Centesimus Annus interpretation so that it could enable a truly critical, and not just apologetic, read on the American experiment.

Which is what happened. Starting in 1995, and continuing right up to the year of his death, Neuhaus wrote searchingly and sympathetically (see, especially, “The Liberalism of John Paul II” in the May 1997 issue) about the positions of “cultural radicals,” and as a result we are all of us better thinkers. Let us then salute the Weigels, Schindlers, Neuhauses, Deneens, McClays, and Nicholses who have (together) brought us this far, and move on to the question of whether our “almost chosen” nation can be turned even one degree off its current course by inserting religiously informed debate into the public square, or cultivating “practices” in isolated locales, or substituting genuinely Christian anthropology for the Lockean sort.

This is a big wave that we are riding, here, as we witness the maturation of “liberalism.” It was many centuries in the making, and it will take every mind we have simply to define its size, chart its constituent currents, and get a read on the conclusive nature of its force.

Will Hoyt
Cadiz, Ohio

I don’t know where Randy Boyagoda got his information about my brief correspondence with the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, but nearly everything in his account is inaccurate. It is not true that I was unfamiliar with Neuhaus’ thought, nor is it true that I had not read his Doing Well and Doing Good , as well as George Weigel’s A New Worldly Order , National Review ’s special edition on Centesimus Annus , and just about everything I could find in the conservative and neoconservative press that made the case that Blessed John ?Paul II’s encyclical represented the reconciliation of the Catholic Church and free-market economics.

It is not true that I initiated the correspondence with Neuhaus. He wrote me first, not, as Boyagoda claims, in response to something I had written specifically about his book”though I mentioned it”but rather in response to an editorial I had written about the neoconservative agenda in general in Caelum et Terra , the journal I edited in the early nineties. More specifically, I had written about the highly edited version of Centesimus Annus that had appeared in Fr. Neuhaus’ and George Weigel’s books, as well as in the National Review special edition and elsewhere in right-wing publications.

Anyone reading only the edited version, which I dubbed “ Centesimus Lite,” would not know that the pope praised labor unions and worker cooperatives, stressed the universal destination of goods, and denounced private ownership when it did not serve the common good. The claim was that editing was necessary because of the length of the encyclical, but curiously, most of what was omitted contradicted the claims of Neuhaus and friends. And curiously, some of the editing not only was not shorter than the original, but sometimes added bracketed phrases that were longer and shifted the meaning of the passage.

My analysis read like an indictment: The editing of the encyclical was partisan and dishonest.

The one thing that Boyagoda got right was that Neuhaus accused me of journalistic and moral sins. But he did not attempt to explain or defend the editing of the encyclical. Neither did George Weigel or Michael Novak, who also wrote me in response to my editorial. Their letters all shared a “How dare you!” tone, and they all demanded an apology. But none of them responded to what I had written. I wrote back refusing to apologize for writing the truth, and asking again for an explanation.

The last inaccuracy is the statement that Neuhaus responded to this letter, dismissing hope of dialogue. Perhaps Boyagoda found a drafted letter in Neuhaus’ papers, but I never received a response.

My analysis of the neoconservative version of the encyclical can be found here: If any of your readers would, after reading it, like to defend the strange neocon version of Blessed John Paul’s encyclical, I would love to see it.

I have been waiting nearly twenty years for an explanation.

Daniel Nichols
Wooster, Ohio

Randy Boyagoda replies:

Daniel Nichols is concerned about the inaccuracy of my account of his correspondence with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. I got my information from his personal papers, as I said in the article itself.

That said, there are two main dimensions to his response. The first regards his disagreements with Neuhaus and his colleagues about capitalism and papal teaching. On this point, I leave it to readers of First Things to decide who’s the more persuasive (the recent publication of a twentieth-anniversary edition of Fr. Neuhaus’ Doing Well and Doing Good affords a timely opportunity for this, incidentally), while also welcoming Will Hoyt’s thoughtful, cogent, and integrative account of the longstanding, often heated, and increasingly fruitful intra-Catholic debate about the complex roles and relationships of the Church and papal teaching in understanding, valuing, and ordering our commitments to democracy and capitalism.

As for Nichols’ account of the circumstances of his correspondence with Neuhaus, he appears to have never received the letter in question, which was also sent to David Schindler and Dale Vree. Perhaps this was a draft never sent, though I noticed no identification as such when I first came across the document; perhaps it was sent but never reached Mr. Nichols. I’m in no position to say, beyond agreeing indeed that Neuhaus accused him of journalistic and moral sins.

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift