CONTEMPT OF COURT

James Nuechterlein (“Remembering Peter Berger,” October) feels that the 1996 First Things symposium on the judicial usurpation of politics was inappropriate because it cast doubts on the legitimacy of American political order. As it is, however, the problem is still with us.

If the Supreme Court stretched logic to claim that the indiscriminate right to abortion is required by the Constitution, it now denies common sense to maintain that the definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman is contrary to the Constitution. Imagine the reaction of the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention if the justices had expressed these views to them. According to historian Carol Berkin’s 2002 study, the delegates considered, and rejected, the possibility of giving the judiciary veto power over legislation.

Ironically, the 2016–2017 Supreme Court roundup also appearing in the October issue of First Things (“A Less Corrupt Term”) quotes Justice Samuel Alito saying of the Court’s majority opinion on same-sex marriage that it “evidences . . . the deep and perhaps irremediable corruption of our legal culture’s conception of constitutional interpretation.”

The situation doesn’t seem much improved since 1996, does it?

Luis Caso
worthington, ohio

James Nuechterlein replies:

Luis Caso, if I may say so, makes the same error that many of my colleagues did in 1996. In my essay, I referred to what I agreed at the time was “reasonable concern over jurisprudential overreach.” That overreach is still a reasonable concern in 2017. But neither in 1996 nor in 2017 does it follow that we have reason to doubt the legitimacy of the American political order. We can see now that intimations of the “end of democracy” were overblown two decades ago. So they are today.

BORDER DISPUTE

I enjoyed Peter Hitchens’s commonsense and heartfelt appreciation of borders (“In Praise of Borders,” October), having recently expressed similar ideas of my own about why clear-cut national boundaries are essential. I too share Hitchens’s dislike for the utopian vision of a globalized state, where national differences disappear and some sort of coerced political fealty to a collective Oceania erases regional, cultural, linguistic, and tribal idiosyncrasy. Equally disturbing, however, are the premodern borderless tribal lands of migrating peoples who have no attachment to a particular place, but come and go as their self-interests and appetites dictate. While the antidemocratic European Union is already well down the 1984 pathway, the U.S. is flirting with the latter model of a fluid migrancy substituting for fixed citizenship.

As Hitchens notes, borders delineate difference in the positive sense. They create laboratories in which peoples can witness different tribal, economic, cultural, and political organizations, and calibrate them to suit their needs. Borders allow different manifestations of the human experience—played out in different geographies, climates, and histories—to be protected and enhanced. Without them, we are reduced to something like the Rhine and Danube of the fifth century a.d., when migrating tribes overran Rome’s ancient limes, not to integrate and enhance Western civilization, but to enjoy its superficial fruits while ensuring they would wither and eventually die. 

Tragically, we should expect that those systems providing the greatest degree of freedom, security, and economic opportunity (today, almost all Western or Westernized states in Asia) will be viewed as rivals and threats to be eliminated—or overrun and poached upon—rather than beacons to be praised and emulated by the less successful. Hence the need not just for borders but for defensible ones as well.

Territoriality and regionalism are not human sins, but rather assurances—along with local languages and cultures—that humans will remain individuals. Man’s worst nightmare is not plague or war, but a permanent global sameness that constantly polishes differences into a shiny nothingness.

Victor Davis Hanson
the hoover institution
palo alto, california

Peter Hitchens’s rhapsodic essay “In Praise of Borders” delights with its elegant prose and lucid commentary. I do, however, wish to correct an oversight in the piece. Hitchens writes, “No great civilization has grown and endured except behind the shield of ocean, mountain, or desert.” Every American should sympathize with his claim, for our liberties owe as much to our natural security as to our founders. Nonetheless, Hitchens overlooks a significant exception: The Romans enjoyed no such frontiers. In its infancy, the republic fought many wars against its neighbors, and while we may romanticize the hills of Rome, they were hardly a shield of mountains. Likewise, in its senility—despite centuries trying to establish defensible borders—the aging empire’s frontiers remained porous and easily violable. In Hitchens’s own England, Roman rule stopped at a wall, not an ocean. 

A channel or an Alpine ridge is a natural boundary; a fence in the American Southwest is not. Is it possible for human beings to revere an arbitrary line in the same way they respect a divide imposed by nature? I suspect the answer must be “no.” Part of the false charm of cosmopolitanism arises because borders seem so artificial. How can a line drawn by man infringe on rights given by nature?

Rome had no natural borders; perhaps it should not surprise us that Roman culture tried to subsume everything from Gibraltar to Judea. The Romans were a kind of cosmopolitans, after all. Yet even while they succeeded in Spain, they did not succeed in Jerusalem—and this too tells us something. There can be no resistance to cosmopolitan unity except from a holy mission: a conviction that God has set apart a particular people with a particular identity for a particular destiny. I do not think Europe believes that anymore. Many Americans still do; let us thank God for it. And if only for Hitchens’s sake, I hope that the Brits, too, will long remember they are a “happy breed of men, [a] little world . . . set in the silver sea.”

Richard Jordan
baylor university
waco, texas

Peter Hitchens’s “In Praise of Borders” demonstrates both the perceptiveness and the blind spots—the deep humaneness and the disquieting parochialism—of his brand of romantic English conservatism.

Hitchens is right to recoil against the flattening impulse of both radical leftists and free-market ideologues, both of whom would destroy everything distinctively human about humanity in service of their utopian, borderless visions. Both, in their own way, cling to a vision of mankind reduced to homo economicus and thus scoured of nobility, of difference, of anything beautiful and interesting and useless. This is a critique our world needs, and Hitchens provides it elegantly.

Near the end of the essay, though, his argument shifts from anthropology to policy, and his tone from lyric to cheeky. The question of America’s southern border cannot be answered neatly by poetical evocations of the necessity of particularity and place and culture. There is also a humanitarian question—one that should raise in our minds values, such as solidarity, that are just as distinctively human as Hitchens’s romanticism. To the extent that his conservatism struggles to account for cross-cultural, cross-border duties, it remains myopic.

I can’t help but wonder if Anglican romantics like Hitchens could benefit from the catholicity of Catholicism. Through the ages, the Church hasn’t been shy about praising the deeply human necessity of cultural identity, but she has also consistently expressed a solicitude for migrants and refugees that springs not just from natural law but from the universal scope of her concern.

Hitchens’s essay provides an important corrective to the heedless cosmopolitanism of our day, but we must be careful not to make the opposite error. Christian tradition has all the resources we need not just to affirm but to celebrate both the particular brotherhood of a place and the universal brotherhood of mankind.

Brandon McGinley
pittsburgh, pennsylvania

I think I can understand why Peter Hitchens waxes nostalgic about borders and border crossings. His effusive praise for borders (natural and man-made) seems to stem largely from his positive personal experiences with them—experiences which non-Western, non-white migrants, especially those with “Middle Eastern features,” are unlikely to share. Based on anecdotes about Britain and his own travels, Hitchens extrapolates the premise that countries surrounded by oceans, mountains, or deserts “tend not to be partitioned or carted off into captivity” and that “[no] great civilization has grown and endured” without those assets.

But these claims are difficult to reconcile with the historical record. Consider the island of Hispañola in 1492, Tenochtitlan in 1519, and Cajamarca in 1532, where formidable oceans, mountains, and deserts protected no one from invading Europeans. (Closer to Hitchens’s homeland, we should also consider how Ireland suffered under English invasion after 1169.) Then there were the great civilizations that arose and expanded into powerful empires despite the lack of such natural barriers: Byzantium, and later the Ottoman Empire, or the Mongols under Kublai Khan.

If my own understanding of the history of civilization is somewhat different from Hitchens’s, so too are my particular nostalgias. I am fascinated by the global cities and crossroads of history, where people exchanged goods, customs, and ideas, and produced brilliant hybrid cultures as a result (Constantinople and Manila come to mind, or the many cultures along the Silk Road). Hitchens claims that people who “speak darkly of borders as unnecessary and undesirable” also “live remotely from the areas most directly affected by the large-scale migration they say they support,” but I have lived my entire adult life in three cities that have been host to successive waves of migration: Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. In each of these places, as in most major American cities, a majority of residents support more liberal migration policies.

This is not to say that borders should disappear. They may be arbitrary and problematic, but they are necessary for security and order in the contemporary world. Yet we in the West should strive for humane borders in which travelers and immigrants of all backgrounds are treated with respect by state authorities, and valued as human beings with great potential, rather than dismissed as faceless hordes—or, in Hitchens’s words, “countless persons from who-knows-where.” We should advocate domestic policies that penalize those who hire undocumented immigrants—a policy change that would decrease illegal immigration far more naturally and quickly than deportation drives. Finally, we must reject the unimaginative and fearful parochialism that provokes calls for expensive, environmentally harmful, and ineffective responses to immigration, such as a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. President Trump: Build bridges, not walls!

Julia G. Young
the catholic university of america
washington, d.c.

Peter Hitchens replies:

Would I rather be praised for my style (which is pleasing) than taken to task for my lack of precision (which is irritating, most especially where it is justified)? In truth, I am grateful for both, as I would rather by far be read critically than not at all.

My correspondents are right about Rome, and then not right. I said that no great civilization has grown and endured except behind a physical shield. Perhaps the problem is my English timescale, in which Dunkirk was this morning, the Glorious Revolution was yesterday, Magna Carta was last week, and the construction of Hadrian’s Wall (which I recently visited at its most impressive surviving point, at Steel Rigg) is a recent event. Rome has very noticeably not endured in these parts. Where are the Mongols? Not much is currently left, in President Erdogan’s Istanbul, of the “brilliant hybrid culture” that once existed there. Much of Europe contains traces of Rome. But all of England is full of continuous names, buildings, roads, and customs, stretching back beyond a thousand years in a rare and astonishing continuity. Sometimes just looking at this spectacle is enough to make me fear for it, as I do.

As for the shield of the rolling main, of which I used to sing as a child, I should have made it far plainer that it is not much use unless you have a navy with which to control it. We in Britain are quietly dismantling our fleet, one of many reasons why I suspect we are now done for, doomed to learn by experience the immutable rule that it is better to have an empire than to be part of someone else’s.

I know nothing of Julia Young’s domestic arrangements, but my experience of large U.S. cities is that the educated professional classes tend to live so far from the areas inhabited by recent immigrants that they might as well be in another continent. They see the effects of migration (if at all) in terms of exciting new restaurants and cheap servants, whereas the less fortunate have a rather different experience, and eventually explode in impatient, irrational rage which helps nobody.

Richard Jordan asks, “How can a line drawn by man infringe on rights given by nature?” But are there any such “rights”? How does “nature” bequeath them? The awkward truth, for the Christian, is that title to land derives in practice from successful conquest, and that it is lost by failing to defend it adequately when attacked. Scripture, if it has any view on the matter, seems to suggest that those who abide by the laws of God will hold their territory even against superior forces, whereas those who desert those laws will find themselves carted off into captivity, and their vineyards and cities despoiled. Ultimately, of course, these worldly things are of secondary concern. The question is how we behave with what we have. I personally suspect that uncontrolled mass immigration endangers the country that permits it.

Brandon McGinley rightly notes that I changed my tone “from lyric to cheeky.” So would he, had he experienced his own country’s increasingly ridiculous entry procedures for first-world visitors, who are treated more or less as criminal suspects in a system which presumes guilt rather than innocence. Sometimes you have to be cheeky to make a serious point. He would be even more cheeky had he been, as I have, to the U.S. border with Mexico and seen two things. The first is the grotesque contrast between the two worlds on either side of the Rio Grande. The second is the laxity (caused by neglect and inertia) that has ruled on that border for decades. This is your business rather than mine, but it astonishes me.

McGinley refers to a “humanitarian question” and “cross-cultural, cross-border duties.” But what exactly does he mean by this in practice? Do not great Christian nations, founded upon the rule of law and liberty, benefit the world in which they exist? Beyond doubt they do. It is precisely such nations that are most generous and effective in giving aid to the poor and relief to the distressed. But they risk everything—their national character and their capacity to succor the downtrodden—by permitting uncontrolled mass migration of peoples who know nothing of their culture, in such huge numbers and at such speed that they cannot possibly be assimilated and integrated into this or any future generation. Those who follow such a policy will create solitudes, physically within their borders but not part of their nation. Only a defensible border can provide control over such things. Such a border must repel some, and many of those who seek to cross will have to be refused. A morality which rejects this fact as too harsh to bear is not much use to anyone in practice, and tends to involve being generous with the resources of other people, either those far away or those not yet born.

ENDŌ & EMPATHY

I find myself in agreement with Patricia Snow (“Empathy Is Not Charity,” October) about the contradiction between faith and the overweening empathy of our age. I do, however, disagree with Snow’s final understanding of Silence, as told by both Endō and Scorsese. Fr. Rodrigues’s apostasy is followed not by a life of empathy, but by a life of hard-hearted betrayal. The new apostate works hard to help the Japanese torturers ferret out hidden Christians, going even beyond the call of duty to uncover a Christian icon that his mentor in apostasy had missed. Indeed, he would appear at last to turn his own weak-willed and truly pitiable Christian assistant over to the Japanese.

The lesson emphatically taught by both author and playwright seems to me obvious: Denial of Christ leads to death of the soul, despite any contrary voice one has imagined in order to make up for the silence of God.

But I remain perplexed at the fact that Patricia Snow, along with many other reviewers, does not find this lesson being taught. She and they do not even mention it as one of various possible lessons that could be drawn from the film. How can I be so wrong in what I read and see clearly?

Richard Stith
valparaiso university law school
valparaiso, indiana

Patricia Snow criticizes Silence author Shūsaku Endō and director Martin Scorsese of “dreaming up,” as troubled Catholics, an impossibly anachronistic seventeenth-century morality play. She also criticizes Fr. James Martin for defending the apostasy of the Jesuit missionaries depicted therein, pointing to modern notions of empathy as the foundation for such apostasy. Yet Snow not only misunderstands Endō’s classic work of literature and the concept of empathy, but also resurrects a version of the failed Donatist argument for church purity that Augustine decisively refuted ages ago.

What are the highest purposes of literature? Many answers exist, but none exclude the “dreaming up” of human problems as problems of the soul. Silence is a sublime work of literature that allows us to participate in another time, place, and circumstance and to identify with individuals facing moral crises. Empathy is a key tool for an artist such as Endō.

Snow recognizes that empathy need not imply sympathy or compassion, and in excess may be quite undesirable. In the “dreamed up” plot of Silence, Snow says this excess of empathy results in the apostasy of the missionaries. Yale psychologist Paul Bloom is cited for his research showing how overly empathetic nurses become helpless to their patients; however, by proper analogy with the nurses, the Jesuit missionaries should have become helpless to their converts and possibly shunned them. This they did not do.

Finally, we must ask: Are we a Church of saints or of sinners? Endō’s Japanese character Kichijiro—a “pathetic, sometimes convert,” as described by Daniel McInerny—is vicariously Endō himself. Each of us, like Kichijiro to some degree, is a serial repentant seeking forgiveness. The Church, of course, has both saints and sinners, but Snow, like the Donatists of the early Church, insists on only recognizing the saints. With their insistence on a pure and spotless clergy, the Donatists have been refuted; there must be room for those who seek repetitive repentance and forgiveness, especially when threatened by torture and death. Endō, like Augustine, tells us not that the high standards of the Church should be lowered or modified, but reminds us that there is hope even for those of us who are weak and occasionally deaf to grace. If it is an error of dogma that I should deny Christ to alleviate the torture and death of the innocent, then, like Kichijiro, I must trust in the forgiveness of Jesus.

Dan Biezad
san luis obispo, california

Patricia Snow replies:

I am sympathetic to Richard Stith’s reading of Silence, and I especially appreciate his point that Ferreira’s and Rodrigues’s pivotal empathic choices don’t translate into much consideration for their fellow Christians going forward. Empathy, in other words, ends in misanthropy, a pattern I trace in my essay. Stith’s point has the added virtue of refuting Dan Biezad’s claim that in Endō’s Jesuit characters, empathy and genuine charity coincide. 

The problem is that the evidence Stith cites isn’t the only evidence on offer in Silence. Endō’s deep ambivalence about Christianity pervades his text, which means that there is also evidence in the book and film to support the interpretation favored by Fr. James Martin and others.

Like Henry James in The Turn of the Screw (were those ghosts real or imaginary?), Endō plays both sides. On the one hand, his dramatization of Ferreira’s and Rodrigues’s mutual revulsion is a vivid evocation of the anti-community of hell, but on the other hand, nowhere (except when that cock crows!) does he concede that either man has actually sinned. Neither repents in any way, shape, or form. Each prevaricates and temporizes, rationalizes and—with Endō’s apparent approval—finally romanticizes his decision to deny Christ. When Ferreira says to the younger man (accusing him of pride), “You dread to be the dregs of the Church, like me,” he might be proposing a new beatitude. By the end of the book, Rodrigues, like his mentor, regards himself as a special case, a different and perhaps higher kind of Christian. The blatant gnosticism of this conclusion will be obvious to any well-formed Christian, but perhaps not to Endō himself.

Of course, as Dan Biezad points out, there has to be room in the Church for all who repeatedly sin, repent, and seek reconciliation, like Endō’s Kichijiro, or real seventeenth-century Jesuits who apostatized under torture but reaffirmed their faith afterward. Yet Endō’s Ferreira and Rodrigues do not belong to this company, which is why any attempt to draw an analogy between the situation in Silence and the Donatist controversy breaks down. Ferreira and Rodrigues are not repentant sinners, humbly confessing their betrayals and asking to be reincorporated into the Church. They are brooding self-justifiers, recasting their betrayals as higher forms of obedience.

As for Biezad’s claim that Silence, like all great literature, allows us to experience another time and place, this is exactly what Silence does not do. It continually confuses past and present, history and fiction. It is more an act of self-expression on Endō’s part than a work of historical reconstruction; less a work of imagination than projection.

After rereading Biezad’s last sentence, I can only agree that at the end of the day man must follow his conscience and entrust himself to God. But he should be aware that if his conscience has been formed by the dogmas of contemporary culture, the gospel he follows may not be the gospel of Jesus Christ.

INTEGRAL TEMPTATIONS

I am grateful to Fr. Edmund Waldstein for his thorough and insightful review of my book, Before Church and State (“An Integralist Manifesto,” October). I write not to dispute with him, but to clarify my stance on the label some have attached to my work after reading his review, namely, “integralist.” In its popular conception, integralism is associated with support for confessional states, or with the idea that the best states are those which are in some way combined with the Church. This is the integralism of Action Française. My work could not be further from endorsing such a form of modern statism. In fact, the confessional state of the absolutist variety—that proposed by Hobbes, for example, or realized in early modern France—is the very paradigm for the sovereign state that my work seeks to undermine.

The medieval order was precisely not integralist in this sense because neither the state nor the Church as modernity understands them existed. Instead, as Fr. Waldstein skillfully articulates, thirteenth-century France was ordered according to a different theology and anthropology, within which the temporal and the spiritual were dynamically and sacramentally interrelated, manifested in a social space known as “the peace” that bore little resemblance to modern states, confessional or otherwise. This world contained neither the religious nor the secular.

However, if what is meant by integralism is simply the conviction that regardless of particular historical constructions, social order, as human, has in its very nature both spiritual and temporal elements that cannot be coherently divorced from each other, then my work can be seen as integralist. Yet such an integralism is not asserting that society ought to be integral, but rather that it is integral; the question then being which integral society is best.

In my view, both confessions (in the sense of “religions”) and states (in the sense of “sovereign monopolies on coercion”) are the products of modern history and do not have essential, transhistorical, or transcultural relevance. They are, rather, contingent categories of social analysis that grew out of early modern distortions of the spiritual and the temporal as understood and lived in the Middle Ages. The modern dichotomies of church and state, religious and secular, are equally constitutive of an “integral” (although probably not orthodox) ordering of society as the medieval division of society into the three orders of laity, clergy, and regulars.

In short, my book is not about how church and state used to be united. It is about before church and state existed, and my hope is that it can help us start to imagine what we might build in the next epoch, after church and state.

Andrew Willard Jones
franciscan university of steubenville
steubenville, ohio

I am in near total agreement both with Andrew Willard Jones’s book and Fr. Waldstein’s very fine review, if mystified as to why the latter thinks I go too far in the elision of nature and grace.

Nonetheless, I have a few reservations. First, despite my admiration for some medieval regimes, it remains my view that the era eventually lost its Augustinian and Gelasian sense that the secular power exists not only inside but also outside the ecclesia—not as merely natural, but to a degree inherently sinful and violent. As Jones says, even while the Church must make use of coercion, it does so with far greater caution than the secular state, and always with the aim of surpassing and fulfilling justice as reconciliation. The Middle Ages somewhat underplayed this alien aspect of statecraft, which Luther later overstressed to disastrous effect.

The second point is that modern Catholic political intégrisme has often and ironically involved a non-integralist view of nature and grace. Thus the atheist Charles Maurras’s integration was centered on a positivist program of power, reducing the extrinsic realm of grace to the merely instrumental. While Maritain sadly failed to go all the way with de Lubac in refusing pure nature, he still opposed Maurras, not only in the name of “the primacy of the spiritual” but also of an “integral humanism” for which the free and natural spheres of politics and culture must be oriented toward supernatural grace if they are to be fully human, just, and legitimate.

Maritain and de Lubac also believed that spiritual authority today must be exercised in more purely suasive terms than in the Middle Ages. In the new crisis of the twenty-first century, we cannot be quite so sanguine about this: We see, with Jones and Waldstein, how the justice that renders Christian mission possible might have to be physically defended once again. Yet we must not forget that deploying this pagan, alien residue remains a merely tragic necessity—and we must not overlook the perennial duty to appeal in love to people’s liberty.

John Milbank
university of nottingham
nottingham, united kingdom

My initial reaction to Edmund Waldstein’s valuable review of Before Church and State was to marvel at the bold abstractness of his proposal, its proud irrelevance to the practical political problems we face today. To rephrase his incipit, if there is a specter haunting the imaginations of traditionalist Christians today, it is the specter of liberalism. I was baffled, for example, by Fr. Waldstein’s keen interest in the question of whether coercive measures are justified in a religious community or wider society, until I remembered that, of course, “coercion” is the great taboo of contemporary liberalism. He will forgive me for thinking that in this case scholarship is being practiced as exorcism, with eyes fixed on the enemy.

It is hard to read this piece without thinking of a more recent, perhaps forgotten past. I mean the period from Napoleon’s fall to Hitler’s rise, in which the political imagination of many Catholics was dominated precisely by the medieval sancta respublica that Andrew Willard Jones describes in his book. Catholic integralism began with the great reactionary critics of the French revolution (Maistre, Bonald, Donoso Cortés), and then continued to shape the Catholic response to modernity well into the twentieth century. Just like integralism today, it identified liberalism as its greatest foe, and diagnosed the dichotomies of modernity (spiritual-temporal, public-private, state-civil society) as the cancer that is eating civilization. Its history contains important lessons that young integralists should carefully consider.

First, they should reflect on Joseph de Maistre’s remark that the worst possible response to a revolution is a revolution in the opposite direction. One does not need to be a Hegelian to recognize that important ideas often cannot be beaten by direct negation, but require Aufhebung, discarding-and-preserving, to reach a new synthesis. Second, they should remember that cultural and political life is always subordinate to the deeper drama of God’s quest for the human heart and the human heart’s quest for God. To quote Rémi Brague (“From What Is Left Over,” August/September), even the most glorious Christian culture is a by-product of something else, of that quaerere Deum which Benedict XVI discussed in his famous speech in Paris. If this is taken for granted, even for a moment, dangerous things happen.

Modern-era Catholic “medievalism,” for instance, has displayed a disturbing tendency to invert into Catholic modernism, or to subordinate faith to politics, or both. In the nineteenth century, think of the careers of Lamennais or Gioberti (or Comte!); in the twentieth, recall Augusto Del Noce’s observation that Catholic intellectuals became modernists (or even Marxists) after 1945 to the same extent that they had been anti-bourgeois medievalists before the war. Sadly, their integralism was the mirror image of the liberalism they fought; they inverted the myth of progress into a narrative of inevitable decadence. This paralyzed them and made them unable to face creatively the challenges of their time. In Italy, they hoped to use fascism as the spell that would exorcise, at last, the liberal demon and bring back the sacrum imperium. Needless to say, it was Mussolini who used them.

But surely Fr. Waldstein is aware of these dangers. So I ask a simple question: What keeps us from turning tradition into a “utopia of the past”? Just as each soul’s relationship with God is different, so—in a sense—must be every historical manifestation of Christianity in culture and politics. Tradition is about the timeless, not the past, and the eternal is always new. Formalism is as much a betrayal of tradition as progressivism, because it refuses to recognize that what generated the tradition can happen again and generate new life, searching out and saving every grain of truth wherever it is found. Even in liberalism.

Carlo Lancellotti
college of staten island
new york, new york

In his insightful review, Edmund Waldstein defends Andrew Willard Jones’s critique of the modern differentiation of social institutions and advocates for a return to the sacred integration of a premodern time. According to Waldstein, the alternative in contemporary Protestant social thought would be either radical pacifism and anarchism in the Anabaptist tradition or the institutional gradualism of the Reformed tradition.

Waldstein correctly cites my book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation as an articulation of the Reformed tradition. I want to clarify, however, that my “architectonic critique” of contemporary Western society is not reformist in intent. I recognize the societal evil that drives others to reject the violence of turbo-capitalism and neoliberalism and to long for a premodern “social peace.” And I share their belief that the contemporary state, economy, and civil society are deeply flawed: Each suffers a severe normative deficiency, such that proper structural integration among them is hard to envision. That is why I call for a thoroughgoing transformation of society as a whole, and not for the mere reform of existing institutions.

If people of faith wish to address these issues, however, then we also need to recognize what is beneficial about the modern differentiation of social institutions. If goods such as social solidarity across tribal differences, earth-respecting economic stewardship, and public justice for the marginalized and oppressed would be more difficult to achieve without modern differentiation, then the transformation of society will need to preserve and renew just as much as it abolishes and overturns. The American separation of church and state, despite its flaws, both supports and encourages democratic, religiously inflected efforts—such as the civil rights movement—to advance this process.

Integration that does not enhance modern differentiation might achieve a kind of peace, but at what cost to a truly generous common good? We need to envision the interconnected flourishing, the shalom, of all Earth’s creatures, not just those who feel at home in sacred spaces.

Lambert Zuidervaart
institute for christian studies
toronto, ontario, canada

Edmund Waldstein suggests that developments such as the legalization of same-sex marriage raise profound questions about whether separation of church and state is good for religion—so profound, in fact, that we should consider integralism as an alternative. By integralism, Waldstein doesn’t mean “theocracy,” a charge often simplistically leveled at anyone who praises features of pre-Enlightenment church-state relations. Rather, Waldstein has in mind a world in which “spiritual and temporal authority cooperated together within a single social whole for the establishment of an earthly peace, ordered to eternal salvation.”

Historically, church-state relations have taken many forms. There is no reason why we should canonize any one expression as the only possible model. But integralist arrangements often inflict damage upon the very religious institutions they aim to protect. Many medieval and modern rulers sought—and realized—control of ecclesiastical bodies in their countries. Churches were consequently drawn into the corrupting arrangements associated with state patronage. Fairly or unfairly, they often came to be seen as an arm of the state, implicating them in government failures and compromising their ability to evangelize.

Furthermore, where do integralist political arrangements leave non-Christians? At some level, integralism surely raises questions about the ability of Jews and nonbelievers to participate fully in civic life.

I am not suggesting that the only alternative to integralism is a naked public square, something which invariably contains an altar to John Rawls. Another possibility is the vision articulated by Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae. Significantly, the expression “separation of church and state” appears nowhere in this text. It argues for a political community grounded in principles of natural reason. Wider acceptance of these principles would not only ensure that the Church is treated justly but also help more people comprehend the logical impossibility of same-sex marriage or the literal non-sense of gender theory.

Fr. Waldstein is rightly dissatisfied with the prevailing doctrinaire secularism. So am I. But there are sounder options than integralism.

Samuel Gregg
acton institute
grand rapids, michigan

Edmund Waldstein replies:

My correspondents raise a number of questions about the account of the proper relation between spiritual and temporal power that I draw from Before Church and State. Samuel Gregg asks why the solution to problems of our time is not “a political community grounded in principles of natural reason” that preserves the modern separation of church and state. While I agree that political community is natural, founded in natural reason’s understanding of the good, I also believe that a political community separated from the Church in the relevant sense will not actually achieve its natural good.

The common good that is the object of political life is the highest practically achievable natural good. This is why Aristotle thought that politics was the principal and architectonic moral science. But in the actual order of providence in which we live, our highest good and final end is not a natural good, but a supernatural good. It is still legitimate to seek natural goods, but they have to be sought in a way that serves the supernatural end. If they are sought in a way that is contrary to our supernatural good, then even their natural goodness will be destroyed.

The natural common good must therefore be subordinated to the supernatural common good of the city of God. If it is not, it will become an idol. And such subordination requires explicit, institutional recognition of the truth of the faith and the authority of the spiritual power, precisely because we are dealing here with the subordination of one common good to another. As Pope Leo XIII teaches, “the State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion . . . 
society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it.” Recent interpreters of Dignitatis Humanae, such as Thomas Pink, have shown how Vatican II’s commitment to religious liberty is entirely consistent with the Leonine teaching. We must be mindful of the liberty of nonbelievers, but their liberty cannot be served by destroying the common good.

Lambert Zuidervaart is quite right to emphasize the importance of such goods as “social solidarity across tribal differences, earth-respecting economic stewardship, and public justice for the marginalized and oppressed.” But, as he himself argues, the achievement of such goods should lead us to “a thoroughgoing transformation of society as a whole” in which normative deficiencies of societal macrostructures are healed, and the conflicts between them are resolved. To my mind, the resolution of those conflicts would only really be possible if the macrostructures of state, market, civil society, and church were so integrated as to recover something like the societal whole that existed before modern differentiation.

Carlo Lancellotti is quite right to criticize the abstraction of my political vision. (In fact, one of the most valuable things about Jones’s book is the wealth of concrete detail about an actually functioning kingdom that it provides.) Lancellotti is also right that I should heed the warning of Catholic integralist thought in the period from Napoleon to Hitler. But I would disagree with his argument that the deficiency of those Catholic reactionaries was that they were too integralist or too anti-liberal. If they lacked a truly creative response to the challenges of their time, it was rather because they were not integralist enough. As both John Milbank and Andrew Willard Jones point out in their kind letters, the problem with the so-called “integralism” of the Action Française was that it accepted the modern, Hobbesian view of the state, and only wished that state to be “confessional.” Had they understood the Middle Ages better, French integralists might have been less willing to support Action Française. Jones’s book is a valuable resource to us if we wish to avoid their error.

Milbank is “mystified” as to why I think he goes too far in the “elision of nature and grace.” The reason is concern for the gratuity of grace. This is directly related to the problem of coercion raised by several of my correspondents. Milbank sees coercion as “a merely tragic necessity,” a pagan residue only to be deployed temporarily. Certainly, there will be no coercion in heaven. But is Milbank forgetting that below heaven there is a place of eternal punishment? The idea of universal salvation, to which he seems to incline, is (as Augustine so profoundly saw) a sign that one has lost the full sense of the gratuity of God’s grace.