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Modernity does not just refer to the time in which we happen to live, the era that follows the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Those who first recognized themselves as modern defined themselves self-consciously over against the ages that preceded them, though few probably grasped in its fullness the gravity of their deed. In declaring their independence from the world of their fathers, the first moderns set themselves against a whole world: the symbolic cosmos of antiquity and the first Christian millennium; the order of universal reason, understood as an attempt to penetrate and contemplate the bottomless meaning of nature and being; God, whose logos, the Creator and measure of all things, is more interior to the world than the world is to itself; and the Church—preeminently the Roman Church—through whom his eternal action is extended into history.

It was this unity of eternity and temporality, this movement of the eternal into time, that Charles ­Péguy meant in calling Christianity a mystique. And he considered the modern world a “mystical disaster,” a “fault of mystique.” It is not that some semblance of Christianity isn’t allowed to persist; to the contrary, Péguy spoke of disaster even as conservative reactionaries in the Gallican Church were enjoying a revival of fortunes during the French Third Republic. It has been the genius of the American liberal order, moreover, to generate strange forms of Christianity unimaginable to antiquity or the Middle Ages. Nor is Péguy’s point that the modern age is more sinful than ages past. Such a moral diagnosis would still fall ­reassuringly within the Christian frame of reference. It is rather that the modern world, qua modern, is the negation of this vision of reality. “The modern world,” Péguy says, “is not just a bad Christian world, which would be nothing, but an unchristian world, literally, absolutely, totally de-Christianized.”

The mystical disaster Péguy bemoans coincides with the invention of “the secular,” imagined, according to John Milbank and Andrew Willard Jones, as an ­ontological tabula rasa, an immanent field of power relations indifferent to divine presence. The secular is a domain, the all-encompassing whole within which the drama of human history, including religious history, is thought to unfold. The secular thus entails a total transformation of the world’s relation to God and pretends to comprehend the whole of reality in its philosophical, natural scientific, political, and religious dimensions. Its fundamental assumptions govern our understanding of being, nature, knowledge, and truth, as well as the construction of the political order. They determine what we can see.

The invention of the secular is what Augusto Del Noce calls a “philosophical event,” though one that would eventually render philosophy obsolete and make empiricists and sociologists of us all. Its most perfect and enduring political expression is the liberal, technocratic order that now engulfs the globe, promising endless economic growth, infinite technical progress, and the ever-forward march of freedom. Yet as a philosophical event, political modernity is but one facet of a broader and more comprehensive revolution in theology, metaphysics, and natural philosophy. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers who stood on the precipice of the novus ordo seclorum and reinvented God, man, nature, and Christianity understood this better than we who have for centuries lived within its horizons. To grasp the unitary nature of modernity and see beyond these horizons, we must begin to overcome the artificial separation of politics, natural philosophy, and metaphysics.

Modernity is the radical and wholesale transformation of the world’s relation to the divine. Within its horizons, God can no longer appear as what Plato called “the un-hypothetical first principle” who upholds all things by his interior presence, but only as a hypothesis whose affirmation or rejection has no bearing on the essential constitution of things or on our elementary apprehension of the world. That our ancestors earnestly embraced this God-hypothesis, that it was used to legitimate our emerging political order, that for two centuries it shaped the moral assumptions and energies of our culture and only now appears to be reaching exhaustion, does not affect the basic shape of this new picture. The invention of the secular effectively negates the “vertical” transcendence of God, nature, and truth, and thus also his immanence filling all things, replacing it with the “horizontal” transcendence of futurity and a ­utopianism of possibility that may or may not include an eschatological utopia, depending upon whether it takes a predominately Marxist, liberal, or ­progressive-technocratic form.

This transformation of the world’s objective relation to God subordinated contemplation to practical action in both the political and the scientific-­technical spheres. The Enlightenment declared itself the age of reason, but its exaltation of reason restricted what reason is and drew ever stricter boundaries around what the intellect can know, with the deliberate purpose of expelling God and natural ends beyond reason’s bounds. Francis Bacon leads the way here, reducing knowledge to power and truth to functional utility and reconceiving reason as an instrument to relieve man’s estate and usher in the hoped-for future. Understanding ceases to be an end, a source of liberation from necessity and utility, and becomes a mere means. Contemplation—as useless—becomes unintelligible.

The consequence of detaching intellect from nature, being, and God is philosophically less serious but existentially more devastating than atheism, for it benumbs the religious sense, leading to what Del Noce calls irreligion. The world of irreligion is a world in which God cannot become a serious question. It is a world dominated by bourgeois man, “whose life is completely determined by the category of usefulness, so that he desecrates everything he thinks about.” Péguy describes the desecration of modernity as “the world of those who believe in nothing, not even in atheism, who devote themselves, who sacrifice themselves to nothing. More precisely: the world of those without a mystique.

Politics in such a world is characterized by what Del Noce calls the “eclipse of the idea of authority” (auctoritas), or rather, by the conflation of authority and power (potestas). For at stake in authority is “the relationship between man and the invisible, the primacy of the invisible.” As Hannah Arendt puts it, “The source of authority in authoritarian government is always a force external to and superior to its own power; it is always this source, this external force which transcends the political realm, from which the authorities derive their ‘authority,’ that is, their legitimacy, and against which their power can be checked.”

Authority derives from augere, “to make grow,” a meaning implicit in cognates such as Augustus, auxilium, and augurium. The Anglo-Norman auctor designates a “creator, originator, source, person or thing which gives rise to something,” and ­medieval scholastics understood it in specific reference to God as creator of the universe. Walter Ullmann’s classic study of the medieval papacy, The Growth of P­apal Government in the Middle Ages, confirms the close association between authority and authorship. “­Auctoritas is the faculty of shaping things creatively and in a binding manner, whilst potestas is the power to execute what the auctoritas has laid down.”

Cum potestas in populo auctoritas in ­senatu sit,” writes Cicero (“Though power resides in the people, authority rests with the Senate”). The f­ounder’s act of establishing the city renders the past sacred. The founder is the true auctor; subsequent authority is derivative, referring back to this sacred founding. Plato founds his “city in speech” on the order of being and truth that issues from the idea of the Good. The Christian sense of the distinction synthesizes the Roman meaning and its Greek antecedent, since the historical founder of the heavenly city is the eternal logos of God. In all cases, the legitimacy conferred by authority is non-hypothetical—incapable of “proof” on the basis of something more “basic.” It compels principally by its own self-evidence. This is the crucial difference between auctoritas and potestas. Authority possesses no extrinsic force; it can compel only intrinsically, by evoking recognition and love, by eliciting the willing surrender to its evidence. As Arendt says, the use of external force to compel obedience is a sure sign that authority has failed.

The meaning of potestas was destined to change dramatically when its relation to auctoritas was ­unthought and forgotten. Power that does not derive from a sacred origin and acknowledges no transcendent source outside itself diminishes to an indeterminate force, the brute strength to realize arbitrary possibilities. Milbank and Jones are correct in maintaining that the advent of the modern concept of sovereignty reduces authority to indeterminate power. This reduction takes place in metaphysical and theological discourse as well as political. The meaning of authority undergoes a radical inversion and becomes merely one of the forms of power, ­inevitably oppressive rather than liberating. “Authoritarian” and “totalitarian,” which in their original meanings designate opposites, have become synonymous for us.

The conflation of authority and power is evident from the origins of modern political thought. ­Thomas Hobbes’s famous maxim “Auctoritas non veritas facit legem” (“Authority, not truth, makes law”) untethers power from truth and goodness, mirroring in the political sphere the triumph of a physics of force over a physics of form in the sphere of nature. Hobbes and his ilk establish the supremacy of politics as the contest for power and make bare force both the source of law and the means of its enforcement. With the loss of a transcendent order of being, truth, and goodness, political order becomes absolute, its horizons defining the limits of our vision.

Recent hysteria over the rise of Western “illiberalism” and the debates over the resurgence of “integralism” among some tradition-minded Catholics unfold within this horizon and are governed by its presuppositions. Critics of liberalism are as old as liberalism itself and include, in greater and lesser degrees, popes from the nineteenth century to the present. Over the last few decades, David L. Schindler, ­Alasdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauerwas, John ­Milbank, and their students have exposed liberalism’s many self-contradictions. Today, the successes of the liberal order have plunged it into crisis, as its processes of disintegration and disempowerment compel ever more extreme and violent swings of the political pendulum. In consequence, “integralism” has finally attained the special kind of reality that can be conferred only by the attention of the American pundit class. Journalists expound upon the failures of liberalism to lecture halls packed with people already convinced of them. Critics of liberalism have always invited hysterical accusations of “theocracy,” liberalism’s eternal foil. But with liberalism victimized by its own success, “integralism” has suddenly become an urgent question.

The difficulty is in determining just what sort of question integralism raises. There is a vast historical difference between early-twentieth-century Europe and twenty-first-century America. There is an even greater difference, obscured for us by the conflation of theoretical and practical reason, between thinking philosophically about politics and thinking politically about philosophy or theology. The absolutization of political order means that political philosophy, now reduced to the science of power, has become first philosophy, indeed the only philosophy. How often have the defenders of liberalism faulted its critics for failing to propose a viable alternative, as if impotence to found another social order absolved us of the obligation to think deeply about this one? The questions raised by integralist thought are deeper and more comprehensive than politics and involve metaphysical and theological questions of the first order. These range from the union of divine and human natures in Christ to the relation between being and history, from the philosophy of human nature to the nature of the Church and the doctrine of God. But when all real arguments are political, it is inevitable that the question of “integralism” will be regarded as a question of the distribution of political power, that is, as a matter of political technology in the distinctly modern, post-Machiavellian sense—an indication that the “eclipse of God” is as serious within the Church as without.

With its nature obscured by the narrow horizons of the secular imagination, the Church in modernity is reduced, in Péguy’s words, from a mystique to a politique. This reduction can take both right-wing and left-wing forms, each in its way acquiescing in the dissolution of the “hypostatic union” of eternity and time that constitutes the Christian mystique. The traditionalist right falsely exalts eternity by taking refuge in an ­atemporal system of thought. Thinking ceases to be the free speculative inquiry into the truth and becomes a matter of archeological research into the “deposit of faith,” delivered once and for all to the apostles in the thirteenth century. History can present no real surprises, no real deepening or development. There is nothing new to think about that isn’t ultimately pre-comprehended with knowledge of the system. Subordinating temporal to spiritual goods becomes a matter of imposing these truths from above—and from without—on a reality that is only superficially understood. This imposition sometimes involves an exercise of ecclesiastical potestas indistinguishable from its secular counterparts, as with Umberto Benigni’s early-twentieth-century campaign to stamp out modernism.

The progressivist left destroys the mystique from the other direction, by eliminating the presence of the eternal within time. Commencing from within the ontological assumptions of modern historicism, Catholic progressivism terminates in the philosophical suicide that is pastoralism and sociologism, reducing nature and truth to a provisional aggregation of contingent empirical conditions to be analyzed by psychology and the social sciences. Though the left espouses a nominally antiauthoritarian position in dialectical opposition to traditionalism, its elimination of the theological and ontological basis for magisterial authority ensures that authority can be exercised only as an act of brute potestas. Contemporary exemplars of this tendency, such as Antonio Spadaro, Austen Ivereigh, and Massimo Faggioli, have spent five years ruthlessly distorting all questions of truth into a political referendum on one’s support for the pope, as if communion with the See of Peter meant thinking just what the pope thinks and feeling just what the pope feels. They destroy the concept of magisterial authority under the pretense of defending it. They wield the current pontiff’s recent criticisms of integralism as a weapon for cataloguing who deserves the favor of the papal court, an unofficial mechanism for enforcing their integralism of the left.

This dialectic between an ascendant progressivism and an intransigent traditionalism, each legitimating itself by means of the other, increasingly defines the contemporary Church, in what looks like a cartoon image of the original modernist controversy. Despite its internal tensions, the Second Vatican Council might have deepened our understanding of why the question of the Church in the modern world, still unresolved, is so difficult and urgent. Its profound Christological and anthropological center might have pointed us beyond the impasse and toward a reconciliation of being and history and repair of the Christian mystique. This promise seems lost to us now, renounced by one side and erased by the other. The reduction of the Christian mystique to a politique leaves us with a traditionalism as modern as progressivism and a progressivism as integralist as traditionalism. This helps to account for some of the confusion and downright unreality of the present debates.

The question most fundamentally at issue is a theoretical question about the nature of reality, not a practical question about the distribution of power. Simply put, does the order of creation (and therefore nature) comprehend and inform political order? Does the reality of our creaturehood have any necessary bearing on the nature of political order and on the exigencies of political reason? From the vantage point of the Christian mystique, and any coherent metaphysics of creation, the construction of the “political sphere” as a separate field of power relations abstracts from the fullness of reality. The falsity of this abstraction is apparent in the inner necessities of political reason itself. Political philosophy may be its own science with its own principles, as scholastics like to say, but these principles rest on the often unstated conclusions of “higher” and more fundamental sciences. Contrary to the conceits of liberals and Marxists alike, political philosophy is never really first philosophy. It presupposes natural philosophy, metaphysics, and ultimately a theology or atheology, whose assumptions will in turn inform the juridical order. In this respect, there is ultimately no “non-integralist” position. One wearies of repeating this point to liberals who take refuge in a distinction between liberal practices and institutions and liberal ideology—a distinction that perfectly expresses liberal ideology. It is as if institutions just happened and were not the embodiment of human purposes and did not presuppose judgments about the nature and meaning of human existence. The claim that political order exists principally to protect natural rights presumes contestable metaphysical and theological assumptions which are no less operative for being denied, as critics of liberalism have shown time and again. To neglect the speculative horizon for liberalism is simply to assume the theology of the secular without argument. In the light of the Christian mystique, liberalism appears as the political form of a Christianity that has lost its faith and doesn’t even know it.

Among those professing integralism, Pater Edmund Waldstein and others ­associated with The Josias seem most aware of the broader questions at issue in these debates. Yet it is doubtful whether their thought succeeds in fully escaping the “mystical disaster” of modernity. Accepting Thomas Pink’s reconciliation of Dignitatis Humanae (the Vatican II affirmation of religious liberty) and Immortale Dei (the classic Leonine teaching on the relation between ecclesiastical and civil order), Waldstein develops his integralist vision against the backdrop of twentieth-century debates over the supernatural. He criticizes Milbank and William Cavanaugh, whose apparent failure to give proper due to the natural order leads them to deny the legitimacy of political and ecclesial coercion. He is equally critical of “Whig Thomists” in the John Courtney ­Murray tradition who, ­Waldstein says, ascribe too much independence to a self-sufficient natural order and thus separate church and state too cleanly. One could say that Waldstein seeks enough grace to justify the subordination of the temporal to the spiritual order and enough nature to justify a juridical distinction between sacerdotium (the priestly office) and regnum (the ruling office) within the one societas perfecta of the Church.

Waldstein’s recovery of a more comprehensive and Christian vision of political order is welcome, if flawed. He dispenses with the theocratic strawman of a juridical integration of the civil and ecclesial spheres—the doctrine of the two swords bars this fusion—even as he sometimes treats the Church as if it were principally a juridical entity, thus muddying the waters and evoking misguided criticism. And he is right that the Church has never absolved the political order of its responsibility toward the truth and toward the religious life of its citizens, even if Dignitatis Humanae deepens our understanding of the integral relation between freedom and the truth in the communio of Trinitarian love.

Despite his concern for the hierarchy of spiritual and temporal orders, Waldstein seems unconcerned about the hierarchy of the speculative and practical orders. He takes as axiomatic Aristotle’s assertion in the Nicomachean Ethics that political philosophy is architectonic for political order, but he fails to ­differentiate adequately the Aristotelian distinction between ­theory and praxis from the modern subordination of theory to praxis. It’s not that Waldstein denies the relevance of speculative truths to political order; it’s rather that the speculative order in his treatment isn’t really speculative but definitional, the truths of which remain external to political practice. ­Waldstein knows what the supernatural end is; he knows that the temporal good is subordinate to the spiritual good. Nevertheless, these truths provide an exoskeleton for his conception of temporal order, rather than informing the elements that comprise this order. It is as if knowing these truths leaves little to think about beyond implementing first principles.

Waldstein does not think philosophically about the distinction between auctoritas and potestas, which he treats more or less synonymously; nor does he devote much thought to their different modes of operation and the different manners in which each compels. He does not consider how the Church’s auctoritas might bind and limit potestas, or how that authority might be shaped in its very essence by its sacramental and magisterial nature. He does not consider how a theological understanding of potestas might exclude certain political tactics or methods of coercion. For example, a modern political understanding legitimates force by appeals to our desire for self-preservation (Hobbes) and material security (Locke). By contrast, a properly Christian understanding sees obedience as surrender to the truth that tutors and transforms our desires. Waldstein’s speculations about the legitimate use of the secular sword for spiritual ends, and his wistful enthusiasm for the early-twentieth-century campaign against modernism, suggest that theoretical truth remains essentially external to the exercise of political power. The truth must be imposed upon the practical order. As such, the practical order and its operations remain unaffected by and impervious to speculative truth. In this integralism, the Church’s magisterium assumes power but does not transform it.

This defect had lethal consequences in earlier ­periods of Church history, but it is practically harmless in the Catholicism of twenty-first-century America. The theology of integralism has long been out of favor in Rome, and even political thinkers who identify as integralists, such as Adrian Vermeule and Gladden Pappin, do not develop this position in a theologically serious way. Rather, they assume without much elaboration the content of magisterial teaching and feed it into Carl Schmitt’s theory of sovereignty. This allows them to answer the liberal critics who demand an account of an alternative technology for the distribution of power within and by the state.

Vocal “anti-integralists” such as Faggioli, Spadaro, and Ivereigh do not engage their opponents theologically or philosophically. They do not respond to the positions of Waldstein, Vermeule, and others as if they might be true or false. Such categories are mostly foreign to their functionalist mode of thinking and would detract from their ability to impute fascism to their foes. Yet the fact that two sides seemingly so opposed politically and theologically are indistinguishable in their ultramontanism and often in their online manners should give one pause. Both parties seem to understand communion with the pope principally as a question of submission to will rather than obedience to truth. This suggests a difficulty for integralists and anti-integralists alike: the difficulty of escaping the mystical disaster of modernity that reduces Christianity from a mystique to a politique.

Integralism is a fantasy as a practical political philosophy in the twenty-first century, and classical liberals who predictably demand of their critics an alternative to the liberal order are no less fantastic than the integralists who imagine they have one. The debate generally revolves around the assumption that liberalism is some kind of Platonic form, one of the eternal forms of possible political regimes. In reality, the only liberal order that has ever actually existed is the one that emerged historically in the aftermath of the Reformation, the English Civil War, and the French Revolution. Its existence now is inseparable from the more comprehensive techno-scientific and capitalist world order of which it is but one aspect.

By diverting attention from the liberalism we ­actually have, its defenders obscure an essential dimension of liberalism’s original purpose, which was the prevention of a Catholic political order, that is, a political order in which God is God. American liberal institutions cannot acknowledge the Church in its nature as Catholic without violating their own internal logic. The Church is permitted to persist in the American liberal order only as a “denomination,” a de facto form of Protestant congregationalism, and one of many voluntary “factions” neutered by their proliferation. In truth, the liberal order negates the very possibility of a Catholic order so successfully that an alternative may be even less imaginable than practicable. The liberal order may not be the best of all possible worlds, but it is the only possible world, as far as the eye can see. And there is no obvious limit to the spirit of negation that its freedom and technological power have unleashed, save perhaps the limit of a habitable biosphere.

To date, Catholic integralists have failed to grasp the depths of the question that integralism might have raised. They conceive of the integration of spiritual and temporal order, a question with vast intellectual, ontological, and cosmological dimensions, as a matter of the distribution of political power. Without a more careful differentiation of sacramental and political orders, and lacking a deeper integration of theoretical and practical reason, today’s integralist thought risks degenerating into a conservative Catholic form of Hobbesian power politics. Such an approach can provide theological cover for xenophobic factions within the liberal order, or it may become a positive factor in developing substantive principles beyond economic libertarianism to ­reanimate a hapless Republican party. In either event, the fundamental problem remains. Were integralists to accede to power in the United States, their governance would be mediated by liberal institutions. Those institutions are predicated on the impossibility of discovering and reaching consensus on ultimate goods and were designed to protect rights of self-determination in the absence of such a consensus. Thus, the rule of the integralists would look a lot like the Whig Thomists’ prescriptions to revitalize the moral foundations of civil society, coupled with majoritarian politics. Waldstein, to his credit, seems to realize this.

There is no possibility of a full integration of Catholicism and American liberal order without America’s effectively ceasing to be. Our liberal regime offers no “throne” for a “throne-and-altar” fantasy. There is nothing for a restorationist to restore in this quintessentially modern nation, with no culture or history from before the age of progress, and little in the way of a common patrimony beyond the liberal order itself. Twenty-first-century America is not early-twentieth-century France. Donald Trump, however objectionable he may be, is not Charles Maurras. The Republican base will not become Action française, for the simple reason that it cannot.

Conservative defenders of classical liberalism, in their eternal battle against theocracy, have embarked upon a massive exercise in missing the point. There is no real possibility of theocracy, but there is a very real possibility that the ever-forward march of freedom may conceal a new and suffocating form of post-political totalitarianism. Meanwhile, the willful indifference of Catholic progressives to the obvious disanalogies between early-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-­century integralism, their quintessentially European failure to grasp what is truly novel in the American New Atlantis, and their eagerness to tar every ideological opponent with the “integralist” brush, suggests that their stance against “integralism” is not really about American or even global politics. It is rather about Roman ecclesiastical politics and their campaign to portray American Catholics as rich theocratic schismatics. The aim is to establish the progressive interpretation of the Second Vatican Council by means of ecclesiastical ­potestas rather than the auctoritas of truth.

Integralism is the critique that might have been but wasn’t. The questions occasioned (but not answered) by the quixotic persistence of the integralist imagination in our technocratic world are essentially the questions of Plato’s Republic: Does political order have any responsibility to reality? Is power answerable to the authority of truth? These are questions about the essence of politics: Is politics really just about the acquisition, preservation, and use of power? Yet they are also questions about the nature of reality. Is it really just an aggregation of biological, sociological, economic, and political functions transparent to the empirical sciences? Progressives who hurl accusations of “integralism” at their opponents don’t merely owe us a more-than-tweet-length clarification of what they mean by the term. They owe us an account of how their vision of politics finally differs from that of Plato’s Thrasymachus—very little, judging from their public actions—and of how their conception of political order can be coherently reconciled with the doctrines of God and creation.

Political order cannot be responsible to reality if it refuses the greater order that comprehends it, a vertical order over which it is not finally arbiter and judge. As D. C. Schindler has shown, the state cannot define the limits of its own competence in ultimate matters without implicitly defining those matters. For example, the Declaration of Independence justifies its claims by appeal to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” who belongs to no actual religious tradition but is a political device invented for the purpose. The recent machinations of the judiciary on questions of same-sex marriage and gender identity make this fact clearer still. Precisely because it acknowledges neither an authority higher than the political nor its own dependence upon an antecedent philosophy of nature, American law perfectly fulfills the classical aspiration of law to be philosophy and to say what is. The power of the American judiciary to define what is real, in other words, is effectively absolute.

Political power can be limited only by an authority higher than politics, and this limitation can become real only if it takes a living, public, and institutional form. This is the essential political insight of integralism. Only a society that acknowledges the authority of the Catholic Church, the custodian of divine truth, can avoid the endemic absolutism of the modern political project. And this, in turn, means acknowledging the order of reality on which the Church’s authority depends. It is in virtue of this order, and not its political or juridical power, that the Church participates in the authority of its Founder, who “reveals man to himself.”

Within the suffocating immanentism of the modern world, where the strictures of secular order penetrate to the depths of our imaginations, where the Church often seems intent on forgetting or renouncing its own nature, and where a Catholicism that truly comprehends the whole of reality (kata-holos) seems both practically and intellectually impossible, we are more likely to discover Lothlórien hidden in the marshlands of New Jersey than to see a truly integral Catholic order. The mystical disaster of modernity is the negation of that possibility; the elves have long since sailed west. 

The integralist project, therefore, seems destined to remain a “city in speech.” This changes what the argument over integralism is—or ought to be—about. The point of persisting in this seemingly quixotic form of thought is not the practical goal of establishing this city on modern shores, but the speculative goal of establishing this city within the soul. The point, in other words, is to remember, or perhaps to discover as if for the first time, that the cave prison of the modern world is not the only world or even the truth of this present world. That this liberating discovery is hardly more intelligible within the Church (which once conceived the whole goal of human existence in terms of such a vision) than to the world outside shows just how far the shadows of the cave have blotted out the light of the sun and how difficult it is to recover our sight after we have gouged our eyes out.

A proper integration of the spiritual and temporal orders, which the proponents of integralism promise but don’t deliver and which its opponents don’t even promise, thus looks a lot more like the Benedict Option than like the dreaded theocracy of liberalism’s fever dreams. Integralism thus conceived is neither a stratagem of power nor a strategy of self-preservation, but the recovery of a mystical vision, an intellectual apprehension of God at the innermost heart of reality. To suggest that a true integralism would seek above all to “see God,” or at least to plumb the depths to which we no longer see him, no doubt invites accusations of quietism or retreat. Yet the truth is rather the opposite. In Plato’s allegory, the one who painfully ascends from the cave to see the light of the Good is compelled by what he sees to return to the cave for the good of the whole, to reveal that the cave is merely a cave and its “truths” but shadows on the wall. He is the philosopher-king, the only truly political figure in the Republic, not because he possesses all potestas but because he reveals the truth of the Good in his powerlessness. Likewise, the true integralist reveals a truly Catholic order, and thus reveals man to himself, not by imposing its truth forcibly upon the world, but by suffering even unto death its apparent absence. Thus he participates in that suffering action—indeed that Passion—that extends eternity into time, the foundation of the true city and the source of its authority even now. 

Michael Hanby is associate professor of religion and philosophy of science at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America.