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For the last fifty years, from the Second Vatican Council onward, it made sense to speak of an American Catholicism fully reconciled to liberal democracy. On the fringes there were still some noteworthy anti-liberal and radical Catholic periodicals and writers, but the mainstream was defined by the opposition between a “liberal Catholicism” and a “conservative Catholicism” that were broadly aligned with the Democratic party and the Republican party, respectively—even if the bishops and popes sometimes argued for a different synthesis: a political Catholicism beyond the existing American categories of left and right.

In partisan politics, the more liberal Catholicism found its most famous embodiments in figures such as Mario Cuomo and Joseph Biden, who attempted to sustain the easy, New Deal–era relationship between Catholics and the Democratic party while downplaying or effectively privatizing those elements of Catholic teaching—on abortion, above all—where the Democrats and the Church increasingly diverged.

For the more conservative or neoconservative Catholicism, figures such as Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and ­Antonin Scalia were reasonably representative. The conservative, Republican-voting Catholic usually joined a firm view on abortion and marriage to a more unstable view of the welfare state, one that sometimes tried to correct right-wing libertarianism, sometimes looked for a religious way to justify it, and sometimes ­promoted a corporatism that owed more to the Chamber of Commerce than to the social ­doctrine of the Church.

Intellectually, the equivalent polarization was between “Commonweal Catholicism” and “First Things Catholicism”—between a more theologically liberal Catholic perspective, which emphasized a “seamless garment” theory of the Church’s social teaching as a reason to support the Democratic party despite its position on abortion, and a more ­theologically conservative perspective, which found its home in the GOP as that party became more consistently pro-life and found its moment of maximal political ­influence in the evangelical presidency of George W. Bush.

These intellectual camps had significant differences but also a substantial commonality: They took for granted the harmony between their interpretation of post–Vatican II Catholicism and their interpretation of the liberal order. They differed most substantially on whether, after the sexual revolution and the rise of neoliberal economics, the leftward or the rightward sort of liberalism had gone more dramatically astray.

This basic intra-Catholic polarization has not disappeared, and the most prominent Catholic politicians in America today—from Biden to Nancy Pelosi to former Attorney General Bill Barr—still embody it. But among younger Catholics, in the intelligentsia especially, both syntheses have come under severe strain.

The further secularization of liberal America has made the position of Catholic Democrats more difficult, as elite progressivism increasingly seeks not only to preserve abortion or same-sex marriage rights but to harry religious institutions that dissent from progressive views. Meanwhile, the political failures of mainstream Republicans and the general post-­Christian drift of American society even (especially?) under conservative governance has raised questions on the right about the effectiveness of a Catholic alliance with a libertarian conservatism—and doubts about the ultimate destination of liberalism itself.

The papacy of Francis has added to these strains. In breaking, to some debatable extent, with both the neoconservatism of John Paul II and the soft traditionalism of Benedict XVI, the current pontificate has created an atmosphere of crisis among theological conservatives, even as its mix of populism and anti-modernism on economic and ecological matters has rejuvenated the Catholic left.

The presidency of Donald Trump was disruptive as well, by suggesting (in its populist economic forays and successful appeals to some minority voters) the promise of an American conservatism more in tune with Catholic social teaching than with libertarian orthodoxy, but also (in the president’s unique mixture of nativism, conspiracism, and personal religious indifference) the possibility of an American conservatism that is functionally post-Christian.

All these strains on the post-1960s paradigm have not, as yet, radically altered the political behavior of American Catholics. Among white Catholics, the liberal-conservative split still defines national voting. The ethnic division between white and Hispanic Catholics remains, even if it narrowed (perhaps surprisingly) under Trump.

But among Catholic writers there has been substantial fracture, experimentation, realignment, and division. The older categories certainly persist. There remain conservative Catholics who believe in the fusionist project of American conservatism, the Catholic reading of the American founding advanced by John Courtney Murray, and the virtues of the pre-Trump Republican party. Meanwhile, the Biden presidency has given a boost to liberal Catholics who believe that the Democratic party is their natural home and meliorist, welfare-state liberalism the obvious way Catholic social teaching cashes out.

But there are also new categories, revived and re­invented movements and tendencies, which matter more to intellectual debate than they did in years past and may eventually matter to Catholic politics as well.

Let me suggest a tentative taxonomy of these new categories. First, there are the populists, who regard many Trump-era shifts in conservative policy as congruent with Church teaching, and a welcome corrective to the libertarian errors they associate with figures such as Paul Ryan. The populists tend to champion a corporatist turn in economics, seeking strategies to recreate a family wage through industrial policy or family subsidies or some mixture thereof. They generally favor immigration restrictions to protect domestic workers and rebuild social solidarity; they are amenable to antitrust actions against Silicon ­Valley behemoths; they seek a more aggressive culture-war strategy, a counterattack after a long retreat, on issues such as transgenderism and internet pornography. And though they are divided on Trump’s capacities and morals, they mostly regard his rise as salutary and his presidency as at least the lesser evil, and probably a good.

Philosophically, the populists are often described as post-liberals or anti-liberals, and sometimes they describe themselves that way. But it’s not clear that the label fits. The Catholic editor of this ecumenical journal, R. R. Reno, speaks for many populists when he argues for populism as a solidaristic and religious corrective within the liberal order, rather than some kind of alternative to American constitutionalism. One can assume that the politicians who have championed policy ideas associated with this populism—including the Catholic Marco Rubio, the Protestant Josh Hawley, and the Mormon Mitt ­Romney—would wholeheartedly agree.

The populists are clearly different from the Christian libertarians and classical liberals with whom they often feud. But they may not be so different from a figure like Richard John Neuhaus in their primary commitments. Like him, they believe that liberal democracy requires a strong religious politics and an alliance between evangelicals and Catholics. They just no longer accept the vision of political economy and foreign policy that Neuhaus came to be associated with late in his career.

This idea of populism as a corrective within liberalism separates populists from the next group, the Catholic integralists, for whom liberalism is beyond correction because it was rotten from the start. The integralists are the heirs of Triumph, L. Brent Bozell’s disputatious magazine, and further back of the ­nineteenth-century popes and their ringing anti-liberal anathemas. Like King Josiah (who lends his name to the leading integralist website) recovering the lost book of the law, they believe that they are calling Catholics back to the true and only Catholic politics, obscured for a time by fond delusions and Americanism, but now, amid the crisis of liberalism, visible as an alternative once again.

The integralists align with the populists on pro-family economics and industrial policy (Gladden Pappin, an integralist editor at the journal American Affairs, publishes regularly on those themes), but they are more divided on other aspects of the new right-wing politics: immigration restriction, ­climate-change skepticism, and the idea of the nation as something worthy of loyalty. The integralists ultimately believe in Catholic empire, not Catholic nationalism, and they regard some of the leftward elements of Pope Francis’s magisterium as implicitly integralist­—­particularly the ecological encyclical Laudato Si’, whose admonitions and prescriptions do not feature prominently in populist politics at the moment.

Despite this critique, the integralists tend to look favorably on nationalist politicians, from Trump to Viktor Orban. They prefer illiberal nationalism to liberal internationalism, and they believe that ­nationalist-populist uprisings provide an opening for a Catholic insurgency within the West’s elite.

Because this insurgency is not exactly visible as yet, the practical impact of their ideas remains uncertain. But the integralists are engaged in at least two real-world projects: pushing Church officials toward a more vigorous assertion of the Church’s legal rights and juridical power over the faithful, and pushing both populist and neoconservative Catholics toward a more fully Catholic politics and a more aggressive use of state power. They believe, above all, that the conditions for a reinvigorated Church and a Christian revival in America can come about only if there is a revolution from above.

In this, they make a stark contrast with the third group, the benedictines, meaning not the religious order but those Catholics who accept Rod Dreher’s diagnosis, in The Benedict Option (2017), of the near inevitability of continued secularization and continued Christian retreat—who agree with Patrick Deneen’s conclusion, in Why Liberalism Failed (2018), that local experiments are the key to revitalizing our once-Christian culture—and who are particularly interested, with writers like Brandon McGinley and Leah Libresco Sargeant, in internal renewal as a precondition for any new form of Christian politics.

Of course, Deneen has shown strong sympathy for both populist and integralist arguments, and ­McGinley recently co-authored an integralist-tending book with Scott Hahn—proof that these categories are unstable and overlapping, not settled or fixed. But though some benedictines may vote for populist politicians or endorse integralism at some level, and others may have more left-leaning sympathies, they are generally skeptical about national political solutions and doubtful of the prospects for any kind of top-down Christian restoration, preferring to pour their energy into institution-building from below. Their watchword is Joseph Ratzinger’s famous admonition:

[The Church] will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. . . . As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members . . . [it] will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right.

This means that benedictines are often more ecumenically inclined than integralists, with sympathies for anti-political Protestant figures such as Stanley Hauerwas and Wendell Berry and communities like the Bruderhof. It means they prefer Alexis de Tocqueville to Carl Schmitt, and strategies of ­community-building and evangelization to ­strategies of power. And it means their cultural influence waxes and wanes depending on the apparent prospects for Catholic politics at the national level: The marginalization of religious conservatives in the late Obama years made the benedictine option more attractive, whereas the seeming widening of political possibilities in the Trump era pushed their ideas into ­abeyance. They may return, should a Biden presidency usher in a long liberal age.

That possibility brings us to the fourth group, which I will call the tradinistas, borrowing from a 2016 manifesto whose signatories, in the way of left-wingers in every era, soon fell out with one another. Their disputes notwithstanding, the term fits an identifiable tendency, a belief that late capitalism more than late liberalism is fundamentally ­incompatible with Christian faith, and that the recent revival of socialism can be adapted and deployed by Catholic social thought. (“LeftCath,” this group’s ­Twitter designation, conveys the two things they hope to bring together.)

The tradinista tendency has found a home in journals and spaces associated with the Commonweal-and-Cuomo side of the older liberal-conservative divide, but it distinguishes itself from much of post-1960s liberal Catholicism by embracing a more radical stance on economics, just as secular millennial socialists are often distinguished from Baby Boomer liberals. The tradinistas also show relatively little interest in the Boomer-liberal project of accommodating Catholic teaching to the sexual revolution, even if they do not oppose this project with the clarity and consistency that conservatives might like. Their prescriptions sometimes overlap with those of the populists, but they regard any kind of right-wing nationalism as compromised by racism and easily bought off by capital.

Herbert McCabe and Alasdair MacIntyre, two rather different Marxist Thomists, are inspirations for the tradinistas. The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Bruenig may be their most prominent champion. “Weird Catholic Twitter,” so-called, has often been their online home. If all of this makes the tradinistas sound marginal relative to the other tendencies I’m ­describing—well, in certain ways they are, but their economic vision often has the current Holy Father in its corner, and that has to count for something.

Even if it lacks the direct political influence of the populists or the ambitions of the integralists, tradinismo nonetheless has a clear political theory: The conditions for Christian renewal depend on breaking capitalism’s chains, and thus to ally with secular socialists may be to seek the good of the Church in the long run, notwithstanding the gulf between a figure like Bernie Sanders and Church teaching on just about every non-economic issue. And to the extent that they participate in some small way in the larger revival of socialist thought, which in turn participates in some way in the Biden presidency’s ambitious economic agenda, these “LeftCaths” can claim at least a modicum of remote influence over our second Catholic president.

All of these categories, again, are unstable and shifting. One could easily subdivide them further, and it’s possible to move from one camp to another, or simply straddle them. One can be an integralist-tradinista for whom socialism is the political economy of the integralist state, or a benedictine drawn to populism because it promises political protection for the local and experimental, or an integralist who turns tradinista out of distaste for Donald Trump. (I can identify writers who have made versions of these moves in just the last few years.)

Meanwhile, allowing for a few sympathetic Republican politicians in the orbit of the populists, these tendencies belong, for now, to the intelligentsia and the intelligentsia alone. They are all especially distant—as is much Catholic punditry—from the American Church’s burgeoning Hispanic population and disaffected white working class. Yes, the populists aspire to speak for the downscale voters who supported Trump, and the tradinista sympathy for Bernie Sanders was shared by many Latino Democrats. But most of the people having these debates are somewhat overeducated, and there are no self-consciously post-liberal cadres among the working class as yet, no mass movement equivalent to the role the pro-life movement played in defining conservative Catholicism after the 1970s.

Similarly within the Church, there are integralist or tradinista or benedictine priests on Twitter, but those labels would leave most bishops baffled. The leaders of American Catholicism still belong clearly to the older liberal and conservative factions established in the 1970s and 1980s, and most Catholic institutions, likewise.

This does not make the new ideas unimportant; it just means that absent a revolutionary moment of some sort, their influence is likely to filter more gradually through American Catholicism, shaping the Church or being reshaped by its realities in unexpected ways. So, it’s worth considering them in combination with the nonintellectual trend that’s most likely to reshape institutional American Catholicism in our lifetime. That trend, that reality, is widespread structural collapse.

Decline is nothing new for American Catholicism. The steep fall in Mass attendance and vocations in the 1960s and 1970s gave way to stabilization in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Church was saved from dramatic numerical decline in part by Hispanic immigration. But around the time of the worst sex abuse revelations, the early-to-mid 2000s, the decline resumed, with Catholic identification falling and Mass attendance among Catholics dropping below Protestant church attendance for the first time.

It has been natural to hope that this new trend is temporary, born out of disillusionment with the Church’s hierarchy, and that Catholic numbers will stabilize again if the bishops are perceived to have put the sex abuse crisis behind them. But it’s more likely that the decline will accelerate, with multiple forces eroding the Church’s institutional position over the next twenty years:

  • first, generational turnover in the pews—or, for the younger generation, out of them—as devout Silent Generation and more-loosely affiliated Baby Boomer Catholics pass away, and their increasingly nonpracticing or nonaffiliated grandchildren and children come of age;
  • second, the continued fallout from the sex abuse crisis, with state investigations like the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report continuing to highlight alleged abuses and cover-ups throughout at least the next five years;
  • third, the institutional stress of the Church’s vocation shortage, which will be intensified by generational turnover as the last large cohort of priests retires or passes away;
  • fourth, a financial crunch, hastened by the preceding factors and also by ethnic and socioeconomic change, as the upper-middle-class white Church of the post–Vatican II era becomes a lower-middle-class Hispanic church—which, however rich in faith, will have less money for schools and colleges and churches and charities than did the Catholicism of 1980 or 2010;
  • fifth, the combined effect of slowing immigration from Latin America, driven by lower birthrates in most Latin countries, and the rise of Pentecostalism in Latin America and across the Global South, which will make new immigrants more likely to be devoutly Protestant than committedly Catholic;
  • sixth, increasing hostility toward Catholicism, especially in more liberal states, which is likely to hasten the secularization of Catholic educational and healthcare institutions;
  • and finally, the impact of the pandemic’s temporary suspension of Mass-going, which is still somewhat unknowable, but unlikely to be positive for Mass attendance and donations over the next ten years.

Of course, the Holy Spirit may have other plans for the Church. But renewal would require dramatic religious change—meaning mass conversions, not just the reversion of the lapsed. Since the 1960s, American Catholicism’s main dilemma has been how to reach a large population of baptized-and-confirmed Catholics who have drifted from the Church, and it has been able to rely on the ethnic and cultural loyalty of many prosperous cradle Catholics who no longer practice the faith consistently but still support Catholic institutions. Now the Church is entering a very different era, in which the heirs of those lapsed or culturally attached Catholics haven’t been baptized, haven’t been confirmed, haven’t been married in the Church, and don’t have any real loyalties at all. Many are no longer “lapsed,” but simply non-believers.

Here are some statistics to fill in this picture, ­collected in a 2019 report by the Catholic Leadership Institute. In the early 2000s, there were almost a million Catholic baptisms in the United States ­every year. By 2015, that number was down to around 700,000. If that trend continued, there could be as few as 350,000 by the 2030s.

The share of Catholics marrying in the Church has dropped by 55 percent since the early 1990s, when there were about 325,000 marriages ­annually. ­Projected forward, that trend could yield fewer than 100,000 Catholic marriages annually by the late 2030s.

First Communions and confirmations follow a similar pattern, with a falling-off from baptism in each case: One in five baptized Catholics do not receive First Communion, two in five are not confirmed, and 85 percent of confirmed Catholics aren’t practicing their faith by age twenty-one.

These trends—all of which predate the ­pandemic—have inevitable financial implications. The Catholic Leadership Institute estimates that there is a five-billion-dollar gap between how much money the Church takes in right now to fund its operations and how much money it will take in once Generation X has replaced the Baby Boomers as the generation with the power of the purse.

Of course, a Church with fewer baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and—ultimately—parishioners will need less money to sustain itself. But under such transformed circumstances, as the report puts it, “the current models of diocesan and parish life cannot be sustained.”

Such a transformation will leave no aspect of Catholic life untouched. Indeed, its shadow has already shaped the intellectual trends I’ve just described: You can see the quest for a new approach to Catholic politics and Catholic cultural engagement as, in part, an attempt to reckon with the choices that led the American Church into this new age of decline.

But if the decline itself accelerates, what happens to the bold ideas? One possibility, which a skeptic of intellectuals might readily invoke, is that over the next few decades Catholic ideas will become increasingly ­irrelevant to Catholic realities, building Christendoms in the air while the actual Church decays.

This unhappy scenario is possible but not entirely likely, for one reason: All of the Catholic ideas sketched above represent attempts to intensify commitment, to forge a more fully Catholic approach to politics and culture than has prevailed since the 1960s. And in a shrinking Church, the influence of its more committed members will wax, not wane. The diocesan ­fundraisers of the future will be hitting up populists and integralists, and perhaps even tradinistas, because the lukewarm cradle-Catholic donors of the present era won’t be available anymore. The parishes of the future will depend on benedictines for either renewal or survival. In a smaller, weaker Church, the influence of ideas that seem weird to the average Catholic today are likely to be magnified, as the Church becomes more an institution by, for, and of the weirdos.

So in some form, these Catholic ideas are likely to become increasingly important to Catholic realities as the Church passes through a period of rearrangement. But their influence will be manifest in an American Catholicism that’s institutionally and demographically weaker than the Church has been in decades, or even since the nineteenth century.

That reality will create both obligations and temptations. The first obligation is for intellectuals to take the Church’s internal crisis seriously on its own terms, and not just to use practical Catholic problems as a cudgel in theoretical debates.

With the partial exception of the benedictines, most of the ink spilled by the schools I’ve just described has been about questions of public policy, political order, partisan loyalty, and ideological ­realignment. Far be it from a newspaper columnist to say that these are unimportant questions. But much more ink needs to be spilled on, and much more thought and effort given to, the internal questions facing American Catholicism—questions of how parishes, schools, and dioceses can transition to the likely realities of 2040, how renewal can be achieved within weakening structures, how contemplative and active forms of Catholic life can be revived, how the five thousand can be fed when the supply of loaves and fishes seems to be in steep decline.

Each of the schools I’ve just described has something to contribute. Benedictines have the most natural interest in questions of institutional preservation and renewal, but integralists may have a particular role in helping the Church govern itself more effectively, in an era when its relationship to state and society will become more fraught than in the recent past. Tradinistas may be able to instantiate their radicalism on the local level, in new movements and Catholic Worker–style communities, even if Catholic Socialism as a national ideology remains notional. Catholic populists, who are likely to be the most politically influential faction in most imaginable futures, have an obligation to think about how the public policies of the secular state are likely to shape the landscape in which the Church tries to stabilize, recover, and grow.

Meanwhile, all the old-but-unsettled ­post–­Vatican II debates will still be there: debates over the role of women in Church ministry and governance, over the general role of the laity in the same, over how the Church should minister to Catholics in irregular and sinful personal situations, over what the liturgy should look like amid competing visions of reform.

There is a way in which arguments about political Catholicism, the Church’s proper relationship to secularism and liberalism, can offer a welcome respite from some of these seemingly never-ending controversies. But they are never-ending because they matter, not just in Rome and Washington, D.C., but to the day-to-day of parish life, and movements intent on pressing for a deeper and more comprehensive political Catholicism will be pulled back into nonpolitical controversies as well. (What do integralists make of female authority in the Church? How do benedictines approach gay Catholics? Just how liturgically “trad” are tradinistas?)

Any secular political influence these ideas gain will come with its own obligations and temptations. And these ideas may indeed gain influence, even amid ecclesiastical decline. To the extent that a certain kind of elite-oriented Catholic institution displays more resilience than mass Catholicism, and that Catholic thought speaks to serious minds seeking to escape the disorders of the times, it’s easy to imagine the patterns of the present being accentuated in the future. Catholics would continue to be overrepresented at the highest levels of politics, conservative politics especially, even as their Church loses mass membership and institutional capacity.

With that overrepresentation will come opportunities for what the Harvard integralist Adrian Vermeule has called “integration from within.” But there will also be a temptation to count the strength of Catholicism primarily in its elite representatives, to assess Catholic success in terms of policy influence exerted rather than souls saved, or else to assume that elite power itself is a sufficient tool for religious revival—powerful enough to achieve goals that could have been achieved earlier, had the prior generation of political Catholics not been too timid, too at peace with liberalism, to shape reality from above.

Some realities can be shaped from above. But in a democracy, power flows between the elites and the masses—not just in one direction—and there are battles that an elite Catholicism simply cannot win unless mass Catholicism recovers. So, if the former is ­flourishing while the latter decays or languishes, it will be a sign that the Church needs restoration-from-­below as much as or more than integration-from-within.

Meanwhile, Catholics in elite circles may feel another temptation: to make their Church’s growing weakness an excuse to allow themselves to be co-opted by un-Catholic styles of politics. There is nothing wrong with making prudential political judgments. But with the Church in a weakened state and partisan politics at a boil, Catholic intellectuals may wish to identify more closely with their co-partisans than with their coreligionists. They may be inclined to place their hopes in the work of the state or the movement rather than in Christ and his Church.

The appeal of the new Catholic schools of thought is their argument that right-liberal and left-liberal Catholics have fallen into precisely this trap, and that there are more fully Catholic alternatives outside the Paul Ryan–Joe Biden binary. But in the relationship of the new tendencies to right-wing nationalism and left-wing socialism—in the way integralists and populists sometimes rally to corrupt or chauvinistic conservative politicians while tradinistas carry water for an anticlerical left—it’s possible to see the problem they critique getting recapitulated.

The benedictines face a different temptation: Their focus on the local and internal can become an excuse for ignoring broader social problems, and a justified distaste for partisan bickering can become an excuse for failing to take up the duties of citizenship. Unless Christians are careful, religious communities may recreate secular forms of class-based secession, in which intentional parishes and schools populated by well-educated believers effectively wall themselves off from social disorder.

Ideally, conditions of Catholic decline would forge greater solidarity among the Catholics who remain. But quite often the opposite happens: The fact of decline makes the stakes of debate seem desperately high. Diminishing institutional spoils are fought over more fiercely. A sense of crisis magnifies differences that in a time of optimism and plenty might be debated in an irenic and fraternal spirit. And this, of course, only makes the decline more likely to accelerate, because people outside the Church, and the marginally attached, look to whether the most fervent Catholics act like Christians, and instead see ­fratricide—or its Twitter equivalent.

The debate over political Catholicism (my own contributions included) has thus far manifested many of these vices. Ideally it would be otherwise, since the grounding of Catholic faith should provide a perspective on contemporary politics that is less timebound and more aware of the contingency and provisional nature of all political arrangements.

Sub specie aeternitatis no political system is perfect, and no political system final. American Catholicism has flourished under the undoubtedly imperfect system of American liberalism. Even in its present decline, it has strengths relative to the Church in other wealthy countries, and we cannot know for certain that the current decline is irreversible, and that flourishing cannot happen once again.

Perhaps it’s the destiny of these various schools to help renew liberalism through challenge and ­critique, to make American society more hospitable to Catholic faith by importing skepticism of liberalism or capitalism as a kind of invigorating ballast. ­Perhaps some twenty-second-century John ­Courtney ­Murray will write gratefully of the influence of the ­twenty-first-century integralists or tradinistas—who, like Jonah in Nineveh, helped save the liberal order by bemoaning its evils and prophesying its destruction.

Or perhaps the system known as liberalism really is fated, judged, and found wanting, and what’s happening in the schools I’ve described is the stirrings of a post-liberal era, the tapping and feeling around a doorway that leads into a very different world. In which case we should hope that some future political philosopher of the Empire of Guadalupe will write gratefully of how the different twenty-first-century Catholic schools refined one another through their spirited debate, and how their liberal critics challenged them constructively, so that the post-liberal age did not simply return to the sins and errors and cruelties of the ancien régime.

Or maybe the difficult Catholic realities are the only important aspect of our situation, the ideas are mostly music at twilight, and the Church is headed, at speed, into a post-Christian age in which there will be no “options,” only necessity.

By this all people will know that you are my ­disciples, if you have love for one another. Whichever fate awaits us, Catholics and Christians of every political persuasion should remember that admonition and prove their fidelity by entering an uncertain future not just as disputants, but as friends.

Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times. A version of this essay was given as a lecture for the “America, Liberalism, and Catholicism” conference at the University of Dallas in April 2021.