What “anti-monarchical lesson”?

In the Leftist theological journal Concilium, Belgian professor Johan Verstraeten accuses Pope Benedict XVI of selling out to the capitalists.  Basically, the Vestraeten accuses His Holiness of concentrating too much on personal morality and individual charity instead of focusing on “unjust institutions”, for maintaining a generally positive view of business competition, and for stressing subsidiarity and refusing to equate Catholic social teaching with European social democracy.  Cheisa has here reprinted a defense of the pope by Italian professor and senator Stefano Ceccanti (H/T  The Pittsford Perennialist).  Ceccanti accuses Verstraeten of distorting Catholic social teaching by taking the few parts of the tradition that he likes and discarding the rest.  So far, so good.

Really, not much needs to be said of the Concilium critique.  We’ve heard this all many times before.  The accusation that the Church is holding back the Workers’ Revolution by preaching personal morality is actually a bit charming in its quaintness.  It’s like having a new movie come out where a black-hatted villain ties the hero’s girlfriend to railroad tracks.  A criticism of the Church that doesn’t involve condoms or sexual perversion?  How refreshing!  All we need to do is dust off the old reply.  What Leftists mean when they say “just institutions” is not what morally sane people would mean by that expression.  What Leftists mean is communism, which any believing Catholic regards as a grossly unjust institution.  By being an anti-communist, the pope is challenging unjust social structures in a significant way.

Ceccanti eventually gets to this response, but he puts it in a very weird way:

To tell the truth, however, the positions of Verstraeten and of others like him appear to be characterized theologically by a “leftist conservatism,” which has not yet taken into account the collapse of the Berlin Wall and its anti-monarchical lesson, against the overweening power of the state and of politics.

These currents criticize the magisterium precisely because it has instead taken that lesson into account. But by doing so, they reproduce in the social sphere the traditionalist rejection of religious freedom: a rejection that is also rigorously statist, motivated in defense of “iustitia in veritate” against the free choice of the erroneous conscience in good faith.

In short, Verstraeten and… Lefebvre have more elements in common theologically than one would believe by thinking solely along the political axis of right and left.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight:  communism and monarchism are basically the same?  The fall of the Berlin Wall was a defeat for monarchy?!  A traditionalist commitment to the social kingship of Christ is no different from a totalitarian atheist commitment to extirpating the Sacred?   Do these classical liberals realize how stupid they sound?  They think they’re being profound when they say that there are only two forms of government:  liberal democracy and everything else–all cases of everything else being basically the same and morally equivalent to Stalin.  In fact, to anyone who has ever thought outside the liberal box, this sounds as ignorantly provincial as a man who imagined that there are only two types of people:  Americans and foreigners–all foreigners being basically alike.

But doesn’t he have a point?  Don’t antimodernist Catholicism and communism have something important in common, namely that they both posit some idea of the good life and the common good, and they authorize the state to impose this by force?  Well, yes, but this is true of all ruling ideologies, including liberalism, with its fetishism of autonomy and officially imposed atheist utilitarianism.  No need to go on–everybody here knows the hollowness of liberalism’s pretense to be a “neutral” doctrine that upholds individual consciences in a special way.  As soon as we leave our part of the web, though, we see what strong a hold liberalism’s boasts still hold over the educated public.

16 thoughts on “What “anti-monarchical lesson”?

  1. I was particularly interested in this claim, because it suggests Mr. Ceccanti is a good deal more pernicious than you let on: “But by doing so, they reproduce in the social sphere the traditionalist rejection of religious freedom: a rejection that is also rigorously statist, motivated in defense of ‘iustitia in veritate’ against the free choice of the erroneous conscience in good faith.”

    This is outright heresy, no? The bar for “erroneous conscience in good faith” is pretty high, and most people don’t clear it. To give just one example, a Catholic who gets an abortion because she is ignorant of the rationale behind the Church’s teachings on it and therefore thinks she has a “right” to it has sinned, her sin is not mitigated by her culpable and partial ignorance, and if she doesn’t repent of her error, she will go to Hell. Who thinks such an arrangement is ideal? But it’s precisely what leftists expect of us. We must not, in their view, even speak about the evils of abortion because, supposedly, it’s what drives women to feel guilt and kill themselves post-abortion — because our objections are an unjust imposition on them. Is he endorsing this?

  2. Classical liberals have this idea that there was a period of time, between feudalism and the rise of the nanny state, in which the ideas of liberalism produced a golden age of responsible, limited government, and political and economic liberty. Everything before liberalism is equated in their eyes. This can be seen in the writings of Mises, where everything that is not laissez-faire capitalism is one form of “socialism” or another, and of Hayek who saw the socialism and the welfare-state as the “Road to Serfdom”, i.e., back to feudalism. You are right, it is an incredibly ignorant way of looking at things. The “classical liberal” period was a period of government growth in which power became more centralized. 20th Century nanny-state liberalism is the natural successor, not to feudalism, but to 19th Century classical liberalism.

  3. “Proposition nation” true believers are like this too. Everything is either the proposition nation, with its ethereal abstract composition and the future, or else it is “blood and soil” “tribalism” with no place in the future. And why bother distinguishing between different expressions of a thing with no future?

  4. What Leftists mean when they say “just institutions” is not what morally sane people would mean by that expression. What Leftists mean is communism, which any believing Catholic regards as a grossly unjust institution. By being an anti-communist, the pope is challenging unjust social structures in a significant way.

    OK, so look at this.


    “The State cannot limit itself to “favoring one portion of the citizens”, namely the rich and prosperous, nor can it “neglect the other”, which clearly represents the majority of society. Otherwise, there would be a violation of that law of justice which ordains that every person should receive his due. When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenseless and the poor have a claim to special consideration. The richer class has many ways of shielding itself, and stands less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back on, and must chiefly depend on the assistance of the State. It is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong to the latter class, should be specially cared for and protected by the Government.”

    — Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 10

    This is Communism.

    “Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.”

    — U.S. Catholic Bishops statement, Economic Justice for All

    This is Communism.

    “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin.”

    — Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2241

    This is Communism.

    “The demands of the common good are dependent on the social conditions of each historical period and are strictly connected to respect for and the integral promotion of the person and his fundamental rights. These demands concern above all the commitment to peace, the organization of the State’s powers, a sound juridical system, the protection of the environment, and the provision of essential services to all, some of which are at the same time human rights: food, housing, work, education and access to culture, transportation, basic health care, the freedom of communication and expression, and the protection of religious freedom.”

    — Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace,
    Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 166

    This is Communism.

    “It is the task of the State to provide for the defense and preservation of common goods such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces. Just as in the time of primitive capitalism the State had the duty of defending the basic rights of workers, so now, with the new capitalism, the State and all of society have the duty of defending those collective goods which, among others, constitute the essential framework for the legitimate pursuit of personal goals on the part of each individual.”

    — Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus 40

    This is Communism.

    As you can see, a lot of it comes from John Paul II, the supposedly conservative buddy of Reagan’s. I guess the only thing really conservative about him was he hated the Soviets — and apparently his only problem with them was that they were atheists who occupied Poland, not their economic policies.

    It is hard to see how the Left would disagree with any of the above doctrines, or how the above doctrines are at odds with Leftist ideas of “just institutions.”

    Where is the “anti-modernist” part of the above Catholic doctrines?

      • JP, if you think that’s communism then you’re ignorant of Catholic social teaching. Do you think Rerum Novarum was ‘communist’ because it asserted the dignity and rights of workers, or because it dissented from the amoral utilitarianism of industrial capitalist ideology? Was Hillaire Belloc a ‘communist’? What about Quadragesimo Anno, or Vix Pervenit? Are those ‘communist’ encyclicals?

      • If you two clowns don’t even know what Communism is, it’s going to be hard for you to have an intelligent conversation about it.

        Hint: Communism involves the state-directed coercive transfer of resources under some pretext of “justice” or “fairness”.

        Which is exactly what the RCC is advocating in the passages cited.

      • Surely you’re not serious, JP? There’s a good deal more to communism than that, and at any rate, what do you make of the Church’s longstanding opposition to communist regimes?

      • So, JP, does a non-communist sovereign power have no ability to transfer resources (meaning it can’t do anything), or does it do so but only in an overtly unjust way? By your definition, has there ever been a noncommunist regime?

      • “Communism involves the state-directed coercive transfer of resources under some pretext of “justice” or “fairness”.”

        That would make Alexander II a communist avant la lettre — after all, the redistribution of land to state-owned serfs in 1866 was premised on then-liberal notions of social equality. The absurdity of deductively suggesting that a monarch of ‘Holy Russia’ was an out-and-out Red exposes the clumsiness of your definition.

      • Guys, JP did not say, “communism *consists entirely* in the state-directed coercive transfer of resources under some pretext of ‘justice’ or ‘fairness.'” He said it *involves* such transfers. This seems indisputable, no?

        Also, Eugen, repudiating communism does not constitute an endorsement of state capitalism, or any other modern item. It would be good to be careful before tossing around epithets like “idiot.” They might otherwise redound. K?

        I think JP is painting with too broad a brush, in calling all those statements of JPII, the Catechism, & al. ‘communist.’ But he has a point. “The State must do this, the State must do that, the State must do this other thing.” Certainly States must do some things. But the modern bureaucratic state? Best it is given as little power to coerce – i.e., to harm – as possible. I mean, the State can be relied upon to serve its own interests, rather than those of society in general. This natural, and in fact salutary character of the State (without which it would not last more than a year or two, and which it shares with all other beings that seek the Good, and so seek the capacity to continue to seek the Good) entails the eventual destruction of all other centers of authority, including the Church. As may well be seen in the news of the last month. The only way to prevent that from happening is to vest authority – whether by custom or in law – in other social organs, such as the Church, or subsidiary governments, or guilds, or corporations, or courts.

  5. There’s nobody more facile than a classical liberal. It’s the easiest thing in the world to defend a system, ethical or political, which demands nothing more than consent — because it forbids nothing. At least Marxism (in a mutant form) preserves a sense of the moral urgency that is common to all religions; that alone gives it substance, unlike the arid rationalism of Mises et al. And then there is the fact that some of the best thinkers on the right — Christopher Lasch, Alasdair MacIntyre, James Burnham — were political migrants from Marxism. I’m not positing a connection per se, but it’s probably worth it for rightists to pick up a bit of Marx from time to time, if just to train their minds.

    • JP, your comments are winding up in the spam folder, most likely because of the e-mail address you’ve been entering. I unspammed and approved them, but in the future, to keep this from happening, I recommend entering a less-obviously-bogus e-mail address, so that Akismet doesn’t flag your comments.


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