Because the Devil is the prince of this world, we have a useful check to know when an ideology or social movement is net-good or net-evil. When it waxes, it is net-evil; when it wanes, it is net-good. One can only apply this rule to the the last three centuries, of course, because it was only during the Enlightenment that evil per se became a distinct force in the human world. Before that time, one may speak of cruelty, selfishness, or error, but it is only in the age of Voltaire that segments of mankind began to rebel explicitly against the divine order. Within that time, though, the rule is quite informative.
Liberalism waxed in the 18th and early 19th centuries when it was primarily a rebellion against the Christian order of Europe; it waned in the late 19th century when it had become primarily a defense of the remains of medieval humanism and decentralization against the totalizing fanaticisms of socialism and nationalism. Nationalism waxed in the 19th century, when it was primarily a drive to smash local cultures and medieval/Christian competitors to the power of the state; it waned in the 20th century when it became primarily a defense of national culture and political authority against the inhuman forces of international socialism and finance capitalist globalism. Communism waxed in the 20th century when it constituted the most comprehensive rebellion against God yet seen outside of hell; it waned in the 1970s-80s when the sexual revolution had transformed the West into something even more evil. At the moment of their downfalls (1945 for nationalism, 1989 for communism), these movements were net-good, despite their own substantial evils, because they were holding in check, or at least fighting against, an even greater evil. If their existence was net-evil, the world’s prince would have kept them in place. Indeed we see that around a decade or two after the defeat of fascism/national socialism/Japanese imperialism by communism, and again after the defeat of Soviet communism by New Leftist democracy, the world took drastic turns toward more comprehensive evil as the remaining net-evil force found itself unchecked.
Yes, I am saying that the current order is more evil, is a more comprehensive rebellion against God and human nature, than fascism and communism.
During the 19th century, there was a strong desire on the part of some Catholics to find a way for the Church to reconcile herself to the supposedly legitimate aspirations of the Revolution–liberalism, democracy, national self-determination, or whatever. The contradictions, however, seemed insuperable, and 19th century liberal and nationalist Catholics strike us as paradoxical, almost tragic figures. In any case, patience alone often triumphs where effort is vain, and I have found that there is a certain ecumenism of the ash heap. Namely, as soon as a historical force is spent, as soon as it is consigned to ignominy, its reconciliation with the Church happens naturally and effortlessly. Many have noticed that in an anti-Christian West, the differences between Catholics and Protestants don’t seem so important anymore, but this phenomenon applies even to forces that were once anti-Christian. A 21st century American Republican performs no intellectual effort to reconcile Christianity and classical liberalism; to him, they are inseparable. No forces were more clearly incompatible in the 19th century than Catholicism and Italian nationalism, but they combine easily in Italy’s Prime Minister in the face of the hatred the evil force ascendent in the world holds for Christianity and the Italian people together. College student play-revolutionaries retain an attachment to the word “socialism” and won’t be handing it to Christianity anytime soon, but the working class–now small, powerless, and despised–is ours.
The devil is the world’s prince. Such is the theological reason why the net-good side always loses. One can also understand it from the light of natural reason. The winning side is more powerful, more able to impose its will, so it will generally find itself attacking, while the weaker side will find itself defending. Thus, formally, the stronger side is the “revolutionary” side, imposing a changed order, while the weaker side is the “conservative” side, attempting to preserve an existing order. This is structural and will be true regardless of each side’s legitimating ideology. Now, attack is not per se morally superior to defense, but it lacks the moral and spiritual opportunities of defense. The conservative, the defender, may give an ideological reason for defending an existing order, but his motives can transcend the ideological, because his order is a distinct, existing thing, with haecceity, and so capable of inspiring the motives distinct to particulars: loyalty, gratitude, love. The revolutionary is motivated to create a new order, and because that order does not exist yet, its justification can only be ideological. As history moved past the liberal, the nationalist, and the communist, the underlying appeal of their commitment that once could only have been abstract principle became more and more mixed with affection for the familiar but endangered. Thus, in the late 80s, newsmen often spoke of “conservative communist hardliners” in the Soviet Union, and everyone knew what they meant despite the formal contradiction.
The ecumenism of the ash heap doesn’t help us win. Does it perhaps enrich us? The dream of Lamennais is fulfilled–anything legitimate in the Revolutionary program finds shelter only in Christianity–although unfortunately only because the Revolution itself has discarded them in its advance to purer evil.