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THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

An Introduction to American Liberalism

On Christmas Day in the year 1797, Luigi Barnabà Chiaramonte (1742-1823), bishop of Imola, astounded conservatives in the congregation at his cathedral by declaring that there is no necessary conflict between Christianity and democracy.  Nor did Chiaramonte change his liberal position when he was elected to the papacy in 1800, taking the name Pius VII.

Pope Pius VII
As friend and mentor of Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti (1792-1878), Pius VII inculcated the younger man in the principles of a liberalism consistent with Catholic doctrine, sending him on a mission to the new Republic of Chile in 1823.  When Mastai-Ferretti was himself elected to the papacy in 1846 following the death of Gregory XVI, he took the name Pius IX in honor of his patron and immediately began implementing those reforms he thought consistent with Catholic doctrine and that did not endanger the security and integrity of the Church.
Pius IX’s reform program failed for reasons beyond his control, and the real story still remains to be told.  The bitterness and bafflement of modern liberals regarding “Pio Nono,” combined with the confused encomia of today’s conservatives, however, suggests that liberals and conservatives both may be in for some surprising revelations concerning the pope they have, respectively, demonized and idolized, and for all the wrong reasons.
John Henry Newman
In the late 1820s and early 1830s, however, John Henry Newman and others in his circle at Oxford University were faced with forms of liberalism they had no doubt were incompatible with Christianity, even though some of them were presented as the only true Christianity, as we saw in the previous posting on this subject.  At the same time, they were clergy of a church that seemed not only inadequate to meet the challenge presented by the rise of liberalism but that could not by any stretch of the imagination be said to be meeting the spiritual needs of the people.  Government interference in church policy and administrative decisions only increased the frustration with the situation.
This makes Newman’s blindness to the real situation all the more remarkable, considering the fact that his genius and careful scholarship persuaded even himself once he became convinced of the truth of something, and he did not hesitate to pursue a question to its ultimate origins.  Nevertheless, he failed to see the social problems caused by the increasing concentration of capital ownership, especially of the new machinery, and which were turning people away from traditional Christianity.
Conditions were drawing people into either the new “enthusiastic” sects, such as Methodism, or into the “democratic religion” of socialism.  Worse, as Dr. Julian Strube of Heidelberg University has explained in his writings, socialism was almost always linked to modernism and esotericism, and dedicated to the overthrow instead of the reform of traditional religion.
Hilaire Belloc
As far as Newman and those in his circle were concerned, then, liberalism was the enemy.  Ironically, as Newman realized after his conversion to Catholicism, the Oxford Movement was organized to defend the English type of liberalism against the inroads of the European type of liberalism.  This was at a time when those two types of liberalism were beginning to merge into what Hilaire Belloc termed “the Servile State.”  Thus, as Newman explained years later in the notes to later — that is, post-1864 — editions of his Apologia Pro Vita Sua,
I have been asked to explain more fully what it is I mean by “Liberalism,” because merely to call it the Anti-dogmatic Principle is to tell very little about it. An explanation is the more necessary, because such good Catholics and distinguished writers as Count Montalembert and Father Lacordaire use the word in a favorable sense, and claim to be Liberals themselves. . . . I do not believe that it is possible for me to differ in any important matter from two men whom I so highly admire. In their general line of thought and conduct I enthusiastically concur, and consider them to be before their age. And it would be strange indeed if I did not read with a special interest, in M. de Montalembert’s beautiful volume [his biography of Lacordaire — ed.], of the unselfish aims, the thwarted projects, the unrequited toils, the grand and tender resignation of Lacordaire. If I hesitate to adopt their language about Liberalism, I impute the necessity of such hesitation to some differences between us in the use of words or in the circumstances of country; and thus I reconcile myself to remaining faithful to my own conception of it, though I cannot have their voices to give force to mine.
Charles Forbes René de Montalembert
As Newman admitted, he used the term “liberalism” in one sense, while two men he admired greatly, l’abbé Jean-Baptiste Henri Dominique Lacordaire (1802-1861) and Charles Forbes René de Montalembert (1810-1870), appeared to use it in quite another.  Confusing matters still further, Lacordaire and Montalembert had been associates of Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais (1760-1854), who used the term in yet another sense — which was one of the primary reasons that both Lacordaire and Montalembert cut the connection with him when it became obvious that their philosophies and religious beliefs were profoundly different.
Specifically, Newman used the term liberal in its English sense, while de Lamennais used it in the European sense.  And Lacordaire and Montalembert?  To them liberalism meant much the same as it did to Pius VII and later to Pius IX and subsequent popes, in substance if not in terminology: the liberalism or democracy of the United States as analyzed by Alexis de Tocqueville.  And that is. . . ?
Thomas Aquinas
Not to get too pedantic — it is actually essential in this instance to indulge in pedantry a bit, due to the massive amount of misinformation that has been spread around — but the American type of liberalism had its origin in the correction of Aristotle by Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).  Briefly, where Aristotle held that every human being has a different capacity for virtue (and “natural slaves” have no capacity for virtue at all and are therefore human only in appearance), Aquinas maintained that all human beings have an “analogously complete” capacity for virtue.
In plain English, what Aquinas said is that every human being at any stage of physical, cultural, economic, political, or any other type of development has by human nature itself the “same”* potential to become as fully human as every other human being.  There may be “accidentals” in a particular individual’s “form” that preclude becoming more fully human, but that does not change the fact that every single human being is as fully human, and is human in the same way, as every other human.  Period.  No ifs, ands, or buts.
*”Same” is not the right word here, but it perhaps best conveys the idea in ordinary speech.  In correct “philosophical language,” each and every human being is not a duplicate of every other human being (i.e., the “same”), but an analogue of every other human being, having all that which is essential to be called a human being, even as that essence or substance takes a different form in every single human being.  Thus, Aquinas said not that human beings “are all the same,” but that they “are all analogously complete.”
Given that every human being has the “same” capacity to acquire and develop virtue and thereby become more fully human, it necessarily follows that every human being has the right of access to the means to become more fully human.  Read that carefully, because it does not say that every human being has the right to become more fully human, but that every human being has the right to the opportunity (and thus access to the means) to become more fully human.
In other words, Aquinas was talking about equality of opportunity, not equality of results.  His “analogy of being” thereby comes into direct conflict with:
·      English type liberalism/capitalism, which restricts opportunity to an élite,
·      European type liberalism/socialism, which mandates equality of results, and
·      the Servile State/Welfare State that combines English and European liberalism, which mandates equality of results controlled by an élite.
The question then becomes how people are supposed to acquire and develop virtue, which comes from virtus, a Latin word signifying “humanness.”  We find the answer in something that Aristotle got right and with which Aquinas agreed: that “man is by nature a political animal.”  (Aristotle, Politics, 1253a.)
Thomas Hobbes
That is, man is not simply an individual, as, e.g., Thomas Hobbes supposed and that forms a core principle of English liberalism.  Nor is he merely a fungible member of the collective as European liberalism assumes.  No, each human being is by nature an individual who best realizes his or her humanity within the pólis, an intentionally structured network of institutions in conformity with human nature (the natural law) that we call the common good.
Institutions are important for man as a political animal because it is through the exercise of natural rights of life, liberty, and private property that people acquire and develop virtue, thereby becoming more fully human.  It is therefore a fundamental human right for each person as a member of civil society to have the opportunity and access to the means to participate in the institutions of the common good.  What each individual does with the opportunity is another matter.
(Different principles apply to domestic society, the Family, and to religious society, usually signified by “Church,” but including all organized religion, but that is not relevant to this discussion.)
That, however, does not mean that every human being has automatic access to all civil institutions.  Children — “unemancipated minors” — for example may in most cases only participate in civil institutions with the knowledge and consent of their parents.  (The modern Nation State has often eroded the authority of parents, asserting the primacy of the civil power over domestic and paternal right, but might does not make right.)
Nor does someone whose “accidentals” or particular circumstances disqualify him or her from participation in a civil institution mean he or she should be able to participate, anyway.  That would be not a true equality of opportunity, but a false equality of results.
For example, no one may legitimately be barred from dining in a restaurant because of race, creed, or ethnicity, but it would be quite proper to refuse service due to lack of space, the customer’s inability to pay, or improper dress.  Nor is anyone within his or her rights to enter a vegan establishment and complain he or she is being oppressed or discriminated against because no beefsteak is served.
Obviously, then, American type liberalism, while sharing a label, is a horse of an entirely different color than European and English type liberalism.  The issue now becomes how and why American type liberalism diverged from European and English type liberalism, and how and why Newman, for all his genius, failed to make the distinction or even realize that it was important.