As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the authorities generally list four primary causes of the decay of the Church of England and the beginning of the Oxford Movement. All of these are interrelated, and it is actually impossible to discuss them intelligently in isolation. These are 1) Getting involved in politics, 2) Erastianism, or the State moving into determining religious beliefs, practices, and policies, 3) A confusion of the religious identity of the Church of England itself, and 4) The rise of liberalism.
We went briefly into the first three causes of problems in the Church of England in the previous posting. As John Henry Newman was chiefly concerned with liberalism, we realized it deserved a series of postings all to itself — if only to define the term!
|Alexis de Tocqueville|
It turns out that in the early nineteenth century “liberalism” was at least three things, two of which are similar, and the third (which sounds similar, and is the same as far as many people are concerned) that is actually the complete opposite of the other two. The failure to distinguish between the three main types of liberalism has resulted in massive confusion down to the present day.
Now, the reader should be made fully aware in advance that the following designations are not universally accepted. They may not even be accepted anywhere other than on this blog. We figure that’s okay, because as far as we know, the only other commentator to make the distinction between the three different types — and then not very clearly — was Alexis de Tocqueville, and he did it primarily by inference. We find it in Democracy in America (1835, 1840) in de Tocqueville’s description of how people go about some great undertaking in France, England, and the United States:
Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds. . . . If it be proposed to advance some truth, or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever, at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association. (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, II.2.v.)
Extrapolating from this and from other comments in both volumes of Democracy in America, we can fairly conclude that liberalism, far from being one thing, is three: 1) French or European type, 2) English type, and 3) American type. Confusing matters greatly is the fact that the American type of liberalism was originally an idealized — yet paradoxically more realistic — English type of liberalism.
|Gilbert Keith Chesterton|
English and American liberalism, however, became separated as English society became progressively more elitist and stratified. This made English liberalism increasingly resemble French or European type liberalism.
This evolution of English liberalism possibly explains one of the comments of G.K. Chesterton, made at a time (1908) when he was becoming disillusioned with the reality of socialism as the liberal vision was being applied in England. In the United States some vestiges of American type liberalism still remained and would make its last stand in the 1912 presidential campaign of Theodore Roosevelt.
America’s vision was the true, Aristotelian reality of individual sovereignty and widespread capital ownership. It was not the false Platonic ideal of elitist capitalism or collectivist socialism, both of which concentrate capital ownership. The “American Dream” of the nineteenth century recognized (as Cicero said to his friend Atticus in reference to Cato’s sometimes misplaced idealism) that people live on the imperfect “dunghill of Romulus,” not in the perfect world of Plato’s Republic demanded by capitalists and socialists alike.
Nevertheless, American type liberalism was fast disappearing in the U.S. and was virtually extinct in England, as Hilaire Belloc would point out in The Servile State (1912). As Chesterton said,
The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud. As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals. (Gilbert Keith Chesterton, “The Ethics of Elfland,” Orthodoxy, 1908.)
So, what was Chesterton talking about, with a paradox that, much like his autobiography, seems to have obscured more than it revealed? The answer is possibly found in what “liberalism” had come to mean at the beginning of the nineteenth century:
|John Henry Newman|
French or European Liberalism. This is the liberalism against which John Henry Newman struggled both as an Anglican and as a Catholic. It is the liberalism of the French Revolution, of modernism, of “the democratic religion” that was the original term for socialism. It is why so many conservatives and orthodox religious leaders condemned liberalism and democracy at the same time that they supported and relied on genuine, American type liberalism for social stability, and English type liberalism to maintain their economic and political supremacy.
In Newman’s day the merger of French or European liberalism with the English type of liberalism was just beginning, and its distinction from the American type was becoming obvious. French or European liberalism, the basis of all forms of socialism, is the theory that the abstraction of the collective has rights (especially private property), which are doled out or withheld as expedient to meet the demands and needs of the State. Pope Pius XI referred to this liberalism when he declared,
Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 117.)
Pius XI made this even clearer in Divini Redemptoris, in which he refuted scientific socialism (“atheistic communism”) as comprehensively as he had religious and democratic socialism in Quadragesimo Anno. Keeping in mind that the harsh criticism of “liberalistic individualism” in this passage is not an endorsement of socialism of any kind (condemnation of socialism being one of the main points of the encyclical!), Pius XI explained,
|Pope Pius XI|
But God has likewise destined man for civil society according to the dictates of his very nature. In the plan of the Creator, society is a natural means which man can and must use to reach his destined end. Society is for man and not vice versa. This must not be understood in the sense of liberalistic individualism, which subordinates society to the selfish use of the individual; but only in the sense that by means of an organic union with society and by mutual collaboration the attainment of earthly happiness is placed within the reach of all. In a further sense, it is society which affords the opportunities for the development of all the individual and social gifts bestowed on human nature. These natural gifts have a value surpassing the immediate interests of the moment, for in society they reflect the divine perfection, which would not be true were man to live alone. But on final analysis, even in this latter function, society is made for man, that he may recognize this reflection of God's perfection, and refer it in praise and adoration to the Creator. Only man, the human person, and not society in any form is endowed with reason and a morally free will.
Man cannot be exempted from his divinely-imposed obligations toward civil society, and the representatives of authority have the right to coerce him when he refuses without reason to do his duty. Society, on the other hand, cannot defraud man of his God-granted rights, the most important of which We have indicated above. Nor can society systematically void these rights by making their use impossible. (Divini Redemptoris, §§ 29-30.)
The bottom line: in French or European type liberalism sovereignty resides in the collective, an abstraction created by man, not in man created by God. Since this raises up collective man and sets the State in the place of God, it is, as Pius XI noted, “utterly foreign to Christian truth,” or to any other kind of truth, for that matter.
The idea that the collective can have rights that actual human beings do not is the basis for socialism. Yes, some forms of socialism permit private property, but that right is presumed to be a grant from the State or the community. It is not considered something inherent in the human person by nature.#30#