Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

The Remnant

Dear Editor:

I should like to add one further point in support of Mr. Christopher Ferrara’s latest excellent article on the gnostic obscurantism of our a-historical, conservative opponents. Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors was not, as some of them apparently believe, a last-ditch effort to uphold outdated, badly flawed conceptions of the union of Throne and Altar. Nor was it the product of a (justifiable) reaction to the depredations of the Italian unification movement. It was actually the fruit of thoughtful meditation upon thirty or more years of good-willed attempts to dialogue with liberal, utilitarian, democratic, libertarian, and nationalist spin offs of an eighteenth-century Enlightenment naturalism eager to liberate itself from the laws of God.

This "dialogue" had seriously begun with the work of the Abbé de Lammenais and of those Belgian Catholics who had made alliance with liberals against their repressive Dutch King in the 1820’s and 1830’s. It was intensified in the first years of Pius IX’s reign, and reached its peak in the first stage of the Revolutions of 1848, which was a curious, European-wide hootenany-agape. That carnival yielded painful experiences for the Church,which came to understand that "dialogue" with revolutionary forces was always defined by them as involving unquestioning acceptance of the infallibility of their various visions; slavish affirmation of their naturalist Faiths as though these were actually dictated by philosophical and scientific Reason. She recognized, by 1848, that any such acceptance and affirmation entailed a full scale sell-out of spiritual concerns to willful, politicizing, secularizing elements, infinitely worse than any that had thrived under the old monarchies. Most importantly, she realized that she was morally obliged to call upon her teaching authority to demonstrate that all of the fine words of freedom and progress used by the supporters of revolutionary movements masqueraded an incredibly hypocritical or self-deluding Machtpolitik destined to lead the peoples of Europe straight to the slaughterhouse. Let conservative critics who have eyes to read, read the statements of those Catholic thinkers who had engaged in dialogue, become disillusioned, and then promoted and defended the publication of a Syllabus of Errors in the 1850’s and 1860’s. They will find spelled out therein, in the clearest and most prophetic terms, a realization that failure to respond vigorously to "Progress" would entail passive contribution to the construction of a "modern civilization" of abortion, euthanasia, racial engineering, and genocide.

Do our conservative friends ultimately approve of such unhappy developments? I don’t think so. What I do know for certain, however, is that they have no arguments or policies designed effectively to prevent or counter them. As Louis Veuillot said at the time of the Syllabus, the conservatives conserve nothing. They act as men who, in theory, really share with liberals many basic naturalist principles, but, in practice, have seen some of the dangerous consequences flowing from their careless promotion, and wish to implement "progressive" changes in a more orderly fashion. In effect, conservatives speak and act as "liberals who have been mugged", men who want to control the criminal even though they cannot stop encouraging the crime that he commits. They want liberalism without the pain; liberalism with a human face. They cannot have it. It does not exist.

I, like Mr. Ferrara, also have wondered what would have happened if our conservative opponents had thought things through more carefully ten years ago and abandoned their path of appeasement and accomodation to the spirit of the times. History might, as he says, indeed now be somewhat different. But entertain, for a moment, an even more delightful and promising speculation. Imagine if they, a decade ago, had not merely changed their future course, but gone on to imitate the revulsion of those mid-nineteenth century Catholics who were the first to take a taste from Modernity’s table to see if it offered anything suitable for Catholic stomachs. Then, instead of simply politely refusing any more tidbits from that unfortunate banquet--now served up by the conciliar and post-conciliar Church--our conservative friends would have spat out whatever they had already swallowed like the tainted meat that it was, is now, and ever shall be.

Mr. Ferrara, keep up the good work.

John C. Rao

Associate Professor of History

St. John’s University

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