Visions of Western and European Order
Highways From Christendom to Nowhere
(A Talk Presented in Mexico, April, 2016)
“Belgium is a kingdom; not a road”. It was with that phrase, whether true or apocryphal, that King Albert I (1909-1934) is popularly said to have responded to the German request to cross his country to begin the attack on France in 1914. If accurately reported, what the king was expressing was a commitment to Belgium as a substantive reality and not a passageway to satisfaction of another nation’s purposes. And Albert did, in fact, oppose the well-sculpted pre-war battle plan, with four years of bitter fighting and civilian suffering as the price his country paid for holding out against it.
Anyone who might wish to speak of “the West” as a “kingdom”---that is to say as a substantive reality----and seek to rally its troops against those attempting to use it as a mere “road” has a much harder task ahead of him than a monarch who had to mobilize normally very badly divided French and Flemish speaking Belgians. For the dominant naturalist vision of “the West”, just as that of “Europe” before it---not to speak of the contemporary pluralist world’s obsession with a “global society”---is an empty one. It precisely does identify a “road” rather than a “kingdom”, and one that leads to a terrible dead end. And it constructs this highway to nowhere because the seemingly exalted picture of a civilized international order that it paints has no connection other than a manipulative rhetorical one with the sole force that can prevent it from being what it actually is: a “cover story” for ideological or individual wills on the road to a self-destructive victory.
Catholicism, which once inspired and at least partially realized a truly international res publica cristiana, is the sole salvific force that can still give to “Europe” and “the West”---not to speak of “the East” or “global society” as a whole---the ability to create and sustain a substantive civilization of flesh, blood, and spirit. For attempts to build any of these upon a conscious rejection of Christ render all their natural building blocks unnatural, destroying the very people who initially seem to benefit from this secularizing labor along with those they unmistakably oppress as they go about their work. Only a Catholic order, with Christ as its King, can confidently adopt the motto “all that which is natural is ours”, constructing ever more complex societies while cherishing and perfecting all of their contributing elements. Our greatest task as contemporary Catholics is to understand that the historical perversion of this Christian stimulus to rise above parochialism while saving all that is “particular” has been a long-term enterprise, whose claims believers themselves have often accepted---and generally without even realizing that they have been seduced by them.
Martin Luther occupies a crucial role in this project of hermetically sealing off nature and the societies through which nature’s potential is developed from their necessary expansion, correction, and transformation in Christ, thereby opening up the highway from Christendom to a willful, self-destructive nowhere. Nevertheless, he could not have played his part so well had others not already cleared the construction site on which he worked for some centuries before him. Allow me to cite the great English Church historian Philip Hughes to indicate broadly what I mean, and then to suggest a clarification that I believe useful for grasping the particular importance of Luther’s appearance on the scene:1
All those anti-intellectualist, anti-institutional forces that had plagued and hindered the medieval Church for centuries, whose chronic maleficent activity had, in fact, been the main cause why—as we are often tempted to say—so little was done effectively to maintain a generally higher standard of Christian life; all the forces that were the chronic distraction of the medieval papacy, were now stabilized, institutionalized in the new reformed Christian Church. Enthronement of the will as the supreme human faculty; hostility to the activity of the intelligence in spiritual matters and in doctrine; the ideal of a Christian perfection that is independent of sacraments and independent of the authoritative teaching of clerics; of sanctity attainable through one’s own self-sufficing spiritual activities; denial of the truth that Christianity, like man, is a social thing;—all the crude, backwoods, obscurantist theories bred of the degrading pride that comes with chosen ignorance, the pride of men ignorant because unable to be wise except through the wisdom of others, now have their fling. Luther’s own special contribution—over and above the key doctrines that set all this mischief loose—is the notion of life as radically evil.
It is this last phrase of Hughes that needs a slight elaboration. Yes, Luther did dramatically emphasize the notion of life as radically evil, but he was certainly not the first westerner to do so. The Catharists had already introduced that concept to Europe by the eleventh and twelfth centuries. What Luther did was to present the principle of the total depravity of life as the product of Original Sin, thereby placing the evils of the world squarely on the shoulders of men rather than some gnostic monster. It was this more “conservative”, “humble”, sinful man-flaying, and seemingly Christian-like argument that guaranteed him a hearing from late medieval believers overwhelmed by the seemingly incurable evils around them but still convinced that Creation was the product of a supremely good God. It was this more conservative disguise that permitted the concept of total depravity to be effectively incarnated in Western Christendom.
Luther’s incarnation of the pseudo-Christian vision of the total depravity of the children of Adam and Eve could not help but corrupt and destroy social institutions of all kinds, along with the natural building blocks they nurture and perfect. It had to do so, because its central practical effect is to give flesh and blood reality to that irrational individual willfulness which Hughes rightly describes as long festering in the West, opening the door to all of the anti-social consequences that inevitably flow therefrom.2 We must explore the way this irrational, parochial willfulness functioned in an already ailing Christendom in order clearly to grasp the very old historical roots of supposedly excitingly new projects for transforming a substantive international order into an empty “Europe”, “West”, or “Global Society”.
A Consilium de emendanda ecclesia, presented by a group of cardinals to Pope Paul III in 1537 concerning the causes of the Protestant Reformation, pointed to the fact that all too worldly, politically-charged actions on the part of the Papacy played a central role in preparing the disaster, awakening a cynicism regarding the very possibility of that “transformation of all things in Christ” which was the essential raison d’être for the mainline Catholic reform movement of the High Middle Ages. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had warned of the dangers of such a degeneration long beforehand. In a work entitled De Consideratione (c. 1150), he lamented to his former pupil, now Pope Eugenius III, just how much the medieval reform movement, infiltrated by the wrong spirit, was already becoming a “Catholic” cover for a basically secularist enterprise. Even a brief examination of Rome’s thirteenth century obsession with “fixing” the situation in southern Italy according to precisely the right political contours gives credence to the claim that Sicily was the graveyard of the medieval Papacy. Under these circumstances, an international Christendom meant to reflect the love of Christ easily lent itself to being criticized as a poisonous recipe for disturbance of the European social order.3
Hence, the need to have recourse to a proper, international Defender of the Peace, identified by Marsilius of Padua (c. 1275-c.1342) in his book of that name as the Roman Emperor, whose claim to such a title was much more venerable than that of the Pope in the first place. Support for this truly serious guarantor of European order was also promoted by Marsilius’ allies, which included the Nominalist philosopher William of Ockham (c. 1287-1347) and the mystical and millennial-minded Spiritual Franciscans, all of them embittered by the “worldly” actions of the Papacy as guides of Christendom. A student needs no more than a summary of the consequences flowing from the cooperation of such varied critics of late medieval Christendom to have both the pre-Lutheran preparation of Luther handed to him on a silver platter---as well as all the building blocks for our more recently opened European and Western highway to nowhere.4
On the one hand, this alliance appeared to encourage a deeply religious concern for the majesty and rights of a God whose clear and simple will, supposedly grasped quite easily by the apostolic church, had been obscured by a subsequent rationalist, legalist, speculative theological and philosophical perversion of religion manipulated by impious popes and their minions. Moreover, it coupled this concern for a return to simple, apostolic purity with another highly traditional appeal: a call for intercession on behalf of God’s thwarted will through the work of the pious Catholic Emperor.
On the other hand, the alliance in question eliminated from the intellectual and spiritual baggage of the Emperor---with speculative theology, philosophy, and basic logic as the main victims---everything that could identify the divine will in a manner that might require a change of the human will of the “defender of the peace”---or even merely distinguish the former from the latter. The will of God thus became whatever its earthly agent decreed that it was, with no consideration of the broader judgments of Faith and Reason regarding the divine plan recorded through the ages.
Just to make matters more complicated for the budding modern world, the will of an Emperor that had become practically indistinguishable from the will of God was then itself said to be dependent upon other willful earthly forces. For appeal to the Imperial Will was justified with reference to an underlying grant of imperial authority emerging from “the Roman People”. Furthermore, this “People” was itself shown to be “formed” to provide the desired imperial authorization through the work of the Emperor’s advisors; men who were also stripped of theological, philosophical, and logical blocks to the equation of their arbitrary judgment with God’s clear and simple will.
Now the “Roman People” of 1324---or any other “People” throughout history for that matter---was a motley, disorganized force, and the contemporary imperial power itself generally a rather shaky factor in European politics, widely contested in its claims when it did actually gain strength. Moreover, the thinkers defending the Empire, rather irrationally and nostalgically enamored of a “universal international institution” that the ceaseless Nominalist attack on man’s ability to conceive “universal principles” completely undermined, were also so critical of authorities lacking demonstrable physical power that one could hardly be surprised if their love affair might collapse as time demonstrated real imperial impotence.
Given such circumstances, it seems that identification of the “clear and simple will of God” inevitably had to fall into the hands of whatever earthly power happened to be the momentarily strongest, with the intellectual and spiritual forces opposed to the “speculative” Catholic vision allying themselves with this force de la nature to justify its tyranny and then “form” the “People” to understand that they wanted it and to accept it. This meant that insofar as concern for some sort of overriding Christian order remained vivid in believers’ minds---and it did---the possessor of pure physical power, however parochial in his willfulness he might actually be, still had to be justified by the intellectual and spiritual members of a Triple Irrational Alliance as the international, God-friendly, Defensor Pacis. In short, in a world still touched by aspects of the Christian message, the thug and the intellectual word merchant ultimately needed one another to go about their willful work, so as to rationalize an irrational victory. But the results might not be exactly what either party fully wanted, and they might, in consequence, constantly be on the lookout for a better deal with changed partners.
It was this practical union of the thug and the irrational but seemingly Christian ideologue, unsuccessful before Luther’s time, that was effectively incarnated through his Protestant Reformation. It came about because Luther’s Humanist inspired preaching---convinced of its apostolic purity, rhetorically charged, powerfully vulgarized, and backed, intellectually by an anti-rational Nominalist philosophical training---immediately unleashed a tidal wave of totally logical deductions that he personally considered stark raving mad. This led him to impose his individual and rather conservative will on the revolutionary movement he had generated, rejecting the radical scriptural interpretations of his opponents, justifying the injury he was doing to the logic of his position with reference to the need to affirm “Gospel paradoxes”. While indeed calling a halt to radical developments in the lands subject to his arbitrary religious will, he nevertheless continued to feed them by nourishing the willfulness that gave them birth, butchering the Bible he claimed to honor when its words ran counter to his own heretical principle, forcing scripture to say what it means on the basis of his own passionate ideological desires.5
But stymying the “enthusiasts”---as he called the wild men---while protecting his own “limited” but always potentially explosive radicalism (i.e., his “conservatism”) required the help of practical physical force. A Catholic Emperor was obviously of no value in this regard. The German princes, terrified by the momentary boost given to the otherwise weak imperial authority by Charles V’s vast accumulation of territory, had to be cultivated instead. These were more than pleased to become what Luther called “necessity bishops”, crushing the various radicals he detested, happily appropriating the lands of the Church he had abolished in exchange, but also ready to call halt to any of the reformer’s projects that did not fit with their own now liberated, parochial, political willfulness. They became his defensores pacis in the common project of enforcing God’s “clear and simple will”, with thug and intellectual word merchant each tugging the other down directions they did not necessarily wish to go, and with the international imperial authority that the “conservative” Luther actually still respected torn to shreds in the process.
We can now much more effectively return to the question of the collapse of even the veneer of an international Christendom and what it is that was to take its place. That order was shaken not just through Luther and his princely protectors, but also through the variety of other thug-intellectual arrangements of more radical or conservative-but-radical-encouraging flavor flowing from the Protestant Reformation, all of them constantly on the lookout for a “better deal”. And with the failure of the also heavily politicized Hapsburg effort to restore a Catholic unity by the latter part of the Thirty Years War, confirmed by the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), the final nail was hammered into medieval Christendom’s coffin.
Honorable men---Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) prominent among them---sought sincerely to find a way out of the religious-political disunity and parochialism contributing mightily to the intellectual reductionism they perceived to be gaining ground in their day. Given that the confessional division could not be overcome, but the longing for an international unity that had also existed under pre-Christian conditions remained, it is no surprise that many of them began to envisage its restoration on the purely secular foundations favored by the seventeenth and eighteenth century Enlightenment.6
Unfortunately, anyone seeking support for a rational international order based on these foundations was to be sorely deceived. For the so-called Age of Reason was one that actually worked to humble and subject the rational mind to passion. Radical in its earliest formulation---like the Protestant Reformation, with its initial destructive teaching on total depravity---the Enlightenment also witnessed a widespread, “conservative”, Luther-like recoiling from open embrace of its revolutionary consequences. But a two-fold and unfortunate development completed the analogy with the previous Lutheran model. For, in providing a seemingly more traditional and less threatening framework for nurturing the principles that it claimed to reject, the Moderate Enlightenment allowed their logical developments peacefully to mature under its aegis, gradually radicalizing its own intellectually vulnerable “conservative” camp. Nevertheless, the political and social forces with which the moderates were allied exercised their own powerful “tug”, pulling the application of both conservative and more radical ideas away from where their principled supporters might wish them to go.
What this all meant for international order was nothing other than the confirmation, in one way or another, of the dominion of the by now familiar thug and intellectual alliance, filled with tensions due to the pull of the partners towards their different favored goals, and their often disgruntled search for a “better deal” when the work they really wanted done was not accomplished. In other words, the hunt for international order on secularized grounds was to produce a tug of war between two sorts of passionate, willful, irrational men: those of the mind on the one hand and those commanding the political and social “flesh” of life on the other, with the former providing the intellectual cover hiding the brutal struggle “behind the scenes”, and with both ready to change partners for a “better deal” on their joint road to materialist self-destruction.
Let us explore this situation just a bit more before bringing our discussion down to our own time, beginning with the influence of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), the real father of what historians call the Radical Enlightenment. Due to its highly subversive character, Spinoza’s ideas had to be at first passed down mostly in disguised and often rather private ways. This involved the work of men like Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) with his Critical Dictionary, the Abbé St. Pierre (1658-1743), founder of the highly influential Entresol Club during the Orléan Regency in France (1715-1723), and Denis Diderot (1713-1784), the chief editor of the Encyclopedia.7
For the atheist and materialist Spinoza, a grant of droit de cité to the passions generated by the eternal machine of nature in all of us without exception was a “rational” necessity. This underlined at one and the same time---and here, in union with the thought of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)--the common character of individual human machine parts everywhere.
Spinoza and his followers, unlike Hobbes, generally believed that the way to prevent one person’s passions from dominating those of his fellow men was by democratically unleashing all of them, a liberation that nature’s machine would inevitably cause to work for the common good. Democratic though this vision was, its recognition of the enormity of the labor required to fulfill it, and especially the need to destroy the political impact of passionate “Christian” men who had successfully encouraged belief in their non-existent God to gain power over others, demanded wariness of the gullible mob. That mob was in need of a rigorous “re-education” to avoid succumbing to proven Christian guile. As men the globe over marched to their liberation, the states that re-educated them had to crush self-interested religious trickery, with obedience to such governments’ commands being treated as the highest moral good. In fact, as some of the central British, Dutch, and French Huguenot members of the so-called Hague Coterie that arranged for publication of pro-Spinoza books such as The Three Imposters argued, the purely natural and democratic state---whose enormous powers were designed to break down obstacles to the freedom of all individuals---ought to be worshipped by means of a secular and liturgically rich civil religion, the historical precedents for which could be found in Druidic societies.8 Analogous arguments regarding the sacred democratic state were provided by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and were put into practice in the civil ceremonies organized by Maximilian Robespierre (1758-1794) and Louis Antoine de St. Just (1767-1794) during the Revolution.9 In short, one had to create an absolute state power and the apparatchiks needed to employ it, with both guided by prophetic priest-like intellects conscious of what must be destroyed and what must be encouraged in order for the machine of nature to triumph. And though historical circumstances might cause this enterprise to begin in the Dutch Republic or revolutionary France, the universality of its underlying principles made an Anacharsis Cloots’ (1755-1794) discussion of its European and worldwide implications in his Bases constitutionnelles de la République du genre humain completely understandable.10
Spinoza’s thoroughgoing, materialist mechanism was too horrifying for contemporary Europeans generally to accept. Men like Robert Boyle (1627-1691), John Locke (1632-1704), the members of the Royal Society of London and Isaac Newton (1642-1727), its most famous President, reacted vigorously against it. They sought to preserve the idea of a Creator God but encouraged pious men and women to worship this God in a “truly Christian” and “rational” fashion. Such piety entailed a backing away from divisive and unproductive doctrinal disputes as well as philosophical “system building”, and then seeing and doing the divine will by exploiting the machine of nature that the Almighty had created and kept in existence. Such work, they argued, would inevitably be charitable in character, bringing benefit to everyone, its successes demonstrating God’s blessing upon it--- unlike the divisive and “idle speculation” of both doctrinal fanatics and the Spinozists.11
Eighteenth century “conservatives” of the Newton-Locke school tried to work within the existing, familiar order of things as much as they could. After the radical interval of the French Revolution, their project was carried on by nineteenth century liberalism---particularly that “conservative” liberalism of the post-1848 era, terrified as this was by the socialist manifestation of Radical Enlightenment thought in action. This conservative liberalism continues to exercise an enormous impact today. And it was this manifestation of the Moderate Enlightenment with its outwardly “pious” face that many Roman Catholics from the top on down have been tempted to accept as the only alternative to radical atheism since Newton’s so called “physico-theological” approach to nature was first known.12
But the Moderate Enlightenment, “conservative”, or “conservative liberal” project---God and Reason friendly as many of its supporters may sincerely want to be---cannot free itself from its fundamental radical baggage. It cannot have its cake and eat it too. In effect, it promotes a perfunctory Sunday worship of a God it actually finds and adores on a day-to-day basis through its work with the natural machine it claims that He created, reinterpreting everything from Christian miracles to morality with reference to its mechanical twists and turns; seeing God’s “clear and simple” will in whatever successes men obtain through manipulating it.
Moreover, its dominant Locke-inspired teaching understands the practical working of that machine to be founded purely upon individuals responding to nothing other than the material stimuli upon them, ultimately humbling “Reason” to the role of slave to their impact---though without wanting to admit this openly lest it sound too Spinoza-like and therefore “ungodly”. Locke Land understands the individual good to be gained through society’s retreat from hindrance to the accumulation of that property which is needed to satisfy his material needs and perfect himself as a person. It then sees the common good guaranteed by nothing other than Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733)’s Spinoza-like clash of passions as they work inevitably to achieve harmony. It envisages social problems being resolved through “sensible” agreements of “sense driven”, property-owning strong men, who “know” that “true Christianity” and “solid Reason” would be harmed if anyone dared to be divisive enough to evoke doctrinal concerns or non-mechanical, Socratic Philosophy to question the whole basis of the Moderate Enlightenment approach to securing the Triumph of the Will.
In short, a “God-fearing” world had to be created by sweeping everything out of the passionate individual’s path as he used the machine of nature to gain property and success through its power. And although work towards this end might begin in a country like England or the United States, its principles were universal and potentially applicable to Europe, the West, or the Globe in its entirety. But wherever this vision was implemented the outcome was to be the same: the victory of one or the other version of the familiar thug-intellectual alliance noted above---and perhaps to satisfy more radical individual passions than those dreamed possible by the purely property hungry empiricists originally promoting it. All this, with the aid of believing Roman Catholics who thought that failure to accept the “moderate” approach meant falling into the hands of atheism.13
Two final and very important points must be stressed. When anyone foolish enough to do so brings serious, doctrinal, Roman Catholic Christianity and the rational thought allied with it through the ages to bear against the basic Enlightenment commitment to the machine of nature and the machine-like passions guiding it, the moderate springs into action alongside his radical counterpart to “crush the infamous thing”. Clear and simple Godliness and Reason in the Enlightenment mode cannot ever include Roman Catholic Godliness and Socratic Reason. The most significant contemporary secular historians of the Enlightenment have discussed how this “no enemies to the Left” policy has repeatedly functioned, with the budding freemasonic movement in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries offering a major example thereof. Nevertheless, the irrational “wills” unleashed by the movement, both ideological and material, operating through a divinized state or a society open to property and passion driven individuals, cooperate though they might against a common enemy, differ, clash, and betray one another to achieve their particular goals.14
There is no time here to enumerate all the plans for some type of supra-national European order that emerged in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Some of these were still religious in character---Pietist, millenarian, or Catholic in inspiration, about which more in a moment. Many of them were motivated by serious secular recognition of a growing economic interdependence, common interests vis-à-vis outside powers such as the United States or an “Asiatic” Russia, and the very real danger of European self-destruction due to the power of modern weaponry.
Moreover, it is undeniable that idealists honestly committed to naturalist Enlightenment concepts sincerely believed that the liberating influences of free trade, technocratic application of modern scientific knowledge, universal national self-determination, or democratic socialism would lead to a regeneration of the various peoples of Europe inevitably involving their natural union. And recognition of a need “to abandon nationalism to take one’s place in the European community with honor”, because a “new Europe of solidarity and co-operation among all its people will find rapidly increasing prosperity once national economic boundaries are removed", something that “the countries of Europe are too small to guarantee” became more and more common as the twentieth century proceeded.15
How such plans transformed into a focus on “the West” instead of “Europe” is primarily due to two factors, one of which is the colonial movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yes, it is true that “Europe” was the chief catalyst for this development. But certainly from the standpoint of countries like Japan---and in its own quite distinct way, Latin America---colonialism and its consequences had to be expanded to include the United States as well. The “National Doctors” that the government of the Meiji Restoration sent out after 1867 to learn what needed to be done to survive in the modern world went to “the West” in general, studying at American in addition to European universities. Such a readjustment of “us” and “them” was also deemed necessary by colonialists like Cecil Rhodes, more than tinged with racial thought, whose vision of the defense of civilization actually excluded almost all of Europe while demanding the participation of America in the march to progress the globe over.16
Secondly, more importantly, and, once again speaking now purely on the “idealistic” plane, the perception on the part of many educated Americans of a common, God-friendly Moderate Enlightenment intellectual and cultural heritage, coupled together with an awareness both of the dangers that threatened its survival and progress as well as the ever-growing strength of the United States as its chief defender, led to an emphasis upon the concept of “the West” as opposed to that of “Europe”. This played its role in Wilson’s understanding of America’s mission in Europe in World War One and the need for a permanent League of Nations afterwards. It served as the framework for the basic instruction of students in the United States from the 1920’s onwards: an approach that underlined “Western History” with the omnipresence that “Global History” now enjoys. America as Europe’s partner in an expanded vision of the “West” celebrating a “common intellectual and political heritage” in a way that could even include non-European nations like Japan became still more intense with the exclusion from the club of a powerful “Asiatic Russia” committed to a godless Radical Enlightenment in the form of Communism.
Popularization of the theme of the “West” as a cultural entity encompassing everything from Plato to NATO, all understood in its conservative, secularist, but somehow God-friendly mode, with the United States as the shield of the common heritage, can be seen in the work of American journalists from Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) to Clarence Streit (1896-1968) to Henry Luce (1898-1967). One finds in the arguments of the latter in particular a Moderate Enlightenment inspired insistence that the American-guided “West” is the sole defense against godless radicalism, and that any divisive, doctrinal or rational argument standing in America’s way plays the godless radical game to the detriment of “true Christianity” and “charity” towards all men. This vision obviously had its enthusiastic supporters on the other side of the pond, devastated by two world wars, desperately longing for a noble United States to protect it from its woes, and seemingly gaining American support for European union in the process. That it gained American and significant European Catholic support is also obvious, and that such support could actually serve a “cover story” for secularization had already been made clear by St. Bernard long, long ago.17
Both religious and secular “sincerity” have never been lacking in many of those trying to build “Europe” and “the West” out of a civilization in which certain long festering ills were incarnated by Luther and passed down to us by the naturalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in a more intensified form. It is not such people’s personal integrity that is in question, but their wisdom; their failure to perceive the historical and sociological reality of the intellectual-thug alliance and their susceptibility to its seductive propaganda---especially when accompanied by conservative, Moderate Enlightenment assurances of “friendliness” to both Religion and Nature.
Taparelli d’Azeglio, S.J. (1793-1862), the most significant of the founding editors of the Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, is important in consult in this regard. He was perhaps the most prominent of those Catholics of his day who were convinced that “Europe” had to come to terms with practical realities incarnating its need for a common international order soon to encompass the entire globe. Not only did he present a very clear picture of a growing European and global economic and political union that could only guarantee respect for the particular nations entering into it under the umbrella of Christ as their King---the Catholic motto, in effect, being De Uno, Plures rather than E Pluribus Unum. He---alongside Georges de la Garde, through his book, La naissance de l’esprit laique au declin du moyen age---was also the thinker who opened my own eyes to the entire historical argument that I have outlined here: Luther as the “conservative” agent for incarnating the long emerging intellectual-thug alliance with its liberation of willful, arbitrary, passion; the greater efficiency of the secularist but “conservative” Moderate Enlightenment for making what guarantees the reign of force acceptable to traditional minded men, “God-fearing” Catholics included; the way in which both of these “conservative” historical forces, born themselves of a radical vision, actually aid and abet the logic of the radicalism they claim to dispel; their turning of substantive nations and international orders---whether European, Western, or Global---into mere “roads” for the satisfaction of irrational, arbitrary intellectual or physical passions, either through the power of a divinized state and its apparatchiks or unchained individuals in societies bereft of authorities capable of controlling them; the internal battling of intellectuals and thugs among themselves and with their partners, and their willingness to change allies at the drop of the opportunistic hat; conservative condemnation of doctrinal and rational objections to their program as nothing but fruitless and divisive speculation serviceable only to the godless, the unsuccessful, and the uncharitable; and, finally, the utter self-destructiveness of this entire, reductionist, mental and material justification of the triumph of the strongest wills billed as the sole protector of God and/or Nature.18
Taparelli’s articles in La Civiltà Cattolica provide many illustrations of the thuggish irrational force triumphing under the intellectual “cover stories” of nation and Europe building, with the partners in the enterprise changing and destroying one another when they prove no longer useful to their desires. It is no surprise to him that more powerful proponents of universal liberation guillotine an unprotected ideologue like Anacharsis Cloots. Nor that Napoleon, while in exile, depicted his appalling career of armed mayhem as a struggle for a unified Europe of free nations open to both past and future, thereby providing a justification for future military agents of Order and Progress. Nor that a Holy Alliance and a Concert of Europe, fueled by a mindless mystical syncretism and a concern for “legitimacy”, hypocritically ignored these whenever the power political demands of the victorious powers of Russia, Austria, Prussia, and England require. Nor that democratic nationalists, convinced that a united “Young Europe” built out of purified nation-states, in fact destroyed their peoples’ culture, replacing it either with a passion driven lust for political power and racial cleansing or the creation of yet another Locke Land of liberal individualism unconcerned for internal or international social justice.19
Taparelli’s ally in this exposé was the French journalist and literary critic Louis Veuillot (1818-1883).Veuillot was equally convinced that those who were pursuing a naturalist, secularist program in a moderate and outwardly God-friendly fashion, claiming that failure to approve their labors through divisive doctrinal criticism merely aids the cause of the radicals, were providing the most effective cover story for a global triumph of the will. In an article entitle Le canon rayé, published in 1859, he insisted that the alliance of raw physical power---a thuggery benefiting arrogant nations and anti-social money men---with the ideological drive for a naturalist “reeducation” of the population guided by governments and apparatchiks was working towards the establishment of a universal state. This, he felt would ultimately be headed by a charismatic dictator, whose power would rest upon a bureaucratic elite skilled in techniques of manipulation, but catering to individual passions:20
Everywhere the conqueror will find one thing, everywhere the same, the only thing that war and the Revolution will nowhere have overturned: bureaucracy. Everywhere, the bureaux will have prepared the way for him, everywhere they await him with a servile eagerness. He will support himself on them, the universal Empire will be the administrative Empire par excellence. Adding without end to that precious machinery, he will carry it to a point of incomparable power. Thus perfected, administration will satisfy simultaneously its own genius and the designs of its master in applying itself to two main works: the realization of equality and of material well-being to an unheard degree; the suppression of liberty to an unheard degree.
Men ruled by this system would be much more easily oppressed than at any time in the past. Such facility would be due not so much to the fact that new weapons would give the dictator undreamed instruments of control as to the sad reality that stupefied machine man would approve of his chains, and a dull-witted intelligentsia would bless them. “These forces, which today’s man possesses”, Veuillot wrote, “possess him also; they engage him in weaknesses as unmeasured as his pride; weaknesses which succeed in changing him completely”. 21 Men now really were being totally depraved, unable to desire the destiny outlined for them by the Gospel, “too powerful to control the taste for pleasure”. 22 The universal Empire would enslave such creatures by providing for their most banal individual passions,23
The police will take care that one is amused and that its reins never trouble the flesh. The administration will dispense the citizen of all care. It will fix his situation, his habitation, his vocation, his occupations. It will dress him and allot to him the quantity of air that he must breathe. It will have chosen him his mother, it will choose him his temporary wife; it will raise his children; it will take care of him in his illnesses; it will bury and burn his body, and dispose of his ashes in a record box with his name and his number.
a task which, as time went on, would become simpler and simpler. For a decline in human imagination would entail a destruction of the taste for a variety of pleasures:24
But why would he change places and climates? There will not be any more different places or climates, nor any curiosity anywhere. Man will find everywhere the same moderate temperature, the same customs, the same administrative rules, and infallibly the same police taking the same care of him. Everywhere the same language will be spoken, the bayadères will everywhere dance the same ballet. The old diversity would be a memory of the old liberty, an outrage to the new equality, a greater outrage to the bureaux which would be suspected of not being able to establish uniformity everywhere. Their pride will not suffer that. Everything will be done in the image of the main city of the Empire and of the world.
Contemporary students of Taparelli or Veuillot---myself included--- would find no problem applying their analysis to later developments as well. Taparelli’s colleagues at the Civiltà saw that the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, while flying the American Messianic flag of work to “war to end all wars”, sacrificed the defeated powers to victorious Entente material interests, readily denying justice to weaker states or the rest of the globe in the short-lived League of Nations.25 Who can resist noting that some of the calls for European union cited above came from Nazi leaders and those physically compelled to deal with their all too naturalist attempt to build a New Order on the old continent violently? Or that the other pleas on behalf of “Europe” came from men sometimes forced and sometimes eager to shape the post-war unification movement in submission to the Moderate Enlightenment principles of American Pluralism, with its doctrines of doctrinal and social emasculation “making the world safe for individualist materialism”?
These were “arguments that could not be refused” by the postwar builders of “Europe” because of the need for American economic aid as represented by the Marshall Plan and for American military power as provided through NATO and what the United States wished NATO to signify. And, once again, these were arguments backed by the typical “conservative” claim that any divisive religious or rational criticism of Pluralism could do nothing other than destroy the “common western heritage” and ensure the victory of Soviet radicalism or the rebuilding of Auschwitz.
Taparelli and Veuillot’s students could also easily demonstrate that the liberation theology that American Moderate Enlightenment Pluralism preaches---and was ready to adopt a “global” vision to promote when the concepts of “Europe” or “the West” no longer served its purposes---itself bears the deeply-rooted radical germ of irrational, arbitrary willfulness permitting whichever force is stronger to determine exactly what Pluralism means. As usual, the thugs manipulating this preaching can and do differ and the preachers allied with them as well.
Hence, depending upon the ups and downs of the American political and social scene, the call for “Europe”, “the West”, and “Global Society” may reflect Neo-Liberal insistence upon a libertarian and individual-friendly economic order detrimental to the “European”, “Western”, or “Global” common good; or the Neo-Conservative demand to make the world safe for Israel, regardless of the impact on the international orders in question; or the libertine crusade for individual sexual rights destroying the understanding of man and woman and morality deeply rooted in European, Western, or Global societies. All those societies are expected to accommodate the “will” of the latest Pluralist “strongman”, who does not have to justify his choices because of all of the arguments adduced since the time of Marsilius of Padua, with “American Exceptionalism” thrown in for good measure. And this, with the support of believing Americans, Catholics at the forefront, all of them convinced that abandoning Pluralism can only allow something awful---like Godless Communism or Islam---to triumph. But to paraphrase Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello, American Pluralism “is not what it is”, or, rather, what it appears to be. In the name of protecting freedom for religion as well as protection for “Europe” and the “West” it turns the Church and the globe at large into a road for the strongest passions to march down on their path to nowhere.
St. Augustine in his City of God, horrified by a Roman Empire that was becoming nothing other than a road for German barbarians, knew that the key to the rebuilding of a new and just international order would be openness to the teaching and grace of the Mystical Body of Christ. He could never have imagined the magnificence of medieval European Christendom, but he did know that Christ’s—and the Holy Spirit’s---will was for a substantive Kingdom to be built, and for that City of God to take its message on the road, to the ends of the earth; not for the lands in which Christians already lived to become mere “spaces” for willful ideologues and thugs to exploit. He would have understood that if taking that substantive pilgrim route, which was man’s highway to eternal life, brought on not merely the four years of misery faced by Belgians refusing to be “walk overs”, but another fifty or a hundred or five hundred years of misery for those who love what Christendom must really mean---then this was what one had to do.
Alas, the enemies of “Global Society”, “the West”, and “Europe”---that is to say, the enemies of Christendom---are strong. Like Iago, when he is recognized as being demonic and assaulted, they, when attacked, tend “to bleed, but not to die”. But this is understandable, for the enemy is basically unchanged since the time of Marsilius of Padua and his allies and has had many centuries to perfect his seductive “tall tale”.
We Catholics, on the other hand, are physically weak. It is good for us to realize the extent of our physical weakness so as not to entertain vain hopes for an easy return to sanity in any regard. But it is also essential for us to realize where our true strength lies, and that is not with the “borrowed armor” of the false “conservative” accepted as our guide for “fear of something worse”. Our strength lies in looking directly at the “face of Christ”, which one sees through the sacraments, and also by looking at and accepting the fullness of what our Tradition has taught and accomplished through the ages; through the work of Catholic cultures and Catholic heroes; through comparing these, with all of their admitted sins and imperfections, with the ideological and individualist triumph of the strongest will that the Pluralist Regime guarantees. Making that comparison provides more than sufficient fuel for a spiritual break with that Regime and its “borrowed armor” which has a powerful impact on those we know even if we do lack the power to make serious political and social changes right now.
Mexico, with all its imperfections, past and present, still offers the Catholic who wants to look at the “face of Christ” much that can lead him to make that kind of spiritual break. It was this look to Christ through your culture that caused Irish immigrants serving in the American Army engaged in an unjust war with Mexico to realize that their true Catholic identity required a change of heart and---in their case---military allegiance. They formed the Saint Patrick’s Brigade, fighting on Mexico’s side and dying for their choice. Would that we could have that courage on the purely spiritual plane in front of friends and relatives fooled by cover stories promising protection for a “Europe” or a “West” or a “Global Society” that offers nothing other than a highway for willful men to walk down on their path to nowhere. Would that we will go to our graves telling the intellectuals and thugs dominating our world today “you cannot fool me. Viva Cristo Rey!”
1 P. Hughes, A History of the Church, Sheed & Ward, 1949, III, 529.
2 On Luther’s “incarnation” of a “principle of independence”, see L. Taparelli d’Azeglio, “Il protestantesimo”, Series 1, Volume 2, La Civiltà Cattolica, (1850), 260-284, 377-400.
3 E. Gleason, Gasparo Contarini: Venice, Rome, and Reform (University of California, 1993), pp.129-185; St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Five Books on Consideration (Cistercian Publications, 1976); Mayeur, J.M., ed., Histoire du Christianisme (Desclée, XIII Volumes, 1990-2002), V, 542-543, 627-633; VI, 575-583; Hughes, II, 389-406, III, 22-56; D. Waley, The Italian City-Republics (London & New York: Longman, 1988), pp. 145-156, W. Ullmann, The Origins of the Great Schism (Archon, 1967).pp. 251-278.
4 Lagarde, G. de, La naissance de l’esprit laique au declin du moyen age (Nauwelaerts, Five Volumes, 1958). III, 61-357.
5 See Cameron, E., The European Reformation (Oxford, 1991), pp. 136-144; H. Jedin, ed., History of the Church (Seabury, Ten Volumes, 1980), V, 3-301.
6 P. Riley, ed., Leibniz: Political Writings (Cambridge, 1972); M. Greengrass, Christendom Destroyed: Europe, 1517-1648 (Penguin, 2014); J. Israel, Democratic Enlightenment (Oxford, 2012).
7 N. Childs, A Political Academy in Paris 1724-1731: The Entresol and Its Members. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (Voltaire Foundation, 2000); J. Israel, Op. cit. y Radical Enlightenment (Oxford, 2001), pp. 331-341, 573-574; Enlightenment Contested (Oxford, 2006), pp. 781-793.
8 Margaret Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment (Cornerstone, 2006), 183-222 y passim; J. Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men (Basic Books), pp.52-123.
9 C. Blum, Rousseau and the Republic of Virtue (Cornell, 1986); J. Billington, Op. cit., pp. 52-123; .S. Schama, Citizens (Knopf, 1989), pp. 827-836.
10 A. Baillot y A. Yuva, eds., France-Allemagne: Figures de l'intellectuel, entre révolution et reaction, 1780-1848 (Septentrion, 2014), p. 187; J. Israel, Democratic Enlightenment, passim.
11 J. Israel, Enlightenment Contested, pp. 201-222.
12 J. Israel, Enlightenment Contested, pp. 344-405, 700-793, Democratic Enlightenment, pp.326-348, 374-410.
13 Sobre Mandeville, Locke, y l’Illustration católica, J. Israel, Radical Enlightenment, pp. 477-627; Enlightenment Contested, pp. 344-405, 700-793, y passim; Democratic Enlightenment, pp. 326-348, 374-410.
14 J. Rao, Removing the Blindfold (Angelus Press, 2014), pp. 33-133, 156-177.
15 Jean Monnet, en A. Ertl, Toward an Understanding of Europe (Universal Publishers, 2008), p. 75; Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century (Knopf, 1998); H.C. Chopra, DeGaulle and European Unity (Abhinav, 1974), pp. 4-6.
16 A. Bonnet, The Idea of the West (Palgrave, 2004), R. Hancock, America, the West, and Liberal Education (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999); I. Nish, The Iwakura Mission to America and Europe: A New Assessment (Routledge, 2008); P. Kramer, “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and United States Empires, 1880-1910” , The Journal of American History (Vol. 88, No. 4 , March, 2002), pp. 1315-1353.
17 P. den Boer, P. Bugge, eds., The History of the Idea of Europe (Routledge, 1995) R. Bavaj, "The West": A Conceptual Exploration, European History Online / Europäische Geschichte Online (2011), URL: http://www.ieg-ego.eu/bavajr-2011-en “The West. A Conceptual Explanation”; A. Hartmann, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (University of Chicago, 2015); K. Weisbrode, The Atlantic Century (Da Capo, 2009); D. Gress, From Plato to Nato (Free Press, 2004); J. Rao, “Le mirage américain”, en Église et politique: Changer de paradigme,, ed. Bernard Dumont- (Artege, 2013).
18 See J. Rao, Removing the Blindfold, pp. 33-133, 156-177; Black Legends and the Light of the World (Remnant Press, 2012), 220-233.
19 . Rao, Removing the Blindfold, pp. 33-133; Black Legends and the Light of the World, pp. 429-631.
20 L. Veuillot, Mélanges (Oeuvres complete, iii series, 1933), viii, 366-367.
21 Veuillot, Mélanges, viii, 364.
23 Ibid, 369.
25 La Civiltà Cattolica, “Il grido di dolore delle piccole nazionalità oppresse”, 1921, iii, 245-248; “Feste e lutti di guerra”, 1921, iv, 289-296; “L’europa senza pace”, 1922, i, 311-319; “Nuovi fallimenti della politica”, 1922, I, 101; “Patria e patriotismo”, 1923, iv, 486.
Return to main page.