Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Liberty, Fraternity and Equality: A Philosophical, Moral and Political Study of Liberalism- Part II

By John W. Heitzenrater II
Until the beginning of the eighteenth century, liberalism often signified those things “worthy only of a free man.” For example: the Liberal Arts, liberal occupations, and the actions of generous and kind men. As the term became more common, it came to signify “intellectual independence, frank, open, and genial actions and free will.”[1] It was also used to signify any type of political system which was opposed to absolutism and centralization of power. None of these, however, were at variance with Catholic doctrine, and in fact were “supported in Catholic legislation and policy until the end of the seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth centuries.”[2] Hereafter, liberalism took on a new form which signified a swing in society and culture. As language began to change, relativistic and subjective nuances were given to words, thereby mutating them into meaninglessness. He who controls the language controls the civilization.
As liberalism intensified, it was applied more readily to tendencies in the intellectual, religious, political and economic life which “implied a partial or total emancipation of man from the supernatural, moral and Divine Order. The French Revolution is the “Magna Charta” of this new liberalism”[3], and its creed is “Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite.” Guided by principles of “absolute and unrestrained freedom of thought, religion, conscience, creed, speech, press, politics,”[4] it had an incessant focus on the universal “rights of man.” With the abolition of the rights of God in favor of the rights of man, every authority on earth became subjective. Once liberalism succeeded in purging religion from the “public life” and put it into the sphere of the “individual conscience,”[5] Christianity and the authority of the Church lost all ability to rule. Hence, the ability of the Church to teach, rule and sanctify her flock was crippled in the public, legal, and social institutions. Every man was "given" unrestricted “autonomy” from oppression of both earthly and heavenly authority and with this autonomy, authority became vested not in one sovereign but in the sovereign of the people. Hence, a politics of interest, not of good will, controlled society and as it flowered, it progressed rapidly from a system of the blind leading the blind to one of the dumb leading the dumb.
Modern liberalism’s fundamental principle states that “it is contrary to the natural, innate, and inalienable right and liberty and dignity of man to subject himself to an authority, the root, rule, measure and summation of which is not in himself.”[6] The word “authority” necessarily presupposes a power outside and above the man which binds him morally. In rejecting authority, liberalism was able to kill not only the social/political order, but undermine the whole moral order by denigrating morality and ethics to the realm of values. In this respect, liberalism’s roots in Humanism, the Reformation and the Enlightenment can be gleaned. It is Luther’s, Locke’s, Hume’s, Rousseau’s, Lessing’s and Kant’s philosophies all bottled up into one gigantic feast of liberty. I am my own authority, and no Pope, king or emperor can say otherwise. It all begins, is fulfilled and ends in me.
Liberalism’s greatest error, or perhaps the greatest error of its exponents, was its misunderstanding of true human liberty. Theologically, human liberty is identical with free-will. One’s ability to be free rests in his ability to choose the good. St. Augustine says that choosing an earthly or temporal good over an eternal good, or choosing an evil over a good is not a prerogative of freedom or free will per se. To be free, one must not only have the ability to choose the good, but also, in fact choose the good. If one chooses something evil over an eternal good, he is not prohibited by free will from doing so. He does so, however, either because he does not see that the thing is a lesser good or is evil, or is in fact so distorted that he is prohibited from choosing the good because of his own doing. Free-will or human liberty is not a license to do what one wants; it is not a free-for-all. The majority of men on earth today, however, understand free-will as “do what thou wilt”, hence its equation with license. Here, again, one can see the disastrous effects of the Enlightenment upon language and the meaning of words. It is precisely in this ambiguity that liberalism was able to gain steam.
There are various degrees or types of liberalism, just as there are various meanings of liberalism. Each degree corresponds to a social, political, moral or religious sphere. Some are a combination of these and all share a common theme- the separation of the individual from the divine order. The following is not exhaustive, yet it should give the reader a good foundation from which to build a better understanding of liberalism.
Anti-Ecclesiastical Liberalism, Bourgeois Liberalism, Political Liberalism primarily found in the “Parties of Progress”, and Ecclesiastical Liberalism are various types which evolved in the philosophical, religious, and political order. Their cause is a rejection of the “old order” in favor of more progressive “new order”.
Anti-Ecclesiastical liberalism was first advocated by Rousseau and Madame de Stael and is sometimes called the “drawing-room liberalism of the free educated classes.”[7] From the drawing-room liberalism developed the liberalisme doctrinaire which first originated in the lecture halls of Royer Collard and culminated in the “salon de Duc de Broglie”. The latter produced the “practical statesman” giving modern man a constitutional form of government based on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the principles of 1789.
Bourgeois liberalism arose out of the propertied money classes of rich industrialists and found its biggest supporter in the citizen-king, Louis Phillipe. In Germany it was called National liberalism; in Austria, the Political liberalism in General; and in France, the liberalism of the Gambetlas Opportunist Party.”[8] The chief characteristics of Bourgeois liberalism are “materialism, egoism in exploiting the economically weak, a disordered enjoyment of life, a systematic persecution of Christianity especially Roman Catholicism, a mocking of the Divine Order, and the use of slander, corruption and fraud in politics to gain a mastery and control over one’s opponents.”[9]
The Parties of Progress can be divided into three classes or categories. Liberal Radicals like the Spanish Jacobins annihilated the rights of the Catholic Church in Spain and France through political corruption and self interest. Liberal Democrats want to make the masses of the commoners the “deciding factor” in public policy and government. They have a false regard for their brothers often using ignorance and manipulation to push liberal policies and agendas. Socialists are the most notorious and most destructive of the social order. Their liberalism is one of self interest “espoused in the proletariat”.[10] Within Socialism, there is Communism which abolished private ownership; Radical Social Democracy as espoused by Karl Marx in Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto; Moderate Socialism found today in England and Canada (and for a time in Germany, Spain and Italy before the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco); and finally, Socialistic Anarchy founded by Barkin, Most, and Kropthem which is undoubtedly the most radical. The last form (Socialistic Anarchy) is founded upon the principles of Nietzsche and finds its followers today in an underground subculture of youth who desire the abolition of all forms of government and rule.
As liberalism strangled society, it crept slowly into the Church through Ecclesiastical liberalism. Ecclesiastical liberalism comes in two forms. The first is a political form which seeks a regulation of relations between Church and State according to liberal propositions. Benjamin Constant, Lamenais, Lacodaire, Montelambert, Parisis, and Dupanloup are the most vigorous supporters of this liberalism. Lacodaire “combined political liberalism with ultramontane theology.”[11] Lamenais began life “as an extreme defender of ultramontanism and the desire for papal theocracy and ended life after calling for the complete separation of Church and State.”[12] Montelambert (1810-1870) “was a strong supporter of liberal concepts of freedom and separation of Church and State.”[13] Felix Dupanloup (1813-1883) “was a defender of constitutional liberties, a defender of the temporal power, a “moderate” interpreter of the Syllabus of Errors and an in-opportunist on infallibility.”[14] During the nineteenth century, it especially became difficult because of the relationship which existed between the Papal States and the rest of the world. Ecclesiastical liberalism finds its biggest supporters today in Atheists, liberal Catholics, Politicians, and the ACLU.
The other form of Ecclesiastical liberalism is a religious form. Rooted in Calvinism and espoused by Jansenism and Josephinism, “it aims at certain reforms in ecclesiastical doctrine and discipline in accordance with the liberal Protestant Theology and ending in Atheistic Relativism and Positivism.”[15] This is the type of liberalism Pius X called Modernism in the encyclical Pascendi. Four main propositions[16] were condemned by the Pontiff. They were:
1) The “Latitude in interpreting dogma.”
2) The “disregard for disciplinary and doctrinal decrees of the Roman Congregations.
3) Sympathy with the State when its enactments go against the liberty of the Church.
4) The disposition to regard as clericalism the efforts of the Church to protect the dignity of the family and of individuals to the free exercise of religion.
Pius X’s condemnation was not the Church’s first response to Ecclesiastical liberalism. She first addressed the error shortly after the French Revolution with the publication of Mirari Vos in 1832. It was followed by Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors in 1864. Rationalism and Naturalism were condemned by the Apostolic Constitution De Fide of Vatican I. It is interesting to note that the definition of Papal Infallibility is also seen as a move against liberalism. John Cardinal Newman laments the fact that the dogma was defined at “an inopportune time.” Yet, in the face of the liberalism of the day it was not only “unavoidable but most especially pertinent”. With the authority of every monarchy, duchy and principality in the world crumbling, the Church’s definition stood as a testament to the Catholic position that the faith and doctrine of the Church were out of the hands of the secular authority.
Perhaps no other Pope, however, did as much to address liberalism than Leo XIII. There are approximately fourteen encyclical letters, letters to heads of state, and letters addressed to the people of God warning of the dangers of liberalism It is not just Ecclesiastical liberalism but every form of liberalism that Leo is addressing. Most important among these documents are the encyclical letters addressing Christian Philosophy, Christian Marriage, Freemasonry, On the Condition of the Working Classes, Democracy, and Monarchy. The scope this study, unfortunately, is not to discuss Leo’s encyclicals, although a thorough study of them may be forth-coming. Instead let it suffice, that while the world was descending into chaos through the “liberty” of self interest, the Church always said the same thing: liberalism is a pitch which defiles the mind, strangles the heart, and leaves one an orphan of society. She still stands as the only remaining institution whose structure and government has not succumbed to the principles of 1789.
Traditional Catholics are certainly to be applauded in their response to liberalism, especially in identifying those currents which make up this most vile of all philosophies. Yet as has been seen, laying blame solely on the French Revolution does not give one a complete picture. The French Revolution was simply the culmination of a world view which had been simmering for many centuries. As time goes on, liberalism will continue to change meanings, but the fundamental principle will always remain the same- it will always view man independently of God. Man, however, is born into an order which is not able to be rejected simply because he wills it. The very foundation of the world rests in this relationship of man to the Divine. While it is true that men will continue to avoid this claim, their rejection is in vain. Man will eventually have to face God and be judged by Him. If he continues to run away from God in this life, he will only find himself tired and out of breath when he stands before his Creator in the next. To close Part II, a quote from John Cardinal Newman sums up nicely what has been said thus far regarding Liberalism.
“Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternize together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man's religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.”[17]
[1] The Catholic Encyclopedia Volume IX, Liberalism, Edited by C.G. Herleemann, E. Pace, C. Pallen, T.J. Shakan, J.J. Wynne, (Robert Appleton Company, New York 1903) p. 212.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid. p. 213.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid. p. 213.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] James Patrick, Newman and Liberalism, Handout
[12] Ibid. p. 2
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid. p. 214.
[16] Pope Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, (Liberia Editrice Vaticana 1907)
[17] John Henry Cardinal Newman, Biglietto Speech

No comments: