Over at Mere Orthodoxy, Jake Meador has written an article outlining six responses towards mainstream culture and liberalism. Among these six, he prominently includes integralism as expounded upon in The Josias by writers such as Pater Edmund and Elliot Milco. Although Protestant, Jake Meador gives a sympathetic account of integralism as a coherent rejection of the current post-enlightenment liberal ordo, dominating western thought. Particularly valuable is Meador’s analysis of the reasons that not merely integralists, but also various other strains of Protestant and Catholic thinkers, are now having to grapple more deeply with the inherent contradictions of liberalism.
Although the proximate cause of this greater appreciation of various critiques of liberalism is the recent political turmoils and upheavals in American as well as Europe, Meador sees that in some sense these are only the occasions of an instability that is inherent in liberalism’s very heart. In Meador’s analysis, liberalism contains at its core a skepticism towards truth, particularly non-empirical truths such as the nature of the good life and man’s final end. As Meador puts, liberalism’s “skepticism goes beyond a skepticism toward religious faith and goes so far as a skepticism toward any kind of comprehensive moral system that claims to be true in anything beyond a particular, local sense. [Liberals] simply do not trust [their] moral judgments enough to think they can be binding in anything beyond an individualistic, voluntaristic sense.” This creates as a result a “lack of confidence in the ability of anybody to wield coercive authority justly or to infringe upon a person’s autonomy.” Meador thus agrees with Elliot Milco’s analysis that
Liberal institutions are parasitic on metaphysically robust, non-liberal traditions, but the very survival and proliferation of liberal institutions tends to erode the non-liberal cultures and traditions that allow them to survive. This is because liberalism operates on a “least common denominator” model of public discourse, where the “neutral middle ground” favored by institutional structures consists of what the vast majority of people engaging in public discourse agree on. As time goes on, liberalism tends to dissolve divergent traditions into an ideological community defined by their least common denominator, and gradually (with the help of intellectual fads and the glorification of transgression, inevitable in any system of free discourse) the consensus erodes to nothing.
Meador then trenchantly notes that in a liberal society, “The only thing we think we can know with any certainty is the individual self and that self’s experience of reality and so everything about our social order exists to protect that kind of self-expression.” He further observes: “The values of liberalism are not sufficient to create civil society and so liberalism is essentially a doomsday device that will simply wind down until it hits zero, at which point civil society will fracture and something new will have to take its place.” It is at this point that Meador dives into exploring six responses to what might be called the crisis of liberalism.
Meador leads off with integralism, and indeed, all but gives it the place of pride. What occasions this essay, however, is that while we at The Josias are grateful for what is certainly a charitable and generous portrayal of integralism, Meador makes a crucial mistake that causes him to misread an elemental facet of integralism. As Pat Smith has noted over at Semiduplex, this error is a serious one, an error that turns integralism into theocracy.
First, however, let’s lay out again what integralism is, so that we may see more clearly where Meador goes wrong . Integralism may be briefly defined as follows:
Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that rejects the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.
Integralism can be viewed as having two parts. First, Integralism in line with the great historical civilizations and following perennial philosophy rejects liberalism and sees political rule as intrinsically about the common good, about ordering man to his final end. In this, Integralism is not unique for other thinkers, christian and non-christian alike, have also seen this. The second part is, when combined with the first, what makes Integralism distinctive: namely, that following the teaching of the Popes, man’s temporal end must be subordinated to his spiritual end and thus the temporal power to the spiritual power. It is here that Meador makes his error.
Meador describes the integralist vision of society as “fairly hierarchical with the Bishop of Rome quite literally on the throne.” He also states that under an integralist understanding, “in a just society the magistrate would be somehow responsive to or under the authority of the Roman church and specifically the Bishop of Rome because the Bishop of Rome presides over the only true and complete community, the Roman Catholic Church.” (Emphasis added). While these remarks aren’t conclusive, they are at least highly suggestive of a picture of integralism as theocracy, where the temporal powers were somehow either derived from or delegated by the spiritual power. In fact, however, as has been articulated in The Josias, the subordination of temporal to spiritual is not the subordination of a theocracy but rather that of a dyarchy.
This distinction stems from the two sorts of happiness, natural and supernatural. Natural happiness is in the care of the temporal authority, but natural happiness is ordered towards super-natural happiness, which is more complete and higher than natural happiness. Supernatural happiness is under the care of the spiritual power. Nevertheless, this ordination of the natural to the supernatural does not swallow or destroy the natural end. Rather, this end still exists as a distinct end, and, as reason and scripture teaches us, God endows (through the natural law) temporal rulers with their authority as distinct from the supernatural authority. Thus: “The temporal power must be subordinate to the spiritual power, or else it will become mere violence, and yet it does not derive its authority from the spiritual power: it derives its authority from God through the natural law. Nature is not destroyed by grace, and yet nature must be subordinated to grace.” As Pater Edmund further explains: “Each of the two powers is instituted by God, and each has a certain legitimate sphere. But the temporal power can only live properly if it is subordinated to the spiritual power, which is like its soul.” And the reason that there must be this subordination, it is important to note, is because of the wound of sin:
[L]ike any part of creation it saw the political as wounded by sin and in need of healing in the present, and in the eschatological future of elevation, fulfillment, and transcendence by a higher form of communal life. The order of creation was seen as a good, but temporary and preliminary order—a sign of a yet better order to come. The Lord’s famous dictum according to which one must render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but unto God the things that are God’s (Mt 22:21) did not at all conform to expectations about the Messiah. The Messiah was expected to end Roman rule and re-establish the rule of God. But our Lord does not immediately destroy the existing order; instead He plants the Kingdom of God as a seed that is to grow in the midst of that existing order. Only at His triumphant return at the end of time will He replace earthly powers with the New Jerusalem.
As a result, the temporal ruler is supreme in his sphere, but not supreme simpliciter. The temporal authority is an authority instituted by God. Importantly, and crucially, this means that the Pope may intervene with an earthly ruler, but not for any reason whatsoever. Rather, the spiritual power will judge the temporal only where the temporal power has transgressed against some supernatural end. Indeed, it is only “by reason of sin” that the temporal authority is subject to the spiritual authority at all. Or perhaps it would be better put as follows: it is only “by reason of sin” that there is a distinction between the temporal and the spiritual authorities and thus, for this reason and because of the ordination of the natural to the supernatural, the temporal is subordinated to the spiritual. “Without the effects of sin, temporal matters would not be a distraction from sacred matters, and there would be no need to distinguish them. Because, however, we live in a fallen world, it is necessary for the spiritual power to be freed of care for earthly matters.” The effect of this is that the spiritual power only intervenes over the temporal power by reason of sin, “ratione peccati.”
As Pope Innocent III stated in the decretal Novit:
Let no one suppose that we wish to diminish or disturb the jurisdiction and power of the king… For we do not intend to judge concerning a fief, judgement on which belongs to him…but to decide concerning a sin, which the judgment undoubtedly belongs to us, and we can and should exercise it against any-one… No man of sound mind is unaware that it pertains to our ofﬁce to rebuke any Christian for any mortal sin and to coerce him with ecclesiastical penalties if he spurns our correction… That we can and should coerce is evident from what the Lord said to the prophet who was among the priests of Anathoth, “Lo I have set thee over nations and over kingdoms to root up and to pull down and to waste, and to destroy, and to build, and to plant” (Jeremias 1:10). (Brian Tierney, The Crisis of the Church and State 1050-1300 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 134-135).
It is for this reason, to take a recent example, that some integralists objected to Pope Francis’s handling of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta. As Sacerdos Romanus points out at Rorate Caeli,
the Pope’s right to depose a sovereign can only be exercised in order to ensure that earthly rule is properly ordered toward supernatural ends, and is not instead engaged in mortal sins. But why did the Pope interfere with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta? As Prof. de Mattei argues it was for precisely the opposite reason… This then is… why the intervention is illegitimate; it does not fall under the one case in which the spiritual power can legitimately judge the temporal.
Whether this application of principle to concrete situation is, in fact, correct, is not at issue here, indeed, is far beyond the scope of this essay. Regardless of whether one thinks Pope Francis was meddling unwarrantedly, or was properly stepping in to revive a moribund and decadent institution, the important point for our purposes here is that integralism recognizes a real distinction between the two powers and places real limits on what the spiritual ruler may or may not properly do.
Meador’s essay is an excellent and perspicacious analysis of our times. The Josias is thankful for his thoughtful and charitable handling of integralism as explained here. Nonetheless, we wish to correct any notion that integralism is simply theocracy. Rather, integralism is a dyarchical arrangement, where each power is ultimately directly from God (and thus the temporal authority is not derived from or delegated by the spiritual) but where the temporal is, by reason of sin, subordinate to the spiritual.