The Needy Immigrant, Nationalism, Globalism, and the Universal Destination of Goods


The current debates on immigration between liberal globalists on the one hand and populist nationalists on the other raise fundamental questions about the nature of political community and solidarity. Neither side offers satisfactory answers to these questions. Immigration naturally raises such fundamental questions, since the extent to which new members are admitted to a community varies widely depending on how that community understands and sustains its own internal unity. Thus a nomadic tribe, living in easily breachable tents, and depending on close bonds of trust will approach the integration of strangers differently than a city-state with stone houses, locking doors, speculative philosophy, and law courts. Continue reading

Right, Left, Forward, or Back? Or Why I Am Neither Left Nor Right

by John Francis Nieto

1.  The following remarks propose to explain why I have no expectation of political gains from either right or left and why rather I distrust both movements, at least in so far as they are political movements arising within modern political theory.  Nonetheless, several things I am not claiming should be made clear in the beginning.

2.  First, I am not claiming that either the left or the right is simply speaking one movement.  Each has many elements and I have no intention of speaking to what is proper to these elements.  Rather my comments concern groups or individuals only insofar as they assent to the political principles that have formed right and left as distinct ‘sides’ or ‘factions’ in the modern political system.

3.  Second, I am not claiming there is no difference between right and left.  I shall argue that both sides work to advance things they hold in common more than those things proper to them.  These common principles (in my opinion) are or should be reprehensible to the most earnest partisans of either side.  And I do think each side has some who work with the intention of bringing about a greater good, however much I may disagree with them.

4.  Third, I therefore am not denying the need to work with one side rather than another in particular political battles.  I note however that in doing so the political battle becomes distorted insofar as the principles at hand must be conformed to those commonly accepted.  Hence, the fight against abortion becomes for the right a question of a personal right to life, since ‘rights’ are the commonly received political principle.  More fundamental in abortion is the destruction of the common good attained in sexual union.  But our political culture is too corrupt to recognize the horror of such destruction.  Again, concern for the land we live on and encouragement of small-scale farming have their champions on the left.  But this must be pursued within the exploitative, industrial conception of man’s relation to the earth that defines our political debates.  We have lost any sense that the earth provides for our needs.  Rather, we seek from it satisfaction of desires.

5.  Fourth, I do not propose these remarks with any suggestion of demonstrative certainty insofar as they contain judgments of particular political movements.  I am not surprised that I, when young, or that other young people maintain political positions with great certainty and vehemence.  I was so determined that I was willing to incite revolution, if given a chance.  But it does surprise me that many who have the air of political wisdom pronounce in the same fashion as the young.

6.  Political matters involve all the complexity of any moral judgment.  Hence, questions of motives and circumstance, concerns about consequences, dangers of misstatement and misapprehension crowd about political acts.  Further, political judgments involve the assumption of wisdom not demanded by the moral life.  Everyone must live the moral life and attempt to attain to some measure of happiness.  To go beyond the most general political truths and begin to judge in this realm is to suggest that one possesses the good attained in morality and politics in a manner sufficient to help others do so.  Even the wise must fear such a step.  (Of course, in saying this I have already opposed some principles common to both right and left.)

7.  Hence, although, in the following remarks, I will propose some things which I believe to be of complete certainty, though difficult to articulate, such things are of a general and fundamental character.  What I say against particular factions assumes that they reject, most often implicitly, these foundations of political order.  They may well assume the same things at one time or another, insofar as they lack the consistency of well conceived political opinions.  But nowhere do I claim more that a probable, reasonable certitude in judging particular political opinions or actions.  Only God can grasp these things with perfect clarity and determination.  Any partisan who claims to understand these matters without any admixture of error fools himself; as likely, he is a liar, most likely a petit-demagogue.

8.  What I propose therefore in the following remarks about particulars is incomplete, overstated somewhere, poorly substantiated elsewhere.  I would have no one agree with me by the fact that I have said it.  Rather, I urge each to reflect upon his moral and political experience, to confirm his understanding of true political principles, to judge political opinions and actions to the extent that true principles make them intelligible, and to refrain from opinions and judgments beyond these.  To the young I particularly recommend moderation.  To form political judgments is as much a burden as it is a privilege.

9.  Now to take up this burden myself.  I will first make clear in a schematic way my own associations with right and left. (10-12)  Next I will state my distrust of these movements in a general manner.  (13) Then, I will propose the political principles most necessary to true political order.  (14-26)  Finally, I will state in a specific manner how right and left reject these principles in common. (27-52)

10.  For several years, from sixteen to twenty-two, I consciously considered myself a member of the political left.  I first identified myself as a communist and a Marxist, then distinctly a Maoist—to my shame a deceived admirer of the Chinese cultural revolution—, and finally, for nearly four years, an anarchist.  As an anarchist I would have allowed myself to be called socialist or communist, so long as these terms were not taken in a particular, narrow sense.

11.  Near my twenty-second birthday I began to question various of my political principles and after several months I recognized that several were wrong, though I did not claim to know the correct principles.  Several things I never questioned: my distrust of the political influence of wealth, my sympathy with workers, my contempt for the ugliness and inhumanity of technology, my sense that man has been estranged from nature, and thus from his own nature, and so on.  This re-haul of my political thought led to a moral reevaluation and thus to my return to the Catholic faith.  But the political reevaluation came first.

12.  Returning to Catholicism, I was determined to hold to the faith in its purity.  I believed, for a short while, that this demanded I align myself with the right.  Yet I could never champion capitalism, at least insofar as the word refers to industrial or high-finance capitalism.  While I rejected the near-pacifist position central to my anarchism, I could not find enthusiasm for any of the military engagements so readily supported by the right.  And thus, for many years, since my early thirties, I failed to feel any deep sympathy with left or right.  Further, I have come to reject the distinction of right and left as an appropriate approach to political order.

13.  My sense that the distinction and opposition of left and right do not arise from the principles proper to political order coincided with the sense that left and right agree on much that each side takes for granted.  More and more it became clear to me that they take for granted an opposition to the principles that make real political order possible.  Some of these principles are found explicitly in traditional teachings about politics, especially in traditional Catholic social teaching, although others are found there only implicitly.  In effect, left and right, to my mind, are in general agreement with modern political and economic thought and disagree with how that thought should play out.

14.  To make the principles where left and right agree more clear, I shall first discuss some of the principles I understand to be central to traditional political thought.  None is more fundamental than the notion that according the very nature of man the common good gives rise to the political order.

15.  The common good insofar as it is good is a final cause.  Thus, victory is the purpose and cause of an army, and polyphonic music is the purpose and cause of a choir.  Insofar as it is common, the common good brings many into a community and orders the members of the community to it and to one another.  The nature of polyphonic music, for example, brings those capable of singing it together and makes a soprano of one, an alto of another, and so on.

16.  By means of this order to the good and to one another a society becomes one agent pursuing the good common to them.  This is to say that the common good makes the many members of the community a single agent in pursuing that good.  The common good as final cause brings into being a city as an agent cause that pursues that good.

17.  This common good must be some one thing belonging to all the members of the community.  Nonetheless it belongs to the various members in distinct ways and some share more in this good and others share less.  In the political order, the common good is nothing other than the common life lived by citizens.  This life has many elements and is conceived in many ways.  It is called ‘peace’, ‘prosperity’, ‘justice’, insofar as we pay attention to one or another of its various aspects or elements.

18.  To be a citizen, not in name alone but in reality, is nothing other than to pursue and possess this good by loving it and by sharing the power to bring it about and maintain it.  Some make laws, some enforce them, some judge those who are subject to laws, some elect those who make laws, and so on.  Each pursues and maintains the common good according to his share in political power.  But every citizen as such must love the good not merely as it belongs to himself but also as it is a whole belonging to the entire community.  Thus, he loves the common good as his own good, yet as a good greater than any private good belonging to him as an individual.  So the soldier offers his own share in the common good from love for this good as it belongs to the whole.  Likewise, Saint Paul says,

I am speaking the truth, in Christ, I am not lying, and my conscience in the Holy Spirit bears me witness: there is great sorrow and incessant pain in my heart.  I could have wished to be outcast from the Christ myself for the sake of my brothers, who are my blood kindred.

19.  While the common good belongs to the entire community of citizens, some part of the community must be dedicated to pursue and maintain this good for the whole.  This is the government, which in its very nature is ordered to the good of the whole community.  Though the government rules the community and thus some men are subject to any government, many, if not most, of those subject to government are themselves citizens.  Thus government must rule citizens not for the good of the government, but for the good of the whole citizen body insofar as they form a community possessed of a common life.

20.  Now there are many aspects of political life that must be found in all political communities: murder and stealing, for example, are wrong everywhere.  Nevertheless, since the common good is nothing other than the community’s common life, it must be determined in time and place.  Where a people lives determines many aspects of its common life: the balance of agriculture and commerce in its economy, the kinds of food cultivated, and so on.  Again, the particular history of a people influences that life.  For example, the experience of a regime particularly good or evil affects the future attitude toward that kind of regime.

21.  Two attributes of the common good demand particular attention.  The common good must be attained in a manner that is stable and self-sufficient.  These are rooted in the relation of the common good to the community that pursues it.  If it is not stable, retaining more or less the same character over time, it will not really be common to the members of the community over time.  Grandparents will not share political life with their grandchildren, or even parents with their children, but mere biological life.  If the common life is not self-sufficient, the members will depend upon other communities with which they will form a larger community.  This larger political community will possess its own life, less distinct and less in the control of the original community.

22.  Above I claimed that by his nature man is inclined to the common good.  This can be seen in many ways, but most obviously insofar as man is inclined to happiness, which cannot in fact be attained by oneself.  Man cannot be born or grow up without others.  Nor can he attain to language, knowledge, or virtue in a sufficient way without the help of others.

23.  But man cannot attain happiness, taken as perfecting himself alone or as perfecting the community, merely by means of his natural powers.  The principal cause of this lies in his passions.  Man’s sensitive desires, arising from the concupiscible and irascible appetites, respond immediately to the sensible objects that appear by the exterior senses and the imagination.  Nor are they wholly subject to reason.

24.  Hence, man needs habits in these appetites and in his will, by which he will follow the good perceived by reason, even when the sensible appetites incline toward another good.  Again, by these habits the sensible appetites will themselves incline in a manner appropriate to them toward the good perceived by reason.  Traditional political thought therefore proposes the necessity of virtue for sound political order: temperance in the concupiscible appetite, bravery in the irascible appetite, justice in the will, and prudence (which knows the good for man) in the intellect.

25.  For this reason, because the cardinal virtues are necessary in pursuing and maintaining the common good, traditional political thought suggests that good government is something rare, not to be expected everywhere, not likely to last a long time.  This is not to say that men should not aim at good government.  But they should not be surprised that good government is so difficult to bring about and they should cherish the institutions that do so, if such institutions should be hit upon.

26.  Let me underscore one point here.  No loss in political thought is greater than the loss of the understanding that happiness, whether for one man or for a community, depends upon possession of the cardinal virtues.  However bad society became in ancient and medieval times, anyone influenced by the great civilizations, such as the Greek or the Chinese, would have heard that these virtues are necessary for happiness.  A bad man might scoff at such a position, but at least he was aware of it.  And if this position is true, it is in some way a principle of action to anyone who becomes happy.  In our day few come to know of this truth and, of course, even fewer have any share in happiness.

27.  In describing the opposition to these principles common to the political right and left (at least insofar as they are movements), I shall first discuss the notion of social contract, which is at the heart of modern political theory. (28-41)  Next, I shall propose that the political thought of right and left is founded on the social contract. (42-45)  Then, I shall propose the manner in which right and left are themselves opposed while agreeing in the notion of a social contract. (46-48)  Finally, I shall make some remarks about the United States in particular: where it stands regarding this theory. (49-52)

28.  As stated above, modern political theory in common establishes political order on what is called the social contract.  These thinkers do recognize that any society works toward some kind of good.  They display various defects in their understanding of the common good.  But all these thinkers reject the natural inclination to the common good.  The common good is not a final cause by nature.  Rather, it must be established as the good of the community by some community or some part of a community, as by an agent cause.  But, as stated, these thinker hold that that agent cause cannot come into existence through the natural inclination to the common good.

29.  Instead, the modern political theorists propose that the community comes into existence through the inclination of its members to their own private good.  Each man about to enter into community recognizes that he will attain to some private good through association with others.  This agreement constitutes a contract, generally implicit, by which the city or state is constituted.[1]  So constituted the community determines some part to serve as a government and this government pursues the good of the city or state.

30.  The relation between the good of the community to the individual citizen is not described in the same way by the various philosophers.  Nonetheless, the manner of establishing the community implies that this good belongs to the government more or less as the private good of the member, the good that prompted him to enter into society, belongs to that member.  The government becomes more or less another individual pursuing its own private good, as is said most clearly by Hobbes.

31.  There results an opposition between the good of the state and the good of the citizen.  For the citizen enters into society for the sake of his own private good.  But his participation in the state and consequent enjoyment of this private good demand subordination to the good of the state.  The state will only work so as to bring about his private good insofar as citizens work toward the good of the state.  But the good of the state is not properly the citizen’s good.  Rather it is a good proper to the government.

32.  Insofar as modern governments are totalitarian, they assume supremacy to the good of the state, mistakenly understood to be a common good.  Insofar as these governments partake in ‘Western liberalism’ (which has nothing to do with ‘liberal vs. conservative’) they recognize a citizen’s ‘rights’.  Such rights are here understood to constitute a reservation of some private good against the claims of other citizens, but more profoundly, against the claims of the state.

33.  Citizens do not live in such a social order for a common life, but each lives for his own sake a life he conceives as properly his own.  He orders his action to his own success and prosperity, to his own pleasure, perhaps a bit beyond this to his family.  He sees the political order as useful to these purposes of his own.  He does not find in it an opportunity to participate in government, whether by legislating, ruling, counseling, judging, or even electing.  If he shares in any of these, he looks to his own ends.

34.  The government likewise looks to its existence and flourishing as an institution.  Those who belong to it work to maintain themselves in power and see individual citizens either as an instrument or as a threat to that power.  The citizen is promised his private good in exchange for the maintaining the government.

35.  There is nonetheless a kind of balance that can be found, at least for a time.  The exchange of private goods allows the government to pursue its power as a private good and the citizen to pursue whatever life pleases him as his private good.  They may recognize the other’s intentions; they may flatter and deceive each other.  In either way such a system can last for some time.

36.  But this is not government or politics in the ancient sense, which demands that a people organize themselves so as to pursue a common life.  Rather, the social contract introduces a system of management by which the government offers the various elements of a satisfactory private life to citizens in exchange for its own power.

37.  Those who developed the theory of social contract were certainly proponents of virtue.  Nonetheless such a system has no need of virtue.  The citizens support the government through their inclination to their own private good.  No one needs virtue to desire this in a stable and vehement manner.  The passions incline us sufficiently to what is in one way or another our own.  In a system of ‘human management’ the passions can be counted on by a government to keep citizens satisfied with various pleasures and excitements, while it strengthens its own place in the world.

38.  Virtue may, however, be necessary to distinguish and desire what is truly good from what appears to be good.  For this reason, virtue may be an impediment to such a system.  If virtue allows someone to recognize that a truly common life, a stable and self-sufficient life shared with others in one place and through time, is more desirable than the satisfaction of passions, he becomes an impediment to such government as management.

39.  Let me briefly point out some reasons such a conception of government is incompatible with the stability and self-sufficiency that are attributes of the common good.  Since what is provided to citizens is not a common life but the satisfaction of passions, which each works out in his own way, a system of human management must provide new and various satisfactions to its citizens.  Food, sex, violence, wealth become central to any system like this.  But they must have the increase and variety that keeps the senses and the passions alert and excited.  Hence the life of citizens demands constant changes and this can be supplied at least in part by import.  This alone is reason against stability and self-sufficiency.

40.  But the government also seeks to augment its own power and security.  This will always suggest further control and regulation of the citizen’s life, which will demand change of one sort or another.  But it also tempts a government to interest itself in the doings of other governments.  Greater interdependence among such governments means greater power and security, at least for the government that does the most successful meddling.

41.  Now, when government is viewed as mere management of individual satisfactions, a system that does not demand the attainment of any virtue, good government will not seem to be something rare and difficult to maintain.  Rather, it will be thought to flow according to some kind of formula from mere power and will.  Good government will bring about ‘happiness’ by managing men and goods as they already are, by ingeniously shifting them about, while traditional political theory assumed that men must become good to become happy, especially insofar as they are in community.

42.  Now I do not think it difficult to see that the political right and left, at least in our times, both accept the conception of government as a social contract.  We see both pandering to the citizen’s desires for his private good.  More and more each conceives of the political order as arising from and serving individuals and not families, neighborhoods and towns.

43.  Generally speaking, both right and left conceive or propose themselves as the true defenders of the citizen’s rights.  Both conceive the opposite side as more or less totalitarian.  And each side has some justice, since totalitarian governments have at times been on the right and at times been on the left.  In fact the opposition of totalitarianism and Western liberalism is woven into the principles of government accepted by both sides.

44.  Hence, whatever their long-term dreams and utopias, each side proposes that good government is synonymous with its own establishment in power.  Right and left each propose to solve society’s problems on the condition that it becomes the government, while the other side is destroyed or fades away into ignominy and then obscurity.  For me this makes clear that neither side can ever be successful.  Even granted that each of them changes, perhaps even to become more and more like each other, neither side can bring about what they aim at, because they cannot get rid of one another.

45.  For this reason, I believe that right and left are both proceeding ‘forward’ toward a more and more perfect system of human management.  This demands global government, a fluid worldwide economy, a thorough-going leveling of individuals through society, so that no one can remain outside the reaches of this management and thus a danger to its integrity.  Everyone can enjoy his pri­vate satisfaction so long as he submits to the system, so long as he is ‘with the program’, as it is vulgarly put.

46.  Where then do right and left differ, if they are in fundamental agreement about the social contract?  I think there are many illusions lurking here and do not have time to consider them.  Let me merely propose for the moment that the fundamental difference is this: the left holds that the original formation of society is a system of oppression and must be superseded by a true social contract, while the right accepts this original formation as a binding contract.

47.  The position of the left, described in the Second Discourse of Rousseau, holds that the conditions of man when he first ‘found’ himself in nature encouraged him to establish a system of property, racism, sexism, and so on, by which he used others for his private good.  This system must be replaced by a true social contract that orders men and wealth to bring about the private good of all society’s members.  For example, the left holds that American slavery was part of the American system at its founding.  The undoing of that slavery introduced a new element of a true social contract.

48.  The right claims that the systems in place at the time the doctrine of social contract arose were more or less sufficient to bring about that good.  They may hold at one time or another that the contract has been insufficiently fulfilled, as, for example, in American slavery, but that the principles in the American social contract are sound and capable.

49.  This leads me to speak a moment about the United States.  I speak as someone who has always looked at his own country from within and from without.  From my childhood I recognized the good that I have received and share in through the American system of government.  But I have also seen this system as belonging, at least temperamentally, to the Anglo-American race, more than to my own.  I say this merely to avoid any dissembling.

50.  I believe that any true government must be founded on true political thought.  I think that there is evidence in American history of such a foundation.  In fact, one part of this is the claim in the Federalist papers, that the members of the proposed union have the same language, culture, and political institutions.  At the same time the founders used the language of the times to explain their foundation.  Some believed it fervently; others may not have.  The people themselves, I expect, conceived the political order more or less as they had when they began to live in this country.

51.  Over time, however, we have come to live more and more by the principles enunciated in our foundation.  One of the most impressive facts about American political life, one paid only the slightest attention, is that it has in fact proceeded more or less according to the words and formulas used in its institution.  I do not deny that these have been used with more and less precision and with changes in meaning.  Nonetheless, our government has in fact gone forward more or less according to these ‘instructions’.  This is something very rare.

52.  As we have stuck to these principles, we are therefore living more and more according to the contract theory embedded by the founder’s in their account of the foundation.  Hence, we have lived more and more for the rights of individuals and we have established the government more and more as an entity that serves its own ends in opposition to our own.  As we continue forward, however much we imagine that we go right or left, we will be furthering a system of government that consists in human management.  The only true direction is back, not back in time, but back to the true principles of human political order.

[1] Editor’s note: The author is somewhat simplifying matters. There are certainly modern political theorists who do not conceive of the state as being constituted by a contract. Hegel, for example, rejects the idea of a social contract (for example in Philosophy of Right, § 75). But all modern political theorists propose something other than a natural inclination to the common good as the foundation politics. Thus, Hegel replaces the natural inclination to the common good with history. The dialectic of history brings about the political community, and this dialectic is certainly driven by “desire” for private goods, but the coming into being of the community is not based on an implicit agreement between already existing individuals (contract)— rather it is only in the community that desire becomes self-conscious and individual subjectivity comes into being. Nevertheless, the result is similar to that of social contract theory; natural inclination to the common good is excluded. — Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.

Catholics and the Ethics of Voting

by Stomachosus

The main purpose of our civic actions must be the promotion of the common good. Voting becomes a duty when the common good or the good of religion demands it:

It is the duty of all citizens who have the right to vote, to exercise that right when the common good of the state or the good of religion and morals require their votes, and when their voting is useful. (Davis, SJ, Moral and Pastoral Theology, v. 2 pg. 90)

It is important to note the second qualifier “when useful.” It is fully possible that a vote might be useless—say, if all candidates were equally wicked and no write-ins were allowed.

But whom must we vote for? Well, we must choose good candidates. What makes a candidate good? Those are good “who with strength of mind, in a christian spirit, and skill in bearing affairs, exhibits knowledge of political matters and sufficient eloquence” (Prümmer, Manuale theologiae moralis, v. 2, § 608). They must be upright, capable, and have a strong backbone. Obviously, the eloquence necessary in a county clerk may  be different than that needed in a Senator, but it must be sufficient for the position they are running for. Continue reading

Urbanism and the Common Good

by Nathaniel Gotcher

Out of necessity, ancient cities were designed with a high regard for the everyday activities of the community. This included worship, exchange of goods, study, and recreation. All of these things had their time and place and were facilitated by appropriate proximities between buildings and areas of the city. Thus, the market, where the exchange of goods took place, was often centrally located so that it was available to all. The temple (and later the church) was given a prominent location near the center of the city, making the worship of the gods (and later the one God) central to the lives of the citizens, both symbolically and practically. Those buildings and areas used most often were given greater attention and those buildings which symbolized the community and its identity were given places of honor.

We live today in a world in which our interconnectedness means that cities very infrequently fail if we don’t want them to. Resources can be shared globally in a matter of days; funds can be allotted instantly through the internet. While this can and does lead to a very many good things (not least among them is the ease with which we can aid those starving or experiencing violence around the world), it also all but abolished the need for cities to function as they once did: for the common good of its citizens. Families (and even individuals) can function autonomously, as long as they have the funds to support their way of life. With enough personal wealth or property, we do not need the others in our community, at least not materially, as the ancients did. Or at least we think we don’t. Continue reading

15 Ways to be a More Effective Pro-Life Advocate

by Various

The state-sanctioned murder of millions of infants over the past half century is a moral outrage difficult to fathom; worse still, it is an outrage which continues. It must be stopped.  Because advocating for violence against the perpetrators or against the state perpetuating these crimes would only magnify the problem, we do not advocate such violence. Nonetheless, we encourage everyone who recognizes the gravity of the evil being perpetrated in our communities to take action against abortion and all the social evils which contribute to it.  The Catholic political movement in opposition to these enormities is stronger now than ever.  We offer the following suggestions as ways each of us individually can advance the pro-life apostolate—not merely by focusing on abortion, but by working to build up the kind of community in which abortion is once again unthinkable. Continue reading

Integralism in Three Sentences

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.

A Close Reading of the “Tradinista Manifesto”

by Elliot Milco

Recently a group of anonymous individuals posted a document to the internet entitled “A Tradinista! manifesto.” The document intends to outline a broad political programme for the foundation of a new variety of Catholic socialism. Much more interesting things could be said, and will be said, at The Josias about this “Tradinista!” group, but for the present I would like to offer a close reading of their manifesto, simply so this document does not go unacknowledged here.

The text is included below in its entirety (in pink), with interlinear commentary (in black). I have aimed to read the document as it stands, rather than inferring positions or philosophies into it based on my familiarity with several of the anonymous authors (at least one of whom has contributed to The Josias in the past). The commentary is therefore very narrow and particular. It may not be useful to many of our readers, and is perhaps excessively pedantic.  

Still, given the anonymity of the document and its almost complete lack of context upon publication, I think the present way of looking at it is probably the most responsible. I could instead have written a counter-manifesto, or drafted a political-economic critique of what I assumed to be their positions, but the real meaning of “Tradinista!” seems to be more in style and verbiage than in substance. This much, at least, seems clear from the document they chose to publish.

You will find as you read through it that the manifesto was very roughly constructed. It lacks consistent tone, is indefatigably vague, and is somewhat lacking in intellectual coherence.  However, the intentions of the authors (some of whom are friends of The Josias) are presumably honorable (at least for the most part), and their interests are close to those of more traditional Catholic integralists, and so they merit our attention. I hope that what is said below is useful for the advancement of a sound and orthodox Catholic political philosophy.

A Tradinista! manifesto

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.

It is unclear to me why this declaration begins with the sign of the cross. In terms of genre, that would seem to mark it as either a prayer or a homily. It is admirable to invoke the Godhead in this way at the beginning of such a document, but confusing and somehow off-puttingly presumptuous.

We believe that all human institutions ought to render to every person what they are due: this is the meaning of justice.

The focus on institutions from the start is disconcerting. The primary meaning of justice is in the relations between persons: between the rich and the poor, the laborer and the employer, husband and wife, parent and child, ruler and subject, God and man. Whither this talk of “institutions”?  

One of the pitfalls of our day is the perpetual focus on the moral responsibility of “structures” and “institutions” to the neglect of individual moral responsibility and initiative. As we proceed, note that the manifesto speaks endlessly of vague economic classes, non-existent and undescribed institutions, and above all “the Polity”, which means some combination of “everyone in society” and “the government”. What all this means for the behavior of individual people is left unexplored.

Since the end of mankind is holiness, it follows that he is due by nature the ability to move towards this end as easily as possible.

If this were the case, wouldn’t God owe it to us to make it as easy as possible for us to be holy?  And yet he paves the way to sanctity with trials and difficulties, because he loves us. (Heb 12:6; Rom 5:1-5)  

A just society, then, is one in which mankind can easily advance towards the True, Good, and Beautiful and receive aid on his quest for holiness.

No such society has ever existed on earth since the fall of man—not only because no absolutely perfect society has existed, but because the condition of human nature makes it impossible for us to attain easily to beatitude, or for any human institution to make this easy.  

Nor is this a useful description of justice as it applies to societies, since it obliterates the consideration of justice as it applies to natural relations among men and the this-worldly concerns which characterize those relations.  

Similarly, an unjust society inhibits the development of holiness and persecutes those who seek it.

By this point the nature of justice has been obscured almost completely behind vague talk about man’s last end as it relates to vague “institutions.” What is justice concretely, as it relates to particular dues and relationships? This has not been discussed at all.

We are a small party of young Christian socialists committed to traditional orthodoxy, to a politics of virtue and the common good, and to the destruction of capitalism, and its replacement by a truly social political economy. Our program is summarized in the following 20 points.

I note that the authors of the document describe themselves as “Christian socialists” rather than “socialist Christians.” It’s unclear what was intended by this, but if we take them at their word, the priority is given to socialism, of which Christianity is a modification, rather than the reverse. This may not be what is intended, of course.

1. Jesus Christ is the way, and the truth, and the life, who became man for the salvation of all.
We believe in the authority and teachings of Christ, entrusted to His Church. We invite all in sympathy with our beliefs and goals to join us, as our project concerns the common good of all humanity.

A good start.

2. Political authority ought to promote the teachings of the Church.
We recognize the social kingship of Christ, and all people are subject to him by His very essence and power. While the polity has a positive obligation to facilitate the salvation of its citizens, it should not compel them to become Christian. The polity is autonomous, though not perfectly separated from, the Church.

That the authors recognize the social kingship of Christ is admirable. That they conclude that “the polity” (presumably the government of a society) has an obligation to facilitate the salvation of its citizens is also admirable. The meaning of the autonomy of “the polity” relative to the Church is unclear. Do the authors mean that the government of society ought not to be subject to the decrees of the Church?

3. The goal of political authority is to create a good and virtuous people.
The law is a teacher and always promotes a particular conception of the good; morally-neutral laws are therefore impossible. The essence of government is to lead citizens to virtue and societies to the highest of the natural common goods. All law and policy must aim at the common good, not at private interest.

The confusion between natural and supernatural indicated in the opening lines of the document recurs here. The authors seem to fail to distinguish adequately between the supernatural end of man and the natural goods to which he may attain (individually or communally) in the present life. Similarly they say both that all human institutions are obligated to facilitate the sanctification of mankind, and that the “essence” (meaning “end”?) of government is to lead citizens (meaning “those governed”?) to the highest natural common good. No doubt something correct is intended in all of this, but the exposition is confused. If one wants to invoke such high-minded notions, one should have a clearer sense of their place and what one wants to say about them.

4. Political authority must be decentralized as far as possible.
The principle of subsidiarity requires us to assign to lower associations the tasks they can realistically perform; but some tasks can be done only at a federal level.

Here the authors endorse the principle of subsidiarity in government, but assume the existence of a “federal” level. Does this mean that they endorse government at higher levels by federations rather than by a unitary sovereign? What sort of federations? Federations of small states? Of workers’ soviets? As we proceed, the insistence on these federations seems to be important. And yet they are never described in the remainder of the document.

Since the modern nation-state is an instrument of the capitalist class, a radical decentralization of political authority is possible only with the abolition of capitalism.

This sentence includes several vague and controversial claims. First off, we do not know what “the modern nation-state” refers to. Which variety of modern nation state? What are its identifying characteristics? This class of states is apparently inimical to decentralized government by the sort of federations the authors desire. (Would a united federation of small governments not constitute a “modern nation-state”?) But in their reasoning here, the line of causation seems to run from “the capitalist class” through “the modern nation-state” to whatever the ends of the capitalists are. The authors wish to destroy “the modern nation-state” because it is centralized (and the centralization of authority is bad per se in their eyes—an odd position for a Catholic to hold), and therefore take up arms against “the capitalist class” because these capitalists will not allow them to decentralize. It is very difficult to understand how the political/economic picture described in this line can be correct when the decentralization of government is one of the most common aspirations of the capitalist class.

5. Economic life should be ordered to the common good.
Although almsgiving and private charity are commanded by God, they are insufficient to carry out all of the requirements of justice. The polity has the duty of preventing and rectifying economic injustices, thereby fostering the well-being of citizens.

Given that justice has been described above as giving to each person whatever best facilitates their sanctification, it’s unclear what the authors mean by economic injustices.  Christ says over and over in the gospel that poverty is the best way to salvation. They have quoted him: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Because the authors have chosen to obscure the distinction between natural justice as it pertains to the present life and the justification and sanctification necessary for salvation, their appeals for economic justice become incoherent.

6. Capitalism must be abolished.
The foundational relation of capitalist society is between those who are compelled to sell their labor-power on pain of destitution and those who, by their ownership of capital, are enabled to exploit the former. Since it is premised on workers’ lack of economic freedom, this structurally-unjust relation must be eliminated; and in doing so, the capitalist class – which serves its own ends, detrimental to the common good of society – will also be done away with.

Terms in need of clarification: “capitalist society”, “exploit”, “economic freedom”, “structurally-unjust”, “capitalist class”, the ends of the capitalist class. This paragraph sounds radical and impressive on the first reading, but the document has given us so little to go on in interpreting it that it could mean any of a very wide range of things, from an endorsement of radical Marxism, to an endorsement of a moderate progressive democratic platform a la Bernie Sanders. Which is it? This breadth of interpretive possibilities neuters the text. We do not know what the authors are really talking about.

7. Class society must be erased.
Class struggle is a fact of contemporary life and flows directly from the injustices of capitalist society.

Again, we do not know what the authors mean by “class struggle”. Are the only classes they recognize the classes of capitalists and laborers? This is naive. We do not live in some idealized industrial society. Clerics, professionals, academics, and technicians of various sorts make up a very large portion of the American population, and are not evidently members of either an oppressed labor class or an exploitative capitalist class. While many people are no doubt exploited by their employers and are stuck in impossible economic situations because of the structure of the market, at the same time economic, political, and religious “classes” have a reality independent of that fact and a socio-political import that extends far beyond the maintenance of a system of capitalist exploitation.  

As Christians, we support the struggle of all oppressed people against the exploitative class war being waged against them.

The postulation of an outright class war “being waged against” oppressed people suggests a degree of malice that is not warranted in reality. By asserting that such a war exists, the authors of this document are falling into the evil mindset which was carried into action by the Bolsheviks. If there is a war, then we must fight.  If lives are being taken and oppressed, then we must return violence with violence.  If the means of production are the instruments of warfare, then we must seize them.  If there are casualties, so be it—it’s a war, after all, and (apparently) a “just” one.  

By condemning this mindset, I do not mean to say that the structure of certain capitalist markets does not tend toward injustice, but the notion that “the capitalist class” is out for the workers is absurd. And finally, how do the authors mean to support the struggle of the oppressed? What do they intend to do? Surely there are more deliberate and sane resolutions to these problems than declaring that a war exists between two parts of society.

This struggle is fundamentally a genuinely universal effort, founded in solidarity, for a just society based on the common good, precisely because the capitalist class serves only its own sectarian interest.

The phrase “…fundamentally a genuinely universal effort” is unclear. As the text proceeds, “the capitalist class” morphs more and more into a hidden monster to which all evil can be attributed.

The means of class struggle, peaceful if possible, must respect basic moral norms and fundamental human dignity.

Note that what I said above about the tendency toward violence is confirmed in the qualification about the means of “class struggle”, “peaceful if possible”. This is followed by some contentless guff about “moral norms” and “human dignity”, which could mean anything or nothing.

8. Livelihood should not depend on the market.
Markets are not unjust in themselves, but they become vehicles of exploitation when people must sell their labor-power on the market in order to survive.

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” 2 Thess 3:10.  

The language of “labor-power” and “exploitation” sounds impressive but again (as in so many cases throughout the document thus far) the language of the authors obscures their meaning.

So, while citizens should be free to engage in market exchange, the polity should ensure that no basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. – go unmet, guaranteeing a livelihood independent of the market.

This much is fair. It would be much better to assert it without the distracting pretentiousness of “labor-power” and “vehicles of exploitation”.

9. Every person has a right to property.
Private property is a basic feature of human society; nevertheless, the right to property is not unconditional, and ownership is justified only if it serves the common good. Complementing private property should be a combination of a new commons (knowledge, land) and widely-democratized productive property, and the polity must ensure that private ownership, unlike in its bourgeois form, is not used in exploitative ways.

It may be that the authors of this decree are not the sorts of people who visit public libraries. Nonetheless information “commons” exist there, and have existed for some time. (The institution of the public library has always played this role in the United States.) As for agricultural (?) commons, it is unclear what the function of such spaces would be, since the labor-cost of food as sold in markets falls far below the labor-cost of food grown by oneself on a small scale (except in large cities, where the creation of such commons would be impossible).  

By what means is the democratization of productive property supposed to happen? Surely not by the agency of a powerful, central government, of the sort the authors despise. But then how? And how is “the polity” supposed to guarantee that private property is not used for exploitation? Is this at all possible? The authors are describing a political-economic chimera based on contradictory impulses.

10. Worker cooperatives should be strongly encouraged.
Centralized and monopolized private ownership of means of production must give way to control by the political community.

If any readers had any illusion that the political-economic programme given here was based on the notion of “justice” set out in the early portion of this document, it should by now be completely swept away. The authors are advocating state ownership of the means of production (natural resources, factories, fuel). They want to decentralize the ownership of means of production by centralizing them under state ownership. The contradiction in impulses is mind-boggling. Furthermore, they have not yet made clear why the private ownership of the means of production is intrinsically unjust, except by impugning the “capitalist class” and claiming that the capitalists are at war with everyone else.

At the same time, the polity should not directly run small- or mid-sized enterprises, leaving these to be owned and managed – as far as possible – on a worker-cooperative basis. More equitable and non-exploitative work relations within firms will result.

I find it hard to accept the total prioritization of co-ops over sole proprietorship. We seem to have passed clean over from political programme into socialist dreamscape.

11. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and similar forms of oppression must be eradicated.
These may manifest themselves as subjective attitudes, but they are primarily and fundamentally structural and material barriers to equality. Both forms of oppression must be fought. Justice demands that we stand with those unfairly excluded from political and economic life, and to demand their full integration into society.

Given the choice not to define or describe “racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia” etc., we are left to assume that these words are used in their ordinary and current meaning. Otherwise, this paragraph (like most of the preceding paragraphs) is vague and effectively meaningless. But assuming that they are meant in their ordinary way, it is unclear to me how “transphobia” could be a form of oppression in any frame of mind that proceeds from the Gospel, as the authors claim to, or views justice in light of the eternal destiny of man.  The manifesto has really gone off the deep end here. What does this have to do with anything else under discussion? What ideology is motivating this?

12. Marriage and family life should be specially supported by the polity to promote the common good.
We uphold the value of the indissoluble marriage of one man and one woman, ordered towards the generation of offspring, which is the foundation of society. Accordingly the polity should take supporting the education and rearing of children as a primary responsibility. Few things are more hostile to the poor among us than the bourgeois conception of marriage and family life, in which marriage becomes a mere contract or means to self-gratification. We therefore reject contraception, no-fault divorce, in-vitro fertilization, and any similar attempt to sever marriage from procreation or interfere with its indissolubility.

At this point I’m developing an image of a dozen or so people logged into a single Google document, adding random paragraphs to the text, without much concern for their tone, intellectual coherence, or integration into a polished whole. Good for whoever wrote this paragraph, which is excellent, but I’d be shocked if it was written by the person who wrote the previous one.

13. Abortion is a horrifying crime which must be eradicated immediately.
We insist on the right to life from conception to natural death; all innocent human lives must be protected. While prohibiting abortion, the polity should simultaneously provide abundantly for the material security of mothers. No one should face economic hardship because of having a child.

Another good paragraph.

14. Anthropogenic climate change threatens the common good of all mankind, and must be fought.
It is indisputable that climate change has man-made causes. Given its increasingly manifest and obviously dangerous consequences, especially for the indigenous peoples and the poor, it must be halted.

How?  By the orchestration of workers’ collectives in their mysterious federations, which own everything?  By the agency of the ever-mysterious “polity”?

15. We reject nationalism and the nation-state.
Our respect for the well-being of others does not depend on their nationality, and the nation-state, corrupted by its bureaucratic structure, has proven itself incompetent in facing modern challenges of climate change, terrorism, drug cartels, migration, and – above all – global capitalism. We nevertheless support struggles against colonialism and imperialism, and advocate a genuine international authority governed by Christian principles to prevent the exploitation of one country by another.

A lot of hot air. Of course the authors condemn the corruption of the nation state by its bureaucratic structure (whatever that means), and of course they can produce a laundry list of problems in modern society. But do we have any reason to believe that their anarcho-socialist utopia will fare any better with any of these problems? None whatsoever.

16. Warfare is justified only by careful moral analysis.
It is of paramount importance for societies to show genuine restraint and moral conscience in the face of the decision to use military force. Given the nature of modern weaponry, it’s difficult to imagine that any war today, offensive or defensive, could satisfy the traditional requirements of the Church’s just war theory. The primary intrinsic good of a polity is peace, and peace must always be the norm by which war is judged.

The heading here tells me, “You can go to war, but only after you do a careful moral analysis!” Does analyzing things make them just?  Societies have to have restraint and moral conscience. But how can a society at large have restraint? The paragraph seems to want to come out in a pacifist direction, but it manages to say virtually nothing, and what it does say is quite permissive.

17. All societies should generously welcome migrants fleeing hardship.
In memory of the Holy Family’s exile in Egypt, the Church has always shown a special solicitude for the plight of migrants. The care of migrants is a matter of natural justice – not charity – and we demand that political societies reflect the Church’s solicitude.

Well said. There are obviously further considerations in practice, though.

18. In everything possible, we stand with the poor and the marginalized.
Our politics are animated entirely by a concern for the poor: the victim, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the ignorant, the sinner. Seeing the face of Christ in the least among us, we focus on these as the aim and measure of our politics.

It seems a little late to assert that the politics involved here are “entirely motivated” by anything, given the large number of interests already enumerated, and the pride of place given to the vague, spiritual notion of “justice” at the top. The authors have already told us that the measure of justice, and the aim of all political authority, is the pursuit of sanctification. Now they’re saying the only thing they care about is the poor, and this is the aim and measure of their politics. The seams are showing. It would be amusing to perform some source criticism on this text, to show the diverging “communities” which participated in its construction. One might name them, just for fun, “The Princetonians”, “The Twitter Collective”, and “The Friends of Mankind”. But now I am getting silly.

19. We strive toward a genuine polity animated by Christian socialist principles.
We recognize the value of small-scale political organizations as intermediate to our ultimate ends. But we also realize that our highest common goods can only be achieved in a polity, and it is precisely such polities, governed by principles like those articulated here, that we would seek to establish.

Apparently small-scale political organizations (like workers’ co-ops?) are not the goal, but a “polity” is. We still don’t know precisely what they mean by the word “polity”, but there seems to be something special behind it, given how intentionally they use the term.

20. Liberalism is failed, and we must move beyond it.
We reject the prevailing ideology, political systems, and political economy of the contemporary West. The history of the liberal political project is the history of the justification of racist and imperialist oppression; of the exploitation and control of wage-labor; of the estrangement of politics from truth, beauty, and goodness; of the corrosion of sound faith.

I do hope that we are moving beyond liberalism. It does seem to be failing. But the main accusations leveled against liberal politics seem to be fairly implausible. Is the history of the liberal political project a history of “the justification of racist and imperial oppression”? This doesn’t accord with the principles of either of the two great liberal Revolutions. Is it really about the exploitation and control of wage-labor? I don’t think so. 

On the other hand, with respect to the estrangement of politics from truth, the authors are correct. And today, with the urgent liberal push toward relativistic multiculturalism, it is certainly the case that sound faith is being dissolved.

All that said, we have a problem here again—what do the authors mean to reject when they cast aside “the prevailing ideology, political systems, and political economy of the contemporary West”? That’s a rather large and variegated set of items. I confess that while I know, (through personal acquaintance) what some of the authors of this manifesto mean when they reject liberal politics, I do not know what the first sentence of this paragraph intends at all.

The promises of liberalism have repeatedly been shown to be empty lies, and we reject them outright. It fails on its own terms as well as ours.

Again, what does this actually mean?

It is the great evil of modern times, the disease spreading its corruption through every part of human social life, the addiction posing as the solution to the problems that it causes.

If this were the sort of manifesto that had some fire in it, that really motivated its readers to jump out of their seats and rally to the cause, then this line would have a place. It is not, and so the line comes across as a strained exaggeration. But maybe we’re building up to the finale.

Liberalism in religion undermines the truths of God’s revelation, substituting private opinion for the authority of God, and reducing the truths of the Faith to the categories of positivistic or historicist “science.”

Amen to that!

Liberalism in politics denies the reality of the good, reducing political freedom to perverse license. It therefore denies the primacy of the common good, and reduces politics to the procedural balancing of private interests. Liberalism in political economy severs earthly goods from their order to the end of human life, thus giving free reign to pleonexia and the exploitation of the poor.

It’s only just getting good, and it’s about to end!

We Tradinistas are determined to combat liberalism by all honorable means.

“All honorable means,” but none are actually specified. And, as noted above, honorable means seem not to exclude violent means.

Therefore we urge all Catholics and other Christians to join us in rejecting the evils of modernism, of liberalism, of capitalism – and forging a new political life beyond them.


So it was a prayer?