Book Review by Dr. Larry Chapp in Catholic World Report. A Review of David C. Schindler’s New Book: “The Politics of the Real: the Church Between Liberalism and Integralism.”

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Linked below is the review. My next blog post after this one will be a defense of Adrienne von Speyr. And after that a blog on universalism, since everybody seems hot to trot on that topic.

But for now … in addition to the review linked below I offer the following additional observations:

Schindler’s text is one of the most important to come along on this topic in a very long time. It is truly magisterial and should be a must read for anyone who wants to join the discussion of what the Church’s relationship should be to modern Liberalism. Schindler agrees with Pierre Manent’s thesis (as articulated in his small, but dense work, “An Intellecutal History of Liberalism”) that the modern political project was born as a direct reaction against Catholicism and that its subsequent unfolding proves this to be true. Catholicism and Liberalism are not merely in “tension” but are in reality polar opposites and completely incompatible with one another. Schindler argues that such putatively “Liberal values” like freedom of speech and conscience, equality under the law, and freedom of religion, are in reality more expansively protected by Catholic teaching than what Liberalism can provide. Schindler shows clearly that the so-called “freedom” that Liberalism creates is no such thing, and in all actuality is the opposite of any true freedom which is rooted in an orientation to an objective order of human goods – – an objective order which Liberalism denies and thus undermines as it seeks to ground all human interactions on a hyper-minimalist account of the good. Therefore, its account of freedom is grounded in nothing more than a stipulative proceduralism devoid of any orientation to the true, which is to say, the real. And in denying to the Church any purchase on public warrant, on the realm of the “real,” it denies the right of the Church to be most precisely what it is.

Schindler further argues that all governments are inherently confessional, and Liberalism most certainly so, and that we are not therefore really debating whether or not governments should be integralist with regards to some preferred and privilged concept of the good, since all are so. And having a priviliged view of the good which it seeks to enact into coercive law, means that it also embodies a set of ideas concerning anthropology, the nature of history, and moral norms. Therefore, the question of the possibility of a Catholic confessional state naturally arises as a possible alternative integralism to the Liberal one. You can read the review, and then hopefully the whole book, to understand where Schindler’s integralism differs from that of some of the more standard integralists like Waldstein, who is dealt with extensively in the book. In short, Schindler argues for a vision of church and state relations that are rooted in analogical rather than univocal concepts of power.

A great book. You should buy it and read it. You can access the review below:

9 comments

  1. Schindler further argues that all governments are inherently confessional, and Liberalism most certainly so, and that we are not therefore really debating whether or not governments should be integralist with regards to some preferred and privilged concept of the good, since all are so.

    Strange, but Paul Kingsnorth (who has been an Orthodox Christian for about 5 months now) posted something very similar on his SubStack page The Abbey of Misrule earlier today:

    In my last essay, I wrote about the collapse of Christendom in the West. It might seem like a jump from Jesus to robot lawnmowers, but there’s a throughline. It’s often suggested that when we moved from Christendom via the Enlightenment into our current age (modernity? post-modernity? post-post-modernity? Answers on a postcard) we desacrilised or ‘disenchanted’ our culture: that we became pure materialists. For its supporters, this process was a move towards ‘reason’ and away from ‘superstition.’ For opponents, it represented a slide into decadence and moral dissolution. Either way, the disenchantment thesis, as we might call it, has been influential since it was most famously enunciated a century ago by Max Weber.

    But in an interesting essay for Aeon magazine a couple of years back [see https://aeon.co/essays/capitalism-is-modernitys-most-beguiling-dangerous-enchantment%5D, the historian Eugene McCarraher took issue with this notion. Modernity, he claimed, did not in fact dispense with the West’s sacred order, leaving only dessicated materialism in its place. Our replacement value system is just as enchanted as before – but we have failed to acknowledge it, because it poses as something else:

    Since the 17th century, much modern history has provided good reasons to show that ‘disenchantment’ is more of a fable, a mythology that conceals the persistence of enchantment in ‘secular’ disguise. Capitalism, it turns out, might be modernity’s most beguiling form of enchantment, remaking the moral and ontological universe in its pecuniary image and likeness.

    If McCarraher is right, we have not junked a sacred order for a profane one. We have instead enthroned a new god, and disguised its worship as the disenchanted pursuit of purely material gain. We have dressed up as a mere ‘economy’ our new idol and sovereign: the Machine.

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    1. I have read McCarraher’s massive tome “The Enchantments of Mammon” and thoroughly loved it. If you have not read it you should. And so I agree with what you say here about his rejection of the disenchantment theory. However, folks like Kingsworth are also unto something that McCarraher, in his book makes not of. Namely, that even though modernity still has it enchantments and its “gods,” the fact of the matter is that these gods and these enchantments are thin, attenuated, paltry and generally miserable substitutes for all of the classical world’s stronger enchantments. So I would say we still have gods, but they are lesser gods of a very poor quality which is why a lot of people think that the modern world has no real gods at all.

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  2. What a great review, Dr. Chapp. I started a reading group on the Politics of the Real and your review is very helpful in providing a type of roadmap and summary. I would love to see a study guide of sorts to go along with it–perhaps he can cajole you into writing one!

    Always great reading your blog.

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  3. Dear Larry, this may be neither here nor there, but I might mention that Manent himself vigorously resists the use made of his work on liberalism by people like Schindler (although he’s not familiar with this particular work). He had a vigorous retort to John Milbank’s employment of An Intellectual History of Liberalism back in the day. I’ve seen many people, for example, a former colleague David Courturier, who use An Intellectual History of Liberalism in their battles against liberalism. Manent himself wants no part of that. While there may be something (or lots) about that work that lends itself to this sort of contra-auctorem use, there’s also something in Manent’s conception and practice of political philosophy antithetical to these sorts of Catholic anti-liberal approaches.

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    1. Hi Paul. Thanks for this. Schindler does not do much at all with Manent’s overall project and constructs his arguments on his own metaphysical analysis of liberalism. All he does with Manent is to note the fact that Manent thinks that liberalism arose as a direct reaction against Catholicism. Thanks!

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      1. Thanks, Larry, much appreciated. I think the key phrase in what you say is “his [Scindler’s] … metaphysical analysis of liberalism.” Manent is a political philosopher, Schindler, fils et père, theologians and metaphysicians. The two approaches are quite different, as are the judgments in which they eventuate. I’d like to say that they have common ground in the notion of “man, the political animal,” but Manent’s understanding is likely rather different from theirs. Thanks for your clarification about the use that Scindler makes of Manent in this book.

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  4. Sounds like an interesting book, although from your review I wonder if it misses the deeper point that ‘Church’ is the fulfilment of ‘State’ in truth. State+Truth=Church, and Church-Truth=State.
    The Liberal project of separating Church and State is of course a project of emptying the ‘Church’ of truth. Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite are Faith, Hope and Love emptied of their ultimate truth -truth, which can only have a supernatural foundation. Similarly, State is Church emptied of its ultimate truth (i.e. God). ‘State’ is a reification without reality; the State is not more than the sum of its parts. The Church, of course, is more that the sum of its parts, because it is real in a supernatural sense. Church is what all States in history have aspired to, whether they knew it or not.

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    1. Fraternité does line up with Love, but égalité and liberté don’t seem to be derived from (or instead of) Faith and Hope, so I don’t see how this transposition really works. It seems more likely that the French revolutionary slogans are to be understood in a political sense, and they just happen to form another triad.

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      1. I think it is possible to find a derivation from Faith to Egalite (just like Faith in Christ is the foundation of the Church, belief in Egalite is the foundational principle of the State as conceived by the French Revolution), and from Hope to Liberte (the Christian hope for the Kingdom of Heaven becomes hope in Liberte, the pseudo-eschatological goal of the revolution; this becomes clearer in future permutations of revolutionary ideology where the utopian communist society in which Liberte reigns is always over the horizon of the valley of tears of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat). One could say that while the Christian acts with love, through faith in Christ, in hope of the Kingdom of God, the revolutionary acts with Fraternite, through faith in Egalite, in hope of Liberte.
        But this one-to-one correlation is not the main point I was trying to make. The point, which I think may also be partially the point of Schindler’s book, is that politics and religion are not two separate things; this is the conceptual trap set by Liberalism in which we fall every time we frame the question as ‘what should be the relationship between Church and State?’ As though they were two independent entities, which they are not.
        Politics is the way a group organizes itself in order to prosper and be ‘happy’ – in biological terms: to survive. Christ comes with his goods news (or rather, is the good news): that we can survive eternally and we can be eternally happy beyond death. And he also tells us how we must organize the group in order to achieve this ultimate survival: by replacing power with love. So the message of Christ is 100% political, but in a very particular way: he makes politics transcendent – it is the ‘fulfilment of politics’. When the revolutionaries of the Modern era, be it in France or America, start demanding a separation between Church and State, they are in fact rejecting the ‘transcendental politics’ of Christianity – rejecting transcendence altogether and replacing it with a de facto materialistic atheism.
        A Christianity that does not transform the politics of a society is simply not real – it is only Christianity in name; it is the ‘Christendom’ Kierkegaard speaks against. But it is easy to misunderstand this political aspect of Christianity. What is the political transformation Christianity is meant to bring about? It is a transformation that moves from ‘the bottom up’, from the personal conversion of the individual to the conversion of the group; it is the spreading of the Church of the Saints until all members of the group are saints and therefore the whole of society becomes Church (the body of Christ). This is the complete opposite of revolutionary ideologies which preach a ‘top down’ transformation where the institutions of the State, ‘converted’ by a handful of illuminated leaders, force the conversion of the individual (and destroys those who resist, of course). The Carthusian monk, who renounces everything in search of the most complete personal conversion, may be the ideal Christian ‘politician’ – or the ‘moron’ Saint Joseph of Cupertino, or the 11-year-old illiterate Saint Maria Goretti: these are the Church’s true politicians, its reformers and revolutionaries. Sadly, all too often the Catholic Church has behaved like a State rather that the Church it was meant to be, all too often is has tried to enforce conversion by the power of its institutions rather than by the authority of its love.
        If one tries to imagine what the perfect Christian society may look like in practical terms, I think the image that forms is very similar to the anarchist utopia – and this is not a coincidence, since anarchism is a heresy of Christianity. The all important difference is that anarchism believes that the destruction of the State will lead to the conversion of the individual, whereas Christianity believes that the conversion of all individuals in society would render the institutions of the State unnecessary: the Sate would be left behind like the empty shell which has been outgrown. Will we ever reach this perfect Christian society on Earth? I don’t think so, but that is irrelevant. The point is that we must work towards it, but always taking care that we have not inadvertently switched camps. We are pieces in a chess game where the pieces switch sides depending on the moves they make, irrespective of their colour: if we move with ‘love’ we are on one side, if we move with ‘power’ we switch to the other side, to the dark side, like in Stars Wars (another popular Christian heresy).
        One very interesting aspect of the French Revolution, by the way, is the competing religious cults that came into being during its early years: the openly-atheistic Cult of Reason/Liberty and its replacement by the supposedly theistic Cult of the Supreme Being. Anyway, not to belabour the point: all politics has a religious dimension and all religion has a political dimension, and neither can be seen as independent from the other, whatever their protestations to the contrary.
        I think it is obvious by now that I’m firmly in the ‘fourth camp’ of Larry’s review… I feel I’m in good company there.

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