Libraries & Spaces
A Review of:
American Freedom and Catholic Power. By Paul Blanshard. Boston: The Beacon Press. $3.50.
Mr. Blanshard has about done it, I think. That is, he has given what is to date the most complete statement of the New Nativism. In the cold, cultured manner of its utterance it is unlike the ranting, redfaced, midnineteenth-century Nativism. Its inspiration is not Protestant bigotry, but the secularist positivism that deplores bigotry, at the same time that it achieves a closure of mind and an edge of antagonism that would be the envy of a Bible-belt circuit rider. At all events, despite the intellectualization, it is pretty much the same old article. Blanshard regrets that the "bigoted source" of the Nativist question "has tended to divert attention from a valid and important question" (p. 266). Hence he raises it again: "What is to be done with a hierarchy that operates in twentieth-century America under medieval European controls?" (p. 289). There ought, he answers, to be "a resistance movement" by "champions of traditional American democracy" (p. 303). Toward stimulating this resistance movement he republishes with developments and additions the twelve articles he wrote for The Nation last year. This time he has the services of an editor, who has managed to moderate Blanshard's own penchant for the nasty turn of phrase.
The central concept is the one that sustains the whole anti-Catholic polemic today—the concept of the Church as a great power-organization, "a state within a state and a state above a state" (p. 4), whose methods are those of power, whose proximate aim is "to maintain its own power-structure" (p. 155), and whose ultimate aim is—more power. Supporting this concept is the distinction, customarily used to-day to avoid the charge of bigotry, between the Catholic people and the Catholic hierarchy. The former are for the most part "good Americans" (suffering, on Blanshard's account, from a rather severe case of schizophrenia by reason of their effort to be good Catholics at the same time). The latter are the enemy, the foreign body that "has never been assimilated" in our "liberal democracy" (p. 10). Blanshard follows the fashion, set by the one-hundred-percenters in Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, of using the term "hierarchy" as a sort of cuss-word, much as a Marxist uses the term "bourgeoisie."
The Catholic bishops and priests are, I gather, unassimilable basically because they possess a spiritual authority distinct from and superior to the "supreme power of the democratic state over all aspects of secular life" (p. 263), that is, over the fields of science, medicine and social welfare, culture, the family, education and information, politics, economics and law. In Blanshard's view, the "expanding conception of the democratic social-welfare state" (p. 248) has taken all these fields under its exclusive sovereignty, and in them its action is ruled only by the norm of the majority opinion of "the people," that is, the free people like Blanshard. He defends the absolute autonomy of these fields much as Gromyko defends the autonomy of the judicial process in Hungary; what is done in them is immune from question or judgment by a foreign power, such as the Church.
And in all these fields the thing is to be "an American," to avoid "un-American attitudes." If, for instance, a law is "American" (like our divorce laws), it is good (pp. 156 ff.). If you want to know the rightness or wrongness of a procedure in a case of ectopic gestation, consider "what an American jury might say about the problem" (p. 129). If you want to settle the details of a creed or a moral-code, do it the American way—take a vote (pp. 141, 214, 293). If it is a question of birth control, don't be "unrealistic," like the Church (pp. 48, 125, 135); practice it—that's what American people do. As for sterilization, "the courts of the United States agree" that there is nothing wrong about it (p. 151). Hold to "the American gospel of science" (p. 211), and to "the American concept of freedom of thought" (p. 299), and to the American idea of education, "that the people's government is the logical agency to educate the children of the people" (p. 65). Judge the value of 'convent life by the standards of "American womanhood" which rejects it (p. 67). And so on. In sum, "join the rest of the American community" (p. 88), and "without reservations" (p. 288), under denial of all allegiance to "alien and undemocratic powers, the Vatican and the Kremlin" (p. 260). That is the way to Blanshardian salvation.
What I am suggesting is that Blanshard's book offers material for a study of the New Nativism. That is the only interesting thing about it; all the stuff about the Church we've already "had," albeit usually in more scurrilous form. But his use of the terms "American" and "un-American" as categories of ultimate value is, significant in regard of the contemporary drift toward a cultural monism, the idea of the democratic state as All There Is, and a colossal national self-righteousness.
John Courtney Murray, S.J.