Libraries & Spaces
Paul Blanshard and the New Nativism
JOHN COURTNEY MURRAY
IN HIS Basilikon Doron, written for young Prince Henry, and in his later political writings (notably the Remonstrance for the Right of Kings and the Independance of their Crownes) James I of England objected to the papacy on the primary ground that it was incompatible with royal government. The Pope claimed to be superior to kings and held them subject to his spiritual authority; consequently he denied the independence of their kingly power. This was the great objection to the Catholic Church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the Church was a menace to monarchy. Times have changed, and so seemingly has the objection. Since 1789 the great objection to the Church has been that she denies popular sovereignty and is
incompatible with republican government. She is, in the contemporary formula, a menace to democracy.
In a curious way it is the same old objection, despite the change of formula and certain alterations in the details of the indictment. The Church refuses to accept the absolute independence of the secular order and to acknowledge the primacy of the political over the spiritual. Because of this refusal the nineteenth century excommunicated her from the modern world, just as the seventeenth century had thrust her out of the worlds of Gallicanism and Stuart absolutism.
The old debate has been revived in the twentieth century. It has been particularly active in the United States; and the latest protagonist of the political is Mr. Paul Blanshard.When his book1 first appeared I wrote a review of it, saying that it had given the best statement, to date, of what I called the New Nativism. The reference was to the Nativist movement of the 1840's and 1850's. Then the argument was that America is free, white, and Protestant; the Catholic therefore (especially the Irish Catholic) is necessarily an alien and a menace, not least because of his subjection to a foreign power, the Pope. After the Civil War Nativism was revived by the American Protective Association, and the argument was somewhat changed. The contention was that the predominance (of the Church) here would destroy our free institutions and prove the grave of civil and religious liberty. So Orestes Brownson stated the issue; and he dealt with it at his usual length and with his usual vigour. The issue this time reached the universities; Woodrow Wilson debated it as a graduate student at Princeton.
Behind the Nativist movement in both of its manifestations there lay that profound anti-Roman bias which had been endemic in the American republic since the days when the famous New England Primer, published in 1688, taught schoolchildren to chant: Abhor that arrant Whore of Rome, And all her blasphemies, And drink not of her cursed cup, Obey not her decrees. Catholicism was anti-American fundamentally because America was Protestant, and Catholicism was anti-Protestant.
Mr. Blanshard rejects and deplores the religious bigotry inspirational of the old Nativist attack. His own indictment of the Church rests on a different set of premises, a New Nativism.
The Nativist inspiration is visible in the constant use of the adjectives, American and un-American, as ultimate categories of value, supplanting the usual categories of true or false, right or wrong. The newness of the Nativism is revealed by the fact that it is not now Protestant but naturalist. The primary accusation is that Catholicism is anti-American because America is a democracy, and democracy is necessarily based on a naturalist or secularist philosophy, and Catholicism is anti-naturalist.
Not that Mr. Blanshard is a philosophical naturalist; he is no philosopher at all, in any discernibly conscious sense. In fact, he becomes quite annoyed when he is charged with having philosophical assumptions: All I am doing, he says, is giving the facts. He likewise insists that what he has written is not a book about the Catholic faith but about the cultural, political and economic policies of the rulers of the Catholic Church. He carefully makes the distinctions honoured in the Continental Liberalist tradition, which is at the moment assuming dynamic form in the United States, where previously the regnant ideas had been those of the liberal tradition, in contrast to Liberalism, its deformation. There is the distinction, first, between priest and people, and second, between Catholicism as a religion and as a power-system. The Catholic people are admitted to grace: If they controlled their own Church, the Catholic problem would disappear because, in the atmosphere of American freedom, they would adjust their Church's policies to American realities. But the priest is Roman-controlled, and The Enemy. (In Mr. Blanshards vocabulary the term priest is not simply descriptive; it expresses a value judgment and contains a hint of invective. Moreover, he uses the term hierarchy with the accent audible in the term bourgeoisie on the lips of a Marxist, or better, in the term Politburo on the lips of the West today.) To the religious faith of the people Mr. Blanshard raises no objection; what he indicts is the power of the hierarchy. And he calls for a resistance movement to its anti-democratic social policies.
The indictment is lengthy. Mr. Blanshard has poked, with systematic myopia, into all manner of Catholic sources, from papal encyclicals, to a little book called The Interior Spirit of the Religious of the Visitation of Holy Mary. The myopia is induced by his central concept, power-system. It is at once the antecedent
premise and the conclusion of the investigation. Guided by it, Mr. Blanshard discovers, for instance, that most important of the devices of priestly control is that of the confessional. The overarching concept likewise influences the rhetoric. The keyword, control, appears with a monotony that hardly serves to decrease its implications of terror. And there is much talk of devices and mechanisms, of priestly dictation and its techniques, of control-groups and their plans. One ends with the impression that the only thing the Catholic hierarchy does not want to control is the birth-rate. And Mr. Blanshard is highly incensed with its opposition to controls in this quarter, seemingly the only quarter in modern life where the principle of freedom gets itself translated into techniques of control.
The details of the indictment are too long for rehearsal here. Perhaps the bearing of it all can be sufficiently gathered from the concrete objectives of the resistance movement as proposed in the final chapter, where the author takes his stand against false tolerance of the Church, against appeasement of the hierarchy, and in favour of freedom. It seems that freedom demands the following things: dissemination of birth-control information in Catholic hospitals as elsewhere; government-controlled education on sex and venereal diseases, in Catholic schools as elsewhere; abortion in all cases where medical opinion decides that there is danger to the mother; the practice of euthanasia and sterilization in Catholic hospitals as elsewhere; the closing of all medical schools except such as teach the lawfulness of euthanasia, sterilization, under governmental control, absolute exclusion of all religious education from public schools; exclusion from public classrooms of all teachers who wear religious garb; exclusion of all private schools from all public services except police and fire protection government censorship of all textbooks in Catholic and other private schools; opposition to all Catholic censorship, on moral grounds, of newspapers, magazines, movies, radio programmes; promotion of all media of communication which treat Catholic policies, personalities and derelictions with impartial candour; no official relations with the Vatican; official registration of all Vatican higher officials (i.e., all bishops, it seems) as agents of a foreign power; exclusion from office of all judges who disapprove of the usual things which must be free, i.e., divorce, euthanasia, etc.; taxation of all
Church property not directly used for educational, religious or charitable purposes.
In sum, it seems that freedom forbids anyone to introduce, or seek, to make operative, in public life any absolute standard of morality. It seems that, the American people have decided that they are free to sterilize and be sterilized, to divorce their marital partners and abort their children, etc. etc. To argue against this decision or against the concept of freedom on which it rests is anti-democratic. And when the argument is made by a Church that presumes to speak authoritatively, it is a direct threat to all that democracy means (all that democracy means, it seems, is freedom in the rather outworn nineteenth-century sense).
It can be seen that, as indictments of the Church go, Mr. Blanshard's is not very substantial. What gives it impact is, first, its imposing critical apparatus (imposing only to the uninitiated), and secondly, the clever use of propaganda techniquesthe device of labelling with the opprobrious adjective, the use of the weighted word, the introduction of questionable evidence, the method of so stating issues as antecedently to deliver the wanted conclusion, unfounded inferences, taking unfair advantage of an adversary's honest admissions, refusal to situate quoted statements in context, and above all, a spectacularly successful use of the technique of omission. In addition, the piquancy of the pages is enhanced by constant recourse to the cleverly damning phrase; for instance, Catholic theologians are said to have rescued the sanctity of the papal office, despite the sinfulness of some Popes, by developing the doctrine that evil can be confined to one portion of the Pope's anatomy, in context, his soul. Equally effective on a modern audience is a lofty assumption of scientific up-to-dateness: Many Catholic laymen believe that the whole priestly system of sexual dogma is a direct result of celibacy, a compensation for thwarted instincts and suppressed desires. They see in celibacy the explanation for the restless pugnacity of the priests and the craving for authority ...
However, more significant than Mr. Blanshard's indictment is the theory of religion and society on which it rests. To state this theory is to identify The Enemythe enemy not only of Catholicism but of all religion worthy of the name.
Four essential ideas make up the theory. The first is the idea
that the sole area of the Church's competence is that of devotional life. The Church belongs in the sacristy, as classical Liberalism put it. The second and correlative idea is that of the supreme power of the democratic social welfare state over all aspects of secular life. And secular life for Mr. Blanshard includes the fields of politics, economics, law, medicine, science, social welfare, education, the media Of communication, marriage, the family, relations between the sexes, community moresin fact, the whole of organized human behaviour. In all these areas of life the power of the democratic community, expressed through its instrument, the State, is singly sovereign; no other authority stands outside it, beside it, much less above it.
This might sound like the Third Republic. However, there is in it no touch of the cynicism latent in French laicism. Mr. Blanshard's secularism is given a rather characteristically American cachet of idealism by its third underlying idea, namely, the universal validity of the democratic process for the settlement of all issues arising in the secular sphere, as defined. The single criterion of rightness in law, social custom, medical practice, etc., is the majority opinion of the people. In fact, that is right which is democratic, i.e., which has been duly submitted to the people and voted on.
This idea is held with great passion and sincerity. It even leads to the concession that the Church too may have a social voice. But on two conditions. First, the Church must consider itself as simply one agency within the State. Secondly, it must itself be democratically organized, and its purposes and programmes must be determined, not by a hierarchy empowered to speak authoritatively, but by the membership itself acting through democratic channels. On fulfilment of these conditions it may be admitted to any public debate, provided further that it is prepared to cede its positions in the face of prevailing majority opinion. If, however, it maintains a hierarchical structure, wherein there exists an authority not derived from the people, it must be labelled "alien to democratic society," a heretic to be "exterminated" from social life because it does not subscribe to the creed of majoritarianism.
The fourth idea is likewise of the twentieth century (it might be noted, that majoritarianisn was definitely not, in the United States, an eighteenth- or even nineteenth-century idea; earlier
American political theorists, who acknowledged majority rule as a technique of government; dreaded it as a dogma, because, it was big with possibilities of tyranny). The fourth idea is that the singly valid guide of the individual or the collectivity in forming opinions is scientific method. The method of the democratic tradition, wrote Hans Meyerhoff in American Perspective, consists essentially in recognizing the rational criteria of argument and proof derived from the natural sciences as the only authority for judging the validity of a social theory. Mr. Blanshard, of course, achieves no such clarity of theory; but this is indubitably his theory. When he touches on the problem of law, for instance, it is, clear that his jurisprudence, in so far as he has one, admits no reference to absolute standards deriving from metaphysics and moral philosophy; such standards are unscientific." The single reference is to the majority state of mind or emotional attitude, as influenced by scientific considerations (e.g., fear of overpopulation, created by statistics, legitimizes birth-control laws). In the end, the free man submits only to himself, and obeys only those laws which he himself has shared in making. All authority is simply power (Mr. Blanshard's equation of the concepts is complete); and all law is simply sociological dictate that the majority is at the moment prepared to enforce. The secular mystique of freedom which seems to inspire the whole theory has at its heart an ideology of force:
On this naturalistic theory of religion and society Mr. Blanshard bases his indictment of the Catholic Church. He is, to give him a name, a social monist, who wears his monism with the twentieth-century difference. It is not so much a monism of the political order (raising the problem of order before such thinkers only draws a blank stare), as a monism of the political process. Mr. Blanshard's idol is not so much the democratic state as the democratic process. But in his, worship of this idol he is a thoroughgoing monolatrist.
This aspect of Mr. Blanshard's work did not escape the censure of Protestant writers in the United States. (For the rest, they were rather undisguisedly delighted that Mr. Blanshard had assailed the Catholic Church so outspokenly.) The most pertinent challenge was' offered by Mr. T. Robert Ingram, an Episcopalian, writing in the Atlantic Monthly. He comments on
Mr. Blanshard's dogmatism with regard to his own assumptionsa dogmatism reached without benefit of argument, and invested with a fully religious solemnity. And he adds:
It is in this dogmatic confidence that Blanshard takes issue with the Roman Catholic Church on the crucial point for all of us: he judges that Church to be a sinister threat to the public weal because it refuses to admit that the Church in the social sphere is simply one agency within the State. What Blanshard ignores, however, is that it is on exactly this point, and this alone, that great empires have dashed themselves to pieces against the Christian Church. This is the point at which Christianity has ultimate and final meaning for all nations; this is where an avowal of faith in the Christian God meets its last judgment. . . . The Gospel writers profoundly believed that the Church is not simply one agency within the State, but that it has an authority above the State. The Church has believed so ever since. What Blanshard seems unable to comprehend is that both Roman Catholics and Protestants accept the Christian view with all the assurance of truth evident in the secularist religion, and with equal, if not greater, experience and reasoning power, and certainly with as much integrity and candour.It is interesting that, in a reply-piece in the same issue, Mr. Blanshard irritatedly shook off this challenge. He was not, he says, interested in spending time discussing the theory of Church and State. What he wants is solely attention to his case against the Church as a power-system; and he is quite annoyed to have attention directed to the assumptions on which the case rests. Nevertheless, Mr. Blanshards basic assumption, social monism is the crucial point for all of us who are religious, and even for the whole of world-society, whether religious or not. The fact is that the basic struggle today is between social monism and social dualism. And what is at stake is an element essential to the liberal tradition of government (of which Mr. Blanshard is most profoundly ignorant), as well as to the nature of the Church (about which Mr. Blanshard does not care).
In his book, The Political Tradition of the West, Professor Frederick Watkins of Harvard makes the following point, as he is describing the growth of the liberal tradition: From that time onwards (the foundation of the first Christian Empire) Church and State stood side by side as separate authorities, each claiming the right to regulate a portion of the total life of man. Thus the earlier
view of society as a single homogeneous structure was replaced by the radically new ideal of a twofold organization of society. With the possible exception of the concept of law itself, the concept of social dualism has done more than anything else to determine the specific character of Western civilization. The solidity of the dualism, he adds, lay in the fact; that the Church was not simply the organized conscience of the community but a spiritual authority in its own right, able to mobilize the moral consensus of the community against the encroachments of civil or social power.
It is Professor Watkins' further contention that the whole problem of modern politics, since the Renaissance and the Reformation, has been to find a secular parallel to the authority of the medieval Church. And he interprets constitutional democracy as an attempt to preserve the social and political traditions of medieval Christianity on a secular basis. The attempt rests on a distinction between society and State, and between parliament as representative of the people and government as executive agency of the State. This type of political organization, he admits, is still in the experimental stage; and the experiment has recently received setbacks, both from rising totalitarianism and from the tendency of the modern State towards self-aggrandizement and expanding controls over society.
My suggestion here is that the success of the experiment (for whose possibility of continuance we of the West are now arming to fight, if necessary) will depend on the answer given to the essential question which Mr. Blanshard raises, without knowing that he is doing so. This is the question: Is there a sacred element in the secular life of man which escapes from the undivided control of the supreme power of the State, even the democratic State, and more particularly the democratic majority? Or is the secular life of man completely secular, enclosed within the State as the highest social organism, and subject ultimately to the political power (actually, whether the political power operates through democratic forms does not, for the purposes of the question, greatly matter)?
If the answer to the question in its first form is no, and in its second form yes, I would contend that the democratic experiment is doomed; for it will have relinquished the essential basis of any structural social dualism, the concept of the res sacra in tempora-
libus. There will have been effected, at least in intention and idea, the profanization of all social life. The liberal tradition will have perished in the triumph of social monism. And however long the forms of democracy may endure, they will in the end be made to serve the rise of a form of political tyranny, new indeed and more subtle, but no less oppressive than those which in the past have damaged, or destroyed the spiritual freedom of man.
The essential significance of Mr. Blanshard is that he does answer no to the question in its first form, and in its second form, yes. From beginning to end of his book he is saying that all the issues which arise in secular life are reducible to political issues and are to be settled by political means, through the democratic processin the end, by majority vote. The totality of man's community life is thus absorbed in the State and shaped and determined by that which gives form to the communitythe State. From the State and from the all-governing democratic process man rescues only his devotional life. The huddled masses beyond the Iron Curtain can do as much. In the final analysis what matters it whether the res sacra in temporalibus is at the mercy of a democratic or of a totalitarian government? In either case, the principle of the primacy of the political has been enthroned, and around its throne only slaves can gather to do homage, not free men.
Obviously, the assertion of the primacy of the political is only the implicit thesis of Mr. Blanshard's book. The explicit thesis is a denial that the Church stands outside the political order and above it, and that she has a spiritual authority which, remaining spiritual, may reach into the temporal order, there to lay the protective grasp of its authoritative moral judgments on those elements of secular life which have a sacred aspect. By this denial, which is made with high dogmatism, Mr. Blanshard revives an ancient controversyone which, in fact, hardly needed revival, since it is perennially active. I mean the controversy over what is (aptly or ineptly, it does not matter here) called the indirect power of the Church. However startling it might be to him to find himself classed as an absolutist, Mr. Blanshard is of the line (grown indeed exceedingly threadbare with him) of Widdrington and Barclay, of James I and his creatures, Casaubon and Andrewes. With them he invests the politicalbe it absolute
king or democratic processwith divine majesty. The point here is not to argue the controversy but to indicate its contemporary significance.
It raises the question whether the social dualism that is of the essence of the Western political tradition can, in point of fact, be maintained simply on a secular basis, apart from recognition of a spiritual authority which stands outside the temporal order and possesses by independent right a power (potestasthe word has no lurking connotations of coercion) over the res sacra in temporalibus, with whose sacredness the whole notion of man's spiritual freedom is involved. Traditionally these have been the sacred things in man's secular life over which the Church has asserted her primatial guardianship: man's relation to God and to the Church, the inner unity of the human personality as citizen and Christian but one man, the integrity of the human body, the husband-wife relationship, the parent-child relationship, the political obligation, the moral values inherent in economic and cultural activity as aspects of human life the works of justice and charity which are the necessary expressions of the human and Christian spirit, and finally that common patrimony of ideas which are the basis of civilized lifethe ideas of law and right, of political power and the obligations of citizenship, of property, etc.
It was over these sacred things, and the Church's rights in their regard, that the nineteenth-century battle between the Church and the Liberal society chiefly raged. The issue is still undecided. The question is whether these sacred things can survive in their sacredness if jurisdiction over them, and the determination of their status in law and public respect, are to be assigned singly to the State, as to the one power by which in the end the life of man is ruled. The fact that the State is democratic does not settle the question but rather gives it special pertinence, if the State's theory of itself is naturalist and secularist. And the fact that the body politic is still under the influence of the personal religion of some of its members, and still diffusely permeated by the survivals of religious sentiment and ethical conviction in a larger number, does not assure an affirmative answer, given the aggressiveness of the secularist faith.
Catholic thought on this question has always been clear. It is our faith that the sacred things of Godnot merely the sacred things of the suprapolitical order (the Word, the sacraments, the
Christian law) but also the sacrednesses inherent in human lifehave been committed to the. protection of a potestas sacra resident in the Church. This sacred power is not Mr. Blanshard's Catholic power, a travesty so conceived as to make it the enemy of a mythical freedom. This sacred power is itself freedom's strong defence. Founded on the rights of God, it is the last bulwark of the rights of man. Hence the Church asserts her freedom in the use of this sacred powerher freedom, in the case, to enter the political order, there to set the protecting armature of her power about those things which must be kept sacred, if man is to be free. Radix omnium libertatum, libertas Romana, ran the medieval adage. It asserts a truth, fashioned in heaven but operative on earth, which is not dreamt of in Mr. Blanshard's philosophy. But even the Blanshards ought to be able to read history. The past could prove this truth to them. And if they live long enough, the future may well prove it again.
What I have said leads to the conclusion that the social and religious theories underlying Mr. Blanshards book are the contemporary Enemy. By thus identifying the Enemy Mr. Blanshard becomes our friend. But he has done a further friendly act; it used to be called fraternal admonition. In this case the spirit of the admonition is hardly fraternal; but the act itself remains that of a friend. The book points out some areas wherein Catholics fall short, other areas wherein they perhaps go too far. It rebukes the spirit of enclave; how can those who live in the surrounding foreign territory fail to think of those within the enclave as foreign? It suggests that if we were not so sensitively defensive, we would not so act as to convey the impression of aggressiveness. Above all, it reminds us that, if we lived at the height of our faith and gave its native dynamism full scope, others might not take so low and narrow a view. It may legitimately be alleged; as a grief, against us, that we claim to possess a Powernothing less than the Power of the Most High, promised in pentecostal outpouring; and yet the cause of freedom, which He desires to further, somehow strangely languishes.
1 Freedom and Catholic Power (Secker and Warburg 16s)