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With Liberty and Justice for Catholics Only

Brian G Wilson

Stephen Herreid - published on 01/06/14

A false idea of liberty is a common punching-bag among some of today's exasperated Catholics, who mistakenly burn true liberty in effigy by decrying the evils that the left perpetrates in its name.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article in which I remarked that many liberal Catholics have failed to champion the economic, civic, and religious liberties outlined in Catholic Social Teaching. It may further be remarked that there is a growing number of self-consciously traditional Catholics who reject liberty outright. They see liberty as nothing more than the hedonism of the left, and are baffled that any conservative would defend it. Catholics who mistakenly accept this false definition of liberty get their own special kind of reward: the warm glow of righteous opposition to the easily hated enemy that they call “modernity” or “the Enlightenment.” This enemy represents so much of modern life that rejecting it wholesale saves one the trouble of carefully and prudently navigating today's cultural battles — one can simply wave a disdainful hand at “the modern world” rather than define and defend true liberty from those who corrupt, misinterpret or destroy it. Even when the religious liberty of the Church is attacked, one may scoff, “Liberty? That's an Enlightenment construct — I'll have nothing to do with it, for I am loyal to the traditional Church against modernity!” Thus the Catholic may even abandon the persecuted Church herself, gaining more satisfaction from his enmity with “modernity” than out of any friendship with the Church in concrete and current terms.

St. Augustine once wrote that “Law cannot make men good, and without good men there can be no good society.” The reasons for the Catholic rejection of liberty today mostly rest on an assumption that law can make men good, and that the immorality of today's society is the result of the government failing to do its job. Catholics have fallen into the error of equating liberty with the abuse of liberty, the freedom of individual choice with the worst choices an individual can make. In other words, they have adopted the definition of freedom that is provided by the radical left in defense of the “right to choose” infanticide. This “freedom” is no freedom at all, but merely a ploy that takes on the alternating functions of a carrot dangled before the hungry progressive dupe, and a whip to keep those who attempt to defend true liberty in line.

This false idea of liberty is a common punching-bag among some of today's exasperated Catholics, who mistakenly burn true liberty in effigy by decrying the evils that the left perpetrates in its name. This ritual occurs daily in many corners of the Catholic blogosphere, and surfaced only one or two weeks ago here on Aleteia in an article by Mark Gordon. In his article, Gordon tied the thought of John Courtney Murray — father of the Church's teachings on religious liberty — directly to the abortive State that is presently at work crushing the religious liberty that Murray, the Pope and others outlined in Dignitatis Humanae. Under the oppressive shadow of the HHS mandate, it is difficult to imagine how Catholics would find the time to attack the defenders of religious liberty against the State rather than come to their aid.

Catholics who wish to reject the American (and with it the British) tradition of ordered liberty will have to do so with a blind eye to the Second Vatican Council, which affirmed the institutionalized liberty that is written into the American order. Indeed, with regard to liberty, some American Catholics have somehow managed to remain inwardly disloyal to both their country and their Church for more than half-a-century out of an apparent allergy to the liberty that our Founders asserted and our Holy Fathers have now blessed.

Like many Catholics, I believe that the Western political thought really took a blow with the ruptures surrounding the Enlightenment and Reformation. Particularly in the strand of the Enlightenment that is best characterized by the terrors of the French Revolution and later of the American leftist abortion State, the idea of “liberty” has been rhetorically instrumental in attacks against right morality and the Church herself. To whatever extent we moderns have returned to a political order that is in tune with natural law, it has been through the salvaging of English common law, its embodiment in the American order,and its maintenance by conscientious Americans from the Founding Fathers to John Courtney Murray, Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Michael Novak, and Robert George today.

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