The State Exists to Serve, Not Usurp, the Family

We are approaching, in this series, Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Rerum Novarum, on the condition of the working classes.  I’ve been maintaining that it is impossible to discuss Catholic Social Teaching without specifying what Catholics understand as a society.  I’ve also insisted upon the wise dictum of Saint Thomas, that grace perfects nature, which alone suffices to instruct the attentive Catholic that to sever faith from civic life is artificial and unnatural.  Now it’s time to look at two societies which the Pope holds up for our affection and admiration: the Christian family, and the Church.

Catholic Social Thought Pt VIFar from seeing religion as a pleasant decoration superadded to civil society, the Pope affirms that “religion, and religion only, can create the social bond” (Au Milieu des Sollicitudes, 1892).  History—and Leo is an historian with a long and broad vista—teaches us as much.  The key word in his sentence is bond.  This bond is more profound than the phantom “contracts” dreamed by Hobbes, Locke, and their followers.  For Leo sees another dimension, the moral and spiritual depth of man—what makes it impossible for us to reduce him to his material wealth and appetites.  I enter a contract, for self-serving and limited purposes; but I forge a bond.  The bond is personal, engaging the whole of my being.  And the social bond aims at the good of that whole human being.  “When different families,” Leo writes to French Catholics during a period of severe secular agitation against the Church, “unite under the inspiration of nature, in order to constitute themselves members of another larger family circle called civil society, their object is not only to find therein the means of providing for their material welfare, but, above all, to draw thence the boon of moral improvement.”

Let’s pause there.  Time and again, Pope Leo, his keen mind making use of nineteen centuries of Christian history and thought, not to mention the sacred word of God, takes up the surgeon’s probe and finds the diseased tissue.  We hear people say that law cannot impose morality.  That’s nonsense, because that is what laws mainly do.  But Leo says more.  It is precisely for our moral improvement above all that we form societies in the first place.  “Otherwise,” he says—and did he enter a time-machine to inspect the United States in 2012?—“society would rise but little above the level of an aggregation of beings devoid of reason, and whose whole life would consist in the satisfaction of sensual instincts.”  If that’s what “society” has become, a highly organized anti-society, why join it at all?  “Without this moral improvement it would be difficult to demonstrate,” says Leo, “that civil society was an advantage rather than a detriment to man, as man.”  We would be savages in suits (or less), without the compensation of a sky above and the joy of the hunt.

Yet he says even more.  The Church is herself the consummate society.  That is why she does not cast her lot with any particular form of government, but regards them all as valid so long as they promote the common good.  It is also why she does not subject herself to the political form of the day.  Nations rise and fall, but “only the Church of Jesus Christ has been able to preserve, and surely will preserve unto the consummation of time, her form of government.”  She has received from Christ, “who was, who is, and who will be forever,” everything she needs for carrying out her mission in the midst of historical chances and changes.  If we ask what makes the Church this perfect society, marred by sin but glorious, black but beautiful, the answer, I believe, must be found in Christ’s twin commandment.  We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself.  The second commandment, says Jesus, is like unto the first; it is the application of the first to our action in the world.  He who does not love his brother does not love God, says Saint John, for God is love.  The converse is also true.  He who does not love God cannot love his neighbor as himself.  He may feel affection for those of his neighbors who please his temperament, but that is no real bond.  The grace-enabled heroism demanded by Christian charity will not be his.

What will a society look like, if it is informed by the virtues of the Church?  Leo addresses that question in his encyclical on the relationship between the Church and civil constitutions, Immortale Dei (1885).  Here he cites Augustine at length.  The Church tailors her instruction to the child and the youth and the old man, according to the needs of each.  She raises the dignity of woman to parity with man, and the headship of the husband is but the work of sincere affection, as Christ loves the Church.  Parents rule their children with kindness, and children freely obey them.  Kings look to the welfare of their people, and people honor their kings.  The Church joins together “not in society only, but in a sort of brotherhood, citizen with citizen, nation with nation, and the whole race of men, by reminding them of their common parentage.”  Whether a man deserves our honor or our admonishment, our praise or reproach, in all cases and at all times we must act with charity, and wrong no one.

That is a society.  That addresses itself to man’s soul.  But if a civil government “is wont to put God aside, and show no solicitude for the upholding of moral law, it deflects woefully from its right course and form the injunctions of nature: nor should such a gathering together and association of men be accounted as a commonwealth, but only as a deceitful imitation and make-believe of civil organization” (Sapientiae Christianae, 1890).

But there’s something prior to civil society that addresses man’s soul.  Jesus founded the Church; and God, creating man in the beginning, male and female, for “it is not good for the man to be alone,” founded the family.  This is the domestic society.  If the Church is the soaring pillars and the spire of civil society, holding it together and giving it direction, the family is its foundation.

Here finally I come to Rerum Novarum (1891), on which I’ll be spending much time.  One of the most noticeable things about this encyclical is that Leo does not launch into a series of recommendations regarding the working classes.  He does not begin with politics and national economics; he does not build upon sand.  He begins with a metaphysical meditation on what man is—more on this to come—and then he turns, not to the state, but to that foundational society.  “Hence,” he says, thinking of God’s first command to Adam and Eve, to be fruitful and multiply, “we have the family; the society of a man’s house—a society limited indeed in numbers, but no less a true society, anterior to every kind of State or nation, invested with rights and duties of its own, totally independent of the civil community” (emphasis mine).

What does he mean by that word independent?  Do families owe nothing to the community?  May they break laws at will?  Not at all.  We conceive of independence as the ruthless autonomy of the individual will.  Pope Leo is using the word in a different and more radical sense.  The family does not hang from the civil community.  It is not the community that defines the family, but the family that constitutes the community.  We are talking here about an order of being.  The family is anterior to every kind of State, not temporally, though that is certainly true, but in being.  Families are not justified by the good they bring to the State; the State is justified by the good it brings to families.  The State can bring good to families, though, only if it recognizes their anterior status, and their legitimate sphere of authority.

Catholic Social Teaching condemns the statist usurpation of the family, whether that usurpation is openly hostile or is cloaked in beneficence.  Extreme necessities should be met by public aid, and gravely criminal actions by a member of the family against the family must be punished.  “This is not to deprive citizens of their rights,” says Leo, “but justly and properly to safeguard and preserve them.  But the rulers of the State must go no further: here nature bids them stop.  Paternal authority can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State; for it has the same source as human life itself.”

Thus far, and no further.  But we now have States that allow free license to all vices lethal to the family.  Pope Leo would have understood that demonic strategy.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • JERD

    Leo’s thesis is played out perfectly in the erosion of the marriage covenent in the United States since the mid 20th century. The law of the State built a society founded on no-fault divorce, contraception, and abortion, and now capped by same sex marriage.

    Marriage has become more rare, divorce is common, and more children are born out of wedlock. As the number of intact families (mother, father, and children bonded together for life) declines, the morality imposed by law fills the void – tax payer funded abortions, mandatory contraception insurance coverage, and dependency on State benefits for impoverished abandoned mothers and their children.

    A question for Professor Esolen: Where would Leo draw the line between the Church “informing” the State, and the Church forcing its will upon it?

  • Alecto

    This is where I diverge from Catholic social teaching. The basic unit of our society is the individual, not the family. Individuals voluntarily become families, but that unit does not have “rights” which supersede the the rights of others or negate the rights of individuals in that family. Further, when Catholics argue for rights as entitlements, I must respectfully disagree. Public aid to families is not a legitimate function of the State. If Catholics want to advance a philosophy, they should argue for the dismantling of virtually all of the current government’s social welfare activities including public aid in favor of private aid. This is not the society envisioned by the Founders, nor would I have it be so.

    The more one invites the apparatus of government into the private sphere, the more tyrannical the society becomes. All it takes is a few decades of bad actors to arrive where we are. I believe Prof. Esolen has the best intentions, but he clearly does not understand world of politics or the nature of power. I am no fan of Albert Camus the man, but he was correct when he stated, “The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.” Should we care whether the tyrant is the Catholic church or the Obama Administration?

    In the society envisioned by Prof. Esolen and the pope, I fear I would be drafted into a kind of serfdom where I would be paid less, treated differently in the workplace, not enjoy the same rights to property, voting, and other rights as long as there is a “family” interest at stake (as determined by men) which usurps the rights of individuals. This would be done with the enthusiastic blessing of the Catholic hierarchy (and I should trust such people because….?) and all in the name of “parity”? The Founding Fathers were wise enough to understand the need for the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. I see no more perfect union under Catholic tyranny anymore than I do secular progressives.

    • The basic unit or building block of our society is man and woman from which comes the family. An individual by him or herself can do nothing to create a family. Two men or two women can not create a family. And its hard to believe that this is even being debated.

      • John200

        It is not being debated in the normal sense of the term. Our unhappy advocates of homo”sex”ual “marriage” are trying to shut you up if you oppose the perverted counterfeit of marriage. They want no opposing opinion, and none will be tolerated.

        The arguments against homo”sex”ual “marriage” are overwhelming and are they well known, or at least easy to know, even to the homo”sex”ual who dearly wishes they were not true.

        Just remember this principle and you will understand their tactics: They want no opposing opinion, and none will be tolerated.

      • Alecto

        The problem is your assumption that I’m somehow arguing for gay marriage when I am flatly not. However, this society’s basic unit is an individual. Otherwise, I have no rights until and unless I marry. In addition, if Catholics truly are arguing that families have more rights or different rights than individuals, it should herald the election of a man who wants to give you everything – but first steal it from me!

    • HigherCalling

      Catholic social teaching says that both individualism and collectivism are universal falsehoods. Neither comply with human nature or the natural law, and neither can be the core building block of a flourishing society. You can do your own investigation as to whether those claims are true (remembering that no institution on earth has examined human existence with the depth of the Catholic Church), but you cannot isolate certain Catholic social teachings that for you are worrisome, and then go on to call the whole of Church teaching false, dangerous, or tyrannical. Catholic social teaching, like all of Christian virtue, must be taken in view of the whole, in balance, or those teachings and virtues can indeed become dangerous. You’ve done precisely what Liberals do with Christian virtues and Catholic teachings — you’ve separated, isolated, and elevated certain things, unbalancing them from the whole, where they run wilder than any vice, and call that madness the whole of Catholic teaching. That is a very Protestant thing to do. “Social Justice,” (most definitely a Catholic teaching), is dangerous in isolation — that’s why Liberals isolate it — it doesn’t accomplish their goals when balanced by Subsidiarity and the virtue of self-reliance.

      Catholicism says that the family is the natural and proper core of any flourishing society. This is based in part on the example of the Holy Family. Reducing the core of society to the individual, or expanding the core to the collective, defy the natural order. Individualism is a product of the Reformation. It is a Protestant construct at its heart. It is Individualism that turns liberty into license. Liberty is only found in truth. License mocks liberty and results in various forms of enslavement to vice. Individualism, born of Protestantism, ultimately ends in a false liberty. Real freedom and true liberty are found in the Fullness of the Truth that makes us free. That is what the Church teaches, protects, and offers to world. It is Individualism that produces Progressivism. From there it is only a matter of whether Progressivism persists with a false reductionism, or ‘evolves’ into a false collectivism.

      Anyway, Chesterton said it far better than I can. I highly recommend Googling his essay, “Why Protestants Prohibit” (also, “The Return of Caesar” — both from the book, The Well and the Shallows. I’d link to them, but posting links makes the comment go to a moderator). Those essays address your issue with “Catholic tyranny” directly. Keep in mind that the Founders were writing our founding documents at a time in Western history that was largely influenced by the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment itself is a product of the Reformation. The Enlightenment-influenced Protestantism of the Founders resulted in the deistic wording of the Declaration and the secular wording of the Constitution. Both, arguably, pull humanity farther from the Fullness of the Faith and closer to our modern atheistic secularism, which, demonstrably, leads to tyranny… .

      • Alecto

        Thanks for your interesting viewpoint. I do disagree with your statement that the American founding inevitably “pulls humanity farther from the Fullness of Faith”. On the contrary, the Founders envisioned the populace as directing their spiritual lives without interference from the State. They reacted to the State church imposed by England. Unlike you, I do not reject out of hand, the entire philosophy of the Reformation. Only a timid or defensive Catholic could look at valid criticism and reject all of it as heresy or poison, especially where secular matters like governance are concerned. Catholics are people like anyone else, and aside from doctrinal matters, the motives and practices of the Catholic church have not always been pure especially where governance is concerned, and precisely because individuals possess human nature . Now we have bishops who continue to ignore the crisis of faith, which ought to be their first and only concern, in order to focus their attention on matters that are at best prudential, at worst self-serving and cynical, such as universal healthcare and immigration, or as you might call them “social justice”.

        I would argue that it is the perversion of the American Founding which pulls humanity farther from the Faith where you argue it is the Founding itself which made the march towards secular progressivism inevitable. As I stated above, the more the government interferes in or tries to supplant the private spheres envisioned by the Founders as sacred: decisions concerning marriage, children, education, health care, work and pay, etc…, the more tyrannical that government becomes and yes, I do believe the Catholic church like any institution has the capability of being tyrannical when it sticks its rather large hierarchical and uninformed nose in matters such as “social justice”.

        It requires knowledge and discipline to reject the easy solutions offered by government. Yet, so many Catholics, lay and clergy alike, over the years have not and will not discipline themselves. I do not trust the American Catholic clergy where you seem to want them to run the world. These people are no better qualified to rule me than I am to rule myself.

    • Carl

      Truly not trying to be a wise guy but a society requires more than one person. A club, association, fellowship, and institute for example. But a procreating society of one man and one woman creates new individuals and is the basic unit of society above all else.

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  • 1984 is here

    This is an issue on which we all need to have a “well informed conscience” based on right reason rather than emotive feelings. Please bring these 4 talking points/principles into the conversation.

    If people have health care rights (which some bishops admit they do not: –Christians have a duty to care for “the least of my brothers”, but this is not the same as a right of the receiver) they also have corresponding responsibilities. No one is articulating those responsibilities and the consequences of not meeting those responsibilities— you know: not smoking, not drinking, not playing “risky ?” sports, etc… you know all the liberties with which the government has no business interfering.

    Pope Benedict XVI encyclical Charity in Truth is an awesome treatise on social justice. It covers these issues with depth and clarity. Ask and I will email to you a highlighted copy, it is much easier to read than: . You don’t know what your missing unless you read it.

    It is through sharing that we have the opportunity to grow.
    Be sure to share your observations with your elected officials:

    My Catholic education has taught me that the foundation of wisdom comes from keeping a priori principals in order. The word a priori means that first things must be kept first or you lose both. For example, it is an a priori statement to say that one believes in: God, family, and country. If a person puts God second in priority to family, he will lose both God and his family (God can not and will not be second to anything). If one puts one’s country before his family, he will lose both his country and family (the family is the basic unit of society… as the family goes–so goes the country… John Paul II ).

    The Principles
    1. Love/Charity Must Be of The Free Will
    Love is: the free will choice (not emotion) to act (not feel) for the Good of the beloved. Love must– of necessity– be “of the free will”. (Love and charity are synonyms). A kind or gratuitous act done by compulsion of force is not love, The force (taxation) denies the free will of the actor and removes both the virtue and the blessing from the dynamic. By removing the virtue and blessing…. due to the force compelling the act… the integrity of the person has been violated (raped). Strong, but appropriate words.

    2. It is a blessing and responsibility of the individual, family and church to take care of the poor, indigent and marginalized, not the government.
    All blessings come from God. When the individual, family and church are the “free will” source of charity then all are blessed; the giver, the receiver and the common good of the community. When the government is the source of blessings for the needy, then the government becomes the source of blessings, supplanting God, changing a blessing into a “right” (without the corresponding responsibility) of “entitlement” and making losers out of all involved by stealing the free will charity of the giver (taxation replaces charity), conditioning the receiver to demand his “right to be taken care of.. without owing anyone–even God– a prayer of gratitude, and the community is conditioned toward atheistic socialism. The move (back) to this new “charity of the heart and soul” paradigm must be gradual, but sure, to ensure that the transition allows for the prudent care of those in need. This can best be done by:

    A. Allowing a 100% tax deduction for gifts to charitable organizations, and by removing the ceiling on how much can be donated–as a percentage of income while cutting back on the duration and degree of entitlements. (This is the opposite of what representatives proposed in 2009–that all charitable donations deductions be deleted from the tax code. Do you see what a Machiavellian power grab this is, do you see what an atheistic socialist and communistic power maneuver this is? And as a Catholic, who loves the Church deeply, I must tell you many Catholic religious have embraced the false notion that the government — not the church—should be required to take care of the needy. Caritas in Veritate –Charity in Truth corrects this mis-understanding.)

    B. Re-instituting the strength of our families by Constitutional Amendment (There is no other way to stop the government from destroying our families.):
    The Family is the Fundamental Unit of Society.
    Although all individuals have the right to decide their own personal actions, the government in all its actions, agencies and policies, public and private shall in every way do everything to support, encourage and nourish in society both the nuclear and extended family.

    The nuclear family being defined as the encompassed man and woman who unite themselves through the honorable and lifelong decree of marriage and the children born or adopted to them.

    The extended family being defined as the combined group consisting of the nuclear family the man comes from: the nuclear family the woman he marries come from; and any nuclear family of their children natural or adopted.

    Many people are deeply compassionate towards the needs of others. They see their brother in need and all of the excess, waste and spoil of the ultra rich/gluttonous and want to help. These are good desires, but the implementation of these desires must come about with wisdom–that does not violate the a priori order. Even God will not violate the free will of man. And so, if the Church, and compassionate souls, want to help their brothers in need, then the way to do that is not by FORCED taxation, but by changing the hearts of those who have the means to help their brothers and sisters in need… and by working to establish laws that prevent exploitation–exploitatoin by individuals, corporations, unions, and governments. I agree that the health care system is very expensive… I also recognize that excessive law suit claims have driven costs higher; that health care professionals deserve a professional wage; that it is within the American health care system that 10s of thousands of cures are found and developed—not the socialized health care systems of the world.

    80 years ago there were no “social entitlements.” Those in need had to turn to themselves (personal responsibility—not to partake in extreme sports, not to take debilitating drugs–not to partake in sexual license which increases the contracting and spreading of rampant and often life long diseases; etc, etc) the family (extended family interconnectedness was not just important it was a necessity as contrasted to today’s: family estrangement, 50% divorce rate–even with most “significant others” not even getting married, and “fatherless” children) and the Church (the Church was not just the building visited on Sunday, it was the Faith–lived with our neighbors.) It was the Church that developed: 600+ hospitals to take care of the needy; 7,000+ schools and 200+ colleges to educate the ignorant and pass on the faith. What a huge blessing this was and has been. But now, Catholic colleges are not Catholic due to government funding and regulations as well as a sickening of the hearts of the “board of directors” and others in authority, Catholic hospitals are not Catholic, again due to government regulations and requirements–hospital boards and doctors may not allow/do abortions… but they refer for abortion—-often in the same hospital building… leased to a “non-hospital” tenant! … etc etc. Where is the requirement for personal responsibility in any of the proposed health care bills? Where is the family elevated and nurtured in these bills? Where is the role of free will gift enabled in these proposed bills? They are not. And they will not be because we live in a God-denying society… Obama said that!– “we are not a Christian nation.” Populorum Progressio clearly states that the government of a ungodly or god denying country should not be the vehicle for charity. (Think about that… when was the last time your children prayed in school…. maybe your children should change schools…?)

    It is important to read Machiavelli in order to understand the manipulative and destructive ways of tyrants and “power” – Full — people/cultures. Without this knowledge a person sees with only one eye… and his soul is unaware of satan’s ways. satan wants what God wants–but for evil purposes not Good. It is therefore especially important that a priori prudence is diligently followed to keep satan … at bay. Further illumination can be had by prayerfully reading Look What Happened While you Were Sleeping, by Caritas of Birmingham. This book will highlight– a few — areas through which satan is using modern culture and The United Nations to eliminate God and bring about evil ends. (This is not a blanket attack on the U.N., it only opens one’s eyes to the exploitation which occurs there.)

    3. Government Assistance Must Be Limited
    Neither Pope Benedict XVI, nor Pope Paul VI ever said charity must be provided by taxation. They both indicated that people must be willing to be taxed to help their brothers and sisters achieved integral [significant] human development… limited by the righteousness of the government. Indeed, governments have a responsibility to the common good of its peoples. But, just like in marriage (If you are non-Catholic, you will probably need additional research to understand the depth of this analogy.), wherein a couple has the responsibility to bring forth children, that responsibility is regulated by the parent’s reasonable ability to provide for the necessities (not wants) of those children. If a couple observe that they are economically unable to provide for the necessities of additional children… for a time… then natural family planning can … delay the beauty of receiving God’s gift of new life into the family for a period. But when the economic predicament is past, the couple have an obligation to re-open their spousal relationship (hearts) to the full Beauty and Goodness of God’s gift to Sacramental Marriage–new life. So too with government, if for a time a nation is experiencing an emergency, then government intervention and assistance… for a period… to bolstering the common good is righteous and prudent. But, if that intervention is extended and supplants the free will charity of the peoples, then it has become a sin…because in supplanting the free will of the people, it also supplants God by becoming a non-Godly source (forced taxation) of power/blessings. The same as natural family planning becomes (and contraception is) a sin (–and even a mortal sin: that deafens the soul to the promptings of the Holy Spirit) if it is continued for convenience rather than necessity, by supplanting God’s will (go forth and multiply) with the will of the couple/woman.

    4. Forced Socialism is an Evil. True Freedom Enables Individuals to Succeed–To The Glory of God, Or to Fail–And Humbly Ask For Help.
    If a person says that government provided health-care is not –one more step to–socialism or communism…. then what is it? Socialism and communism both (although in different realms) eliminate individual liberty and replace it with government provision and entitlements, thus collecting “power” over the people within the power (tyranny) of government. Read The 5000 Year Leap. Christian liberty– under which this country was founded AND has flourished (to become the most charitable country the world has ever known) — is usurped by government control/ownership.

    Every time satan tempts us through doubt or confusion, God is allowing us the gift of “opportunity to grow.” To grow deeper in wisdom and in Faith, Hope, Trust. Do we trust God to compassionately care for the needy through the Church’s required action of changing hearts toward God (Charity, Generosity), or do we think government “powers” need to care for the needy by forcing taxation on the minorities (wealthy minorities) permanently? Are we diligent enough to “accept the burden” of taking the time to have a well informed conscience?

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  • Tony

    To Alecto below: I agree with you about the need to dismantle almost all of the state’s welfare apparatus, as counterproductive and in any case flagrantly unconstitutional and (often) flatly immoral anyhow. I believe, too, that you and I don’t really disagree, or at least that we can come to a meeting of the minds at Saint Edith Stein’s house. We do need to caution against the individualism that makes common cause with the collective; Catholic social teaching, as it appears to me, understands both the individual human being as ineluctably social and religious, and the society as in fact a society (even a society built up of smaller societies), and never an aggregate or a collective. To JERD: The Pope has no army. He can’t “impose” anything. I’m grimly amused by people who are terrified that the Pope will impose something, when they suffer a hundred impositions every day that our Founders would have found appalling.

    • Justin Schmitt

      Dr. Esolen:

      Are you familiar with Christopher A. Ferrara’s work, ‘Liberty, the God That Failed’? I have yet to read the book, but after reading commentary on its content, it seems to express convincing arguments that may unsettle our common assumptions about our Founders. His argument seems to, in my opinion, align with Patrick Deneen’s arguments of which he’s been explaining over at Public Discourse.

      I’m curious of your stance on these arguments — if you have one. I read quite a few online Catholic opinion outlets, many of which you contribute to (thank you for your time, by the way), and although I find them extremely interesting and instructive, I can’t help but feel utterly confused — The Imaginative Conservative thought is considerably different from FPR thought, as is Crisis thought from Distributist Review thought, etc..

      I am by no means a scholar, nor do I have the intellectual gifts like many of your fellow colleagues and commentators. As a young convert, I am simply trying to heed the best advice available in order to better understand the times in which I live, with hope I can exorcise — as much as a sinful man can — the demons of modernity that I’ve embraced in my wholly secular education.

      Put simply: How do you reconcile all the differences in opinion within Catholic thought and culture?

      Thank you for your time.

      P.S. I purchased “How to Destroy…” for my sister this Christmas. She’s a potential elementary school teacher, receiving a public school education, so I think — if your writings have the same effect on her as they do on me — your advice will be the lessons she longs for, but never receives!


      • HigherCalling

        Funny, I JUST got a knock on the door from UPS — it’s a little box with the 650 page “Liberty, The God That Failed.” There are some interesting discussions at The Distributist Review on the book. Looking forward to getting into it.

      • Crisiseditor

        Dear Justin: Crisis reviewed the Ferrara book, which stimulated some healthy debate, here: I consider Crisis Magazine to be a forum for orthodox Catholic opinion of every intellectually respectable hue. Classical liberals and traditionalists alike are welcome in our pages. Most conservative Catholic sites have a narrow editorial focus. We do not. But we do tend to highlight subjects that other sites ignore. We are on the front lines of the culture wars. We aim to defend the Church and the civilization that she helped form. Whether or not the United States is an ideal embodiment of that Christian civilization that Catholics favor is a subject for honest debate. Dr. Esolen can speak more eloquently and intelligently to your question than I can. However, I humbly offer this brief answer: because the Church does not claim to speak dogmatically on all questions of human concern, there is room for disagreement among faithful Catholics on a wide range of topics in large measure because our ultimate home is not the City of Man but rather the City of God.

        • Justin Schmitt

          Thank you for the response and link to the book review. I was unaware a review was submitted here on Crisis — I look forward to reading it.

          I am encouraged by and grateful for your succinct response. You are right, there seems to be a great deal of room for argument. The underlying theme, however, even in those whom we think are painfully misguided, is the desire to be faithful. No doubt, this ideal of ‘faithful’ is also highly contested, thus making it even more difficult to find the narrow path, but I remain hopeful because of forums such as Crisis.

          Thank you for all your time and energy. God bless!

          • Tony

            Dear Justin — Thanks for your gracioius words! I think, if we stood back a few feet and examined the ground shared by Crisis, FPR, and the Imaginative Conservative, we’d find deep agreement with the following:
            1. Culture without religion is not culture, but a thin and pale simulacrum.
            2. Do not put too much stock in the technology of mass politics.
            3. Statism is destructive.
            4. License enslaves.
            5. Therefore it is not surprising that statists should make common cause with certain forms of licentiousness, particularly those that destroy families.
            6. The notion that the United States should be a purely secular country is historically inaccurate, and is finally suicidal.
            7. Culture is determined more by the songs people sing than by the laws their masters pass.
            8. There is all the difference in the world between charity, which is personal and which has the power to transform the soul of him who gives and him who receives, and money confiscated by the government for redistribution.
            9. Man lives on earth but longs to dwell in eternity — and this double nature is reflected most beautifully in the natural and supernaturally-oriented institution of marriage. A man can as soon marry another man as he can marry a bedpost or a newspaper.
            10. There is no such thing as freedom without virtue.

            • Justin Schmitt

              Thank you for your response, Dr. Esolen. Yes; I agree. The outlets I mentioned certainly embrace all 10 principles you listed. Why it is that so many refuse to agree with — or even acknowledge — these principles, is, to me, another vexing question!

              In envy of your students,


  • TeaPot562

    Given the predominantly pagan materialism in the USA, it should not have surprised the members of the USCCB that supporters of Planned Parenthood lobbied vigorously for abortion to be included in the definition of Medical Care. This in turn led to forcing all employers to pay for abortions and abortifacients.
    So how we got to where we are was foreseeable. Very sad, as the support of the Obama-sponsored Health Reform Act by the Bishops proved to be a critical element in overcoming the 60 vote requirement for cloture in the US Senate.
    Similar support on the part of some groups of socially progressive vowed religious should also be regretted.
    We should try to learn from past mistakes in trying to influence future legislation.

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  • Micha Elyi

    More evidence that the power to tax involves the power to destroy: For High Income Earners, Time for a ‘Tax’ Divorce.

    The marriage penalty becomes yet more punitive here in the Obama-topia, adding a bit more weight to the still-small crowd questioning why government is involved in marriage at all.

  • Robert

    You rarely hear about the family as an institution anymore. The mainstream political parties rarely appeal to any form of social conservativism anymore and just talk about tax issues or other policy issues. The family was necessary to preserve social structure but with the advent of technological advancement many people do not live as they did before. This explains why there are so many social problems now that did not exist back then.