“The world has heard enough of the so-called ‘rights of man.’ Let it hear something of the rights of God.” — Pope Leo XIII
Like all the philosophers of the Enlightenment, John Locke believed that morality could be justified on purely rational grounds. Like all the philosophers of the Enlightenment, he was also wary of using the power of the State to enforce those “rational” morals. “Freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of nature,” he declared—not “the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man,” be he prince or priest.
Locke is known as the founding father of all the liberal and revolutionary movements of the 18th and 19th centuries. But the great counter-revolutionary thinkers of that age saw his writings for what they were: idealistic claptrap.
Edmund Burke warned that the Church and State must act in concert to impose a “wholesome awe” upon the public. As he wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, “All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust; and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.”
Louis de Bonald, that great champion of the Ancien Régime, put it even more succinctly. To liberalize the laws of the State would not make our laws “value-neutral,” as modern liberals put it. On the contrary. If our government does not reinforce the Good, it is tacitly enabling evil.
As a member of the Chamber of Deputies during the Bourbon Restoration, Bonald gave thundering speeches in favor of repealing laws allowing for divorce, which had been passed during the Revolution. He called these laws “a monument of shame and license that will attest to future centuries of the weakness of morals and lawless of minds in those days.” For,
In times such as these, to tolerate divorce is to legalize adultery, it is to conspire with man’s passions against his reason, and with man himself against society. After this you may give garlands to celebrate the virtue of girls, write idylls to celebrate the happiness of spouses, give prizes for fecundity, and put a tax on celibacy, and you will see, in spite of these philosophical helps, the disorders of voluptuousness grow with the distaste for marriage, and our morals become, if it is possible, as weak as our laws.
History has unquestionably vindicated Bonald. He wrong, perhaps, only in this sense: the excesses of the French Revolution do not cause shame in the hearts of Westerners. On the contrary, we have grown more voluptuous and immoral than he could have possibly imagined. Our laws have become more and more permissive, conspiring openly with the basest passions and grossest vices of man’s wounded nature.
In our own day, Catholic philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre and Patrick Deneen have made this point more coherently than I ever could. Professor MacIntyre proved that the Enlightenment project of justifying morality on rational grounds has, inevitably failed. Professor Deneen proved that liberalism has, inevitably, failed. This is not a theoretical statement: it’s a matter of fact. No sane individual, and certainly no Christian, may continue to believe that laws are “value-neutral.” They are either pro-virtue or they are pro-vice. There is no middle ground.
The liberal view is not only irrational but effete. It’s unmanly, in the way that indifference is always unmanly. It lacks moral courage. If a well-formed man comes across a group of thugs mugging a young woman, he tries to help. His conscience—his love of neighbor, his hatred of injustice, his fear of shame—compels him to act. A coward would simply walk on, though at least he might resent himself for it later. Only an intellectual would seek to justify such cowardice by saying that he was merely remaining “neutral.”
As Christians, we know that neutrality in the face of evil is complicity with evil. To quote Saint James the Just, “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Locke’s influence on the Founding Fathers is significant but tends to be overstated. True, the First Amendment holds that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” etc. But that only held for the federal government. Most of the original thirteen colonies had their own established churches. New Hampshire only disestablished its state religion, the Congregational Church, after the Civil War.
In the Mayflower Compact, America’s first constitution, John Carver consecrated the New World to “the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith.” (In another of history’s great ironies, Provincetown Harbor, where the Mayflower first laid anchor, is now America’s most famous “gay village.”) John Adams carried on that tradition when he authored the Massachusetts Constitution, whose third article reads:
As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require… for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.
The idea of a “wall of separation” between Church and State, which is constantly touted by progressives, is not found in any of our founding documents. It comes, rather, from the writings of Thomas Jefferson, that great admirer of the Jacobins. Undoubtedly, secularism was a minority opinion in the early republic, and was held by only a few “men of leisure” like our third president.
Now, had Founding Fathers all taken Jefferson’s view, they would simply be wrong, and we ought to say so without apology. Most of our Republic’s architects believed that our civil laws ought to come down firmly on the side of natural law. Most of them believed that public virtue is necessary to sound government, and that organized religion is necessary to public virtue. Most of them believed that the United States of America is a Christian nation established to serve the Christian God.
So, let us make this point abundantly clear: Secularism is contrary to nature and reason. It is contrary to the Christian faith and the spirit of our Republic. Most of those who defend secularism today—the progressive Left—are actively conspiring with man’s passions against his reason, and with man himself against society. The rest—our “liberal conservatives”—are either hypocrites or fools; certainly they are moral cowards. They abide evil, and are therefore complicit in evil.
What we need now are true Christian patriots—men like Bonald and Burke, Carver and Adams—men who understand that we, as individuals and as a nation, are subject to God’s kingship in all things. Just as we must imitate Christ in our private lives, our laws must help us conform to His example. For what is Christianity, asked Boland, but “the application to society of every moral truth”?
On Saturday, September 26, President Trump announced that he was appointing Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, many hope she will tip the balance on the court in favor of life. In the event of a challenge to Roe v. Wade, a Justice Barrett would almost certainly bring an end to five long decades of mass infanticide. That is why she is a hero among religious conservatives. To secular progressives, she is Attorney General Bill Barr’s only serious competition for the title of America’s Next Grand Inquisitor.
Judge Barrett’s detractors focus almost solely on her commencement address to the 2006 graduating Class of Notre Dame’s law school. In her speech, she spoke of the “implications of our Catholic mission for your legal education.” Foremost among those implications, she said, is this:
that you will always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end, and… that end is building the kingdom of God. You know the same law, are charged with maintaining the same ethical standards, and will be entering the same kinds of legal jobs as your peers across the country. But if you can keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love, and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.
Many progressives compare her to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They believe that she wants a Christian theocracy—a Christian Republic of America to rival the Islamic Republic of Iran. As Senator Dianne Feinstein famously quipped, “The dogma lives loudly within you.”
It’s true that the Catholic Church teaches that evil acts (abortion, pornography, divorce, contraception, etc.) ought to be prohibited by law. But true theocracies are possible only in religions that are themselves “of the law,” like Islam. Christians do not follow laws only: we follow Jesus Christ, who teaches, not only by His words, but by His deeds also.
Yes: in His earthly life, Our Lord was obedient to the law. But He was also merciful. In Him, as in His Mother, obedience and mercy were found in perfect harmony. Hence, even in the Middle Ages, when civil jurisprudence was inseparable from the laws of the Church, governments were not half so brutal as modern Saudi Arabia. Speaking of Torquemada, the Spanish Inquisition executed fewer people every year than the State of Texas does today.
The difference between a Christian republic and an Islamic republic is nothing more or less the difference between Christianity and Islam. Christian patriots seek to promote virtue in the spirit of mercy for the sake of human happiness, which is found only by drawing nearer to our good and loving God. Islamic fascists seeks to enforce morality in a spirit of vengeance for the sake of mollifying a vengeful deity. In fact, radical Islam is the very antithesis of orthodox Christianity.
The further our society drifts from Christianity, the more it reverts to the barbaric customs of our ancient ancestors. (Who can pass an abortuary and not see fires burning in Moloch’s iron gullet?) Without the Faith, we have reverted to a primitive materialism, which holds that human beings are principally defined by their biological attributes: their race and sex. At the same time, we have witnessed the rise of a new sect—Radical Gender Ideology, as Pope Francis calls it—which rejects any correlation between mind and body.
It’s hard not to think of those gnostic cults that flourished in Rome just as the Empire began its final descent into decadence.
The new materialists and the new gnostics are working together to destroy the final traces of Christianity in our republic’s laws. If that requires burning down cities, jailing their critics, and barring devout Catholics (like Judge Barrett) from public office, they’re more than happy to do so.
That is the great hypocrisy of the modern Left. Those who claim to be fighting for justice are looting businesses and burning down homes. Those who claim to be fighting for love are cheering on cop-killers. Those who preach equality demonize white, heterosexual men. Those who preach tolerance will gladly bar traditional Christians from public office.
If we’re ever to make America great again, we must first make her good again. It isn’t enough to re-assert “value-neutrality.” It isn’t enough to rally behind the dying vestiges of liberalism. We must be conscious, like Burke, that our nation is accountable to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society. We must not be afraid to follow Judge Barrett in seeking to build the kingdom of God.
This isn’t about any “culture war.” It’s about a much older war: the war between Heaven and Hell, between good and evil, between freedom in Christ and the slavery of sin. And, in that war, there are no neutral countries.
Loud live the dogma.
[Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News]