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Even though I have differed in some conclusions from the late Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J. in discussing the life of the Church in the context of the United States, I have always agreed with his proper framing of the question:
The question is sometimes raised, whether Catholicism is compatible with American democracy. The question is invalid as well as impertinent; for the manner of its position inverts the order of values. It must, of course, be turned round to read, whether American democracy is compatible with Catholicism. (We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, ix-x.)
I would change Fr. Murray’s words to be slightly more precise in the parlance of our day and replace “Catholicism” with “The Church” or “The Catholic Church.” Certainly, this is what Fr. Murray meant; but I do this because, in this age of religious and theological ignorance, I wish not to give the impression that “Catholicism” is one of the many “-isms” out there, vying for some sort of dominance in the arena of ideas. No. The Church, in Belloc’s words, is “the exponent of reality.” Thus, when addressing the current American public philosophy, we would do well to embrace the whole of the Catholic tradition on the subject of authority and the state in conjunction with the great political heritage of the West. Indeed, one must also have what Solzhenitsyn lamented, in his famous 1978 Harvard Address, as tremendously absent in the West: courage. Courage to go beyond the media and elite’s defined parameters of debate; courage to read the works of older authors; and, most especially, courage to embrace Christ, His Church and her teaching whole and entire from all the centuries.
These thoughts came to mind as more and more there is an explicit totalitarian impulse in our government and society. Nowhere do we see this more than in the issue of the normalization of homosexual conduct. Manifestly unhealthy and dangerous practices are not only being tolerated by the government and law, but are positively being prescribed. Indeed, even if one has a deeply-held objection rooted in common sense and traditional mores this is not seen as sufficient to overcome the new reality. We have seen even in private industries, those who would dare to take a traditional and even biologically sound view of sexual relations are blackballed and lose positions and influence. What was once “gay chic” (a hip and fashionable tolerance and acceptance of so-called “alternative lifestyles”) has now become “the gay mandate.” “The Gay Mandate” is a command that is assuming as much juridical and societal authority as can be had. Unfortunately, as it is divorced from truth, it can be called nothing other than a raw exercise of the will, the imposition of those in power–in a word, totalitarian.
This impulse of American democracy toward totalitarianism was observed early by Alexis de Tocqueville. In his monumental work reflecting on the uniqueness of the American experience, he noted the dangers of certain “notions” and “sentiments” and how they were being employed in support, not of human freedom, but rather to consolidate the power of the ruling class. Indeed, his words are so prophetic, they deserve extended quotation:
[A] democratic state of society similar to that of the Americans, might offer singular facilities for the establishment of despotism, and I perceived upon my return to Europe how much use had already been made by most of our rulers of the notions, the sentiments, and the wants engendered by this same social condition, for the purpose of extending the circle of their power….
The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives….Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild…it would be the authority of a parent, if like that authority its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood….For their happiness, such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property and subdivides their inheritance. What remains but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look upon them as benefits. (Democracy in America,vol. II, part iii, ch. 6, translated by Henry Reeve).
Can anyone seriously doubt that this is our current situation? Toqueville’s observations eerily echo Augustine’s concept of “libido dominandi.” Beyond even the homosexual movement, other movements with similar totalitarian impulses can be identified: Common Core in education, global climate change, the list goes on. In assuming what is good for us, the benevolent state in conjunction with the power elite in the media and business have also assumed the responsibility of the family. Indeed, this should not surprise us. Consolidation of power by elites by providing bread and circuses and security has been a familiar motif in the totalitarian systems of the past. Indeed, the Faustian bargain is apparent to all who have eyes to see. The powerful say: give up truth, give up your supernatural faith, give up heroism in the face of the program of the Father of Lies, be comfortable and nonjudgmental, and all of this will be added unto you.
I do, however, recall the words of an even higher authority to the effect of “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”
This article, The Totalitarianism of Equality is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.
John M. DeJak is an attorney and Latin teacher and works in Academic administration. He writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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