The Necessity of Hierarchy
Integralism and the Common Good: Selected Essays from The Josias (Volume 2: The Two Powers)
By Edited by P. Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.
Publisher: Angelico Press
Review Author: Jerry D. Salyer
Some believe that America’s unprecedented moral disorder is rooted in a reckless Dionysian spirit unleashed during the 1960s. Others blame FDR’s New Deal, which supplanted family, community, and parish in favor of an administrative welfare state. Still others contend that our problems can be traced back to the Civil War, which saw local patriotism and constitutional limits leveled by nationalism. Last but hardly least, there are those who argue that America is simply a victim of her own success, that our culture has grown decadent and perverse from too much prosperity, too much easy living, and too much dehumanizing technology. Whatever truth might be found in these diagnoses, an earnest search for answers must go further, inspecting one of the foundation stones of the Anglo-American political experience: liberalism.
And that is where Fr. Edmund Waldstein goes in Integralism and the Common Good: The Two Powers. For Waldstein, no regeneration of America or the West will be possible until Fr. John Courtney Murray’s vision of individuals and their sacrosanct rights gives way to some form of integralism rooted in the common good. Of course, this prescription sounds ominous even to some on the Right, to say nothing of liberals, who historically have been averse to acknowledging a common good, as such would entail “truth with a capital ‘T.’”
Yet “all political agents, whether they admit it or not, imply some definite conception of the good for man in their action,” contends Waldstein. He writes:
All political action is concerned with change or preservation. When it is concerned with change it is concerned with change for the better. When it is concerned with preservation it is concerned with preventing change for the worse. But the concepts of better and worse imply a concept of the good. Therefore, all political action is concerned with the good…. There is not and cannot be a neutral “political rationality” that reduces politics to a technique of achieving certain penultimate objectives.
This point has been made clearly, on a number of occasions, ever since liberalism first came onto the scene. Yet there has never been anything even approaching an adequate rebuttal.
In striving to establish a “neutral” public square, the liberal is dishonest, perhaps even with himself, for he is always advancing his own truth with a capital “T.” This self-contradictory liberal truth is the proposition that political community mustn’t ever be ordered toward truth with a capital “T.” Put another way, insisting that there can be no trace whatsoever of a transcendent civil religion only means that utilitarianism itself will be enshrined as the civil religion — and an absolute one at that. Neither beauty, nobility, nor holiness can be measured precisely or verified empirically in a laboratory; safety, comfort, and convenience can, and so eventually they wind up becoming the supreme, defining values of the liberal regime. The eventual result is what we now see all around us.
It is worth pointing out that, unlike many of his opponents, Fr. Waldstein takes pains to avoid constructing a strawman. He makes clear why it is easy to empathize with the modern liberal project insofar as it “has always aimed at overcoming unjust inequality and servitude. Liberals have understood the special privileges of aristocratic classes as a form of unjust domination that has to be steadily overcome in favor of equal civil and domestic liberty for all. Each person should have as much liberty as is consistent with the same liberty in others.” This sounds perfectly reasonable, especially to modern ears, which hear unjust as a redundant adjective when applied to inequality.
But inequality is not necessarily unjust, as Fr. Waldstein points out, and hierarchy is hardly a dirty word, especially not to Catholics. Or at least it is not supposed to be. To the contrary, Catholics have always believed that there is a hierarchy — a “sacred order” — to the cosmos. From theology we know that, within the Trinity, the Son is subordinated to the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son. Likewise, the angels of Heaven accept their respective places in the cosmic hierarchy. In this world, any hope we have of a decent, humane life oriented toward eternity, Waldstein writes, rests upon our readiness “to defend the ideal of a hierarchical society in which elements of freedom and equality depend on hierarchies of inequality and subordination.”
As for liberalism, it turns out to be just another absolutist, left-wing ideology. “Liberalism promotes in a half-hearted way — moderated by cautious procedures and indirect mechanisms — the same program of liberation that has been pursued in a direct and violent way by revolutionary and totalitarian leftism,” writes Fr. Waldstein. From this we might wonder whether there is an inner logic driving the subversion and deterioration of the family. For a functional family stands as one of the world’s few remaining examples of a healthy hierarchical society, with some members being subordinated to others within a network of relationships serving the good of all. Given that we live in a society that sees hierarchy as per se unjust, what is surprising is not that the family has declined but that families are resilient enough to survive at all.
To drive home his point about authority and hierarchy, Fr. Waldstein quotes a passage from the First Epistle of St. Peter, one that simply does not exist for most 21st-century Christian intellectuals, liberal or conservative: “For love of the Lord, then, bow to every kind of human authority; to the king, who enjoys the chief power, and to the magistrates who hold his commission to punish criminals and encourage honest men” (2:13-14). Peter goes on, “The liberty you enjoy is not to be made a pretext for wrong-doing; it is to be used in God’s service. Give all men their due; to the brethren, your love; to God, your reverence; to the king, due honor. You who are slaves must be submissive to your masters, and show all respect, not only to those who are kind and considerate, but to those who are hard to please” (vv. 16-18).
It goes without saying that Fr. Waldstein does not condone abuses of power, nor does he advocate the kind of unlimited obedience that King Henry VIII demanded of St. Thomas More. Nor is he a crank who quixotically insists on monarchy as the only legitimate government. Nor does he at all seem opposed to measured, constructive reform on behalf of the downtrodden.
What Fr. Waldstein does make clear is that the doctrine of revolutionary liberation is incompatible with the Christian inheritance. Though Jesus seeks “to comfort the poor and the afflicted, to call tyrants to conversion, and to heal the wounds caused by the abuse of hierarchy,” explains Waldstein, Our Lord “is not a proto-Jacobin revolutionary who comes to liberate subjects from submission to their rulers. On the contrary, he is the obedient one who comes to teach obedience.”
Hence the scriptural cherry-picking and doctrinal perversion perpetrated by woke churchmen is the logical conclusion of mainstream “conservatism,” which set the precedent of glossing over anything in Catholic tradition that fails to conform to egalitarianism, nationalism, and other neoconservative fixations. Why should we be shocked at “rainbow” parishes, when many of the so-called Catholic Right have long touted America as a rootless revolutionary state — not a homeland, not a patria, but an ideological regime defined by her rejection of the heritage, classes, and moral order of the benighted Old World? Even those of us who are not integralists might concede that Waldstein has a point.
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