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Traditionalist & Progressive Totalitarians in the Church


By Richard Upsher Smith Jr. | April 2016
Richard Upsher Smith Jr. teaches classics and honors at Franciscan University of Steubenville. After serving for nineteen years in the Anglican ministry, he converted to Catholicism in 2001. He recently published Ecclesiastical, Medieval, and Neo-Latin Sentences: Designed to Accompany Wheelock's Latin (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2013).

“Blessed are those who endure [weakness and tribulation] in peace, / for by Thee, Most Highest, they will be crowned.” — St. Francis of Assisi

Vasily Grossman’s great novel Life and Fate (1959) exposes the commonality of the great totalitarian movements of the twentieth-century, though they understood themselves to be antagonists. As the Nazi interrogator Liss says to the old Marxist Mostovskoy, “When we look one another in the face, we’re neither of us just looking at a face we hate — no, we’re gazing in a mirror. That’s the tragedy of our age. Do you really not recognize yourselves in us — yourselves and the strength of your will? Isn’t it true that for you too the world is your will? Is there anything that can make you waver?”

Twentieth-century politics and economics tended toward totalitarianism. It did not matter whether one were a fascist or a communist or a capitalist, for whichever creed one believed in, one believed in it absolutely — as the total theoretical explanation and practical plan for life.

Of course, if a capitalist initiate had been told by Liss that capitalism and Nazism were mirror images of each other, he would have recoiled from the thought, as Mostovskoy did. The capitalist, however — still rooted in bourgeois morality — would not have been tempted by it as the old Marxist was. And yet these seemingly disparate groups do share some fundamentals in common. As economist John D. Mueller wrote in Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element (2010), “Marxists, libertarians, and even some of my fellow supply-siders — who couldn’t agree on anything else” are united in “their exaggerated admiration for Adam Smith.” What is it about Smith that they find so attractive? “It’s the mating call of pantheism,” Mueller concludes. “The only thing they disagree about is which collective body — Marx’s proletariat, the libertarian’s unfettered market, or the supply-sider Jude Wanniski’s ‘global electorate’ — best expresses the mind of God. We are dealing with a genuine but misguided religious impulse.” And lest the reader think that these observations apply only to communists and capitalists, Adolf Eichmann confessed himself a pantheist too, at the end of his life.

Just as the totalitarian impetus of Nazism and Marxism is clear, so it is manifest in capitalism, for the unfettered market is the expression of the absolute individual human will, while the “global electorate” expresses the absolute will of the many. In each of these cases, God has been harnessed as the absolute will of the most representative class of humanity according to the theory.

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