Above: the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as viewed from the Washington monument in DC, shown displaying the US flag.
Brothers and Sisters, for freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. -Galatians 5
Since the time that school divinity (i.e. Catholic Universities) began to flourish, there hath been a common opinion maintained as well by the divines as by the divers of learned men which affirms: ‘Mankind is naturally endowed and born with freedom from all subjection, and at liberty to choose what form of government it please, and that the power which any one man hath over others was at the first by human right bestowed according to the discretion of the multitude.’ This tenet was first hatched in the (Medieval Roman Catholic Universities), and hath been fostered by all succeeding papists for good divinity. The divines also of the reformed churches have entertained it, and the common people everywhere tenderly embrace it as being most plausible to flesh and blood, for that it prodigally distributes a portion of liberty to the meanest of the multitude, who magnify liberty as if the height of human felicity were only to be found in it — never remembering that the desire of liberty was the cause of the fall of Adam.
–Filmer’s Patriarcha, critiquing and citing Bellarmine’s republicanism, which the Founders celebrated
This Fourth of July, I celebrate four years of Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish Without Rome, a book enshrining just rebellion and the crypto-Catholic propositions for which just wars of independence always stand. In Catholic Republic, I do everything except articulate explicitly that 21st century America seems to require a new struggle for Secessionist Independence, emphasizing along the way that our ideological palimpsest of a fallen republic has proven to be a nation “wired Catholic, labeled Protestant, and currently functioning secular.”
By the book’s first publication in 2018, six years had already lapsed since I had written an article in defense of the case for national divorce—an anthemic inversion of the 1770’s Colonial Unite or Die flag.
All told, I’ve published on the matter for a decade now, a topic which has vastly expanded in exigency and notoriety.
Whereas the salubrious 76’er idea of American balkanization has slowly regained popularity over the last decade, sadly the Catholicity of the intellectual tradition motivating the proposition has not. Ten years later, no more readily cognizable to the average conservative is the pedigree of the bundle of elements comprising the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution: Thomistic just war theory; medieval and Salamancan natural rights; Aristo-Thomist virtue ethics in the populace; Bellarminian popular sovereignty; and most importantly, subsidiarity (as described by Aquinas-affirming Popes Leo XIII, Pius IX, and Pius XI).
Literally none of these elements arose from the Protestant or Enlightenment intellectual traditions to which they’re often ascribed, but instead were plagiarized from the Catholic corpus, which is the essence of America’s crypto-Catholicity.
Recent Developments in Conservatism,
Healthy and Unhealthy
Happily, in recent years, America’s abiding neoconservative preoccupation with taxing/spending/warring regimes centering around “hands off” legal positivism—characteristic of amoralist “right wingers” of the baby boom—gave way to the Christian exigencies and moral imperatives of a truer cultural conservatism (which crested last week with the Dobbs decision!) more keenly thrown into focus by emergent millennial constituents. But alas, the crypto-Catholic provenance of this bundle of ideas—morally justifying 1776-type divorce—must also be popularized, as a corollary to the rightward shift among conservatives, if ever we are to lay hands on the key to unlock our American past. Which is to say, our American future.
In short, American conservatives have wakened from dogmatic neoconservative slumbers to recognize that society outside our Churches must come to Jesus, or else come to rest alongside all other species of barbarism in the pagan civilizational boneyard. That is, we must: a) abolish in our lawfare abortion and every species of the porneia whence it comes, or b) nationally perish, or c) some secessionist’s combination of the two (viz. balkanization). But most conservatives of the new mold still cannot understand when, whither, and wherefore righteous national breakups and counter-revolutions should occur, since such conservatives operate within today’s vacuous and low-info confines of a neoconservative-postliberal dichotomy. Truly, this is an echo chamber of fear and self-loathing, one which lacks all understanding of America’s real origins.
Such breakups should occur the moment subsidiarity is lost in a commonwealth; presently, American subsidiarity is so lost that neither side—neocons or postlibs—currently remembers it. In disparate ways, both sides have been advocates for the circular square, the “right wing nanny state.”
Yet today’s neocons are diminishing in our midst, while the postlibs are altogether ascendant. Accordingly, the onus for reclaiming America’s crypto-Catholic intellectual history should be lain squarely at the feet of the latter. Well, here’s the catch: although Catholic Republic’s two editions (Dangerous Books (2018), Sophia Institute Press (2019)) have sold many units, its postliberal and self-styled “integralist” opponents have steadfastly refused to engage its undeniable yet inconvenient ideas on America’s intellectual history.
It’s not hard to see why. As concerns American political teleology and etiology, the postliberals don’t know whether they’re coming or going. Aside from expressing an American fatalism which, headscratchingly, cannot according to them be cured by a 1776-style national divorce, the postliberals cannot consistently articulate much of anything except the flaws of the neocons, a foreground past which they cannot and do not wish to see. The various species of postliberals can’t without contradiction answer the following:
- whether America was doomed from the start or not;
- whether America’s founding was Masonic or Protestant;
- whether subsidiarity is a rightminded Catholic principle or not;
- whether political liberty is a virtue or a vice;
- whether or not the antebellum Constitution encouraged State establishments of Christianity (it did: for decades, 8 out of the 13 States, peopled by Congregationalists in the North and by Anglicans in the South, allowed establishments under the Constitution’s Bill of Rights!);
- or even whether or not State governments in America could and should outlaw mortal sin such as contraception, pornography, sodomy, gay marriage, and abortion (they should!—and most of the States did so until the Warren Court used the 14th Amendment—an Amendment for which postliberals bafflingly cheer—to disable this capacity, in the middle 20th century).
In a word, because the postliberals are committed to overbroad critiques of liberty, localism, and the republican form of government, they end up dumbfounded by highly soluble Constitutional problems which needlessly appear to them as categorically aporetic. And so they declare natural American liberties—at times, even liberty itself—libertinistic: all liberty failed, they’ll tell you, not only the Masonic or Protestant perversions of it. Trending postliberalism regularly sports half a dozen conferences per year, and although Catholic Republic favors most or all of their substantive goals, it admonishes starkly countervailing procedural means of accomplishing the same moral and religious reawakening they envision; so they’ve flatly ignored its solutions to all their aporia, and even its existence.
Catholic Republic’s Solutions to Postliberal “Dilemmas”
Since this is evidently my exclusive forum for addressing the postliberals, here are Catholic Republic’s most prominent philosophical and historical solutions to the allegedly “unsolvable” puzzles plaguing them.
#1: Localism:Nationalism::Nationalism:Globalism: For starters, the postliberals recognize rightly that globalism is a bad thing, but they fail to understand that “nationalism” in an almost hemisphere-sized, subcontinental “nation” like ours proves at least half as pernicious as globalism. It’s not complex. Thomas Jefferson put it this way: “I prefer the state governments to the national, but I prefer the county to the state and the city to the county.” In Quadragesimo Anno (p. 79), Pius XI robustly affirms Jefferson’s preference:
Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.
In short, smaller and closer-to-home is more beautiful, more natural, and more moral.
To maintain the purity of any organization’s ideological devotion, its demographical makeup must be kept small. In fact, for maintaining localism, the Baron de Montesquieu taught that republics must remain small and univocal—they can never be large and diverse. After all, res publica literally means a “common thing” religiously and morally held by each of the citizens. But like diversity- and expansion-loving James Madison in Federalist #10, the postliberals insist upon the countervailing circular square of a large, top-down republic.
Another way to state all this is that if a commonwealth is properly sized—extremely small—then its citizens won’t discern much of a difference in the potential for oppression by a continent-sized “nation,” on one hand, and on the other, a globalist New World Order by one-world-government run from The Hague or Davos.
For example, the distance from Honolulu, Hawaii to Washington, D.C. is about 5,000 miles. After the infamous 1942 Supreme Court ruling in Wickhart v Filburn, Washington, D.C. oligarchs dictated to Honolulu farmers from a world away that they could not consume their own crops. D.C. might as well have been The Hague: according to Pope Pius XI’s calculus, its ruling was literally as wicked and anti-Catholic as globalism.
Yet in certain contexts, postliberals will defend precisely this sort of nanny-state nationalism.
I’m a nationalist too—as long as the “nation” under issue is smaller than the State of Texas, as all classical republics always were. Subsidiarity proves the moral calculus. But try telling a postliberal: his commitment to continental top-down, big-geography, big-government, pro-diversity, quasi-globalist “nationalism” precludes his ability to nod his head.
#2: Subsidiarity is a principle of nature, not only a principle of politics and/or ethics: “Being there” is central to human existing—not only to human governing, as the postliberals seem to think. Local oversight is a precept corresponding to natural law, not only to civics, which renders it mandatory and not permissive. That’s why Pius XI calls postliberal-styled violations against it “grave matter.”
Q.E.D.: A referee cannot make the right call from across the field; a policeman cannot help to “keep the peace” in a riotous situation by writing a strongly-worded letter; parents (of very small kids) who go out on a date must hire a babysitter to stand in for them, rather than simply phoning in five times per hour. In each case, the authority must be there. Sadly, most conservatives will grant out of hand these fundamental examples of the needful proximity of human governance, while regurgitating some impoverished postliberal trope about subsidiarity “being the often inapplicable ideal” (shades of 1970’s dissenters on Church teaching against contraception)—meaning the clear Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity is advisable yet defeasible.
But in reality, it cannot be. The Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity is not an openended debate: a Catholic is permitted to root for procedural violations of subsidiarity in our lawfare approximately to the same extent as we are permitted to root for the legalization of contraception or pornography within our legal and popular culture—that is, not at all. Sorry, postliberals: doctrine is doctrine (check CCC #1883!). Catholics must not freely root for or engage in “grave evils.”
#3: Subsidiarity is universally applicable to all well-ordered regimes; in the Catholic tradition, there are three well-ordered regimes: Contra the postliberals, who strongly but always with plausible deniability insinuate condemnation of all non-monarchical regimes, the Catholic Thomists in the medieval period embraced the teaching by Plato and Aristotle that fully three forms of government—not only the monarchical one—are morally acceptable. Well-ordered rule by the one (monarchy), by the few (aristocracy), and by the many (republicanism) are all marked by the well-ordered operation of subsidiarity; Catholic doctors have held that a new nation at its founding could pick any of the three forms (or even thereafter switch forms, according to Bellarmine). Conversely, the corrupted and wicked degradations of each of these regimes—respectively: tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy—are similarly offset by their subverted regard for subsidiarity.
The postliberals seem to believe that subsidiarity does not pertain to rightly ordered monarchies or aristocracies, but only to republics (which they seem to regard as inherently disordered). This too is wrong. All rightly ordered government—any of the three good regimes—must observe the localist principle of nature.
#4: Subsidiarity is frequently confused by postliberals for a political economy—specifically for “libertarianism”: This is a major postliberal misunderstanding. Theoretically, if subsidiarity predominated our republic, and all fifty States had their own robust schemes of exclusive income taxation—with no tyrannical, anti-subsidiarity national income tax—then some States’ schemes would doubtlessly elect to be more “hands off,” while others would be more progressive, protectionist, or interventionist. The faithful Catholic who honors subsidiarity understands that this reasonable diversity within the bounds of State-to-State economic experimentation will prove to be a desideratum in se, whether or not he supports the more libertarian States’ schemes of taxation.
Nor is subsidiarity associable with moral libertarianism (except at the national level): the “police power” of the Tenth Amendment—the finest Constitutional expression of American subsidiarity—encourages the Several State legislatures, not the Congress, to legislate in the realm of “health, safety, welfare, morals, and security.” So no legal positivism or libertarianism here (except at the national level)—which is the very essence of subsidiarity: morality-legislating conservatism at the State level; legislative-positivism and libertarianism at the national level.
Below, we will see how the postliberals bafflingly tend to cheer for the very instrument whose jurisprudence obliterated the subsidiarity entailed by the legislation of Christian morals by the States and imposed a hegemony of mortal sin on the States.
#5: Our Constitution actually framed several species of confederated American integralisms, whereupon each of the several States was to legislate Christian morals and was presumed to have an officially established sect of Christianity: Postliberals usually presume that defenses of antebellum America (like the one in Catholic Republic) frown upon any arrangement of government which integrates establishments of religion into its lawfare and governmental structures. This couldn’t be more wrong: only five of the original thirteen American States chose against erecting a government-established Christian State; on the other hand, eight of them had official establishments of Christianity. Shocked yet? Further, the First Amendment made it illegal for the Congress to undo any State-legislature-established sects of Christianity (go read it!)!
But the 14th Amendment slowly inverted this cultural meaning sometime between its ratification in 1868 and its reason-stupefying Everson v. Board of Education “photo-negative” of the First Amendment in 1947, at which time the Supreme Court’s definition of religion and morals was completely flipped by a majority of Freemasons (7 or 8 of them) on the Bench: our First Amendment jurisprudence reversed entirely—from textual encouragement of Christian establishment in the Several States, to extra-textual requirement of Masonic disestablishment of Christianity in every last State. Thanks, Fourteenth Amendment!
The proof is, as it were, in the pudding. The postliberal-integralists – who all claim to join me in wanting Christian legislation against abortion, pornography, contraception, sodomy, and gay marriage – regularly applaud the anti-subsidiarity 14th Amendment. Bear in mind, 14th Amendment jurisprudence worked evil not only in regard to the 1st Amendment reversal, but also in Roe v. Wade (1973), Stanley v. Georgia (1969), Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), Lawrence v. Texas (2003), and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). Respectively, the Amendment in the hands of the Warren Court and its progeny made it illegal for conservative States to illegalize abortion, porn, contraception, sodomy, and gay marriage.
You heard that right: postliberals typically cheer themselves hoarse for the Luciferian legal novelty—14th Amendment jurisprudence—that vituperated the element of American lawfare which formerly allowed conservative States to proscribe these grave mortal sins, by State legislatures. More generally, they cheer for the procedural “grave matter” of the diminution of American subsidiarity entailed by the 14th. Oh, they’ll say they dislike this particular aspect of an “otherwise necessary” jurisprudence, but they’re either mistaken or lying when they extol the worthiness of its “other” virtues.
Three summers ago, New York libraries made national news by allowing “Drag Queen Story Hour,” which occasioned a widely attended debate between two not-quite-equally confused sides, Sohrab Ahmari (who argued for banning DQSH) and David French (who bafflingly argued against banning it). Mr. Ahmari was certainly correct to want DQSH banned in every last state—and French was delusional to gainsay this end—but his top-down, nationalist recommendations violated Catholic teaching (viz. subsidiarity), the Constitution (viz. federalism), and common sense (viz. that conservative Mr. Ahmari, not French, is the odd-man-out in New York). The States actually have the power to accomplish as much, but DQSH would have to be banned by fifty different legislatures. I encourage Mr. Ahmari to advocate publicly for this 50-fold banning, and to move to one of the States who did so. “Join a true res publica, where your conservative Catholic view is the res publica,” or something like that.
But Mr. Ahmari seems to want to continue living in New York, among the transsexual-sympathizers, but also to have Christian morality forced upon them from a world away.
In review, Catholic republics do not all have exclusively or even predominantly Catholic citizenry. More importantly, Catholic republics avoid legalizing abortion and the porneia whence it comes by: a) insisting on subsidiarity, and then b) balkanizing, subdividing, and seceding every so often from neighboring localities with subsidiarity-rejecting, abortion-embracing sensibilities.
Only this affirms the Catholic first principle of “being there.” This alone leaves intact our admiration of both res publica and the 76’ers. This alone constitutes recto ratio. This is the way: choose to live exclusively among those who embrace the res publica of Christianity. Deus Vult!
From the State which just overturned Roe v. Wade, one of the reddest republics within our fallen republic, an imperium in imperio… happy Fourth of July!
P. S. In response to Mr. Grant, I direct readers to the fantastic treatment by Mr. Maurer, “St. Robert Bellarmine’s Influence on the Writing of the Declaration of Independence & the Virginia Declaration of Rights.” One might concede to Mr. Grant that Jefferson may not have read his own copy of Bellarmine’s De Laicis, but he definitely read Filmer’s Patriarcha (quoted at the beginning of the article), the first half of which responds directly to quotes of Bellarmine.
Timothy J. Gordon studied philosophy in pontifical graduate universities in Europe, taught it at Southern Californian community colleges, and then went on to law school. He holds degrees in literature, history, philosophy, and law. Currently, he resides in southern Mississippi with his wife and seven children, where he writes and teaches philosophy and theology. He is the author of Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish without Rome (Sophia, 2019).