What comes after the New Normal (or Building Back Better, or Great Reset, or New World Order, or Code Red for Humanity) collapses?
Because eventually it will. And just as it is now time for all good Catholics to perfect and preserve their knowledge and practice of the Faith, perhaps that moment of collapse will open the age where all things can be restored in Christ, where Catholics can set to work to transform and perfect society and its institutions in light of the Incarnation, so that the phenomenon known as “civilization” can be found once more on earth.
What do Catholics mean by civilization? According to Fr. Alain Lorans, SSPX, French poet Baudelaire’s definition is the best: “True civilization does not lie in gas, nor in steam, nor in turntables. It lies in the reduction of the traces of original sin.”
Let’s stop and think about that for a minute. For civilizational purposes, it doesn’t mean much if your society has self-driving cars and smart cities and little robots to pick up garbage in the street, if it’s simultaneously morally corrupt. On the other hand, you can have civilization when horses are the backbone of the transportation industry and air conditioning doesn’t exist—as long as your horse-drawn cart is pulling you through 14th century France, where every prospect reminds you that you have an immortal soul, in every square stands a church whose spire points out your celestial goal, and where the Ten Commandments reign unquestioned as the common standard of behaviour.
Does that mean we are obliged to try to recreate the Middle Ages in the modern world? As William Blake might have put it, “I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand: Till we have built Medieval France, In America’s pleasant Land?”
Cue shrieks from those still sold on Liberty, the god that failed (see Christopher Ferrara’s excellent book by that title). No, I’m not suggesting we turn back time to the Middle Ages, even supposing that were possible—although anyone who declares themselves to be in favour of monarchy, or of the cooperation of Church and State, or hierarchical society in general, is quickly accused of living in a medieval fantasy.
Yet hierarchy is a sine qua non of Catholic life. Just look at the traditional Catholic Mass. The priest is the one chosen by God to carry out the sacrifice. Taking the place of Christ, he is the mediator between the people and God. On the lowest level are the people; in the middle the priest, and at the top, God. Those accustomed only to the modern form of Mass often find this structure jarring, in sharp conflict with the egalitarian world they take for granted.
Then we have the family, which, as St Paul teaches, is another hierarchical structure: “The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered himself up for it.” This teaching is explained in depth by Pius XI in Casti Connubii (1930), his encyclical on marriage.
The great Brazilian traditionalist Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira devoted much thought to what a Catholic social order could look like. He did not believe that taking a historical model from the past and imposing it on our contemporary situation was a viable solution. Attempting to follow the precise lines of medieval France, then, would not in his view be workable or even desirable: we differ from the denizens of medieval England in many praiseworthy ways—praiseworthy not because we are better than they were, but because variation between cultures is hallmark of truly Catholic life. God did not create the earth so that we could cover it in bland and boring iterations of the same row of townhouses.
What’s more, Corrêa de Oliveira was opposed to those who felt a theoretical system of society could be successfully worked out in the abstract, then imposed holus-bolus on people. He thought this was not the true Catholic spirit. Artificial planning of this kind, he said, was typical of socialists, communists and Nazis, and it was doomed to failure. (All the more reason to remain optimistic about the fate of the supposed New World Order!)
Instead, he favoured what he called “Organic Society.” He thought that Catholics should study the histories of successful Catholic societies (including, of course, those of medieval Europe) and establish certain common principles that held good across all of them as the founding principles of a restored nation. Then, things would have to be allowed to develop naturally, or “organically.”
This organic society would not be an egalitarian place. It would be structured internally as a nation made up of regions filled with families, some of which would naturally, through the course of normal social activity, move to positions of leading influence as time went on. You could call this an aristocracy, but it is a natural phenomenon that occurs in any community if it is not artificially prevented.
For Corrêa de Oliveira, and for the tradition of the Church, the family—not the individual—is the basic unit of society. On the health, affection and unity of families depends the health of the entire social structure. As we saw above, the family is not an egalitarian structure. It is hierarchical, and its health (and in turn, the health of the nation) is best served by profound respect and love for the specific roles proper to each member. These roles are not defined, as in the language of liberalism, by listing “rights,” but rather by duties, which, joyfully accepted, lead to personal fulfillment.
The mother of a family has a duty, and this defines her sphere of activity and her role in the hierarchy. The liberal claim to the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” makes it sound as if she is free to abandon her duty and do something else if she thinks it will make her happier. But the traditional approach makes it clear that personal fulfillment is to be found in the accomplishment of the role assigned by God.
On the Feast of St. Michael, we recall the revolutionary cry of the fallen angels, refusing to subject themselves to God’s will (theologians speculate that their sin may have had to do with the humbling fact that the Son of God would one day take a human nature, and that His Mother would become their Queen). “I will not serve!” At the end of the day, accepting our places in the hierarchy of creation—however high or low the spot—comes down to this: will you serve God, or not? He who refuses the hierarchy established by God, is effectively setting himself up as exempt from God’s will, and therefore equal to Him. Hence St. Michael’s rebuke: “Who is like God?”
To the egalitarian mind who thinks in terms of power dynamics, the priest at a traditional Mass may appear “clericalist.” But it is in everyone’s interest that the priest fulfill his role. He should be respected and supported in his unique hierarchical position, which serves God and benefits man. We meet priests nowadays who don’t want to be called “Father.” But calling a priest “Father” has nothing to do with his personal aggrandizement! It’s about recognizing the importance of priests in general, not of this particular priest. It’s right and necessary for priests to insist on their proper title, and for laypeople to insist on using it.
The same thing happens outside of church. Some people don’t want to be called by their titles—aunt, uncle, Mr. or Mrs.; sometimes even parents have their adult children call them by their first names! If you ask them why, sometimes they say it’s because titles make them feel old. Well, feelings are irrelevant to the purpose of a title. What matters is that you have a role to fill in society. Your title, if you have one, sets you apart as the one responsible for that role.
Those who support Catholic social order will always take the trouble to communicate proper respect for people’s social roles. If you’re the father of a family, you have a place to fill in your family and in the community. The fact that a man has taken on the role and responsibilities of head of a family is something people ought to respect, and if they don’t want to do that—let’s say they are rude about him in front of his children—they deserve rebuke. By failing to respect the role of father, they damage Christian society.
Young children have duties as well, and need a respect that is not always given—the very term children expresses a dignity the dismissive term “kids” lacks. Their innocence demands the greatest restraint from adults, who too often feel entitled to discuss anything and everything in their presence. Children’s hearing is naturally more sensitive than adults’; they hear even when they don’t seem to be listening, and they can mull over words they don’t understand for a long time. Their time of innocence is brief and precious; there are harsh words in Scripture for those who would shorten it.
Because family unity is of such value for society, it’s worth making a point of supporting it whenever possible. Developing a sense of family loyalty, keeping family matters private, avoiding criticizing relatives to outsiders without a serious reason—these are all traits those outside the family would do well to encourage, for they make children capable of loyalty to future spouses, to their country, to the Faith. It is very sad when teachers or leaders within a community seek to gain influence over young people by encouraging them to divulge private family information unnecessarily or air grievances about their parents. They imagine that in so doing they are gaining the young person’s confidence, ostensibly so as to influence him for the good. But in fact, they are undermining his attachment to his family, which most of the time is a far more powerful and lasting force for the good in his life than the teacher or youth leader will ever be.
“Only the patriarchal family can give rise to an organic order,” Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira said. When we traditionalists consider how highly we value the organic development of the traditional Latin Mass over the centuries, it is worth considering how organic development of society founded on Catholic principles could bring to light a new Catholic civilization. And when we consider how much the modern world hates the patriarchy, we have a clue as to the weapon that most terrifies the engineers of progressivism: patriarchal families. May there be many more.
Jane Stannus is a journalist and translator. Her writing has also appeared in the Catholic Herald of London, Crisis Magazine, The Spectator USA, and the National Catholic Register.