Charlie Hebdo and the Illiberal Catholic

by HHG

Although Jacobin was set up as a venue to critique the failures and mediocrity of the New Left, it is interesting to note how often Jacobin and its supporters fall into bourgeois platitudes. Thus, in commenting on the recent tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo case, Jacobin is reduced to platitudes such as:

The argument will be that for the sake of “good taste” we need “a decent interval” before we start criticizing Charlie Hebdo. But given the scale of the ongoing anti-Muslim backlash in France, the big and frightening anti-Muslim movements in Germany, and the constant anti-Muslim scares in the UK, and given the ideological purposes to which this atrocity will be put, it is essential to get this right.

Defenses such as this of course are fuel for Front National and other similar organizations. Indeed, Gallia Watch is having a field day:

[S]ince freedom of speech does NOT apply to the Front National or to the Catholics against moral depravity or to Identitarians fighting for their heritage, who is it that benefits from “freedom of speech”? Answer: The Muslims, the terrorists, and the pornocrats.

Since the West is permeated with liberalism, there is, for certain immature minds, a tendency to see in “radical Islam” a kindred spirit. After all, is not Islam also opposed to the secularist materialism which so tightly holds the West captive? This tendency is found not only among critics such as Jacobin but certain conservatives as well. Particularly for those illiberals with fantasies of belonging to a bygone nobility or ruling class, it offers the added attraction of distancing them from lowly “populists,” who no doubt are motivated by xenophobia and prejudice. But this attitude too must be resisted: Not only is the possibility of co-existence with those who committed the ghastly attacks dubious, co-existence is not the ultimate goal of the illiberal integralist.

Indeed, for the illiberal Catholic, a tragedy such as this presents dangers on all sides. The danger of outrage at radical Muslims ensnaring people into sympathy for secular liberalism — a danger Gallia Watch too often falls into — is not greater than the danger of the contrarian impulse to sympathize with the “enemy of our enemy” ignoring the fact that, in this case, our enemy’s enemy is equally our own enemy as well.

One the one hand, Charlie Hebdo is a boorish, not to mention frequently blasphemous publication . On the other hand, victim blaming is an ugly, shameful spectacle; and the monstrous and tragic atrocity committed by the Islamic terrorists ought to be condemned in the strongest term possible. Again, on the one side, the idea that freedom of speech as an absolute right is a specious notion with a dubious parentage. (For an example of the standard mainline conservative Catholic line, see Matthew Schmitz at the First Things blog). On the other side, what right has a false religion to claim that speech about it, and it alone, must be protected?

For an authentically illiberal Catholic assessment of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy and its consequences, the blog Opus Publicum has provided us a place to begin:

For there is no principle, that is to say there is no right, to commit blasphemy, which is exactly what CH [Charlie Hebdo] did in those instances when it tastelessly mocked Christianity. “Our principles,” that is to say, “Catholic principles” do not hold either the right of CH or any other publication to print whatever it feels like, either. Defending the “unsympathetic victims” of the CH attack is defending their right to not have their lives arbitrarily taken away by murderers in service to a false religion, not their “right” to “free speech.”

A final account of Islam from the perspective of the illiberal Catholic, however, remains to be written.