Dubium: Is Integralism Essentially Bound Up with Racism, Nationalism, and Totalitarianism?

Dubium: Is integralism essentially bound up with racism, nationalism, and totalitarianism?

Responsum: Negative.

Before proceeding to the explanation, it is important to identify exactly what is meant by the term “integralism.” An earlier article, “Catholic Integralism and the Social Kingship of Christ,” set forth the core principles of integralism and its inextricable bond to the Catholic Church’s doctrine of the Kingship of Christ. A more detailed and theologically refined explication of “the integralist thesis” is available on Pater Edmund Waldstein’s blog, Sancrucensis. P. Edmund closes his discussion and defense of integralism with the following passage from Thomistic philosopher-theologian Charles De Koninck’s seminal work, On the Primacy of the Common Good:

When those in whose charge the common good lies do not order it explicitly to God, is society not corrupted at its very root? . . . Political prudence rules the common good insofar as the latter is Divine. For that reason Cajetan and John of St. Thomas held that the legal justice of the prince is more perfect than the virtue of religion. . . . The ordering to the common good is so natural that a pure intellect cannot deviate from it in the pure state of nature. In fact the fallen angels, elevated to the supernatural order, did turn aside from the common good but from that common good which is the most Divine, namely supernatural beatitude, and it is only by way of consequence that they lost their natural common good. The fallen angels ignored by a practical ignorance (ignorantia electionis) the common good of grace; we, on the other hand, have come to the point of being ignorant of every common good even speculatively. The common good, and not the person and liberty, being the very principle of all law, of all rights, of all justice and of all liberty, a speculative error concerning it leads fatally to the most execrable practical consequences.

Neither article identifies integralism with the ideologies of racism, nationalism, and totalitarianism. That is only fitting. For though it is a historical fact that the label “integralist,” like its French variant “integrist,” has been appropriated by, or misapplied to, socio-political movements which have little to do with the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church and the deep intellectual patrimony which supports them, that does not mean that The Josias, or any other Catholic cooperative dedicated to the restoration of Christ’s social reign, ought to surrender the term.

At the same time, however, it is incumbent upon those who embrace a refreshened and authentic Catholic integralism to distance themselves from non-Christian movements, past and present, which tended to view religion through an instrumentalist lens. Whether these movements worshipped blood, soil, or both is irrelevant; that they did not place our Lord Jesus Christ at the center of their respective programs renders them poor representatives of truly Catholic integralism. More critically, by adopting positions which conflict with the Church’s magisterium and the natural law, nationalist and racialist movements, and those who continue to be influenced by them, wittingly or unwittingly place themselves against God, the true fount from which all political authority flows, Whose gift of unmerited Salvation is, now and always, the final end of mankind.

As for racism, Pope Pius XII, in his 1939 encyclical Summi Pontificatus (paragraph 38), affirms the “marvelous vision,” first set forth by St. Paul, “which makes us see the human race in the unity of one common origin in God” and, further,

[T]he unity of nature which in every man is equally composed of material body and spiritual, immortal soul; in the unity of the immediate end and mission in the world; in the unity of dwelling place, the earth, of whose resources all men can by natural right avail themselves, to sustain and develop life; in the unity of the supernatural end, God Himself, to Whom all should tend; in the unity of means to secure that end.

With respect to totalitarianism and nationalism, which reduce and distort the place of God and the true religion in political life, Pius XII’s condemnation is clear and therefore worth quoting at length (paragraphs 52-55):

[T]here is yet another error no less pernicious to the well-being of the nations and to the prosperity of that great human society which gathers together and embraces within its confines all races. It is the error contained in those ideas which do not hesitate to divorce civil authority from every kind of dependence upon the Supreme Being . . . and from every restraint of a Higher Law derived from God[.] Thus they accord the civil authority an unrestricted field of action that is at the mercy of the changeful tide of human will, or of the dictates of casual historical claims, and of the interests of a few.

Once the authority of God and the sway of His law are denied in this way, the civil authority as an inevitable result tends to attribute to itself that absolute autonomy which belongs exclusively to the Supreme Maker. It puts itself in the place of the Almighty and elevates the State or group into the last end of life, the supreme criterion of the moral and juridical order, and therefore forbids every appeal to the principles of natural reason and of the Christian conscience.

. . .

Nonetheless, one must not forget the essential insufficiency and weakness of every principle of social life which rests upon a purely human foundation, is inspired by merely earthly motives and relies for its force on the sanction of a purely external authority.

Where the dependence of human right upon the Divine is denied, where appeal is made only to some insecure idea of a merely human authority, and an autonomy is claimed which rests only upon a utilitarian morality, there human law itself justly forfeits in its more weighty application the moral force which is the essential condition for its acknowledgment and also for its demand of sacrifices.

If we look to the draft encyclical Humani Generis Unitas of Pius XI, we can see that Pius XII developed these thoughts in continuity with his predecessor. Though unpublished at the time of his death in 1939, the document prefigured Pius XII’s words by identifying the destructive effects of racism, including its tendency to falsely tie race and religion together while fueling international tensions.

While some modern-day nationalists go to great lengths to distinguish themselves from run-of-the-mill racists, there can be little denying that some of history’s most visible and destructive nationalist movements, such as National Socialism and Romania’s Iron Guard, were fueled by racialist ideology. Further, in an era where almost all Western countries are comprised of different ethnic groups, it is particularly important to remain vigilant against conflating national interests with racist intents. A Catholic integralist may perhaps rightly lament poorly crafted immigration policies which, among other things, indiscriminately allow the importation of religious and intellectual error into his country; but he should in no way lose the desire to serve as a witness to the truth and lead his newfound fellow countrymen to the true religion, which is the Catholic Faith.

In closing, it is important to remember that neither Pius XI nor Pius XII state that Catholics cannot be patriotic. Love of country is, to a measured extent, part of integralism insofar as it desires the concrete political community to be oriented to the common good. If integralism is in any sense “subversive” it is only against those false ideas which continue to wreak havoc on the social, economic, and cultural lives of modern liberal-democratic states. It is a lie to say that integralists wish simply to swap out one form of ideologically driven oppression for another. Although the integralist thesis neither accepts the modern reconstruction of “rights” based on individualism, nor tethers itself to fanciful notions of egalitarianism and libertinism, it remains dedicated to the truth that man is free, and only free, when he chooses the good. To embrace any other conception of liberty would run the risk of rejecting the objective moral order of the world altogether while continuing to support liberalism—an ideology no less destructive than the others rejected here.

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