Integralism, sometimes called Catholic integralism or Christian integralism, is the revival of one of the oldest concepts in Christianity. The very simple definition of integralism is that worship is essential to the common good, therefore political authority, in order to maintain legitimacy, much recognize and promote the religion of the people. Since this is primarily a Christian concept, at least in this context, the religion must be Christianity or in the case of Catholic societies, Catholicism.
At first blush this may sound like theocracy, but that is not the case. Instead, it is both a critique of and reform of liberal democracy. In the most general sense, liberal democracy is a set of rules that ensures that the general will of the people is expressed through the state. In theory, at least, liberal democracy is silent on the nature of the social arrangements of the people, as long as those arrangements are arrived upon through the mechanism of the ballot box and marketplace.
Integralism is first and foremost a critique of this definition of liberal reality. They point out that in every liberal democracy, an ideology evolves to limit the choices at the ballot box and in the marketplace. Homosexual marriage is the most obvious example. The public rejected it, so it was imposed. Often, the liberal-democratic ideology limits or removes choices within the family. For example, parents are forced to put their sons on mind-altering drugs in order to please the public schools.
For the integralists, the first line of critique is observable reality. Liberal democracy, whatever it claims in theory, results in degeneracy and the destruction of the social capital of the people. A system that is supposed to be devoid of morality is quickly consumed by a destructive civic ideology. This defect, according to the modern integralists, is the absence of morality. A system constrained by and subordinate to a Christian moral code would not make war on the people.
The aim of the Catholic integralist is the integration of religious authority and political power. This is not some fringe idea promoted by people living off the grid. Leading integralists include Edmund Waldstein, Patrick J. Deneen, Gladden Pappin, and Adrian Vermeule. Notre Dame’s main journal posted a long essay explaining Catholic integralism a couple of years ago. This was written by the aforementioned Edmund Waldstein, who is a Cistercian monk from Austria.
Catholic integralism has a traveling partner in the Protestant sphere that is called Christian reconstructionism. This is a 20th century movement, rooted in prior reform movements, which argues that modern government should be ruled by divine law, including the judicial laws of the Old Testament. The Christian Right in the United States, the home school movement and various other social conservative movements sprung from Christian reconstructionism in the last century.
The main criticism of integralism in all its forms is that not all people are Christian in modern Western societies. Jews, for example, would oppose any effort to integrate Christian ethics into secular law. Darren Beattie, the right-wing critic of multiculturalism, is very opposed to integralism, calling Vermeule a dangerous joke. Nationalist Yorham Harzony opposes any role of Catholicism in modern society. Neocons, of course, oppose anything with the hint of decency.
From the Jewish perspective, this is not a small thing. A society limited by Christian ethics, even broadly defined, is one that will encourage the inclusion of Christians and the exclusion of non-Christians. Mormons will support their fellow Mormons. Baptists will support their fellow Baptists. Being of the faith will be a qualification for access to power and authority. Jews understand all too well the nature of tribal identity, so they must oppose any role of religion in a society, other than Israel.
There are, of course, secular criticisms of integralism. Right-wing Progressives like David French argue that it is just Christian authoritarianism. It is a curious claim from someone who favorably compares himself to Christ. Civic nationalists and constitutional originalists oppose the idea of introducing morality into the law. They make rather curious claims about the nature of modern society, like we are governed by the written law, in order to defend the current kritarchy.
All of these criticisms of integralism miss the mark, because they refuse to acknowledge the reality of liberal democracy. America is now an ideological state, closer to a theocracy, rather than the liberal ideal. The debate is not about whether the state and its agents, private and public, will impose a moral order on the people. The question is the source of that morality and how will it be imposed. To pretend otherwise is to live in the realm of fantasy. Morality is part of what defines every society.
The integralists, however, come up short and for a similar reason. One big elephant in the room is the open society. You cannot, in fact, have an open society, as it is quickly overrun. The integralist insist that you can maintain the open society, just as long as it is governed by divine law. This is not a lot different from what civic nationalists argue with regards to immigration. If every newcomer agrees on the rules, then why not let everyone move to wherever they think is best for them?
America has a long experience with this reality, as the country has been multiracial and multicultural from the start. Blacks in America are every bit as Christian, more so, in fact, as whites, but the races continue to live culturally separate. The typical black neighborhood is nothing like the typical white neighborhood. Black culture remains stubbornly immune to modernity. The truth is, God may love us equally, but he gave us different continents as homelands for a reason.
The same critique of liberal democracy can be made of integralism, in that both have the same plank in their eye. That is biology. The Christianity of one people differs from that of another people because the people are different. They have a different past, a different set of ancestors and different sense of who they are as a people. The same is true of the people’s sense of civic duty and their relationship to their society. New England remains alien to Appalachia because of biology.
That said, given the choice between integralism and civic nationalism, biological reality will come down on the side of the former. If one accepts that the divine law of one people will differ from that of another, integralism is an excellent critique of liberal democracy. It offers a moral argument in response to the ideological claims of the current ruling elite. More important, those moral arguments are rooted in something with genuine moral authority, rather than the general will.
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