The Right of the Protestant Left: Gods Totalitarianism

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New York: Palgrave Macmillan, Although Hollinger acknowledges the sharp downward trend of mainline church membership in the late-twentieth century, he encourages scholars to take a broader view of ecumenical aims and successes, and to recognize that a loss of visibility in American public life should not necessarily be interpreted as an unqualified failure. To this end, he begins his study with a review of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Progressive and Social Gospel milieu in which many of his Christian Realist subjects came to maturity.

A Challenge Both Academic and Spiritual

Edwards argues that although Realists were always a theologically and practically diverse group, most embraced an ideal of local participatory democratic reform as an important check on the power and potential encroachment of large-scale centralized government.

What caused Realists and many in the ecumenical community concern after World War I was the ever-looming threat of nationalism and other secular ideologies as all-encompassing and totalitarian in nature. The Christian Realist community envisioned a world in which small groups of responsible Christian citizens, united in a corporate, transcendent, and transnational body of Christian spirit and practice, could reclaim the globe as an essentially Christian community. Realists hoped that such a community would counter the depersonalizing and demoralizing forces of secularism, materialism, and unrestrained nationalism.

What emerges from his research is an image of Christian Realism that seems significantly grounded in paradox. Realists emphasized corporate Christian unity even as they privileged notions of responsible citizenship via small-scale local associations.

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They responded to modern theological disputes by turning to older high-church models of liturgy and worship, hoping to find in the recreation of common practice, rather than doctrine, the foundation for renewed and expanded experiences of Christian community. And Realists helped to invigorate a new spirit of radical inclusiveness across cultural and even religious boundaries, yet they did so with an understanding that such diversity would serve to inaugurate, in the end, a truly Christian world civilization.

Although Edwards spends much of his time detailing the development of the Realist vision, his larger historiographical argument concerns the purpose and effects of Realist thought and practice. Realism is best understood as simultaneously conservative and progressive, as an effort to uncover a third path between an unmoored liberalism and a sheltered and shallow fundamentalism.

Such an assessment gets at the core of the Realist ethos and vividly conjures the hybridity and experimental attitude that ran through the Realist project. In their efforts to design a transnational Christian community that could counter totalitarian and secular trends of the twentieth century, Realists frequently raised their own model as the model for global communion and failed to truly incorporate non-American and non-European bodies into ecumenical deliberations. They worked to impose Realist approaches to Christian unity upon the World Council of Churches and unintentionally excluded many of the communities they sought to bring into the global Christian fold.

In short, Edwards wants us to remember that Realist ambitions for a global corporate Christian body were not always as inclusive in practice as they appeared in theory, and that the Realist strain of conservatism could easily lapse into the sort of encompassing totalitarian project that Realists sought to undermine. In the two closing chapters of the book, Edwards makes Realist ambitions particularly clear by exploring connections, explicit and implicit, between Christian Realists, traditional conservatism, the new evangelicalism of Billy Graham, and the radical liberalism of groups like SDS.

It is perhaps fitting that the influence of Reinhold Niebuhr and other Realists can be traced to members of each of the three groups, showing just how paradoxical and even chameleon-like Christian Realism could be. Like any text, The Right of the Protestant Left has its flaws. Similarly, Edwards never quite situates Realist members and their thought against other components of mid-century liberal Protestantism, leaving the relationship between Realists and the broader ecumenical community unclear.

Furthermore, his interpretation and recovery of the global ambition of the Realist project should give historians pause as we begin to revisit and revise the standard narratives of liberal Protestant establishment and disestablishment. Labels: ecumenical movement ecumenism guest posts mainline Protestantism religion and politics reviews twentieth century. Thanks, Trevor, for this very helpful and thorough review. Looking forward to reading this work. Two points struck me: the argument that Christian realists "embraced an ideal of local participatory democratic reform" and "privileged notions of responsible citizenship via small-scale local associations.

Were they one among other groups to be engaged in this project of realizing a broader Christianity community? Or were some of these leaders sanguine about what local congregations could or would actually do? I was struck by the emphasis on traditional liturgies and common practice as the basis of a shared Christian vision. There follows the principle of social monism: society is one, in the sense that it is to be absolutely homogeneous.

Society therefore is composed directly of individuals, all absolutely equal; there are no social entities intermediate between the individual and the state. The state is monolithic; all nonconforming groups are to be eliminated.

God's Totalitarianism

Finally, there is the principle of the indivisibility of sovereignty. Since there is only one general will and one general interest, sovereignty cannot be divided. This one, indivisible, unlimited sovereignty is to be exercised by the people, according to the principle of unanimity—a necessary principle in the light of the oneness of the general will.

The unlimited sovereignty of the people is the sole source of law. This is the eternal dream of the doctrinaire, that there exists, somehow objectively, a preordained scheme, harmonious and perfect, towards whose realization on earth all politics points. Here is the principle of all. It is realized, always more perfectly, in the republique une et indivisible, whose creation was in fact the Jacobin Revolutionary purpose in its political, and therefore primatial, aspect.

There is implied therefore a secular eschatology—the reign of les lumieres in an order of perfect liberty, equality and justice, fraternity and bonheur. The absoluteness of this eschatological vision confers a primacy upon the Revolutionary purpose which looks to its realization, and therefore confers legality upon all Revolutionary means, including coercion and violence, which further the Revolutionary purpose.

Moreover, the secularity of the vision forbids all manner of compromise with any forces that oppose the Revolutionary purpose. Since man is by nature good and rational, there can be no tolerance of evil or aberration in him. There is no room for relativism in politics. They could not possibly be regarded as a partial will, as just a party like other parties.


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The people must be brought to will this general will; for only in willing the general will and sharing the collective purpose does their freedom consist. The people have to be brought to choose this freedom; if necessary they are to be forced to be free.

Their freedom is really their equality in willing the general will; it is their total dependence on it. The social morality of totalitarian democracy must be absolutely homogeneous, like society itself, whose spiritual unity rests upon it. It must be obligatory on all, the single ethic of the state, of which the state itself is at. The diffusion of this social morality throughout the whole social body makes the state a true spiritual community, a sort of quasi-church.

Men are to be imbued by the government with a virtuous sense of equality; their reason is to be perfected, their egoistic passions curbed. Besides these four aspects of totalitarian democracy there is another that ought to be mentioned; Talmon touches upon it here and there. Two opposite genii.

Without, all tyrants are bent upon encircling you; within, all the friends of tyranny are banded in a conspiracy: they will go on plotting until all hope will have been wrested from crime. We have to strangle the internal as well as the external enemies of the Republic, or perish with her; and in a situation like this your first maxim of policy must be the guiding principle that the people shall be led by reason, but the enemies of the people by terror.

It had proved impossible to destroy Christianity by force, and it therefore became an avowed part of the official program to destroy it by means of education, the diffusion of light, and by patriotism itself Thus the plan of substituting natural religion for Christianity was reaffirmed. Christianity could not be overthrown by violence.

They hoped to do it by liberty and by strict legal restraints The Revolution had a variety of enemies, of course; but none of them were more bitterly hated than the Catholic Church. In the end the movement, for reasons not too difficult to understand, found its way to undisputed power in Soviet Russia, where the Church is still its most immovable spiritual opponent. There is visible historical continuity between the opposition of the Church to the totalitarianizing elements of the French Revolution and her opposition to the full-blown totalitarian system that emerged from the Russian Revolution.

The case made by the Revolution against the Church was substantially the case that had already been made by the philosophes. They had, of course, sought to disprove the Christian revelation as historically untrue. But their major indictment, taken up by the Revolution, was directed against the Church as a sociological force.

It insisted on maintaining its own distinct uniqueness as a society in its own right; it refused to accept the cardinal philosophical principle of the primacy of the political, and it firmly upheld the contrary principle of the primacy of the spiritual. Throughout the eighteenth-century philosophical argument, as prolonged into the nineteenth-century political argument, there run the same two threads. First, in proclaiming a religious ethic founded on the sovereignty of God, heterogeneous to the naturalist ethic founded on the sovereignty of reason, the Church presumed to deny the totality of the claims of society upon the individual man.

The Church would not accept the eighteenth-century secularist view that the moral drama is played out exclusively within the framework of human social relations, under the sole judgment of Reason, Nature, and the state. Religious faith and its moral ideal clashed with civisme, itself an exclusive faith, and its ideal of social morality.

The Right of the Protestant Left: God's Totalitarianism

Catholicism as a faith was therefore deemed inimical to the spiritual unity and vitality of the community and to the cause of human progress of which the lumieres were the single, all-sufficient guarantee. Secondly, what was more intolerable, the Church presumed to demand the right to exist as a sociological entity and a spiritual sovereignty within the state, but independent of the state and indeed.

It presumed at once to be a structural element of human society and an element altogether heterogeneous to the political order. As such, it again violated the basic totalitarian principle of social unity. In either case the clash was between the Church, as a faith and as a society, and the thorough-going monism of philosophical thought and Revolutionary politics.

Consequently, it was the enemy. Pius VI put an unerring finger on this vice of totalitarianizing monism in the first paragraph of his Allocution in a Secret Consistory on March 9, At first, it was a question there [in France] of the order to be established in the public administration; and as the purpose was simply to lighten the burden on the people, the matter did not seem relevant to the concerns of our apostolic ministry. But from the task of establishing political order a step was suddenly taken to religion itself, on the ground that religion ought to be subordinated to political interests and made to serve them.

The first formal condemnation of the Revolution bore upon its assertion of the primacy of the political, and implicitly upon the social and juridical monism which was the premise of this asserted primacy. Again, this is the first count in the very lengthy indictment of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy made by Pius VI in the Brief, Quod aliquantulum, just a year later, March 10, This Constitution was the first major step taken by the Revolution in the direction of the new Caesarism.

It was not a fully self-conscious step, since its inspiration was probably more Gallican than properly totalitarian. Nonetheless, the direction, if not the inspiration, was dear. The whole history of the. As part of his hostile attack upon the Church, and of his impious flattery of the rulers of this world, he [Marsilius] denied to prelates all exterior jurisdiction, excepting that which the secular magistrate grants them. He further asserted that all priests—simple priests, bishops, archbishops, and even the Pope—are by the institution of Christ of equal authority; that if one is superior to another in authority, this happens in consequence of a free concession on the part of the lay ruler, a concession which he may at his own pleasure revoke He represented the reaction to the extreme claims of hierocratic canonists, who stood for an absorption of the state within the Church; for his part, Marsilius wanted the absorption of the Church within the state.

His solution was the opposite of that to which the logic of unity had led Boniface VIII: to Marsilius it was absurd to disrupt the unity of the state by admitting an independent Church, as it was monstrous.

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The error of Marsilius, as of the Revolution, was a monism, social, political, juridical. The basic Marsilian premise, derived from an Averroistic interpretation of Aristotle, was the unity of the state, as forbidding the organization of human life into two distinct societies, spiritual and temporal. The state is the source of law, and its law has to be obeyed not only because it is the only rule endowed with coercive power, but because it is in itself the expression of justice.

There is no place here for the Christian idea. Law, which the Thomist had conceived as prior to the state, as both a condition and a limit of political power, now appears as the very creation of the state, as the outflow and test of its sovereignty. Equally obvious is the fact that Marsilius might almost be an eighteenth-century unbeliever in his concept of the place of religion within the state.

Its sole value is its value for the well-being of the state:. And even after the advent of the true religion, of Christianity, though the functions of the priesthood may have changed with relation to eternal life, with regard to the state and from the purely political standpoint, the value of the priesthood has remained the same: it is part of the political structure and subject to its laws. As such, the clergy, the pars sacerdotalis in the body politic, is entirely dependent on the government of that same body, that is, on the pars principans.

It must therefore be regulated and controlled by the prince, and cannot possess, in any of its stages, any sort of coercive power. This concept of the political value of religion, joined to the concept of the unitary and absolute sovereignty of the state, led Marsilius to deny all possible independence to the Church, and degrade religion to a mere instrumentum regni. The same theory in substance underlay the Civil Constitution of the Clergy; it inspired Napoleon during the imperialist phase of the Revolution; it even furnished part of the motivation of the Law of Separation in the Third Republic.

Though by that time another rationalist idea, likewise Marsilian in origin, was more to the fore—the notion of religion and of the law of God as having to do solely with the individual private forum of conscience,. The Marsilian state remains as an illustration of what the state might have been, if, besides the Aristotelian influence, other and vital motives had not been contained in the legacy of medieval political thought, if new ideas and forces had not grown up from the very core of our Christian civilization to limit and neutralize the pretence of the state to embody the ultimate value of human life.

The essential new idea, that put a barrier to the somehow inherently totalitarian pretensions of the state, was, of course, the Gelasian thesis of the two powers and the two societies. Since this was the central doctrine which the Revolution sought to deny in theory and cancel out of social fact, this was the doctrine which the Church thrust to the forefront of her teaching and action. The fact comes sufficiently clear through the first doctrinal pronouncement against the Revolution, Quod aliquantulum. In his massive corpus all contemporary issues are touched; but the doctrine on Church-State relations which a total study of his writings will discover manifests a firmly structured form.

And its basic architectural principle is the Gelasian thesis, developed to a new completeness and nicety of statement in the light of the new enemy brought on the world stage by the Revolution.

The fundamental challenge of democratic totalitarianism to Christianity was its denial of the doctrine of a duality in the organization of society to which Gelasius I gave classic, though rudimentary, statement. Leo XIII and his advisers perceived this fact more clearly and fully than their predecessors. This is why his doctrine possesses sharp contemporary relevance, as well as abiding truth.

Brogan has emphasized, the Age of Revolution has not yet run out; we are still living in it. In the light of the general problematic of the time, as heretofore described, I wish now to look at the doctrine of Leo XIII, using only Immortale Dei, and leaving to a later time a more inclusive study. Some brief account of the circumstances in which Immortale Dei was written is antecedently necessary.

And on her part, the Church was in conflict with almost every government in Europe. The Kulturkampf in Germany, inaugurated in to effect the subordination of the Church, as of all other groups, to the sovereign power of the new Empire, was at its height; it was not to run out until A similar cultural struggle was being waged elsewhere.

It was the heyday of the power struggles between Left and Right, with the interests of the Church perilously allied to the uncertain destinies of the Right. There ensued the first ministry of the Left under the cynical Depretis, whose successor in , Crispi, hardened the policies of his predecessor into a militant anticlericalism.

And the Revolution as a doctrine was on the march in South America. However, the main focus of events as of ideas was still France, the land of the Revolution, where the Revolution had entered upon a new phase, in the Third Republic. A year before the accession of Leo XIII the crisis of Seize Mai had undermined the government of McMahon, a monarchist, who supposedly was to prepare the way for a new restoration.

They had not the fanaticism of the Extreme Left, but as co-heirs of the Jacobin tradition they shared its fundamental positions: integral nationalism; the unity of sovereignty, which forbade the existence of autonomous units within society; a conception of sovereignty that was in theory. The anticlericalism of the moderate Republicans—of men like Gambetta, who became Premier in , and of Ferry, the famous Minister of Education—was probably at bottom not different in quality from that of the Extreme Left.

It was much of a piece with the anticlericalism of the Masonic lodges, which Courdaux, professor of literature at Douai, once defined by indirection:. The distinction between Catholicism and clericalism is purely official and subtle, for the needs of the tribune. But here in the lodge let us say aloud for the sake of the truth that Catholicism and clericalism are only one. And in conclusion let us add that one cannot be a Catholic and a Republican at the same time; it is impossible.

However, the Opportunists were more willing to play with anticlericalism for reasons that justified their name:. The statements of Gambetta and Ferry, the testimony of their contemporaries, and the parliamentary situation all seem to indicate that anticlericalism was deliberately fostered by the Opportunists as a means of satisfying the radical element, while the social reforms for which they clamored were indefinitely deferred. The Extreme Left was for immediate abolition of the Concordat and immediate separation of Church and state.

The Moderates were for proceeding to the same goal with some caution, after the advice of Arthur. By the Opportunists had secured the enactment of laws for the establishment of primary normal schools to train secular teachers obviously along Republican lines , for the removal of priests from the administration of charities, for the suppression of degrees from Catholic faculties, for the elimination of bishops from the higher council of education, for the abolition of the practice of allowing nuns to teach simply on presentation of letters of obedience from their superiors, for the secondary education of girls, and for the reduction of the number of chaplains in the army.

On July 27, the bitterly contested law reestablishing divorce was enacted, under repeal of the law of In addition there were laws for the protection of civil funerals, for the non-observance of religious holidays, for the secularization of cemeteries, for the freedom of the press from all religious restrictions, for the delimitation of the functions of vestry and commune, for the removal of religious orders from primary education, and for the compulsory military service of members of religious orders and students for the priesthood.

The Pantheon was secularized, public prayers. The Encyclical contains two things: first, a sketch of the historical enemy in view at the moment, a new type of religio-political order inspired by a particular philosophy and animated by a particular ethos; second, a contrasting outline of the Christian politico-social order whose inspiration and ethos is quite different.

Hence one does not look in papal encyclicals for detailed analyses of systems of thought, for full-fleshed reconstructions of historical eras, 56 for a sophisticated delineation of the historical movement of ideas. The colors are the black and white of truth and error, not the ambiguous gray of history. Immortale Dei therefore is not a scholarly dissertation, broad of scope, careful of nuance; it is a tract for the times, confined in its outlook, concerned with an historical situation.

Similarly, one may not regard the Encyclical as a full discussion, doctrinal and historical, of the Church-State problem; it is simply concerned with the iniquitous historical situation evoked in the Latin, and traditionally Catholic, countries of Europe, notably France, by the religious, political, and social ideology of the Revolution. And any reference to the almost totally different situation in the United States is wholly absent.

It is indeed a curious paradox that, at a time when the Roman curia was intensely preoccupied with problems of political realizations and the philosophy behind them, they had apparently no interest in the most striking and successful political realization of modern times, despite the fact that the philosophy behind it was of linear descent from the central political tradition of the West, which the Church herself had helped fashion out of Greek, Roman, and Germanic elements.

Immortale Dei therefore is frankly fragmentary, undisguisedly polemic, written with a very special enemy in view—an enemy with two facets, ideological and political. We confront today a political phenomenon that is new in two respects. First, we confront a monist state, totalitarian in character.

It identifies itself with society and pretends to be the highest,. It makes all other social forms of whatever kind, even the Church, dependent upon itself, and equal among themselves in this dependence. It assumes control over all public affairs, including religion and the institutions of human life traditionally regarded as sacred. It conducts all public affairs on the principle of the primacy of the political.

It maintains itself to be the one Sovereign, as it is the one society. It recognizes no spiritual authority above or beside its own. Secondly, we confront an apostate state, which is engaged in effecting by political and legal means the apostasy of traditionally Catholic society from belief in God and Christianity. It is expelling the Church from the rightful place of superior dignity which she has traditionally occupied in European society; it is stifling all Christian social institutions.

This philosophy asserts the absolute autonomy of the individual human reason. Each man is a law unto himself; and there is no higher law than that which he individually gives to himself. Thus the freedom with which reason endows him knows no limits. Everything is in principle permissible, a matter of individual choice. Even the decision to believe in God or not to believe in Him, to choose this religion or that, is a purely subjective matter.

There is no objective order of obligations imposed on man; there is no one and nothing to create such an order. Man is bound to obey only himself. In consequence of their possession of the attribute of reason, all men are by nature absolutely equal. No such distinction can exist among men who are by nature an absolutely egalitarian mass of absolutely autonomous individuals. Moreover, the. It is subject to no law that is not of its own making. Its sovereignty is indeed the source of all law and the root of all public power. And this public power is therefore as unlimited as the individual freedom of each man.

As nothing escapes the control of individual reason, so nothing escapes the control of the state, the sovereign people. Furthermore, this sovereign people, like the sovereign individual, since it acknowledges no authority higher than its own, no God therefore, does not worship.

Or rather, it worships only itself. The state-cult can only be the cult of the state, the worship of Reason, of the sovereign Will of the People, of the nation which is the people as invested with an historic revolutionary destiny. The individual man may, if it privately pleases him, believe in God and worship Him. But by definition the state, like the individual reason, knows no God. Again, individual believers may, if it so pleases them individually, band together into religious associations.

But these corporate bodies do not exist by any native right; they can exist only by gracious concession on the part of the state, and are subject to governmental judgment on their benefit or danger to public order, to the spiritual and temporal welfare of that supreme community, both spiritual and temporal, which is the state. Only the state exists by native right, that is, by the sovereign will of the people. And the state is the source of all rights to social existences within it. As such, it has the power of final control over all the inferior social entities upon which it confers existence.

Moreover, religious associations are no different in kind from any other type of corporate body existing within the state by favor of the state. This principle includes the Catholic Church. No more than any other corporation is it a society in its own right; and it may not claim any independent sovereignty, even spiritual. There is only One Sovereign, the state. And there is only one true religion, one religion of the state—the philosophy which is duly sycophantic of this One Sovereign. This is the sketch of the enemy which Immortale Dei presents. My statement is merely a compilation, a developed paraphrase, which here and there makes explicit what is implied in the text, and occasionally uses a phrase taken from elsewhere in the Leonine corpus so, for instance, the notion of social apostasy.

It would be simple to docu-. But these two texts will give the essence of the matter:. When the state is established upon such foundations as these so much in favor in our day , one may readily see the situation into which the Church is forced, and how unjust it is. When governmental action is in harmony with these principles, the place in society accorded to the Catholic Church is on a par with, or even inferior to, the place granted to associations of quite a different nature.

No account is taken of ecclesiastical laws. The Church, which must by the command of Christ teach all nations, is forbidden in the slightest way to touch public education. Civil officials on their own authority and at their own pleasure decide even those matters which are under a twofold jurisdiction [such as marriage and Church possessions]. In a word, they deal with the Church in terms of their own supposition, that she is to be deprived of the character and rights of a perfect society; they hold her to be entirely similar to all the other kinds of associations contained within the state.

For this reason they maintain that all her rights and all her legitimate powers of action are possessed by her by the grant and grace of secular governments. The conduct of public affairs is in great part ruled by this intention.

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The laws, governmental administrative measures, the education of youth under exclusion of religion, the plundering and the destruction of religious orders, the overthrow of the civil dominion of the Roman Pontiffs—all these things look to the same end; they are designed to put an end to the vigor of Christian institutions, to fetter the freedom of the Catholic Church, and to shatter all her remaining rights. One may therefore readily see the constitutio civitatum, the manner of social organization, against which the papal condemnation proceeds.

It has two aspects. First, it is the political organization of society on the monist, totalitarian principle that the state is the highest and ultimate social form of human existence, which subordinates to its political control all other social forms, including the Church. In contrast, the Pope proposes the civilis hominum societatis christiana temperatio, the Christian organizing principle of civil society.

It too has two aspects. First, it is an organization of society on the dualist. The core of the Encyclical is the splendid statement of the ancient traditional doctrine of Gelasius I. The Pope lays the foundations for it by stating two propositions, one known by reason, the other by faith. The authority that rules society is likewise from God through the law of nature; and the political obligation—of rulers to the ruled, and of the ruled to their rulers—is basically a religious obligation.

The foundations of society are in religion. Human society therefore owes a debt of religion to its Author, whose providence rules it. Within the Church there is a spiritual authority, centered in her Head, the Roman Pontiff. And this spiritual authority has free command over the sacred things of Christ, His word and His sacraments, joined with the power to make laws, to judge and sanction their observance, and to administer freely and without hindrance whatever pertains to the Christian name and the Christian task.

From these two propositions the Pope immediately draws, as conclusions, the two leading principles of Christian social organization, the radical distinction of the two societies and the primacy and freedom of the spiritual:. This society, although it is composed of men, as civil society likewise is, is. For this reason, it is distinct from civil society and different from it.

Most importantly, it is a society that is perfect in its kind and of its own right, since it possesses in itself and of itself by the will and grant of its Author all the aids necessary for its own well-being and action. As the end to which the Church moves is by far the most excellent, so also her authority is superior to all other powers; it cannot be held inferior to civil government or in any way subject to it. It is to the Church that God has committed the function of vigilance and decision in regard of everything that concerns religion.

She is to teach all nations and enlarge the horizons of Christianity as widely as possible. In a word, it is she who administers the whole Christian enterprise, with full liberty, on her own free judgment, and without hindrance.