Monday, February 10, 2014

Deneen vs. Lawler re: American Catholicism

Patrick Deneen: A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching:
Because of these positions, the "radical" position—while similarly committed to the pro-life, pro-marriage teachings of the Church—is deeply critical of contemporary arrangements of market capitalism, is deeply suspicious of America's imperial ambitions, and wary of the basic premises of liberal government. It is comfortable with neither party, and holds that the basic political division in America merely represents two iterations of liberalism—the pursuit of individual autonomy in either the social/personal sphere (liberalism) or the economic realm ("conservatism"—better designated as market liberalism). Because America was founded as a liberal nation, "radical" Catholicism tends to view America as a deeply flawed project, and fears that the anthropological falsehood at the heart of the American founding is leading inexorably to civilizational catastrophe. It wavers between a defensive posture, encouraging the creation of small moral communities that exist apart from society—what Rod Dreher, following Alasdair MacIntyre, has dubbed "the Benedict Option"—and, occasionally, a more proactive posture that hopes for the conversion of the nation to a fundamentally different and truer philosophy and theology.
Peter Lawler responds:
[Deneen's team] is repulsively lacking in gratitude. We Catholics criticize Lockeans for not being grateful for what they've been given by nature and God. Well, we Catholics don't want to be justly criticized for not being grateful for what we've been given by America. Not only has our church flourished in freedom in America—in some respects in unprecedented freedom, but we can't forget what Chesterton says about America being a home for a homeless, including Catholics who had to flee from grinding poverty and oppression. Patrick's great teacher, Carey McWilliams, was just as harsh as he is in criticizing America's techno-indifference to virtue or genuinely dignified egalitarianism, but he also never failed to mention that he was grateful for American freedom, as well as for his country's resolute defense of that freedom (in winning, as the French Catholic thinker Pierre Manent admits, the Cold War against repressively atheistic global communism fairly close to single-handed) throughout the world.


Pseudonoma said...

Lawler's request for a gesture of gratitude may be significant as an affair of public acknowledgment, but Deneen's remark is addressing a more fundamental phenomenon, having its origins in the thought that preceded the American founding and having its continued, transmuted influence in the techno-global future in service of which nation of America has and continues to play such an significant role. Its not that we can't, as a matter of courtesy, have both Lawler's gratitude for the ambiguous benefits of recent history and Deneen's far-sighted concern for their less ambiguous futural trajectory, but it is equally not impossible that the gratitude for such things as "a home for the homeless" and for a negatively conceived "freedom" that is obviously preferable to the state tyranny of communistic totalitarianism could come to obnubilate the fact that a short term benefactor and a long-term bankrupter need not be mutually exclusive. And ultimately, in a spirit of the best variety of American patriotism, we must ask: who does greater homage to both nation's past and the good of it's future? Gratitude is commendable, provided it does not diminish that critical ability requisite for promoting true improvement --or for preventing irreparable decline.

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