Defending Classical Liberalism Against 'Radical' Catholics

Defending Classical Liberalism Against 'Radical' Catholics
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

How should the religiously orthodox be disposed toward America? A number of leading contemporary Catholic intellectuals contend that we should be suspicious of, if not hostile to, the liberal political project, including the American experiment in ordered liberty. In Why Liberalism Failed, my friend and Notre Dame colleague Patrick Deneen issues a full-blown indictment, charging that liberalism's deepest principles are hostile to traditional Christianity. Harvard's Adrian Vermeule agrees. He concludes that “there is no reason to think that a stable, long-term rapprochement between Catholicism and the liberal state is realistically feasible” because “liberalism cannot ultimately tolerate the accommodation [with Catholicism] in principle while remaining true to itself.” Rod Dreher, who is Orthodox, recommends a “Benedict Option,” implicitly rejecting an “American Option.” Even Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput, who has been friendlier to the idea that Catholics can find a home in America, recognizes that the faithful are now “strangers in a strange land.”

Is the “strangeness” now engulfing traditional religious believers — the cultural persecution of them in elite circles, and the increasing legal pressure on them in everyday life — a product of our liberal political principles working themselves out, as these critics contend? Is a political order based on rights necessarily and essentially hostile to traditional religious belief and practice?

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