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Catholicism and public order

Another part of the appeal of Catholicism today (apart from its truth) is a sort of this-wordly extra ecclesiam nulla salus: outside the Church there’s no satisfaction now and no hope for the future.

The problem can be stated briefly: the West now stands publicly for secular liberalism. The latter has reached a philosophical, moral and social dead end that manifests itself in things as diverse as the state of popular and high culture, the collapse of the birth rate, and the devolution of Europe into the EU. Our official teachers, the writers, scholars, statesmen, educators and mainstream religious leaders of the West, can tell us only to respect “diversity” and “tolerance”: do what you want, but stay away from each other’s throats. Young people have nothing to look forward to but insecurity or the treadmill of career and consumption, mitigated by the sentimental hope for love and the more solid availability of various dissipations. Meanwhile, Western civilization has become world civilization, and emptied of humanly sustaining goods propagates itself everywhere through global markets, electronic communications, and the whole apparatus of international politics and law. The secular totalitarian ideologies that once resisted it have effectively disappeared, leaving local tyranny, corrupt nationalism, and totalitarian Islam as the remaining principles of opposition.

Such a broad-brush gloom-and-doom picture can be questioned in various ways, but I think there’s something to it. After all, one aspect of man is that he is a broad-brush thinker. He needs to see himself as part of a world with an overall nature that he can grasp to a degree and so orient himself. Notwithstanding claims as to the power of the “invisible hand” and such-like, it seems that some sense of objectively valid purpose is needed for the longterm well-being and even survival of social order. After all, if the public order has no purpose other than making it possible for me and others to do what we feel like doing, why support it when times get tough? And no matter how scientifically things are managed, times do get tough on occasion.

The problem, then, is that the current Western way of life is radically unsatisfying, unless we suppress fundamental human qualities in ourselves, and unlikely to last indefinitely. Since it can’t offer us what we need, it is natural to look for something else. But what?

The non-Western alternatives are decadent, fanatical or otherwise unappealing, and so can’t offer anything better. Within the West there’s New Age thought and liberal Protestantism, but those are useless. The problem with secular liberalism is that it rejects the notion of objectively valid purposes, but New Age and liberal Protestantism do the same, at least in effect. Judaism claims objective validity, but only for a particular people, and therefore can’t satisfy a non-Jew who is troubled by the world and his place in it. While relatively orthodox Protestantism does claim public validity, it can’t do so persuasively because it lacks a publicly authoritative way to decide doctrinal issues. The same is true to a much greater extent of every non-ecclesiastical philosophy that proposes objective goods. All of which leaves Catholicism as the sole practical basis available to us now for the substantive public moral world that we need.

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