Dreams of a Perfected Beehive: OUR TWO CONSTITUTIONS

Dreams of a Perfected Beehive: OUR TWO CONSTITUTIONS

We’re now living under a different constitution than the one the framers devised. The checks-and-balances system has been altered beyond recognition.

New Oxford Review
November 2015
By Robert Lowry Clinton

Robert Lowry Clinton is Professor and Chair Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri St. Louis. He is the author of Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review and God and Man in the Law: The Foundations of Anglo-American Constitutionalism (both published by the University Press of Kansas), as well as numerous articles and book chapters. His articles have appeared in The American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, The Journal of Supreme Court History, The American Journal of Jurisprudence, First Things, Public Discourse, Crisis, and National Review, among others.

James V. Schall, S.J., in his article “Will Modernity Mean the End of Catholicism?” (NOR, Nov. 2014) [see comment below], lamented the fact that a “Catholic moment” in which “the truths of the faith would be acknowledged in the American public square” failed to occur in the aftermath of the Second World War. Surely this would have been an opportune moment given the heightened awareness of man’s propensity for evil in the wake of Nazi atrocities, and the revival of natural-law thinking among some Catholic (and non-Catholic) intellectuals. Fr. Schall rightly pointed out the stark conflict between Catholicism, which is grounded in an historical understanding of rational human nature (“what man is”), and modernity, which is grounded in a relativism “in which man himself could and should be other than what he is.” Fr. Schall also rightly noted a sharp contrast between two versions of the American founding, one of which is grounded in the principles of the American Revolution, the other of which finds its inspiration in the principles of the French Revolution. Fr. Schall explains:

The early Americans, along with their actual new-world political experience, knew Scripture and the classics. They were aware of modern history to their time as well as the modern authors. As things developed, they understood that their revolution and that of the French were radically different. Whether they remain that much different from today’s perspective is an issue we must address. The principles of our present republic are inching closer and closer to those of the French Revolution, and further and further away from those of the American Revolution.

As a result, according to Fr. Schall, “The nature of the American founding seems rather moot. It is not what governs this country; few seem bent on recalling it with any real chance of success.”

It is difficult to deny the ring of truth in Fr. Schall’s remarks, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Court ruled that state laws defining marriage as a bond between one man and one woman violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Chief Justice John Roberts, dissenting from the ruling, noted that many Americans will celebrate the decision for a variety of reasons, and then he warned: “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.” This is a startling statement, for here the Chief Justice of the U.S. declares that his Court has just made an historic constitutional decision that has nothing to do with the Constitution! Perhaps it is time to catch our breath and take stock of where we really are in the process of American constitutional development, so as to see how we got from the founding to Obergefell.


The movement away from the principles of the American Revolution to those of the French Revolution was no mere accidental “drift.” Rather, it originated at a particular point in time and was initiated deliberately by a group of intellectuals bent on undermining the most important principle of the American Revolution: the principle of inalienable natural rights with which men are “endowed by their Creator.” These intellectuals, among them some of the founders of modern academic political science and at least one American president, believed, with the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, that the idea of such rights amounts to little more than “nonsense on stilts” and is a hindrance to good government.

In the process of attacking the Jeffersonian notion of rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, these men also attacked the Constitution, believing it too to be a hindrance to good government. Rather than explicitly calling for a new constitution, which they knew to be futile, they sought replacement of the founding fathers’ Constitution by a kind of subterfuge that would retain the letter of the original while completely transforming its character. The success of this project has given us what is, in reality, a second constitution, usually referred to as the “living constitution.” This second constitution “lives,” however, only by maintaining the fiction of its rootedness in the founders’ Constitution. According to this fiction, the living constitution is merely an interpretive, constructive extension of the founders’ Constitution. Thus, the living constitution appears to co-exist more or less comfortably with the written document devised in the eighteenth century. This comforting belief makes it possible for us to feel that we are not only suitably modern but are at the same time in full continuity with a venerable republican tradition.

But this pretended continuity is an appearance, not a reality. In essence, it is a lie that was initially perpetrated and has since been sustained by men who disavow the idea of an essential human nature, substituting instead an idea of an infinitely malleable humanity on which they want to do the malleating. It is an historical fiction of the type defined by Bentham as “a willful falsehood, having for its object the stealing of legislative power, by and for hands which could not, or durst not, openly claim it, — and but for the delusion thus produced, could not exercise it.” It is the main reason why presidents govern by decree, why courts create rights and marginalize religion, and why Congress sits by and watches while planning for the next election. It is also the constitutional reason why the hoped-for “Catholic moment” referred to by Fr. Schall never materialized after World War II. By that time, the new constitution, though not fully developed, was nonetheless up and running.


The origins of the movement to substitute the principles of the French Revolution for the principles of the American Revolution are found in the progressive era. One of its most articulate exponents was Frank Goodnow, president of Johns Hopkins University and the first president of the American Political Science Association. In a 1916 address at Brown University, Goodnow contrasted the development of a “private rights philosophy” in France with its development in the U.S. during the period following the two nations’ respective revolutions. The document that set this development in motion in France was the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” promulgated on the eve of that nation’s revolution. According to Goodnow, “Almost every clause of the Declaration refers to rights under the law rather than to rights which were natural to and inherent in man.” Goodnow continued:

The rights which men have been recognized as possessing have not been considered to be inherent rights, attaching to man at the time of his birth, so much as rights which find their origin in the law as adopted by that organ of government regarded as representative of the society of which the individual man is a member…. The rights which he possesses are, it is believed, conferred upon him, not by his Creator, but rather by the society to which he belongs. What they are is to be determined by the legislative authority in view of the needs of that society. Social expediency, rather than natural right, is thus to determine the sphere of individual freedom of action.

Goodnow deplored the fact that in America, individual rights are regarded as granted by a Creator and grounded in natural rather than positive law. This, he believed, is the cause of the “unadulterated individualism” that he believed characterizes America. Nevertheless, Goodnow found reason to celebrate what he saw as a “process of modification” that he believed would eventually result in the demise of America’s “traditional political philosophy.” The main instigator of this reassessment would be the “announcement and acceptance of the theory of evolutionary development,” which presupposes that society is “dynamic or progressive in character.” Acceptance of evolution thus entails rejection of any view that regards rights and laws as eternal or immutable. This means that Jefferson was, according to Goodnow, simply wrong when he asserted in the Declaration of Independence that human beings are endowed by their Creator with “certain inalienable rights,” whatever those rights might be.

Goodnow concluded his address by reiterating that “under the conditions of modern life it is the social group rather than the individual which is increasing in importance.” According to Goodnow, the fundamental theoretical principle of the American Declaration is erroneous — our rights come from government, not from God.

Goodnow’s antipathy toward the natural law and natural rights echoed in the thought of numerous influential progressives of his time. For example, President Woodrow Wilson claimed that “men as communities are supreme over men as individuals. Limits of wisdom and convenience to the public control there may be: limits of principle there are, upon strict analysis, none.” In other words, any limits on government that may exist must be “convenient” and easily dispensable, not philosophical, theological, or otherwise fundamental. Nor can such limits be “constitutional,” which is another kind of fundamental in the American political context. Thus, progressives found it necessary to supplement their attack on the natural law and natural rights with an attack on the Constitution.


Wilson’s elevation to the White House was a defining moment in U.S. history, for it signaled the triumph of a movement destined to transform the Constitution from an instrument of limited government to one of consolidation, much as had been feared by the Anti-Federalist Brutus more than a century earlier. Wilson laid out the essentials of this movement clearly and unapologetically in a 1912 speech in which he called for a revolutionary constitutional transformation, albeit couched in modest language.

Like most modern progressives, Wilson swore fidelity to the Constitution. But it is not the Constitution of 1787 that claimed his loyalty. For Wilson, the Constitution is — or should be — a malleable instrument subject to manipulation by “progressive” policymakers in order to achieve the social ends they desire. This is simply not the Constitution the founding fathers wrote. Notwithstanding the fictitious continuity, it is an entirely different constitution because it develops in an entirely different way — and the most important thing about a constitution is its mode of development.

The founders’ Constitution develops according to a carefully constructed amendment process designed to ensure a wide consensus in support of any proposed change. This process is spelled out in Article V and requires extensive participation of both Houses of Congress as well as the legislatures or special conventions in the states. This means that the founders regarded constitutional development as a profoundly democratic process, involving more and a wider range of decision makers than are required for ordinary legislative, executive, administrative, or judicial acts.

The founders’ Constitution also established a balanced governmental framework in which no branch of government can claim ultimate authority to determine the constitutional power of another, a fact of which Wilson and his allies were keenly aware and greatly disapproved. In a book Wilson wrote a few years before his presidential run, he acknowledged that the Constitution’s framers “constructed the federal government upon a theory of checks and balances which was meant to limit the operation of each part and allow to no single part or organ of it a dominating force.” Then he concluded that “no government can be successfully conducted upon so mechanical a theory” (Constitutional Government, 1908). Adoption of Wilson’s constitutional proposal would circumvent both the Article V amendment process and the checks-and-balances system.

Wilson’s constitution, like Goodnow’s, is “Darwinian,” based on the evolutionary biology that had become all the rage among intellectuals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wilson consummated his proposal with the following statement: “All that progressives ask or desire is permission — in an era when ‘development,’ ‘evolution,’ is the scientific word — to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.” Thus began the career of the “living” constitution.


Yet, as always, the devil is in the details. The great question left unanswered is almost too obvious to mention: Who are these progressives who will be permitted to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle? As noted above, the founders had given their answer by establishing a balanced governmental framework in which no branch can claim ultimate authority to determine the constitutional power of another. This means that each of the three main branches of government is responsible for interpreting the Constitution within its own sphere of authority, and none is permitted to invade the spheres of the other branches. Nor is any branch of government entitled to concede its own constitutional authority to another branch. In this way, the framers raised what they thought would be a permanent barrier against efforts by one branch of government to enlarge its authority at the expense of another.

As a result of their dissatisfaction with the original Constitution, Wilson and other progressives launched, under the guise of “reform,” a truly revolutionary constitutional transformation. Rather than scuttling the founders’ Constitution altogether, they proposed its transformation via reinterpretation, spearheaded by the action of courts and administrative agencies. This reinterpretation was designed to free political actors in the judicial and executive branches from the restraints placed on them by the mechanics of the old Constitution.

The founders’ system was much too fragmented, cumbersome, and inefficient for Wilson, who wanted to increase executive power by unleashing an army of bureaucrats in the growing administrative state of his time, regulators who would be appointed initially by Wilson himself or his subordinates and who would operate behind the scenes essentially “unchecked” to rebuild American society in their image. In the concluding portion of his 1912 speech, Wilson suggested the image he had in mind, describing his “rebuilt” American society as a “great house…where men can live as a single community, cooperative as in a perfected, coordinated beehive.” This utopian vision is the dream of progressives like Wilson, who believe that human beings and human societies are immanently perfectible, that we can transform our natures, and that we can “all be one,” if only we rid ourselves of the shackles of the past.


Since the time of Wilson, the rise of the administrative state has continued virtually unabated, its officials often operating essentially unchecked. At the same time, Congress, which is supposed to supervise administrative agencies in the name of the people, appears less and less able (or willing) to do so. Indeed, Congress has handed over much of its lawmaking power to those very agencies through explicit delegation, and it has implicitly conceded a great deal more of it through its failure to perform effective oversight.

Although the primary goal of Wilson and other progressives of his time was to increase executive power, a subtle irony in the legacy of living constitutionalism is the rise of judicial supremacy, according to which the Constitution is thought to mean, in the last analysis, whatever the Supreme Court says it means. The Court itself said as much in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), declaring itself “invested with the authority to…speak before all others for their [read: our] constitutional ideals.” In other words, we should look not to the Constitution but to the Court to determine what our true constitutional values are!

This astounding admission of the Court’s cavalier assumption of the people’s constitutional authority would have been incomprehensible a century ago; but then again, so would have been dozens of judicial decisions made during the past several decades under the living constitution’s regime of judicial supremacy. Indeed, we have been looking to the Court to determine our constitutional values for at least the past half-century and more, during which the Court has, under the influence of progressive ideology, nudged religion and traditional morality out of the public square.

We are now living under a different constitution than the one the framers devised. The Article V amendment process has been effectively scuttled, replaced by a Court that functions as a constitutional-revision council. The checks-and-balances system has been eroded to the point that its original power structure has been altered beyond recognition. Instead of a powerful Congress, a strong but carefully checked executive, and the “least dangerous branch,” as Alexander Hamilton, one of the Constitution’s framers, put it, we now have a weak (bordering on dysfunctional) Congress, a powerful and relatively unchecked executive, and a “super-duper” Supreme Court with final, ultimate, and exclusive authority to determine the scope and range of power possessed by the other branches of government. In short, the agency of government at farthest remove from the democratic process — the Court — now holds ultimate constitutional authority, and the agency most closely tied to the democracy — Congress — holds the least. That is why it is appropriate to refer to the transition from the founders’ Constitution to the living constitution as revolutionary rather than reformative.


Those who support the living constitution have always done so because they desire particular policy outcomes that would be impossible, or at least very difficult, to obtain under the founders’ Constitution. The underlying reason for the progressive assault on the Constitution was, and still is, that the proponents of the living constitution do not really believe in the values and principles that formed the basis of the original Constitution. They do not subscribe to the natural-law/natural-rights theories of the framers. Nor do they believe in limited government, republicanism, or democracy in the sense subscribed to by the framers. Instead, today’s progressive political elites subscribe to a scientistic, relativistic, secular public ideology. The living constitution provides the framework for imposition of this ideology. It is the conduit through which a whole worldview contrary to that of the framers has been — and still is being — impressed upon public policy in the U.S.

Political scientist Angelo M. Codevilla described several facets of this worldview frankly: “America now divides ever more sharply into two classes, the smaller of which holds the commanding heights of government, from which it disposes in ever greater detail of America’s economic energies, from which it ordains new ways of living as if it had the right to do so, and from which it asserts that that right is based on the majority class’ stupidity, racism, and violent tendencies” (The Ruling Class, 2012). He added that “it has become conventional wisdom among our Ruling Class that they may transcend the Constitution while pretending allegiance to it.”

No doubt, limited government is frustrating at times, especially for presidents, bureaucrats, and judges who are convinced that they know what is best for society — even if society doesn’t know it. Such impatience with the founders’ Constitution is alive and well in the White House today. President Barack Obama, while an Illinois senator in 2001, expressed this impatience in a radio interview when he criticized the Warren Court for not breaking free “from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution.”


Recovering the founders’ Constitution will not be easy. It will require wide public exposure of the progressive deception at the heart of the living constitution. It will require wide public recognition that the politicians, administrators, and judges who claim the living constitution as authority for their acts do not really have the authority they claim, and that their actions — insofar as they depend on the living constitution for their authority — are outside the law.

Something of the spirit of Mary Ellen Bork’s comment some years ago that the justices of the Supreme Court were “acting like a bunch of outlaws” must be recovered and nourished by the American citizenry. What, for instance, would the average American think if this plain truth were put before him: that he is being governed not according to the Constitution he was taught about in school, but rather according to an altogether different constitution put into effect surreptitiously by a succession of political elites who do not believe in the key principles of the Declaration of Independence or the most important features of the original Constitution? He would likely not approve — which was and is, of course, the whole reason for the constitutional subterfuge in the first place.

The price of not recovering the founders’ Constitution will be the continued erosion of American democracy and the all-important natural-law/natural-rights tradition that supports it, as unaccountable administrators and judges interpret away its foundations. Even worse, a final cost of not doing so may be virtually to assure that Fr. Schall’s “Catholic moment” will never occur in America, or anywhere else.

“The basic principle of democracy is the sacredness of the individual as a creature endowed by God with inalienable rights. The basic principle of…totalitarian systems is that the individual has no rights except those given him by the Party or the State…. In America, man endows the State with rights which he received from God; in [totalitarian systems], the State endows man with rights.” — Fulton J. Sheen

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3 comments on “Dreams of a Perfected Beehive: OUR TWO CONSTITUTIONS

  1. Will Modernity Mean the End of Catholicism? THE “MOMENT” THAT NEVER AROSE

    James V. Schall, S.J.
    New Oxford Review
    November 2014

    “From the time that the Bishop of Rome had gotten to be acknowledged for bishop universal, by pretense to succession to St. Peter, their whole hierarchy, or kingdom of darkness, may be compared, not unfairly, to the kingdom of fairies, that is, to the old wives’ fables in England, concerning ghosts and spirits, and feats they play in the night.” – Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

    “The greatest achievement of the West is the cre- ation of the United States of America, which selected immigrants from all nations in a new, non-ethnic polity defined by a Constitution inspired to a great extent by ancient Israel. When Christianity failed to overcome the residual tribalism of the West, its uni- versalizing message was replaced by relativism. The reigning dogma in the secular West now states that every ethnicity is entitled to its own ‘narrative’ and that all cultures are equally valid in their own terms. Relativism refuses to consider the obvious fact that some cultures succeed while others fail miserably; it insists on the absolute right of self-definition and self-termination for every tribe.” – David Goldman, “Common Traits Bind Jews and Chinese, ” Asia Times (Jan. 10,2014)

    The confrontation has been looming on the horizon for a long time. Obamacare’s con- traception mandate, and a United Nations committee’s finding the Vatican in violation of the “rights” of children, brought into clear view what has been evolving perhaps since the intellectual origins of modernity itself. Throughout the centuries, Catholicism has sought ways to adapt to new eras, their challenges and developments. But many early Catholic voices did not think that the comingling of modernity and Catholicism was wise or even possible. Yet the overwhelming feeling was that it would be embarrassing to be thought of as out of step with the modern world.

    The Church herself in the past century incorporated at least the language of Thomas Hobbes in order to express her teachings in terms of “rights.” The UN’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” seemed, under the influence of Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, to use the word rights in a way that Catholics could accept. The ecclesiastical usage of this word was thought, too often uncritically, to be at least compatible with the natural law and reason. Rights were thought to relate to prior duties. In recent decades, however, rights have been ever more effectively used to isolate and exclude Catholicism from the public square. The Church is now seen in the eyes of the modem world as a major impediment to the ascendancy of a culture completely based on human rights, as perhaps the major obstacle to the modem project’s full control of the culture.

    In the U.S., we have long debated the nature of the founding of our country. Was its origin in classical or modern thought? Was it specifically Protestant? Catholic thought maintained a broader tradition that included the Catholic origins of Europe, the absorption of the barbarian tribes into the unity of the Greco-Roman tradition. America was an exception. Was America an “ancient” founding, as David Goldman says, with its primary roots in Israel rather than Rome? Most Catholics would argue, in the tradition of Christopher Dawson, that America’s founding included Israel, Athens, Rome, and the medieval synthesis.

    Yet, while Machiavelli and Hobbes might also be traced back to considerations already known in Plato and Aristotle about power, about disordered regimes and souls, something new was found in Hobbes, John Locke, Francis Bacon, and JeanJacques Rousseau that emphasized the “rights” language often used in the American founding. The early Americans, along with their actual newworld political experience, knew Scripture and the classics. They were aware of modern history to their time as well as the modern authors. As things developed, they understood that their revolution and that of the French were radically different. Whether they remain that much different from today’s perspective is an issue we must address. The principles of our present republic are inching closer and closer to those of the French Revolution, and further and further away from those of the American Revolution.

    Thus, it is difficult to see that the American founding still retains any real status in law or practice. Practically nothing in the Constitution, as the late George Carey, a leading scholar of the American founding, often pointed out, holds as it was originally written. The president issues “decrees” at will, the courts invent “rights,” and the Congress goes along with them. The nature of the American founding seems rather moot. It is not what governs this country; few seem bent on recalling it with any real chance of success. A Constitution meant to withstand the ages, to limit government, cannot have any meaning if its original intent is ignored in order to solve so-called more recent problems.

    But our concern here is with Roman Catholicism. Many have spoken of a “Catholic moment” in which the truths of the faith would be acknowledged in the American public square. That moment seemed impending after World War II, when the principles of much of modern thought seemed by default to confirm the natural-law tradition. We think of Maritain, Walter Lippmann, Fr. John Courtney Murray, and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican IPs “Declaration on Religious Liberty,” seemed to confirm the compatibility between America, modernity, and the Church.

    Why did the hoped-for “Catholic moment” never come to pass? As Allan Bloom pointed out, the influence of Nietzsche in American universities had much to do with it. When it came to a choice between reason and irrationality, it was the latter that in practice won. G.K. Chesterton was more than perceptive when, early in the last century, in his book Heretics, he wrote that, in the end, believ- ers would be the only ones left defending reason and the normal things of human dignity and existence. The culture itself would deny the possibility of any truth. As Goldman notes, it was relativism that became what can only be called the secular state religion. This unlimited state is willing and eager to enforce its doctrines on everyone, especially believers. These latter are seen as the last holdouts from the old order. Get rid of them, and the culture will be completely closed in on itself. No more transcendent sparks will fall among us.

    Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, not surprisingly, was the major figure to point out that modem po- litical and social thought is little more than an endeavor to achieve what Christians call “the last things” – but in this world and by human means. Science in the “service of man” becomes so redirected that it proposes to alter human genes and begetting so that, following an ironic suggestion in Plato’s Republic, we breed or engineer perfection into our very human biology. As Leo Strauss said in The City and Man, we reject nature when we find that it limits what we want to do with and to ourselves. We no longer need to attend to the difficulties of virtue and its free acquiring as described by Aristotle. We will “be made perfect” by following the laws we make for ourselves. Benedict thought that the implementation of these proposals would be closer to Hell than the Kingdom of God. But we do not want to hear such admonitions. They cannot be right because, in our embrace of relativism, we have formally rejected the discourse of reason.

    All wars and cultural clashes are first fought in the minds of men, usually the spiritual and intellectual dons. Catholicism is seen by the proponents of modernity as their chief enemy. Under Obama’s novel notion of “freedom of worship” (not “freedom of religion”), Catholicism is to be confined. It is to have no real place in the public order, many of whose “rights” it opposes. It is to be hemmed in and isolated in houses of worship wherein any crazy doctrine can be preached, with the permission of the state – but only as long as it has no discernible effect on public life. All believers must participate in and support all the “rights” legislated by the state.

    Religion, in the mind of modernity, is a purely “spiritual” activity, insofar as it has any validity at all. Marsilius of Padua espoused this view at the end of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on Aristotle. But Marsilius’s Aristotle was not Aristotle’s Aristotle. And, as Benedict noted in his Regensburg address, it is with Aristotle and Plato that Christianity first took its stand and gained its bearings.

    What, then, is Catholicism? The very fact that so many work so diligently to isolate it suggests that it is something of momentous proportions. Studious Catholics are aware of the Augustinian line of thought that cautions against too much optimism about perfecting this world. Some even say that Plato wrote his Republic for this same purpose. Jesus Himself warned us that we should expect to be hated and called before judges and magistrates on account of our beliefs.

    One solution, no doubt, is simply to join the enemy. Catholicism could be interpreted to mean what the modern project means. As with many Protestant sects and individual Catholic politicians and judges, what we would have to do is accept the notion of rights that enables us to agree with and promote whatever the state defines as rights. Whatever the prince or the democracy wills “is the law,” to paraphrase the Roman law text, the one that Aquinas set down as the opposite of the truth.

    Catholicism includes an understanding of what each human person ultimately is, no matter what the polity or the era in which he lives. No culture can completely define man or enclose him within its confines. Catholicism embodies both what is from reason and from revelation in a coherent whole. It knows and articulates what God has Himself revealed to us in Christ. And, as Benedict wrote in Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus is who He said He was – no real proof exists to the contrary.

    Catholicism also includes a philosophical account of what we can and do know, on the foundation of which revelation itself makes sense. To be Catholic, one has to be more than Catholic. God did not deign to reveal everything to us that we need to know to live. He expected us to find out many things we could know and do by ourselves. He did not need to explain math, politics, or how to make a computer to us. He gave us brains and hands for the adventure of figuring these things out by ourselves. But man cannot reject what he is without serious consequences to himself, even ultimate ones.

    As Josef Pieper in The End of Time and Robert Hugh Benson in The Lord of the World noticed, we have little reason to think that, at the end, very many believers will be found. We underestimate the depths of the rejection, not just of God and His revelation, but of what He has created and its meaning as we behold it in the natural order. Many cannot bear the thought that a Divine Authority would have the gall to reveal Himself to us in order to inform us more clearly who He is, what we are, and what our transcendent destiny is.

    Many more would like to maintain that it does not make any difference what we believe or do, God will “save” us no matter what, if only we are “sincere.” Such a view serves to make man, his faculties and life, mostly meaningless. If nothing man does or believes makes any difference, why should God make any difference? In a relativist world, He doesn’t. That is more or less where we are, with the added nuance that we allow no one, not even God, to correct us.

    Hobbes identified Catholicism with the “kingdom of darkness.” His whole system, on which much of modernity is based, was designed to eliminate this kingdom from this world. This was the modern project that was based on the attribution of individual rights to each person. As we see in the evolution of this concept – which, at first sight, appears quite attractive – “rights” have indeed come to mean the elimination of Catholicism.

    Pope Francis seems to understand this. His solution, however, is to stress an inner-worldly optimism based on the “joy” of the Gospel and a simpler way of living that includes special concern for the poor. He thinks such examples will enable men to see another side of Catholicism, one based not so much on doctrines and laws. He does not seem to meet the modem project head on, as it were. Many people, wrongly I think, interpret Francis as a covert modemist. They insist on analyzing Catholicism in terms of the relativism of which Goldman speaks. Pope Francis has introduced a new play in the world chess game. What remains to be seen is whether he is received into the public square as a Catholic or a modernist, whether Catholicism in his time is allowed any space but that inside its own walls.

    I am inclined to argue that the best understanding that we can have of our polities and the level of virtue in them is still provided by Aristotle. The rejection of Roman Catholicism is at bottom a rejection of reason, not its revelation. Pope Benedict was right. St. Paul was sent to Macedonia because that is where philosophy was. What has happened is what Benedict calls a “dehellenization” that leaves revelation with no foundation or relation to reason. But what has further happened is that reason in the modern world first lost confidence in itself – Hume’s dictum that “the contrary of every matter of fact is still possible.”

    The revelation of Christianity to reason makes no sense if reason itself means only voluntarism, now shared by both Islam and modernity, in which anything can be anything else, in which man himself could and should be other than what he is. Catholicism’s task is to remain itself, a revelation of the Father through the Word made flesh – that Word in which the world and its order were first created. The irony is that Catholicism is not being rejected because it is a revelation – it is being rejected because it is also reasonable in a world that rejects reason in order that it may do, even to itself, what is really unreasonable for what man is. *

  2. With the unfortunate progressive Spirit of Vatican, the embrace of and surrender to modernity by radical modernists in the institutional Church have come very close to ending Catholicism as any kind of serious alternative to modern secular culture. Catholicism used to offer a very serious, forceful, and coherent opposition to secularism and immorality. For whatever reason, progressive modernists sought to end that by creating neo-Catholicism Lite, run through the liberal social engineering of Situation Ethics, neo-Kantianism, and the Frankfurt School until it is nothing like the traditional Catholic faith. How’s that going for you? How’s your parish, school, and college doing under Land O’Lakes, the Novus Ordo, the Spirit of Vatican II, and Bergoglio’s Pendulum of climate change and “who am I to judge?” Situation Ethics? Is that anything like what Edmund Campion, St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, and so many others, died for?

  3. Nope, we are living under the same constitution that founded us–it’s just rolled out to its natural end. The idea that our original inspiration was religious and good and just, is not true. The idea that our Founding Fathers were wise is not true. The traditional church you go to, if you go to an SSPX chapel, does not believe these untrue ideas. Let me quote from the history book used in our schools, from Anne Carroll’s “Christ and the Americas.” Carroll first states that the idea of checks and balances as framed in the constitution is a good one, by any standards. But it broke down. Why? She answers this way: “Madison, rightly regarded as the Father of the Constitution, stated that sovereignty (the source of authority) should rest in the people. In other words, the government received all its authority from the consent of the people. Thomas Jefferson had made the same point in the Declaration of Independence: ‘Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.’ This idea came from 18th century Liberalism and was hostile to previous political theory. Since the rebirth of civilization after the Dark Ages, men had regarded sovereignty as coming from God. If power were not exercised in harmony with God’s laws, it was not legitimate, no matter how many people consented to it. But God is not mentioned in the Constitution. By placing sovereignty in the people, rather than in God and Divine law, the framers of the Constitution left the door open for any evil, so long as it was justified by majority rule, In Christian societies, the Church was the ultimate check on any would-be tyrant. But this check did not exist in the United States.” (p. 128)

    We were always secular and we were always wrong, but we keep worshipping at that altar anyway. We contaminated all of Europe with it, and are trying now to spread it, vile secularism, with bombs and bayonets in the MIddle East. Our godless democracy! Forcing it on them! The Vatican too! (But Angelqueen?!)

    Re-setting to some earlier time in our own constitution won’t work at all. We need to amend our constitution as Hungary has done and go even further. Our original one is flawed and it has bewitched and ruined the world!

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