The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism

Thaddeus Kozinski Makes an Argument for a Catholic Confessional State

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By Annamarie Adkins

LANDER, Wyoming, JAN. 27, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI, echoing his predecessor, has repeatedly exhorted the Catholic faithful and all persons of good will to live their freedom in accordance with truth and the common good. 

The need to live "love in truth" is especially important in "liberal" societies -- representative democracies, republics, and constitutional monarchies -- lest they degenerate into a "thinly disguised totalitarianism" governed by a "dictatorship of relativism." 

As the problem of maintaining public order in pluralistic societies continues to vex political theorists, some are rethinking the modern liberal project. They believe the time is right to reconsider both the assumptions on which such a political order is based, as well as the ability of Catholic teaching and the natural law to be an effective guidepost in supposedly liberal polities.

One such political philosopher is Thaddeus Kozinski, an assistant professor of humanities, philosophy, and theology at Wyoming Catholic College and the author of "The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: And Why Philosophers Can't Solve It" (Rowman &Littlefield), a book Aidan Nichols, OP says makes a "sophisticated, cumulative case for the moral limitations and metaphysical bankruptcy of liberal political philosophy."

Kozinski explained to ZENIT why a "confessional" state, that is, one in which Catholicism is the official religion, is necessary to provide a proper foundation for human flourishing. 

ZENIT: What is religious pluralism? Why is it a political problem? 

Kozinksi: Religious pluralism describes a political community in which citizens hold diverse and sometimes irreconcilable worldviews. It is the situation of most contemporary nation-states in the West ever since the seventeenth century. 

Religious pluralism is a political problem because politics is fundamentally about how human beings organize their lives together to achieve what they consider their individual good and the common good. 

If we can't agree about the good, then we have a serious political problem, and merely privatizing and de-politicizing our disagreements isn't a solution. 

Disagreement or ignorance about the human good is fundamentally a religious problem. I could have entitled the book "The Religious Problem of Political Pluralism," I guess, and it wouldn't change much, since religion and politics are, pace liberalism, inextricably intertwined. 

The good is politically unavoidable, and this is why the modern, liberal project of "privatizing the good," to use MacIntyre's phrase, is not an answer to the political problem of religious pluralism -- it only hides the issue, preventing the question about the human good from being genuinely asked. 

ZENIT: Your book discusses the political philosophies of three of the last century's most influential thinkers -- John Rawls, Jacques Maritain, Alasdair MacIntyre -- and dissects each's attempt to develop a coherent ethical framework to ground and guide a pluralistic liberal political order. Can you briefly sketch what each proposed, and why their projects fall short in your view?

Kozinski: The central idea of John Rawls, as he describes it in his book "Political Liberalism," is the "overlapping consensus": "Such a consensus consists of all of the reasonable opposing religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines likely to persist over generations and to gain a sizable body of adherents in a more or less just constitutional regime, a regime in which the criterion of justice is the political conception itself." 

The consensus is "political, not metaphysical," so it can gain the support of citizens holding diverse comprehensive doctrines; yet, it is also a robustly moral consensus. 

As I argue in the book, this can't work; any morally robust consensus on political and legal norms presupposes particular metaphysical and theological ideas, ideas not shared by everyone in a pluralistic liberal democracy. And so Rawls surreptitiously imports into both his "purely political" philosophical theory and practical consensus non-inclusive metaphysical and theological ideas. This is the major contradiction at the heart of his project. 

Like Rawls, Maritain aims to articulate a basis for a political order that can accommodate and integrate citizens holding irreconcilable comprehensive doctrines. 

For Maritain, as opposed to Rawls, the particular moral values that ground the overlapping consensus are neither natural to man nor merely a historical development of his evolution, but are the direct result of the supernatural grace that pervades post-incarnational time, the political fruit of the Incarnation's spiritual "leavening" in history. 

Maritain's version of the overlapping consensus, the "democratic charter," is superior to Rawls's in virtue of its absence of any spurious claim to metaphysical or theological neutrality. Nevertheless, while Maritain is right in his explanation of the theoretical grounding of any democratic charter, he mistakenly claims neutrality for the charter's practical intelligibility and functionality. 

For Maritain, that citizens possess the correct philosophical or theological grounding for the democratic charter is not required for its political success; citizens holding radically different worldviews can assent to it in good conscience and adequately conform to its prescriptions. 

Here, Maritain falls into contradiction because his own theoretical grounding for the democratic charter is actually a defective hybridization of Catholic, Thomistic and secular, liberal philosophical and theological principles.

Unlike Rawls and Maritain, Alasdair MacIntyre does not attempt to articulate a theoretical justification and practical model for a large-scale, morally based political order in deep pluralism. 

What MacIntyre does provide is a persuasive philosophical explanation for the impossibility of such a justification and model. MacIntyre's theory of "tradition-constituted rationality" explains why a genuinely moral political order, as opposed to the merely pragmatic modus vivendi consensus, cannot be effected in a deeply pluralistic society. 

Although MacIntyre's political model of small-scale, tradition-exclusive communities is superior to the overlapping consensus, tradition-inclusive model of Rawls and Maritain, it is problematic. 

The communities he envisions are not truly political in that their authorities do not possess the force and power of law, and they are left in an uneasy and ambiguous relationship with the large-scale, tradition-pluralistic, liberal nation-state, which, MacIntyre claims, is not political, not a community, and antithetical to the true political good. 

ZENIT: You argue that MacIntyre's philosophical vision comes the closest to providing a coherent way to think about a just political order, but has to be completed by something you call political theology. What do you mean? 

Kozinski: MacIntyre confines himself to asking and answering strictly philosophical questions, that is, questions the adequate consideration of and definitive answers to which require only the resources of divinely unaided human rationality. 

If politics and political speculation were strictly natural and rational affairs, then MacIntyre's philosophical mode of enquiry and argumentation would be sufficient. Yet, politics is, as I suggested above, ultimately a religious issue, for it is about man's good, his telos, and we know from Catholic doctrine that man's end is ultimately a supernatural one. This has speculative and practical -- political -- ramifications! 

So, I argue that MacIntyre the philosopher is unable to argue effectively against the most sophisticated and persuasive of the many anti-Thomistic and anti-Catholic political philosophies, such as the "democratic traditionalism" of Jeffrey Stout. 

By not prescribing an authoritative theoretical and practical role for political theology, the strictly philosophical Thomism of MacIntyre cannot fully recognize that God has spoken authoritatively regarding the proper construction and divine orientation of the political order. 

If the deep problems MacIntyre identifies in the modern political order stem from a theological error, namely, a false notion and cultural and political embodiment of the proper relationship between nature and grace, then these problems can only be solved through a correct notion of this relationship -- and this notion can only be articulated with the help of revealed theology. 

This is the conclusion to which Thomistic-Catholic political philosophy should ultimately lead, and from which Thomistic-Catholic political theology must begin. 

ZENIT: Are you arguing for a confessional state? How could such a thing be even possible in a pluralistic nation? Does its success depend on the cultural or ethnic homogeneity of a given polis? 

Kozinski: Yes I am, and in so doing I am only following the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church. And I am not alone among faithful Catholics in advocating it! 

As David Schindler said in his book "Heart of the World, Center of the Church" (1996): "A nonconfessional state is not logically possible, in the one real order of history. The state cannot finally avoid affirming, in the matter of religion, a priority of either 'freedom from' or 'freedom for' -- both of these priorities implying a theology."

"Dignitatis Humane" focused on the development of the Church's teaching on religious freedom; nevertheless, it upheld the complementary teaching that the ideal political order is the Catholic confessional state; for, it is the only order that can fully recognize, establish, and sustain the social reign of Christ the King: "Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ" (No. 1).

Now, how is such a political order possible in the midst of deep pluralism? That is a question I do not adequately treat in the book, but I do attempt a rudimentary answer. 

The first step to any confessional political order, even on the smallest of scales, is for people to recognize that the secular, pluralistic, liberal nation-state is neither the only nor the best possible political order, that it is a historically contingent one, and thus is neither permanent nor inevitable. We need to open up our political imaginations. 

I think "Caritas in Veritate," with its combination of clear orthodoxy and traditional philosophy with an expansive, astute, and innovative cultural, political, social, and economic vision, is a great model of this.

Next, we need to see that what the consensus that Maritain called for in the 1950s, and that Benedict XVI is now calling for, one based upon the natural law opened up to the transcendent -- but not explicitly upon Catholic doctrine and worship -- is certainly good and necessary; we must rescue the West from the culture of death as quickly as possible! 

Yet, a political and cultural consensus based on natural-law norms and practices in our cultural milieu of radical worldview pluralism would be a relatively minimal one, certainly not one deep enough for a stable and robust common good, let alone the social reign of Christ the King.

If this minimal, provisional, natural-law consensus should come about, I think the next step would be that we work to orient this consensus to something more stable and profound. Politics should be about fostering the best social, legal, institutional, and cultural conditions for the communal discovery and consensual political establishment of the true religion, after it is has been recognized as such by the vast majority.

But before such natural-law norms could ever be established culturally and politically as the first step to a new Christendom, the reality of the present tyrannical hegemony of the "tradition" of liberalism would need to be recognized by the populace. 

Here, MacIntyre's critique of liberalism as an established, radically defective tradition is eminently helpful. Only when the tradition of liberalism loses its undeserved and destructive social and political authority among the citizenry could a truly deserving and salutary, publicly authoritative tradition be developed and eventually supplant it.

In short, Catholics should be seeking first a communal consensus on the intrinsic political defectiveness of pluralistic liberalism, and then the necessity of its eradication by means of a teleologically-informed, communal dialectic oriented towards and aspiring toward religious truth, and to embodying this truth, eventually, on the large-scale level of the nation-state -- and perhaps even beyond this. We are talking about a new Christendom.

I think the Pope realizes this, but he is not saying it explicitly for prudential and rhetorical reasons. I do not think the confessional model has been superseded, or that the natural law is enough, politically speaking. 

ZENIT: In his 2011 World Day of Peace Message, Benedict XVI stated that religious freedom is an indispensible path to peace, truth, and human flourishing. Is this not an implicit signal by the Holy Father of the Church's preference for liberal political orders grounded in the natural law of the type envisioned by Maritain? 

Kozinski: The Catholic confessional state is both liberal (in the proper sense of the term, meaning morally free) and grounded in the natural law. 

The real question is how any political order can be truly liberal, that is, how can it secure the true freedom of men as sons of God, and be grounded in the prescriptions and goods of natural law, the effective obedience to and securing of which are only attainable by the help of grace. 

The point of my book is that for any political order to promote the full-flourishing of human persons, which is what Benedict XVI is calling for and what liberal, pluralistic democracy boasts to have achieved, it must be cognizant of and obedient to the will of God. 

This is what the Pope means, I think, when he demands that politics be opened and oriented to the "transcendent," which is personified in Jesus Christ. 

Because God's explicit will is authoritatively given through and recognized by the Catholic Church -- the natural law, as well as the Divine law, is authoritatively interpreted by and articulated only through the Catholic Church -- then any state that desires the best for its citizens must privilege the freedom of the Catholic Church and formally cooperate with her mission, while also permitting and supporting the freedom of other religious communities insofar as they contribute to the common good and uphold public order. 

The problem with Maritain's democratic charter is that it cannot live up to its ideal; moreover, it was tried, and failed. The kind of natural-law based political order that John Courtney Murray and Jacques Maritain desired to achieve might have been attainable in 1950, but even then it wouldn't have lasted long, I think. 

Even if I am completely wrong about Murray and Maritain, it is clear that we need a more realistic and radical alternative now. 

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On the Net:

"The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism": http://www.rowmanlittlefield.com/Catalog/SingleBook.shtml?command=Search&db=^DB/CATALOG.db&eqSKUdata=0739141686&thepassedurl=[thepassedurl]