An intellectual enterprise aimed at overthrowing political liberalism

The compass pointing south, Le Monde, recently published an article presenting a list of some Catholic intellectuals in the United States, often new converts, attached to the Church’s Social Doctrine and Leo XIII. They attended a colloquium in Steubenville, Ohio, in early October. Excerpts:

[…] Until recently, the intellectual enterprise to overthrow marginal, political liberalism, the defining philosophical project of America, is gaining traction. A reverse model is being developed to restore traditional hierarchies. The Nov. 8 midterm elections are a new test for the populism that has plagued the Republican Party. If a large number of Trumpist candidates win, the theorists of this dark world will see their approach vindicated at the ballot box.

Brilliant scholars, political science professors and journalists now quote the great names of philosophy to justify their desire to see what the “regime” has to say. The period is described in apocalyptic terms.

In this context of radicalization, a group of traditionalist Catholic intellectuals knew better than anyone how to theorize the anger that oppressed religious voters. Some of these thinkers claim to be integralists, a tendency that seeks to subordinate all human existence and activities to Catholic truth. So they developed a concept of the state that could be very useful to a right that long thought government was a problem but now wants to take control of American society.

Patrick Deneen, born in 1964, is a key member of this Catholic collective, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana), where Amy Coney Barrett, a fervent Catholic, is Donald Trump’s nominee. to the Supreme Court in 2020. In June, he supported a resolution ending constitutional protections for abortion. He does not belong to the same stream as Deneen. Amy Coney Barrett is closer to the conventional right. Like five of the nine members of the nation’s highest court, he hails from the most influential legal organization in the United States, the Federalist Society, whose philosophy is conservative and libertarian, meaning it strongly opposes government intervention. […] Since the publication of Why Liberalism Failed (L’Artisan, 2020), [Patrick Deneen] in fact, he confirmed himself as one of the main opponents of this political project. The book gained attention in 2018, the year it was originally published in English by Yale University Press, appearing on Barack Obama’s annual summer reading list. Patrick Deneen’s next book will be called Regime Change. Towards a post-liberal future (“regime change, towards a post-liberal future”). The book will be released in the spring of 2023, and as soon as it was announced, it shot to the top of Amazon’s pre-order list. […]

Patrick Deneen in “Vocism” points to the decline of this civilization, “this religion of humanity” that will replace true religion. According to him, according to the English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), one of the founders of liberalism, a kind of theology of progress and the individual was allowed to spread. “The ambition was actually to free humanity from the state’s restrictions on our rights,” Deneen explains. Today, the search for emancipation leads to the desire to get rid of all limitations. Against arbitrariness we now come to demand the constant intervention of the state, especially in relation to the private sphere and the body. Gay marriage, transhumanism and “transgenderism” will weaken the family and defy the boundaries set by nature. […]

We find Patrick Deneen a few days later in a small town in Ohio, where he has to attend a conference. Steubenville (population 18,000) is one of the urban centers that has become a ghost due to relocations. […] A banner hangs: “Let’s end all abortions.” The Supreme Court’s recent decision on termination of pregnancy is not enough. Each state of the Union is always free to allow this procedure, which is still too much for them.

The university is hosting a conference, “Rebuilding a Nation: The Common Good in the American Tradition,” featuring Patrick Deneen and other speakers. About 250 people are taking part, including students, interested people, lawyers and “pro-life” activists. This community, which is very active on social networks, is happy to meet again. However, the event opens with a changing globalization slogan: “Another world is possible. An old pet peeve of American conservatism, the New Deal is defended by Steubenville, even quoting Marxist authors.

For two days, classical philosophy as well as ultramontane Catholicism is invoked to defend social and economic policies aimed at preserving the traditional family. Pope Francis is rarely mentioned. We prefer Pope Leo XIII, who reigned from 1878 to 1903. We reinterpret his legacy, insisting on his role in defining the church’s social doctrine and his critique of modern, more individual freedoms. He was a figure reviled by conservatives in his day because he accepted the autonomy of the provisional government. The name of the French thinker, the philosopher Pierre Manent, who criticized liberalism in recent years, comes up regularly.

The most anticipated speaker is undoubtedly Adrian Vermeule, distinguished professor of constitutional law at Harvard. His colleague Samuel Moyn, professor of legal history at Yale and an outspoken leftist intellectual, considers him “the most brilliant constitutionalist of his generation” and uses his book Common Good Constitutionalism (“Constitutionalisme du bien commun”, Polity Press, untranslated). He also sees in him useful support from the right in favor of national solidarity measures, public policies that have always met the frenzied opposition of the Republican Party, but which Vermeule espouses. The Harvard professor is also well-liked by his colleague Kass Sunstein, another lawyer and constitutional scholar who worked in the Obama administration. They have co-authored several books.

In Steubenville, Adrian Vermeule embodies something quite different. In the eyes of an anti-abortion activist we met, he represents “Catholicism flexing its muscles.” An expert in administrative law, he defended the torture authorized by the Bush administration during the war in Iraq. His conversion to Catholicism in 2016 hastened his departure from the conservative establishment. In a country where ruling class values ​​continue to be inspired by Protestantism and liberalism, embracing traditional Catholicism constitutes a form of elite populism. Conversions are the latest fashion, especially since the historical continuity of the Church of Rome offers intellectual grounds for constructing oppositional discourse. […]

Sohrab Ahmari is the third most important figure in this team. He is the one who works to promote their ideas. The former journalist converted to Catholicism in 2016 with the hashtag #iamjacqueshamel on social media, referring to the priest who was killed by a jihadist in the church, the Wall Street Journal, then the debate pages of the New York Post. Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. In March, he launched Compact on his website with Matthew Schmitz, another traditionalist Catholic, and Edwin Aponte, a self-described “populist Marxist” journalist. The title brings together far-left and far-right authors, with articles by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek as well as American techno-monarchist theorist Curtis Yarvin. “We want a strong debate,” Sohrab Ahmari said, claiming to disagree with him. Ahmari is very attached to social issues. […]

The final speaker in Steubenville is none other than JD Vance, a Republican candidate for Senate whose career has been particularly celebrated. He became known in 2020 thanks to the book Hillbilly élégie (Globus, 2016), which was adapted into a movie by Netflix. It tells the story of a young white boy growing up in Ohio between a drug-addicted mother and a visiting grandmother. rescue In 2016, Vance was against Trump. After entering the Senate race in 2021, he changed his position. Meanwhile, Vance converted to Catholicism in 2019. […]

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