“Totalitarian Liberalism” Versus Religious Liberty

by Ed Whelan

In his excellent Public Discourse essay today, Philip Tartaglia, the Roman Catholic bishop of Paisley, Scotland, explains how an “aggressive secularism” aims (in the phrase of one of the aggressive secularists) to confine religious freedom inside “the door of the temple.”

Bishop Tartaglia’s contrast between “totalitarian liberalism” and “traditional liberalism” (a contrast that he credits to Cardinal George Pell of Sydney) succinctly captures the ongoing battle. Whereas traditional liberalism “sees the individual, the family, and the association as prior to the state, with the state existing only to fulfill functions that are beyond the capabilities of individuals and families,” totalitarian liberalism “tends to imply that institutions such as the family, the Church, and other agencies exist only with the permission of the state, and, to exist lawfully, must abide by the dictates or norms of the state.” Note that the adjective “totalitarian,” far from being an empty epithet, captures the ambition of aggressive secularism to occupy the totality of public space.

For yet another reminder of what totalitarian liberalism threatens, here’s news of a ruling by a German court that (according to the article) “neither the rights of parents nor the constitutional freedom of religion can justify interventions such as circumcision.” One German expert even commends the fact that “the court was not deterred by fears of being criticized for anti-Semitism or hostility toward religion.” 

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