The Corner


How Many Integralists Can There Possibly Be?

Over on the homepage, Dan McLaughlin responds to Adrian Vermeule’s “common-good constitutionalism,” the idea that judges and bureaucrats should take the Constitution to mean what Adrian Vermeule wishes it meant, rather than what it meant when it was written. I’m with McLaughlin: No.

But this paragraph of McLaughlin’s raises the deeper issue that’s always perplexed me about “Catholic integralists” and the prominent role they’re suddenly playing in debates over the future direction of the Right:

The natural-law tradition has much to offer in informing a vision of the common good. But standing alone, it has no more a fixed and authoritative set of rules than one could find in originalism, unless it is combined — as it was for Aquinas — with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Therein lies the irony of Vermeule’s position. Catholics, to a degree unusual among Christians, are bound and constrained by the dead hand of tradition. . . . In invoking the Catholic moral tradition, Vermeule is not actually proposing to eliminate written rule and constraint, but to outsource it.

Pertinent question 1: If the U.S. were to outsource its governing principles to a specific religion, why on earth would it be Catholicism? The country was not founded by Catholics and has never had a Catholic majority.

Pertinent question 2: You may not need a majority to rule the country, especially if you can control the courts and the bureaucracy, but certainly you need some significant numbers to achieve that control to begin with, no? Per the 2018 General Social Survey, only a quarter of American adults identify as Catholics at all, and even fewer as serious Catholics with right-wing beliefs. Only about a quarter of Catholics report attending religious services “nearly every week” or more, and only about a fifth of Catholics consider themselves conservative or very conservative politically. Fewer than a tenth of Catholics are conservative and attend church frequently, to say nothing of subscribing to integralism in particular.

How is the Moral Minuscule Minority going to impose its will on the rest of us, exactly?


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