The End of a “Catholic Moment”?

GWB and B16Ross Douthat mourns (prematurely, I fear) ‘the end of a Catholic moment’:

The mid-2000s were the last time the Catholic vision of the good society — more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American liberalism — enjoyed real influence in U.S. politics. At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice.


I have no particular objection to “faith-based initiatives” and the like (in fact, under the right circumstances they can be thoroughly good things), nor, for that matter, with the notion that the embrace of (ultimately disastrous) “compassionate conservatism” was what it took to win the 2000 election, but let’s be clear that Catholic ideas of “social justice” are part of a corporatist ideology that (as some of Benedict XVI’s pronouncements remind us) is very difficult indeed to square with traditional American notions of individualism and the free market. To his credit, I don’t think that’s what George W. Bush was trying to do.

Mr. Douthat continues:

Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.

It’s interesting to read of a “Catholic view of economics and culture” (in the sense that Douthat defines those terms) as representing “a center” either now, or then. I have my doubts.

As for Rand or Aquinas, I would have distinct reservations about channeling either, although—if really forced to choose— I would prefer the former to the latter (I suspect that I would have even more reservations about old Aquinas, if I could ever bring myself to devote any time at all to his endless—and dreary— theological and philosophical musings, but life’s too short, and there’s only the one).

More importantly, I suspect that the broader point that Douthat is making about the GOP will turn out to be wrong. As he notes later on, “a synthesis of social conservatism and more egalitarian-minded economic policies could have a great deal of mass appeal”. That’s true, I reckon (so long as the social conservatism is more—so to speak—Edmund Burke than Todd Akin), and that is why the Republicans will end up, I have long thought (and Tea Party notwithstanding, still do), as an Americanized version of Europe’s Christian Democrats, with all the baggage that that will entail.

De Tocqueville would weep.

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4 Responses to The End of a “Catholic Moment”?

  1. John says:

    The term I’ve heard for economic leftism and social conservatism is “populism” which generally has been, well, popular. A lot of people like a big welfare state, but are against gay marriage. However, social conservatism does not seem to be as popular with the younger crowd, so I suspect that the Catholic Church is going to have an even tougher time in the near future than it is having now.

  2. RightLiberal says:

    The Catholic Church in the West. The center of Christian fervor (and religion in general) is shifting south and east by the year.

    If I were advising them as a management consultant, I’d tell them to focus their marketing (theological) efforts on encapsulating African, Latin American, Asian, and possibly Eastern European communal aspirations. I’d also have them refocus their Western outreach, first on Western traditionalist conservatives and then away from the West altogether. They can’t win by lashing themselves to the sinking ship of Western social liberalism. And social liberalism will sink us all, stern and bow alike. The only salvation lies outside of the ship.

  3. Don Kenner (@DonKenner) says:

    Douthat believes the GOP more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Aquinas? Wow. I had no idea that Romney, McCain, et al were in favor of the complete elimination of the welfare state, reducing the tax rate to a fraction of its current rate, and closing the doors on such regulatory agencies as the FDA, OSHA, and the EPA. Plus and end to compulsory public schooling. What wonderful news!

    Or perhaps “channeling” means that one prominent GOP member mentioned liking the novel Atlas Shrugged, which provoked the typical 15 minutes of hate on the left, followed by that Republican’s distancing himself from Rand’s thought and the embracing social justice teachings of his church.

    If Rand Paul were the face of the Republican Party Douthat’s comment might not have been silly.

  4. Aberlard Lindsey says:

    “a synthesis of social conservatism and more egalitarian-minded economic policies”

    Sounds like fascism to me.

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