The first step towards solving any problem is in defining our terms. Oftentimes this first step is also the last, for once we have defined a problem, its solution follows by logical necessity. And accordingly, many of our most contentious disputes arise when we have not been discussing the same thing at all. The task of defining terms is especially important on the political right. For the forces of conservatism and reaction to be effective, they must not only resurrect arguments thought lost long ago, but recapture the very terms of dispute, the loss of which so often does away with the very notion that there was a controversy in the first place.
Such is the case with the term liberalism. There is a growing trend towards criticizing liberalism, not only as representatives of conservative bugbears of the welfare state and the sexual revolution or socialist griping about free markets, but aiming at the very heart of liberal thought and government itself. Yet when we go searching for this, what liberalism really is, it is incredibly easy to get lost along the way. What is the heart of liberalism? Does it even have a heart?
An example of this difficulty: Any definition of liberal which cannot hold within it Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Barack Obama is not an adequate definition, for all these men represented in their day the kind of spirit we now associate with liberalism, even if they were not known as such at the time. And yet even within the lifespans of these individual men, we see a remarkable amount of transformation. The Jefferson of 1798 was a radical proponent of self-rule, but by 1803 had subjected a huge population to foreign government and grossly deformed the rights of the original republic. The legalistic attorney of 1860 committed only to saving the union was far different from the Great Emancipator revered by Karl Marx. Roosevelt began as a pragmatic reformer and transformed into the conquering exemplar of international governance and human rights. And the technocratic conciliator of 2008 would be inveighed against in 2016 as a homophobe by Trayvon’s adopted father. How do we find a principle which can endure the trial of ages when we can scarcely find the principle played out the lifespan of individual men?
It is tempting to say that liberalism has no underlying principle, no coherent motivation girding one era’s liberalism with the next: That it is simply change for change’s sake, in which case we must concede that liberalism is but another name for chaos, or the desire for chaos. But in this holds, then liberalism is mere anarchy, and no ruling ethos could have arisen from it. We may also be tempted to say liberalism is about democracy, yet many of its cornerstone reforms are manifestly against democratic forces and individual autonomy. The liberal can spew about “local democracy” when there is some particular perversion he needs to condone, and claim the need for international forum when the rights of sovereign states need to be quashed. It is also tempting to say that liberalism is about freedom. But with every liberal change comes some new oppression, and every new right liberalism creates must be offered on the altar of a previous right’s immolation, through a process of creative destruction. Liberalism cannot create anything unless it arises from the ashes of an ancient freedom.
As David Corey noted in his review of Patrick Deneen’s recent book on the topic, liberalism cannot be guilty of self-contradictions because it lacks a coherent body of ideas. And so the ideology (if it is one ideology) which operates as a wrecking ball to every impediment it meets cannot be defined ahistorically. We cannot know what era’s liberalism we are encountering without knowing what era’s walls it is trying to smash. For this reason, it seems liberalism is always a reaction to something else. But again, this raises the question whether liberalism has a motive force. We cannot expect to attack liberalism, and certainly not to erect something in its place, with only a fleeting half-knowledge of what it is, and thus it seems vain to try to assign a precise definition, and our attacks must be waged against a vaguely defined concept, or worse yet, a feeling. And we are left with the above-stated problem: Whether we can define the monster at all.
Liberalism is the process of enshrining what is unnatural in the body politic and ultimately the minds and souls of men. Liberalism is not about freedom, it is about license. For liberalism is never concerned with the liberty to do something we ought to do, but to gain the ability to do something we know we should not do, and as an ideology, it ultimately exists only as a justification for vice. It is, in fact, vice turned into a science; it is applied injustice gussied up as justice; it is what is inherently irrational contorted into the boundaries of social rationality, and from there, incoherently posited as a universal principle. That which is not irrational can be adapted without the methods of liberal suasion, but liberalism demands coercion to establish itself. The liberal rights which men come to enjoy, and which may at times lead them to prosperity or indirectly to virtue, nonetheless arise out of the motive of squalor and vice.
I think it is easiest to understand liberalism by charting the progression by which liberal change is made:
First, there is a vice or usurpation that need justification. This may take many forms: the desire to exploit others, the desire to let loose one’s libido, the desire to usurp power. The actual course of this usurpation depends on the technical means available to make some threshold level adopt the reforms and necessary to achieve the usurpation. Sometimes the social means necessary for its adoption are not present, and the initial attempts to make the change die on the vine, for a liberal cause always requires a special social circumstance to justify itself, because it is a departure from reason, history, and law. Liberals must always place great reliance on technology and the state to adopt and maintain the social forces necessary to keep the change in place at that threshold level. But bare social coercion is not enough to truly effect permanent change, and a theory must be provided to support the vice in terms of logic and law, and the discovery of a new, universal logic justifying the social change. A liberal change is not merely political, but one which envisions redefining the rules of nature. Thus, the newfound principle is used to remake the social body, not merely by material coercion but under the claim that the social body is uniting itself to a higher law. The final stage is the remaking of man himself within the bounds of the new liberal principle, culminating in what Burke called the “complete revolution,” that revolution which extends to “the constitution of the mind of man.” It is these last stages which complete a liberal revolution, and which make the liberal revolution more pernicious and dangerous than any other. For persistent vice—and again, this is the basis of liberal movements—cannot be justified at the individual level. It can only be justified in the context of license on a society-wide scale, the claim that such a vice is in accord with the law of nature, and then the reformation of man.
By way of contrast: The freedoms won in Magna Charta are not liberal freedoms, no matter how often liberals may strive to adopt them under their mantle. Property rights are in no way liberal. Limited government is in no way inherently liberal. But attempting to form a coherent system of justice out of property rights alone, as Jeremy Bentham proposed, is a liberal assertion. Claiming that men have an inherent right to rule themselves, as Jefferson posited, is a liberal claim. Magna Charta was an attempt to solidify well-accepted political rights in the context of a country besought by foreign invasions and made up of diverse peoples. But a liberal claim always makes an assertion for itself that transcends its immediate realm of concern. It takes up the banner of absolute truth while at the same time reserving the right to change that absolute truth when it sees fit. Without taking up this mantel of absolute truth, the usurpation would eventually be found out to be just that, usurpation; without possession of the technological means to initially force the usurpation on the social body, it would not otherwise be accepted.
Liberalism cannot be held synonymous with the tactics so often used to coerce liberal change. There is nothing inherently liberal about democracy. Democracy has many defects, but at heart it is merely a political form; liberalism is a means of spiritual transformation. The Puritans of New England maintained their probity through generations of fiercely democratic government. Again, this is not to say democracy does not have its problems. But the purpose of New England democracy was united to the Puritans’ concept of the good citizen and the good state; it was not used as a weapon to coerce change. Nor should the notion of socialist practices and property redistribution be considered inherently liberal. Property redistribution has long been a tool of the liberal to foster chaos, yet redistribution may prove just or unjust depending on the context, and whether it adheres to existing notions of right and law.
Additionally, as I noted above, the technical means are not always available for effecting a liberal transformation. Take, for example, the liberal assault on monogamy, which was only finally successful in the middle of the 20th Century. This was not due to lack of trying. During the French Revolution, marriage laws broke down, and in the chaos many attempts to establish sexual immorality were made. De Sade’s strange ruminations are but the most despicable of these. The same happened during the Russian Revolution, a process described by Pitrim Sorokin. Yet neither of these attempts was successful, and both the French and Russian radicals who took over the government walked back movements towards sexual anarchy. The proponents of this sexual anarchy did not have the technical means to effect the change, that is, to instill the vice as a public force, and thence to change the hearts of men. It was not until the 20th Century that monogamy could finally be destroyed by means of the birth control pill. There was no argument won in this process, no real moral development or new insights. Simply, the technical means the reformers lacked in 1789 and 1917 were available to the reformers in 1965.
But the effect of using technical means to force liberal changes is most prominent following the French Revolution, and especially in our modern age. I do not want to address these technical and democratic factors so much here. Rather, I want to focus on England in the period before the usurpation of William and Mary in 1688. All the primary characteristics of liberal revolution were apparent by that time, yet the chaos of the mob and modern technology was generally absent, making analysis easier.
To repeat: A liberal reform is one which cannot be promoted within the bounds of reason or morality or law. Liberalism is wholly dependent on the adoption of a new socialized morality in order to justify the vice that has been let loose in the body social. It is this characteristic which makes liberalism ultimately inimical to virtue and true morality. For liberalism does not merely corrupt the morals of one state, of one age; liberalism requires the reformation of the “law of nature” in order to justify its changes. Importantly, liberalism still adheres to the operating motive of the Christian state, that is, on the moral and material improvement of its people; the liberal state still sees its raison d’etre as benefiting the people by putting them in accord with a higher ethos.
It is worthwhile to draw a distinction between concepts of “natural law,” since both Christian and liberal states use it to justify their respective programs. Natural law’s fundamental claim is that we must know man and know his position in the cosmos before we can treat him justly, and this includes the sphere of legislation. But in the Thomistic sense, this understanding was a kind of direct relation between the state and man. Man had to first know nature in order to develop a material social order that facilitated individual’s personal moral development, from which a good society might spring. This system was respectful of the moral autonomy of man, for if held that society was to function, it depended on man’s own charity and personal probity. To know natural law was to know the way man should be guided towards a good society, but without the conscious act of Christian will, no such society could arise.
The natural law of Enlightenment thinkers was much different. To Rousseau, Hobbes, and Locke, the natural law was necessary and also sufficient for the ordering of a good society. Natural law was not only a rule of how an individual man was to act, but as to how all men were to be ordered in society as a whole. Whereas man in medieval society could be thought to ensoul the body social, because the goodness of that body could only be as good as its constituent men, the Enlightenment’s law of nature diminished man’s role in the social body to the equivalent of a cell in an otherwise self-sufficient organism; it viewed society as a vast ticking watch to which man ultimately could contribute nothing but to know his place as a cog in the mechanism. This transformation in man’s conception of himself within the social body lies at the heart of liberalism.
This change arose most clearly in the economic sphere. To get an idea of this progression, I want to look specifically at the practice of usury. The acceptance of usury is one of the foundations of modern economics, and had the English not justified the practice, it is difficult to believe the capitalist engine could have ever been revved.
There is no justification for usury, that is, the taking of a profit on unproductive loans. It gives unaccountable power to a class of people who provide no productive labor, subjugates those taking out usurious loans to the prospect of lifelong indemnity, and transforms the character of economic activity from one of industry to that of a roulette wheel. As such, usury was condemned in a single voice by the philosopher as ruinous to the state, and the priest as ultimately destructive of a man’s immortal soul. The practice was universally condemned in the medieval world; it was tolerated only amongst wretches, in Cobbett’s memorable words, “for the same cause incest is tolerated amongst dogs.”
Yet usury found a defender in a former Defender of the Faith, and in the years after Henry VIII’s usurpation of spiritual matters in England, usury more and more found acceptance, an outcome that would have been impossible were it not for the very particular social circumstances of that time, that is, the existence of a large proto-bourgeoisie grown rich from Henry’s looting of Church lands, and a large vulnerable underclass created out of the same theft. The continued economic turmoil wrought from the theft of Church lands, the decline in industry and resulting necessity for state welfare, and the Tudors’ financial wantonness created the need for funds, and of course usury was an easy means of acquiring them. Without these particular circumstances, it is difficult to believe the mass of people in England would have allowed such a crime to continue.
And yet none of the bare facts about usury had changed. Surely its growing use was a sign of tyranny. There have been many tyrants in history, yet we know just as well that such tyrants eventually have their fall. But the vices and oppressions of the 16th Century had the benefit of coming about when the English people were in the process of radically redefining themselves as a people. A new philosophy was arising that required men take up the tyrant’s yoke and consider it sweet. How could this be justified on the grand scale? Here are the words of Sir Francis Bacon, which are incredibly telling given Bacon’s preeminent place in the Age of Reason. Instead of condemning usury, the state should license certain lenders to commit the crime. He continues:
“Let these licensed lenders be in number indefinite, but restrained to certain principal cities and towns of merchandizing; for then they will be hardly able to colour other men’s moneys in the country: so as the licence of nine will not suck away the current rate of five; for no man will lend his moneys far off, nor put them into unknown hands. If it be objected that this doth, in a sort, authorize usury, which before was in some places but permissive; the answer is, it is better to mitigate usury by declaration, that to suffer it to rage by connivance.”
All states allow certain vices so as to possibly prevent worse behavior to the overall detriment of the social good. Yet in just states, these permissive measures are allowed with the understanding that man’s personal faults can never be wholly eradicated, and the harm done in trying would not be worth the meager benefits. But these allowances are in regard to personal vices inherent to man’s individual nature, not those vices created or enabled by the social environment itself.
Usury is not a personal vice, but a public one. It has no existence outside social transactions, and cannot but harm other men by its practice. At the same time, no one is so naïve as to claim that medieval loansharks were ever completely without a clientele. Yet there is a great difference between a crime conducted out in the open versus the shadows of Skid Road, a crime which is regulated versus a crime which is allowed, but always with the proviso that its practice could be throttled at any time at the discretion of the state. In adopting the tactic of regulation, the state acquires financial benefits for allowing such vice. The state becomes a necessary partner in the criminal enterprise, and any prior questions about the morality of the practice falls away and is replaced by an alternate analysis, one in which the total society-wide effect is assessed, not its effect on the individual.
Given our fallen nature, we well know that man is prone to crimes like usury. But to accept this fact, and even to tolerate some evils in practice, knowing that it is in vain to try to squelch all of them, is far different from providing sustenance to those crimes, which all forms of regulation materially are. And as incentives shift for the state to allow more and more of a vice, it will find that the social body can bear a larger and larger area of that gangrenous growth. Thus, in the case of usury, one can completely admit that much evil will come from it, but preventing such evil is costly, and such costs might be spent on other social endeavors. Tolerating the existence of vice in our intellects has transformed into manifestly aiding them.
In a system which regulates rather than condemns crimes, man’s relation to right and wrong—that fulcrum from which our relationship to God and our fellow man depends—is now mediated by our relation to the entire population. And this is the characteristic of liberal morality as compared to independent assessments of bad and good. Liberal morality is created not by man’s rational determination of his situation in the universe, his relation to Nature and the social world, but as a dependent variable in the sea of other dependent variables—something like the way prices are determined in neoclassical economics. Man’s moral nature is at the mercy of society at large; it is socialized.
Note that through all this, the idea of usury is still squalid and immoral; but this has been drowned out by the function of the market, the thousand other vices of avarice now regulated by the ballooning state, the specious reasoning of the economists, and the ultimate transformation of man himself into homo economicus, who sees the world in eat-or-be-eaten terms, and owes his fellow man no more than the what the Golden Rule demands: That if he is able to commit usury on his neighbor, his neighbor is just as “free” to seek usury from him. This reciprocity in exploitation is called “justice”—and it is steadfastly maintained as a form of justice, for to say that such actions are simply might equaling right would be to give away the lie. Though liberal changes always separate us from reason and morality, our most human attributes, they nonetheless will not allow man to be cognizant of that he has descended to the level of animal exploitation. Man must still be assured that he is operating on some the basis of some higher ethos, an expanded godhead which miraculously allows for vice.
From this dynamic arose Hobbes’s mighty Leviathan, the very notion of which shows the corruption wrought by adoption of liberal mores. Man, the political animal, does not need a great impetus to form tribes, cities, nations. Man is a social being, and is more himself in society than he is apart, and even more himself in a just society than an unjust one. Yet man needs some special impetus to join a covenant of injustice, some mutual assurance that his skirting of moral law will not be punished; that, like criminals in a gang, all have the same motive not to defect lest the crime be exposed. This is what Hobbes envisioned the state to be—and given the state of 17th Century England, he was correct in his assessment. The social contract of the Hobbesian Englishman was that he would enter into such a unjust pact; in return would arise the Leviathan—that beast which God holds out to Job as the summit of his awful power.
The Protestant Reformation as the First Liberal Revolution
I have made the claim that liberal causes are never won through argumentation; rather, they are won through transformation of the population as a whole. When these transformations are completed, the question is not whether these changes have been good or bad, but whether or not their reversal is materially feasible. This is the case with the modern welfare state, which is clearly unsustainable, but is also so well entrenched, that the badness or goodness is simply irrelevant. The average man rarely bothers to assess the goodness of the welfare state or its creators; its material intractability transforms the intellect into believing in its inevitability, and this in turn dulls any moral or intellectual impulse to judge its existence in the present and future, or its creation in days past. The same process is effected through technological dependence; once man becomes dependent on technology, its morality becomes basically moot. In other cases the liberal will simply skirt the need for specious argument by transforming the population itself, most notably through immigration and expansion of the suffrage. In the regular course of things, an argument is won on its merits, but under a liberal regime, an argument is forgotten after social coercion removes all stakes from the debate. The intellectual justifications which follow are always slipshod, because it was never the logic of an argument which impelled the change, but rather brute force.
But as I have said, the most pungent feature of liberal revolution is the change made in man himself. Because man is not convinced of a liberal change by reason, the acceptance of a liberal change, which holds itself out as a new facet to the law of nature, transforms man’s relation to the world as a whole. The man who acquiesces to a change based on logic retains his relational position to society and the world, but a man is not allowed such autonomy in a world where all material and moral existence is in flux. His liberty and reason are entirely dependent on the new means of arriving at the new socialized rule. And man has become more and more degraded through the centuries as the changes have come with greater rapidity, as he has found himself more and more subservient to technology and completely divorced from the means of materially sustaining himself.
The question arises when this process first began. Because vice is omnipresent, because tyranny is omnipresent, the operative question is when man was made into a creature amenable to the kind of social subjugation I have described. Clearly this was the Protestant revolt. Because in response to various frauds and usurpations, both ecclesial and political, a new man had to be created, the Protestant Man, who would in the passing centuries become the modern liberal. Man had to be transformed not, by and large, through propaganda or population replacement (though both played a role), but through the mediating institution of the Protestant sect. This was the great initial unmooring of man which permitted all later horrors.
From a historical perspective, we find the proximate cause of so many of the hallmarks of liberalism in the Reformation that we must begin there. But we must simultaneously understand that Protestantism, as practiced, has no independent intellectual existence. It is, rather, a scrapped together ideology meant to justify usurpation; it not only created the proto-liberal, but was the proto-liberal revolution and a blueprint for all successful liberal revolutions to come.
The Prussian, created out of Luther’s original revolt, has done as much damage as the Englishman in perverting the course of history—but let us stay focused on England. Henry, of course, was ostensibly driven by his desire for a male heir, which his Catholic queen could not apparently supply him. In order to escape his marriage, he devised a theological argument that because Catherine had entered into vows with his brother before his death, Henry was now engaged in a relationship with a woman who was actually his sister. This was a dishonest argument; Catherine and Henry’s 16-year-old brother’s marriage was ratum but not consummatum, and the controversy about whether the marriage could be voided was always in the province of ecclesiology such that even the hardest cynic had to admit the Bishop of Rome was the fittest arbitrator. Unhappy when Pope Clement declined to release him from his bonds to Catherine—a power possessed by no man on earth—Henry declared himself head of the Church in England.
This was a self-serving means of aggrandizement, and was notorious for its severity. But great disputes between crown and miter were constant through the Middle Ages. Henry’s usurpation was not necessarily, by itself, the portent of a permanent break between the Chair of St. Peter and the English crown. Henry’s defenses of Church dogma, including that of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, were severe. After Catherine’s death, the issue of his adultery was largely moot. The rupture between Henry and the Holy See likely would have found emendation at a later date; Henry still considered himself Catholic on his deathbed, as did the great majority of Englishmen, and the king’s usurpation of ecclesial power could have found resolution like so many other conflicts through the Middle Ages, ideally with the resulting benefit of clearer doctrine and ultimately a stronger bond.
The impassible frontier was not Henry’s usurped authority, but his theft of Church property, the closing of the monasteries, and the resulting impoverishment of the English working class. All later attacks on the clergy, on the hierarchy, and the reforms of the Council of Trent, were specious and dishonest ways to shift focus off the fact that the English Reformation was an ex post facto attempt to legitimize the revolution in property and the resulting enrichment of a parasite class who quickly commandeered the crown and court.
The theft was a disaster for England in material terms, just as it was a disaster in political and spiritual terms. Medieval England had been full of monasteries and they were an integral part in forming a just and wealthy Christian society, the likes of which have never come close to being replicated in the Anglosphere. Aside from the shelter, food, and services provided by the Church, priests and monks constituted a large percentage of landlords on the island, and served, in Cobbett’s words, as “an example the others were in a great degree compelled to follow.” It was said that a wandering man could not go six miles without finding a place to lay his head. But after the confiscations, first of the small then the large monasteries, this structure collapsed. The aid provided by religious now had to be replaced by poor laws, and those poor laws had to be continually expanded to cover a new class of misers who could no longer graze their beasts on Church lands or the quickly shrinking commons. The state of the English poor went from the best to the worst in Western Europe.
This was the material condition of England, allowing for so many subsequent transformations. This was tyranny such that would not have been acceptable, even after the passage of decades, without changing the expectations of the population they had recently defrauded. The parasite class of England could not maintain its perversion of English society without the destruction of the Englishman. To be lasting, to once again attain social peace, a new man had to be leavened from the old, for the social relationship that had formed could not endure among Catholic men. It was necessary to find some justification for their oppression and subjugation for the moral existence of the state to continue, and this is the role that Protestantism filled as a theology.
Liberalism as an Attack on the Real Presence
I earlier asked if there was any if any motive force could be assigned to liberal change, a question I then skirted by describing the process of liberal change. But in analyzing the mechanism of change and looking at its history, we come across the answer to our question. For all its changes, all its inconsistencies and incoherence, liberalism as an ideology must always be opposed to the Catholic notion of the Incarnation of Christ and the continued assertion of the Incarnation in the Eucharist and the mass. The Protestant revolt succeeded as the first liberal revolution precisely because it succeeded remaking the mind and soul of Christian man into one that accepted a new nature of God, and his new position in the world, classed either amongst the elect worthy to see God, or the non-elect and inevitable Gehenna. Liberalism has long since relinquished explicitly Protestant theology as a means for promoting itself (though Protestant religion itself has long since abandoned Protestant theology), but the Protestant attack on the Eucharist has always been part and parcel with liberal revolution, and is intrinsic to it. In its place is erected a new theology yet adhering to claims about the immortality of the natural order and nominal apotheosis of the human soul, while allowing the etiolation of those claims which might inhibit the material goals of liberal reformers.
This may strike the reader as too convenient. In the Western world, there is no institution like the Catholic Church which, aside from the truthfulness of the claims it makes, has maintained Her values throughout the centuries like no other institution. If liberalism is inherently a tendency to change, then its antipode must be that institution which is changeless, and the Church becomes its opposite by default. But the Catholic Church makes claims about God and man which are more fundamentally opposed to liberal change than any blind adherence to tradition. These claims are embodied in the Incarnation of Christ, and the central practice of this truth is the continued reenactment of this in the mass.
I don’t mean to loom on the religious claims made by the Church about the Incarnation and the Eucharist, though of course they are true; I mean to state the logical consequences that must result from a belief in the Incarnation, whether we take the event as historical fact or not. The Incarnation of Christ grounds, firstly, the notion of an immutable, omnipotent, single God. By asserting that the Word was made flesh, we are no longer allowed the creation of new gods. God is not localized, and one town’s god cannot be said to have superiority over another’s. There is no development of God as we see in Hegel’s notion of the zeitgeist, and there can be in concept no great divisions about His nature or the nature of His works, as we see in the embarrassment of Protestant sects. God is the Word, but in being made flesh, He is not merely an idea capable of being expanded and contorted to meet the desires of the age, but a single essence, et nunc, et in saecula saeculorum.
Secondly, the Incarnation grounded the nature of man. It both raised the possibility of the divinization of the flesh and stated that an individual man was valuable without relation to any exterior circumstance. Both these huge claims required the betterment of man not only out of human kindness but of divine necessity. In twenty centuries of Christian practice, we have become acclimated to treating benevolence as somehow natural to man, but in unloosing our notion of manhood from the divine, we find there is no inherent reason to treat other men well. The only reason for man to do anything is for the service of his own interest; charity arises when we adjust our understanding of what those interests are. If other men are nothing but flesh, there is no reason for us not to use them self-servingly; in fact, it is the height of foolishness to do otherwise, and while there can be a temporary détente from time to time, arisen out of reciprocity, there can never be any lasting charity when our neighbor is but a means to a material end. The Incarnation posits that man’s soul is unique, like Christ’s was, and our flesh is not an indistinct part of a mass or some limb which can be amputated for the good of the whole but rather, in a lesser form, holds the same importance as Christ’s flesh: the carrier of a thing great and immortal.
It is incredibly easy to see why these facts should be not only distasteful but despicable to those with worldly power. And accordingly, heresies generally rise out of a powerful class attempting to weaken the doctrines of the Incarnation. The Arian heresy, which proposed Christ was a creature of God rather than the Divinity itself, understandably dominated in the ranks of the Roman army. The army had controlled the empire for centuries on no basis of legitimacy but brute force. If Christ was merely a great man, raised through his acts to divinity by some higher godhead, he was no different from Julius or Augustus—or Tiberius and Claudius, for that matter. But if the claims of the orthodox were true, and Christ was divine apart from His great actions and words, and men had the power to be sons of God solely by receiving Him, the entire basis of the legions’ legitimacy was threatened. The bare exercise of authority could no longer suffice as reason to rule—and in the Christian era, it never has. The Arian heresy is derided by sophists as an abstruse theological debate arising out of one Greek syllable, but its ultimate implications went to man’s concept of himself and on what basis he would allow himself to be ruled.
For all intents and purposes, the conception of God and man as required by the Incarnation is humanly impossible: Man will always be anxious to change the nature of truth to conform to his selfish desires, and he will always be anxious to use his fellow men as wantonly as his desires dictate. The Church’s greatest weapon in fighting this tendency has been and always will be the Eucharist. In practice, reception of the Eucharist requires constant assent to the dogmas and moral code of the Church, which is in itself a great protector of orthodoxy. Yet the very existence of the Eucharist is as critical as the obligations it imposes. It stands against the Protestant notion that the completeness of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary rendered the rest of time essentially superfluous, and man’s striving in that period equally vain. It is an affront to the Calvinist notion of foreknown election, for if not all men have the capability to receive the Eucharist, then Christ was a liar in claiming to have come to save the entire human race. And it is a guard against the tendency to turn Christianity into nothing but a philosophy, for having the presence of God in religious service is the greatest guard against thinking God is a mere idea. The unity of Christian will and action is found in the Eucharist, just as is found the unity of Christ’s divinity and manhood. This is why Christ left us the Eucharist; this is why it cannot be attacked without eventually destroying Christianity as a whole.
The Protestant revolt was primarily anti-clerical, but even this cannot be understood without relation to the Incarnation and, most importantly, the reenactment of the Incarnation in the mass. And this again seems all too pat, because it is almost tautological. Being deeply anti-clerical means being anti-Eucharist, because the primary reason the Church hierarchy and the priesthood exists is to carry on the ability to transform bread into the body of Christ, thus reaffirming the Incarnation. In truth, there is very little reason for the Church to exist outside the Eucharist. The Eucharist is everything.
As we saw above, the efforts of the parasite class in England, who almost universally supported the Protestant revolters and in large part were one in the same, could not operate truthfully under the Catholic view of man: It could not strip him of his property and his livelihood without changing his position in relation to God; it could not damn so many of them to destitution without also damning that same class to Hell. Again, it is crucial to recognize the Protestant theology as what it is: An ex post facto justification for crime, a necessary sophistry arising out of pillage. At its summit in Calvin’s Institutes, it is barely recognizable as Christian; in practice it was spread like tattered rags over the shame and wounds inflicted by a hateful ruling class, used in much the same way Das Kapital would be used by later governments claiming to be communist: One could adopt as much as necessary of Protestantism as to effect the desired change.
The blatant self-servingness of this transformation is best seen in the Anglican sect, an institution which exists, and always has existed, as a mediator between a debased populous and a debauched state. The greatness of Anglicanism is in its cowardice and incoherence: Its articles could confirm the Real Presence of Christ in their communion, all while its divines, martyrs, and pastors almost univocally attested that the Real Presence was a papist ruse. It could claim to be Catholic and apostolic all while fostering the rise of wild Judaizers promoting the most brutal Calvinism. What the needs of the time demanded was all Anglicanism had to give. Its one redeeming feature was that it could be used as a tool for civil peace, except when it was supporting the toppling of Catholic kings. The only unifying threads of the Anglican sect have been its hypocrisy, its anti-Catholicism, its Mammonism, and its subservience to the ruling class. The reason for this was simple. Toleration could ever after prevail for Jew and Unitarian, but not the Catholic. There was always a political dimension to this contest, but the more substantive threat was, and always has been, from the Church’s theological claims and the Eucharist itself. The Jew, the Methodist, the Unitarian, did not pose a risk to the political state; they did not pose a threat to the wicked distinction between elect and non-elect, or a counterpoint to the ultimately nihilistic notion of toleration, or the Anglican’s divinization of Mammon so often miscalled the “Protestant work ethic.” The Catholic still claimed possession of that ever-present miracle which threatened to singe a hole in the otherwise seamless garment of the superstructure, to expose as illegitimate what was so clearly illegitimate.
By the time of the 1688 usurpation, the Englishman had become so debauched that he was no longer aware of his degradation. The Englishman was now happy to be ruled by Dutchmen and Hessians. His government was now openly and notoriously illegitimate, though polished under the guise of Lockean liberty, and that same liberty, based as it was on a property the average man no longer had access to, guaranteed that man’s continued impoverishment. The greatest men England would produce afterwards were essentially pagans. The wisdom of Dr. Johnson, Edmund Burke, Lord Chesterfield was akin to that of Cicero or Marcus Aurelius, lacking that transformative inspiration of the saints. The worst men England produced were essentially trash, a huge mass allegedly forgotten by God as it had been betrayed by man. They were the ones who could be shoved into sweltering factories, and the surplus population which needed periodic reduction for the health of the state. And between these two was an acquisitive middle class, who judged themselves elect if they were wealthy, if they could be bothered to think of their future state at all.
This was the liberal revolution effected in England. It was successful because of the theological changes it imposed. Protestantism unmoored the Christian basis of society in the Church and the Eucharist. Not all incarnations of liberalism are Protestant, but Protestant is a liberal theology for the reasons I above described: It fundamentally ascribes to fact that the nature of man and God are malleable. It is not enough to ascribe to the current horror of the modern age to a departure from the Church’s political authority; the wound in Western society arises from what Protestantism did to Her theological authority, and to the aspersions thrown at Christ Himself in the Incarnation and His adopted form in the Eucharist.
From the Protestant Revolution onwards, man has suffered beneath this storm of ideological chaos. Since the French and industrial revolutions especially, the number of new ideologies often seems commensurate with the number of new technologies available in a given era. Vice, technology, and ideology are so closely related that it is difficult to separate them, because technology is nothing but the manifestation of an idea, and always hold within them the ability to illicitly control the rest of the population. But given the size of this subject, I think it is better left to another time.
I hope this initial survey has been helpful in differentiating liberalism from other movements on the left and bringing to light its most critical and insidious features. St. Pius X called modernism (i.e. liberalism) the culmination of all heresies. The great man was focus primarily on liberal theological doctrine, but as a process liberalism works the same wretched transformation in every field, and is always an anti-Christ, no matter where it injects it poison. This is because it is ever-malleable, always based on some vice or usurpation, offering visions of God and man which are fundamentally incompatible with the Catholic vision of God and man. Liberalism binds man to its dictates through the same suasion Christian law once bound man to it, yet serving ends based in vice and sin and which could not be adopted on a wide scale without social transformation.
The description I have provided of liberalism, based as it is on vice, offers some reason to hope. In Christian terms, vice is nonexistent; it is merely the absence of the good. Thus, the weapon against liberalism is to attach our minds to those notions that are solid, which are sound: whatsoever things are good, whatsoever things are true… Liberal man has been programed to believe his existence is completely dependent on the demands of socializing pressure, and that the nature of God above him is dependent on that derived opinion. The remedy must be to focus on the real God, and real virtue.
There can never be anything more than a temporary truce between Catholicism and liberalism. Those arguments that posit liberalism is a kind of conversation are correct in a sense, but they ignore the fact that such conversation is meant to drive out true knowledge; it is conversation as an alternative to objective truth, not as a means of finding it. The liberal regime’s goal is always to keep this “conversation” going, for it bolsters that illusion that mass suggestion can help us arrive at real virtue. But this ultimately divorces man from all idea of objectivity in the world; it causes him to be a schizophrenic, whose only balm is acquiescence. Liberalism has never been about autonomy or personal freedom; the exact opposite is true. Liberalism is a form of slowly gestating slavery, with each step depriving man more and more of his material and moral autonomy.
True virtues yet allowed by the liberal regime remain only at the regime’s pleasure, and ultimately must be crushed. Christians who believe their ideals and beliefs can long coexist with liberalism are deluding themselves. Liberalism has already ground to dust almost every Protestant sect because liberalism has ground to dust every liberalism before it. The goal of liberalism is malleability for its own sake, for the more malleable a population, the easier it is to oppress. Liberalism has absolutely devastated the Catholic Church, which at the Second Vatican Council attempted to make Her social and theological teachings acceptable through the lens of liberalism. This was like throwing them in a vat of lye. Christ declared that He was via, veritas, et vita, and if Christ Himself was solid flesh and blood, the Truth must be solid as well, not something created or developed through man’s intercession but an object above him to which he must aspire. But the very cornerstones of liberal thought are made of vice, and the process of liberal truth-finding is inimical to not only the discovery of objective truth but its very existence.
In this sense, there is reason for hope, because either liberalism goes, or the Church does. And so liberalism will one day be defeated after 500 years of almost unanswered victories. But its ability to muster forces of people in defense of vice means modern man has now become so degraded, his means of sustenance have become so divorced from his personal capabilities, his morality so united to sociality, and his divorce from the one institution which might save him so complete, that there seems little hope for man’s rehabilitation without mass violence and societal collapse. But that can better be addressed at a later time, since this initial survey is long enough already.