[Essay] Make Disciples of All Nations

Response to Plaza’s Review of Integralism.

Alan Fimister
St. John Vianney Theological Seminary
Denver, CO

In a recent review in this journal, the book Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy is criticised apparently on the assumption that it a) rejects democracy b) proposes no concrete steps by which the social and political order it describes might be attained. The first of these assumptions is entirely false; the second entirely misses the point of the book.  Integralism does not exclude any form of government unless it is inherently contrary to natural and/or divine law.  There is no suggestion in the book that democracy, either in the sense of pure democracy or a mixed polity with a democratic element, is contrary to natural and/or divine law.  In fact, insofar as Integralism does propose a constitutional form as superior in the abstract, it is a mixed polity with a democratic element.

The second of these assumptions is misplaced; the book does not universally and unconditionally propose any particular form of government because to do so would be contrary to its own principles.  Constitutional forms (unless they violate some principle of natural or divine law) are precisely indifferent questions, open to the free determination of the temporal legislators.  Likewise, the question of which means would best achieve the conformity of the temporal order with natural and divine law (unless the means proposed would themselves violate natural and divine law) is a prudential question, one  which cannot be answered in the abstract.  The nature of a polity which is in conformity with natural and divine law is, however, capable of description and such an account is necessary if those persons who seek to achieve this conformity are to deliberate coherently as to how to achieve it.  This is the purpose of the book.  As stated by Leo XIII:[1]

There is no question here respecting forms of government, for there is no reason why the Church should not approve of the chief power being held by one man or by more, provided only it be just, and that it tend to the common advantage.  Wherefore, so long as justice be respected, the people are not hindered from choosing for themselves that form of government which suits best either their own disposition, or the institutions and customs of their ancestors.

Historically, the attempt to shackle integralism to one particular form of government, contrary to the teaching of Leo XIII and to its own principles, has done great harm.

The book most certainly rejects modernity as such because modernity as such is simply the philosophical error of nominalism applied to every area of human thought and conduct.  Integralism, therefore, appeals to the principles of moderate realism upon which the High Mediaeval thought of St Thomas Aquinas is established.  Integralism does not appeal to any particular political form characteristic of that era, forms which were extremely diverse encompassing pure monarchies, republics, mixed monarchies, and aristocratic and popular forms of many kinds.  A. W. N. Pugin, whom we quote in the acknowledgements, was partly chosen because of his fruitful application of mediaeval principles to contemporary projects, not least of which is the Palace of Westminster, seat of the mother of parliaments.  To the Church’s social teaching, as to all other areas of her doctrine, we must apply the words of Vatican I:[2]

May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding.

We did not attempt an extensive critique of Maritain partly because the purpose of Integralism is constructive, and partly because I have offered this critique elsewhere in Robert Schuman: Neo-Scholastic Humanism and the Reunification of Europe.  It is true that Maritain himself considered his work ‘integralist’, but his political theory precisely excludes the possibility that contemporary states “recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King,” as required by Pius XI in Quas Primas.  The proposition that Maritain’s political project is ‘realistic’ has been very thoroughly tested over the last sixty years and found utterly wanting.

The review asks, “what now?”  We may distinguish two levels in which Integralism may be fulfilled.  On the shallow level in, e.g., (the English portion of) the United Kingdom, the elimination of those legislative instruments which conflict with natural law and the replacement of Anglicanism by Catholicism, as the religion of the civil order, would immediately fulfil the requirements of the Social Kingship of Christ.  On the deeper level, the attainment by Catholicism of the position in the civil order enjoyed by Anglicanism in the opening decades of the nineteenth century would accomplish the full soul-body union of the spiritual and the temporal demanded by the social teaching of Pope Leo XIII. Whether the condemnation of a law or the deposition of a ruler, by the supreme spiritual power, would have a recognised effect in the civil order (in the manner of EU law ‘setting aside’ national legislation) or would need to be given effect by the submission of the sovereign elements of a given polity through the ordinary mechanisms of public law is a question of technique indifferent in itself.

Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy is in no way a royalist text.  It fully recognises the multiformity of the temporal order and recognises that multiformity as a good.  Its authors, as mentioned, perceive very little structural change to be necessary in the public law of their own country for it to meet the requirements of Christ’s Social Kingship.  Together with Leo XIII, they recognise the United States of America as a “well-ordered Republic” but, with him, insist that the Church in the USA (as in any nation) “would bring forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she enjoyed” as is her right “the favour of the laws and the patronage of the public authority”.[3]  The mechanism by which such favour and patronage would be achieved lies easily to hand in Article V of the United States Constitution and in Chapter Twenty-eight, Verse Nineteen of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew.  Integralism is not a strategy or a flavour of Catholicism; it is a demand of the Gospel.  God told Ananias that St.  Paul was His vessel of election to bear His name before “the Gentiles and their kings;” the Lord told the disciples to “make disciples of all nations”.  Their mission remains our mission.  Man is a social and political animal, if we do not evangelise the polis,as well as the individual and the family, we do not evangelise the whole man.

[review of Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy]


[1] Leo XIII 1881: Diuturnum Illud, §7.

[2] 1870: Dei Filius, c.4.

[3] 1895: Longiqua Oceani, §6.