A grand debate is raging inside the Catholic world over the role of the political order in a Christian society. Many have seen the secular world’s failure to address the needs of the soul and thus reject liberalism’s artificial separation of the political and spiritual spheres.
One proposed philosophy is called Integralism. It comes from integrating the two elements forced asunder by modernity. This school of thought rightly affirms that the political order should function with our higher purpose in mind. Evil should not have free rein to corrupt souls and endanger the common good in the name of a misguided liberty.
Thus, the supporters of Integralism envision a political and cultural future to replace the crumbling liberal framework that has wrought so much harm upon us. They want to see governing structures abandon their moral neutrality and favor virtue when advancing the common good.
Problems that Need to be Resolved
The current integralist proposal is mostly centered around two points.
The first is deciding what is to be included in the canon of basic truths and principles of this envisioned order. Integralists propose models, principles and truths that are open to debate. However, these natural points of disagreement make it difficult to define the integralist position precisely.
A second characteristic is more problematic. While integralists share a vision of what a society should be, they also recognize that most people disagree with them. The majority of Americans do not want this order. Thus, most people find it difficult to see how this vision might be implemented, here and now, in our diverse liberal society. How do we force people to be good without adopting the tyrannical attitudes of the liberal opposition that imposes its will on society? Some integralists insinuate a benevolent Catholic strongman to make sure good is practiced.
This last dilemma haunts integralists as they fight for souls in a liberal society that resists reform. We cannot find fault in the intentions or many principles of the social organization they envision. However, the implementation is where Integralism goes wrong (and many admit it).
A Program Requiring Immense Effort
The implementation is hard because this life program is very difficult and requires lots of effort. This program implies a deliberate fight against the evils opposed to this envisioned society and a relentless struggle to convince others about the righteousness of this cause. It calls for a mentality disposed to overcoming obstacles and abandoning the frenetic intemperance of our times.
Only a superhuman effort can prevail over all these barriers. In our age of timidity and weakness, the tempting, simplistic approach is to turn to a strongman to get the job done.
A second obstacle to implementation involves the limitations of applying the principles of social organization. Changing political structures to conform to more Christian norms may improve but does not determine behavior or outcome. Forming “Benedict Option” communities as models for the whole of society will not draw the decadent majority no matter how attractive and successful they might be. Indeed, the failure of so many well-organized traditional communities, shattered by personal discord, testify to these limitations and the need to look beyond social organization alone.
A Naturalistic Mindset
All these efforts suffer from an almost unavoidable naturalistic mindset that is so much a part of the modern mentality. Liberalism is a naturalistic philosophy that refuses to acknowledge publicly anything beyond the natural world. Thus, we are trained to act in a sphere that prevents God from intervening in society. We tend to dream in terms of building a naturalistic order relying on human efforts and methods of organization. The help of God is an added extra.
While acknowledging the value of prayer and religion, we suffer from the modern vice of acting inside the only system we know. Thus, Integralism goes wrong when it tries to work inadvertently inside the liberal framework it seeks to replace.
It fails to focus on those things that are beyond human efforts and political organization. Superhuman strength is needed on top of human resolve to bring about the desired results.
The Role of Grace
The only way to obtain this superhuman force is by turning to God’s grace. We can do nothing by ourselves since we are utterly disproportional to the task before us. Grace builds upon nature, represented by good plans and methods.
Grace, by definition, is the created participation in the uncreated life of God. When people receive graces from God, it strengthens them to overcome superhuman obstacles. It moves hardened souls and converts multitudes. It makes easier the tasks we consider impossible.
Catholic thinker Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, in his book, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, calls grace the dynamic force behind the Christian soul. He writes, “The role of grace consists precisely in enlightening the intellect, strengthening the will and tempering sensibility so that they turn toward good. Hence, the soul gains immeasurably from supernatural life, which elevates it above the miseries of fallen nature, indeed above the level of human nature itself.”
A Focus on Grace
Thus, any effort to change the present situation should focus on securing the graces needed for this transformation and not the concrete structures to be built upon the ruins of modernity.
Such an affirmation does not mean the practical measures are unimportant. They need to be developed and idealized. However, conceiving organizing structures will not bring forth the graces. A canon of principles alone, helpful though it might be, will not move souls to undertake the herculean task before them. Without grace, the strongman becomes the only option, dooming the effort at the very start.
This affirmation also does not mean that integralists do not give importance to religious matters and sacramental life. Indeed, quite the contrary. Many laudably strive for piety and devotion as supplemental aids, seeking strength for the effort.
A Change of Focus
However, the order of focus must be inverted.
The overwhelming force of grace must be the first thing sought. Historically, grace has always called forth the practical means needed to implement reforms and conversions. It will inspire the kinds of social organization adapted to the circumstance. Grace will overcome the resistance of the majority of people who are presently contrary to Christian proposals. Grace gives an irresistible power of attraction now lacking and eliminates the need for a strongman.
Working with God’s grace has always been the manner of evangelizing the nations throughout the history of the Church. Fervent souls on fire with the love of God attracted, moved and converted the multitudes. The organizing of the new converts always followed.
Ours is a Church that does not think small. Rather, she effects mass conversions. We know that grace changes the hearts and souls of whole peoples. For those of burning faith, such workings of the Holy Spirit can happen today.
Looking for Ways to Attract Graces
Thus, the question that needs to be answered today is not what political mechanisms need to be in place to favor the common good—important though this may be.
The real matter of urgency is finding ways to attract graces from God that will allow us to accomplish the superhuman task before us. There are many ways to attract graces, but that would be a topic for another article.
However, a good beginning is to turn to Fatima. The prophecies and requests of Our Lady at Fatima have largely been ignored. In 1917, Our Lady outlined her plan to convert the world and attract the graces of God upon sinful humanity.
Our Lady asked us to repent for our complicity with the errors of modernity. True repentance brings holy incompatibility with evil. She requested prayers, penance, reparation and amendment of life.
These are essential premises to implement God’s plan for humanity. These measures will help mend our alliance with God which modernity brutally severed. Reestablishing this alliance must be the foundation for any new order.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP).