Modernity presents liberalism as the beginning of history. Before liberalism, liberals claim, there was nothing but ignorance, darkness and the gnashing of teeth. Liberalism is credited with all progress and security in the modern world. Its reign suddenly appeared like the creation of the world.
Thus, as liberalism crashes and crumbles, most liberals automatically exclude that which came before it as a possible solution. Their plans for a post-liberal world are built upon the postmodern fantasies it engendered. Liberalism also has generated its own opposition, those who subscribe to the “illiberalism” of autocracy. The two sides are based on similar premises and are now locked in the battle for a dark future.
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Thus, liberals present a simplified vision of history that limits solutions to the world’s problems to the narrow terms of a false dilemma. In the effort to look beyond liberalism, most dare not look to what preceded it lest it might invoke longings for a lost world of myth and sacrality.
What Existed Before Liberalism
Of course, something remarkable existed before liberalism. It was medieval Christendom. This Christian civilization transformed the West into a model of charity and order. In his encyclical Immortale Dei, Leo XIII described this pre-liberal society as “a time when the philosophy of the Gospel governed the states. In that epoch, the influence of Christian wisdom and its divine virtue permeated the laws, institutions, and customs of the peoples, all categories and all relations of civil society.”
Far from being a system that opposed progress, Christian civilization advanced in every field. Christendom was the first civilization to give rise to hospitals and universities. It is responsible for representative government and the rule of law. The arts and music flourished under its influence. For the first time in history, slavery in the West was abolished. (It was reintroduced during the neo-pagan Renaissance and Enlightenment.)
Inside this society, the institutions of the family, community, and the Church helped establish balance, stability and virtue so that true progress might happen. Great men and saints pull society upward by their examples. “So organized,” Leo XIII continues, “civil society gave fruits superior to all expectations.”
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All this advancement is part of the historical record for those who want to see it. Honest historians are now re-discovering the amazing accomplishments of this era with many books and articles. Christendom was not perfect, but it acknowledged and worked within the limits of fallen human nature. It was firmly based on reality, not fantasy. Thus, it flourished by God’s grace and provided for the material and spiritual needs of those living under its influence.
Liberalism Destroys Christian Civilization
If liberalism progressed, it was because Christian civilization provided the moral foundation for this prosperity. If Christian civilization declined, it was because modern errors like liberalism conspired to destroy it.
When liberalism arose from the Enlightenment and the horrors of the French Revolution, it gave rise to a century of turmoil, mass industrialization and materialism. Liberal political movements persecuted the Church, curtailing her freedom and confiscating her property. Its governments absorbed the charitable functions of the Church into their cold bureaucracies. They did everything possible to limit her outreach.
Liberalism secularized and desacralized society by establishing the fiction of living in a world without God. It created a practical, amoral system that simultaneously undermined and lived off the order and fruits of Christian civilization.
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Modernity paid a heavy price for maintaining this fiction. The godless system gave rise to terrible wars and unnatural ideologies. It also produced the idols of hyper-individualism and narcissist lifestyles. Today, liberalism crumbles because it has prodigally wasted the entire moral capital it inherited. It is bankrupt. Its internal contradictions are destroying all remaining structures of order.
Switch Out the Premises
Thus, it does no good to look beyond liberalism when seeking solutions to the resulting crisis. It will only produce extreme versions of itself. It is far better to look before liberalism and thus return to the roots and wellspring of Christian civilization.
Liberals automatically discard such a plan because they loathe its Christian premises. They think everyone uses the same flawed premises they follow. Liberals who impose their ideology on others think Christians must do the same.
However, Christian civilization is born from a different set of premises. It works with human nature, not against it. Thus, the system relies on organic solutions which naturally and spontaneously develop inside a social order oriented toward the common good. Customs, good habits and diverse associations allow individuals to pursue the perfection of their essentially social nature.
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This practice of subsidiarity provides an incredible amount of freedom as social units seek aid for their needs and help others in their shortcomings. Thus, for example, the family attains the plenitude of its action and influence as the fundamental unit of society. Professional, social, and other intermediary groups between the individual and the State freely exercise their activities according to their own forms and rights. Everything has that human touch that favors charity and harmony that is so foreign to today’s radical individualism.
The Role of God and the Church
In this society, people depend on God’s Loving Providence to satisfy their needs. Everything has meaning inside a universe that reflects God’s glory. Such a vision satisfies the natural human desires for those things that are sublime, good, true and beautiful.
A Christian civilization is not a theocracy, as liberals claim. Rather, the temporal and spiritual spheres each take care of their respective activities and areas of responsibility. However, to serve society better, the two powers establish bridges of cooperation, not iron curtains of separation.
Society works together with the action of God’s grace. The faithful participate through grace in the Divine Life of Christ and thus can achieve works that are above human nature. In this society, the Church has a hallowing influence on the structures of society and the economy.
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When it practices virtue, such a society can flourish economically and politically and help guide souls to salvation and sanctification. This orientation promotes incredible unity giving purpose and meaning to life beyond liberalism’s adoration of self-interest.
As liberalism crumbles and crashes, these refreshing and exciting ideas should at least have a place at the table to discuss the nation’s future. However, the automatic exclusion of Christian civilization reveals a stubborn refusal to admit egregious errors and embrace the truth.
Many liberals prefer to insist that a man can be a woman and a woman can be a man rather than admit the marvelous reality of human nature as created by God. They would rather pursue a delirious fantasy than live in ordered liberty following the natural moral law.
Thus, the only way out for those who still believe in truth, tradition and God is to abandon the liberal narrative and its flawed premises. The path ahead must draw inspiration from what came before, not what follows liberalism and its shipwreck-causing siren song. The faithful must seek solutions outside the liberal box and return to that Christian truth and beauty—ever ancient, ever new—that calls out to souls.
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