Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Unholy Alliances

On October 28, 1789, the French National Assembly abolished the taking of religious vows. That was just one of many destructive moves made in quick succession by the French Revolution in creating the model of the modern State. That infamous year also saw the confiscation of Church property by the State. In short order, the inherent logic of the revolutionary agenda would work itself out - first, in the creation of a national Church with a "Civil Constitution in 1790; then, before too long, in the official dechristianization of the country, culminating in the adoption of the republican calendar in 1793. In far less time than most historical transformations take, France went from a regime that saw itself as Charlemagne's successor to emulating Nero. In the process, it provided a critical interpretive key to comprehending so much about modern societies.
Power struggles between Emperors and Popes, between Kings and Bishops, cluttered medieval history. For the most part, however, they were just that - competitions for both spiritual and worldly power fought within an overarching soci-religious framework ("Christendom"), which was largely taken for granted. Its disappearance would have been barely imaginable. Yet the modern model of the State - the model bequeathed us by its bloodthirsty parent, the French Revolution, has not only imagined it but largely brought it about.
In practice, of course, no Ancien Regime really lived up to the ideal of Charlemagne; and most modern States hesitate to emulate Nero too totally. Still the ambition to subordinate the Church continues to animate much of the modern political project.
I can't remember where I heard or read it, but I recall a commentary a few years back analyzing the policies of Spains recently elected (and thankfullky more recently replaced)Socialist government. Trying to explain that government's preoccupation with pushing a "social" - as opposed to a more traditonal "economic" - agenda, the commentator suggested that, in our post-cold War world (and before, obviously, more recent collapse of the capitalist economic order), everyone basically was following the same market-oriented, economic line. With so very little substance remaining from the traditonal policies that had historically defined the European "Left," practically all that remained was traditional anti-clericalism. Hence an emphais on minimizing or ending compul;sory religious education and the legalization of divorce, abortion, etc. 
That analysis may oversimplify somewhat. And, of course, the current economic mess has re-injected some new energy into an older economic agenda - for example, in France's election of a Socialst President (although he too has embraced a radical "social" agenda, something probalby easier to impose than anything resembling socialism!) Still, I think it makes a worthwhile point,
It certainly seems striking to me how, even in this time of economic "downturn" when the reigning economic ideology's falures have been dramatically on display, so much energy is being expended to institutionalize a militantly secularist worldview and to push forcefully for some of its most morally problematic policies. So, for example, in our own society we see the secularist side willing to forfeit the Church's decades-long support for universal health care in order to use universal health care to trample on the autonomy of religious institutions which provide social services.
But the response on the relgiious side can become comparably myopic and enter into unholy alterantive alliances. Throughout the modern period the temptation has always been to ally with social forces which oppose this direction on the part of the modern State but for reasons which are not in harmony with a Catholic moral vision for society and which may even be directly opposed to it. It is no accident, for example, that Ayn Rand and Friedrich von Hayek were such strong atheists!

No comments:

Post a Comment