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Combating Snakes and Dogs Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Patrick Deneen recently published a thought-provoking article about the Catholic Church in America. Everyone, he says, reads about the clash between liberal and conservative Catholics. But liberal Catholics, like liberal Protestants before them, are destined for the ash heap of history. There’s another split, he says, among conservatives, which will endure – and some would even characterize as a kind of civil war.

One large group takes a mostly positive view of the American experiment. Deneen names the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, George Weigel, Robert George, Hadley Arkes, Peter Lawler, and myself, and the journal First Things.

The other group is more radically critical of the American founding, particularly its individualism and Enlightenment notions of freedom. Alasdair MacIntyre and David Schindler – and Deneen himself – take that view, as do several other Catholics, some associated with the scholarly quarterly Communio.

I count all the persons named as friends (I don’t know Alasdair MacIntyre personally) and have written for both publications (though only once or twice in Communio). So for me, talk of a civil war seems premature. Deneen has stated the large theoretical differences fairly. They’ve long been familiar, anyway, to the ragtag Catholic Talmudists who parse such things. But I’m not convinced he has the practical upshot in proper focus.

I want to state clearly that I admire Patrick Deneen, not least because he practices what he preaches. He left Georgetown last year, partly because the university never supported his work in creating the Tocqueville Forum and a student journal, both fresh air on that ailing Jesuit campus. But he also chose to leave – and move his family to Notre Dame – because of Washington’s schizophrenic life: long commutes and, therefore, separation between home and work.

If  a “civil war” is brewing, it will not be so much over political theories as practical choices. Catholics have always had differing views about the secular order. In America ( a Protestant nation shaped by the Enlightenment), Catholics like John Courtney Murray recognized great problems, but enough residual natural law in documents like the Declaration of Independence, to permit us to agree on “articles of peace,” not full concord.

Deneen presents post-World War II America, when Murray wrote, as an anomalous period of peaceful co-existence between Church and state. But he overlooks that even earlier, poor, immigrant, discriminated-against Catholics were able to build dioceses and great churches across the continent, a school system that still educates millions, hospitals and nursing homes, 270+ Catholic colleges and universities – more than the rest of the world combined. Despite profound theological and political differences, our Church was long able to co-exist tolerably well with our state.

That, of course, has changed, but not, I think, because of early modern philosophical liberalism, as Deneen and others argue. American society has changed. Politics, Washington once remarked, is not philosophy. And neither, we might add, is economics. Theorists of both notwithstanding, they’re also not exact sciences.

When Franklin told the woman at Philadelphia that the Convention had created  “a republic, if you can keep it,” he expressed a fundamental truth: a political order like ours depends on its people. Principles, philosophies, even constitutional structures, are not enough.

Furthermore, societies and economies have large numbers of moving parts. Today, when so much attention has been devoted to the economic situation, analysts have a hard time describing – let alone guiding – what’s going on. It’s the merest realism to maintain a steady humility about theory and practice in all such matters.

The more radical Catholic critics often stress papal calls to find a more inclusive economic order. Who can disagree? But it’s a lazy point to quote popes that the “profit motive cannot be the sole principle guiding economics.” It’s hard finding anyone who believes that, let alone a system where it actually happens.

In Centesimus Annus, by contrast, John Paul II warned that economics has to be situated “within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious.” (42) But went on to sort through potential pitfalls of too lax and too strict regulation. He wisely concluded: “The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another.” (43)

If there are fireworks within Catholic conservatism someday, I suspect they will more likely be over whether Catholics should, or even can, continue to participate in the American order, or – as MacIntyre famously suggested at the end of his book After Virtue – we will have to withdraw, as St. Benedict and his monks did, from the corrupt and collapsing Roman Empire.

Every one of the figures Deneen names on the “pro-American” side appreciates MacIntyre – and not a few Communio’s Hans Urs von Balthasar. Any thinking Catholic should meditate on the deep philosophical critique he’s laid out – which, truth be told, was never entirely absent from the pro-American side anyway – and where our efforts are now best directed.

There’s a growing undercurrent even among “pro-American” Catholics in Washington. People who worked in the White House, served in the military, are making sacrifices for the country both at home and abroad, talk about whether it’s “worth it” anymore. Why? So that HHS can trample on religious liberty or the justice system can impose gay marriage?

My sense is that a day is coming, and may already be here, when practitioners of the deeper critique and of the practical efforts to preserve what can be preserved are going to find themselves co-combatants in a long, common struggle. I think of Eliot’s Choruses from the Rock:

we are encompassed with snakes and dogs: therefore some must labour, and
others must hold the spears.
 
Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the Westnow available in paperback from Encounter Books.
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.    

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Comments (25)Add Comment
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written by ib, February 17, 2014
Just what I thought when I read Deneen's blog post. Thank you, Dr. Royal!
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, February 18, 2014
Precisely the same issue was dividing French Catholics a hundred years ago over whether “Natural Law,” as understood by the Neo-Thomists, followers of Cajetan and Suarez formed a sufficient basis for public policy.

In 1910, in Maurice Blondel’s publication, L’Annales de philosophie chrétienne, the Oratorian, Lucien Laberthonnière accused the Neo-Thomists of “of being influenced by “a false theological notion of some state of pure nature and therefore imagined the state could be self-sufficient in the sense that it could be properly independent of any specifically Christian sense of justice.”

Blondel himself insisted that we must never forget “that one cannot think or act anywhere as if we do not all have a supernatural destiny. Because, since it concerns the human being such as he is, in concreto, in his living and total reality, not in a simple state of hypothetical nature, nothing is truly complete (boucle), even in the sheerly natural order”

Jacques Maritain, too, declared that “the knowledge of human actions and of the good conduct of the human State in particular can exist as an integral science, as a complete body of doctrine, only if related to the ultimate end of the human being . . . the rule of conduct governing individual and social life cannot therefore leave the supernatural order out of account” for “Man is not in a state of pure nature, he is fallen and redeemed.”

Perhaps, American Catholics should revisit this material – It would appear to be a case of « Plus ça change… »
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written by DeGaulle, February 18, 2014
As an outsider looking in, and with the benefit of having just finished John Lukacs' excellent autobiography 'Confessions of an Original Sinner', my view is that America was as fine a country as 'the world' is likely to provide up to the end of the Second World War. Subsequently a lot has obviously gone very wrong. I don't think it unlikely that people of conservative and even, like myself, reactionary views can join to attempt to restore something like the society that existed before the onset of rampant liberal power, while retaining varying degrees of reservation with respect to how a Catholic relates to such a society. The Church historically adopted much that She felt good and beneficial in the pagan Roman State, without having any illusions of the permanently divided loyalties between God and Caesar.
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written by Willie, February 18, 2014
Very powerful piece Dr. Royal. I agree, we are already fighting the snakes and dogs!
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written by Manfred, February 18, 2014
Good post, Robert. This discussion goes back to Orestes Brownson
anf Fr. Isaac Hecker in the 1870s, with Brownson arguing that Catholicism was incompatible with the American indiviualism.
I believe the divide becomes apparent when one compares the Novus Ordo Catholic with the Traditional one. The difference in birthrates among the two groups is glaring. The Novus Ordo Catholic is comfortable working in, and often for, a nation which has aborted 56 millions of its members and he/she will come to terms with same-sex marriage as well. The Traditionalist no longer considers this government valid and never hesitates to express this truth at an opportunity. I, personally, have lost business and "friends" aa a result of my temperate candor.
The proof of this is that no catholic politician who supports abortion and same-sex marriage has been excommunicated nor publicly denied Communion by a Novus Ordo bishop, while Bp. Bruskewitz in Nebraska has excommunicated some of his flock for grave offenses. As I have cited here before, Nancy Pelosi will shortly be awarded Planned Parenthood's highest award and the Novus Ordo "herd" could not care less. They are quite comfortable in thus country.
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written by Jim Cole, February 18, 2014
Apropos the reference to Eliot, he also used a more vernacular expression a few lines before, perhaps because of his American roots: "Remembering the words of Nehemiah the Prophet: 'The trowel in hand, and the gun rather loose in the holster.' "
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written by Aramis, February 18, 2014
The philosophical divisions between Catholics (I dont think it is necessary to count the "liberal" ranks at this point as I think the term "apostates" is more accurate)will become mere semantics over the next couple decades as it will be the State who is practicing the "deep critique" on us.
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written by Ted Seeber, February 18, 2014
The problem, as I see it, is that the free market is intensely and foundationally liberal.

You can't have a Catholic conservative who truly believes in a free market, precisely because Catholic conservatives still believe in something the liberal world has all but forgotten: That there is a transcendent right and wrong, transcendent good and a transcendent evil, that exist in the minds of men; and that profit and price are insufficient signals to tell right from wrong. Murder for hire- whether practiced by Planned Parenthood, by doctors in Oregon, or by your average street thug, is extremely profitable- but it is always evil.
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written by Dennis Larkin, February 18, 2014
The Lord told us we cannot serve both God and Mammon. Too many Americans consider that to be outdated guidance for those who lived in unenlightened societies. But it's not outdated.

I find that Catholics look at society, and particularly the federal government, as the enlightened guide for a slowly-developing Church; or as the opponent of the Church. Is the Church fundamenetally answerable to the State or not.

One of Eric Voegelin's comments about life under the Nazis was that they held that the line of demarcation between Church and State was to be drawn by the State. That's where most American Catholics stand, I think. The State tells the Church what is the Church's province, because the line of demarcation is the prerogative of the State. This may be their fundamental error.
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written by Allen Roth, February 18, 2014
A timely and insightful essay.
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written by william manley, February 18, 2014
We are in pre-apocalyptic times. Benedict's remnant option looms large.
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written by Layman Tom, February 18, 2014
Robert,

Thanks for a great article. I read the piece you are referencing, which is exciting for me, since I'm not usually as "in the know" as my fellow travelers here. You mentioned something that sparked a thought that has been swirling around my head for a few years.

When you mention the Benedict option as William calls it, It seems that the divisions will not be only apparent between conservative Catholics. If anything, I imagine our little tribe on an Island with many protestant allies. We may differ greatly over dogma, but on issues of right and wrong AND standing for the greater right, I see this as possibly the greatest persuader ever for a sort of ecumenicism that has never existed before. One wrought in fire and common toil.

My lovely ex-wife's family was Assembly of God. I remember having a frank discussion with her Grandmother, back the Episcopal Church raised a homosexual to the Bishopric. She was lamenting that many churches which had a long tradition of conservative orthodoxy were falling to the pressures of our times. I told her that I thought, one day, there will be only my Church, hers and a handful of others who would stand back to back and fight together for God's will. She was not amused. But she had to admit that neither of our denominations seemed likely to change to suit the lord of THIS world.

Perhaps, this too is His plan. No better way to bring the body of Christ back together than to allow it to be forced to cooperate and support each other in dark, foreboding times. I see this happening already in the David Green suit. Those of us who are regulars here are all probably watching that and other battles that our protestant brethren are waging and I think are supportive and encouraging. And I think the same recognition is being extended in reverse. Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but it's nice to think there will come light from darkness.

Peace, LT
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written by Athanasius, February 18, 2014
The United States is not the kingdom of God, so it will never be perfect. But by any reasonable measure it has been the most just and successful experiment in ordered liberty that the world has ever seen. And there is a lot Catholicism can do to contribute to its ongoing experiment.

Admittedly, the country is heading in a dark direction. But I don't think it is the vision of the Founders that has necessarily led to this, but rather there is a focused and determined element in our country (in all of western culture actually) that is intentionally and deliberately leading our country towards an anti-Christian, statist view of society where an elect group of elites run the country for their own good under the visage of helping the common good.

This element, while denying the true God of the Bible, acts with a religious fervor that we ignore at our peril. A populace well versed in the Bible and virtuous through the grace of God as given through the sacraments will be equipped to resist this element. Our country is not there today. Ultimately, it will be Catholicism leading the way against this evil. And this is because our faith is good, beautiful, and true.

The free market is a net good, but it must be tempered by virtue. This virtue only comes to man through God, not the state. Because men are not angels, we do need a government, but it must be limited. Profit cannot be the only motive, but neither is it evil per se. We need neither anarchy nor totalitarianism. The Church, as a proponent of faith and reason, must be the watchdog over the state, which makes it the constant enemy of the would-be tyrant.

The American experiment has worked for the most part because of the virtuousness of our people. As people stop going to church and make sex their god, they lose their virtue and allow the would-be tyrants of statism to step in and "solve" the problems caused by these vices. But a religious populace can solve them better through proper understanding of subsidiarity and solidarity.

In summary, I see nothing inherently contradictory between Catholicism and the ordered liberty of the American experiment, but the people need to recognize that ultimately God is the giver of all gifts, and we must live our lives according to his will. Freedom means freedom to pursue God, not our own concupiscent selves.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., February 18, 2014
In re William Manely's reference to the remnant. I think that in a very real sense we are already at that stage. Enormous numbers of baptized Catholics reject non-negotiable Church Teaching on many issues, doing so with the blessings of their pastors and theology professors. From where I kneel, It seems that the renegade priests who mock and defame the Church and refuse to tell their flocks the truth about what Holy Mother Church teaches have their bishops blackmailed as a result of the planned priest shortage. Bishops know that if they removed every heretcial preist there would not be enough priests to say Mass. (Who goes to Confeesion?) Those of you who live in areas with good bishops and priest who came out of good seminaires might find this hard to believe. The renegades have ensured thier popularity among their followers by telling the sheep what they want to hear, so bishops face backlashes and withholding of funds if they do the right thing. We can argue about the proper stance of a Catholic toward free enterprise AFTER we have gotten people to believe again in the Sacraments and the Sanctity of Life AND the Church's Teaching Authority. Time is wastin'.
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written by Seanachie, February 18, 2014
Thought provoking article, Robert...well done. Seems to me that we may be overlooking the Four Marks of the Church...One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic...words of the Creed we pray at Mass. I am reluctant to think and speak in terms of "traditional" Catholics and other qualifiers such as "liberal", "contemporary", "Novo Ordo", etc. since such division/classification seems to contradict the Marks of One and Catholic (universal). A wise priest once told me that the Church thrives in difficult times...he welcomed difficulty. I suspect he had it right...the Church will prevail and thrive as long as we Catholics remain One and loyal to it. Certainly the challenges the Church faces today pale in comparison to those it has faced in the past.
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written by petebrown, February 18, 2014
Deneen has a point on one thing, Bob. There are Catholics--among whom I count myself--who are not closet liberals, but who are nonetheless growing restless with the permanent alliance between us and the Republican party...not only on abortion where it makes sense, but on a whole host of other economic and foreign policy stands that do not really--under any reasonable interpretation--embody the kind of society that Catholics ought to be championing.

I think that this was far less obvious in the 80's and 90's than now. One place I don't want to be personally is as a member of a morally superior yet persecuted, aggrieved minority group who depends completely on the GOP for protection. But this seems to be where many Catholics are headed, at least in their self-understanding, and I think Deneen is also right to push back against that.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., February 18, 2014
Something that ought to be very clear is that the most anti-Catholic, pro-abortion, pro-sodomy gang of officals in our country's history is in office largely do to the votes they received from Catholics, Mass-attending and non-attending alike. Even if of the former less than a majoirty might have voted for that gang, we cannot deny either that those votes were critical or that those votes came i many cases in response to encouragement from Church officilas who claiamed that the clearly socialist policies of the Democrats outweighed the objective evils that said party promoted. That enouragement came inspite of the fact that Catholic social teaching from the imte Of Pope XIII has condemned Socialism. How much support for this regime, which inlcudes among its members sefl-excommuniated Catholics, results from the academics' snootiness toward business men? How much is based on the lie that the GOP is all about racism and Social Darwinism? What would ahppen if our pastors ingonred politcs and merely told people what the Church teaches? Would the churhces empty our if pastors told their flocks, as they should be doing, that those who support abortion or gay marriage" are in mortal sin and should not receive Communion? If the answer to that is yes, then we are truly at the remnant stage already.
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written by Matt, February 18, 2014
"Prevent Defense" was a term I loathed when a game was being played as it meant the probable loss of a game winning lead. I have the view that we Christians are still playing "Prevent Defense" late in the 4th quarter - with the other team having a substantial lead!

The offense of the losing team says "Quit now - all is lost - let us start our own sandlot team". The defense says the fruits of "Prevent Defense" have been enormous and we should continue to do the same;... even be MORE accommodating to the opposing team. Maybe they will forfeit their lead?"

How about both sides of the ball agree to leave it ALL on the field, sack the malcontents, bench the low performance players and coaches, then hit hard, throw deep, run over the opponent and let God determine the winner when the whistle finally blows?

Let us face it, Catholics are currently a very dysfunctional football team in a most serious game. The offense will still play hard but only if the defense decides to defend the faith with no compromise. Both sides of the ball have to play to win or both “sides” will most assuredly lose.

The team owner has provided what so many fans wanted - a new head coach – what is his game plan? Play tough or play better Prevent Defense?
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written by Avery T, February 18, 2014
Deneen's thesis that there's a genuinely Un-Roman Catholic aspect to the U.S. democratic republic form of government, is, of course, true. But that aspect is not the entire document, and so can does not equal contradiction of the teachings of Roman Catholicism. It has been possible in the past to find a path along which both work to the flourishing of mankind. This path-finding approach has been around a long time as Manfred's comment on Orestes Brownson alludes to. Brownson, writing in his Quarterly Review of October 1845, wrote an article titled "Catholicity Necessary to Sustain Popular Liberty." In it he argues that Catholicism was the only religion that could restrain the undisciplined American citizens and thus ensure the success of democracy.

Is such a path still possible today after 20th Century ideologies such as Marxism and Relativism have impacted the U.S. Political and academic elites? For over 15 years, I have considered myself a strong believer in Alastair MacIntyre's prediction in _After Virtue_, but still do not know what form his "St Benedict" will take ...
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written by Dave, February 18, 2014
Thank you, Bob, for a gracious and graceful answer to Patrick Deneen's important piece. There is so much to be said that I don't really know where to begin. Perhaps I shall begin, and end, by saying to Manfred that there are plenty of Novus Ordo Catholics who are aghast at the abortion rates and the support for so-called same-sex marriage. For me the bottom line is that when the First Amendment called for no established national church, it was in effect the establishment of a consciously non-, and therefore anti-Christian polity, in reaction to the Catholic lands and the Protestant state churches. Christianity has been tolerated in this country only insofar as its moral values provide a loyal, obedient workforce in an expanding society. Now that the leaders of the dominant society no longer find Christian values useful or acceptable, we Christians are under the bus. Murray was right that there was a certain aperture to the natural law in the foundational documents; but it was only an aperture and it was tenuous. Now we see where going along to get along has gotten us, and it's a sorry state of affairs. In our zeal to be like everyone else, we have given up our distinctiveness, and it's not so much that our message is rejected as it is that it isn't understood. Who is to blame for this state of affairs? We all are. It simply do to cast all the blame on the clergy, since, as the Second Vatican Council taught, it falls to the laity to order secular realities according to the mind of Christ and is this project the laity have failed largely for lack of trying. Could the pastors have done more? Sure. But if it's true that people get the governments they deserve, it's also true that the laity get the clergy we deserve. The struggle will be long indeed, barring a divine intervention; and I suspect that it hasn't even really begun. God grant us grace and strength.
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written by Brad Miner, February 18, 2014
The comments to Bob Royal's column are especially fine today. Reading them reminded me of a freshman philosophy class I took: every new philosopher I read struck me as better and wiser than the last. I side most in this with Athanasius, but let me stick my own flag in the sand.

Democracy and the free market: both it seems to me are best characterized in Churchill's judgment of the former, namely that it's "the worst form of government, except for all those other forms . . ." The Founders anticipated this, which is why we have a republican democracy, and why we have always had back-and-forth about policy.

To be sure, the post-war amity we experienced (which I believe -- excepting the slavery issue -- we've mostly had ab ovo) has declined, but I'm not ready to say it has disintegrated.

But what, dear friends, do we propose instead? Theocracy? At the end of protests and even revolution (and assuming a Christian victory), what then?

Or do some propose to abandon the Church? My God, for what?

God made us in his image: free! Stop fretting and keep working.
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written by Tom, NC, February 18, 2014
Deneen has been one of my favorite bloggers, since I discovered him a few months back (linked from TCT, I believe). Like petebrown, I find much to agree with in his disatisfaction with the Republican party that we are too wedded to.

But I had a much longer run reading, learning from, and agreeing with the late Fr. Neuhaus. Contra the divide Dr. Deneen posits, it's worth remembering that First Things lost some board members over the stand RJN et al took on the issue of "The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics". The FT crowd are hardly flag-waving chauvinists.

Still, I welcome Deneen's opening gambit and Mr. Royal's response, among others, on this vital topic: how *are* we to carry on in the country we love but are so disappointed by.
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written by Avery Tödesuhl, February 18, 2014
@Brad

Many of us would like to see something closer to what St. Thomas thought in the political sphere:

"E contrario vero provinciae et civitates quae sub uno rege reguntur, pace gaudent, iustitia florent, et affluentia rerum laetantur. Unde dominus pro magno munere per prophetas populo suo promittit, quod poneret sibi caput unum, et quod princeps unus erit in medio eorum. [Ez 34:24, Jer 30:21]." De Regno, c III, n20.

Perhaps democracy isn't always, everywhere, the best form of government? Neither Aristotle nor Aquinas held that opinion ...
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written by Brad Miner, February 18, 2014
The divine right of kings, Mr. Tödesuhl? Now there's a constructive suggestion.
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written by Bedarz Iliaci, February 19, 2014
The error, not of Patrick Deneen's, is to believe that the political process can resolve all disputes and differences.
In reality, the political process assumes a great deal of consensus, and that consensus defines the political nature of that country. The normal political process then deals with relatively minor issues such as tariff or appointments to sinecures.

So, either one joins with the national consensus or one has alienated oneself from the nation.

Conservatives,on one hand harping on the pre-political nature of marriage, are on other hand are using instruments such as DOMA or state rights to defend marriage. This is both inconsistent and unlikely to work. The marriage was imperiled once it was questioned. The homosexual marriage, in fact, has arisen through the pre-political channels. The political process has merely recognized what ordinary people have done.

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