What is Humanitarianism?

CWR: What is “humanitarianism” and in what ways is it a religion? And how is different from or similar to socialism, Marxism, and secular humanism? Is there a spectrum, so to speak, ranging from a soft humanitarianism to a harsh totalitarian version?

Daniel J. Mahoney: By humanitarianism, I do not mean an admirable concern with good works or the corporal works of mercy. Everyone admires Doctors Without borders (even if the Church must be careful not construe itself as an NGO).

Humanitarianism draws on Christianity but radically distorts it in the process. It tends to see man as the “measure of everything,” and to forget the transcendental dimensions of authentic religion. It sees the project of this-wordly amelioration, of building a perfectly just social order (a rank impossibility), as the effectual truth of the Christian religion. It has little sense of sin or limits. Humanitarians tend to blame evil and criminality on “unjust” social structures (“social sin”), and believe in principle in the perfectibility of human beings and society. They dismiss the West as an essentially “culpable” civilization, racist, exploitative, and unjust, and are blind towards the totalitarian enemies of civilized order.

Humanitarianism’s heart and soul is pacifistic, believing in peace at any price (a current particularly ascendant in “progressive” Catholic circles, including this “progressive” papacy). Humanitarianism has no place for the politics of prudence, what the great Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke called “the god of this world below.” As we shall see, it tends to mix moralism and relativism in a truly toxic way.

Humanitarians have a soft spot for doctrinaire or fanatical egalitarianism and typically confuse love of the poor with collectivist or socialist politics although, one must add, humanitarians are not necessarily Marxists. Most humanitarians are blind to—or downplay—the grave evils of abortion and euthanasia and tend toward relativism in the realm of personal morality. But they are exceedingly moralistic, as I just noted, and dismiss those who oppose their agenda as racists, homophobes, Islamophobes etc. Name-calling replaces the exchange of arguments. They dispense with a rigorous or demanding natural moral law that appeals to something beyond “human needs.”