In his most important book, The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an architect of the false philosophy of liberalism and thus a kind of godfather of the Revolution that has been unfolding since the philosophy first found political expression in France in 1789, declared that “whoever dares to say outside the Church is no salvation should be driven from the State.”
That no nationally-visible Churchmen risk being driven from anywhere these days is not the subject here. Most of today’s Churchmen are generally and misguidedly so compliant with liberalism that it will ignore them except on ceremonial occasions, like a Presidential inauguration, when it will have one of them around, along with representatives of other “belief systems,” as decoration for the proceedings. No, the point of the present commentary is that liberalism necessarily is intolerant of much else besides undiluted Christianity. In truth, it is intolerant of anything that can make a claim to our allegiance prior to the unquestioning obedience exacted by that with which it seeks to replace everything: the state. That is, liberal government cannot, and increasingly will not, tolerate independent centers of power.
The great Jesuit theologian Louis Cardinal Billot (1846-1931) wrote about this in Liberalism:A Criticism of its Basic Principles and Diverse Forms. Inasmuch as nothing by Cardinal Billot is in print in English today, most readers will be unfamiliar with him. In his lifetime he was most notable for two things apart from the rigor of his Thomistic scholarship: 1) writing Pascendi, the encyclical against Modernism promulgated by Pope Saint Pius X, who had made him a cardinal; 2) being the only Churchman in the twentieth century to resign his cardinalate. He did so in protest against Pope Pius XI’s 1926 condemnation of Action Francaise, the French royalist movement whose influence beyond the borders of France made it the most important intellectual force on the authentic, which is to say non-fascist, political right in Europe between the two world wars. (The ban against Action Francaise, eventually regretted by Pius XI, was lifted by Ven. Pope Pius XII as soon as he succeeded to the Throne of Saint Peter in 1939.)
In the passage of Liberalism being quoted here, Cardinal Billot begins by speaking of one institution in particular (he calls it a “society”) whose existence is intolerable to our liberal leaders, whether they be of the avowed left or of the right wing of liberalism called “conservative” in the U.S., and however loudly they pay lip service to it.
“The first of all societies is the society which has been instituted by God Himself, the Author of nature, a society which is beneficent among all others, anterior to all political society, attuned to the more intimate affections of the human heart, and demanded by the more evident needs of both our moral and physical life: I mean domestic society, commonly known as the family. It, then, first of all, will experience the adverse blows of liberalism, which latter, as far as in it lies, by every means and device, by every effort, by every resource at its disposal, seeks the destruction and elimination of the family, so that one might say that, for the legislators of the Revolution, this in truth was the Carthage to be destroyed. And liberalism destroys it first in its foundation. For the foundation of the family is marriage, and that indissoluble marriage, through an indivisible obligation binding in common both the man and the woman unto the very end. Moreover, how contrary such an obligation is to the liberty and emancipation of the individual is easy for all to see at a glance. Nevertheless, certain prejudices still continue to be rooted in the minds of men, which do not allow the intended reformation to be carried out hastily. Hence, liberalism will begin with the reduction of marriage to the status of a mere civil contract, sanctioned only by the civil law. Then, from civil marriage there will be an easy transition to legal divorce, and not without reason, because whatever can be bound by the authority of the civil law can also be dissolved and rescinded by the authority of that same law. Finally, from legal divorce a gradual and imperceptible descent will be prepared to ‘free love’…and when this is come to pass, there will not survive any more recognizable vestige of the family than exists among beasts.
“You see then how liberalism intends by every means and device to accomplish the destruction of the family by attacking its ultimate foundation. It likewise intends to destroy the family in its authority. In the first place, it does so by means of laws depriving the father of the family of the power of free disposal of his property… But secondly and especially, this is done through the laws of public and obligatory instruction, whereby the education of the children is virtually taken away from the parents, and the entire control of the public school system so completely given over to the civil authority, that no recognition whatsoever is accorded to the possible right of any other authority to intervene in respect to the discipline or course of study, or concerning the choice or approbation of teachers…”
The two paragraphs quoted above are prefatory to what Cardinal Billot now explains: why liberalism seeks the destruction of the family and every other “society” except one. He concludes with a reflection on how little recourse there is to the situation he has described. Two things need to be noted in regard to what he says:
1) English has two words, liberty and freedom, whose sense is encompassed in one word in French, liberte. Wherever we see Cardinal Billot saying “liberty,” most writers in modern American English would usually say “freedom”. This is to speak of the freedom our liberal rulers piously invoke whenever, as on every November 11, they hail “our brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may be free.” It is the freedom of the individual to do whatever is humanly possible (as long, it is always added, nobody else is hurt, as if no one but ourselves ever suffers from the consequences of our sins). It is the freedom condemned by Blessed Pope Pius IX in his 1864 encyclical Quanta Cura as the “liberty of perdition.”
2) A growing number of studies show that as readers, possibly including someone reading these lines, become used to doing little more than collect information from electronic screens, their brains change and it becomes difficult for them to read what was written in books and other print media, or even material posted on line if it is more than a few hundred words in length, and especially if it is couched in the 19th-century language and style of a Cardinal Billot. Indeed, it is common nowadays to hear young persons, and persons not so young, openly declare that they never read. “It bores me,” they say. Yet it is from deep reading alone that we may acquire the knowledge which, combined with experience and reflection, will produce the understanding called wisdom.
“Liberalism, for all that it is worth, intends the emancipation of the individual, for whom it wishes to preserve absolutely intact that supreme and principal good of man which is liberty. Moreover, it maintains that society is repugnant to the emancipation of the individual – society, that is, organized society, society formed on the basis of stable ties and laws, society really deserving of the name society – that one society and it alone excepted, which has been constituted according to norms of the principles of the social contract. Again, only that society is the society of the social contract, which gathers together individuals like so many arithmetical units entirely equal among themselves, and in every way independent of one another, under one common government emanating from the sum-total of the individual wills, to which society they give the name of State. The consequence, therefore, is that liberalism is doomed, either to repudiate itself, or to proceed towards that dissolution of every society distinct from the State, not stopping a moment in its nefarious work of destruction or pulverization, until it reigns over perfectly disunited monads which are aggregated together in the same way that grains of corn are aggregated in the ear…
“In vain will you or anyone else of good and sound judgment protest. For to what purpose do you appeal to justice? To what purpose do you urge the rights of a just and beneficent liberty? Liberty is sought for its own sake, liberty as such, liberty in its conception. And this ideal liberty does not concede the right of citizenship except to individual persons, which, in order that they may in no way restrain, interfere with, or fetter one another, it desires to be devoid of all cohesion among themselves.”
If it is not presumptuous, I would dissent in one respect from what Cardinal Billot says. It is where he suggests, perhaps rhetorically exaggerating the difficulty, that protest or any other action against the regnant liberalism must be in vain. That the false philosophy has replaced Christianity as the guiding force in most men’s lives does make it appear impregnable, but Our Lord tells us not to judge by appearances. He doesn’t mean that appearances are necessarily illusory, but we aren’t to be hypnotized by them like the proverbial deer frozen in the glare of oncoming headlights.