Sunday, 25 September 2011

A traditional Catholic theologian on liberalism

The following is an extract from Cardinal Billot's De Ecclesia (1910).  It is heavily influenced by de Maistre's Essai sur le principe générateur des constitutions politiques et des autres institutions humaines.

"Anyone who considers the matter will see clearly that the principle of liberalism is essentially anti-religious and impious, and that it is the essential principle of that great Revolution of which it has rightly been said that it has a satanic character that is so manifest and so visible that it can be set apart from anything that had ever happened in all previous history.

To be sure, there has always been impiety in the world, and impiety has always been a crime.  But it has never had the same character, the same intensity or, in particular, the same organisation.  In ancient times, impiety was generally carried on in quite a limited way: no doubt such matters were discussed, debated and quibbled over and there was mockery, but there was no acrimony.  Even Lucretius scarcely rose to the level of abuse and blasphemy, even when he traduced religion as a fertile source of evils.  Indeed, the religion of the time was not one that deserved to excite the rage and fury of the unbelievers of the time.  When, however, the Gospel began to be preached, the assault on religion also began to increase in strength.  Yet at this time it was still limited and moderate in nature.  The pagan persecutors did not subscribe to a formal doctrine of irreligion, but rather attacked the Christians on the grounds that they were atheists and destroyers of their ancestral religion.  Then, in the succeeding centuries, any pioneers of impiety who appeared were quite rare and were isolated figures who were not bound together in any association.  Most notably, they were not driven by the same frenzy that we see today.  Even Pierre Bayle, the man who can be taken as the father of modern unbelief, still differs greatly from his successors even in the worst parts of his books insofar as he does not seem to feel much desire to persuade his readers or to make converts.  He doubts rather than denies, giving both sides of the argument and refraining from adopting a harsh tone, as if standing aloof from factional strife.  In the eighteenth century, however, impiety developed a truly formidable strength....  It was no longer a question of the cold indifference of scepticism, nor the unruffled irony of an unbeliever directed against harmless errors, but unquenchable hate, incandescent anger, burning rage.  Religion was persecuted as if it were the enemy of enemies, and those who took the name of "philosophers" descended from hatred of Christianity to personal loathing of her Divine Founder....

Without doubt, religion had spread thoroughly through the whole body of society, from the soles of its feet to the top of its head.  Our civilisation arose entirely from Christianity, and clergymen everywhere obtained a prominent and exalted place in the political structure, so that everywhere civil and religious institutions could be seen to interpenetrate each other in a remarkable manner....  It can now be seen why the anti-religious rage of the impious fomenters of Revolution brought with it as a necessary consequence a hatred of social institutions, since the nature of the latter was such that it was wholly impossible to divorce them from religious faith....  So they decreed that they should be razed to the ground and completely destroyed, so that the field was clear for a new social and political order, which was fitted to the primary and principal goal of destroying all religion.

The pretext for installing this new social order was liberty; its code was the social contract; its method was demagoguery; and its ultimate rationale was the creation of a colossal atheistic State... with absolute dictatorial power to prescribe what is allowed and what is forbidden.  Under this State, the reviled name and worship of God would be abolished for ever....  This is the end to which everything else is ordered as means.  This is the reason for the destruction of the family, this is the reason for the destruction of the corporations, this is the reason for the destruction of the liberties of municipalities and provinces - so that there will finally be left one remaining authority, that of the impious State....  This is the objective that is aimed for, not civil liberty.  Liberty is a pretext, liberty is an idol to seduce the people... an empty god behind which Satan is preparing to reduce the nations to a far worse slavery than that in which he held the ancient world with the physical idols of paganism."