Monday, January 16, 2012

Samuel Gregg - on "Liberalism"

... The task of realizing the basic goods, however, need not always occur in a context of opposition to the temporal institutions in place. Catholics are certainly bound to oppose what the theologian Thomas Dubay describes as the dogmas of materialism: “the primacy of pleasure, the invalidity of metaphysics, . . , the relativity of morality . . . the denial of freedom.” Insofar as liberal modernity embraces these ideas or seeks to isolate man from all those unchosen aspects of himself that are, in fact, prerequisites to his freedom, Catholics must never hesitate to demonstrate their unreasonableness. The idea that man is nothing more than a conglomerate of passions and that human fulfillment consists of merely satisfying as many of those passions as possible in a short period of time, must be resisted and refuted over and over again. This need not, however, mean that those institutions commonly regarded as “liberal” -- the market, the rule of law, a constitutionally limited State, a flourishing set of civil associations -- should be considered inherently flawed by Catholics.

The liberalism that is wanting is a set of claims about the human person rather than its institutional associations. In part, this book has sought to show how such institutions can be grounded in a vision that avoids the common liberal reliance upon utilitarian assumptions. The task of achieving such a synthesis is nothing less than a civilizational mission that Catholics are in a unique position to foster.

By definition, this mission involves Catholics establishing themselves equidistant between those who hold that all was darkness before 1789, and those who believe that nothing but darkness has followed after 1789. The inability of some Catholics to do so has relegated them to the irrelevance of romantic nostalgia or the triviality of aping secular modernity. Until such tendencies are overcome, the ability of Catholics to contribute to the project of ordered liberty will continue to languish in the realm of possibility rather than of actuality. And this is important, for ultimately it is the free choices of many acting persons for this project that will bring about its realization rather than the decisions of governments.

Samuel Gregg, On Ordered Liberty: A Treatise on the Free Society

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