The discourse around integralism has proven that it is easy to define but surprisingly difficult to understand, and even harder to swallow. Integralism is not so much “left” or “right” as it is definitively illiberal. It bewilders the liberal mind, which tends to misidentify it as one of the rival philosophies which were conceived in reaction to liberalism. Hence, the integralist will often find himself accused at once of being a fascist and a socialist, a public menace with fantastical and unattainable ideals.
Integralism, its critics say, is impossible to sell to the masses; and thankfully so, because it would destroy democracy. Such incoherence is due, no doubt, to the incoherence of the liberal mind. Fortunately, man is not born a liberal, but becomes one. Today, it is more likely that the unformed common mind is more receptive to truth than the malformed intellectual, and integralism would not seem nearly as bizarre as most people might suppose.
In a recent essay, James Patterson delivers a familiar back-handed criticism of integralism that might be the perfect synthesis of alarmist outrage and curt dismissal which have typified the poles of its opposition; namely, that it is merely the pet theory of writers, academics, and monks; “an internet aesthetic of mostly young men alienated from the public life and consumed with the libido dominandi.”
This criticism has always struck me as cartoonishly conceited. Perhaps, in some realm separate from the real world, college professors are notoriously prone to over-value the opinions of the unwashed masses. If I ever meet a college professor outside of a college, he might have great reverence for my native intuition, as one who lives in closer proximity to the pure forces of nature, and whose rustic ears are more subtly attuned to the music of the universe. For, indeed, I am neither a professional writer, nor an academic, and so the accusation of not being formed by republican associations (whatever those are) cannot be leveled against me. Unlike my academic counterparts, who labor under the heavy yoke of books and stuff, I am a blue-collar worker who labors in a factory with machines. I am an essential worker. I live in the real world. So as I offer this defense of an oft-misunderstood doctrine of the Catholic Church, I am immune to elitist genetic fallacies and amateur psychoanalysis.
Out in the real world, people say things like “it’s my right to do such-and-such” or “you can’t tell me what to think about such-and-such” and so forth. Such arguments are framed as though rooted in a liberal philosophical tradition, but they are not. Rather, the liberal “order” has merely furnished the masses with a rhetorical mallet.
The unlettered man of the real world does not really think like a liberal. He thinks in terms of right and wrong, good and bad. When a plumber says, “you’re entitled to your opinion,” he means that he thinks your opinion is garbage, but does not consider it a valuable use of his time to persuade you otherwise. When an electrician says, “the government shouldn’t force people to do what they think is wrong,” what he means is that he has no faith in law enforcement and is therefore terrified at the prospect of having his weapons confiscated just as the world seems to be growing more dangerous. When a lathe operator says, “it’s not hurting anyone, so who am I to judge,” what he means is that he hates it but is unwilling to damage his already tenuous family dynamic in a failed attempt to stop it.
With respect to political life as it pertains to the Church, the truth is that many devout Catholic welders, truck drivers, and Catholic trash collectors know that the measure of a good society is how often one is able to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that it would not be a bad thing for even the state to pass laws facilitating it.
But just as it takes a sommelier years of training to be able to recognize which wines you should like, and which wines you incorrectly like, so does it take an academic years of intense training to be able to recognize the distinction between political neutrality (allowing persons to participate in society according to their own disparate views of the good) and despotism (enforcing the good). To the rube, wine is wine, and to the unlettered, good is good. Those in the real world think that the good should be legal and the bad should be illegal. But to the liberal intellectual, this is despotic, fascist, and tyrannical: That an academic should push such an agenda clearly implies a desire to assert himself as the leader of his own fascist dictatorship; that a journalist or a lawyer should support such dangerous thinking suggests deep racial or sexual misgivings, or perhaps a hidden desire to murder his personal enemies. Only the plebeian is excused for such blunt and dangerous thinking. And so we see, as the common people think like integralists but argue with imitation-liberal rhetoric, those who actually think like liberals argue with sensationalism and demonization; hurling bizarre accusations that range from “crypto-neo-nazi” to “incel.”
Aside from his colorblind approach to politics, the average (Catholic) blue-collar worker does not have “republican associations.” He does not, as far as liberals are concerned, participate in the public sphere in any meaningful sense. His life is divided into weeks. In each week, he spends the majority of his time at work and commuting to or from work. He savors every Saturday as his time to recuperate from the drudgery of the previous five days. His Sunday is spent at Mass in the morning and with his family in the evening. In short, the working-man’s whole existence is divided unevenly into employment, entertaining himself at home, and going to Mass. In the liberal worldview, these are all “private” endeavors: He never sets foot in the public sphere.
This is where integralism can enter the heart of every normal, real-world person; in the realization that even the meek and the uneducated are not prisoners of “private enterprise,” but actively participate in the social order; in the sobering sense that one’s life is presently ruled not by himself, nor by those he already yearns to serve (i.e. Christ and His Church), but by a power that is inimical to the common good; and in the knowledge that the claims of liberalism are a farce and do not grant him the benefits of liberty, but in fact justify and enable the most oppressive forces in his life.
What is the liberal solution to this veritable dystopia in which the great mass of souls live out their days? Be nice to your neighbors and hope for future bishops to encourage more parish picnics. To plebeian ears, this kind of tone-deaf exhortation is all too familiar. It is typical of career politicians, billionaires, and the occasional academic who wanders out from his cave to show his face in the light of the evening news. It has many permutations: “Work harder,” “move to a viable town,” “inform your vote,” “learn to code,” “buy local,” “change yourself first,” etc. Each of them are as feckless as they are insulting. “Be nice to your neighbors” is good in itself, but trite. It does not help me get to heaven, it does not convince the school to teach better material, it does not ensure me a living wage, and it does not, in fact, make me friends.
A subtler but much more fundamental problem is found behind these commonly proposed solutions that are at once naive and unrealistic; that is, an anemic, impoverished vision of community. Patterson, for example, offers his favorite example of Catholic “republican virtue”; having a baptism party for his child in which someone gave him a wad of cash; and one time, an acquaintance helped him move. Meanwhile, I am cursed with the knowledge that poor Bavarian villages have, in recent memory, closed up all shops for a week to coat the streets in murals of flower petals for public Corpus Christi processions. Every year, Valencia almost burns itself down with fireworks and pyres for the Feast of St. Joseph. In rural Austria and Switzerland, beautiful shrines dot the highways. This is not golden-age sentimentalism. There are, right now, public and legally enshrined expressions of the Faith (in other words, liturgy) that are only a shadow of what might be realized when we cast off the yoke of liberalism. Meanwhile, the rich can still afford to pay the moving company in wads of cash, and dissolute heathens have wild parties every weekend. Perhaps one man’s Christian birthright is another’s “sublime historical experience,” but what we have now—what we are even capable of having in our present paradigm—is just sad.
So, now I speak with the full weight of authority as someone who is an integral part of the real world, who has as much libido as Samwise Gamgee and is as alienated from public life as any oppressed proletarian: Everyone is disconnected, conceited, and out of touch with society. We are all in dire need of reasserting the reign of Christ over every single area of our lives. The only difference between the plebeians and the privileged few is that the latter are especially capable of blinding themselves to this fact.
Ian Bothur is a master of philosophy and works as a machinist in Connecticut.