Noted attorney and author Christopher Ferrara (Catholic Family News, June 2017, pp. 3, 25) found a recent statement by Pope Francis about libertarianism to be an opportunity to develop his own thinking about the common good and Catholic social doctrine. Both the Pope and Mr. Ferrara see in libertarianism the antithesis of Catholic teaching on the nature of human society, but Mr. Ferrara maintains that Pope Francis himself makes a concession to libertarianism in a rejection of the notion of a Christian commonwealth.
Our present analysis is not about the merits or demerits of Mr. Ferrara’s disagreement with the Pope, but rather about Mr. Ferrara’s own perspective on Catholic social doctrine. Libertarianism is a term currently used to characterize what in former times was known as liberalism – not in the sense that it is currently used politically in English-speaking countries, but in the original sense as analyzed by Juan Donoso Cortés in his Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism (1851). The liberal or libertarian is one who thinks about the rights of the individual without a corresponding consideration of one’s duty to the common good of society, whereas the socialist, under the guise of correcting the evils of liberalism, advocates unlimited government intervention to regulate all social action.
What Pope Francis and Christopher Ferrara appear to have in common is a concern about libertarianism as being a principal threat to the contemporary social order. Juan Donoso Cortés, writing more than a century and a half ago, predicted a very different conflict, not one between Catholicism and libertarianism or liberalism, but between Catholicism and socialism – not because libertarianism is not an error against a Christian social order, but rather because libertarianism would give way to socialism. Liberalism and socialism alike, according to Donoso Cortés, share the same fundamental principles in their rejection of the true principles of the Faith and Christian morality, but the socialist is more consistent and honest in that he takes these common principles to their ultimate consequences. For this reason, as Donoso Cortés foresaw, libertarianism would disappear in the ultimate conflict, and Catholicism and socialism would be the only remaining combatants in the struggle of our times. “The liberal school, fearing at the same time both light and darkness,” Donoso Cortés wrote, “has undertaken to govern without a people and without God; an extravagant and impossible attempt. Its days are numbered, because we see God appearing at one point of the horizon, and at the other the people. On the terrible day of battle, when the entire field will be covered with Catholic and socialist combatants, no one will know where to find this school of liberalism” (Book II, Chapter VIII, “Solutions of the liberal school. . . ,” page 116).
What Donoso foresaw in 1851, Our Lady of Fatima confirmed in 1917 when She foretold that the errors of Russia would spread throughout the world if Her requests were not heeded. And as Sister Lúcia wrote to Pope John Paul II on May 12, 1982, Our Lady’s requests were not in fact heeded, and Russia’s errors have therefore spread throughout the world. However, since today both Pope Francis and Mr. Ferrara see libertarianism as a major threat to the social order in our time, it is important to analyze this perspective, but focusing specifically on the arguments of Mr. Ferrara.
In explaining the modern revolt against the common good, and against the Catholic social order that once embodied this ideal, Christopher Ferrara does not describe the breakup of the Catholic social order as being due to the three modern revolutions against Christian Civilization: the Protestant Reformation in 1517, the French Revolution of 1789, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 – analyzed in depth by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in his well known work Revolution and Counter-Revolution. Instead, Mr. Ferrara associates the French Revolution with the independence of the United States: “The Christian commonwealth that was overthrown and destroyed . . . during the democratic revolution, beginning in 1776 and 1789.” By referring to 1776 Mr. Ferrara confuses a political question – that of popular government which Catholic political philosophy, following the ancient Greeks, recognized as a legitimate form of government along with monarchy and aristocracy – with a religious question: the principles and laws of Christian Civilization, built through the influence of the Church during the course of the Middle Ages.
In contrast with Christopher Ferrara’s identification of the breakup of Christendom with the independence of the United States in the late eighteenth century – and, by implication, with the independence of the nations of Latin America during the nineteenth century – President Donald Trump presented a different interpretation of western Christian civilization during his recent address in Warsaw, Poland, where he spoke about a “community of nations” – not the secular United Nations, but rather those nations that represent the legacy of medieval Christendom. This was implied very clearly when he referred to Poland as being geographically the heart of Europe, while, in its people, it represents the “soul of Europe.” Donald Trump, as president of a predominantly non-Catholic country in the New World, was nevertheless acknowledging the spiritual and moral role of Europe and in particular of Catholic Poland. Mr. Ferrara’s negative characterization of the existence of the United States, on the other hand, as an independent nation beginning in 1776, makes it difficult to understand the historical realities that President Trump was referring to in his speech to the Catholics of Poland – concerning the role of Europe, and the community of nations that Europe gave rise to with its former colonies throughout the world.
Historically the Church did not treat the birth of new nations in the Americas as the destruction of the ideal of a Christian commonwealth, but rather as part of the expansion of her missionary efforts, in this case to the nations of the New World. While Mr. Ferrara critically analyzes Pope Francis’s defense of the laicist modern state, he himself introduces as an alternative an interpretation of modern history that is itself not solely religious, but political, an analysis based on purely political arguments rather than on the explicit teaching of the Magisterium and on the Church’s missionary work. Political considerations about national independence and forms of government overshadow as a result the primary mission of the Church and the historical development of Christian culture and civilization.
It is for this reason that it is necessary to analyze the philosophy that is implied in Mr. Ferrara’s arguments. Whereas Juan Donoso Cortés saw liberalism or libertarianism evolving into socialism, and Our Lady of Fatima warned six and a half decades later about the spread of the errors of Russia, the debate within the Church today concerns which of the two evils, libertarianism or socialism, constitutes the predominant threat to the Church. Those who would assume that libertarianism is the primary threat would have to conclude that Our Lady of Fatima was not talking about socialism and Communism when She referred to the errors of Russia, and that by “errors of Russia” She somehow meant the errors of libertarianism instead, a theory which would make little sense in the context of modern history.
The evidence of the historical facts confirms rather than disproves the predictions of Juan Donoso Cortés. The liberalism or libertarianism of the nineteenth century gave way to the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century – Communism, Nazism and Fascism. Bella Dodd, the Italian immigrant who returned to the Church after years of activity in the Communist Party in the United States, analyzed in detail the work of the Communists from Moscow, organizing Communist subversion in other countries, in her book School of Darkness. These two books, Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism and School of Darkness, reprinted by Preserving Christian Publications, serve as two companion volumes for understanding the crisis of our time, interpreted in the light of Fatima. A failure to appreciate what Our Lady of Fatima meant by the errors of Russia possibly explains why many Catholics, prominent among them being Christopher Ferrara, have mistakenly concluded that the Vatican did not publish the entire Third Secret of Fatima. They have reasoned instead that the published text of the Secret did not adequately reveal Our Lady of Fatima’s message. This serious error regarding Fatima is analyzed in detail in our booklet Fatima and the Third Secret.
Juan Donoso Cortés in the mid nineteenth century foresaw the crisis that the Church and the world would face in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In the mid twentieth century Bella Dodd recorded her own experiences with the Communist Party, the spreading of its errors foretold by Our Lady in Fatima in 1917. And with the publication of the Third Secret in 2000, Catholics worldwide can now understand what Sister Lúcia meant in her explanation of the Third Secret to Pope John Paul II in 1982. Rather than the errors of liberalism or libertarianism as analyzed by Christopher Ferrara, it is instead the transformation of the principles of liberalism into the more radical errors of socialism and communism, spreading throughout the world, that constitute the primary threat to the Church and Christian Civilization in our time.