Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Murray's Mistake"

"Murray's Mistake" is the title of this essay, by my friend and former colleague, Mike Baxter, who now teaches in Catholic Studies department at DePaul.  A former Hauerwas student, and a longtime critic of liberalism generally and the "Murray project" specifically, argues that:

[A] schism has arisen within the Catholic community in the United States over the proper attitude toward the established polity.  The schism is between those Catholics in the United States who identify with liberal politics and those who identify with conservative politics in the secular sphere. The division is pervasive and deep, and it is tearing the U.S. Catholic community apart.

The division between these groups of Catholics is a consequence of Catholics’ performing the role Father Murray assigned to them. . . . 

[These divisions] are generated by the national policy agenda that he urged Catholics to pursue. The problem is that in setting out to transform politics in the United States, Catholics have been transformed by it. . . . 

The lesson to be learned is this: those who set out to manage the modern state get managed by the modern state. In heeding this lesson, Father Murray’s story of Catholicism and America will have to be revised. . . .

As it happens, Mike also discusses in the paper Murray's "dualistic political theory" and his use of Pope Gelasius's "Two There Are" formulation, both of which have had a great deal of influence on my own thinking.  In fact, my paper on "The Freedom of the Church" was first presented at a Villanova conference, on Murray, at which Mike Baxter also presented.  Time flies . . .

Anyway . . . read the whole thing for Baxter's concluding suggestions (spoiler:  MacIntyre and Aquinas are key).  For my own part, I think almost everything Baxter says is correct, and cannot avoid the force of what I take to be his implicit challenge to folks (like me) who think that Murray's "dualistic" theory regarding religious and political authority still has a lot to offer.  That said, and agreeing entirely with Baxter (and MacIntyre) that the hard work of building authentic human communities has to focus on non-state and / or local and / or pre-political associations, spaces, and activities, I do not see it as a plausible alternative for Catholics to simply walk away from engagement with the modern state (even if Murray was overly optimistic about our place in the "consensus" about how that state should operate). 


Garnett, Rick | Permalink


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

"I do not see it as a plausible alternative for Catholics to simply walk away from engagement with the modern state"

Perhaps it is a matter of emphasis. It seems, at times, that we American Catholics put too much emphasis and hope on Federal electoral politics at the expense of all those other good and important political issues that surround us in our neighborhoods. So yes, engage at the Federal level, but do not expect much direct or immediate fruit from that engagement and don't neglect the other aspects of politics more immediately before us in the life of our parishes. (I'm guilty of this too). So lighten the national-Federal emphasis that is tearing American Catholics apart.

Posted by: ck | Sep 13, 2013 4:34:20 PM

Unfortunately, ck, this error has continued to beget more error; the life of the parish has been affected as well.

Posted by: Nancy | Sep 13, 2013 5:57:05 PM

Even sects,such as the Amish and minority 'communities' such as the Catholic Church depend on the rule of law, specific interpretations of the constitution and the state to operate and to be able to form communities and self-organizing institutions. This is more than obvious in countries such as Egypt and Syria. In the UK which has neither Concordat nor constitution the Catholic Church has had to tag along behind the Anglicans for protection but this has left us unable to focus on a specific sort of Catholic community that can resist the culture, the encroachments of the state and its social policies and propose something different. Why after all is Alasdair MacIntyre not living in Scotland but in America? Mr. Baxter seems to belive that it is possible to live in a world where one is able to enjoy the fruits of centuries of effort (the rule of law, the jurisprudence sustaining freedom of religion, association, education, charitable activities etc)but not take responsibility for maintaining and finding persuasive reasons for these fundamental elements of common national life.

Posted by: Katie | Sep 15, 2013 3:43:22 AM

Rick, thanks for posting this. One note about your comment about walking away from engagement with the state. I don't think one should try to walk away from the state. It would be like trying to walk away from the weather. It can't be done. But what one can do -- and should, in my view -- is rethink how one engages with the state, rethink it in a way that avoids the pitfalls of Murray's thought. If MacIntyre is right about Aristotle, Aquinas, and the modern state, for example, then Murray's claims about Thomism, the US founding, and the reformability of the modern state, falls into the category of ideology, in that it presents as "natural" features of political life that are decidedly unnatural and destructive of nature, and co-opts us into not see that. Take, for example, the way so many Americans view our national electoral processes as "democratic." Moreover, this co-optation trains us not to see things contrary to the natural law, for example, such as abortion (of course) yet also torture or mass murder (e.g., the US bombing of Hiroshima). Seeing these things for what they are would instill in us an appropriate wariness about the modern state and embracing its many supposed "blessings." Does this mean there are not good principles in the US founding (e.g., separations of powers) or good laws (e.g., the Americans with Disabilities Act or the RLUPA)? No. But it does mean that working for such laws should be done without the ideology that so often attends them, such as "it may be a bad system but it's better than all the others," or "go back to Scotland," or the rhetoric of political "responsibility." Again, thanks for posting this.

Posted by: Michael Baxter | Sep 16, 2013 10:09:33 AM

Professor Garnett, thanks to both you and Michael Baxter, for illuminating the fact that in order to be politically responsible, Catholics are called to witness to our Catholic Faith in private as well as in public.

Posted by: Nancy | Sep 16, 2013 11:01:03 AM

This country was founded as a Christian Nation. Our Founding Fathers recognized that God Is the author of The Laws of Nature. Their error was in not recognizing that "In The Beginning Was The Word..." thus there Is only One Word of God, there Is only one Christ; there are not many christs.

Posted by: Nancy | Sep 17, 2013 1:50:44 PM


Something to think about as Catholic Americans.

Posted by: Nancy | Sep 17, 2013 3:23:27 PM

Nancy -- while it is true that American culture, society, and values were, at the time of the Founding, (broadly speaking) Protestant Christian; and while I strongly believe that our Constitution and traditions show strong appreciation for the good and importance of religious faith, I think it is potentially misleading to say that the country was "founded" as a "Christian Nation", if by "country" one means the "national government brought into being by the ratification of the Constitution." I imagine that everyone at the time of ratification realized that almost all of their fellow Americans were (Protestant) Christians, and thought that this was a good thing, and expected this state of affairs to continue, but the United States of America was not "founded" as a "Christian nation" but rather as a secular political community of (overwhelmingy) Christian people.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Sep 18, 2013 9:54:50 AM

I would truly appreciate your comments on this statement:

It is a mortal sin for a Catholic with a well formed conscience who knows the truth about abortion and the Democratic Party's and this President's advocacy of, promotion of, and push for tax dollars to pay for, abortion to vote for a Democrat.

Similarly, for one who knows the truth re: racist basis for many abortions and the Democratic Party's and this President's funding abortion businesses that are racist in their provision of abortions.

Thank you, Guy McClung; San Antonio TX

Posted by: Guy McClung | Sep 18, 2013 12:07:46 PM