The shameful anti-Catholic floor of the New Republic
Why do progressives have a reputation for openly hating Catholics and Catholics? Just because she keeps repeating things like Peter Hammond Schwartz’s latest essay in The New Republic, entitled “Originalism Is Dead. Long live the Catholic natural law. “To get the full flavor, you need to start by portraying Justice Amy Coney Barrett as Pope: the forces challenging the modernist ideal in America are now crucially led by Conservative Catholics, not Evangelical Protestants, with one new focus on exercising influence and power over America’s legal institutions, particularly the federal courts. February 3, 2021 There is a long and ugly tradition of anti-Catholic writers and caricaturists portraying their enemies in the miter of a pope or bishop dating back to the time of anti-Catholic knowledge of the 1850s and their heirs in the 1870s and 1880s. This is illustrated by this 1871 Thomas Nast classic of the Harper’s Weekly genre depicting the nefarious threat posed by the Catholic school: The American River Ganges by Thomas Nast, from the September 30, 1871 issue of Harper’s Weekly. The cartoonist Tony Auth sparked controversy in 2007 with a cartoon about the Supreme Court decision to ban partial abortion in Gonzales v. Carhart, in which the five Catholic judges are represented in the majority in miters above the heading “Church & State”. TNR editors and illustrators, Michelle Rohn – and Schwartz, if he was going to use the picture of Amy Coney Barrett – needed to know exactly what card they were playing here. Schwartz complains openly that there are too many Catholics in Congress and in the courts: Members of Congress are becoming increasingly Catholic, especially in the Republican Party. In the 2016 elections, Catholic representation in Congress had increased by a whopping 68 percent since 1960, from 100 to 168, which is more than 31 percent of the Congress (even if Catholics at the national level fell to 21 percent of the population, less than the 23 percent who declared “none” as their religious affiliation in 2014). Between the 2008 and 2016 elections, the cohort of House Catholic Republicans nearly doubled from 37 to 70, while the number of House Catholic Democrats fell from 98 to 74. Despite this significant Catholic overrepresentation in Congress, the traditionalist Catholics – for those of the nineteenth – Blaine Changes of the Century, by which states tried to ban public funding of religious education, remain the bloody shirt they can’t stop waving in – incessantly about persistent prejudice and discrimination. Catholics are even more over-represented in the judiciary. Almost 30 percent of the judges at the Bundesbank are Catholic. There are currently six Catholic Supreme Court justices, five of whom are Republican-appointed Conservatives. A seventh, Neil Gorsuch, is a former devout Catholic who is now venerated as a bishop. Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, the judges who replaced Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were also Catholic. This means that nine of the 13 youngest judges have a Catholic background. Yes, Schwartz complains that Catholics “keep meowing” and “waving the bloody shirt” of 19th century laws that were specifically directed against Catholics, and that the Supreme Court did not vote against them until June 2020 by 5 to 4 votes Objections from the Liberals of the Court and to the horror of progressive commentators. The atmosphere of the article is full of familiar tropes of the left. A seedy, extreme, well-funded conspiracy wants to impose theocracy on America in court: “A 50-year saga of Catholic intellectual and theological penetration of the halls of power.” Of course, “William F. Buckley, the pious and mystical Catholic” is part of this “door to the medieval past”. The Koch brothers are predictably referred to, despite their conspicuously libertarian social views. The main villains are “the three Leos – Pope Leo XIII from the 19th century, the German-American philosopher Leo Strauss from the 20th century and the impresario Leonard Leo from the Federalist Society of the 21st century”. Schwartz uses the language of viral infection to describe the influence of Catholic thought: the intellectual obligations and moral sensibilities of the new natural law have permeated many of the country’s major media, political, legal, and educational institutions over the past few decades. NNL has passed seamlessly into the conservative intellectual bloodstream through organizations closely linked to Federal Society. For Leonard Leo – who is “more than a trace of Cardinal Wolsey” of 16th century England – Schwartz relies on Jeffrey Toobin’s views for a particularly vivid picture of the mood of this essay. The Federal Society is accused of carrying “an Abrahamic fetish of the text as revelation” for our popularly ratified constitution. Schwartz portrays natural law as a conspiracy to enforce Catholic theology: The moral philosophy of natural law absorbs (from revelation and scripture) and conveys (in public discourse and legal practice) a very specific understanding of the human individual as the summit of God’s creation. formed in the image of God himself. The ideas about natural law go back almost 800 years to the great synthesis of Aristotle and Augustine in the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. These ideas presuppose the intrinsic rational abilities of humans to correctly perceive and pursue uniquely human goods and to derive a system of moral regulations and ethics from these goods that forms the framework for the elucidation and codification of positive laws. Thomas wrote: “This is the first commandment of the law that ‘good should be done and persecuted and evil should be avoided.’ All other prescriptions of natural law are based on this: whatever the practical reason naturally conceives of as the good (or evil) of man belongs to the prescriptions of natural law as something to be done or avoided. “Of course, as Schwartz has to admit, the Catholic roots of natural law do nothing to alter the fact that it was philosophy that underpins much of the political philosophy of the Secular Enlightenment, particularly the Declaration of Independence and, yes, the United States Constitution . But he sees his modern survival as “scary”. Of course, there is a digression into the sexual abuse of priests without even making a vague effort to address its actual development. To understand how the elite’s enthusiasm for 13th-century Catholic philosophy affected modern American politics, “we don’t need to look any further than Fox News,” advises Schwartz. Naturally. He warns against “extreme and nervous publications” conveying a “Catholic fundamentalist message” regardless of the fact that the nature of religious fundamentalism is incompatible with the hierarchical and traditional Roman Catholic Church. The basic bait and switch of Schwartz’s article is his endeavor to tell the story of Catholic Integralism of Adrian Vermeule, Sohrab Ahmari, and Patrick Deneen as if it were influencing legal originalists like Barrett. We are told that “even right-wing conservatives like Harvard constitutional law professor Adrian Vermeule are now admitting these obvious shortcomings in originalism”. And this proves that “the real utility of originalism turns out to be its transactional value as a vehicle for other legal principles”, as if Vermeule is not an open critic and enemy of originalism. It is not until much later in this article that Schwartz addresses the conflict between the two camps and insists that this is a debate between “two sides of the same coin delineated in a medieval currency”. What is lost here is the fact that, despite the interest he has aroused in some circles, Vermeule is a completely marginal figure among the people who occupy federal justice and are active in federal society – particularly Barrett Justice, who even Schwartz admits that he is a supporter of the jurisprudence of Antonin Scalia, the monumental leader of the originalist camp. Nothing is cited to suggest Justice Barrett has any legal sympathy for Vermeule, but that doesn’t spare her a cartoon. Schwartz describes Justice Barrett as “the first judiciary to graduate from a Catholic university,” who has “lived almost all of her life in America’s” transfer locations “where” aristocratic liberalism “is not the prevailing fashion”. This ignores the fact that Notre Dame is hardly a monastery bastion of Catholic Orthodoxy (it gave Mario Cuomo an honorary title in 1984) and that the mayor of Barrett’s town was Pete Buttigieg. The New Republic should be ashamed and ashamed of this if its editors are still capable of such a feeling.