Sunday 24th January 2021

Home » Frontpage » Currently Reading:

Why The French-Ahmari Debates Matter

September 20, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

For those of you attuned to such controversies, there was a debate little noticed by the media in general but widely panned within Catholic intellectual circles at The Catholic University of America two weeks ago.
The aptly named “Thrilla at the Basilica” or the “Melee at CUA” brought over 600 attendees to the newly restored Heritage Hall — for alumni, that’s the old cafeteria at University Center East — featuring two heavyweights: Mr. David French of National Review and Mr. Sohrab Ahmari of the New York Post.
The topic of the debate? Could have been cloaked in the language of Catholic integralism, but truly was centered more around civility in the public square. Let me set the table for a moment, because this debate after 50 years of the post-Second Vatican Council Church matters a great deal to the generation rising.
We will start with two disconsonant themes: the Second Vatican Council and the rise of postmodernism and the sexual revolution. Consider myself firmly planted in the Patrick Buchanan school of post hoc ergo propter hoc when we point the finger at what is to blame for the collapse of Catholicism in America, but there is little question that whatever remedies the Second Vatican Council attempted to apply have had very little effect on the postmodern secular West — America included.
What is important here is that the American contributions to the Second Vatican Council — specifically here the commitment to religious freedom — exposed the Church to the idea of competing on a level playing field with error. Catholics could afford to roll the dice, it is argued, because the dice are loaded. After all, we are the Deposit of Faith. If God is for us, who could possibly be against us.
Turns out, a great deal can be against us.
There is another problem to diagnose here, and that is the collapse of the old Protestant integralism in favor of a more secular integralism. The concept of integralism — simply put, that laws and society should reflect a moral order — isn’t an old one.
The question raised by Ahmari and the co-authors of a document entitled “Against the Dead Consensus” in First Things in March 2019 is whether or not those of us preoccupied with tradition and the things tried and true are best served by this level playing field in the face of secular integralists who desire nothing more than to destroy faith in public life utterly. Should we not combat this with an integralism of our own, one informed by principles that endure?
Enter David French, who was the particular target of Ahmari’s ire as the former defended “drag queen story hour” in American libraries on the basis that these protections for error — even under the worst conditions of secular integralism — also extend protections to Christians as well. For those familiar with the classic film A Man For All Seasons one can see Sir Thomas More rise against his soon-to-be son-in-law asking William Roper when the devil turned ‘round on him where would he hide, the laws of England being all flat?
Thankfully, I was able to attend the debate at CUA. The crowd was overwhelmingly pro-French. Countless op-eds pilloried Ahmari after the fact for a poor performance, with notable exceptions (Chad Pecknold, professor of religion at CUA and a co-signer to the “dead consensus” manifesto was one such exception).
Let me offer a counterpoint to these observations. Though I consider myself a devoted Jeffersonian and believe in human freedom as both a good Catholic and a good American, do not be fooled by the narrative. Ahmari won the debate.
There are two good reasons for this. First and foremost, the deck is stacked in Ahmari’s favor. Lawmaking properly understood is and always will be an inherently moral (and therefore integralist) project. We approve of moral laws, we reject immoral laws, and we discern between the two. St. Thomas Aquinas cautions us that immoral laws are not laws at all, and as such we owe more to the totalitarian designs of the secular religions other than carving out ghettos of free expression. In fact, we are duty bound to resist.
Second and perhaps less recognized was the exchange between French and Ahmari on civility in the public square. French admonished Ahmari on the Biblical call to love one’s enemies as a non-optional call that reinforces civility in the public square as a virtue. Ahmari’s response — that we are called to love our enemies, but we are also called to recognize them as enemies — rewarded him with a good three second pause where one could have heard a pin drop.
The centerpiece of the French-Ahmari debates really isn’t over integralism per se. Both French and Ahmari exhibit varying degrees of moral integralism in their worldviews whether it is recognized or not. Nor is the debate over the merits of liberalism and whether the illiberalism of the left should be countered with an illiberalism of our own — though this debate has merits and can even be conceded in parts.
Rather, the question revolves around civility — and this is where in a room packed with many in the Washington DC orbit who attend to the thoughts, ideas and movements of the old conservative elite that Ahmari successfully baited French into confessing that incivility in the face of incivility matters.
Towards the end of the debate, Ahmari was clearly worn out over French’s recitation of his achievements — notable as they are. When Ahmari asked whether President French would have fought for Brett Kavanaugh after the now much discredited allegations broke, French’s service in Iraq was raised.
Sensing blood, Ahmari mentioned that French’s service was behind a desk with the Judges’ Advocates General Corps…. and French simply rose to the bait as Ahmari smiled ever so slightly.
At that point, the debate was over and the argument decisively won. One doubts that any French supporters changed their minds, but among the students in the crowd there was a certain sense that Ahmari had demonstrated two sailient points: (1) that at some point in time, we need to stand for something and reimpose moral values on the public square, and that (2) this isn’t going to be discussed calmly in a classroom, but rather fought for with a resolve that matches the vehemence on the left.
There were areas of agreement, though. Jon Ward writing for Yahoo News offered a moderately secular viewpoint, namely that he was absolutely shocked that the room — 600 strong — really did believe that we were on the cusp of an environment where Christians were heading back to the Colosseum, that persecution was firmly and first in the minds of those debating and the future intelligentsia of Christendom. Shocking to the political left, perhaps… but not shocking to those of us who exist in the public square as Catholics first.
This boils us down to a final point, namely that Ahmari entered the room with precisely nothing to lose. French had the crowd; if Ahmari made just one convert, then he won the exchange.
One is reminded of the contest between Wittgenstein and Popper where the great man (Wittgenstein, of course) asked his interlocutor to name one example of a moral law. “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers” was Popper’s response, to which Wittgenstein threw his poker down and marched out of the Moral Sciences Club at Cambridge.
There remains two fatal flaws to Ahmari’s argument. Jesus Christ had the option of leaving behind a government as strong as the Roman Empire, and yet rather than doing this, Christ left us a Church. If the divine sacraments are not sufficient enough to inculcate virtue, then what shabby temporal assistance does Ahmari believe grace requires? Ultimately, one cannot coerce virtue… and the integralism Ahmari seeks isn’t one that can be commanded by the Leviathan State.
Of course, there are responses to this. For instance, there is no question that abortion should be proscribed and human personhood affirmed either by judicial ruling or constitutional amendment. Yet one might suggest that this example is the proscription of vice rather than the prescription of virtue. If there is a middle ground to be discovered, perhaps the “dead consensus” writers can begin there.

+ + +

First Teachers warmly encourages readers to submit their thoughts, views, opinions, and insights to the author directly either via e-mail or by mail. Please send any correspondence to Shaun Kenney c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Road, Kents Store, Virginia 23084 or by e-mail to kenneys@cua.edu.

Share Button

2019 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Twitter Feed

Hey, fellow Catholics -

Remember the McCarrick Report?

Remember McCarrick?

Remember the sex-abuse coverups?

Remember being locked out of Mass for months?

Remember how abortion was essential, but Mass was "unessential"?

Remember our silent bishops?

No?

Heckuva job, @USCCB!

We will be leaving this platform soon! Censoring the truth is a highway to hell. Join us at #Parler. Our handle is @thewanderernewspaper

What have we learned in the last couple of months? One thing for sure - the Swamp is alive and well and bigger than ever!

And just like that, we’ve forgotten that a voting machine was hacked into live in a Georgia senate hearing.

Load More...

Catholic bishop released five days after kidnapping in Nigeria

CNA Staff, Jan 1, 2021 / 10:42 pm MT (CNA).- A Catholic bishop in Nigeria, who was kidnapped on Sunday, has been released unharmed, according to the Archdiocese of Owerri. The diocese, which is in southeastern Nigeria, announced in a social…Continue Reading

More GOP senators vow to challenge Biden’s win

WASHINGTON – A last-ditch effort by President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the election thrust Washington into chaos Saturday as a growing coalition of Republican senators announced plans to rebel against Senate leaders by seeking to block formal…Continue Reading

Underground Catholic bishop dies in China

CNA Staff, Dec 31, 2020 / 03:25 pm MT (CNA).- According to the Catholic outlet AsiaNews, headquartered in Rome, Bishop Andrea Han Jingtao, 99, a leader in the underground Catholic Church in China, died Dec. 30. Han Jingtao was the…Continue Reading

‘All-star,’ ‘brilliant jurist’: Pro-life leaders thrilled Trump nominated Barrett to Supreme Court

September 26, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett is “an absolute all-star” and “a judicial role model for the next generation,” pro-life leaders said today.  If confirmed, Barrett will replace pro-abortion Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died just…Continue Reading

Farewell, Uncle Di: Father Paul Mankowski, RIP

My editorial career has brought me into close contact with quite a few impressive thinkers. I have worked with famous authors, with noted theologians and philosophers, with canny political strategists, with at least a half-dozen Nobel Prize winners. Among them…Continue Reading

VIDEO: BLM mob threatens, chases Rand Paul down streets of DC

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 28, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky found himself the target of left-wing violence yet again Thursday night as protesters swarmed him as he was leaving the White House, chasing him and his wife…Continue Reading

Planned Parenthood acknowledges Margaret Sanger’s ‘racist legacy’, continues abortions

CNA Staff, Jul 21, 2020 / 11:05 am MT (CNA).- The New York affiliate of the nation’s largest abortion provider said Tuesday it will remove the name of its founder, Margaret Sanger, from its Manhattan building because of her support…Continue Reading

Statue of Virgin Mary beheaded at Tennessee parish

CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 10:40 am MT (CNA).- A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was attacked this weekend at a parish in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the third reported incident against a statue of Mary occuring in the same…Continue Reading

21 doctors tell bishops Communion on tongue ‘safer’ than in hand

June 26, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Twenty-one Austrian doctors have authored a letter appealing their country’s Bishops’ Conference to lift the de facto ban on receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, which has been enforced since Communion in the hand was…Continue Reading

Catholic priest among defenders of St Louis statue

CNA Staff, Jun 27, 2020 / 09:36 pm MT (CNA).- Fr. Stephen Schumacher, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was among the defenders of a prominent statue of the city’s namesake as protesters called for its removal Saturday.…Continue Reading

‘I cannot remain silent’: Madison Catholic bishop condemns destruction of religious statues

Denver Newsroom, Jun 24, 2020 / 04:08 pm MT (CNA).- As rioters across the United States target statues depicting historical figures, the Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin on Tuesday denounced that destruction, along with calls to destroy some depictions of Jesus…Continue Reading

John Roberts tries to suppress Reagan’s letter

After three and a half years of legal wrangling, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in August of 1985 ordered the 16,433 mangled babies’ bodies found in Woodland Hills in 1982 to be turned over to the Guerra-Gutirrez-Alexander Mortuary…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for 150 years in our weekly print edition.


  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
 
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 150 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
 
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Interview With Cardinal Burke . . . Discriminating Mercy: Defending Christ And His Church With True Love

  By DON FIER (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Founder of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., graciously took time out of his busy schedule to grant The Wanderer a wide-ranging interview during a recent visit to the Shrine. Included among the topics…Continue Reading

Developing Lives Of Peace After The Heart Of Mary

By RAYMOND LEO CARDINAL BURKE (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke delivered the address below at the 32nd Annual Church Teaches Forum, “The Message of Fatima: Peace for the World,” Galt House, Louisville, Ky., July 22, 2017. The address is reprinted here with the kind permission of Cardinal Burke. All rights reserved. This is part one of the…Continue Reading

Catechism

Today . . .

Our New “Catholic” President . . . Statement from President Biden and Vice President Harris on the 48th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Today marks the 48th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade.   In the past four years, reproductive health, including the right to choose, has been under relentless and extreme attack.  We are deeply committed to making sure everyone has access to care – including reproductive health care – regardless of income, race, zip code, health insurance status, or immigration status.  The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges…Continue Reading

Archbishop Cordileone’s Response to Speaker Pelosi’s Comments About Pro-Life Voters

On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized prolife voters who voted for Donald Trump on the abortion issue, saying their votes cause her “great grief as a Catholic” and accusing them of “being willing to sell the whole democracy down the river for that one issue.” Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, issued the following statement in response: “To begin with the obvious: Nancy Pelosi does not speak for the Catholic Church.…Continue Reading

In one of his last acts as president, Trump again makes anniversary of Roe ‘Sanctity of Life Day’

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 18, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – U.S. President Donald J. Trump has once again declared January 22, the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision imposing abortion on demand across the country, to be “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.” In the proclamation, published yesterday, Trump called on the U.S. Congress to join him “ in protecting and defending the dignity of every human life, including those not yet born” and promised himself “to continue speaking…Continue Reading

In-person March for Life canceled for all but ‘small group of pro-life leaders’

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 15, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Organizers of the annual March for Life in the nation’s capital have announced that the mass gathering against abortion is being effectively canceled this year in place of a virtual event, with only a “small group of pro-life leaders” invited to demonstrate in person.

Nuns arrested as Beijing turns up heat on Catholic Church in Hong Kong

HONG KONG – In a high-walled Art Deco villa in the Hong Kong suburbs of Kowloon, the Vatican operates an unofficial diplomatic mission, its only political outpost of any kind in China. The mission keeps such a low profile that it isn’t listed in the Roman Catholic Church’s formal directory of every priest and property in the city. The two monsignors who staff the outpost have no formal standing with Beijing or the Hong Kong government,…Continue Reading

The Bishop Strickland Hour – Week of September 29

Loose Thinking And Lost Logic

By DONALD DeMARCO Loose thinking occurs when more is attributed to a subject than what the subject contains. For example, the U.S. Constitution does not include any provision for justifying abortion or same-sex marriage. You cannot extract a liter of water from a bottle that contains only a pint.Barack Obama offered us an excellent example…Continue Reading

Now, The Left Owns It All

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN (Editor’s Note: This column by Patrick J. Buchanan was dated January 19.) + + That mob that split off from the Donald Trump rally of January 6 to invade the Capitol has proven a godsend to the left.The death of a Capitol cop has enabled the left — which spent the…Continue Reading

U.S. Supreme Court . . . Declines To Take Case Concerning Pittsburgh’s Censorship Zone Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday, January 11 to weigh in on a Pittsburgh, Pa., censorship-zone law similar to a Massachusetts law the High Court struck down in 2014. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, who represent five sidewalk counselors challenging the law, asked the court to take the case, and a diverse array…Continue Reading

In The U.S. Senate… Pro-Lifers Will Have To Fight Hidden Abortion Funding Battles

By MATT HADRO WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNA) — With Democrats winning the U.S. Senate races in Georgia, the political landscape for pro-lifers is now clear — they will be defending on multiple fronts against an emboldened abortion lobby.With Democrats holding 50 Senate seats plus Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, they have the slimmest of majorities…Continue Reading

Here’s A Start… Christians Need A Way Through The Coming Years

By DANIELLE ZUCCARO (LifeSiteNews) — What is the Christian response to the wasteland we find ourselves in? The situation in the U.S. right now is indeed a wasteland and a republic of chaos. With the compass not set on God, any government, company, family is bound to end up this way.Now we find ourselves in…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Catholic Replies

Q. In a recent article, you quoted the Handbook of Indulgences as saying that if a priest cannot be present to impart an Apostolic Pardon at the hour of death, “Holy Mother Church lovingly grants such persons who are rightly disposed a plenary indulgence to be obtained in articulo mortis, at the approach of death, provided they regularly prayed in…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… What Cannot Be Canceled

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK There is much talk, albeit in smaller circles now, of cancel culture.After Twitter banned Trump, and the big tech companies colluded to shut down Parler almost immediately, there was little left of truly free social media. In their apparent desire to leave no Internet avenue of escape for the new Public Enemy No. 1, a…Continue Reading

A World Of Expectation

By FR. ROBERET ALTIER Third Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR B) Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 101 Cor. 7:29-31Mark 1:14-20 In the Gospel reading today Jesus begins His preaching by proclaiming: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus’ words about the time of fulfillment were not something surprising to…Continue Reading

Who Really Does The Work Of The Evil One?

By FR. JAMES ALTMAN Dear family, we have talked about how big Galilee is, how it comprised the northern quarter of Israel, about 2,000 square miles. And we talked about how Jesus’ reputation spread throughout all of Galilee because — when He was in the synagogue in Capernaum there was a man in there possessed by a demon and Jesus…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Q. How would we go about getting Joe Biden excommunicated because of his rejection of Church teachings on abortion, same-sex relationships, transgenderism, etc.? Could he be considered a heretic for promoting these evils? — J.D., via e-mail.A. Some bishops and priests have denied or have said they would deny Joe Biden Holy Communion because they recognize that he has obstinately…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… Blessed Margaret Pole (Plantagenet)

By DEB PIROCH Margaret Pole (1473-1541) was born a princess into the royal Plantagenet family. Her mother died when she was only three. Her father, the Duke of Clarence, some will remember from Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. Margaret’s uncle, Richard III, allegedly murdered the Duke by drowning him in a vat of wine. (Actually, her father was executed for treason…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Wenceslaus

By DEB PIROCH Good King Wenceslaus, originally a duke, was born in Bohemia, in today’s Czech Republic, during the tenth century. (The former Czechoslovakia was composed of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia; Slovakia is now its own country.) His father was an honorable Christian, but died or was killed in battle when Wenceslaus was only about 13. His mother, Drahomira, was…Continue Reading

Advertisement(2)