Sunday 1st August 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

Pro-Life Group Calls for Removing Fauci After He's Caught Funding Aborted Baby Parts - https://t.co/kqxQXGgoG8

LifeNews.com - The Pro-Life News Source

.

LifeNews.com

Kamala Harris Skips Border Crisis But Picks Up A Rosary - https://t.co/U1Mv6WdjUD

Load More...

Transgender student wins as U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs bathroom appeal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to a transgender former public high school student who waged a six-year legal battle against a Virginia county school board that had barred him from using the bathroom corresponding…Continue Reading

New York priest accused by security guard of assault confirms charges have now been dropped

NEW YORK, June 17, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — A New York priest has made his first public statement regarding the dismissal of charges against him.  Today Father George W. Rutler reached out to LifeSiteNews and other media today with the following…Continue Reading

21,000 sign petition protesting US Catholic bishops vote on Biden, abortion

More than 21,000 people have signed a letter calling for U.S. Catholic bishops to cancel a planned vote on whether President Biden should receive communion.  Biden, a Catholic, supports abortion rights and has long come under attack from some Catholics over that…Continue Reading

Bishop Gorman seeks candidates to fill two full time AP level teaching positions for the 2021-2022 school year in the subject areas of Calculus/Statistics and Physics

Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Regional Catholic School is a college preparatory school located in Tyler, Texas. It is an educational ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Tyler led by Bishop Joseph Strickland. The sixth through twelfth grade school provides a…Continue Reading

Vatican observes ‘Earth Hour’

On Saturday, along with the Vatican, symbolic monuments of cities all across the globe turn off their lights, to demonstrate the serious global climate crisis. By Vatican News staff writer Vatican City State took part in the traditional international initiative Earth…Continue Reading

House passes bill setting up path to citizenship for millions of Dreamers

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday passed an immigration bill that would create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

The Misleading AP Attack on the Catholic Church for Accepting COVID Relief

In early 2020, a pandemic came to America. We started staying home, then we were ordered to stay home. The market tanked. The economy tanked. Unemployment soared. You remember all this, because you lived it. We all did. Congress created a…Continue Reading

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

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

Catechism

Adopt A Center

Today . . .

Bishop Paprocki: “The problem has not been solved, but tensions have been heightened.”

“It is a mistaken notion that those who attend [the Traditional Latin Mass] are merely nostalgic; that has not been my experience at all…” says the Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. “Anyone who thinks that when the older generation dies off that the Latin Mass will fade away is not being realistic.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke . . . Statement on the Motu Proprio «Traditionis Custodes»

Many faithful – laity, ordained and consecrated – have expressed to me the profound distress which the Motu Proprio «Traditionis Custodes» has brought them. Those who are attached to the Usus Antiquior (More Ancient Usage) [UA], what Pope Benedict XVI called the Extraordinary Form, of the Roman Rite are deeply disheartened by the severity of the discipline which the Motu Proprio imposes and offended by the language it employs to describe them, their attitudes and their conduct.…Continue Reading

Catholic Bishop Denies Democrat Politician Communion Because He Supports Killing Babies in Abortions

A pro-abortion New Mexico lawmaker reportedly was denied communion over the weekend by Catholic Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces. The Daily Caller reports New Mexico state Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said Saturday that the bishop refused to allow him to participate in the sacrament because of his “political office.” “I was denied communion last night by the Catholic bishop here in Las Cruces and based on my political office,” Cervantes wrote on Twitter. “My new parish priest has indicated he will do the…Continue Reading

Archbishop Cordileone: Traditional Latin Mass will continue in San Francisco

San Francisco, Calif., Jul 16, 2021 / 13:03 pm As diocesan bishops consider how to implement Pope Francis’ motu proprio on the use of the Traditional Latin Mass, the Archbishop of San Franciso has said it will continue to be available in his local Church. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco told CNA July 16 that “The Mass is a miracle in any form: Christ comes to us in the flesh under the appearance of…Continue Reading

From Fr. Z’s Blog . . . Motu Proprio Day . . . Much more to Follow

Rome, 16 July 2021 Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, Just as my Predecessor Benedict XVI did with Summorum Pontificum, I wish to accompany the Motu proprio Traditionis custodes with a letter explaining the motives that prompted my decision. I turn to you with trust and parresia, in the name of that shared “solicitude for the whole Church, that contributes supremely to the good of the Universal Church” as Vatican Council II reminds us.[1]

The Importance Of Humor In A Time Like This

By DONALD DeMARCO “Do not abandon yourselves to despair,” said Pope St. John Paul II. “We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Such a joyful declaration should give all of us renewed hope. And our hallelujah song should be a happy heart that is filled with merriment.In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas…Continue Reading

Why The Left Can’t Let Go Of January 6

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN To understand what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s select committee investigation of the Capitol Hill events of January 6 is all about, a good place to begin is with the sentencing hearing the past week of Paul Hodgkins.A crane operator from Tampa, Florida, Hodgkins, 38, pleaded guilty to a single count of…Continue Reading

Root Causes Underlie Cuban Crisis

By JOHN J. METZLER NEW YORK — Cuba’s ongoing political and social upheaval has shocked many observers as a sudden and intense summer storm. Across the island in small towns and provincial centers protests erupted like a squall line until reaching the capital, Havana. Tropical storm “Liberdad” was lashing the island of Cuba while its…Continue Reading

For Strident Times . . . How The Liturgy Is Healing Medicine

By MSGR. CHARLES POPE (Editor’s Note: Msgr. Charles Pope posted this commentary on July 13 and it is reprinted here with permission.) + + One of the most concise and cogent descriptions of these often strident times came from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986. It is contained in, of all places, his treatise on the…Continue Reading

Alliance Defending Freedom… Calls For End To Religious Persecution In Nigeria

WASHINGTON, D.C. — ADF International on July 14 hosted a dinner event on the grave challenges facing Nigeria regarding the protection of religious freedom. Governmental and civil society advocates for the persecuted in Nigeria shared firsthand expertise and proposed actions to address the violence and discrimination perpetrated by groups such as Boko Haram and the…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: Due to the pandemic, we were unable to hold weekly classes for 22 tenth-grade Confirmation students, so we prepared a series of 14 lessons on the material, along with some questions to answer. If these lessons are of value to you, put them to whatever use you can. We will continue to welcome your questions for the column…Continue Reading

Traditionis Custodes: Opportunity For Mercy

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK As one of the two parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington that offer the Traditional Latin Mass daily, my majority-traditional church family is now in a quite vulnerable condition after the publication of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes (TC).Following the 2007 publication of Summorum Pontificum I was sent in 2010 as pastor to St. Francis…Continue Reading

Cardinal Zen Decries Pope’s Motu Proprio

Joseph Cardinal Zen, in a statement translated by Diane Montagna, denounced Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis’ motu proprio on the liturgy.His statement was entitled, “Why Do They See a Problem Where There Is None and Close Their Eyes to the Problem for Which They, Too, Are Responsible?”Cardinal Zen recalled how he warned about a document against the Traditional Mass in his…Continue Reading

Live As Christians, Not Pagans

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Eighteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR B) Readings: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15Eph. 4:17, 20-24John 6:24-35 In the second reading today St. Paul tells the Ephesians that they are no longer to live as the Gentiles do. Considering that the people to whom he was writing were Gentile converts, it makes sense that he would need to instruct…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: Due to the pandemic, we were unable to hold weekly classes for 22 tenth-grade Confirmation students, so we prepared a series of 14 lessons on the material, along with some questions to answer. If these lessons are of value to you, put them to whatever use you can. We will continue to welcome your questions for the column…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Callistus

By DEB PIROCH Memory can be fleeting — ashes to ashes and dust to dust. But to God, no one is forgotten, every soul remains forever mirrored in His mind’s eye. And the redeemed all belong to the Communion of Saints. Even more amazing is when someone is known long after one’s death, despite the fickleness of history.Such is the…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Teresa Of Calcutta

By DEB PIROCH Long before Princess Diana hugged AIDS victims, a diminutive nun no one had heard of from Macedonia rescued her first dying man from the gutter. Carrying him back with her, she washed his wounds and removed maggots, covered him in clean sheets and gave him water. And he said, “I have lived like an animal, but I…Continue Reading

Advertisement(2)