Never appease the Left: the example of the ralliement of Leo XIII

I hate to criticize the mistakes of a basically good pope, but now that Roberto de Mattei has done the unpleasant work for me, I can recommend his essay and endorse his conclusion.

The Third Republic was conducting a violent campaign of de-Christianization, particularly in the scholastic field. For Leo XIII, the responsibility of  this anticlericalism lay with the monarchists who were fighting the Republic in the name of their Catholic faith. In this way they were provoking the hate of the republicans against Catholicism. In order to disarm the republicans, it was necessary to convince them that the Church was not adverse to the Republic, but only to secularism. And to convince them, he retained that there was no other way than to support the republican institutions.

In reality, the Third Republic was not an abstract republic, but the centralized Jacobin daughter of the French Revolution. Its program of secularization in France was not an accessory element, but the reason itself for the existence of the republican regime. The republicans were what they were because they were anti-Catholic. They hated the Church in the Monarchy, in the same way that the monarchists were anti-republican because they were Catholics who loved the Church in the Monarchy.

The encyclical Au milieu des solicitudes of 1891, through which Leo XIII launched the ralliement did not ask Catholics to become republicans, but the instructions from the Holy See to nuncios and bishops, coming from the Pontiff himself, interpreted his encyclical in this sense.

I’ve read in several books that Leo’s hope was that Catholics would working through republican forms vote the monarchy back in, but I’m not sure what this is based on.

As de Mattei shows, appeasing the Left had the same effect for the French Church that appeasing the Left always has.

Despite Leo XIII  and his Secretary of State Mariano Rampolla’s endeavor, this policy of dialogue was a sensational failure and unable to obtain the objectives it proposed. The Anti-Christian behavior  of the Third Republic increased in violence, until culminating in Loi concernant la Séparation des Eglises et de l’Etat on December 9th 1905, known as “the Combes law” which suppressed all financing and public recognition of the Church;  it considered religion merely in the private dimension and not in the social one;  it established that ecclesiastical goods be confiscated by the State, while buildings of worship were given over gratuitously to associations cultuelles” elected by the faithful, without Church approval.

de Mattei then speculates that it was the rise of a more combative pope that prevented the most draconian aspects of the separation from being fully implemented.  He concludes

The spirit of ralliement with the modern world has been around for more than a century, and the great temptation to which the Church is exposed to, is still [with us]. In this regard, a Pope of great doctrine such as Leo XIII made a grave error in pastoral strategy. The prophetic strength of St. Pius X is the opposite, in the intimate coherence of his pontificate between evangelical Truth and the life  of the Church in the modern world, between theory and praxis, between doctrine and pastoral care, with no yielding to the lures of modernity.

It’s always a mistake to think the Church should stand above arguments over whether the civilization she founded should be destroyed or preserved, i.e. that she should avoid being Left or Right.  The Church is a Rightist organization, obviously, because preserving the Christian principles of hierarchy and duty is the definition of the Right.  The Left never, ever reciprocates gestures of conciliation.  When it senses weakness, it strikes.  It’s painful to admit it, but this really should have been obvious even in 1891.

19 Responses

  1. Jules Ferry, who made primary education free, lay and compulsory [gratuite, laïque et obligatoire], was anything but a supporter of the Left.

    He was the minister of Thiers during the suppression of the Paris Commune and the architect of French colonial expansion. He was an implacable foe of trades unions, for he recognised that the purpose of the Revolution had been, not the limitation of the sovereign power, but the abrogation of intermediate powers. He drew much of his support from Protestants, who made up only a twentieth of the population, but controlled a fifth of its moveable wealth, including important newspapers.

    He expressed his views on the rôle of public education more candidly than most: its purpose was “to cast the nation’s youth in the same mould and to stamp them, like the coinage, with the image of the Republic.” [de jeter toute la jeunesse dans le moule, de la frapper, comme une monnaie, à son effigie]

  2. Minor policy quibbles. An anticlerical and republican is a Leftist in my book.

    A very revealing quote, by the way. Thank you.

  3. “It’s always a mistake to think the Church should stand above arguments over whether the civilization she founded should be destroyed or preserved, i.e. that she should avoid being Left or Right. The Church is a Rightist organization, obviously, because preserving the Christian principles of hierarchy and duty is the definition of the Right.”

    Yes, I would agree this link is almost inherent in definition. Since God is at the apex of Tradition, His Church must be of Tradition as well, and viewing the left/right spectrum in its real form, that being anti-tradition/tradition, the Church is by definition a Rightist institution… however much SOME people wish otherwise.

  4. @Michael Patterson Seymore
    In what way does that prove that Ferry was not a leftist? Rather the opposite I think. Opposing intermediate structures (trade unions), favoring Protestants, and, arguably, colonialism strike me as liberal, albeit liberalism of the 19th century. Certainly you make a case that he wasn’t an egalitarian, but anti-egalitarianism is not necessarily anti-liberalism.

  5. Was Roman republic Leftist?
    It can be argued that republicanism has been better than monarchism in dealing with secular modernity,.
    All monarchical restorations in modern Europe have been failures.
    In any case, it is simply and utterly false to maintain that republicanism implies any contradiction with principles of civilization. Venetian republic endured for more than thousand years. Which European monarchy can boast of such continuity?
    However, Bonald has been steadfast in not arguing for monarchy and simply asserting the virtues and necessities of monarchy.
    Even the Holy Roman Empire was not a monarchy but elective emperorship.

  6. Bonald continues to ignore the point that the French Revolution was not made against monarchy per se –many revolutionaries preferred British model of constitutional monarchy and that’s why monarchy lasted till 1792-but the revolution was against
    1) Privileges of the Aristocracy
    2) Principle of Despotism-of the type -The State, it is I.
    The question is whether the people were to be sovereign or an individual?
    So, is Bonald for autocratic despotism and aristocracy?
    Or does he mean by monarchy a constitutional monarchy?

  7. Vishmehr24 asks, “Venetian republic endured for more than thousand years. Which European monarchy can boast of such continuity?” The French, from the anointing of Clovis in 509 to the declaration of the 1st Republic in 1792.
    You are right that the revolution was certainly directed against the privileges of the nobility (and clergy). As for despotism, the hatred of nobility, the love of equality and the tolerance of despotism commonly go together and certainly did so in France. The Napoleonic despotism was the consummation of the Revolution, not its reversal.
    G K Chesterton was right, when he said the Englishman did not understand Bonapartism, “He did not understand that French democracy became more democratic, not less, when it turned all France into one constituency which elected one member. He did not understand that many dragged down the Republic because it was not republican, but purely senatorial.”
    One Englishman who did understand was Walter Bagehot: “The best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is, that it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it, and they hardly anywhere in the world understand any other. It is often said that men are ruled by their imaginations; but it would be truer to say they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations. The nature of a constitution, the action of an assembly, the play of parties, the unseen formation of a guiding opinion, are complex facts, difficult to know and easy to mistake. But the action of a single will, the fiat of a single mind, are easy ideas: anybody can make them out, and no one can ever forget them. When you put before the mass of mankind the question, “Will you be governed by a king, or will you be governed by a constitution?” the inquiry comes out thus—”Will you be governed in a way you understand, or will you be governed in a way you do not understand?” The issue was put to the French people; they were asked, “Will you be governed by Louis Napoleon, or will you be governed by an assembly?” The French people said, “We will be governed by the one man we can imagine, and not by the many people we cannot imagine.”

  8. > Bonald continues to ignore the point that the French Revolution was not made against monarchy per se
    I don’t see a problem with “ignoring” a point that hasn’t been brought up till now, but in fact it does deserve to be ignored. As soon as the egalitarian craze was unleashed, even the most neutered monarchy–and the most neutered Christianity–was only tolerated for a few years.

    > The question is whether the people were to be sovereign or an individual?
    No other master could be more terrible than “the people” as your tyrannical, bloodthirsty revolution proved. If forced to choose, I would rather draw a king at random from the insane asylum than live under the mob. Fortunately, the history of Christendom provides a better option. In Christian monarchies, God is sovereign, and he delegates His powers with equal directness to the monarch, the Church, and to fathers. The king is indeed constrained to act within a constitution, but remember that monarchists like de Maistre use this term in a different sense than that used by liberals. Liberals understand a constitution to be a written document detailing the procedures of government. The counter-revolutionaries always said that if a country can impose such a document, it must have already had a real constitution beforehand–meaning a sense among the populace of who has legitimate authority over what.

    > However, Bonald has been steadfast in not arguing for monarchy and simply asserting the virtues and necessities of monarchy.

    I devoted a separate essay to this: https://bonald.wordpress.com/in-defense-of-monarchy/
    You may not be convinced, but it’s false to say that I don’t provide arguments for monarchy.

  9. @vishmehr24:

    Both the Roman and Venetian Republics were aristocracies, not modern liberal democratic states. An Aristocratic Republic shares many virtues with monarchy, or at least enough of them to maintain some level of stability that liberal democratic states lack.

  10. The Roman and Venetian Republics were both aristocratic. Much more akin to monarchy than liberal democracy.

  11. Michael,
    Are we supposed to be against trade unions qua trade unions? Do you think the left, in its essence, ever really cared about trade unions? Probably about as much as it cared about black people. Whatever made a handy took for destruction.

    The Venetian republic was an oligarchy ruled on behalf of merchants who put profit above the moral law, loyalty to ecclesiastical law, or any sense of a common life with the members of the body politic outside of the ruling class. In that sense, it was very much a modern republic.

  12. The Roman and Venetian Republics were both aristocratic. Much more akin to monarchy than liberal democracy.

    Also Venice and republican Rome were much smaller in scale compared to modern republics. As Rome grew its intricate system began to come apart. The US of 1787 and the France of 1789 were were already too big and populous for an effective republican government.

  13. The establishment of a republic was certainly a misfortune for Rome. By desacralizing the social order, the city immediately plunged itself into centuries of class warfare, military adventurism, and senatorial anti-royalist paranoia. Relative peace and prosperity only came with the de facto restoration of a monarchical system. Yet, even with the practical benefits of monarchy brought by the Empire, Rome denied herself its spiritual benefits by maintaining republican appearances. It was perhaps only with the Byzantine Empire, which developed the standard Christian coronation ceremony, that the wounds caused by Brutus’ revolt were finally healed.

  14. As usual Bonald, your responses are on-point and laudable.

    Your point about authority delegated between Sovereign, Church, and fathers is absolutely correct, although one adds the caveat that individuals themselves also shared power with these three authorities in the autonomous sense. The Tetrarchy of Traditional Authorities stands as Theonomy, Heteronomy, Patronomy, and Autonomy. When these four are in harmony with one another, the state of an almost innately understood ‘constitution’ of the state, there is greatness for the people for they bask in the glories of Traditional civilization.

    As for the correct role of the aristocracy, it is a support structure for the sovereign and often a mediator between the it and regional interests. In and of itself, it should not lead the state.

  15. Mark Citadel wrote, “As for the correct role of the aristocracy, it is a support structure for the sovereign and often a mediator between the it and regional interests”
    According to Lord Acton, freedom can only exist, where conditional obedience enjoys the security of a limited command. The mutual self-destruction of England’s military aristocracy made the Tudor despotism possible; Henry VIII could send More and Fisher to the scaffold; Charles V could not send John of Saxony or the Margrave of Hesse to the scaffold.
    In Scotland, the Penal Law against Catholics proved unenforceable north of Stirling and people were Catholic, Episcopalian or Presbyterian, not as individuals, but by clans:
    “There are hills beyond Pentland and lands beyond Forth,
    If there’s lords in the Lowlands, there’s chiefs in the North;
    There are wild Duniewassals three thousand times three,
    Will cry hoigh! for the bonnet of Bonny Dundee.”

  16. […] catches the otherwise good and holy Pope Leo XIII Appeasing the Left with a lesson: Never appease the […]

  17. I’m a bit late to the party, but I would remind vishmehr24 that an elective monarchy such as the HRE was still a monarchy, in which the electors were aristocrats and in which the available “candidates” were most certainly not the general population. To compare it to a republican democracy is a light-year stretch.

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