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Confucian Natural Law?

with James Dominic Rooney,
hosted by James M. Patterson

James Dominic Rooney joins host James Patterson to discuss his recent Law & Liberty exchange on Confucianism, as well as political catholicism in the West.

Brian A. Smith:

Welcome to Liberty Law Talk. This podcast is a production of the online journal Law & Liberty and hosted by our staff. Please visit us at lawliberty.org, and thank you for listening.

James Patterson:

Hello, and welcome to Liberty Law Talk. My name is James Patterson. I am chair and associate professor of politics at Ave Maria University, a research fellow at the Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy, faculty partner with the Jack Miller Center, and president of the Ciceronian Society. Today with me is Father James Dominic Rooney. He’s a member of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans. He’s an assistant professor of philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University. He works primarily in metaphysics, medieval philosophy, Chinese philosophy, and the philosophy of religion. He has a recent book called Material Objects in Confucian and Aristotelian Metaphysics on Bloomsbury Press. But today we’re going to be talking more about a political discussion that occurred somewhat on Law & Liberty, also elsewhere. In fact, part of the reason why we’re doing this podcast is because I heard one of his interlocutors, Habi Zhang, on The Pacific Century earlier this month. I sent the podcast to him and then remembered that he’s actually already had this debate. Father Rooney, welcome to Liberty Law Talk.

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

Nice to be here. Thank you for having me.

James Patterson:

The position that Ms. Zhang has taken is that Confucianism as a political doctrine or political philosophy is simply incompatible with any idea of freedom, at least as it’s understood in the West. In fact, she says that freedom has no real meaning in China until it encounters the West. What is it exactly about the view she took that you took issue with, and what’s the position that you take instead?

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

Well, I should say I think Ms. Zhang’s position is a bit odd even within the world of Chinese philosophy scholarship. I would say it’s actually a very active debate, because there have been a number of people, basically, since the revolution, who have been arguing back and forth about the role Confucianism ought to play, does play, might play in a future political philosophy that is more liberal. There was actually a very good book by a Chinese philosopher from Rutgers, Tao Jiang. He argues in favor of Daoism being a philosophy of personal freedom. I actually think that’s a good initial response, that there’s nothing about Chinese philosophy in general that lacks a concept of freedom. I think that kind of Daoist view from Zhuangzi that he was talking about is one option, of course, if you just want to talk about freedom in Chinese philosophy as a whole. Now my area is Confucianism, which is I think what Ms. Zhang was attacking in particular. And there are quite a number of Confucian liberals, actually. It’s really not that unusual to hold a position that Confucianism might give us a grounding for something like a kind of liberal view of society. It’s not going to be the same thing as contemporary liberalism but for example, the sort of people that come to my mind are Joseph Chan and Sungmoon Kim, who teaches here at City U, right out my window. I’m pointing. He teaches here. But I mean, both of them here in Hong Kong are well known for defending positions about using Confucian philosophy to defend liberal positions about freedom. My position is a little different, because they’re more contemporary political philosophy. They’re more interested in other questions. Mine came from the position that I’m sort of working on projects right now that might come to fruition in natural law politics. I’m from the natural law tradition. I’m a Thomist and we have a long tradition from Cicero and Aristotle to Aquinas down through the Dominicans of the modern school like Cajetan, and de Soto, and Victoria. And the position we hold is very similar to the Confucians. That’s why I went into Confucian philosophy and my point against Habi Zhang was just to point out a lot of the Confucian republicans at the time of the revolution actually recognized the parallels with natural law thinking, with natural law, political thinking. And they pointed out that the motivations for Confucian political doctrine are pretty similar to those that motivated people like Yves Simon and Jacques Maritain to defend natural law sort of theories of democracy, and constitutional separation of powers, and all those sorts of things that we think of as liberal doctrines. And so I just defended that well, I mean if Confucianism can hold all the things natural law does and they’re relatively close, well, there’s nothing about Confucianism as such that requires it to be kind of authoritarian. And I think her arguments about that why what in Confucianism leads it to be authoritarian had a lot to do with the idea that government is aiming to work for good lives of its citizens, that that’s the purpose of government. She called it benevolent government. And I think one of my other interlocutors also pointed out this claim and said, “Well, it’s really about benevolent government,” but there’s nothing about benevolence in government that just is to say, right, perfectionism is what we call it in contemporary political philosophy, perfectionist political philosophy. There are perfectionist liberals around like Steven Wall, Joseph Raz. It’s not all that unusual for there to be perfectionist liberals. I think even from a natural law perspective, Confucianism shares a lot of the same presuppositions as natural law theory, and you can get to defense of these same liberal institutions through natural law theory. There’s nothing that stops you in Confucianism from getting there either.

James Patterson:

One of the choices she makes that I thought made the article both compelling but also perhaps subject to a certain amount of criticism is that of all the people she selects to offer a western account of human freedom is she chooses Hannah Arendt. And it sounds to me that Hannah Arendt wouldn’t really comprehend that. Not that she wouldn’t understand, but that her body of thought does not really overlap much with the natural law tradition. Is that the issue at work here or do you think it’s something else?

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

Yeah, I mean, if I can put it bluntly, this is a very common strategy among people today to argue against kind of liberal institutions is they tend to say something like this. I was just looking at Habi Zhang’s article, and part of the point here by quoting Hannah Arendt is to make a claim that western philosophy, western theories of liberalism require some account of an autonomous self, that free people are disconnected from families and nation and it’s like, I don’t know, Sartrean or something, that we have no commitments to anybody else or to nature. Political authority is just oppressive. It can’t be natural. When you start off on this account of liberalism or what is required for freedom, I mean, of course natural law, Confucianism can’t accept that kind of individualistic atomistic self. That’s just obvious. But it’s certainly not the case that that’s required for things like democracy or separation of powers or popular sovereignty. I mean, Robert Bellarmine gives one of the famous arguments for popular sovereignty that the Catholic church accepted and he certainly doesn’t believe in atomic individuals and this kind of picture. It’s a very common strategy, anti-liberals use or aliberal people will use. And it’s rhetorically effective to some extent, but it’s just not true that in order to have and support liberal institutions, you have to accept this kind of completely individualistic picture of the self. Or another strategy is you have to accept Locke’s picture of liberalism. But of course there’s no reason to accept, I mean, there’s no reason if you think separation of powers, popular sovereignty is true, any of those commitments, there’s no reason you have to accept Locke’s account or Hobbes’ account even more. To me, it’s just a kind of non-sequitur that if you accept these institutions, you have to accept Locke or Hobbes or Hannah Arendt’s account of freedom. I don’t think you do.

James Patterson:

This is primarily for my benefit as well as maybe some of the listeners. There is something you allude to, you mentioned it but you don’t quite explain it, it’s this distinction about the legalists intervening in historical Confucianism. And as I was reading it, I made an association where there’s this emphasis on virtue and moral improvement in Confucius that the legalists just attempted discredit in favor of arguing in favor of some nearly totalitarian regime intended to keep the people in line. And when I was reading this, it felt very much like I was reading about the transition from medieval to modern political philosophy. Is this a fair analogy or are there some things that are missing in the account, the Chinese? I’m assuming there are, I was just wondering what they were.

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

Yeah, no, certainly. Let me just to answer your question immediately, I think actually that’s a very good way to think about it. Although the Chinese version legalism or fajia is the school of law is what it sort of means literally. It’s one of the classical schools of Chinese philosophy and they’ve sometimes been called realists or different other kinds of terms, but actually, I think it’s got a very similar vibe to somebody like Hobbes. The basic viewpoint of these kind of people we can go to one of the more important people would be Han Fei Tzu. And these kind of theorists have a kind of, you’re right, a kind of totalitarian theory of the state. They are influenced by another earlier school called Mohism from Mozi and it’s a kind of consequentialist ethics. They accept a certain theory of the state that became influential in China because it influenced a number of leaders to crack down on philosophical pluralism because they thought philosophical pluralism undermined the state. It led to a famous burning of books and elimination of alternate thought because this was the ideal was in order to have a state that really is effective, you have to eliminate alternative perspectives, you have to shut down, right, philosophers that might have alternate theories of justice. Because that’s one of the things from the early Mohist Confucian school or the early Mohist school consequentialism, is that part of the problem in the state is different theories of justice because it causes disharmony in the state. The Legalists were famous for many of their sort, let’s say, taking consequentialism and practice and operationalizing it. They did all the things consequentialists get accused of today. They want vicarious punishments and very harsh punishments to dissuade people from doing bad stuff in the state. They were famous for these sort of implementing very harsh punishments, cutting out dissent, eliminating philosophical pluralism. And I think it’s pretty clear to me that those schools are actually closer to what Habi Zhang is talking about. In the history of Chinese philosophy legalism sort of took over during this warring states period. we’re talking around, I mean Han Fei Tzu is 240 BC around, and these schools are got prominent in China and influenced the way Confucianism was practiced in China and the sort of relation it had with the state because it became a sort of way of, it gave rulers a certain kind of perspective that the philosopher should serve the state, right? And they shouldn’t be allowed to be independent. And Confucianism ended up adopting some of the views. I mean we might call the state Confucianism of the time, adopted some of these views so that it wouldn’t get totally snuffed out. It tried to come up with of accounts the Confucians could support the state in a similar vein, although the Confucians always rejected the sort of legalist idea of vicarious punishment and these overly harsh punishments. The Confucians were always trying to moderate the punishments. And there were others. The basic sort of view of later Confucianism even was Confucianism was famous for something that the legalists would not, I think, accept which was the role of scholars in the government to remonstrate with the emperor. That was a very Confucian institution that shows you a little difference with legalism. The legalists thought the philosophers need to serve the state and need to be suppressed. The Confucians, even when they were serving the state, have the idea, if we might put it this way, that the Confucian institutions, the scholars were really independent and were supposed to act as a moderating influence on the emperor. They were supposed to educate him and then if the emperor did something wrong, they were supposed to write memorandum to the emperor to correct him. And this generates a sort of theory that looks pretty, it’s not separation of powers, but it represents… It was supposed to be a check on the autocracy of the emperor because the Confucian theory was always that the moral law, justice, stands higher than the state that is definitely 100% central to the Confucian doctrines. If you look at the first chapter of The Mencius it’s anti-consequentialist. It’s one of the kings of the time talking to Mencius about how Mencius can profit the state, which is let’s say a very, this is before legalism proper, but would be a very legalist kind of way of thinking. And Mencius says, “Why did you ask about profit? You should have asked about righteousness and then you would’ve asked the right question.” And that kind of perspective has always been the Confucian perspective. Justice stands higher than the state. There’s a higher moral standard that the state cannot violate. If the state violates it, the state becomes unjust and illegitimate to the extent to which it violates the standards of justice. The Confucians, I think definitely did not share that kind of legalist perspective, but you can see that this kind of legalist perspective very much influenced some of the practices of China. I think Habi Zhang is sort of associating some of that, this sort of legalist consequentialist understanding of the state more with Confucianism than it ought to be.

James Patterson:

You actually referred to another interlocutor and it was, I believe David Schneider, he makes a great deal of use out of the understanding of heaven or the idea of pietas versus, what is this? You say xiao? And how these are, that these are not sufficiently parallel ideas, but heaven and Confucian sense and versus a Christian sense or pietas and xiao and that this is a confusion that you’ve encountered. Is this a accurate assessment of your position or does he perhaps miss something here?

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

If I can try to summarize the position as I understand Dr. Schneider, his position is, as you say, how is a virtue that is akin to, it’s translated in English as filial piety. Xiao Is the virtue basically of sons to fathers. And I mean sort literally that’s what it is, sons to fathers. And then it gets applied by a sort of analogy to any hierarchically subordinate person to the superior. Xiao is a virtue also of servant to minister is a kind of xiao. I think pietas is a good translation in a good analogy in the western tradition because piety is about the same sort of thing, gratitude to God, gratitude to your parents, gratitude to your government and your nation. I mean you find that in Cicero you find it in Aquinas. But the difference that David Schneider tried to claim is that in xiao, in the Confucian tradition, we might say, “No inferior person has a right to oppose the person in a superior position.” That’s sort of David Schneider’s claim. Now in fact, I think that’s false. I mean, I think even in the Confucian tradition. Because in fact you can find in the, I already mentioned the institution of remonstration with the emperor, which is certainly the Confucians thought that was possible. But in particular too, it’s also just I think not quite true to say that xiao requires the inferior person always to do whatever the superior person tells them to do. The obvious case is in the Confucian canon there are clear cases where in the analect and in I believe The Mencius as well, you find clear statements that sons are not to follow the commands of their parents if their parents command them to do what is evil. I think that’s a pretty clear statement, that there’s something wrong with the view that no inferior person ever has a right to disobey his superior, because that’s precisely when you can disobey is when it’s against the moral law. We could go into more detail, but my basic claim was I think David Schneider’s view just takes inspiration from, again, the same sorts of things. There is among Thomists, I’m going to go in a little bit now to the West. There’s among Thomists exactly the same sort of argument that in classical Thomism, right, charity and justice are about normative relationships, natural, natural kinds of roles and duties we have to each other. For example, Alasdair MacIntyre makes the same argument that there’s no such thing as human rights in Thomism, there’s no such subjective natural rights that individuals have under Thomism and the natural law tradition. But I think that’s just false and there are lots of people that argue that that’s the case because it turns out right objective, right is right relationships between people. That’s in the Thomist’s natural law tradition. It’s the same among the Confucians, like righteousness or xiao is about right relations between people and there are wrong relations between people. And sometimes that can mean, right, it’s indistinguishable from a kind of subjective natural right. For example, if the son doesn’t have to obey when the father commands something that’s immoral, it looks to me like that’s just indistinguishable from saying there’s a kind of subjective natural not to obey when it’s a certain kind of command. You have a right not to obey under certain circumstances. I think there are other things, for example, the Confucians clearly believe there are certain actions that no person, not even the government can command you to do that we might say intrinsically immoral. There are absolute moral prohibitions on Confucianism just as there are in the natural law tradition. If there are absolute moral prohibitions, then you get something like human rights right out of it. Because if the government can’t ever torture you, then torture is wrong and you have a human right not to be tortured just in virtue of being human you have a subjective not to be tortured. You can get that out of, I think that’s one of the things you could get out of absolute moral prohibitions. If the government can’t do something or no human being can do it to you, then I think you can derive these kind of claims diirectly. I think the harder question that David Schneider brought up has to do with separation of powers. What I argued is this, in the classical tradition in China, there’s not been much consciousness of the need for separation of powers. There’s not been much consciousness of the need for it or how to do it. There are some people, there are some sort of hints in the tradition where people thought about it. There are some more modern Confucians that sort of came up with claims about this. I’m forgetting this one Confucian’s name, but I was just reading, I’m forgetting. It’s called the Brightness of the Dawn or something. He was like 17 18th century Confucian. But he argued for reforms that would bring about a kind of limitation, constitutional check on the authority of the king, of the emperor on the authority of princes. And I just don’t think there’s anything in Confucianism that requires you to deny it, that requires you to deny the legitimacy of something like separation of powers or the possibility of holding individuals in the government, including the emperor to some standard. I just think there’s, even though it might have been the case that Confucians in fact criticize this or didn’t come to a claim about separation of powers, I mean, it took people in the West a long time to do that too. It just takes time. There have to be certain kinds of circumstances. The question is whether Confucianism is incompatible with it, and I just don’t think it’s a persuasive argument that Confucian ethics or politics requires us to deny something like the goodness of separation of powers. And I think you can give arguments for it just as you can in the natural law tradition.

James Patterson:

Well, we should move on. People who are listening to this may know about our encounters with a revived concept about the relationship between church and state, and that is what’s called integralism, I sometimes call it neointegralism, but we’ve both had work that we’ve done on this. I know that one of the things that you’re doing to take on maybe the broader issue that integralism’s brought up is that you have a book coming out called Beyond Classical Liberalism. But before we talk about that book, maybe talk about some of the things that you’ve done concerning integralism and where you stand on it.

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

Yeah, so the Jihad lives. I am very dedicated to the claim. I think there’s something very deeply wrong with integralism. I should say, I mentioned to you before the show began, there are lots of noxious political views in the air. The ones that concern me as a Catholic priest and theologian and philosopher are those that claim that Catholic doctrine requires them to be true. I have some papers I’m working on at the moment about problems, injustice, individualism that concede certain claims that I think they make that are clearly false. Integralists tend to claim that there are certain commitments from Catholic theology that require you to be an integralist. For example, our doctrine of grace, or Thomas Pink is the famous philosopher who argues there’s a certain kind of privilege that the church has in relation to the state that the church is in, has an intrinsic right from God to civil penalties of the state. That’s part of the church’s power, it’s indirect power over the state. He gets this idea from Francisco Suarez, who he’s a very famous Thomas Pink is a very good and famous scholar of Francisco Suarez. he gets the idea from him. But in fact, in Catholic theology, that position on the indirect powers is terribly controversial. There are quite a lot of people that have rejected that claim. The most notable I think is John Henry Newman and Joseph Raz clearly reject. I think there are actually lots of people in the tradition that reject this claim. I think the Dominican tradition rejected some of these claims. But leaving that aside, I think that the deep problem with integralism is even if you concede this controversial claim about the church’s power, let’s just pretend it’s true. I don’t think it follows integralism. If I put it this way, my account of integralism, I got this formulation a little bit from Kevin Vallier, so I’ll give him credit for it. But I think the idea is it’s a theory about the ideal political arrangement. The ideal political arrangement. And the claim is something like this: the state has the obligation or the mission of advancing the temporal common good, the church has the mission of advancing the supernatural common good. And the integralist thesis is this, that there is the ideal political arrangement is one on which the church can mandate the state to directly advance the supernatural common good. That’s basically the thesis, and you need to unpack it a little bit, what I mean by directly. I think the idea is right, if the state advances good things, like they prohibit murder, right? That’s a natural good, right? Prohibiting murder. That advances the supernatural common good indirectly, right? Cause you can’t be a saint if you murder people, right?

James Patterson:

That is uncontroversial.

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

Yeah, I know it’s a controversial thesis, but directly advance, directly advancing the supernatural common good means that the state can use its power under mandate or delegation by the church or something like that in order to, for example, punish heresy, right? Cause heresy is a supernaturally, it undermines the supernatural common good of the church. The idea is from Thomas Pink, for example, that the church does teach, you’re not allowed to coerce people who are not Catholic. You’re not allowed to directly coerce the unbaptized to become baptized, we think. But perhaps we could use the state or we have an ideal arrangement on which the state could be holding Catholics to their baptismal promises through coercion, right? If you are baptized as a kid as a Catholic, we can punish you, put you in prison for heresy or something. If you’re not Catholic, we can protect the Catholics from you, right? We can stop you from building synagogues, right? Cause that’s bad for Catholics, I guess. I don’t think so. I think that’s a little weird. But anyway, that’s the idea.

James Patterson:

That’s one word for it.

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

We’re going to keep the bad Protestants away from the Catholics and all the atheists. We’re going to put them under dhimmitude or something. My objection to this theory is pretty simple, which is the thesis is it’s the ideal political arrangement. I think there’s no such ideal, I don’t think it makes any sense what the grounding is for this ideal, why it’s ideal. And I think if you try to work out what those grounding is, it leads you to accept something intrinsically unjust, whatever explanation they give. There are lots of different explanations, but the basic claim is going to have to be something like this. You can do it of one of two ways, but the idea is going to be, I should say the first thing integralists are always going to retreat to is they’ll say, “Well, once we have a legitimate constitution for a Catholic confessional integralist state, well nobody, there might be non-Catholics living in the state, but as long as the constitution is just, right, why do the Jews worry about us using state power to advance the supernatural common good of the Catholics? If the constitution is justified?” Well, my problem is of course the justification of the constitution because that’s where the ideal political arrangement comes in, is to say that the constitution for this kind of integralist estate is ideal.

I admit that it could be legitimate for the state to advance the supernatural common good under some circumstances. Maybe there are circumstances under which the state could legitimately do that. If we have a majority Catholic population, maybe if there are certain ways in which I think, here’s a good example. I buy Kevin Vallier’s convergence theory of public justification. There can be things that we can agree with Jews about, that we can publicly justify the state doing things that I think advance the supernatural common good. Here’s something we might want to do.

We can pass a federal law to preserve Sunday as a public holiday of rest. This advances the supernatural common good, I think, right? And it’s something state power does, and there might be other things that the state can justify that I don’t think have anything to do with integralism that I think maybe the state can advance those things. And I don’t think there’s any reason we can’t do that. But when you try to justify this ideal constitutional arrangement, I think you end up having to say things like this. You have to say something like, “Well, what non-Catholics think about the constitution of our government doesn’t count.” The integralist has to say either one of two things, either that non-Catholic objections to a constitution in which we exercise this kind of church power over the state, either non-Catholics are just not publicly reasonable. a lot of integralists, I know, just think the objections of non-Catholics to government power being exercised by the church are just, we might say publicly unreasonable in contemporary political philosophy. We just disregard them. They’re not important. We could pass the constitution anyway. We had a constitutional convention to pick what our constitution is for our country. We could just leave the non-Catholics right out. They’re not admitted.

The problem with this is pretty clear, I think why it’s unjust, because it seems to me that it would just say, for example, we could set up integralist states in other countries like colonies, right? Because the natives don’t matter if they’re non-Catholic, their objections don’t matter. It seems to me to entail pretty obvious injustice. A lot of integralists I think just accept that conclusion. But I point out my Dominican confreres, Bartholome de las Casas and Victoria, have some very strong words against the claim that right non-Catholics have true dominion or that the integralist state could somehow override the natural rights that they have of dominion. I think that’s a problem.

James Patterson:

Does this tie in to the project where if classical liberalism needs us to go beyond it, part of that might be because we have a sense that there’s something inadequate about its present argumentation that perhaps integralism a symptom of it’s sort of resurfacing? Is that part of the cause for you to write this book?

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

I’ll just say there are other ways people could ground integralism. I think they’re not going to work. I think they’re basically going to be circular. They could say, I think there’s a tension in integralism, but I’ll just put this, sometimes they say, and they generally do say you need a majority of Catholics for an integral state to be justified, but in fact, and in principle, they end up treating non-Catholics as if they have no duties toward them in this constitutional convention kind of moment. In terms of the constitution’s legitimacy, they own nothing to non-Catholics. Well, that’s a pretty clear tension. Is the 50% or more of Catholics, how does that require true legitimacy? This is what one of my articles is about, is there’s a tension here that’s really serious, and I don’t think the integralists seem to care, but in fact, I think it’s just very clearly is going to either lead you to say, “Well, either the integralist state is not the political ideal or injustice. There are no rights for non-Catholics of the right sort.” They tend to think non-Catholics should just be excluded from citizenship. I think that’s the center point for the injustice of integralism. Now to the point on the Beyond Classical Liberalism. I certainly think this view is a symptom of a certain kind of problem. I’ll just say what the problem is right out. I gave a talk this summer where it was the failures of liberalism. I think here’s what happened.

Liberalism is very much a sort of strategy for toleration and it tries to go to minimal principles like John Rawls’ kind of position. We’re trying to find terms of cooperation that everybody can agree to. He was inspired by Kant, I think Kant had, there are some things of course that Kant said that were right, but a lot of Rawls and Kant, what they get has now become very controversial, I think, because they, they want to give a certain definition of reasonability. Then I think once they reject metaphysics, once they reject the sort of rich moral basis for these things, it becomes impossible to see why their account of justice is anything but question-begging. They’re accepting. That’s things that from the Christian tradition, from the natural law tradition is what they’re doing. Those are the parts I agree with, but they don’t give it a correct foundation and they sort of empty it of everything. It becomes a very formal account without the right kind of grounding in my opinion. I think this is what has happened is liberalism had some bits from the Christian natural law tradition that were right, and they tried to put them on a weird foundation that isn’t able to support them.

And now what we have is this rise of authoritarianism is basically lots of people haven’t been given moral reasons, strong moral reasons to support things like liberal institutions and respecting the rights of non-Catholics or other people. And it’s a sort of breakdown we’re looking for. There’s lots of ways in which the liberalism might be breaking down, but I think liberalism is really a justification. It’s not really the institutions. The institutions have their own problems, but the problem for the problem that I see from liberalism is really our ability to mount a moral defense of the institutions. And I think that is what you find today is people are grasping at straws and they’re buying into really bad authoritarian theories and undermining what I think are real moral imperatives. I mean, I think the sort of culture we have, free speech, respect of other people, respect for Jewish citizens and other non-Catholics in America. I mean, I think our respect for people on the other side of the political aisle is a moral duty. I mean, I think that’s why we should care about liberal institutions is because these things instantiate moral duties we have to our fellow citizens. And when we violate them, we’re violating moral duties. When liberalism says we’re being intolerant or whatever the hell else, I mean, that’s weak sauce. And then we just use liberal language as a kind of moral virtue signaling to sort of exclude people we don’t like. And there’s no criteria for saying who’s really intolerant or tolerant, and that’s why it gets bandied about so much these kind of liberal terms, like tolerance or.

Anyway, that’s sort where I come from is I think what we really need is kind of the deep, rich moral tradition to defend precisely these kinds of liberal institutions against the onslaught of really bad stuff that could be around the corner and is happening in some countries. Like I was in Myanmar, some of the brothers, or mean, some of the brothers from this province that I’m living with or in Myanmar. And that’s bad news. That’s bad news. And what kind of moral criticism can we make? The UN, I think is totally toothless in regard to this. And this kind of contemporary shallow human rights language is totally useless in criticizing the government and the abuses of government in places like Myanmar. That’s what I’m concerned about. I think liberalism has deprived us of the ability to think clearly about what’s wrong with places like the junta in Myanmar taking over and killing lots of people. I think if I can put it this way, a lot of these integralists like places like Hungary, because they see these, I think they’re suckered in by certain kinds of things that they think are beautiful. Support for families. Now. In fact, my family’s from Hungary.

James Patterson:

Oh, I had no idea.

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

I live in China right now and in Hungary I know what the policies are like, and I know I think they’re in fact intensely romanticizing what is actually occurring in these countries. In fact, I think there are lots of problems. I mean, for example, they have horrible problems with supportive family life. I mean, there are incredibly low birth rates. Now these countries recognize there’s a problem. And I think there’s a sort of romanticism here that I think Beyond Classical Liberalism, my book is going to try to address by bringing together a lot of different people to present alternatives. Let’s look beyond classical liberal thinking to what kind of views could we give from a classical perspective, from different classical perspectives? Can we work together with other people who are, for example, I’m having Jews and Protestants, I’m having feminist, perfectionist political philosophers, civic republican, people that like civic republicanism. How can all these classical traditions kind of come together and can we advance and see ways to restructure our liberal institutions, to defend those liberal institutions on a moral basis and restructure them so that we can think better? How can we use them to advance family life to advance the kinds of policies we care about without going into the weirdness, without going into the strangeness and the authoritarianism of the integralist theory? I mean, the problem with integralism is not that they like families, nobody, I mean, very few people are going to think that’s a problem everyone’s going to think keeping Jews from being citizens is a weird problem, a weird hangup. But I think the question is, and I think it’s a real question, is if you think the point of government is to make people’s lives good, who gets to say what the good life is? How is that position compatible with the view that we’re self-determining? That we’re living in democratic liberal societies where not everybody thinks the same thing? Well, actually I think they are compatible. I think they’re very compatible. And I think in fact that’s the best way forward to advancing the things we care about. Because of course there are lots of people, the integralist and the authoritarian survives on painting other people as enemies that are totally unreasonable. You can never talk to the Jews, right, Just too different and they undermine the common good. Well, I mean, in fact, right. There are lots of things we agree with, even with atheist liberals, there are lots of things we can agree about to advance the common good. And a lot of the time it’s just that we haven’t formed the right kinds of alliances, right? I mean, I think this is sort of the problem today. Anyway, that’s where I am is I think a lot of these alliances with other groups, there are lots of bases, there are lots of topics on which we can agree, for example, to support families better within democratic society. We just need a good moral defense of it that is able to bring other people together, I think.

James Patterson:

Yeah, the problem with the friend-enemy distinction is that we are called to love our enemies. It doesn’t really seem to work that we would want to engage in such antagonism or to dominate. But I guess on that, we agree. Thank you so much for being generous with your time, Father Rooney. We have the name of the book Beyond Classical Liberalism, and what’s the name of the metaphysics book in case anyone wants to get really technical, I’ve lost it.

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

Material Objects in Confucian and Aristotelian Metaphysics. I’m a metaphysician. I just play a political philosopher on television.

James Patterson:

You’re quick study, Father. Thank you so much for coming on. It’s especially important because last time I had a Jesuit, so I had to make sure to keep things balanced, fair and balanced, only on Liberty Law talk.

Fr. James Dominic Rooney:

Well thank you James for having me on.

Brian A. Smith:

Thank you for listening to another episode of Liberty Law Talk. Be sure to follow us on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts. And please visit our journal at lawliberty.org.