Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Murray continued: Catholics and the American Consensus

The next chapter in Murray's book, which is actually Chapter One and titled ":E Pluribus Unum the American Consensus" was more relevant to Murray's purpose than to ours. Murray specifically wished to show that Catholics not only fit readily into the American project but were indeed especially well fit to it.

He starts off by making a not unfamiliar argument for the Christian roots of the American political order. This is persuasive as far as it goes. But even more to the point, he argues that the reason Catholics feel so at home in America is that the "American political community was organized in an era when the tradition of natural law and natural rights was still vigorous. Claiming no sanction other than its appeal to free minds, it still commnaded universal acceptance. And it furnished the basic materials for the American consensus."

To be sure Locke was an innovator in that tradition, but also brought it new vigour. And since the natural law tradition is essentially the Catholic tradition it should be no surprise that we are comfortable in it and with the core principles of a government founded on it. There are lively arguments to be had here, but they would not be to our purpose.

He does make one intriguing remark by way of allowing for the influence of secualarist thought on the American consensus. He concedes that there was always secularist dissent. "But the secularist dissent is clearly a dissent."

That is the key point that has changed. Vigorous, self-conscious secularists may still be a minority, but their ideas are increasingly the only ones allowed in the public culture.


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