Now that I’ve looked at a core dispute between libertarians and “progressives”, I want to address my traditionalist friends. By “traditionalist” I do not mean liturgical or doctrinal traditionalist – I am one of those myself. I mean instead people who resist the changes to society brought about by modernity in general, and who resist “liberalism” in particular. Some disclaimers are in order: first, I am most emphatically not one of those libertarians who believes that the world was a dark, oppressive place until the “Enlightenment” came along.
I do not see, for instance, the Declaration of Independence as a sole or even primary product of the “Enlightenment”, but rather as the product of Christian natural law tradition. That isn’t to say that there is nothing new in the American experiment, but it is not the total novelty that others make it out to be either. American civilization stands on the shoulders of Christendom, whether the anti-Catholic prejudice of the American founders could appreciate it or not. I also make very sharp distinctions between the Anglo-American and Continental “Enlightenments.” The French Revolution created a horrific and monstrous tyranny that Catholics were right to resist, and sowed the seeds for an even worse tyranny in the form of communism.
But some changes were bound to happen. Our societies and our beliefs will always be shaped by the way we live our lives, and the way we live our lives has been radically transformed by technology, by the industrial and information revolutions of the past two centuries. As a result of these changes, Catholics have been forced to distinguish in a new way between what is timeless and absolute and what is largely the product of culture.