JMC faculty partner Vincent Philip Muñoz responds to the religiously devout who claim that American Founding thought denies moral obligations grounded in natural law.
Defending American Classical Liberalism
A response to ‘radical’ Catholics who hold it to be intrinsically hostile to Christianity
How should the religiously orthodox be disposed toward America? A number of leading contemporary Catholic intellectuals contend that we should be suspicious of, if not hostile to, the liberal political project, including the American experiment in ordered liberty. In Why Liberalism Failed, my friend and Notre Dame colleague Patrick Deneen issues a full-blown indictment, charging that liberalism’s deepest principles are hostile to traditional Christianity. Harvard’s Adrian Vermeule agrees. He concludes that “there is no reason to think that a stable, long-term rapprochement between Catholicism and the liberal state is realistically feasible” because “liberalism cannot ultimately tolerate the accommodation [with Catholicism] in principle while remaining true to itself.” Rod Dreher, who is Orthodox, recommends a “Benedict Option,” implicitly rejecting an “American Option.” Even Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput, who has been friendlier to the idea that Catholics can find a home in America, recognizes that the faithful are now “strangers in a strange land.”
Is the “strangeness” now engulfing traditional religious believers — the cultural persecution of them in elite circles, and the increasing legal pressure on them in everyday life — a product of our liberal political principles working themselves out, as these critics contend? Is a political order based on rights necessarily and essentially hostile to traditional religious belief and practice?
Vincent Phillip Muñoz is the Tocqueville Associate Professor of Political Science and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at The University of Notre Dame. He also serves as Director of Notre Dame’s Tocqueville Program for Inquiry into Religion and Public Life and the Potenziani Program in Constitutional Studies.
Dr. Muñoz writes and teaches across the fields of political philosophy, constitutional studies, and American politics. His research has focused on the theme of religious liberty and the American Constitution. His first book, God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson (Cambridge University Press, 2009), won the Hubert Morken Award from the American Political Science Association for the best publication on religion and politics in 2009 and 2010. His First Amendment church-state casebook, Religious Liberty and the American Supreme Court: The Essential Cases and Documents, was published in 2013 (Rowman & Littlefield, revised edition 2015) and is being used at Notre Dame and other leading universities.
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