A free Church in a free state

While we’re on the subject of religion and politics, can I recommend an excellent article in the current issue of Standpoint? It’s by Jeremy Jennings and is basically a review of the posthumously-published Catholicism and Democracy, by Emile Perreau-Saussine, who died in 2010 at the tragically young age of 37.

However, Jennings uses his review to explore at some length the often tortuous relationship between the Church and democracy, particularly in France. Apparently, Perreau-Saussine’s book charts the journey of French Catholics from ultramontanism and alignment with monarchy at the time of the Revolution, to a liberalism based on a defence of the liberty of believers in a militantly secular state. As Jennings says: ‘A free church in a free state was to become the watchword of liberal Catholicism’.

As someone whose attraction to Catholicism has often been tempered by revulsion from some of its past political associations – Francoism, Vichy and the right-wing dictatorships of Latin America spring to mind – I found the article intriguing. In particular, it introduced me to a contemporary Catholic political philosopher whom I hadn’t previously encountered: Pierre Manent. According to Jennings:

He…sees the Second Vatican Council, with its recognition of the political role and primacy of the laity, as making true reconciliation of the Catholic Church with this liberal Gallican tradition. The balance between the temporal and the spiritual was reaffirmed, with the result that the Church at last found itself at ease in the world of democracy.

Manent’s The City of Man, its title an obvious nod to Augustine, seems like a good place to start in approaching his work. The fact that the English edition has an introduction by Jean Bethke Elshtain, of whom I am an unabashed admirer, is an additional enticement. It’s already in the Amazon basket.


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