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PPE Speaker Series: “The Justice Argument Against Catholic Integralism” with Kevin Vallier

March 31, 2022 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm



Abstract: Liberalism is taking a beating. Many deny, evermore boldly, that freedom and equality are central political values. The fiercest challengers are religious anti-liberals. These groups argue that the state should promote the authentic human good with coercion if necessary. The chief of these goods is communion or friendship with the divine.

This paper argues against the religious anti-liberalism known as Catholic integralism. This view was the dominant political philosophy in Latin Christendom between the 11th and 16th centuries and is somehow enjoying a revival on the new American right.

Integralists say governments must secure the earthly and heavenly common good, and God authorizes two powers to do so. The state governs in matters temporal, the church in matters spiritual. Sometimes the missions of church and state intersect. In these cases, the church is sovereign owing to its nobler, spiritual purpose. It may direct the state to help advance its spiritual objectives. In particular, the state may enforce church law in some cases.

The integralist adopts two norms of justice that seem to conflict. First, it is Catholic dogma that no one may coerce anyone into the faith. Yet with the medieval church, the integralist allows religious coercion of the baptized. But if religious coercion is wrong at the start of the Christian life, why is it permitted after that? The integralist answer is baptism. Baptism serves as a normative transformer: it transforms religious coercion from unjust to just.

My thesis is that baptism cannot serve as a normative transformer. I first critique the solution proposed by Thomas Aquinas and then adapt contemporary theories of political obligation to patch up Aquinas’s argument. I focus on hypothetical consent, gratitude, fair play, and associative obligations, ending with the natural duty approach. But none of these theories work. We can conclude that Catholic integralism is unjust on its own terms.

Kevin Vallier is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University, where he directs their program in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law. Vallier’s interests lie primarily in political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of religion, and philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE). He is the author of three monographs, four edited volumes, and over forty peer-reviewed book chapters and journal articles. His books include Liberal Politics and Public Faith: Beyond Separation (Routledge 2014), Must Politics Be War? Restoring Our Trust in the Open Society (Oxford UP 2019), and Trust in a Polarized Age (Oxford UP 2020). His next book will address religious anti-liberalisms, tentatively titled All the Kingdoms of the World (Oxford UP 2023).

For Kevin’s CV, click here.

For Kevin’s personal website, click here.


March 31, 2022
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
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