Notebook

Catholic Politics

Anne Applebaum’s 2020 volume Twilight of Democracy appears with two different subtitles. The first, apparently peculiar to the US is, ‘The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism’; the second, British, reads, ‘The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends’. The autobiographical account of shattered friendships, judiciously interspersed into an otherwise analytical text, invests the argument with human credibility. Applebaum writes: ‘Authoritarianism appeals, simply, to people who cannot tolerate complexity; there is nothing intrinsically ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’ about this instinct at all. […] It is a frame of mind, not a set of ideas.’ This is a helpful and, to my mind, persuasive point of view. It makes me think how urgent it is to revive a truly Catholic politics. As I have argued in a different context, ‘Part of what makes the Church catholic is its capacity to sustain tension, to wait for apparent antitheses to be resolved — by grace, in charity, not by compromise — in synthesis.’ This trait, presupposing clear orientation, is likewise a frame of mind. It is much needed in public life today, even requiring revival within the Church. This is not a time to be wasted on useless, simplifying squabbles. There is urgent, necessarily complex work to be done for the common good.