The New Polity: Discovery, Impression, and Loosely Related Thoughts

A friend recently recommended the podcast “NewPolity”—a production of www.postliberalthought.com (which does a redirect, ending up with http://www.newpolity.com, suggesting that it changed the name of the website at one point). The podcast’s “About” reads as follows: “Laying the intellectual foundation necessary for building Christian societies free from the violent presuppositions of liberalism.” While somewhat broad, the podcast and group behind it are largely Catholic (see below, and at the end, for some information and links detailing who is involved), and they appear to produce books, a magazine, and the like. Regarding the magazine, they write that it, “… aims to deconstruct the keywords and categories of liberalism and reconstruct them according to the logic of Christianity.” Their first book is The Politics of the Real: The Church Between Liberalism and Integralism, by D.C. Schindler, who is the son of longtime Communio editor-in-chief, David Schindler. D.C. serves on the editorial board for the magazine, along with John Milkank, William Cavanaugh, Patrick Deneen, Chad Pecknold, Jacob Wood. David Schindler also serves on the editorial board. [1]

While I’ve not read the book, or subscribed to the magazine, and have only made my way through three of the podcasts, I do like what I’ve heard so far—as much as I like anything that makes an attempt to bring Catholic Social Teaching (CST) to a table and dialogue with secular socio-political-economic thought. Being somewhat heady, they are speaking to me, and, as I’m known to say, I am not really among the demographic that one would likely want to speak to if broad appeal and money are motivating factors—something I say with a sense of both matter-of-fact-ness and sadness: CST is first and foremost ignored by the vast majority of Catholics, and misunderstood by the same percentage.

Why?

That’s a really big question, and certainly one that I can’t tackle here. But a few thoughts:

  • The Appeal of Simplicity: Catholics are pulled from the masses, and the masses are just not interested in things that are detailed and complex. The advent of the internet and social media has done nothing but exacerbate this issue. CST, like any other matter of the faith (e.g., liturgics, ecclesiology, christology, biblical studies, etc.), is a very deep well, and it can not be understood with a few simple answers in response to questions from the Baltimore Catechism.
  • The Appeal of Secular Outlets: Catholics, and the masses they are pulled from, tend to want to find secular “home bases”, if you will, through which pretty much everything is filtered, including CST. This matter alone is likely a greater problem than the “Appeal of Simplicity”—the latter prevents one from diving deep enough into the well for various reasons (lack of patience, lack of education, lack of attention span, etc.), whereas the latter does actual violence to CST because it often ends up dividing one’s allegiances and, importantly, inverting their hierarchy of allegiance, by which I mean this: CST ends up being filtered through their secular socio-political lenses, rather than filtering the latter through CST—e.g., CST being filtered through “Americanism” and “Republicanism” or “Conservatism”; CST being filtered through “Western post-modernism” and “socialism”. Stated differently yet, we have a tendency to want to find our socio-political “home base” within the framework of “CNN” or “Fox News”; through “The Nation” or “The National Review” (and that’s if anyone actually reads… anything). To be a Catholic, appreciating the depths of CST, you will be nomadic; you will be homeless, if you must have a home outside of the Church; you will be a stranger and a sojourner, functioning within these spaces, yet be outside of them. And it is for these reasons that I have long said that to be a Catholic (which necessitates in my mind a desire to plumb the depths of its teaching, which includes CST, because faith and love draw us to plumb the depths of the object of our love—fides quaerens intellectum (see CCC 158)) ends up leaving you in a kind of suspended “tension”. “Tension” here isn’t really a positive or negative in the way that I am using it. To me, “tension” here is neutral and appropriate—a nod to reality as it is. I’ve never been celebratory when voting, for example, always having “tension”, compromising as there are no politicians or political parties that capture the totality (or anything close to it, as far as I am concerned) of what I believe as a Catholic. There is “tension” because I am most certainly not voting for my “team”, as I have no team—no “home base”. I’m going far afield now, but to bring it back to my original point: our desire to have a “home base” brings the majority of us to invert our hierarchy of allegiances, forcing us to read CST through the secular lenses that we pick—ones that we will oftentimes, and sadly, be more apt to defend than the Church itself!

So much more could be said here, and my two points above can be fused together (e.g., one of our desires for a secular socio-political “home base” is our desire for that simplicity, as it allows those we assign or accept “team leaders” (politicians, political parties, talking heads, etc.) to do our thinking for us).

Back to The New Polity…

To gauge where they were coming from, I listened to a few of their episodes: “#6. Liberalism and Libertarianism are Not Catholic,” “#7. Socialism is Not Catholic,” and “#11. Distributism”. From these I can get enough of an idea about the direction of the podcast and the group behind it. By and large, I would say that they do a great job and their allegiances appear to be in proper order. If you can find the rare person or group that identifies as Catholic and is not trying to force the faith through (economic) Liberalism, Libertarianism, and Socialism (to name only a few of the -isms that can be problematic), you are finding a “unicorn,” and they are worth listening to. While all of these episodes tended to get into the weeds and went somewhat far afield of the subject matter, making them go over the head of the average Catholic, I found myself nodding in agreement for the most part. Of all of them, I appreciated the one on liberalism and libertarianism, as these two tend to be the most pernicious, in my opinion, when it comes to doing violence to the faith by (this is important…) those who make a claim to “orthodoxy”—e.g., you don’t run into many so-called “Socialist Catholics” who seem all that interested in “orthodoxy” in other matters. “Those who have much are required of much,” it is said, and when you make a stake to “orthodoxy”—if you place yourself within the framework of desiring to be faithful to the teachings of the Church, as opposed to those who wish to change the Church—you hold a greater burden, and you will get my scrutiny, if not my ire. Sorry, I’m not sorry.

I have mixed feelings about their podcast on socialism for several reasons. First, I agree with them that socialism has a draw, especially among academics, because it is a more “robust” (to use their term) than its counterparts (e.g., liberalism, libertarianism, etc.). But part of what makes it robust is what wasn’t really discussed—that “socialism” isn’t really monolithic. It’s not sufficient to note that “Socialism is Not Catholic” without deciphering what kind or what aspects of socialist thinking you are talking about (and while one might rightly contend that “all socialism” is “not Catholic”, some versions or some principles are going to be more or less problematic). It is for this reason that when reading the word “socialism” in CST you need to understand something more than the word—you need to understand what brought about, for example, the encyclical to appreciate what is being critiqued. Similarly, when you read Ratzinger/Benedict XVI say the following, you need a greater understanding of how the terms are being used: “In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic doctrine and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness”. In any case, I would have liked them to break things down a bit more, though I recognize they only have so much time.

Functioning within the aforementioned “tension” as a nomad that is a “stranger and sojourner”, recognizing that CST does not fit into and has never fit into any secular socio-political-economic programs, and typically finding myself always less than 100% enthusiastic about anyone’s distillation of CST, I welcome the New Polity into the discordant symphony of information I digest. And I am definitely going to check out their (rather expensive!) magazine/journal.

Cheers!

+J.

[1] [Note: I have updated this note several times now, as I continue to get an understanding of who was involved here): The website says that the “magazine” (which actually appears to be more of a journal, and is published four times a year, which is more typical to a journal) is a product of the Institute for Political Philosophy and Theology, which is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, based out of Steubenville, OH, where Franciscan University is located, and was established in 2018, though you can essentially not find anything online about it. Click here, where at the time of writing it says, “New Polity is located in Steubenville, OH. Editors: Andrew Willard Jones; Marc Barnes; Jacob Imam; Susannah Black. Editorial Board: William Cavanaugh; Patrick Deneen; John Milbank; Chad Pecknold; David Schindler; DC Schindler; Jacob W. Wood,” adding at the bottom that this is a “Project of the Institute for Political Philosophy and Theology”. I can’t really find much about the institute itself. The Schindler’s, Milbank, and Cavanaugh are going to be well-known to anyone interested in the Communio school and CST.

The website is disorderly, as of the time of writing. There is no “About” page on the homepage, but one can be found if you navigate other areas on the website, seemingly out of place. See: https://newpolity.com/about.

I am guessing that the Steubenville, OH tie is with Jacob Wood, who teaches at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and according to his faculty page, did his dissertation on Henri de Lubac, under the direction of Chad Pecknold (also on editorial board, as noted above). De Lubac was one of the founders of Communio, referenced above, which, as noted, David Schindler has been editor-in-chief of since the early 1980’s. Continuing the FUS ties, editor Andrew Willard Jones is a Faculty Fellow at the university, and according to Google Books is (as of 2017) “Director of the St. Paul Center”, which is also based out of Steubenville and was founded by Dr. Scott Hahn.

Update 12.13.2021 5:30pm: Looking around more, I found that there is a conference set to be held in Steubenville this coming year. I had already noticed that Susannah Black, who is a senior editor of Plough, and has written for Front Porch Republic (which publishes Local Culture, and which, as of March 2020, given the hard copy that I have here in front of me, she is on the editorial board for), is on the editorial staff of the journal, New Polity. When looking up the conference coming in June, I noticed other names, including Will Hoyt, through whom I became familiar with Front Porch Republic (and with whom I once had personal ties…).

Well… my venture to understand where The New Polity is coming from is pretty much complete. I’ll subscribe. And maybe head out to the conference and walk some turf I once walked in Steubenville…

Regarding the podcast, which was the origin of my blog post, it is hard to find descriptions online (e.g., iTunes, etc.) that give detail about who operates it, but scrolling the names in the individual episodes I see Marc Barnes (editor), Andrew Willard Jones (editor) come up often, leading me to think they are the primary ones that do the podcast. Additionally I see “Jacob” come up often, leading me to think this is Jacob Imam (editor), and Alex Plato, who teaches at FUS.

Justin writes from SW Washington and needs a fresh cup of coffee right about now.

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