23 February 2006

Catholics and the Democratic Party

Given that I've written on Wilfred McClay before (Bush's 'conservative' reformism), I was drawn to something McClay wrote at First Things' On the Square blog a few days ago. Although at present the Democratic Party in the US is more monolithically secular than the Republicans, it was not always so. McClay takes us back:

Seventy years ago, when the New Deal coalition was in full flower, Catholics played an absolutely essential role in the Democratic Party. This was not merely because the Democratic Party had always been the party of immigrants. Social philosophers such as Father John Ryan brought into the Democratic Party mainstream a vision of the human person not as an isolated individual, but as part of an organic whole, a vision that dovetailed with many of the more communitarian elements in the New Deal. Notions of a just wage, critique of laissez-faire economics, insistence upon the vital importance of trade unions, and an abiding concern over issues of economic maldistribution—these were part of an already well-established tradition of Catholic social thought, expressed in papal encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. Such political views were further grounded in a particular view of the human person, not as an autonomous and self-determining being, but as a social and communal being, whose life is made meaningful by webs of dependency and mutuality. . . . We often fail to remember what a socially conservative coalition, by our standards today, the New Deal era Democratic Party was, with its essential contingents of Northern Catholics and Southern Protestants.

How the Democratic Party changed is a long story that has been told elsewhere. Yet there can be no doubt that it has indeed changed.

McClay's social and political vision, if I am correctly understanding it from the few things of his I've read, seems not to be entirely congruent with that of Neuhaus, Novak and company, who are much more sanguine than he about the workings of the market. Thus it is a pleasant surprise to see McClay writing for On the Square.

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