I am currently making my way through D.C. Schindler’s marvelous book The Politics of the Real: The Church Between Liberalism and Integralism. This text will be of interest to anyone passionate about the vexed and much-discussed issue of the relation between religion and politics. But I would like to draw particular attention to the epigram that Schindler chose for his book, an observation that is meant to haunt the minds of his readers as they consider his particular arguments. It is drawn from the writings of Hannah Arendt, the twentieth-century German-Jewish scholar most famous for her lucubrations on the phenomenon of totalitarianism, and it is of remarkable relevance to our present cultural conversation. She said: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between the true and the false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”  

We might define totalitarianism as the controlling of every aspect of life by the arbitrary will of a powerful individual or group. If this is accurate, we see why Arendt worried about the blurring of distinctions between the real and the unreal, between truth and falsity. The objectively good and the objectively true have their own intrinsic authority—that is to say, they command, by their very excellence, the obedience of the receptive mind and the responsive will. So, for example, in the presence of mathematical truths, scientific data, and philosophical arguments, the mind surrenders, and rejoices in its surrender. It does not arbitrarily impose itself on things as with totalitarianism; rather, the intrinsic truth of things imposes itself on the mind and thereby awakens it to its purpose. In the language of Thomas Aquinas, the intelligibility of the world actualizes the mind.

In a similar way, the intrinsic goodness of things engages, excites, and actualizes the will. Aquinas said that the will is simply the appetitive dimension of the intellect, by which he meant that the good, understood as such, is automatically desired. The point is that, once again, the subjective faculty does not impose itself on reality, making good whatever it wants to be good; rather, on the contrary, what is densely and objectively good commands the will by its own authority. And as I have argued often before, this acquiescence of the will is not a negation of freedom but the discovery of authentic freedom: the same St. Paul who said that he was a slave of Christ Jesus also said that it was for freedom that Christ had set him free. That apparent contradiction is in fact the paradox produced by the fact that the will is most itself when it accepts the authority of the objective good. 

Praise the Lord

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