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What Happened to American Liberalism?

In an obscure article entitled “Catholics and Liberals: Decline of Détente,” in America magazine in 1974, the eminent Catholic scholar and historian James Hitchcock discussed a profound change that had occurred in American liberalism and argued that its new thinking put it increasingly at odds with Catholicism. Hitchcock was one of a number of writers at that time tracing the transformation of liberalism and one of the first to address its implication for Catholics.

Hitchcock said that the “new liberalism” was openly secular—the older liberals were not much interested in religion, but kept their secularism to themselves—and was riding the tide of the 1960s Sexual Revolution. It also had become increasingly intolerant. Hitchcock identified some of the especially troublesome elements of today’s liberalism coming into play even then. He talked about its moral relativism becoming evident and aggressive. He mentioned its hostility to traditional religion and push to make religion a strictly private affair. He also noted the fact that, despite it’s talking so much about individual rights, it didn’t give much attention to religious liberty. He said that the new liberalism itself had become a kind of substitute religion, whose stances became absolutistic and moralistic and which didn’t tolerate much dissent from within its ranks. He said it promoted a “new morality”—a term that had already come to be associated especially with the Sexual Revolution—and the civil law was now going to be the sole determiner of morality, or at least of the morality that would govern social affairs. He said it saw the Catholic Church as the major obstacle to the triumph of the new era of permissiveness that it sought and viewed the Church as repressive and tyrannical.

Read more at Crisis.

 

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