Europe’s Search for a Pluralist Polity:
Constitutional Corporatism and Federal Subsidiarity
di Adrian Pabst
University of Kent – Canterbury
Institut d’Etudes Politiques – Lille


In short, both models fail to command majority support among Europe’s citizens because they refuse to speak to pan-European needs and local specificities. What the EU requires is a model that can blend universal principles with particular practices as well as bind regions and localities to nations and the European polity in accordance with the twin founding principles of solidarity and subsidiarity that we owe to Europe’s Christian heritage in general and Catholic social teaching in particular.
[6]The trouble is that neither the Franco-German nor the Anglo-Saxon vision have preserved this heritage or extended its transformative potential. Instead, they have both mutated into ideological forces that have weakened the common Christian culture around which individuals, groups and nations have hitherto formed bonds. Both tend to view liberty as synonymous with negative freedom of choice and both equate the quest for happiness with the pursuit of pleasure. [7] This, coupled with a progressive marginalization of virtue ethics and of natural law, has produced an increasingly secular politics that uproots both democracy and the market economy from the associative, mutualised relationships of civil society upon which a vibrant politics and economy depend. The following section contrasts this impasse of European secularism with alternatives that focus on the plural search for the universal common good.

2. A Christian Defence of Democracy and the Market Economy
The growing separation of religion from politics in Europe since the nineteenth century has reinforced the voluntarism that underpins both individual negative freedom of choice and the power of the central state. As such, European secularism has led to the “dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”, as Pope Benedict XVI put it. [8] The current patriarchs of Rome, Moscow and Canterbury (as well as Venice) are all united in their critique of secular reason and their vision for a renewed vision of Christian Europe that blends the defence of universality with a strong commitment to pluralism.
However, this pan-Christian critique is not a rejection of democracy or the market economy. On the contrary, Benedict’s pontificate has thus far been one long argument for the enduring presence of the Christian faith in the public realm to provide a sounder footing for rationality and trust. Similarly, Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill have both linked Europe’s distinct political and economic models to Christian notions of personhood and the importance of group rights, closely connected as both are to the question of pluralism. [9] By combining a critique of secularist attempts to marginalize religion with a call for renewed dialogue between religious belief and secular rationality, the current patriarchs have changed the terms of debate on the complex links between religion and politics – one of the greatest challenges in the current context of a global religious resurgence. Instead of privatizing faith and enthroning reason as the only standard of validity (as staunch secularists and atheists demand), they argue that religious violence and hatred can only be overcome by an ongoing public engagement between rationality and belief.
In particular, Pope Benedict’s argument in his controversial 2006 Regensburg address is that reason and faith are mutually corrective and augmenting. Without each other’s import, both principles can be distorted and instrumentalised at the service of egoism or absolute power. Just as rationality acts as a controlling organ that binds belief to knowledge, so faith can save reason from being manipulated by ideology or applied in a partial way that ignores the complexity of the real world. Without each other’s corrective role, distortions and pathologies arise in both religion and secularity – either religious extremism that uses faith as a vehicle of hatred or the secular, totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century that legitimated genocide and total warfare. As he observed in his homily during the mass inaugurating the 2005 conclave, “all ideologies of power […] justify the destruction of whatever would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity”.
[10] Moreover, faith and reason are intimately intertwined in beneficial ways. Faith can reinforce trust in the human capacity for reasoning and understanding. Secular rationality can help religious belief make sense of its claims and give coherence to its intuitions. Crucially, reason and faith can assist each other’s search for objective principles and norms governing both personal and political action. What binds rationality to belief is the shared commitment to universal standards of truth, even if these are never fully known and always deeply contested. As such, the relatedness of reason and faith is not merely a concern for religion but in fact lies at the heart of politics, the economy and society.
The trouble is that the dominant models of democracy and capitalism are indifferent to common ethical foundations and matters of truth. Instead, they operate largely on the basis of majority opinion and mass preference, manipulating the public and exploiting popular fears. It is therefore hardly surprising that secular democracy and ‘free-market’ capitalism are frequently associated with demagogy and dispossession. Remarkably, the episcopally-based Christian churches offer a Christian defence of democracy and the market economy that outflanks leftwing liberalism and rightwing conservatism alike. The current patriarchs of Rome, Moscow and Canterbury argue that the democratic and capitalist systems require the vital contribution of Christianity if they are to be saved from their own worst excesses. By locating the Christian faith firmly at the heart of the shared public square, they seek to correct both secular liberal intolerance vis-à-vis religion in politics and religious extremist opposition to democracy.
Contrary to accusations levelled by his secularist and atheist detractors, Pope Benedict does not advocate a model of coercive theocracy. On the contrary, his vision is based on the separation of state and church and on the distinction between religious and political authority. In his historic address at the houses of the British Parliament on 17 September 2010, he put it thus: “the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply [the objective norms governing right action], as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles”.
[11] Since all political and economic decisions involve ethical choices and have moral consequences, both governments and businesses must reflect on the foundations of the fundamental principles guiding their decisions. Neither the ever-changing social consensus nor pragmatic, short-term policy responses are an adequate basis on which to decide complex societal matters, as Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Rowan have also emphasized. [12] Marginalizing or privatizing Christianity deprives the state, the market and civil society of a rich intellectual and practical resource – underpinned by both faith and reason. That resource is indispensable for the right application of universal, objective principles to our most pressing problems. This theological defence of democratic politics and market economics has the potential to change the way we think about a plural search for the common good in a multi- or pluricultural context. For over one century, secular reason has sought to impose the norms of democracy and the market economy on religious traditions. Now that secular rationality is so manifestly in crisis and religion increasingly resurgent, the pan-Christian call for the enduring presence of the Christian faith in politics has resonance across Europe and rest of the world.

3. The New Politics of Reciprocity and Mutuality
Unlike the USA, contemporary Europe does not depend on the misguided notion of a revolutionary tabula rasa that grounds an absolute separation of power upheld by the constitution. Even post-1789 France retains many non-modern features such as the head of the executive being also the head of the judiciary and the importance of the corps constitués that pluralise the unitary state. Much of Europe has constitutional monarchies that combine parliamentary democracy with limits on the power of the executive branch of government. As such, the mark of the European polity is a mixed government and also the fusion of Roman and Germanic law with Christian notions of charity. Linked to this is the centrality of religious freedom and the defence of the ‘group rights’ of Christian churches and other religious bodies.
All this is directly relevant to the plural quest for the universal common good. In a landmark debate in 2004, Jürgen Habermas agreed with the then Cardinal Ratzinger that we are now in a ‘post-secular’ phase where religious and other ideological bodies should be able to express themselves directly in their own terms within the public square. [13] However, for Habermas the norms to regulate this debate must remain secular and liberal (procedural and majoritarian). For Ratzinger, by contrast, there must be a plural search for a shared common good, which he does not say is merely pre-given in natural law and abstract reason but does require the import of supernatural grace and faith. In other words, there’s no separation or diametric opposition between ‘pure nature’ and the supernatural. Instead, natural reason is always already supernaturally infused. In the Pope’s case a re-invention of constitutional corporatism in a more pluralist guise against modern secular liberalism is linked both to an insistence on the fundamental anthropological relationality of all beings and on the indelible role of basic ‘social units’ above the level of the individual such as families, groups, communities, associations and transnational bodies. The bonds governing these ‘social units’ can neither been reduced to state-administrative relations nor to economic-contractual ties.
Equally such a post-secular politics and economics is linked to a stress – encouraged by other Catholic thinkers who have influenced Ratzinger like Robert Spaemann, Romano Guardini and Alasdair MacIntyre [14] – that education as the transmission and exploration of the truth is as fundamental a dimension of politics as the will of a democratic majority. In this light, those who brand Pope Benedict and the other Christian patriarchs as hopelessly conservative and reactionary have not grasped their shared critique of both left and right. Since the modern political right has always focused on the absolute power of ‘the one’ and the arbitrary right to decide on the state of exception (Carl Schmitt), while the modern left has insisted on an equally absolute right of ‘the many’ to found and withdraw legitimacy (Michel Foucault), both can be taken to ignore the primacy of natural and cultural relation, and of the mediating role of ‘the few’ concerned with truth and virtue. [15] A political economy focused on the latter would be a more theological option which would define the secular realm as concerned with things in time and with necessary coercion, only through its ultimate outlook towards transcendent norms which alone supply ultimate standards beyond the will either of ‘the one’ (the absolute central state) or of ‘the many’ (the democratic or popular majority). As such, the pan-Christian political critique of value-free democracy and capitalism and the social and cultural critique of the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ are of a piece with the defence of the Hellenic metaphysics and anthropology of relationality and Biblical notions of personhood and positive liberty – ‘freedom for’ some sort of desirable goal which, as truth, alone renders one free. By making these complex links, the patriarchs are asking nothing less than whether our politics of ‘right and left’ remains caught within shared secular, liberal axioms. These axioms are also those of theocratic fundamentalisms since they equally deal in a politics of the indifferent will, inherited – as is also the case in the end for liberalism – from the theological nominalism and voluntarism of the late Middle Ages, as I indicated in section 2. This is not at all to search for a new middle ‘third way’ that is as conceptually empty as it is practically non-transformative. On the contrary, the pan-Christian post-secular politics and economics is a quest for a way that cannot be charted on our current conceptual map. It seeks to retrieve notions of fundamental relationality, of the common good, and of principles which can determine appropriate ‘mixtures’ of government as between ‘the one’, ‘the few’ and ‘the many’; the centre and localities; political government and pre-political society; international community and nations; education in time and government in space; absolute right and free decision; economic freedom and just distribution as well as – finally – between secular and religious authorities.

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