The “radical” school rejects the view that Catholicism and liberal democracy are fundamentally compatible. Rather, liberalism cannot be understood to be merely neutral and ultimately tolerant toward (and even potentially benefitting from) Catholicism. Rather, liberalism is premised on a contrary view of human nature (and even a competing theology) to Catholicism. Liberalism holds that human beings are essentially separate, sovereign selves who will cooperate based upon grounds of utility. According to this view, liberalism is not a “shell” philosophy that allows a thousand flowers to bloom. Rather, liberalism is constituted by a substantive set of philosophical commitments that are deeply contrary to the basic beliefs of Catholicism, among which are the belief that we are by nature relational, social and political creatures; that social units like the family, community and Church are “natural,” not merely the result of individuals contracting temporary arrangements; that liberty is not a condition in which we experience the absence of constraint, but the exercise of self-limitation; and that both the “social” realm and the economic realm must be governed by a thick set of moral norms, above all, self-limitation and virtue.I actually agree that liberalism is fundamentally in conflict with orthodox Catholicism. (And certain branches of Protestantism, Judaism and Islam, too.) Liberalism is the political expression of the Kantian Enlightenment; Kant said that when people needed their society or their church to tell them what to think, they were still children, and could become fully mature only by deciding everything for themselves. Children should be raised, not to believe anything in particular, but to be able to choose their own beliefs. This is anathema to religious conservatives, who hold that some ideas are divine and others satanic, and you absolutely ought to raise your children to believe the divine ones.
Liberalism teaches that people who hold radically different philosophies can share the same society. But if that is to happen, society must be very loose and lax about many things. Liberals talk on and on about "tolerance" because living next door to people who hold different beliefs requires it; if we can't be respectful of each other most of the time, a liberal society can't work. Liberalism also tends to be wishy-washy about truth, because if one person's beliefs are true than somebody else's must be false, and if you think about that too much the next thing you know you're rioting and burning their synagogues.
But, I ask you, what other sort of society could we have in a nation of 300 million people from a thousand backgrounds? The powerful community feeling that makes surrendering some of your freedom worthwhile for many is just not possible for America. If being among fellow believers and feeling at one with them is your thing, join a monastery. Or a cult, or some other sort of small, semi-isolated community. A liberal state has room for that, as long as you are respectful of your neighbors.
I would take issue with the notion that liberals deny this:
that social units like the family, community and Church are “natural,” not merely the result of individuals contracting temporary arrangements; that liberty is not a condition in which we experience the absence of constraint, but the exercise of self-limitationI believe all of this, and so have millions of other liberals; the Founding Fathers certainly did. Families just are natural, whatever anybody thinks. Where I part company with Catholic radicals is that I think families can "naturally" take many different forms, from stern Old Testament patriarchy to Victorian sentimentality. That people are naturally social seems indisputable. And as for self-restraint, nobody ever wrote more eloquently on the necessity for free people to discipline themselves than Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. They all praised self-control and condemned "license;" indeed they believed that a free society could survive only among people who practiced a high degree of self-control. I would say that I believe in freedom partly because I trust people to control themselves, most of the time.
I also believe in truth, as do millions of other defenders of liberal society. But I recognize that in a pluralistic world, shouting at each other about the nature of God is pointless, tiresome and potentially dangerous, and I have better things to do.