If you read this title and winced, you understand the crisis of integralism during a time when we are emerging from the backward context of democracy and equality. Online “Integralists” like Sohrab Ahmari and especially Adrian Vermeule, who have damaged the Integralist name, are dangerous because they are so often right. Ahmari correctly diagnosed “David French-ism” as one of the more pernicious ideologies of the Republican establishment:
I added, “The only way is through”—that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.
French prefers a different Christian strategy, and his guileless public mien and strategic preferences bespeak a particular political theology (though he would never use that term), one with which I take issue. Thus, my complaint about his politeness wasn’t a wanton attack; it implicated deeper matters.
Such talk—of politics as war and enmity—is thoroughly alien to French, I think, because he believes that the institutions of a technocratic market society are neutral zones that should, in theory, accommodate both traditional Christianity and the libertine ways and paganized ideology of the other side.
Ahmari recognized and excoriated French’s silly belief in the power of the open public square and fair dealing, especially when said public square, whether online or in person, is dominated by left-wing commissars who fervently hate Christians like him. As for Vermeule, his “Beyond Originalism” article in The Atlantic makes some strong points about the limitations of Originalism and its inability to provide succor or means of redress for an increasingly despairing commonwealth:
Originalism comes in several varieties (baroque debates about key theoretical ideas rage among its proponents), but their common core is the view that constitutional meaning was fixed at the time of the Constitution’s enactment.
But originalism has now outlived its utility, and has become an obstacle to the development of a robust, substantively conservative approach to constitutional law and interpretation. Such an approach—one might call it “common-good constitutionalism”—should be based on the principles that government helps direct persons, associations, and society generally toward the common good, and that strong rule in the interest of attaining the common good is entirely legitimate. In this time of global pandemic, the need for such an approach is all the greater, as it has become clear that a just governing order must have ample power to cope with large-scale crises of public health and well-being—reading “health” in many senses, not only literal and physical but also metaphorical and social.
However, despite their occasional good ideas, Ahmari and Vermeule are intellectual impediments to true reaction in the United States. Ahmari is a fawning admirer of Pope Francis, who uses ultramontanism to brow-beat his fellow Catholics into supporting the worst, most egregiously anti-traditional and far-Left pope in generations.
In Canada and in Europe — mainly in France, where ultramontanism appeared during the Middle Ages and grew rapidly during the French Revolution —, its supporters criticized the separation of Church and state, as well as what they considered manifestations of modern liberalism. They pushed for the supremacy of the Catholic Church in both civil and religious matters. This school of thought was mainly characterized by its attachment to the Holy See’s authority and, as of 1870, by its faith in the Pope’s infallibility. The term “ultramontane” meant, literally, “beyond the mountains,” because the French Ultramontanes believed in the supremacy of the Vatican — which is located beyond the mountains of the Alps — over the local clergy.
Ahmari is also a race denialist, and besides rejecting stalwart American voices for sanity like VDare, he recently tweeted support for the idea that socialism alone doomed South Africa, ignoring the crisis of diversity and the resulting abolition of culture, power struggle, and grievance mentality that explains why South Africa has declined so much since the end of Afrikaner rule.
As annoying as Ahmari can be, he is a far preferable to Vermeule. Vermeule is a Harvard bureaucrat who is chummy with left-wing professors. His own words paint him, the scion of an old Dutch Protestant family, as an enemy of the American founding stock. This is not hyperbole. Elsewhere, Vermeule confessed to a desire to infiltrate traditionalist Catholicism for the purposes of weakening it and making it more pliable to the regime. Both Vermeule and Ahmari have troubling connections to DC-based doxxing rings that work in concert with Antifa “journalists.” Sadly, these are men who are most associated with American Integralism.
Integralism of the Catholic variety refers to the merger of the temporal power of the state with spiritual power in the form of the Roman Catholic Church. This notion fundamentally reverses course on the low church Protestant ideal of “separation of church and state.” If properly applied, Integralism would lead to a more faithful and just society whereby God’s word would form the primary basis for legal and moral decisions. However, as modern Integralists see things, Integralism would create a type of black-robbed Catholic imperialism, with the Holy Pontiff as the supreme figurehead. Such a scenario is unlikely to work in a world of declining church participation, nor with non-Catholic Western European groups, therefore online Integralism is merely a safe form of rebellion that does not challenge the current D.C. regime in any meaningful way.
There is another form of Integralism, however. Also known as integral nationalism, this Integralism, which was best espoused by Action Française founder Charles Maurras and the first American revolutionaries of 1775, offers a way to save the United States from further accelerating towards civil war:
Maurras opposed republicanism with an audaciously different ideal: monarchy. “Without a King, no national strength and no guarantee for national independence.” This was not a vision of absolute monarchy. (Absolute monarchy was, to a large extent, a republican fiction; the last of the Bourbon monarchs flailed against the powers of the local parliaments.) Instead, Maurras’s theory of the state was federalist. The national government would be the strong executive of a hereditary monarchy. Yet the state’s powers would be limited in kind and reach, not touching upon the rights and liberties of the regions. Unlike in the Republic, the towns, provinces, and corporate bodies would be “completely free.”
Maurras (1868-1952) came of age during the Third French Republic. Born after the Second Empire’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and stabilized following the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, the Third Republic believed itself to be the end of French history. After many missteps, the republican ideals of 1789 had been accomplished. Both Left- and Right-wing republicans cheered on the centralization of the French state, the creation of a French colonial empire in Africa and Asia, and the supposed end to anti-republican agitation.
Maurras and his group upended this triumphalism. Maurras attacked the Third Republic on multiple fronts: he denounced Romanticism as a revolutionary ideology and sought its replacement with classicism (the Greco-Roman search for rational order in the universe), he wrote tirelessly against cosmopolitanism and liberalism as false nationalisms, and he recognized that republicanism is an intentionally divisive system that not only pits parties against parties, but also, in its partisan fervor, opens the door for exploitation from foreign powers. Anyone living through the instability of the U.S. in 2021 recognizes the genius of Maurras’s critiques, as China exploits the Democratic Party’s hatred of the Republican base and America increasingly finds itself fractured without a common identity.
Maurras’s answer to the problems of liberal republicanism was royalism (sometimes called ultra-royalism in the context of his writings). But Maurras’s governing philosophy went further than just the re-establishment of a French monarch. Indeed, Maurras sought to reverse course and remove all the changes wrought by the French Revolution. One of the first goals of Maurrassisme was the decentralization of power.
Prior to the Revolution, France was a place of incredible cultural diversity. The Celtic peoples of Brittany, the Normans of the northern coast, and the Italic southern coast were all allowed to rule themselves according to their customs and liberties by centuries of French monarchs. The Revolution upended this by centralizing power in Paris, and as a result French culture was homogenized. Maurras championed a return to regionalism whereby the French sovereign would rule all, but most decisions and laws would be made at the local level. Such a situation would achieve Maurras’s goal of integral nationalism—a state where France’s diversity could flourish under a royalist unity.
To American ears, Maurrassisme sounds swell until the issue of a monarch is raised. Our culture is traditionally anti-royalist and suspicious of unelected power. This comes from a false understanding of our own Revolution. In 1775, when the American colonies began to rebel against London, the main complaint was against the unlawful acts of Parliament. Colonists in North America, who had seen their traditional liberties weakened following the Glorious Revolution and the growth of Parliament’s power, demanded that King George III rule the colonies directly. Similar to the Jacobites of Scotland, the American colonists sought a composite imperialism whereby royal power and prerogative replaced the Bill of Rights.
Such a move, the revolutionaries believed, would return the colonies to the former and placid experience of “benign neglect” (i.e., local self-rule). Even after American victory, the counter-revolution of the Constitution established a system whereby the American president enjoys many of the same powers as a monarch. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, America’s presidential republic was designed to be the “last medieval monarchy.” This system has not been in place since 1861, and American conservatives remain stuck in a cycle of arguing for something that has not existed in centuries.
Still, the situation is not hopeless. Our own history is compatible with Maurras’s ideals. Besides decentralization, Maurras championed national sovereignty over imperialism. He promoted a healthy and sane foreign policy because he recognized that foreign policy decisions always impact the metropole/homeland. Finally, Maurras supported the growth of a new intellectual vanguard dedicated to maintaining France’s unique culture, identity, and history in the face of German, British, and eventually American interference. All of these ideals can and should be applied to the United States. As dark as the times are now, there is no better time to create American Integralism in the mold of Maurras than now.
The top priority should be decentralization and the legal and social refutation of Washington, D.C. States should learn to rule themselves again and have the courage to ignore D.C.’s diktats. This is easier said than done, as many states rely on federal money. Still, as the Biden regime continues to falter and resort to brutal despotism and genocidal language, states and local municipalities will be forced to rule out of perseverance. Like Late Antiquity, when Roman citizens found refuge in their city governments, Americans in the coming years will increasingly rely on their states, counties, and towns to protect them from D.C.
As part of this decentralization, Americans need to re-learn provincialism. Stop caring about national trends or national (anti-) culture. Focus on your regional identity, your regional customs, and support your regional economies. Breaking Leviathan’s back starts at the smallest level. Next, support your local conservative churches. America’s declining church attendance is a trend that needs to be reversed, as our morality and unity comes from our Christian heritage and belief. The formation of shooting clubs, reading circles, etc. is also important, as small-scale groups can halt or impede imperial overreach.
Lastly, we need to confront the issue of sovereign power. It is the states that legitimize federal authority. State legislatures need to recognize this and act accordingly. As a coda, federal power should stop and end with the president. As awful as he is, Joe Biden is not the man in charge of anything. America’s totalitarian creep is the work of unelected bureaucrats, the security and intelligence apparatus, and private corporations. Removing the majority of federal bodies, even including Congress, would dramatically scale down the capabilities of the federal government to afflict harm. A tyrannical president would be limited if he could not rely on a bloated federal bureaucracy. The U.S. military should return to the old model of large and semi-independent state militias and a small professional army. Meanwhile, the Navy should be strengthened to protect commerce and deter China, but state-based naval militias should proliferate. As for the corporations that rely so much on government contracts, a smaller federal government would eliminate their opportunities and force them to work with individual states.
In the bigger picture, the conflict between nationalist integralists and cosmpolitan integralists as represented by Ahmari and Vermeule reminds us of the historical split between conservatives, who are based in order, and Leftists, who are based in liberalization. We can see how this plays out through the Guelph-Ghibelline conflict:
The split between the Guelfs, who were sympathetic to the papacy, and the Ghibellines, who were sympathetic to the German (Holy Roman) emperors, contributed to chronic strife within the cities of northern Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries.
It was during the reign of the Hohenstaufen emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (1152–90) that the terms Guelf and Ghibelline acquired significance in Italy, as that emperor tried to reassert imperial authority over northern Italy by force of arms. Frederick’s military expeditions were opposed not only by the Lombard and Tuscan communes, who wished to preserve their autonomy within the empire, but also by the newly elected (1159) pope Alexander III. Frederick’s attempts to gain control over Italy thus split the peninsula between those who sought to enhance their powers and prerogatives by siding with the emperor and those (including the popes) who opposed any imperial interference.
Currently, the “imperial interference” comes from the globalist union in which all nations exist solely as economic actors dedicated to worldwide commerce, and have no unique value of their own. Cosmopolitans, who are egalitarians like the rest of the Left, embrace this ideal, where conservatives, who tend to favor local, particularized, and time-honored ideas over theoretical and bureaucratic notions, oppose the globalist imperial regime and seek to defend unique local cultures instead.
American Integralism would escape the globalist trap, since “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” and be a blessing to the average American. As in every conflict, the future belongs to those who identify the actual vital issues first and figure out which position on those will bring about the world we desire. For anyone who is not a Leftist, something closer to the Integralist position — where culture, politics, faith, science, and industry work together for the national interest — serves better than the other options.