Francis was right about many things. He was right that elites seek to subvert the institutions and ideas that resist their power. He was right that their promise to deliver us from the unfreedoms of the past creates a tyranny of its own. He was right that no society is purely liberal, especially the one that aspires to become so. But he was wrong to imagine that the racial identities that divide us are more important than our common filiation as children of God. He denied the transcendent horizon that is the greatest enemy of the managerial ideology. It inspires rather than satiates, and evokes loyalties that bind us together rather than condemning us to be “individuals” manipulated by marketers and bureaucrats. Francis accused religious traditionalists of playing by house rules, seeking dialogue rather than conflict, preferring to be “beautiful losers” rather than ugly winners, and surely his criticism had some merit. But he failed to see that they offer a more fundamental challenge to liberalism than he ever did, by seeking to unite people in a shared love, a common covenant ordered to the highest good. The nationalist and populist movements that Francis anticipated will succeed in challenging liberalism only to the extent that they abjure Francis’s racial resentments and assert the common goods and transcendent horizon his materialist thinking denies.
Francis claimed that he sought only to defend Western culture. It is impossible to believe him. He displayed no feeling for literature, art, music, philosophy, or theology. He did not see, because his ideology prevented him from seeing, that our culture’s greatest achievements have come in pursuit of ideas that transcend human differences. Francis’s failure of gratitude and wonder made him more than incompetent about power. It made him an outsider to his civilization.
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