THE DEGREES OF LIBERALISMAs a system of doctrines Liberalism may be called a school; if we regard it as an organization of adepts for the purpose of spreading and propagating its doctrines, it may be called a sect; inasmuch as it is a group of men seeking the political enforcement of its doctrines, it may be called a party. But in whatever aspect we consider it, whether as a school or sect or party, it presents itself in various degrees or shades; yet none the less liberalism because variant; for with specific and logical unity there may be a multitudinous variety.
Now the unity of Liberalism is not positive but negative; it has no unity of its own; it is by virtue of its opposition to truth, which is essentially one, that Liberalism becomes accidentally one. As the visavis of truth it possesses the unity of opposition. The different degrees of its denial will constitute the degrees of its opposition, and so give us the varieties in (31) the negative unity of its denial. Denial is its unity in general, and this ranges through the entire realm of negation, the degree of denial being determined by the degree of truth denied. If men were absolutely logical and followed the premises which they lay down, to their ultimate conclusions, they would become angels or devils in working out the consequences according to the goodness or badness of their first principles. But men are not always logical; they often stop short of the consequences logically flowing from the premises preceding. We, therefore, as a rule, see the good only half good and the bad not altogether bad. Hence we find few outandout Liberals. Not many go the full length of their principles. They are nevertheless true Liberals, that is, veritable disciples, partisans or followers of Liberalism, ranging themselves under the banner either as a school, sect, or party.
There are Liberals who accept its principles, but reject the consequences, at least those most repugnant or extreme. For instance, there are men who believe that the Catholic Church is the great enemy of modern progress, the one great object in the way of the triumph of their principles. Why not then openly persecute the Church, and endeavor to wipe her from off the face of (32) the earth as Nero or a Domitian sought to do? No; they would not go to this extreme, although it is the practical consequence of their premise. Or again, if they shrink from the terrors of bloodshed and the horrors of assassination, why do they not close our Catholic Schools, the nurseries of the faith? To permit the existence of these schools is to allow the active and rapid propagation of the faith. If Catholicity be the evil they affirm it to be, would they not be perfectly logical in nipping it in the bud, that is, in the school room? But no, they would not go so far. Yet the suppression of the Catholic parochial school is the surest means to strangle the faith in our midst. Why should there be any compunction in rooting out the greatest evil, in their estimation, which afflicts our age, the one great dike against the flood of human "liberties", now rising almost to the level of the opposing barrier? It is because these Liberals are inconsequential; they shrink from the logic of conclusions.
Again, there are Liberals who accept such and such conclusions or their application, but scrupulously repudiate the principles whence they flow. They believe, for instance, in absolutely secularizing education, and yet reject the doctrine of atheism, which is the only soil congenial to its (33) growth. They applaud the result, while they repudiate the cause.
Some would apply Liberalism only to education; others only to the civil order, and others still, only to political life.
It is the most advanced alone who seek to apply it to everything and for every thing. The attenuations and mutilations of the liberal Credo are as many as the interests advanced or balked by its application. It is generally supposed that men think with their heads; but their intelligence often has less to do with it than their hearts, and not infrequently their stomachs determine their conclusions. Liberalism is thus often measured out by the dose according to the taste of the consumer, as liquors are to drinkers according to the appetite of each. This one, in comparison to his more advanced neighbor, who appears to him a brutal demagogue, is no Liberal at all, while his less advanced neighbor is, in his eyes, an outandout reactionary, rooted in a stagnant past. It is simply a question of degree, whose grades slide variously along the liberal scale, some nearer some farther from the abyss. From the Baptized or even surpliced Liberal, who boasts his breadth of mind in his easy toleration of error, to the avowed atheist who hurls his open defiance against God, the difference is only one of (34) degree. One simply stands on a higher rung of the same ladder than the other. Observe when pushed to the wall, how all alike claim the same denomination of liberal. They may even regard each other with aversion, but all invoke the same appellation as finally descriptive of each. Their common criterion is "liberality" and "independence of mind;" the degree of application will be measured by the individual disposition, the more or less in the matter depending upon the variety of elements in the makeup of the individual and his surroundings; selfinterest with one, temperament with another, education with a third impeding a too rapid gait on the road to absolute Liberalism; human respect may moderate another, serving as a balance weight to his rashness; family or school or business relations may clog the footsteps of a fourth. A thousand and one things may serve as a break to a too accelerated descent, not to mention that satanic prudence which counsels a conservative advance in order not to alarm the timid. This last fashion of procedure often serves as a mask to the most advanced Liberals, who hide their designs under the appearance of a frank demagoguery. Sometimes Liberalism stalks along in the careless trappings of an easygoing good nature, or a (35) simplicity of character which invites our affection and allays our suspicion. Its very candor in this guise is an aggression difficult to resist. It does not appear responsible and excites our compassion before it has awakened our aversion. We seem to forgive it before we accuse it. But all the greater is the danger when it appears least possible.
Such are the various fashions of Liberalism. Its disguises are many, its degrees various. Withal, however, it is the same evil, though motley be its trappings. Liberalism is one, while Liberals, like bad wine, differ in color and taste.