Greetings, readers. I am dedicating this blog to the two original Catholic populists — the newly beatified Cardinal St. John Henry Newman (1801 – 1890) and the statesman and historian Lord John Emerich Edward Dahlberg Acton (1837 – 1869).
Obviously populism, the outgrowth of the natural rights theory espoused by John Locke, had its greatest breakthrough into historical relevance in the Declaration of Independence, the mission statement of the United States: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Natural law theory was originated by Aristotle and had long been incorporated into the Catholic tradition, most notably by St. Thomas Aquinas. The Declaration of Independence also incorporates this rich heritage with its emphasis on the importance of “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
But it was not until the 1800s that Catholicism began to give Natural Rights (and, consequently, populism) its critical station alongside Natural Law within their mutual role of promoting the Natural Order.
Lord Acton was a Catholic British statesman who based his populist philosophy on his immortal adage, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Accordingly, he trusted the populace to manage their own affairs far more than he trusted expert elites to manage the affairs of the populace for them.
Cardinal Newman applied the same principles to ecclesiastical government. He was a fierce opponent of ultramontanism (the idea that the Pope was infallible in the decisions made in matters relating to temporal power) and clericalism (the idea that the laity were second-class Catholics who needed coercive micromanagement or a condescending watered-down version of their faith to remain Catholic). He championed an ardently Catholic and empowered laity that was the source of the missionary might of the Church.
These two giants originally integrated the populist natural rights insights of the American founding and the natural law insights of the Catholic faith.
I humbly approach this blog in their illustrious shadows.