The Unreasonableness of Catholic Integralism


Micah Schwartzman & Jocelyn Wilson


Faculty editor: Larry Alexander
Publication: Law Review
Volume: 56
Issue: 4
Start Page: 1039
Month: December
Year: 2019
Type: Article
Instititional Repository (IR) location of full article:


In this symposium contribution, we argue that Catholic integralism is unreasonable. Our conception of reasonableness is defined in terms of substantive moral and epistemic commitments to respecting the freedom and equality of citizens who hold a wide—but not unlimited—range of religious, ethical, and philosophical conceptions of the good. In arguing that Catholic integralism conflicts with this understanding of reasonableness, it might seem that we are begging the question against integralists. But our purpose here is not to engage integralists on their own terms. So far, the debate about integralism has been conducted mostly among Catholics and Christian conservatives. Our critique is external to Catholicism and not intended to persuade integralists by offering them arguments from within their own religious views. That might be a viable form of internal criticism, or “reasoning from conjecture,” which entails arguing from within others’ religious or philosophical doctrines to show that they have reasons to accept liberal principles. We leave that project to others. Our purpose here is to explain the sense in which integralists are unreasonable from a liberal perspective, which requires explicating and applying moral concepts that lie at the center of liberal political thought. Our conception of reasonableness is drawn from political liberalism, which takes some fundamental ideas to be constitutive of political morality in liberal democratic societies. These include the ideas of society as a fair system of social cooperation in which citizens see each other as free and equal, and the idea of reasonable pluralism, which holds that in any free society, citizens acting in good faith will affirm a wide range of comprehensive religious, ethical, and philosophical views. A task of political and legal philosophy is to work out the implications of these ideas, which are implicit in our liberal democratic political culture. We try to do that by rehearsing what we take to be the main ideas of Catholic integralism and by showing how they conflict with a conception of reasonableness that requires cooperating on fair terms, including by respecting the freedom and equality of citizens, regardless of whether they affirm a particular religious view. We shall also return to the case of Mortara, which helps to clarify what is at stake in rejecting the moral values of such a conception.