Acton Institute Powerblog

What is ‘Roman Catholic Political Philosophy’?

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

102-Schall“Roman Catholicism is primarily concerned with man’s transcendent end and purpose,” says Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., “with how it is achieved in actual lives, in actual places, and in real time.” Rev. Schall considers how Catholicism and political philosophy are connected:

A course in “Roman Catholic Political Philosophy” is rarely found in any academic institution, including those sponsored by the Church. We do find courses titled “Religion and Politics,” “Social Doctrine of the Church,” or “Church and State” — but “Roman Catholic Political Philosophy” is something different. Going back to Plato, it is common to find that most people consider philosophers and academics, not to mention clerics, to be rather foolish and naïve when it comes to dealing with the practical affairs of this world. Philosophers are notorious for studying everything else but politics; and when they do, they insist on studying them as if their object were like that of the physical sciences and not free human agents. Aristotle already warned us not to use a method that was inappropriate to the nature of the object studied.

But there are two questions combined in that title: First, what is political philosophy? And second, what is Roman Catholicism? The two are not to be confused. They are, if possible, to be related in a coherent, non-contradictory whole such that each retains its essential nature while relating to the other. Whether we like it or not, both are present in the actual human world in which we live. Philosophy, to be itself, cannot, by its own methods, exclude any consideration of what is, of what claims to be true. Roman Catholics, during their time on earth, live in the polities to which they belong or dwell in. Like everyone else, they too are “political animals,” as Aristotle said.

Read more . . .

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • When I think of Roman Catholic Political Philosophy, I think of the dialectic between Roman authoritarianism and liberation theology. Roman authoritarianism basically dictates to the people what is right through some authority figure and it includes one ecclesiastic member. When I think of liberation theology, I think of the merging of democracy and collectivism. Though the concern of a democratic tyranny is realistic, no governmental structure can avoid the risk of tyranny though provide more constraints on tyranny than others. We brag that America is a Republic rather than a democracy to avoid a democratic tyranny. But all that means is that we elect representatives and so we are at risk of having to submit to a representative tyranny just as much as a pure democracy risks a democratic tyranny. And we should note that any authoritarian government has no hurdles to clear before becoming tyrannical.

    This is why I prefer a nonviolent liberation theology. Collectivism acts as a powerful control that can prevent a tyranny of the majority. Though I know conservatives reject collectivism because of what it can mean to individual liberty, realize that any push for individual liberty must take into account the degree of interdependency that exists is a given society lest they come to support a tyranny of the private sector elites, which is what we are experiencing now.