It is a truth often repeated by Traditionalists that the Catholic Church is not democratic. Something that should be repeated more often, however, is the basis of this fact. The Church is not just un-democratic in the accidents of her hierarchy and organization, but also in the substance of her underlying philosophies and assumptions. If the Church were somehow altered so that she was governed by popular vote, but was otherwise unchanged, or if the United States were changed to a government identical with that of the Church, but still maintained its integral character; then they would still be at odds. The modern democratic West is un-Catholic at a fundamental level, and in this article, I will attempt to explain why.
The reason is, in a word, individualism. It has been the tendency of thought in the West since the time of the American Revolution to declare that the primary, or in some cases, the only, driver of morality is individual freedom. The foundation of the democratic spirit is that the individual person is the basis of the world, and that society, government, and all else above him exists only at his sufferance. Unless he goes so far as to directly harm others by his actions, his rights to self-determination are paramount.
We see this philosophy everywhere in the modern world. It is the basis of contemporary secular civilization. Marriage is attacked because, after all, marriage is only an institution, and if a few individuals want to ignore or alter this institution, then it is their prerogative to do so. Capitalism is considered the only moral economic system by many, because it allows individuals to conduct their business however they please, which is the only moral way to proceed. Religion and prayer are removed from public events and venues because they may cause people to feel or think that they cannot live in any manner they want, and we can't have that.
It is this pervasive, corrosive conceptualization of the world that sets democracy and Catholicism at odds. But why? Why are they in opposition to each other? After all, the foundations of individualism were invented by Catholic philosophers. The fundamental tenets of liberty and human rights were first proposed by the Church, and are still held by it today. So how is it exactly that the Church is un-democratic and un-individualistic?
The truth is that much of individualism is built on solid ground, which many Traditionalists, in their rush to defeat it, forget. The consent of the governed, human rights, and self-determination are good moral points. What is not a good moral point is the equivocation of these things' existence with the supremacy of the individual man. This claimed supremacy and sovereignty, and, more importantly, the conclusions derived from them, are nothing more than perversions and misuses of philosophy, and a twisting of the basis of a moral society.
For the Catholic Church and the societal views she breeds accept these moral points, but individualism is built upon them. It is entirely based upon them, and admits nothing else. All it has is the individual and his rights and wants. In the end, all it has is "me". In its focus upon "me", it makes it all about "me". It is true that societies, governments, and other such things are most moral, perhaps even only moral, when built up voluntarily; but not to make any attempt to elevate it above "me" is foolish. It causes a strange sort of plague of hubris and narcissism whose bitter fruit we reap today.
Being raised and trained to think politically and philosophically only of yourself and your wants and moral position has not shown itself to be healthy. It has created a generation of people worldwide who truly believe that it is a horrid injustice that they are not allowed to bare their nudity in public, or who feel that they should be free to exploit the poor if it is done via contract, or who think that it is only fair that they should be able to dissolve marriage at will. And, furthermore, it has made this generation into an army of critics and would-be emperors, who deride and despise anything done differently than the way they would do it. It has made people hate any wisdom other than their own, try to tear down anything done against their wants, and treat themselves as the source of all doctrine. Argue with me about this being the result of individualism all you want; I have the brute fact of the modern world on my side.
These things, these beliefs and attitudes, are the logical extension and basic conclusion of individualism; and it is them that the Church is opposed. For these attitudes are the opposite of what is Christian, and are indeed an elevation of the spirit of sin. The world is not about us, nor are we the wisest people of them all, nor is it our place to pass judgement on society itself, nor are we the be-all, end-all of morality. A belief in such things can only come from the Adversary, because to believe in them is, however slightly, to equate ourselves with God. Moreover, to embrace them is also to embrace a spirit of Protestantism, which makes "me" the only true interpreter of the Word of God. After all, if I am the source of all authority, who needs the Hierarchy of the Church?
But sadly enough, this individualism is so widely embraced today as to be considered the norm by all. The Pope is criticized for his actions by lay people across America, Theology is ignored or mistaught by those who disagree with it, and all talk of duty or proper society has vanished from the political sphere. Everything is now about maximizing personal freedom, and optimizing things according to individual wants. The world is now about "me", and this deceitful ordering of things must be defeated.
Not defeated by collectivism and centralization by force, as the most devout individualists hold is the only other stance, but by a simple lack of individualism. As Catholics and Traditionalists ought to know, there are many things that matter more than us. If we want the evils of the modern world to end, I say that the best way to do it is to simply take on a little humility, which is, of course, the simplest and hardest task in the world.