Neo-Integralists vs. National Conservatives

Neo-Integralists vs. National Conservatives April 20, 2022

The Donald Trump phenomenon has led to the ascendancy of a new kind of conservatism.  Instead of the old Reaganite conservatism committed to individual freedom, market economics, and anti-communism, the new Trumpist conservatism focuses on restoring American culture, protecting the border and the American economy, and opposing the progressive assault on traditional values in the name of “the common good.”

This shift in conservative ideology can be found not only in the populist uprising against the progressive establishment but in a new breed of conservative intellectuals who have been proposing a “post-liberal” political order.

I have been blogging about this (for example, here and here), but I invite your consideration of an excellent treatment of the subject in Religion & Liberty from the Acton Institute, a free market think tank.  Political Science professor James M. Patterson from Ave Maria College (a conservative Catholic school) has written An Awkward Alliance: Neo-Integralism and National Conservatism.

He gives a useful survey of the rise of these ideas, with special reference to the “integralists,” his fellow conservative Catholics who would like to restore something like the medieval social order under the authority of the Church, and the “post-liberals” who want to build a non-democratic, neo-authoritarian kind of government.  He then critiques them from the point of view of a Ronald Reagan brand of conservatism.

He points out that, although the intellectual Integralists and the more populist Conservative Nationalists are allies in their strong support for Donald Trump, their ideas are not really compatible.  The “post-liberal” thinkers who are foundational to the new movements are European, reacting against the radicalism of the French Revolution to defend the aristocratic social order and the social authority of the Roman Catholic church.  As Patterson points out, “the United States did not have even the historical memory of an aristocratic class and church hierarchy as sources of social order. Their imposition would be something entirely new, not a ”return to tradition.”

Those who want to return to the specifically American tradition–that is, the Nationalists–will need to embrace democracy, individual rights, liberty, and adherence to the U.S. Constitution.

Patterson also points out how the prominent integralists are in favor of immigration–as long as the immigrants are Catholics–hold up China as a model of the kind of society they have in mind, with its capitalism under state control and its “’superior’ natural virtue in a restored Confucian culture over America’s ‘liberal’ one.”

Integralism is not really nationalistic at all.  Patterson quotes a prominent integralist on the faculty of Harvard Law School:

Vermeule has stated that he is not nationalist, “except in the very qualified, non-ideal and second-best sense that nationalism may be a temporary expedient born of necessity, in opposition to an overbearing transnational liberal order.” Indeed, he has endorsed a kind of “world government” under a Vatican-approved state.

Which brings up another facet that Patterson doesn’t get into explicitly, that the kind of Christianity that has shaped American culture is Protestantism.  There is room for Catholicism and other religions, thanks to the Protestant principle of religious liberty, but Americans as a whole are highly unlikely to submit to the temporal authority of the Pope.

I would say that I agree with many of the goals of the new conservatives, but restoring American culture and traditional American values will mean precisely restoring American freedom, self-government, and Constitutionalism.


Photo:  Adrian Vermeule, LSE Law, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

"A song on topic:"

Monday Miscellany, 4/8/24
"It would have had to come after God separated the light from the darkness, though."

Monday Miscellany, 4/8/24
"Actually, that would explain a lot..."

Monday Miscellany, 4/8/24
"You know my answer is yes."

Monday Miscellany, 4/8/24

Browse Our Archives