How Catholics Should Respond to the Rise of the Alt-Right

Last Thursday, Millennial co-hosted its first event with the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University. The topic was ‘How Catholics Should Respond to the Rise of the Alt-Right.’

Dr. Maria Mazzenga of Catholic University provided introductory remarks, which can be read in full here:

Exclusionary Catholic Americanism is defensive, adopts a siege mentality, emphasizes persecution of enemies, views other religious traditions as threatening to its very existence.  Inclusive Catholic Americanism seeks to reconcile American ideals of religious liberty and ethnic pluralism with the Catholic tradition.  It sees continuities with its parent, Judaism, and commonalities rather than differences with other religions like Islam.  It’s time to put our inclusive Catholic Americanism to work.

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter offered the keynote address:

I believe that there is real evil in the beliefs espoused by the alt-right, but I also believe that we cannot allow them to frighten us out of our commitment to free and open debate, just as we cannot let terrorists frighten us into abandoning our commitment to privacy rights. We certainly can’t ignore them nor minimize the threat they pose. I have been reading The Dark Valley by Piers Brendon, a history of the 1930s, and it is frightening to see how well-intentioned politicians, acting on the basis of sound values and respectful of democratic norms, failed to perceive the threat posed by the rise of fascism, and by the time they decided to take action, it was too late.

In confronting the alt-right, then, we must stipulate each and every time that there is an imbalance in the discussion, that they do not share our commitment to democratic processes or values, and that this imbalance is the frame in which each and every particular discussion takes place. We must state, clearly, and each and every time, that debate presumes equal partners to the debate, and that we are committed to the belief in the essential equality of all, even while our interlocutors from the alt-right are not. When they traffic in lies, we must state, “That’s a lie” and demand evidence for the claim. We must beware of the tricky way they fabricate evidence. We must, each and every time, make sure that we do nothing to normalize their views, but identify just how hateful and beneath contempt those views are. We must, in short, be on our guard. Engage, but do so warily, and only when repeatedly noting the fact that the positions the alt-right espouses are not just wrong, but contemptuous of the means by which a liberal democracy sorts out the complexities of public policy, means that we value and celebrate, and which we accord to these provocateurs even if they wish not to accord them to anyone else.

The event’s panel was moderated by Millennial writer Daniel Petri and featured Dr. Julia Young of Catholic University; Jordan Denari Duffner of The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University; and Millennial co-founder Christopher Hale: