Ross Douthat and Damon Linker are midway through an exchange of views at TNR. Toward the end of his first contribution Linker articulates his view of the "liberal bargain" and the "theocons’" rejection of it:
In my book, I describe this bargain as the act of believers giving up their "ambition to political rule in the name of their faith" in exchange for the freedom to worship God however they wish, without state interference. What does this mean, in practical terms? It means that your belief in what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches is irrelevant, politically speaking. It simply shouldn’t matter whether or not you think that justice has a divine underpinning, anymore than it should matter whether you prefer Jane Austen to Dostoevsky. In a word, liberal politics presumes that it’s possible and desirable for political life to be decoupled from theological questions and disputes.
But there is a complication: What if a faith forbids its adherents to accept the liberal bargain? What if it explicitly refuses to permit believers to decouple their political and religious convictions? What if it demands unity--unity in the name of one set of non-negotiable theological truths? Such a religion may be incompatible with liberalism. Whether Islam is inherently illiberal in precisely this way is one of the most pressing questions confronting the Western world today.
And Catholicism? Since Vatican II--and especially since the start of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate--the Catholic Church has staked out a novel position on these matters. Like most anti-liberal faiths, it has demanded a unity between politics and religion. But it has also maintained that Catholic moral teaching is perfectly compatible with liberalism--indeed, that it is the only solid and sure foundation for liberalism. By contrast, liberalism without Catholicism is, in John Paul’s arresting phrase, "thinly disguised totalitarianism."
Catholicism does not so much reject what liberalism affirms as it denies the validity of the distinctions liberalism typically assumes--distinctions between private and public, secular and sacred, reason and revelation. In place of these distinctions, the Church proposes a higher synthesis, all the while claiming that such a synthesis produces a purified liberal politics. This is pretty much what the theocons propose for the United States.
There’s a lot on which to comment here, but I’ll restrict myself to two points. First, Linker seems to concede that genuinely faithful Catholics (and I would add, any believer whose faith doesn’t permit the compartmentalization that DL says liberalism demands, which at least includes many adherents of the Reformed tradition) can’t be good American citizens, by his lights. So much for toleration and pluralism. (I can be as brief and oversimplified as he is. If you want my longer view, read my contribution to this book and/or this review essay.)
(I assume that Peter L. won’t disapprove of my discussion of DL if I refer readers to books and journals with which he is associated.)
My second observation is actually a question: does DL really believe that Roman Catholicism doesn’t accept the validity of the distinction, for example, between reason and revelation? Nominalists might come close to that position, but surely not the "orthodox" Roman Catholics (and others) associated with First Things.
I still haven’t finished the book, but I am on my way to forming a considered opinion, which I’ll inflict upon readers somewhere somehow.