Maclin, you wrote: “It’s a religious conflict in the sense that it’s a conflict over first principles; `liberal’ and `conservative’ are not just intellectual or ideological terms but expressions of allegiance to a set of assumptions that go all the way to the root of what one believes about what it means to be human.”
This is what I deny. “Liberal” and “conservative,” as those terms and political positions exist in the U.S. are a bundle of confused and contradictory sets of beliefs. For example, being in favor of the free market and being against abortion are both conventionally considered as conservative. But what inner philosophical or ideological coherence do they have, or does their opposing liberal position have either? None, I would argue. The Catholic intellectual tradition comes at each position in an entirely different way, i.e., fully against abortion, but highly skeptical of the free market. Is the Catholic intellectual tradition at fault, or is the American hodge-podge of political positions at fault? Not until Catholics realize that we must jettison this silly conservative/liberal dichotomy is there any chance that Catholics will have any beneficial influence on the U.S. polity or culture.
Of course I know the terms “liberal” and “conservative” do not denote coherent and consistent philosophical systems. They don’t even approach an exhaustive taxonomy of the divisions, but are a serviceable shorthand. Like I said in the piece, “it’s not my purpose at the moment to talk about the nature of the division,” much less suggest means of exerting Catholic influence.
I think I will leave it at that. We *really* do not communicate on these questions at all, and attempts to clarify only seem to deepen the misunderstanding.