The Church Confronts Modernity

Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era

Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

Columbia University Press

The Church Confronts Modernity

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Pub Date: December 2006

ISBN: 9780231131872

304 Pages

Format: Paperback

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Pub Date: June 2004

ISBN: 9780231131865

304 Pages

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Pub Date: June 2004

ISBN: 9780231506878

304 Pages

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The Church Confronts Modernity

Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era

Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

Columbia University Press

As the twentieth century opened, American intellectuals grew increasingly sympathetic to Pragmatism and empirical methods in the social sciences. The Progressive program as a whole—in the form of Pragmatism, education, modern sociology, and nationalism—seemed to be in agreement on one thing: everything was in flux. The dogma and "absolute truth" of the Church were archaisms, unsuited to modern American citizenship and at odds with the new public philosophy being forged by such intellectuals as John Dewey, William James, and the New Republic magazine. Catholics saw this new public philosophy as at least partly an attack on them.

Focusing on the Catholic intellectual critique of modernity during the period immediately before and after the turn of the twentieth century, this provocative and original book examines how the Catholic Church attempted to retain its identity in an age of pluralism. It shows a Church fundamentally united on major issues—quite unlike the present-day Catholic Church, which has been the site of a low-intensity civil war since the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Defenders of the faith opposed James, Dewey, and other representatives of Pragmatism as it played out in ethics, education, and nationalism. Their goals were to found an economic and political philosophy based on natural law, to appropriate what good they could find in Progressivism to the benefit of the Church, and to make America a Catholic country.

The Church Confronts Modernity explores how the decidedly nonpluralistic institution of Christianity responded to an increasingly pluralistic intellectual environment. In a culture whose chief value was pluralism, they insisted on the uniqueness of the Church and the need for making value judgments based on what they considered a sound philosophy of humanity. In neither capitulating to the new creed nor retreating into a self-righteous isolation, American Catholic intellectuals thus laid the groundwork for a half-century of intellectual vitality.
Precociously wise... magnificent. Paul Gottfried, The American Conservative
A lucid and accessible book Eugene McCarraher, A Christian Review
This book will be a valuable resource...Highly recommended. P. J. Hayes, Choice
The Church Confronts Modernity is provocative, well-written, and deserves to be read. Margaret Mary Reher, Catholic Historical Review
It is written with great clarity and fluency, making the complex philosophical and theological concepts approachable... This is a very important book which will be indispensable reading for scholars interested in the history of religion. Frank Lennon, Journal of American Studies
It moves briskly and gracefully through the thorny issues confronting the Church during the first two decades of the 20th century... An effective and detailed examination of Catholic intellectual life during a little studied period. Thomas G. Guarino, Theological Studies
This book is well worth reading. It is well written, well researched, and the thesis put forth is well argued. Patrick W. Carey, Journal of American History
Provocative... Woods thoughtful study casts new light on the Catholic response to the culture of progressivism. Michael J. Lacey, American Catholic Studies
Well written... Worthwhile contributions to the literature. Deirdre Moloney, American Historical Review
The Stage is Set
The Challenge of Pragmatism
Sociology and the Study of Man
Assimilation and Resistance: Catholics and Progressive Education
Economics and the "Social Question"
Against Syncretism

About the Author

Thomas E. Woods Jr. is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.