Michael Promisel discusses key aspects of authentic Catholic politics

The Notre Dame chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) hosted Professor Michael Promisel to lecture on Catholic political leadership on March 27. The event was the second installment of the club’s speaker series on the relationship between Catholicism and political life.

Promisel, Assistant Professor of Politics at the Catholic University of America and a visiting fellow at Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government (CCCG), received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in political science and government. According to the CCCG website, Promisel’s teaching and research focus on “statesmanship, the virtues, liberal education, and Catholic social thought.” While at Notre Dame, he is writing a book entitled Prudence and Political Rule. His lecture aimed at providing “different barometers or measures by which we can begin to have a conversation on what a good political leader is from a Catholic perspective.” 

In the first portion of his remarks, Promisel attempted to define political leadership. He argued that the term could be understood by four key parameters: respect for one’s office, technical skill/craft, prudence, and serving the common good. 

He explained each of these in further detail, specifically emphasizing prudence as the ability to select“what is good” and that it necessarily involves one’s moral character. Of the common good, he stated that political leaders should strive to achieve political justice through positive law while also promoting human flourishing through the acknowledgement of natural law. 

Next, Promisel explained how good political leadership could be sought out in a specifically Catholic manner. To illustrate this point, he pointed to examples from Scripture and from the saints. He specifically noted the example of St. Thomas More, the patron of statesmen and politicians. 

Promisel described how More’s refusal to accede to King Henry VIII’s divorce from his wife and separation of the state from the Catholic Church represented the saint’s pursuit of spiritual truth, even at the risk of temporal retribution. He quoted More’s final words before his execution, “I die the King’s good servant, and God’s first,” as the highest standard to which Catholic politicians should strive. Promisel also emphasized the separation of the city of man and the city of God, arguing that the end goal of any Catholic political regime must be ordering souls towards the divine. 

In the final portion of his remarks, Promisel sought to address whether political leadership and Catholicism could ever be in tension. He stated that, although Catholics should not expect or attempt to create “heaven on earth” through political involvement, active engagement in the political realm is nonetheless consistent with the faith. He pointed to the canonization of St. Thomas More as evidence of the Church’s “affirmation of the dignity of politics.” 

Notre Dame students in the audience reacted positively to the talk. Senior Merlot Fogarty told the Rover that she found Professor Promisel’s description of “the conditions that a Catholic might find fault within a political regime and subsequent actions one might take in resolving a tension between a regime’s end and an authentic ordering toward the common good” to be especially salient.

Fogarty added, “It is incredibly important for students at the world’s preeminent Catholic university to understand why settling for small pockets of order in a nation of chaos is not the only option.”

She continued, “Catholics have a duty to use their time on earth working to order souls toward the divine” through political involvement. She emphasized that, although “we are first and foremost the servants of God,” this does not “negate our role in seeking the common good for our earthly nation.”

YAF President Aedan Whalen echoed Fogarty’s sentiments, arguing that “as Catholics, we are called to advance God’s kingdom in every dimension of our lives, and that certainly includes politics.” He emphasized that this principle was the main reason for organizing this speaker series, explaining that “Catholics need to get engaged in the political sphere before it’s too late.”

Shri Thakur is a sophomore studying economics and Constitutional Studies. You can email him at sthakur3@nd.edu to assist him in subverting liberal democracy.

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Photo Credit: Aedan Whalen