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November 20, 2019

Nationalism, Post-liberalism, and Pope Francis

A Salt and Light Gathering for Catholic leaders under 40

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Rising economic inequality and dislocation, eroded communal ties, and rapid cultural change have helped lead to the rise of nationalist movements and ideas in the United States and around the world. These economic and cultural developments have also led political thinkers from left and right to offer strong critiques of the globalized liberalism associated with them. At the same time, many argue that nationalist ideas come entangled with racism and nativism, particularly in the context of a U.S. president who fans those flames, and that a commitment to liberal principles remains the best guarantor of human rights, the promise of peace, and a robust pluralism that allows communities of faith to flourish.

It’s no surprise that Catholics have been at the heart of these conversations. Our Church is a global faith rooted in diverse local communities with a complicated and checkered history of engagement with nationalism and liberalism, and Catholic social thought as well as the Church’s on-the-ground experience provide substantial resources to help navigate this volatile political moment. Pope Francis offers a particularly interesting lens through which to explore these questions: he is a leading opponent of the nationalist impulse and a strong advocate for migrants, while at the same time a prominent voice for solidarity and community who opposes a globalized “economy that kills.”

This Salt and Light Gathering for young Catholics under the age of 40 brought together four respected voices to discuss these issues:

  • Ross Douthat is a New York Times columnist and author of To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism.
  • Austen Ivereigh is a journalist and author of Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church and The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.
  • Leah Libresco Sargeant is a writer for outlets such as First Things, America, The American Conservative, and Commonweal, and author of Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name.
  • Matthew Sitman is an associate editor at Commonweal, a regular contributor to Dissent, and a co-host of Know Your Enemy, a podcast about the American right.

John Carr, director of the Initiative, opened the gathering. Kim Daniels, associate director of the Initiative, moderated the conversation. The evening began at 6:00 p.m. with a happy hour, followed by a 7:00 p.m. discussion with the panelists; a reception followed at 8:30 p.m.

This Salt and Light Gathering was for Catholics under 40 years old in Washington to explore the links between faith, Catholic social thought, and their lives and work and was co-sponsored by the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.