Peguy

In 2008 John Milbank claimed that Charles Péguy “is the man for the hour.” In his latest book, Beyond Secular Order, Milbank again evokes Péguy, writing, “there can be no storming of the Bastille as a historical event without its annual commemoration” (8). The quote in many ways paraphrases Milbank’s entire political theology.

It’s clear that for those interested in Anglican social thought – or, indeed, any form of social or political ecclesiology – that Péguy might indeed be the man for the hour. Consider this passage from Temporal and Eternal where Péguy discusses the true cause of the church’s decline in France.

All the Church’s difficulties stem from the point; all its real, profound, popular difficulties: from the fact that in spite of some so-called works among the working-class, under the cloak of some so-called social workers, and a few so-called Catholic workers, the factory is closed to the Church and the Church to the factory; that in the modern world, it too has suffered a modernization, has become the religion, almost solely the religion of the rich, and is no longer, if I may so express it, socially the communion of the faithful…

Thus the whole tension of the modern world, its whole tendency, is toward money and the whole drag toward money ends by contaminating the Christian world itself, causes it to sacrifice its faith and its morales for the sake of maintaining economic and social peace (55, 64-65).

The culprit – bourgeoisie capitalism – has been in plain sight all along for Péguy, which is why it is so difficult for so many to see.

Péguy’s analysis rings true for today, especially as we debate the issue of declining church attendance. Interestingly, Joel Kotkin discusses this topic in his latest book, The New Class Conflict. Declining church attendance is a product of a rapidly declining economic order. Although Kotkin doesn’t drill down on the reasons why, it’s clear that for most working class folks the weekend, let alone a Sunday, has all but been obliterated. We know that the fastest growing job market is the service sector, which often means late Saturday night and Sunday day shifts. Unless one’s parish celebrates a weekday Eucharist, one can be out of luck when it comes to receiving the body and blood of Christ.

So what is the solution? Do we take the Benedictine option and form communities of virtue? If not Benedict, then do we opt for the Dominican option? Or do we seek to re-enchant the world through a mystic Christendom?

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