John Zmirak has an article that is, to my mind, quite good on the subject of the disturbing remnant, or perhaps resurgence, of authoritarian political views on the Catholic right. Actually, he also gives an example or two on the Catholic left, but most of his examples come from the right.
A couple of disclaimers at the outset. First disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of every word that proceedeth from the word processor of Zmirak. For example, he appears to think that the state can and should "get out of marriage," a libertarian view which conveniently leaves out the entire issue of, y'know, children, and which I have criticized before. And no, that's not an invitation to discuss that topic on this thread, merely an example of a place where I disagree with Zmirak.
Second disclaimer: As a Protestant, I do not claim to know whether this or that statement by a pope was infallible or whether this or that document was binding, nor am I deeply interested in researching all of Zmirak's interpretations or history of the documents of Vatican II. I'm more interested in his broader points.
Third disclaimer: I have not verified all of the strictly historical claims Zmirak makes, though I find some of them verrry interesting. The one about the agent of the Inquisition who was, fortunately, kicked out of New Orleans in the late 1700's after pressuring the governor to help him get started appears to be true. I don't actually know independently, though I'd find it interesting to check out if I have time later, that "[t]he fear of revolutionary violence was enough to make Pope Pius IX side with the tsar and his Cossacks against the freedom-loving Catholics of Poland, and with the British Crown against the Irish," so I'm not in a position to endorse that statement.
All that being said, I think Zmirak's broader points in the post are extremely important. To wit:
--There is a disturbing trend among some on the Catholic right to "diss" religious liberty and to long for a form of very strong, Catholic, authoritarian government. Zmirak gives several appalling examples from within his own experience. Before you cry "straw man," read those real-life examples and let them sink in. (Yes, I realize that a couple of Zmirak's examples don't come from the right, but read the ones that obviously do.) Also, if you happen to frequent such "places," ask yourself if you haven't seen things at least as bad on reactionary blogs.
Zmirak appears to be what one might call a convert on this question, so he's had plenty of experience with that slice of the religious political spectrum, having once been there himself.
By sheer coincidence, on the very day I read Zmirak's post I happened to see a couple of commentators at a reactionary mostly-Catholic blog ardently wishing for someone to come along with the power to set up religious martial law. One of them declared airily that people are worried about jackboots only because they don't think of how much good they themselves could do if they were wearing the jackboots. (Yah, for sure, that's the trouble with people nowadays: They're not power-hungry enough.)
If, on the other hand, you actually want to defend the things Zmirak describes, including burning Puritans in effigy, wishing that the Church would imprison Lutherans for heresy, and wishing one could drive the tanks to suppress Chinese dissidents (because they were holding a replica of the evil American Statue of Liberty), then you're probably beyond the point where argument will help.
--Religious liberty is a good and important thing, and it is a part of our American heritage to which we should cling and for which we should be grateful, not a part that we should be looking to get rid of. Are there interesting questions that can be asked about the precise range, limits, and implementation of principles of religious liberty? Of course. We've had several interesting conversations about those here at W4 over the years. Nor has American jurisprudence neglected such issues, so it's not as though a question like, "Should religious freedom mean allowing people to sacrifice infants to Moloch?" hasn't been hammered out, to a large degree sensibly, in constitutional jurisprudence over the last two-hundred-odd years.
Should it be non-negotiable that religious liberty is important and that this should include a very appreciable range of religious beliefs, including some that the rulers of the country deem false? Yes, that should be non-negotiable. No, Catholics (and Orthodox) shouldn't be pining to outlaw Protestantism, nor even "Protestant proselytizing," and Protestants shouldn't be pining to outlaw Catholicism (or Eastern Orthodoxy), nor even "Catholic (or Orthodox) proselytizing." As a general rule, religious liberty as conceived by the Founding Fathers of this country is a good thing, not the font of all our ills, and if you find yourself thinking grumpily, "Yeah, that religious liberty stuff, that was the real problem right there," then you've gone off in the wrong direction somewhere along the line.
--The Enlightenment wasn't all bad. Now, before you start telling me about the French Revolution, let me emphasize how moderate that statement was: The Enlightenment wasn't all bad. In fact, Zmirak's own endorsement of some Enlightenment ideas, especially religious liberty (see above), is quite moderate and heavily qualified (see the end of his article).
It would be hard for the Enlightenment to be all bad anyway, because the term "the Enlightenment" refers, in my opinion, to a monster in the classical sense of the word--a creature composed of arbitrarily stuck-together, disparate elements. In the case of the Enlightenment, the commonality of those elements consists only in their all existing at some point in the course of the same large and loosely defined time period. On the political side, we have both the gradual expansion of religious liberty in England (ultimately a boon to Catholics, it's worth adding) and the horrors of the French Revolution itself. On the philosophical side, we have everybody from Locke to Diderot and the philosophes and everything in between. On the apologetics side, we have Paley, Charles Leslie, Euler (who debated against Diderot), and many and many another great soldier of God, all living and offering evidence during that same Enlightenment period. How can any such period of history be adjudged either wholly good or wholly bad? Obviously, it can't. And one of the good things was the gradual growth of religious liberty (see above).
--It appears to be true (perhaps this is my most controversial point) that during the 18th and 19th centuries, Catholic thinkers and leaders were not always on the right side when it came to embracing the principles of religious liberty. This was particularly ironic given that, had such principles been in place in England in the 1500's and 1600's, Catholics themselves would have been among the greatest beneficiaries. In fact, it was because of his overly zealous push in the late 1600's for religious liberty to benefit Catholics that James II lost his throne! The last thing that we Christians need now is for more Catholics, who could be continuing the good work of making fruitful common cause with their Protestant brethren in the culture wars, to embrace ultramontanist ideas and reject religious liberty as an American mistake.
In conclusion: I'm happy to join you if you merely want to say that we need some nuance when it comes to phrases like "religious liberty" or (even more) "freedom of speech." Fine and dandy. Moreover, if you say that we need to be careful what we mean by having a "right to the pursuit of happiness," I will also agree. For that matter, so will Zmirak, as he carefully lays out. The "happiness" in question should, for the right ordering of society, be construed as eudaimonia, not as hedonism. If you say that free speech absolutism is unsustainable and that mainstream conservatives don't always speak in a sufficiently careful way when they address that topic, I'm right there with you. But when we start rejecting religious liberty and condemning the American founding per se as misguided from the outset because based upon intrinsically wrong-headed "Enlightenment ideas" (such as religious liberty), then we've gone astray, and I'm going to call foul. Apparently, so is John Zmirak. He's doing it in a particularly forthright fashion, a fashion calculated to bring down on him the ire of the hardline rad-trads, but speaking for myself, I applaud his post.