The Inflammatory Public Philosopher
Any person who addresses public issues with an uncompromising eye on truth is sure to offend someone. Brownson usually offended everyone.
Brownson wasn’t a subtle person, especially in his writing.
He wrote with logic and force, rarely with sensitivity or tact. And he was also a remarkably-erudite individual with strong opinions and an equally-strong belief that he should express those opinions in uncompromisingly strong words. He simply didn’t see the value of downplaying his points or making them in an indirect or less offensive manner. “There is in Brownson’s style a rhetorical habit of using the harsh blow of a miner’s sledge when the tap of a carpenter’s hammer would be more effective”;[i] he had an “inclination to use a battle ax to crush a butterfly.”[ii]
These traits didn’t change after his conversion and may have become even more pronounced. Brownson, like many intellectual converts, welcomed the “check” provided by the Church’s authority. A Catholic can theorize and speculate wildly, as long as he conducts himself in accordance with reason and is willing to check his results against the authority of the Church. If his results vary with the Church, and the results involve Her teaching on faith and morals, then he must re-track and figure out where his reasoning failed. If his results vary with the Church in other areas, he should take a hard look at his reasoning process and see where he may have made a mistake. Brownson took his already-strong opinions, checked them against Church teaching, modified them accordingly, and then applied them with reinforced assurance to issues in the public arena.
The result was a confident Catholic public philosopher. It was an inflammable mix: As a Catholic and philosopher, he insisted on truth. As a confident man, he was convinced he had the truth or right reason. As a journalist, he tackled the issues that were the topic of public discussion.