Accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and other related words do not have quite the emotive power in East Asian societies as they do for contemporary Westerns, living under the shadow of the Holocaust, years of massive immigration, and sensitivity training.
The use of such words in attempts instantly to marginalize the speaker stands within the framework of a grand narrative of oppressed peoples. Whoever is oppressed stands among the protagonists in this narrative; any wielder of power is disparaged and declared an oppressor for dramatic effect.
To highlight this usage is not deny some of uses of power are oppressive, but rather to suggest that exercise of power, especially state power, needs to be evaluated by some criterion other than whether the person who is on the receiving end of a powerful action has less power than the persons acting against them. If by oppression we mean nothing more than this, then every use of power is by definition oppressive, from the Pope down to your local preacher, enforced bedtimes and pets on leashes.
That such abuse of language is ultimately destructive becomes explicit when applied to various contemporary conflicts that do not fit into the models provided by the last sixty years of power struggles in the West. For instance, can the term anti-Semitic be applied pejoratively to a Palestinian in Gaza? You will not find the ADL, ACLU, or SPLC attempting such an association. Within the narrative they attempt to promote, Palestinians stand as oppressed peoples.
The Confucian tradition offers a different way of evaluating these struggles. While statements about rootless cosmopolitans may have arisen out of specific polemics against the Jews, as R.R. Reno suggests , the Confucian tradition consistently inveighed against merchants who sought to maximize their individual profit while contributing a net negative to society, knowing that this could ultimately undermine the state.
A central passage in the Great Learning, one of the four central books of Confucian tradition, offers us a more positive ideal:
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own States. Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.
The general outline is clear. It is conveniently undemanding to focus our love on rising thermometers, baby seals, third world peoples and other causes far away, abstract, and convenient. Confucius and Jesus tell us instead to love our neighbor.
Locality, then, is a means and not an end. It can serve a vehicle for love, a part of what R.R. Reno productively calls A fully orbed life of virtue as we encounter the stranger on the road to Jericho or within the boundaries of our community, and it often transcends borders as it commits to working within their context.
Without love, however, localism is nothing. Because my coffee shop is run locally does not make the service or coffee better than Starbucks. I may not be able to rely only on persons living in my home to fix my computer. I will not construct my own local sewage system, nor will I abandon toilets if I cannot create such a system on my own. Centralization and specialization can have benefits. However, while government centralization is prone to corruption, localism often expresses itself as pure rejection.
As we prepare for the Popes encyclical, we might re-evaluate our ideas of collectivity and authority. The log in our own eye must be plucked out before the finger is pointed; the alternative leads always to tragedy and needless conflict. Are we ourselves rebellious? Do we reject divinely sanctioned authority? Are our foci on religion, ethnicity and locality simply an excuse for sloth? For those of us in the South (a Pennsylvania man, I celebrate Independence Day in Fairfax County, Virginia) do we hold to the word of the Lord as expressed in The Bright Sunny South or do we remain Unreconstructed Rebel [s]?
That the statelessness of mercantile interests should be confused and associated in the contemporary West with the dispersion of the Jews is not surprising. Only certain occupations were accessible to diaspora Jews in many traditional societies; some of these have become traditional Jewish occupations. Since these associations are transient historical contingencies, we cannot legitimately make non-transitory inferences from such contingencies, as anti-Semitic polemics often have done.
Moreover, there is nothing intrinsically wrong about such occupations or the persons who fill them. Even within the much maligned finance industry, there is much positive potential, if recently unactualized. This positive potential is dependent on the maintenance of a relationship, between persons fixed to a given locality who produce the goods, and those who assign them worth and help re-distribute them. Craftsmen who desire to create value in these now global industries respect locality, even as those fixed in a locality should also respect those craftsmen who highlight and distribute capital to those who produce things of value.
While this system has broken down, it has decayed not simply because the animal spirits of Wall Street did not temper their zeal with a respect for greater community, but because American citizens embraced the pact that was offered them: an endless supply of baubles from citizens in chains so long as they refused to speak out in the pulpit against the notion that greed is good, that profit maximization is the chief end of man. Is it little wonder that we who long ago abandoned our commitment to biblical truth now trade our hard-earned liberty for cheap plastic wares?
Oppression always reigns when love divorces itself from power. Anti-Semitism and other forms of oppression exist in our past and present so long as we refuse to acknowledge and eradicate them from our midst. Can we rise to the challenge and till the soil of our own hearts, or must we enlist foreigners to do it for us? Do we demand more of others than we demand of ourselves? Do we stand a city on a hill? Are others drawn to our light?
It is a tragic feature of the contemporary West that the Jews have so often been invoked as a convenient stand-in for the evils wrought by elites afraid of community a typical response of those who would attempt to sacralize an ethnic community in order to form a new chosen people, as described by David P. Goldman . The biblical witness is clear: Jacob have I chosenas frightening for the Jew as for the Gentile. The branches that have been grafted in should fear; the fires of judgment burn for the unfaithful.
Let the anti-community elite stand on their own merits: human rights which deny humanity, foreign wars waged under false pretense, and the gradual reduction and eradication of an honest and free press. Let them stand alone. Their destructive narrative wielded against all who will not sing in the grand choir of mammon will ultimately only destroy themselves.
Our struggle is a different one. It is first an inner strugglethe rectification of the heart and mind described in the Great Learningnext a song. The great Deceiver would have the believers in Abrahams promise needlessly war with each other. His falsehood, whispered to us in the inmost place, must be rebuked with the truth spoken in love. Then we must, in the words of St. Augustine, sing a new song and walk onwards .