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60Defending the Innocent: Arizona and Immigrationhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2010/04/defending-the-innocent-arizona-and-immigration
Wed, 28 Apr 2010 09:21:00 -0400 Feathers began flying last Friday hours before Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the countrys strictest state law governing illegal immigration, when President Obama called it unfair and promised to have the Justice Department examine it for possible civil rights violations. Criticism of the new law has been fierce.
Much of the criticism is, I think, overblown. It is difficult to regard the laws requirements as deeply unjust. The law begins with a statement of intent: The intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona. The provisions of this act are intended to work together to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States.
Arizona pursues this attrition strategy in a variety of ways. To begin, it requires law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law to its fullest extent, in part by handing over illegal aliens into federal custody. If this is objectionable, it is hard to know why Arizona should be subject to special criticism.
Other requirements are equally reasonable. For example, the law attempts to reduce opportunities in the job market. Employers are forbidden to knowingly hire illegal aliens, and they are required to participate in the federal E-Verify system for determining immigrants legal work status. Similarly, illegal aliens may not work or solicit work in the state. The law targets the hiring of illegal day laborers in particular by making it a crime for motor vehicles to impede traffic as they slow and stop to pick up laborers in public places.
One might, of course, disagree with federal law or believe that states should create more opportunities for immigrant labor. But neither of those arguments for modifying federal law suggests that Arizona has now committed some special injustice.
I think the same is true, in fact, of the bills most controversial provisions. It makes illegal immigration a state crime and requires immigrants to carry documents showing that they are legally present in this country. The latter, however, is
a federal requirement”indeed, the Arizona laws provision to this effect is simply contained within a reference to the United States code, so that someone attempting to skim through the law quickly might not even notice it.
More troubling is the requirement that law enforcement officials attempt to determine the immigration status of anyone whom they reasonably suspect of being unlawfully present in the United States. On its face, this seems fair enough, but it conjures fears of police stopping people and demanding to see identity papers with little justification. But even here the criticisms have been over the top. This is not Nazi Germany, nor is it Japanese internment. That someone might be required to show a suspicious police officer a document that he or she is required to carry anyway”just as I would need to show my drivers license if pulled over”does not seem unjustly burdensome.
To understand the real causes of controversy, therefore, we must dig a bit deeper. They are, I think, twofold, and both reflect broader failures of governance in the U.S. today. First, it is clear that Arizona felt pressed to pass a law of this sort”and that other states will as well”precisely because the national government has for so long failed to deal effectively with the problem of illegal immigration. This may be changing”border security has improved in recent years, and increasing use of E-Verify, despite some initial kinks in the system, has gradually strengthened our ability to detect illegal employment. Nevertheless, this crisis has been two or three decades in the making, and it is not surprising that economic recession would intensify concerns about the federal governments longstanding failure to enforce its own immigration laws.
Second is a more generalized fear”also, no doubt, prompted in part by recession, though it was visible even before the markets crashed”that the government is simply no longer doing its job. The first duty of the state is fundamentally a moral one: to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. In our system, we accomplish these goals through a system of representative government and the rule of law.
Yet recent events”in particular the completely partisan passage of Obamacare over enormous public opposition from citizens already unhappy about the bailouts, stimulus package, and ballooning deficit”have left many Americans fearing that the government no longer represents them, and that the law can therefore no longer be relied upon to protect them. Certainly poll numbers reflect enormous public distrust of government. The combination of unrepresentative government, economic recession, and past failures to deal with illegal immigration makes for a potent brew.
What does this all mean for immigration policy looking forward? As my comments here indicate, I have considerable sympathy for the efforts at enforcement and attrition reflected in the Arizona law. But I have also disagreed elsewhere with many of my fellow conservatives by arguing in favor of amnesty. (Which I am now supposed to call a path to citizenship, I believe.) I continue to think that we have a moral obligation to allow long-term illegal aliens”those, say, who have been present for five years or more”to legalize their status.
But there is a correlate moral obligation not to do so unless current citizens can be assured that the border will be secured and the laws enforced, so that repeated amnesties are not necessary. We might try to capture these paired obligations by saying that the duty of the state is to represent and protect the people, but that the composition of the people is at some level simply an empirical question”they are those who are, in fact, present and subject to the law.
This combination suggests an enforcement-first deal along lines that are by now familiar: improved border security, with a conditional amnesty (payment of back taxes, requirement of English language proficiency) triggered by successfully meeting enforcement benchmarks. What is less clear to me is whether such a deal is any longer possible in the current political climate. Truly comprehensive immigration reform would tackle issues such as a guest worker program or increased employment visas for skilled workers, but either of those possibilities, involving increased legal immigration during an economic downturn, seems to be political dynamite.
My own preference would be first to address the dilemma of illegal immigration with the straightforward security-for-amnesty swap just described, and only afterwards to consider whether changing the regulations for legal immigration would also be desirable. Enforce the current law before deciding to change it”or, as they say, dont knock it til youve tried it. But whether our current politicians are up to that, and whether such an approach could win public approval, I rather doubt.
Of course, if Arizona or imitator states succeed with an attrition strategy, this outcome might conceivably emerge by default rather than intent, especially if declining numbers of illegal aliens coincide with an economic upturn. In such a situation, comprehensive reform might appear more feasible than it does now. If Obamacare has taught us anything, it is to be suspicious of grand attempts to solve all problems at once and to prefer instead more limited (and, when possible, local) laws aiming at specific problems. In that sense, Arizona may have simply taken the necessary first step toward a broader solution.
Peter Meilaender is associate professor of political science at Houghton College
Immigration: Citizens & Strangershttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/05/immigration-citizens-strangers
Tue, 01 May 2007 00:00:00 -0400 Discussions of immigration often oversimplify or distort the moral issues at stake. Contemporary liberalism promotes the twin ideals of individual autonomy and equality. But these ideals, as commonly interpreted, have a corrosive effect on attempts to regulate immigration, since restrictions on immigration both constrain the autonomous choices of those who wish to migrate and also protect the inegalitarian global distribution of wealth. From this perspective, restrictions on immigration appear selfish at best, xenophobic at worst.
]]>Mexifornia: A State of Becominghttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2004/01/mexifornia-a-state-of-becoming
Thu, 01 Jan 2004 00:00:00 -0500 In his latest work,
Mexifornia: A State of Becoming
, Victor Davis Hanson offers a report from immigrations front lines. An unusual but appealing mix of argument and autobiography,
provides a compelling”and frightening”portrayal of the transformations that decades of mass immigration have wrought in the cultural and political fabric of California. Hansons anecdotal account of his own life there”from attending grade school with mostly Mexican-American classmates and working alongside Mexican laborers on his generations-old family farm, to confronting Mexican trespassers stealing fruit or dumping garbage on his property”proves a most effective vehicle for conveying the deep costs our current wave of immigration has brought to his state: crime, poverty, inferior education, ethnic separatism, the creation of a new racial underclass, and a vague but insidious atmosphere of lawlessness and fear.
Critics of immigration have, of course, worried about these consequences since at least the 1980s. Hansons book is more interesting for his spirited attack on a pair of unlikely allies who bear special responsibility for our current immigration mess: the corporate and libertarian right, and the multiculturalist left. Corporate America, eager for the quick profits of cheap labor but indifferent to the long-term costs for the country, has imported a class of diligent and cheap workers. Somewhere around age forty, however, these once-strong immigrant bodies give out, no longer able to sustain the physical grind of menial labor, leaving behind an ever-growing class of uneducated poor who are dependent for their survival on state assistance or crime and are permanently excluded from the prosperous world of middle-class America, with only their bitterness to bequeath their children. (Given the tendency to dismiss as racist all criticisms of immigration from the right, it is worth emphasizing the considerable empathy with which Hanson describes the plight of these Mexican immigrants.)
Hanson is even more critical, however, of the race industry on the multicultural left. Their program of bilingualism and ethnic separatism, combined with an unshakeable faith in the deep racism of mainstream America, divides the state into warring ethnic groups and denies to immigrants the opportunity for the only kind of education”in history and civics, literature and mathematics”that could equip them for success in their new country. Noting persistent Mexican educational failure under the multiculturalist regime, Hanson pointedly writes, [I]t is now legitimate to question the very motives of some in the . . . movement: do they wish the best for the children of aliens who are poor, or continued spoils for themselves who are affluent? Indeed.
We should not imagine, though, that Hansons indictment applies only to agribusiness and multiculturalism. They may have most actively pursued the policies behind our current problems, but many more are complicit in the fiasco. Indeed, confronted by Hansons criticisms, we all stand in the dock”all of us ordinary Americans who have made the Devils bargain . . . to avoid cutting our own lawns, watching our own kids, picking our peaches, laying our tile, and cleaning our toilets. If we think that only others are to blame, we deceive ourselves.
If the decay runs this deep, what are we to do? Apart from maintaining the disastrous status quo, Hanson offers three alternatives. We could permit continued high levels of legal and illegal immigration, but embark on a serious new program of Americanization, replacing bilingualism and multiculturalism with an insistence on quick assimilation; we could forgo assimilation and make our peace with multiculturalism, but crack down on illegal immigration while also curtailing legal immigration; or”Hansons preferred approach”we could both restrict immigration and insist upon assimilation by those immigrants who do come.
Having surveyed these possibilities, Hanson ends on a note of guarded optimism: To recover our state, our region, and ultimately our nation, we still need not do
right. Yet his own arguments underline the difficulty of any of the three alternatives he proposes. This becomes clear from his discussion, in the books most interesting and provocative chapter, of American popular culture as an engine of assimilation. In spite of having abandoned traditional efforts to assimilate immigrants, we have been granted a reprieve from chaos, Hanson argues, only because American popular culture has proved extraordinarily powerful at incorporating people of all backgrounds into a single global culture that is accessible to all because it rests upon lowest-common-denominator appeals to basic human passions. Globalization can now unite any two people from the most disparate backgrounds in taste, appearance, and manner of daily life. This has serious costs, because it substitutes schlock for real culture, exchange[s] standards and taste for raw inclusiveness, and at best gives America a few years of respite before we must deal with the catastrophe that we are not educating millions, not teaching them a common and elevated culture, and not addressing the dilemma of open borders.
At the same time, this popular culture is relentlessly and radically democratic and egalitarian, creating a historically unprecedented situation in which age-old barriers of race, class, and sex are destroyed among a mass of people who wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, watch the same television shows, and buy the same consumer goods. Without these homogenizing effects, Hanson suggests, we could not have gotten away even this long with our unwillingness to promote a more substantial common culture in the face of mass immigration.
Unfortunately, these effects of the popular culture raise deep questions about the possibility of Hansons various alternatives for righting the ship. Any approach that merely seeks to cut immigration levels without addressing the issue of assimilation seems bound to fail, for it would leave the task of Americanization to the popular culture. But, as Hanson notes, such superficial immersion in American culture is no substitute for real civic education about American history, culture, and values. Sustaining a valuable culture does not happen automatically; it requires real work. As Hanson writes, Our elites do not understand just how rare consensual government is in the history of civilization. If we wish it to endure, we must actively seek to maintain it.
So the only real alternatives are those that include genuine attention to the task of preserving a common culture capable of sustaining self-government. Yet Hansons discussion of popular culture leaves one deeply pessimistic about the possibility of launching a new program of assimilation. For as familiarity with the historic American culture vanishes behind the high-decibel magnetism of popular entertainment and its ferocious dumbing-down to the level of easiest comprehension and acceptance, into what exactly do we propose to assimilate newcomers? And who, apart from Hanson and a few others, will know how to do the assimilating? Who will even want to?
Any proposal to give immigrants a real civic education about American history, culture, and values presupposes that significant numbers of Americans still know what those are. But Hansons discussion of the popular culture calls that assumption into question. Despite its optimistic close, Hansons entire book describes a country in serious moral decline”from the lawless illegal immigrants themselves, to the race hustlers who preserve their own power by creating an ethnic clientele of unassimilated dependents; from the agribusiness corporations, chasing quick profits without regard for long-term public consequences, to the ordinary American citizens who, out of laziness or selfishness, insist on cheap gardeners and nannies while leaving their grandchildren to deal with the social effects of illegal immigration. If the possible solutions that Hanson proposes seem, on the evidence of his own arguments, unlikely, that is in part, at least, because he offers no indication of how such decline can be reversed.
In light of this moral decline, it is useful to consider what resources religion has to offer in building support for a renewed defense of a common American culture. Whether Hanson himself would agree with the following observations, I do not know, since he does not discuss religion. Nevertheless, his account of our immigration dilemma suggests three main obstacles (the enumeration is mine, not his) to a reassertion of Americas cultural and political identity. A culture informed by a Christian sensibility can potentially help counter all three.
The first obstacle is cultural relativism, with its denial that some other cultures and nations have been not merely different, but often far worse at providing freedom and security for their people. Christian moral principles, by contrast, provide ethical standards for judging between governmental systems or ways of life that do better or worse jobs of permitting human beings to flourish. At the same time, because it emphasizes human fallibility and counsels humility, a Christian outlook guards against triumphalism. It permits us to affirm and defend what is good in our own tradition without insisting that all people everywhere adopt precisely the same tradition.
Hansons second obstacle to a renewed insistence on assimilation is the corrosive effect of the popular culture already described. By undermining standards of taste and discernment and appealing (through the drive for profit) to those basic human passions shared by the broadest possible audience, it gradually substitutes a culture that is cosmopolitan but low for one more distinctively American. A Christian ethics, by reasserting the importance of standards, can exercise a check on this downward slide and thus reopen a space for maintaining a richer culture, one that elevates us above our lowest instincts. In doing so, it can help us understand (in Burkes famous phrase) that art is mans nature”that we become more fully human precisely through the cultural traditions that distinguish us from other peoples, with their own distinctive traditions.
Finally, there is the question of whether we are willing to defend our own way of life. Even if we recognize its value, after all, it need not follow that we think ourselves justified in maintaining it, particularly when doing so requires”as it does in the immigration context”summoning the coercive power of the state (and a relatively privileged state, at that) against needy and vulnerable outsiders in search of a better life. The trend of much contemporary political thought”especially those versions of liberalism (they are not its only versions) that regard all political assertions of cultural norms as impositions”is that we are not so justified. The Christian moral tradition, to be sure, regards the use of force against such people as requiring justification. Yet it also reminds us that in addition to our universal obligations to all human beings as humans, we also have, as creatures of time and space, special obligations towards those people with whom we stand in special relationships”family, neighbors, countrymen. In so doing, it helps us see that the preservation of our common life can indeed be a justifiable political endeavor.
Insofar as Christianity remains a vital force in American society, then, it provides potential resources for defending Hansons proposed policies”and for justifying, at least sometimes, the defense of our common life. Whether that defense is justified in any particular case, of course, calls for careful political and ethical reflection. But if Victor Davis Hanson is right, we had better not reflect too long.
Peter C. Meilaender
, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Houghton College in New York State, is the author of Toward a Theory of Immigration (Palgrave).
]]>The West and the Rest:Globalization and the Terrorist Threathttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2003/03/the-west-and-the-restglobalization-and-the-terrorist-threat
Sat, 01 Mar 2003 00:00:00 -0500 In the terrorist age we have now entered, the nations of the West are confronted, for the first time in the modern era, with a serious threat from outside the West itself. Yet how can we defend Western Civilization without first understanding what it is?
The West and the Rest
, the latest offering from Roger Scruton, the conservative British philosopher, seeks to help us understand ourselves, that we may better defend ourselves.
In this thin but penetrating volume, Scruton claims that the defining achievement of the West has been to resolve the contest between religion and politics by conceiving of the state as an independent source of human authority, deriving its legitimacy not from divine commands, but from the will of the citizens whom it represents. This disentanglement of politics from religion was made possible by Christianity. Ideas such as Augustines theory of the two cities and the medieval doctrine of the two swords produced a Western conception of the state as an independent, secular jurisdiction. This conception, Scruton argues, is the necessary prerequisite of politics understood as a distinct human activity, rather than as simply the perpetuation of some other sort of activity (worship, for instance, or warfare) in another guise. The great advantage of such a view is to lay the groundwork for earthly peace. Even those who do not agree about the ultimate source of religious authority can mutually submit to the merely temporal jurisdiction of the earthly state.
If it is to allow diverse citizens to hammer out a common way of life, this state cannot rest upon traditional bases of loyalty such as kinship or creed. Because humans are communal beings, however, it must be grounded in some alternative form of membership. The territorial nation”larger than the kinship group, smaller than the universal church”provides this new experience of belonging and so lays a new foundation for political loyalty, directed now towards a community of neighbors sharing language, customs, territory, and a common interest in defense. This community is represented by its own state, which bears a legal and corporate personality and acts as its agent, representing its permanent will across time. Thus the Christian distinction between the two kingdoms, having generated the need for an independent jurisdictional sphere in which to house secular political authority, culminates finally in the modern nation“state”the only context within which we have successfully and over an extended period of time maintained a stable political order that is representative, peaceful, and free.
This achievement of establishing the independent sphere of politics, Scruton argues, is what distinguishes the West from the rest, and particularly from the Islamic world. Unlike Christianity, which distinguishes the things of Caesar from those of God, Islam recognizes neither the state as an independent object of loyalty nor secular . . . jurisdiction as a genuine source of law; on the contrary, it conceives of the universal divine law as a fully comprehensive system of commands. It is thus unable to sustain politics as a distinct form of activity, resulting, as Scruton puts it, in the confiscation of the political. This refusal to recognize any source of political authority independent of the divine command tends either to undermine the state altogether (whenever it is charged with having departed from an ideal of religious purity) or to usher in totalitarianism (since a state charged with implementing divine decrees must inevitably be concerned with our spiritual perfection).
Because this radically different conception of the political”or better, to use Scrutons terms, the absence of any real such conception”views political activity as merely an elaboration of the one, all“encompassing divine law, it necessarily regards territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty as compromises with no intrinsic legitimacy of their own. It is hostile, in other words, to the crowning achievement of the West, the nation“state. What is more, these external foes of the nation“state find allies within the contemporary West. Beset from without by those who deny the legitimacy of merely man“made law, the nation“state is also under attack from within by proponents of globalization and transnational government who view it as an archaic remnant of a less enlightened past. They are joined by the carping adherents of what Scruton calls the culture of repudiation, who assail the nation“state as a key element in the grim history of Western oppression. This account of the decline of national citizenship within the West amplifies Scrutons broader comparison of the West and the rest, and together these facets of his argument raise a call to arms in defense of the traditional nation“state.
I will leave to others the question whether Scrutons analysis of the character of the rest, in particular of the Islamic world, is adequate, but his analysis of the West is noteworthy in several ways. His insistence that loyalty, a neglected topic, ought to be a central concern of political philosophy is an important contribution to standard discussions of liberal democracy and offers a far more insightful path than most such discussions into the relationship between the individual, the community, and the state. Furthermore, though Scruton is hardly alone in recognizing the plight of the nation“state and of national sovereignty as defining questions of the contemporary world order, his strong defense of those institutions is welcome, for in intellectual debate they often have few friends.
In an important respect, however, his discussion is curiously unsatisfying. Scrutons argument hinges on the development, in the West, of a conception of political jurisdiction whose legitimacy is independent of religion, a development that he typically describes in terms of secular law or the separation of church and state. These are familiar enough phrases, and few of Scrutons Western readers, Christian or otherwise, are likely to disagree that some such thing as secular law or the separation of church and state ought to exist. But the devil is in the details, and one wants to know precisely what Scruton means by such phrases. About this, however, he is disappointingly vague. At times, his description of the accommodation reached in the West between religion and politics sounds not merely as though Christianity has been prepared to recognize the legitimate sphere of the state, but as though it has been willing to subordinate itself to secular concerns. Thus he can refer, in a passage summarizing important parts of his argument, to the absolute sovereignty granted territorial jurisdiction”not the words I would have chosen to express the Christian conception.
The difficulty in ascertaining Scrutons precise meaning in this respect is pervasive. Consider: he tells us that Western political culture makes religion a concern of family and society, but not of the state and that those who see all law, all social identity, and all loyalty as issuing from a religious source cannot really form part of this political culture. In the very next sentences, however, he assures us that this does not require the fanatical expulsion of faith from public institutions; indeed, it is compatible with”of all things”prayer in public schools. Two pages later, he affirms that the precepts of Christianity set limits to what the sovereign can command. This affirmation, however, follows an explicit reduction of those precepts to only the two overarching ones laid down by Christ, to love God entirely and to love your neighbor as yourself (he notes elsewhere that doctrine is the least important part of religion). Just what should the reader make of this?
Scruton has not, I think, said anything with which a Christian must disagree. But his meaning is not sufficiently clear for the Christian to assent unreservedly. His ambiguous language might reflect either of two positions. It might be part of a strategy to tame or domesticate Christianity by reining in the demands it makes on the faithful and scaling back its claim to sovereignty over all of the believers life. Such a strategy would be familiar enough from the historical development of liberalism, in which thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, and others concerned themselves greatly (and not without success) with reducing Christianity to a form they thought compatible with public order. Presumably, however, most Christians would resist such a strategy, and, in the face of a potentially watered“down faith, might even find themselves sympathizing with Muslim fears about the effects of Western secularism on religious belief.
Alternatively, Scrutons imprecise formulations might reflect a sophisticated set of distinctions among the private, the public, and the political. Such distinctions, if adequately formulated, could describe a political order that, while not deriving its own legitimacy directly from religion, nevertheless concerns itself with and sustains a public space in which religion flourishes as more than a merely private activity. This position would be considerably more attractive. If this is what Scruton has in mind, however, he has not fully laid it out in this book, opting too often instead for the by now tired language of separation of church and state.
This is not only frustrating, it is unfortunate, particularly coming from such an insightful thinker and in such a valuable book. For in our day, talk of the separation of church and state functions primarily as an excuse for careless theorizing”something Scruton normally scrupulously avoids. It provides us with an easy way out, a way of avoiding the more challenging task of constructing a richer, more nuanced set of distinctions. For what Christian thought has really done has not been to separate church and state, but rather to distinguish them”or, more precisely, to distinguish between the City of God and the City of Man, which is not exactly the same thing. Speaking of the separation of church and state encourages the mistaken assumption that the state can sustain itself, chugging along indefinitely under its own power, without needing to maintain, or even recognize, the foundations upon which it rests.
Scrutons own argument warns against such shortsightedness. His excellent discussion of the territorial loyalty without which the modern nation“state is unthinkable shows, as he emphasizes, that we neglect such pre“political loyalties at our peril. Similarly, if Scruton is right”as I think he is”that the vision of politics as a distinct, limited form of human activity owes its existence to conceptual possibilities opened up by Christianity, then the continued vitality of Christianity cannot be a matter of political indifference. That is not to say that the state itself must again become openly religious. It is to say, though, that the categories in which these distinctions are discussed”private and public, individual and social, cultural and political”require more thorough elaboration.
All who agree with Scruton that the achievements of representative government and the modern nation“state are not to be lightly abandoned will want to join him in that task of elaboration. But our labors will be in vain if we can distinguish Christianity from Islam only in a tepid or marginalized form. For such a faith will not only fail to sustain the institutions we cherish; it will also appear to confirm that the West is indeed as soulless as its enemies claim.
Peter C. Meilaender
is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Houghton College in Houghton, New York.
]]>Christians as Patriotshttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2003/02/christians-as-patriots
Sat, 01 Feb 2003 00:00:00 -0500 Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, patriotism, for the first time in a long time, became fashionable in America once again. This should prompt reflection among Christians, for the world has always doubted whether Christians”who, after all, like to sing such hymns as “I’m but a stranger here, heav’n is my home””can really share the love of country felt by other citizens. Even as reliable a commentator as Walter Berns, in his recent book
, attributes something of this doubt to the American Founders themselves, who, though not hostile to religion, deliberately set up a system in which “we are first of all citizens, and only secondarily Christians, Jews, Muslims, or of any other religious persuasion.” If many Christians, Jews, and Muslims are likely to disagree with Berns on this point, that only serves to emphasize the dilemma. Nor is the dilemma merely theoretical, for it is a hard fact of political life that the state needs citizens who feel at least some love for their country. Periods of crisis like the present remind us, often tragically, that our security and freedom ultimately rest upon the willingness of citizens to fight and possibly to die for their country should the need arise. It is therefore of some importance to consider why we, as citizens, might come to feel the love of country that the state so urgently requires.
For if it is clear that the state requires it, it is less obvious that we can be expected to feel it. Indeed, the problem of how to inspire love of country has been one of the enduring questions of political thought. Plato emphasized this difficulty in the
, where Socrates proposes that the only way to ensure the loyalty of citizens is to tell them what he calls a “noble lie”: that they have all been born from the earth and are thus, in a literal sense, blood relatives not only of each other, but also of the very land they inhabit. The city can rest secure in the love of its members, Socrates suggests, only by pretending that it is as natural as the family, that fellow citizens are as intimately related as brothers and sisters, and that the land itself is their common mother.
This difficulty is even more pronounced in the theory of liberalism that forms the basis for our own political system. Plato, after all, described a Greek city“state that actively sought to mold virtuous citizens and to sustain the good life for human beings. Such a city, aiming to provide goods nobler than mere self“preservation, could plausibly ask citizens to die on its behalf. But liberalism abandons such grand political pretensions and settles for a state that merely protects the individual rights of fundamentally self“interested people. This is evident in the standard liberal model of the social contract. On this model, government arises from the voluntary agreement of individuals to submit to a common authority. They are willing to do so because government helps protect the things about which they care most”their lives, their liberty, their property. But if I think of political society in these terms, as simply a useful means for protecting my private, personal interests, what could possibly motivate me to fight, and perhaps die, for my country? Why would I stand fast on the front lines in the face of enemy fire? It is hard to know why a person whose driving motivation is the desire to preserve his life, liberty, and property would ever want to make a deal that might require his death. After all, if you join the state only to preserve your life, then a state that asks you to die for it is a pretty bad bargain.
Love of country has proved a special problem not only for liberals, but also for Christians. Roman Catholics in particular have frequently been viewed as unreliable and potentially subversive subjects because of their loyalty to Rome. Such suspicion of Catholics has continued even as a quite recent phenomenon. Many will remember, for example, John F. Kennedy’s famous speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960, promising that if elected he would not take orders from the Vatican. Much earlier, the philosopher Jean“Jacques Rousseau, anxious that citizens should be united and share a single will, criticized Catholicism for giving them “two legislative orders, two rulers, two homelands, and put[ting] them under two contradictory obligations.” Even Locke, arguing for religious toleration, conceded that not every group could be tolerated: “That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the Magistrate, which is constituted upon such a bottom that all those who enter into it do thereby, ipso facto, deliver themselves up to the Protection and Service of another Prince””an exception aimed, presumably, at Catholics loyal to the Pope.
But the blunt, and to modern ears questionable, charge of allegiance to a foreign prince has not been the deepest source of skepticism about Christians’ political loyalty. When Rousseau makes his jab at Catholicism, he is only noting a particularly egregious example of what he regards as a more general problem: that traditional Christian belief has
given people “two homelands.” For Christianity directs our hearts and minds toward the promised land beyond the grave and commands us to strive for the rewards of eternal rather than temporal life. In Rousseau’s words, “The Christian’s homeland is not of this world.” Nor is it only the enemies of the faith, like Rousseau, who attest to this difficulty. St. Augustine famously declared that Christians’ primary loyalty is not to the cities of this life, but rather to the City of God, which, in his words, “calls out citizens from all nations and so collects a society of aliens””aliens, that is, in our own sense of those who are not citizens and whose loyalties are therefore likely to be divided. Similarly, in one of his favorite metaphors, Augustine describes the City of God as passing through this world “like a pilgrim in a foreign land” and our life on earth as “the time of our pilgrimage, in exile from the Lord.”
Fostering love of country, then, has always been recognized as a problem, and it has posed special difficulties, in different ways, for liberals and Christians. Since most of those reading this are likely to be Christian liberals of one stripe or another, this is a matter worthy of further consideration. Must the state simply accept that we cannot, in the end, be counted upon? Assuming that we cannot really pull off a version of Plato’s noble lie, even if we wanted to, should citizens simply conclude that the best thing to do in a pinch is cut and run? Or is there some way that we”even we Christian citizens of a liberal state”can justify loving our country in the way it seems to require?
There are, I think, two basic reasons why people are likely to love their country. The distinction between the two is suggested nicely by the words of a love song from the old Rodgers and Hammerstein musical
. The song asks the question, “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?” Anyone who has been in love will immediately recognize the difficulty of answering that question. We might love someone because of certain good qualities that person possesses”beauty, for example, or virtue. We might, however, attribute those good qualities to our beloved precisely because we are already, for some other reason, in love. Anyone who has ever wondered about a smitten friend, “What could she possibly see in him?,” will recognize the problem. For the truth is that love, though not, as some claim, blind, does see with eyes of its own.
So also with love of country. We might think our country just, or noble, or a shining city upon a hill, and love it on account of its good qualities. On the other hand, we might be more inclined to attribute justice or nobility to our country, precisely because we already love it for some other reason. But why would we love it, if not for its good qualities?
The answer, I think, is not hard to find. Most of us, I suspect, love our country for the very simple reason that it happens to be our home. The love of home is surely among the most common and universal human feelings. So many memories are bound up with one’s native land; so many friends and neighbors inhabit its familiar places; well“known and fondly remembered sights and sounds, even the very smells, can arouse deep inner longings and stir our hearts.
Recently I had occasion for the first time in several years to drive through the part of northeastern Ohio, near Cleveland, where I grew up. As we drove through the city and I caught glimpses of old familiar sights, I could feel the excitement growing within me, and it was with great pleasure that I pointed out to my four“year“old son the Terminal Tower, the best“known landmark in Cleveland’s skyline. In a certain sense”as my wife insisted on pointing out”this was mildly ludicrous, because the small town where I grew up is actually about thirty miles west of Cleveland, and I probably wasn’t in the city itself more than a few times a year, usually for an Indians game. But that only serves to illustrate my point: even though Cleveland itself had not been my home, it was close enough and bound up with enough memories, like going to ballgames with my father, that just driving through the city and seeing its skyline could warm my heart. The familiar sights of home can do that. And this emotion goes far toward explaining why most people love their native land. Most of us, most of the time, probably love our country less because it is good than simply because it is ours.
Is either of these two possible motives for loving our country”that it is good, or that it is ours”preferable, or even defensible? Given this choice, we are likely, I think, to be drawn toward the first option: loving our country because it is good. The second”loving it merely because it happens to be ours”seems almost irrational, less a reason than an emotion, little more, indeed, than a prejudice. A common prejudice, no doubt, but a prejudice hardly becomes more justifiable simply by being widely shared. The first motivation, by contrast, appears to be not only a reason, but a good reason, perhaps even the best one imaginable. Presumably our country is worthy of our love precisely to the extent that it is good”to the extent that it is just, free, humane, generous. And how could we continue to love a country that we knew lacked these qualities? Surely we would not recommend loyalty to a state we considered unjust. Christians, especially, may be drawn to this point of view. We are commanded to love one another and to serve our neighbors, and we have been granted some insight into what a truly just city would be like. Should we not love the actual earthly countries in which we live when they strive to pattern themselves on the model of that Heavenly City and reject them when they do not?
But loyalty based upon a country’s goodness or justice is potentially a very dangerous thing. Indeed, Christians are particularly well“positioned to see this, for they understand that our earthly polities are, in truth, never fully just. As Augustine pointed out long ago, “true justice is found only in that commonwealth whose founder and ruler is Christ””the City of God, and not in any of our earthly cities. Those who consider their country worthy of their love only if it is good are doomed to perpetual disappointment.
Disappointment, however, is not the worst effect of such dashed hopes. The frustration of those who, dissatisfied with the shortcomings of political life, wish to make it measure up to some ideal standard of justice, religious or secular, can be a lethal phenomenon. Edmund Burke saw the results of this frustration already in the French Revolution, but we have numerous more recent examples of those who, unwilling to love a country stained by imperfection, chose, regardless of the cost, to substitute some preferred vision of their own for the country they actually inhabited. Their names provide a roll call of the twentieth century’s greatest atrocities: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. That century was littered with the corpses of those who paid the price for these tyrants’ unwillingness to love their country unless it became, in their own eyes, beautiful. As Burke put it, by hating vices too much, they came to love men too little.
Is not the second alternative, however”loving my country merely because it is my own”equally bad? This appears to be nothing more than a form of narrow parochialism, an attitude nicely captured in a play by John Galsworthy entitled
. The tragedy of this play is generated by problems of social class and ethnic prejudice, and Galsworthy emphasizes the destructiveness of such loyalty to one’s own. In a striking passage at the center of the drama, one of the characters notes that such loyalties are indistinguishable from mere prejudice and can only create unresolvable conflicts: “Prejudices, Adela”or are they loyalties”I don’t know”criss“cross”we all cut each other’s throats from the best of motives.” If loyalty to one’s own country is only a prejudice of this sort, it is likely to produce a “my country, right or wrong” attitude. And such an attitude seems most conducive to a kind of self“serving nationalism that places one’s own country above all others. It may be true that the twentieth century witnessed much ideological fanaticism, but surely it also taught us the dangers of proud, self“interested jingoism and nationalist fervor. Perhaps frustrated love“of“the“good produces destructive revolution, but chauvinistic love“of“our“own easily leads to ethnic conflict and outright war among peoples. That is little more than a choice between devils. If these are our options, it might be best to give up on love of country altogether and see whether we can muddle through without it.
From a purely secular perspective, it may well be difficult to prevent the simple love of one’s own from descending into dangerous nationalism. From a Christian perspective, however, there is actually a very good reason for this love of one’s own. We can begin to understand what this reason might be by thinking for a moment not about love of country, but rather about a different kind of love, that of parents for their children. Children and countries share an important characteristic: we do not normally choose them. Rather, they are simply presented to us, and we take what we get. Parents love their children even when they are not beautiful; and they love them even when they are not good. Indeed, a parent who made his love conditional upon a child’s maintaining some particular standard of virtuous behavior would be rightly regarded as something of a monster. Naturally, parents hope their children will become good, and they normally spend considerable time and effort trying to bring about this desirable result. But the child’s goodness is not the
for his parents’ love; they do not love him
he is good. Parents love their children, rather, simply because they are their children.
This, I think, makes perfectly good sense from a Christian perspective. Christians are called to love as God loves us, which ultimately means to love every human being as a unique individual, in the fullest sense of that overused term. For most people, the family is the arena in which we are most profoundly challenged to attain this goal, because it is in the family that we most regularly, directly, and intensely encounter other people in the full uniqueness of their personality, with all of their foibles and idiosyncracies, all the hidden nooks and crannies of the soul that are never fully revealed but of which family members, for better and for worse, catch privileged glimpses. This little world of rich human interaction is the first and fundamental, though not the only, context in which we are called to learn what it really means to love another human being, however different he may be from us. And in this task the exquisite arbitrariness of the gift of children is a tremendous advantage. For it means that we cannot go easy on ourselves by picking those whom we are predisposed to like, or with whom we share important interests, or who are likely to become rich and famous; we must simply take whoever comes. The Christian, however, will not find this unreasonable, for the particular children whom we receive are, of course, not really arbitrary at all. We did not select them, it is true, but they were nevertheless chosen, and chosen for a purpose, by one whose wisdom is greater than ours; and we trust that He knows what He is doing. And so parents love their children, not because they are good, but because they are the ones whom God has given.
With this model of parental love before us, we are in a better position to understand the significance of loving that which is our own. That significance arises from what we might call the meaningfulness of our context in a particular place and time. I have suggested that we accept our unchosen children as a gift whereby God seeks to teach us the meaning of love by calling us to the task of loving these particular individuals. But those children are only one part of the broader context into which God has placed us, and that context”in which we learn the concrete meaning of love by learning to love concrete, particular persons”is, like the children, largely independent of our choosing. We can affect parts of it, of course, but in large measure it is simply given. We do not choose the town where we are born or raised; we choose neither our children nor our parents; many people in the world, of course, do not even choose their spouse, who is chosen for them; indeed, we do not even choose our friends exactly, since, though we select them to an extent, we do so from among those who merely happen to be around us. And, of course, we do not choose our country. The broad context of our lives is largely not of our choosing. Yet it does not seem troubling for people to love their hometown, their children and parents, their husband or wife, their friends. Why should their country be any different?
This may seem like a peculiar conclusion. Why should we feel any love for the arbitrary results of fate? In a certain sense it is true that what I have been calling our context is simply a matter of chance. From a Christian perspective, however, that is only a partial truth. For from that perspective, our context”the place in which we find ourselves, the people by whom we are surrounded”is charged with moral meaning, because God has placed us there. It is
context, the one that He has given us, and if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, then we are called to appreciate the goodness of His gifts. Like parents called to love the children they have not chosen, we are all called to love those around us, for whom God has made us at least partially responsible. He has given us, so to speak, a charge, and if we refuse our stations, it suggests that we think Him mistaken to have placed us here. In its own way, an unwillingness to occupy those stations reflects that desire to be the Author of the play, and not a mere character in it, that under other circumstances we would not hesitate to call the sin of pride. Accepting with love and gratitude our context, the place and people whom God has given us, is one way of recognizing that we are creatures who, unlike our Creator, must live in a particular place at a particular time.
But doesn’t this noble rhetoric still conceal a danger, one suggested, in fact, by the Rodgers and Hammerstein verse alluded to earlier? “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?” If we love our country, not because of any goodness or beauty it may possess, but simply because it is our own, do we not become prone, like the lover in the song, to attribute to it a beauty or a goodness it does not possess? Are we not likely to make of it a false god? This is indeed a danger, one against which we must remain continually vigilant. But it is much more of a danger, I think, for the secular nationalist than for one operating from the Christian perspective I have sought to describe here. For nothing in my argument requires making any special claim of superiority on our own behalf; quite the contrary, it relies heavily upon the assumption that no country can claim to be truly just or good. To love our country in the way I have described we need not imagine that it is ultimately better or more virtuous than any other. The differences we observe in other countries need give rise to no hostility, nor need we seek to assert ourselves at others’ expense. As C. S. Lewis has written,