Tribalism Comes Naturally

Damon Linker explains why Marx and Plato were wrong:

Politics in all times and places involves a bounded community defining itself, and its citizens ruling themselves, in contradistinction to other bounded communities. The community can be a village, tribe, or city-state; a nation-state; or an empire. Certain forms of government are better suited to certain sizes than others. (A small community can work as a pure democracy, for example, but a vast empire never could.) But regardless of the community’s size, it always has limits (a border), and it always draws a distinction between those who are permitted to join the community and those who are not; between who is and who is not a citizen; and between who does and who does not get to enjoy the privileges that come with citizenship, including a say in making such determinations in the future. This may in fact be the most elemental political act of all, the basis of everything else the political community does. To declare that this act is prima facie illegitimate is to declare a foundational political act to be illegitimate. It is to treat politics itself as in some sense morally compromised. . . .

But then again, neither is it possible to justify in universal-rational terms the right to private property or, really, any form of inherited (unearned) wealth or privilege. The more you think about it, politics (very much including liberal politics) is an activity shot through with norms, practices, and beliefs that can be rather easily exposed as “fictions” once subjected to universal-rational scrutiny.

That’s why philosophers as otherwise so profoundly different as Plato and Karl Marx have concluded that the rule of reason and justice demands communism (the abolition of private property). Indeed, Plato went even further than Marx, to suggest that in a perfectly rational and just political system, property communism would need to be combined with communism of families, with children taken from their parents at birth and raised by the community as a whole. After all, isn’t deference to a mother’s love for her own child based on the fiction that she is always automatically best suited by nature to raise him or her?

The most that might be said for our neoliberal almost-open-border advocates is that they think Plato should have gone even farther in subjecting politics to universal-rational scrutiny and advocated a completely communist state that is also boundless in extent, encompassing all people everywhere, without distinction.

In other words, Plato should have advocated the universal, homogenous state — which is precisely what many on the center-left seem to not-so-secretly believe morality demands.

That such a state is neither possible nor desirable (recall what I said about the largest political communities and their incompatibility with democracy) should be obvious. But then what do our universalist liberals hope to accomplish, not by raising perfectly reasonable objections to specific immigration restrictions, but by denying the legitimacy of having any immigration restrictions at all? There are many, many intellectually coherent answers to the two key questions of immigration policy (Who can come here? And how many of them?) — but many on the left seem to think there is only one legitimate answer to each question (Everyone. And all of them). This is ludicrous.

Linker could have added evangelicals and Roman Catholics who think that the parable of the Good Samaritan should inform how American Christians respond to outsiders:

So, as governments oversee matters of security, we will care for the hurting, calling Christians to embrace refugees through their denomination, congregation, or other nonprofits by providing for immediate and long-term needs, such as housing, food, clothing, employment, English-language classes, and schooling for children.

We distinguish that the refugees fleeing this violence are not our enemies; they are victims. We call for Christians to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting. This is what Jesus did; he came to the hurting and brought peace to those in despair.

Critical moments like these are opportunities for us to be like Jesus, showing and sharing his love to the hurting and the vulnerable in the midst of this global crisis. Thus we declare that we care, we are responding because our allegiance is to Jesus, and we seek to be more like him, emulating his compassionate care for the most vulnerable.

Granted, aid to refugees is not immigration policy. Nor is Emma Lazarus‘ poem.

But borders matter and Christians who want to assist those who have fled their homelands do so not as residents of planet earth but as citizens whose nations make laws that govern who comes and goes. Just try traveling somewhere outside the U.S. to minister the gospel or provide diaconal assistance without a passport.

7 thoughts on “Tribalism Comes Naturally

  1. Christians who want to assist those who have fled their homelands do so not as citizens of heaven or of the kingdom that comes from heaven. Nor may citizens of Great Britain who would rather not be citizens of Great Britain create another nation on earth which would presume to come or go from the nation of Great Britain. It is the nation of Great Britain which makes the laws that govern Christians when it comes to things below like private property. There is no place outside the earth which can tell those in Great Britain what to do with what they own in their own colonies.

    Some tribes say you need at least one parent making a confession of loyalty to the tribe to be in the tribe yourself. Other tribes teach that you are born in the tribe if your grandparents were born in the tribe.

    Philippians 3: 19 they are focused on earthly things, 20 but our citizenship is FROM heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Luke 4:5 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow

    John 4: Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph ….20.Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem .21 Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem

    Matthew 3: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” … John said to them, ” produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees!

    Matthew 11: 7 Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? Look, those who wear soft clothes are in kings’ palaces.

    Chaplains of the current borders teach us that it was all a big misunderstanding. These chaplains explain to us that some people think that the kingdom of Christ is political but that it’s really not.. Many in the status quo old school wear soft clothes and live in king’s palaces.

    But Pilate killed Jesus . Pilate could see that Christ’s denial that his kingship was from this world was not a denial that Christ’s kingdom is coming in this world. Jesus did not deny that he was king. Jesus did not equate submission to Roman or British occupation with agreement that the nations that God has predestined have a right to execute God’s wrath according to their own laws and sovereignty.

    I Corinthians 10: 24 No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person…..For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience? If I eat and use with thanks, why am I slandered because of something I give thanks for? 31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory….I try to please all people in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, in order that they be saved.


  2. We should note that tribalism has multiple definitions. Two definitions of the term from the Cambridge dictionary are:

    1. the state of existing as a tribe, or a very strong feeling of loyalty to your tribe

    2. a very strong feeling of loyalty to a political or social group, so that you support them whatever they do

    Note the same word is used to define 2 different phenomena. Also, a continuum can exist between the two definitions. They are just a description of 2 ways people relate to groups. Also, note that the Merriam-Webster dictionary has two similar definitions.

    It is natural for people to belong to groups and it is natural for people to exhibit such a feeling of loyalty one supports the group regardless of what they do. But what is natural isn’t necessarily what is morally right nor does it define what God requires of us. Why? Because we live in a fallen world. And if everything that is natural to us is right, then look at the list of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5 and see what we are entitled to do, not forbidden to do. In addition, if what is natural is always right and desirable, then those who naturally had a sexual orientation toward those of the same sex are only doing what their nature tells them to do.

    There are interesting components to the parable of the Good Samaritan. First, what the good Samaritan did in the parable was described as fulfilling the 2nd table of the law. Second, Jesus asks which person was the neighbor to the man who was beaten. The answer was neither the priest nor the Levite; the answer was the despised good Samarian. He was despised because he was seen as not belonging to God’s people. And yet, what he does is described as the epitome of what it means to love one’s neighbor. Third, the good Samaritan is helping a person he happens to come upon. And last, Jesus commands the person he is telling the parable to to do what the good Samaritan did in the parable.

    Considering that the start of the refugee crisis is the invasion of Iraq. We may not have realized it at the time because Iraq’s neighbors, including Syria, handled most of those refugees. And we need to ask whether that situation is just a modern day version of the Good Samaritan parable. That many religiously conservative Christians demand that the US refuse to help many refugees while nations like non-Christian nations like Syria and Jordan are very welcoming to refugees.

    Finally as US foreign policies seek to perform regime change on various nations in the Middle East and Africa, the resulting chaos and violence does produce more and more refugees. And many refugees are coming from those same nations. If borders matter is a justification for refusing refugees whose state is caused by the actions of one’s own democratically elected government, then borders matter regarding regime change and the same people demanding that refugees’ entrance into our nation either be prohibited or strictly limited should also be demanding, and more strongly so, that our nation stops participating in regime change.

    As for borders, we need to realize what exists outside of our borders. What exists include those who are made in the image of God, some of whom Christ died for. So which has the greatest call on our lives, that those outside our borders are made in the image of God and that some of them are those for whom Christ died or our tribe? If the answer is the former, then is Marx a partial picture of the good Samaritan from the parable?


  3. “Is the Pope Catholic” used to be a joke, and people used to be grieved that “ain’t” was included in a dictionary.The dictionaries now contain a load of politically-charged secondary definitions. Quoting them, like quoting the pope, unfortunately no longer carries the zing it did in former days.

    “As for borders, we need to realize what exists outside of our borders. … which has the greatest call on our lives, that those outside our borders are made in the image of God and that some of them are those for whom Christ died. or our tribe?”
    Good grief. Both matter in different spheres, or we’d bust the federal bank feeding the world.

    “the same people demanding that refugees’ entrance into our nation either be prohibited or strictly limited”
    Again, good grief. Is this a presidential debate? How about the people *advocating* that immigration should be *decreased* or more carefully *administered* ? Not everyone who thinks less is more is a monster chase down children and jail parents, despite the rhetoric usually marshaled by liberal advocates. Liberals have ‘nicer’ policies. Conservatives give away more of their money. Dreaming big is consequence free. Spending big not so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “The start of the refugee crisis is the invasion of Iraq.”
    The concern is not about any one “crisis,” but a long-term ongoing policy that is no longer fiscally sustainable. The State of California can’t educate immigrant children, give them health care and free breakfasts, or fix their climate if it is bankrupt. And while the Bible is full of admonitions to help people, it seems to normally take problematic government policies in stride rather foreshadow the glorious advent of democracy.


  5. Shadi Hamid explains why liberalism does not come naturally:

    Having and seeking a communal or, in this case, national identity is something that comes rather innately to people, even if they can’t necessarily articulate that need clearly. It’s just a question of what form that sense of community and belonging takes, and just how exclusionary it ends up being. But any communal identity is almost by definition bound to be somewhat exclusionary, and this is not something to which liberals are immune.

    American liberals, in the political rather than classical sense of the word, may emphasize choice and autonomy (just as American conservatives do), but their conception of choice has its limits, leading to a paradox that can’t easily be resolved. They find themselves able to empathize with a woman wearing a burqini, but less so with those who are uncomfortable with a woman wearing a burqini.


  6. D.G.,
    You will have to check with our church’s confessions to see if it applies to giraffes. I’m pretty sure that it applys to us, at least that is what the Scriptures teach.


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