Aren’t We Glad to Have Subdued the South So the U.S. Can Avoid This?

Crawford Gribben, who does a pretty good impersonation of a political commentator even though he knows far more about Puritanism than most Protestant academics, explains the dilemmas that union — both British and European — pose to European English speakers:

So, while no one knows what will happen next, here is one possible scenario. The High Court decision will be upheld, and Parliament will have the final say on Brexit. But this reversion to representative democracy will make no real difference to the process: Labour MPs, recognizing that seven in ten of their constituencies voted in support of the government’s action, will be unable to mount any effective resistance. The British government will then invoke Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the European Union before the Scottish government can table a second independence referendum or make sufficient advances in negotiations with EU member states and institutions to have them recognize its legal capacity to “inherit” UK membership. Against the wishes of its devolved government, Scotland is pulled out of the European Union along with the rest of the UK. Its independence referendum comes as too little, too late. . . .

The federal solution could prove successful. Towards the end of her second government, and with a constitutional dexterity that has not been characteristic of many 20th-century Westminster governments, Theresa May could propose a federal relationship between England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, facilitate the return of the Scots, who would retain a nominal independence, and cement a special relationship with the Republic. With the Irish and Scottish land borders becoming effectively meaningless, there could re-emerge a polity that embraces the geography of the old United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland without its problematic centralization. Or, in a more likely scenario, economic realities will prevail. English elections continue to signal a rightward drift, and the economy continues its gradual improvement. Welsh voters don’t like it, but combine their sentimental nationalism with a hard-headed recognition of the uncertain prospects of small nations in a sometimes unfriendly European Union, and prefer the devil they know. The pragmatism is familiar: After all, the Brexit results in both countries cut across party political lines. In Northern Ireland, an ambiguous settlement continues to link the province to England and Wales for as long as Stormont politicians can turn crises into dividends, even as north-south economic and cultural connections make the border increasingly irrelevant.

If only the United States were so constitutionally dexterous. But thanks to two world wars fighting on the United Kingdom’s side (not to mention a certain imbroglio with a Republican as commander-in chief), Americans remain stuck perpetually seeking a more perfect union.

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Another Problem with W-w

At a time when Europeans and their former colonial outposts are reflecting on the nation state, political union, and the shelf-life of post-World War II peace-keeping institutions, the celebration of U.S. independence was another chance to ponder the merits of political autonomy and state sovereignty. But notice the way that some Christians decided to frame the matter:

Those of us who identify as Christians should never fear admitting the truth, even when it means letting go of the myth of a “Christian America.” And those of us who identify as both Christian and social conservative should not fear that admitting this particular truth means abandoning what we believe the “We hold these truths” line to mean. Unlike with the Constitution, the “original intent” of the authors shouldn’t necessarily be our guide. If it really is a truth—and a “self-evident” one—it is only because it was revealed to us by Jesus Christ.

In an age when even many Christians are hostile to religiously informed public philosophy, it’s understandable that social conservatives would turn to the past for examples and look to the founding documents for affirmation. But such an effort is likely to be as unproductive as it is unpersuasive.

If Christians wish to build a polis informed by Christian convictions, if we want the truths we hold to be seen once again as “literally true,” we must look to the future, thick with possibility, rather than to the thin material left over from the religious sentiments of our Founding Fathers.

Really? The best Christians can do is ask once again what kind of believers the founders were or whether the Declaration’s self-evident truths are compatible with special revelation?

Compare this to Noah Millman’s thought experiment. Imagine if the Declaration left out self-evident truths:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. . . .

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Which leads Millman to make this point:

One people is oppressed by another, suffering a long chain of abuses. Eventually, the abuses can no longer be tolerated. They constitute a tyranny, and they oblige the oppressed people to throw off the tyrant’s yoke.

That’s not a new story – nor is it a story that requires a new political theory to justify rebellion. The Dutch Revolt required no such theory. Neither did Tyrone’s Rebellion. Why, then, did America’s founders find it necessary to introduce such a theory into the document justifying our own rebellion against the crown?

It’s hard to believe that this philosophical language was introduced to win the support of the France’s absolute monarchy. The philosophes might have applauded, but Louis XVI would surely have preferred to back a rebellion that cast no particular doubt on the legitimacy of hereditary monarchy to one that did. It is even harder to believe that the language was intended to justify a revolution in the domestic arrangements of the colonies. The Declaration was a document intended to be something that the colonies – from slaveholding South Carolina to loyally-inclined Pennsylvania – could assent to unanimously. An alarmingly revolutionary doctrine would surely be the last thing the Congress would have wished to include.

Was it revolutionary, though, to American ears? Quite likely not. In fact, the most stirring portion of the Declaration, the words that have had profound implications for American and world history, may have been so much boilerplate. Americans from Virginia to Vermont, with long experience with self-government, casually assumed Lockean premises about where government legitimately derived and what was its legitimate purpose. Including these words in the document justifying American independence may not have established an American creed so much as they reiterated the largely unexamined premises that many Americans already assumed.

Whether you agree with Millman or not (and the whole piece is a plausible case for American exceptionalism), you have to admit that his take is much more interesting than Joe Carter’s. The latter feels compelled to squeeze a political statement into a theological mold. Millman simply imagines the political stakes. No religious references. And in so doing, the Declaration takes on even more significance than when Christians try to find America’s eternal meaning (or not).

If U.S. Christians thought about politics politically rather than religiously, they might not look so odd to their neighbors.

The Theology of Brexit

Massimo Faggioli reminds that Vatican II and the European Union are part of the same cultural moment:

The simultaneity of the Dublin conference and Brexit made me think about the tight relationship between development of Catholic theology (especially ecclesiology) in the 20th century and the development of Catholicism from multinational to truly internationalist/globalist. Catholic support for the European project after World War II (from Pius XII to the most important politicians of the Christian-Democratic parties governing Europe after 1945) was part of the transition from the nationalist, romantic roots of the theological ressourcement between the mid-19th century and the 1920s and ’30s. At Vatican II, Catholic theology internationalized what had been born as expressions of national movements during the previous century (adoption of the vernacular; the new role of national bishops’ conferences; anti- Curia sentiment; anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, and anti-liberal Catholic social movements, etc.). The internationalist quality of Pacem in terris and Gaudium et spes was a turning point in doctrine concerning the state and government in Catholic theology, and also a response to the most powerful internationalism of the second half of the century, Communism. At Vatican II, Catholicism became an advocate of globalization, which John XXIII had called in the opening speech of the council in 1962 “a new order of human relations.”

The ties between Vatican II and the EU are even closer in the minds of traditionalist Roman Catholics:

Brexit can be seen as a subset of the debate on Vatican II and the post-Vatican II period, at least among Catholics. It’s no secret that Catholics and the Catholic bishops of Britain were deeply divided over Brexit, and that for many conservative Catholics in Britain opposition to the EU and to Vatican II has similar roots. Traditionalist Catholics who today reject “the new order”—in terms of economic and social exclusion, as well as of the dominance of what Francis in Laudato si’ called “the technocratic paradigm”—tend to put Vatican II and the EU together in one category of internationalization and globalization; they choose a traditional, pre-global church and a nation-state (even though this fallback on the nation-state is for them theologically not unproblematic) as opposed to the larger framework of a globalized ecclesial context and a European political union. It is an opposition to a much more complex world, politically and theologically, and to the modern, globalized attitudes toward vulnerable life, marriage, family, subsidiarity, immigration, war, and peace. It is an opposition that puts back into question the Catholic perception of political power, and in particular the church’s perception of the sovereignty of the nation-state and of international/supranational institutions.

Meanwhile, Damon Linker notices aspects of Angela Merkel’s responsibility for the circumstances that led to Brexit that could also be applied to Pope Francis, perhaps the post-Vatican II pope that most embodies Vatican II:

Angela Merkel is the real catalyst behind the outcome of the UK referendum. Not only did the German chancellor insist on admitting well over a million refugees and migrants from the Greater Middle East into the heart of Europe. Supporters of the policy have also made it clear on numerous occasions that they consider racism and xenophobia to be the only possible grounds for opposing her stand.

From the standpoint of progressivism, this makes perfect sense. An open-door policy toward refugees and migrants fleeing unrest in the Levant and North Africa is obviously the only morally acceptable option. It shouldn’t matter whether those immigrants are Muslims, or if they’re Syrians or Libyans, skilled or unskilled, poor or middle class, literate or illiterate, eager to assimilate or convinced of the need to resist it, looking for freedom and pluralism or hoping to build an enclave of Sharia law within the West. And there’s certainly no reason to suspect that any of them might turn toward terrorism, now or a generation from now. They’re just placeless people — human beings in need of aid, comfort, and charity. That’s all that should matter.

Except that many millions of citizens in EU member countries don’t see it this way. It does matter to them, just as it also matters to them whether Turkey is eventually invited to join the union, and they don’t appreciate having their concerns about the ethnic, religious, linguistic, and economic character of their political communities dismissed as moral pathologies.

Nor do they care to have their religious institutions circumscribed by remote bishops and cardinals. Pre- or post-Vatican II, subsidiarity matters.

Thanks for Nothing, Confederates

If you guys had merely held a referendum on secession instead of shooting guns, we might find Christian support for a U Sexit strategy comparable to British believers’ support for Brexit (via Chris Gerhz):

Practising Christians are the most likely among faith communities in England to support the Eurosceptic ‘Brexit’ position.

Muslims, meanwile, are the most Europhile of all the religious groups, a new survey has found.

The findings came in the new Populus Hope Not Hate survey which throws light for the first time on what different religious groups feel about the EU referendum in June.

“All the questions suggest that professing Christians are currently more likely than average to take up Eurosceptic positions, with Muslims the most Europhile,” reports religious researcher Clive Field.

Terry Teachout explains why U Sexit may be necessary (thanks to Rod):

In a totally polarized political environment, persuasion is no longer possible: we believe what we believe, and nothing matters but class and power. We are well on the way to becoming a land of jerking knees.

Never before have I felt so strongly that Americans are talking past instead of to one another. It is, I fear, our future and our fate—which is why I have come to believe that I will live to see Red and Blue America negotiate a “soft disunion.” No, there won’t be a second civil war. I can’t imagine the citizens of Blue America waging a shooting war over much of anything, least of all continued union with people whom they disdain. (Red America is a different story.) But the gap that separates the two Americas has grown so deep and wide that I find it increasingly difficult to imagine their caring to function as a single nation for very much longer. If I’m right, then I expect that they will ultimately find a more or less polite way to stop doing so.

Isn’t polarization what happens when we place personal over national identity? But just try issuing yourself a passport that will get you past customs. Not even calling the church an embassy will work:

Leeman descends from global height in his Preface to mountain-top height in his Introduction. And here, one gets a sense of his concerns. “A fundamental assumption of…many democratic Westerners, is that local churches are one more voluntary organization.” (21) In contrast, claims Leeman, “The church is a kind of embassy, only it represents a kingdom of even greater political consequence to the nations and their governors. And this embassy represents a kingdom not from across geographic space but from across eschatological time.” (22)

Isn’t that treasonous?