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.

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Blame It On the Reformation (Part 3): When Disruption Started

Another feature of the Reformation that harmed the West, according to Brad Gregory in The Unintended Reformation, is the state’s increasing power, including the authority to regulate religious life.

Historians frequently regard the Reformation as a natural extension of secular authorities’ increasing control of the church in the fifteenth century. Such a view distorts more than it discloses, because the doctrinal disagreements introduced by the Reformation radically altered the nature of the long-standing jurisdictional conflicts between ecclesiastical and secular rulers.(146)

What that long-standing relationship was, however, is another question, one settled by Francis Oakley in his book, The Mortgage of the Past. He describes the conflict between pope and emperor during the Investiture Controversy this way:

Historically speaking, “there is really nothing unusual,” Brian Tierney has rightly argued, “in one rule aspiring to exercise supreme spiritual and temporal power. That . . . is a normal pattern of human government.” What was unusual instead about the European Middle Ages “was not that certain emperors and popes aspired to a theocratic role but that such ambitions were never wholly fulfilled.” The governmental dualism that sponsored this novel state of affairs was doubtless the cause of an immense amount of wasteful and destructive conflict. But it was conflict that marked the birth pangs of something new in the history of humankind: a society in which what we now call the state was gradually stripped of its age-old religious aura and in which its overriding claims on the loyalties were balanced and curtailed by those advanced persistently by a rival authority. That rival authority [the papacy], in turn, in no less significant a fashion, found its own imperial ambitions thwarted reciprocally by the competing power of emperors and kings. A society that was distinguished, therefore, by a deeply rooted institutional dualism and racked by the internal instability resulting there from. [40-41]

In other words, well before the Reformation came along to introduce doctrinal pluralism and instigated appeals to magistrates to prevent other magistrates in league with Rome from taking off the heads of Protestants, the medieval church, thanks to the ambitious claims of the papacy, introduced something new. This division between the secular and sacred was, as Oakley says, new in the history of the planet (except for Jesus’ own words about rendering to Caesar and to God). It also created an instability and rivalry in European governing institutions that predated the Reformation.

Another way of putting this is that from the perspective of the Eastern church circa 800, medieval Rome did to the unity and comprehensiveness of Constantinople what Gregory asserts about Protestantism. Not only did the Western church break with the East in 1054 to divide an earlier version of Christendom. But soon after that division came papal claims to supremacy during the Investiture Controversy that unsettled the existing political order in Europe and that further prevented a restoration of the older and historic Christendom.

In which case, Gregory’s decision to start his narrative with medieval Europe is arbitrary. If you start five hundred years earlier, Rome is the one guilty of setting into motion modernity, its pluralism, and its hegemonic nation-states.