Ethnic Nationalism and the End of History

Thursday, February 3, AD 2011

One of the ideas which has, perhaps more than any other, led to war and suffering in the modern age, is the idea that countries should have clear ethnic/national identities which define their borders. This is something that we in the the US, which has been heavily defined by immigration and thus lacks a distinct ethnic national identity, but it is something which comes into stark relief when we look at conflicts in other parts of the world.

Of these, the one that gets the most press is, of course, the conflict over the Holy Land, where different factions insist that the same ground should belong to either a Jewish State or a Palestinian State. This leads to strife because obviously if the state in a given area is specifically intended to belong to one ethnic or cultural group, then members of other groups must either leave or see themselves as living in someone else’s country.

This would work very well if various ethnic groups had spontaneously generated from the soil of different regions, but this is not the case. (After all, if you trace it back far enough, we’re all Africans.) Recorded history is one long story of migrations, conquests and assimilations.

Continue reading...

19 Responses to Ethnic Nationalism and the End of History

  • And of course the only way an international organization, the farcial UN for example, can do this is if it has member states willing to supply the military muscle to accomplish it. Prior to 1945 of course the West colonized most of the planet. This is now regarded as a cardinal sin. Israel is treated at the UN as one of the western colonizers, whereas it is as much a successor state of the Ottoman Empire as the Arab states which confront it. The truly hilarious aspect of this affair is that the same people who are hot for a Palestinian state in one breath, are often the same folks who talk ceaselessly about open borders, so long as it is third world immigrants, legal and otherwise, flooding into a Western country. Beneath the surface of all this, I discern no general principle, but merely fairly nasty ethnic politics and strife dressed up in new names.

  • I don’t see the conflict between national self-determination and a right to migration. National self-determination doesn’t have to involve expulsion and it shouldn’t. But really what’s wrong with South Sudan seceding? In fact, I think we need more of it.

  • If what a groups with national self determination wants is a state which “belongs” to their particular ethnic/cultural group, then naturally they will be afraid of large numbers of other people moving in, since then the immigrants might self determine and make “their” state.

    This is, for instance, why Palestinians don’t want Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and why hard core Zionists don’t want any Muslims in Israel.

  • The struggle against the authority of ethnic and national identities is – as is modernism in general – a struggle against human nature. And modernism has slaughtered far greater numbers of human beings than tribalism.

  • Maybe open migration is asking for too much but we can support the right to self-determination without supporting expulsion.

  • The struggle against the authority of ethnic and national identities is – as is modernism in general – a struggle against human nature. And modernism has slaughtered far greater numbers of human beings than tribalism.

    The idea that each ethnic/culture group deserves its own country via national self determination is itself a very modern concept. After all, the whole of the Holy Land used to be ruled quite successfully by the Turks.

    In a sense, I wonder if democracy creates the situation for this kind of problem. After all, if you’re all ruled by the Turkish autocracy, it doesn’t really matter if your neighbor is a Jew or a Palestinian or a Copt or an Egyptian. But if you all vote and that determines how the country is ruled, then suddenly you want the country to mostly be composed of people like you.

    The way out of that, arguably, is having a national sense which is based on something other than ethnic identity. The US, for instance, has this to a large extent. But I’m not clear this is something one can just summon up because it seems like it would be a good idea.

  • Maybe open migration is asking for too much but we can support the right to self-determination without supporting expulsion.

    Agreed, I guess, so long as we’re realistic about the fact that self-determination usually results in expulsion, whether we support it or not.

    For instance, with Sudan splitting, I was listening to a BBC interview the other day with people of South Sudan elasticities are getting ready to leave Northern Sudan, and fearing reprisals now that they’re “foreigners”. I would imagine the same is happening in the South as well. Though it’s not like Sudan has been a beacon of peace lately anyway…

  • The idea that each ethnic/culture group deserves its own country via national self determination is itself a very modern concept.

    Substitute “will form” for “deserves”, and “community” for “country via national self-determination”, and you have the human condition.

    I agree that nationalism is relatively new: a product of Protestant Divine-right theology as much as anything else.

    But the attempt to abolish authoritative ethnic and cultural communities through nationalization (and now globalization), to force-fit all of humanity into a uniform (while called “diverse”) modernist schema of formal political equality (often though not always with democracy as a the instantiation of this principle), is quite peculiar to modernity.

    Furthermore, since it goes against human nature it cannot but ultimately fail; though it can do (and does) lots of killing in the meantime.

  • Belloc quoted Cardinal Manning that all wars are, at bottom, religious.

    Belloc also noted the anomaly of the League of Nations [“Masonic rubbish”], which did not allow for representation of one of the largest groups on the planet: the Muslims.

    He also pointed out that nationalism was taking the place of religion.

  • As much as we on the right sometimes deride the primacy of “diversity and tolerance” among American values, there is a core nugget of this which we would do well to export to the rest of the world.

    Like, “yes, it is possible to have a stable state composed of people who differ widely in religious practice or non-practice, ethnic makeup, and political opinions, and yet do not take machetes to each other on a regular basis. You should try it sometime.”

  • “I agree that nationalism is relatively new: a product of Protestant Divine-right theology as much as anything else.”

    Actually it isn’t. During the Hundred Years War, the English used to say that Jesus was English and the Pope was French due to the Babylonian Captivity of the Church with the series of French Popes at Avignon. Nationalism is old as the city-states of Sumer.

    “Belloc also noted the anomaly of the League of Nations [“Masonic rubbish”], which did not allow for representation of one of the largest groups on the planet: the Muslims.”

    Belloc never tired of making an ass out of himself in regard to the Masonic bogey-man. In regard to Islam he was prescient enough back in the Thirties in his book on the Crusades to predict that Islam would awake and be a deadly threat to the West.

  • Maybe one of you guys could post this Super Bowl ad, which Fox rejected:

    http://www.theatlanticwire.com/features/view/feature/John-316-Super-Bowl-Ad-Rejected-3119

  • “Belloc never tired of making an ass out of himself in regard to the Masonic bogey-man”.

    Insert after Belloc “and the popes” and correct the numbers.

    Belloc’s most prescient study of Islam comes in his THE GREAT HERESIES.

    In his THE BATTLEGROUND, he predicted that Syria [Palestine] would continue to be a battleground. He also asked after the British guarantee of Palestine whether England would continue to guarantee that declaration. It certainly did not continue with Poland.

    The “ass” seems to have foreseen the current state of the world and the growing dominance of Islam.

  • You are correct Austin that more than a few popes saw masons under every bed also. The Brits tended to be more attuned to potential threats from Islam since they ruled so many muslims. Churchill made similar observations about Islam. This is from his The River War( 1899), his history of Kitchener’s Sudan campaign in which he participated:

    “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy.

    The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.

    A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

    Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.

    No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”

  • It is a great curiosity that the name of Belloc arouses so much irritation. Possibly because he was accurate in his political assessments.
    “Masons under every bed” echoes the 1940s/50s comment about seeing Communists under every bed. Then the Soviet empire collapsed. Their archives demonstrated that there were, indeed, Communists under many beds.
    More to the point [if one wishes to stick to the point] is Belloc’s assessment of Islam and the reason for its astonishingly rapid spread: simplification.

  • Not irritation Austin but simple understanding. I’ve read most of what Belloc wrote for publication. At his best he was superb. At his worst he was an early charter member of the tin-foil hat brigade. This was normally elicited when he wrote on three of the great bug-a-boos of his life: Masons, Jews and Capitalism. For a sample of Belloc at his worst I would recommend reading his 1922 book The Jews in which he recommends treating all Jews as a separate nation.

    http://www.archive.org/stream/jewsbello00belluoft#page/xix/mode/1up

    The tome was certainly not in the league of the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, a movement that Belloc was an early opponent of, but is crack-brained enough on its own terms.

  • I suppose “it all depends”.

    Many Jews applaud Belloc’s book THE JEWS. His fictitious account of the meeting of a young Jew with Our Lord is a marvelous profession of faith. Of the Jews themselves, he commented “Poor dears, they rejected their Savior”.

    You might give an example of one or two of his “crackpot ideas”.

    You sidestep the matter of his book THE BATTLE. He noted that Palestine [Syria] continues to be a major battlefield as it has been for many centuries [even millennia]. He also gives a fine outline of the military geography of the area.

    I note that Israel was founded as a nation for Jews. And in our own country, Jews tend to congregate together. Indeed they seem to prefer to be noted as different. Intermarriage is a great lament of many thoughtful Jews, with its attendant loss of Jewish identity.

    I am uncertain of the meaning of “the tin-foil hat brigade”.

    But I leave off this pointless discussion. Like the husband of the editor of COMMONWEAL you seem determined to depict Belloc in an unflattering light. I have never understood the rationale behind this aversion to Belloc. He was kindly man, and a good and humorous writer “who never lost a friend except to death”.

  • Actually Belloc was a self-described curmudgeon, and often earned his nickname of “Old Thunder”. He could be a brilliant conversationalist and a great friend; at other times he could be a pain in the rump to all and sundry. “Tin-foil hat brigade” is a reference to someone who embraces looney-tune ideas, like treating Jews as if they were foreigners in the nations they are citizens of.

    Oh, and your quote in reference to Belloc is from a conversation he had with Hugh Kingsmill and Hesketh Pearson. Here is the full quote:

    “Belloc: It was the Dreyfus case that opened my eyes to the Jew question. I’m not an anti-Semite. I love ’em, poor dears. Get on very well with them. My best secretary was a Jewess. Poor darlings — it must be terrible to be born with the knowledge that you belong to the enemies of the human race.

    Kingsmill: Why do you say the Jews are the enemies of the human race?

    Belloc: The Crucifixion”

  • A nation or state needs something by which it can define itself. At one time matters of religion, or tribal affiliation (not quite the same as ethnicity, since you can certainly marry into a tribe), or allegiance to a king, and the like could define a nation-state. Physical boundaries, borders, and the like can also be the defining point.

    Ethno-nationalism just happens to be the dominant theme in these definitions over the last hundred years or so, and this has a lot to do with the decline of traditional powers and identities.

    The US alternative was a state based on a common set of ideals, and laws, and a degree of shared culture, history, politics, and morality. As the ties that bind the US grow ever weaker, our culture degrades, our morality becomes ever more varried, our politics becomes less common, and we neglect our common history some other thing will need to take its place. I think much of the partisanship is related to this. As those old ties have faded the affiliation of party is taking up some of the slack. In certain areas a virtual ethno-nationalism is alive in well, in the extreme cases the gangs show this.

    Nations with a clear sense of identity and strong bonds can deal with immigration rather more easily and with far less danger than can a nation with weaker identity. I suspect when a nations identity is weak, or is shifting or being challenged, would be the times that anti-immigration views would be the strongest.

    Ultimately a country has to be held together by some sort of common way of seeing and identifying itself. After all, human society, and in fact all human social contact and communications, is grounded in what we hold in common, not our differences.

Inherent Tensions on Nationalism

Monday, April 26, AD 2010

Nationalism, a hydra of a term which in this case I am using in the sense whereby it refers to the idea that “a people” of unified ethnic, cultural and/or religious heritage have a “right” to their own nation state which expresses their identity as a people, is a force which has been at the root of a great deal of suffering since it burst upon the world scene — arguably via the French Revolution followed by Napoleon’s empire. As such, it has a fairly well deserved negative reputation these days. And yet, like many intellectual vices, it is often denounced even by those who hold it dear.

Case in point: Can one seriously claim to be against nationalism if one believes that the Palestinians have a natural and human right to their own nation state in which they are the dominant ethnic and cultural force?

For a couple decades, the “Palestinian” territories were parts of Jordan and Egypt respectively. For the last 50 years, they have been controlled by Israel. If one is truly against nationalism, is either of these situations a problem? Or the the problem only when whatever governing authority controls the West Bank and Gaza Strip fails to provide equal political rights and privileges to the residents of those areas who are Muslim or Christian Arab in background?

Continue reading...

4 Responses to Inherent Tensions on Nationalism

  • DC,

    The operative definition of “nationalism” in this piece is not necessarily the concept that the political left might object to.

    When nationalism involves very strong self-identification with one’s nation, it might include that one’s nation is of primary importance. To be clear, I am primarily interested in human affairs as they relate to America because they affect me, the people I love, and the country I live in. However, without the right moral parameters, patriotism can morph into a nationalism that involves a negative view of other races or cultures based on broad generalizations that are not necessarily rational. I would bet there is an extreme positive correlation between self-identified patriots who believe in “supporting Israel” and who hold the prevalent Republican view on immgiration.

    So, I think there is a question regarding definition of “nationalism.”

    Either way, I don’t think the “left” or “right” are terribly consistent on these issues.

  • Fair point. We are, often, two factions divided by a common language.

    That said, I would argue that the definition of nationalism that I just outlined underlies most of the manifestations of nationalism which the political left decries (as well as some it applauds.)

    After all, the instinct to desire a “pure” Jewish state of Israel is really no different from the desire to have a “pure” Arab state of Palestine — except that the two desire are mutually exclusive, since both groups claim the same land.

    Since one of the things that most Americans admire about the US is that it is a “melting pot” of immigrant groups, I think it’s far too easy for us to forget that in nearly every other part of the world (and certainly in Europe and the Middle East) nationalism is very much connected with the desire (often militant) of cultural/ethnic groups to have a state to themselves.

  • We are patriots. They are nationalists. It brings to mind the old George Carlin quote: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

  • One important distinction to consider is the odd monkey-wrench which the United States happens to throw into the usual considerations on nationalism.

    Usually in the history of the world “nationalism” is an expression of some form of racialism. The Germans of the 1930’s weren’t unusual in this regard: They rallied around their German-ness defined by family lines, culture, history, and genotype, and even invented some silly unscientific views of their origins to support it. (Aryan! Ha! The closest things to Aryans the Nazis dealt with were the gypsies, or “Roma,” who they slaughtered with only slightly less gusto than they did Jews! Now if they’d invaded [i]Persia[/i] they could have dealt with some Aryans.) This was all part of German identity, it was who they were.

    The United States, though, takes a very different approach to identity, to self-definition. German-ness may be all about family, but American-ness is centrally about a particular approach to human liberty and its implications about what constitutes good government. Americans have traditionally gone out of their way to emphasize that the “great American melting pot” was held together, not on racial lines, but by that common agreement on a point of [i]ideology[/i]; something with which anyone could potentially embrace, no matter their birthplace.

    Put crudely: When a war occurs between other nation-states and in other centuries, peoples would get worked into a state of frenzy asserting that [i]we[/i] were better than [i]those guys[/i]: A necessary bit of cheerleading, perhaps, but when the only differences between us and them are our genetic heritage and those bits of culture which come as accidents of birthplace rather than from willful adoption of a creed or cult, then…? What? Surely we can’t claim [i]moral[/i] superiority on such a basis. It is hard for most nations to exhibit nationalism without going for some kind of racial superiority angle because that, at heart, is what defines the nation.

    But whenever the United States was involved in a war, nationalism took a different tone: From the revolution onward, an ideology was involved. Thus does American cheerleading differ from the conventional nationalism: It is about freedom and human rights and opposition to tyrants and such.

    The odd thing is that this means the American expression of nationalism — the kinds of things being said and championed — has a better than usual chance of actually being true, of being worth championing.

    Setting aside the issues of justification and the violated ceasefire terms and all that, it is plainly true that Republics with Constitutionally Limited Government by Democratically Elected Representatives with Encouraged Entrepreneurialism, Enforceable Contracts, and Educated Populaces are just plain [i]better[/i] than anything the Taliban, or Al Qaeda, or the sleazeball Saddam & Sons regime, or Russian kleptocrats, or the Soviets before them, could ever offer.

    Don’t misunderstand what I’m claiming, here. I’m not attempting to argue for justification for attacking the Taliban. I’m not saying that the nation with the best ideas about government should go ’round invading all the ones with lesser notions.

    I am putting all that to the side, and focusing on the question: Does American “nationalism,” when expressed, differ in any qualitative way from “nationalism” as usually defined?

    I think it does. I think a person who rallies to the flag in the U.S. isn’t rallying to a race or to a racial culture or to a racial history, as he would be in other countries. He is rallying to a set of abstract moral imperatives embodied in an approach to governance and society-formation.

    And, all things considered, the moral imperatives and the approach to governance and society-formation which are cheered on when an American puts up his flag are [i]good[/i] ones. Quite good, actually.

    That this difference between American nationalism and Xian nationalism is overlooked accounts, I think, for the disconnect about “patriotism” between right and left.

    The fellow on the left sees a bunch of red-staters mounting flags and gets surly and suspicious: Don’t they know how badly white people treated the American Indians? Don’t they know about exploitation by American corporations in Latin America?

    Meanwhile the fellow on the right sees the fellow on the left getting surly and suspicious and feels that limited government, enumerated powers, democratic republicanism, and the Bill of Rights are being dismissed or shown contempt — by someone who enjoys their benefits, no less!

    Now if the fellow on the right thought “America” meant his relatives and their cultural habits and history, he’d agree the guy on the left had a point. But since his idea of America is all tied up with the Revolution and the Constitution, he thinks the guy on the left is merely off-topic, and a bit of an ingrate.

    The guy on the left takes note of the frown of the guy on the right, and shouts, “Don’t question my patriotism!” The guy on the right responds, “Didn’t say a thing, bud…but if the principles I hold dear offend you so much, y’know, there are other places you could live where they hold different ones….”

    And neither side realizes that the other is talking about something entirely different.

At Least I Know I'm Free: A Myth That Unites

Monday, January 4, AD 2010

I was talking with a relative recently who was telling me about an incident a while back where the maintenance staff at the building he worked at had gone on strike and were picketing the building. Emails had gone out from the building management telling people not to get into arguments or cause incidents with the picketers, and it became a source of quite a bit of topic around the office. My relative was amused to hear expressed several times the sentiment, “That’s what makes our country different from the rest of the world. Here, they have the freedom to hold a protest like that.”

It if, of course, true that they have the freedom to picket their employer here. However, that’s not necessarily a contrast with the rest of the developed world. They could do the same in thing in Canada, or the UK or France or Germany, etc. There is, as my relative pointed out, a tendency at times for Americans to assume that because our country was very consciously founded in order to secure certain freedoms, that this means that people who don’t live in the US don’t have the same freedoms. Obviously, some don’t. One’s freedom of political and economic expression is severely limited if you live in North Korea or China or Cuba or some such nation. But there are many other countries in which people enjoy basically all the same freedoms that we do.

This American tendency to assume that we are the only ones to enjoy the freedoms outlined in our Bill of Rights is something which very much annoys many people who consider the US to be dangerously nationalistic, or who would prefer that we see the US as just one other region, not better or worse than others.

Continue reading...

16 Responses to At Least I Know I'm Free: A Myth That Unites

  • “Before people get angry about Americans acting like they have a monopoly on freedom,”

    Considering the speech codes in place in many countries that claim to be democracies, America may not have a monopoly on it, but I think we take the concept a great deal more seriously than most other countries. The link below sets out laws against “hate speech” in various countries around the world.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_speech

    A great many countries around the world which are considered to be free are manifestly less free in the key area of speech than we Americans are. All Americans should take rightful pride in this.

  • except that we have our own “unofficial” speech codes. Not as bad as other places, but less free than we used to be. I suppose if a rising tide raises all boats, a receding tide must also have the equal and opposite effect.

  • They don’t have free speech in Canada or England.

  • I think this is a bit of a false dichotomy. I think we can be aware of strikes in France (which always seem to involve setting cars on fire for some reason) without descending into ethnic cleansing.

    Although I think we do tend to do the same thing based purely on political/philosophical ideals. I think democratic socialism would be great. I totally have the right to say that in the US, England, France, Germany, etc. If I said that at a Tea Party, however, I’d be lucky if all got was spit on.

  • Though if you said you thought democratic capitalism was great in France, Germany etc. you might be lucky if you only got spit on.

  • One supposes you meant “Aryan” [whatever that is] and not “Arian”.

    For the rest “comparisons are odious” to quote grandma. There are severe restraints on various freedoms in this country.

    Am I mistaken in believing that the Constitution does not “speak” of freedoms or of anything else? It is a document that established the government and continues to modify it.

  • Spelling correction made, thanks.

  • “Am I mistaken in believing that the Constitution does not “speak” of freedoms or of anything else?”

    Yes. See the bill of rights and various other portions of the Constitution and the amendments thereto.

  • I would take the word of Donald, he is a lawyer after all.

  • “I would take the word of Donald, he is a lawyer after all.”

    Heaven forfend Tito!

  • “Yes. See the bill of rights”

    And don’t forget that it almost didn’t make it into the final draft. Thank you Thomas Jefferson 🙂

  • Thank you Thomas Jefferson indeed!

    He was not a deist, but a Christian. He knew full well the importance of Christianity to the new fledgling American Republic. 🙂

  • Dunno about the Christianity, Tito; read some of his letters. Though I’ll grant he (like Franklin) understood the importance of the Christian worldview to the republic.

    Having spent my formative years living in the shadow of Mistah Jefferson’s Little Mountain, I confess something of a love-hate relationship with the man’s legacy. While he was instrumental in the formation of our nation, he had plenty of notions that I am greatful were not generally implemented. While the man was neither such a hero nor such a villain as is often made out, he was a crotchety fellow to say the least (my DH is of the opinion that he had Maoist tendencies long before Mao, but I’ll leave that to him to explain.)

    Darwin,
    Don’t forget that crucial freedom-of-religion thing. One or two (occasionally a few extra) established churches are the norm even in most “free” countries. Consider that a country with an official belief system (even if that system is wonderful) has ample leverage to subjugate it or even abolish it in favor of a belief system more congenial to its ambitions. This is much more difficult to accomplish in a country with no official belief system and no official policy of hostility to religion.

  • Cminor, that is exactly my reaction to Jefferson. I love the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase and his strictures against the dangers of government. I hate his infatuation with the French Revolution, his dalliance with the doctrine of state nullification, and assine statements he often made, for example,”The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”-that from a man who never served a day in the Continental Army and put his own skin to risk on a battlefield! Yeah, Jefferson definitely qualifies for love-hate in my book.

    Jefferson was in no sense a Christian as his scissors attempt to remove the miracles from the Gospels indicated. Jefferson was most definitely a Deist.

  • I too love Jefferson. No, I despise him. Wait, yes, love-hate, that’s the ticket. Oddly enough I feel the same way about America. I love her Christian and republican (small r) ideals – I hate her Masonic and totalitarian trajectory. America was doomed long before the Continental Congress met and it is a miracle (no matter how many TJ cut out of his Bible) that the united States of America ever came to be. It is a miracle we are still here.

    Are we different than all the other ‘free’ countries in the world? You bethca. Why do so many immigrants, like me, come here instead of say, China or Zimbabwe (Rhodesia)? There is no contest as much as this country sucks, we are the best the world has ever seen – warts an all.

    If someone doesn’t like it, they are welcome to leave or just never come here in the first place. The rest of the world owes America a great big thank you for the freedoms that have been preserved by this nation and the sacrifices of many of her people especially our fine military folks. Deservedly or not, we provide the blanket of freedom for the world. Can you imagine the atrocities that will be rampant when America eventually goes down?

    But, not yet. I think our best days are ahead of us. I also think that we’ve only gotten this far because so many of us (sadly not as many Catholics as I’d like to see) are faithful to Christ Jesus. Compare Christianity in American with that in say what used to be Europe (now Eurabia).

    Sadly, we have the stain of Masonic infiltration and that needs to be purged in all of its ill forms from the Federal Reserve to the current socialist/communist trajectory of our corrupt politicians. America does not like Jacobins, Luciferians or Shriners.

    I think it is safe to keep the America in the American Catholic and know that it means uSA (despite what our southern continental brethren may think). May God bless the united States of America (and the American Catholic).

"Guatemala: Never Again!"at

Friday, July 10, AD 2009

There has been an interesting discussion going on that began with a little mockery of Obama’s propensity for offering collective apologies around the world for various things out of the American past or present. I am a big proponent of apologies- but they must be prudent and truly repentant- not some mixed-motive posturing like former President Clinton seemed inclined. A great Catholic example of what I am seeking is found in a great book  entitled “Guatemala Never Again!”. This is no Leftist diatribe, this is (REMHI) the Recovery of Historical Memory Project. This is the Official Report of the Human Rights Office, Archdiocese of Guatemala. Let me quote from the back cover:

Continue reading...

22 Responses to "Guatemala: Never Again!"at

  • But it is a “leftist diatribe”…. or else so naive as to pass as one. We’re being overrun by Obama’s soft-Bolshevism and now asked to act like European-style intellectuals indulging in poseur hand-wringing and moral equivalency. Cut to the chase. The only meaningful point is that about Planned Parenthood. One doesn’t have to be a GOP hawk (I’m not) to think: what a waste of this blog’s space.

  • Tim,

    I agree with you, and I have no respect for anyone – whether they call themselves a Catholic or not – who cannot acknowledge historical truth and apologize for it when it reveals evil acts.

    Moreover, any “Catholic” who puts the word of right-wing propagandists above the testimony of bishops and priests and nuns and lay Catholics in the country in question is really doing a disservice to his own Church. I’ll stand with Oscar Romero before I’ll stand with the butchers who filled mass graves in Guatemala or the nun-raping contras in Nicaragua.

  • The Contras raped nuns Joe? Could you cite the incident you are referring to? My guess is that you are thinking of this incident in El Salvador:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Donovan

    As for the Contras and the Sandanistas, the Pope seemed rather pleased after the Sandanistas were voted out.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=56mgGxguT4EC&pg=PA104&lpg=PA104&dq=john+paul+violeta+chamorro&source=bl&ots=JQWYvaiSfJ&sig=hQQXVaja6EcDAsZf2hsl1FBitfE&hl=en&ei=on9XSrmkFo_gMY7kpZ0I&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5

  • The problem with your post is that is presumes the US is not now and has not been engaged in precisely the kind of inward looking self analysis for many years.

    We have beaten the subjects of Cold War drug experimentation to death. We have beaten up on the CIA, the NSA, and our military. Following Vietnam, we entered a generational orgy of self-loathing and doubt. There have been thousands of books, tens of thousands of articles, and hundreds of thousands of internet posts about every manner of evil the US did or is supposed to have done. We have granted Doctorates to thousands and thousands of professors who only too happily trot out America’s evils without ever mentioning her greatness. We produce text book after text book suggesting that early colonists were nothing less than thieves and murderers who drove noble, peace-loving, agrarian peoples from thier homes so that they could set up theocracies.

    Enough!!!

    Were America a person and were that “person” in therapy, she would be heavily sedated so that she didn’t do violence to herself.

    Anyone who wants to use America as an escape-goat for the sins of the world, rather than acknowledging that international affairs is a brutal, ugly game that requires walking a thin line between right and wrong to survive, is either naive or ignorant.

  • I don’t see America thriving as a nation or as a people for the long-run, because I don’t see how we are so very different from the Great Empires of the past

    I realize this is perhaps a characteristic hobby horse, but it’s worth noting that the great empires of the past did pretty well in many ways, and indeed the Church found itself much involved with them. Rome around 1000 in its Western form, and another 1000 in Constantinople. And the Church was very much connected with both the Christian empire and with later European empires that aspired to be successors: Hapsburgs, French, Spanish, etc. There’s an American mythology that all great empires immediately became corrupt and fell apart, but it’s not fully accurate.

    On your general point: I think there is at the same time a danger in spending too much time on other people’s sins. Sure, I would wax wroth all day about racism, eugenics, treatment of the Indians, or what have you, but it worries me that when we spend a lot of time on sins committed by other people that we feel no personal affinity to, we make ourselves feel good at others expense while doing very little to actually make ourselves better. Yes, it’s important to recognize evil for what it is, but if we spend too much time talking about evils that other people did in the past (especially when we do so in an un-nuanced and accusatory way) we end up unnecessarily pumping ourselves up.

    So for instance, I could write some scorchers about eugenics and the forced sterilization programs that many states (my home state of California most of all) had in the 20s and 30s, but since that’s basically going on about “bad things other people did” and to an extent also the connections I see between the eugenics of the 20s and the birth control and abortion movements of today — I think a lot of the people most tempted by those evils would simply be put off by my writing and feel that I’m unnecessarily characterizing them as participating in past horrors. And given the distance (and the fact I already recognize it as wrong) I’m not sure I’d be undergoing any moral development myself either.

    So while we shouldn’t sugar-coat the past, I think we also need to be wary about getting too involved in apologizing for wrongs that other people committed. It can become more a weapon and a tool for pride than an actual process of humility.

  • I have travelled and lived in several places abroad for extended periods of time- and there is a very real sense of being an ambassador for your country, at a deeper level we are ambassadors for Christ in every land. I lived and taught in the Czech Republic just months after the Velvet Revolution there and encountered many who had never met an American, and my views as an American carried a lot of weight as a consequence. I felt a certain burden to present opinions that were thoughtful and even diplomatic at times- on religious and political topics- as a Catholic I ran into many Czech protestants and agnostics, so I wanted to represent an American Catholic perspective as best I could.

    As for apologizing for the sins of other people- it depends- if people presently associate you with the actions of your government or elite interests past or present, then it may not be enough to say- “not my sins”. You may need to clarify that these abuses are part of your memory and you are committed to do better. That may be the way to move forward in the complicated relations of differing peoples of different national backgrounds. To confess and repent is freeing for good reason- if I limit my confessions to my nation’s past and present wrong doings, and bypass a careful examination of my own actions and lack of action- then you are right to criticize my preoccupation with past and present social sins. I can only give you my word that I am really trying to be humble in assessing my own spiritual state, and it is actually part of that process that inspires me to take on a more public role in speaking out for life and social justice as a very overt Catholic- shouting out from the rooftops as it were.

    I don’t broadcast my own past and present sins to the general public- I don’t think that is prudent- but for social sins I believe there is a social call to be public in discussing such things- Scripture seems to indicate that nations are judged in some capacity, and individuals are definitely judged- so I am trying to be both/and in my approach- and I find inspiration in the example of the church in Guatemala that I feel has application here in the U.S.

  • As for the Contras and the Sandanistas, the Pope seemed rather pleased after the Sandanistas were voted out.

    Presumably it’s possible to be pleased that the Sandanistas were voted out without necessarily being pro-Contras.

  • I have travelled and lived in several places abroad for extended periods of time- and there is a very real sense of being an ambassador for your country, at a deeper level we are ambassadors for Christ in every land. I lived and taught in the Czech Republic just months after the Velvet Revolution there and encountered many who had never met an American, and my views as an American carried a lot of weight as a consequence. I felt a certain burden to present opinions that were thoughtful and even diplomatic at times- on religious and political topics- as a Catholic I ran into many Czech protestants and agnostics, so I wanted to represent an American Catholic perspective as best I could.

    Good point, and I think certainly when someone is asked, “So why is it that you Americans did XYZ,” one’s duty is to answer in honesty and humility.

    And I don’t want to come off as saying that we should never talk about the evils of the past. It’s just that I think there is a frequently indulged in temptation to make a big show of denouncing the evils of the past (which one was never tempted to in the first place) and thus acquire a glow which allows one to ignore the evils of the present because “we’re not those kind of people.”

    A classic example of this would be the many young (and not so young) people who loudly denounce the racism and sexism of the past, but can’t see how abortion could actually be all that bad because, “Lot’s of women who get abortions are just ordinary, good people in bad situations.” Well, come to that lots of racists were ordinary good people in bad situations.

    Anyway.

    I’m not wanting to accuse you of these kind of sentiments, but I am wanting to outline why I’m leary of big apology projects for things in the more distant past, or things taken out of their fuller historical context. I’m not familiar with this book put out by the Guatemalan bishops, but they’re dealing with a situation which is very recently in the past — just 20 years before the book’s writing.

    I am very much in favor of looking unblinking at the truth, good and bad, of the past. But I’m hesitant about big apology projects — especially when they go far into the past and also when they’re taken outside of their original context to become a parade of horribles.

  • “Presumably it’s possible to be pleased that the Sandanistas were voted out without necessarily being pro-Contras.”

    It’s possible BA, although one would then have to ignore the fact that without the pressure of the Contras and the US the Sandanistas would probably have held a free election about the same time their hero Fidel did.

  • I would like to point out that the mass slaughter which occurred in the course of suppressing the communist insurrection in Guatemala occurred during a 32 month period in 1982, 1983, and 1984. There had also been a lot of killing in Army massacres in the four years previous to that. The thing is, the U.S. Government cut off aid to the Government of Guatemala at the end of 1977 and it remained in abeyance for eight years.

    There was a successful counterinsurgency conducted in 1966-70 which had a much smaller death toll. The insurgency, which had commenced in 1960, was dormant for the next eight years. IIRC, the Guatemalan government had offered in 1966 a window of amnesty for the insurrectionists before beginning the campaign.

    Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown in 1954. It is rather de trop to argue that the course of the country’s political history over the next thirty years followed deterministically. The Guatemalan military, without the assistance of the United States, killed about 150,000 people in 1982-84. That is nothing for which the U.S. government should apologize.

  • Pingback: Inside Information
  • Well- after reading the Church’s Memory Project and the details of the U.S. involvement in the book – Bitter Fruit- and in other accounts like Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA- I would say there is a lot to be ashamed from a Catholic American point-of-view- I can’t be anyone else’s conscience, but I think the more complete story is one where we can’t just wash our hands a la Pontius Pilate. To be so neck-deep in coups and backstage manipulations of other sovereign nations is a terrible abuse of global solidarity, subsidiarity, and a host of other ills. Even if the ends sought were mostly good ones- and I’m not convinced our leaders were primarily concerned for the well-being of the world’s poor so much as they were looking out for #1- power politics and economic interests- it is still illict to do evil that good would come from it- that is bedrock Catholic principle and one we had better promote here in the U.S. if we are to represent our true faith. We have to be very wary of the philosophy of power that includes RealPolitick, Pragmatism, “The Great Game” and other moral compromising strategies and ways of thinking and acting on the world stage- we must be truthful, clear, and dedicated in word and deed to the Christian commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is the only worthy American foreign policy objective which I will accept. The war I am fighting is the one for my soul primarily, and secondarily I want to help build a civilization of love for my children and grandchildren- I don’t want God to have to shut down the human project before my great grandchildren are born- my greatest weapon is my integrity and my righteousness, I won’t allow my patriotism to be false or misleading and ultimately a detriment to my larger goals of sainthood.

    Certain Guatemalan individuals over time are the ones most culpable for the crimes against the many average Guatemalan people- that is for sure- just as certain American individuals are the most culpable for the crimes of abortion carried out against the unborn- but there is a measure of culpability that goes far and wide for many such things- perhaps if I try to deny what I have learned about the role of the U.S. in Guatemala, and refuse to allow myself pangs of disgust, and refuse to offer up my testimony, then I am also a little bit guilty of something here. And perhaps I am a bit guilty for the state of affairs here in America with rampant abortion- not just for my past where I can plead some or a lot of ignorance, but even today, with all that I know- maybe I am not doing enough, maybe I am not expressing myself as well as I could if I took more time, more effort, and above all, more prayer. The thing is that I am trying very, very hard to not become a minimalist when it comes to the moral questions- I take the state of the nation and the world personally to the degree that I can or should. There is always that open question for Confession- am I doing all I can? Help me Lord to know, to grow, to do what you will me to do.

  • Tim,

    What you are saying now sounds different from the characterization of your post in the thread above. Might I suggest that we have entwined two different threads: that individuals and institutions must study and learn from the past and that individuals and institutions should apologize to those who perceive themselves to have suffered?

    In your latest addition to the thread, you speak eloquently of the need to learn from the past. I do not dispute the necessity of doing so and I doubt many who opposed the original post for various reasons would. Indeed, learning from other than one’s own past has a noble heritage in human experience. It is the backbone and, arguably, the purpose of much education and training. I don’t think there is a dispute as to its utility and the proposition that it is also part of one’s duty as a person and a Christian would receive a negative response.

    However, apologies are different.

    Apologies have meaning ONLY when proffered by the one responsible for the injury and only when received by one who was actually injured. The more remote either party is, the more likely it is that a new abuse is being perpetrated – by which I mean that either the one apologizing or the one apologized to is manipulating others by the interaction.

    In the instant case, it undoubtably true that the US used Central and South America as one of several battle-grounds for our proxy war with the Soviet Union. Since the alternative was a direct war with the Soviet Union and, potentially, the destruction of all life on our planet, I hope you will forgive my conclusion that, whatever the injury on the Korean Peninsula, in the Congo, or in Guatemala, the world is better off with the way that history played out.

    Where the US causes injury and that injury can be made right, we should do so. However, as time passes and intervening causes confuse the culpability, an apology and remedy becomes less and less desireable.

    I am not reaching for the complicated here. When it comes to learning from the past and applying those principles to future action, I am solidly with you. However, when it comes to offering apologies and providing remedies, we simply MUST apply a case-by-case analysis.

  • Tim,

    Twenty-eight years separated the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz and the series of offensives in 1982-84 which cost so many lives. What is the point of conjoining a discussion of John Foster Dulles and the United Fruit Company with discussion of a counter-insurgency program which occurred a generation later?

  • The Memory Project goes into the history of connections- the abuse of human rights didn’t simply begin in 1982- the Memory project deals with what happened prior to 1982 as well as the period you are talking about- the historical links are there- you will have to read the report to see for yourself- the mass arrests, the lists of anyone who had even a remote connection to anything “communist”, the loss of habeus corpus- this all started up immediately after the coup- and no doubt was supported by our own leadership- even if the distancing took place much later- the unraveling of democratic rule of law really took off after United Fruit et al took matters into their own hands- there was a similar process in Iran which led to a chain of negative events- we can’t say that these coups and support for greater breakdowns in the rule of law and solidarity/subsidiarity had no lasting effect or damages which we need to take some ownershop of. Please read the books I recommended to fill in the necessary record- Wiener and Kinzer are solid investigative reporters, and the Church’s Memory Project is really above reproach.

  • I would add that according to the Memory documents the coup of 1963 either began after a meeting with president Kennedy and his political advisors, CIA director and ambassador to Guatemala- or it was something that had at minimum no objections from Washington and for the first time the military as an institution took over the government. The Paramilitary groups came soon after and developed into death squads operating usually with hidden hand control from official military leadership- it is estimated that upwards to 20,000 were killed in just a few years by these paramilitary- and the law was quite arbitrary and abusive leading to even worse conditions to come. So, the connections to the first overthrow and with American support overt/covert is to be considered as significant in my opinion.

  • There is significant problem with the left’s view of these issues, and it is quite apparent when they put scare quotes around the word “communist”, marginalizing the truly evil and powerful force that the US was trying to defeat. Just give “Uncle Joe” a big wink, and all will be fine, right? Well, it wouldn’t have been. If Communism had not been opposed at every turn, then the fate of the the millions upon millions who died at the hand Stalin and Mao would have been shared by countless hundreds of millions more…. many times worse than the often exaggerated numbers that the left puts out for every situation where the US might have been culpable.

    Now, that’s just the dead, what about those souls which would be lost being raised in a godless society which is the goal of the left? Don’t forget that a key goal of communism was to destroy the Church in every country that it conquers. Look at your cuddly Chavez and Castro! They do all that they can to suppress the source of salvation.

    “Communism”? Hell,yes.

  • I know I’m drifting away from the subject but I’m here addressing myself directly to Tim Shipe…I am MarkL of Inside Catholic. Have just read that 19 Dems Reps are trying to block abortion coverage in the Health Care reform bill. Now I don’t know if these guys are associated with Dems for Life; but anyway kudos for the good work in this case…I am not reluctant to praise people when praise is due, BUT however I will insist upon calling a spade a spade when necessary and “a bunch of teetotallers in an assembly of drunkards has never turned the lot into temperance activists”.

  • Tim,

    I do not care to be repetitious, but again….

    I am perfectly aware that the abuse of the population did not begin in 1982 and made explicit reference to what occurred in 1978-82 and 1966-70. Since the U.S. Government had cut off aid to the Government of Guatemala at the end of 1977, it is rather inventive to attribute the former to credit the goings on during that period running from 1978 through 1985 to the U.S. Government. You would have a better argument with regard to the former period, but it is complicated by the following: Communist groups elected to start an insurgency in 1960, Communist groups ignored a proffered amnesty in 1966, and any government has the responsibility to suppress insurrections. If you think it could have been done with less loss of life, you are probably right. If you think the U.S. Government was in a position to micromanage the Guatemalan military’s conduct in 1966-70, you may or may not be.

    You can argue that the U.S. Government should have intervened to prevent the overthrow of Pres. Miguel Ydigoras in 1963. One should recall that such interventions were not uniformly successful and a rash of elected governmnts were deposed in 1962 and 1963 to the Kennedy Administration’s dismay. One should also not advance such an argument while offering complaints about American intervention per se.

    It is not very credible that parliamentary government would have, absent the machinations of the CIA, continued merrily along in Iran after 1953. Mohammed Mossadegh had already instituted authoritarian measures and an ethnically heterogenous country with a literacy rate under 20% is a poor prospect for democratic institutions, most particularly in a region of the globe where parliamentary government failed in one country after another between 1949 and 1963. You have a better argument with regard to Guatemala, which had something resembling competitive electoral politics about a third of the time between 1838 and 1954. You should recall, however, that the only Latin American countries not experiencing a breach of constitutional order between 1954 and 1986 were Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela. Colombia has suffered interminable political violence since 1948 and Mexico was a pluralistic party-machine state, not a democratic state in the European sense. Had the Marxism and praetorian populism of the Arevalo-Arbenz period morphed into a stable and well-rooted democratic order, that would have been unusual, but strange things do happen from time to time.

  • I live in Guatemala and I’m tired of all the navel-gazing guilt that American and European people seem so desirous of engaging in. I don’t feel guilty for things that I didn’t engage in and don’t support.

    More importantly, it seems to me Catholics have a great deal more to be concerned with than the social activism (and consequences thereof) of her episcopacy. The Church is in worse shape than it has been since the reformation-possibly the days of Arius-and everywhere in this region all I hear about is social justice. I have yet to enter a diocesan Church and hear about sin or the sacraments.

    We don’t need so much to open up our eyes to offenses of previous generations of American misbehavior as we need to remember our primary obligation-to God-and reorient our lives in that direction. The suffering all around us is a direct reflection of sin and a refusal to deal with that.

  • Liberation Theology was flawed by the failure to ensure that it was to be understood that the primary liberation offered by Jesus Christ was one of freedom from sin and death. It is always easy enough to fall into a Zealotry of the Left or Right- making politics the whole deal of one’s religiousity. Of course the reasons for this abuse are varied according to the individual- if one’s village was part of a government or rebel massacre, and my female loved ones were raped or killed- well I might be sorely tempted to spend my remaining time on a political or militant quest- there but for the grace of God go I. I do not want to judge the individuals who fall into zealotry too harshly- many well-meaning pro-lifers seem to be making similar decisions to those social justice leftists. But having said this, I think that when Christ commanded that we love God fully, and love our neighbor as our self, and offered the kingdom of God parables about what we do to the least among us, we are doing to Him. These are compelling items for me, and the fact of the Church’s social doctrine and all the ink the popes and VAtican produces over social and political sins and conditions- I feel it is an important part of being Catholic. We must be both/and- we must be prayerful, devoted to the Sacraments, and also taking those graces out into the street, marketplaces, and political gatherings, not just holding them inside of us. The social doctrine is an essential part of the Christian evangelization- so it is not a bad thing to have a social conscience, to have a memory of the past abuses, and to learn from those abuses of history to never again repeat them- to repent as a man and as a nation- we are meant to be social, we have social responsibilities coinciding with our personal life responsibilities- this is where the left and right tend to get divisive, but the Church stays with Christ, and I shall try to stay with Her.

  • @Dr. J:
    No we are nothing like European Intellectuals-we have learned nothing from 2 World Wars and still like to push our interests forward by means of war.
    You really sound like a big McCarthy fan. Obama and Bolshevism? Don’t make me laugh. I think the author of this blog did a good job in giving us access to important knowledge (which of course you would rather have hidden away because it is not patriotic).

Nationalism and the Problems of the Middle East

Wednesday, January 7, AD 2009

One of the books I’ve been reading off and on over the last year has been Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. Shlaim is a one of the Israeli New Historians, which is essentially a “post-Zionist” revisionist school of Israeli history, who criticize the “old historians” of Israel of being too personally involved in the 1948 war and its aftermath, and thus writing history which is essentially apologetics for Israel.

There are places where I get the feeling Shlaim is leaning too hard in the other direction (for instance he spends a good deal of time on the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel in 1948, but glosses over the expulsion of Jews from surrounding Arab countries.) However, given that you know where his leanings are, it’s a fascinating read because it’s closely based on documented sources, and it focuses on the very real problem of Israel’s relationship with the Arab world. Among the things it made me realize, however, was how alien the modern sense of nationalism is to citizens of the US.

This may seem a strange conclusion at first,

Continue reading...

16 Responses to Nationalism and the Problems of the Middle East

  • Excellent post Darwin and much thanks for the background history.

    (Coincidentally I’m (re)reading Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims: History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict and covering similar territory).

  • Benny Morris is well worth reading. His 1948 is first rate.

    http://www.amazon.com/1948-History-First-Arab-Israeli-War/dp/0300126964/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1231384700&sr=8-1

    Starting out as a historian of the Left, Morris has developed into a very objective historian. Here is his take on Gaza:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/opinion/30morris.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&ref=opinion&adxnnlx=1230648024-PpvQR0cg9ySWyd4MjvUvcg

  • Darwin. I’m afraid I might agree with you.

    Donald,

    I’m just being nit-picky and jokingly so. But if a person starts out on the Right, but doesn’t remain there, can they too qualify to be a “a very objective historian?”

  • Eric,

    since objective truth is a principle of the right, and anathema to the left, the answer is “by definition” he would no longer be objective.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Thanks for the informative post Darwin.

  • Actually Eric yes! In past times I can think of historians who started on the right in their analysis and then adopted what I lovingly refer to as the “Jack Webb, “Just the facts, Ma’am”” school of history. Interpretation will always be influenced by a historian’s world view, but the best historians work against their own biases. However most historians, in this country and abroad, start out firmly on the Left at the beginning of their careers, due to the strong Leftist sympathies of most academics post World War II.

    We also now have a large divide in this country between academic historians, often writing in a deconstructionist\post-modernist gibberish who are usually unread, and popular historians, like Victor Davis Hanson, often academically trained themselves, but who produce histories that eschew both the fashionable Leftism, the jargon, and the subject matter, “Patriarchy, Feminism and Peruvian garbage collection 1765-1767” would be a typical title for an academic historian of today, and whose books are often very widely read, at least in comparison to the histories of academia which tend to “fall still-born from the press”.

  • Eric,

    With some of the Israeli “New Historians” in particular, I think the change that has taken place in their writing over the last 15 years is pretty much a “mugged by reality” one. One of the main tenets they started with was that if only Israel would make some effort to engage with the Arab community peacefully, the Arabs would be glad of it and be eager to work with them. (Though I’m probably simplifying unfairly here.) Following the progress in the peace process under Clinton, and the loss of nearly all of that progress afterwards, I think they’ve mostly backed off to a more realistic view — retaining their understanding of how things came to this pass, but with less of a political sense that it could all be fixed easily.

    Generally, I’d say that any time you have people starting with a narrative and applying that to events in order to understand them, you often end up with poor history. Because so many of the academic trends in the last 50 years have been of the left in some sense, most of these can be pinned on “leftist” history, but I can think of right-leaning historians who have fallen into the same traps with their own narratives.

    At the risk of kicking off controversy, I think Paul Johnson falls into this a bit when he writes about communism in his histories, and I’ve been a bit concerned at some of Victor Davis Hanson’s more recent writing (although I really, really like some of his earlier stuff) in that I think he’s slipping into a bit of a “titanic struggle between East and West” narratives which does not do full justice to either the past or the present.

  • Matt,

    I think over reaching generalizations like that are really unfair and unfounded. People hardly fit into the rigid ideologies of “left” and “right” and what some say certainly don’t speak for the whole, and perhaps, not even the majority.

    I’m not sure relativism isn’t a problem on the right. It simply wears a different mask, namely as consequentialism and utilitarianism — not the natural law.

    I surely would not voluntarily place myself on the “right.” I would and do place myself on the “left” and I am very much interested in objective truth.

    Moreover, I think the nit-picky classification of things as either “left” or “right” is really unrealistic seeing as to how these two schemes really don’t exhaust the fullness of reality and are both majorly lacking.

    Here’s a fact, the objective truth is the principle of the Catholic Church and people of good will who can be found on both the left and the right. Thank you. God bless.

  • A great leftist historian: Eugene Genovese. Genovese’s “Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made” is an excellent account of slave life in the antebellum South which relies heavily on interviews conducted in the 1930’s with elderly ex-slaves. Genovese was a Marxist in the late ’60’s when “Roll, Jordan, Roll ” was published, but he was quite balanced in his treatment of Southern slaveowners. “Roll, Jordan, Roll” recognizes the evil of slavery, but recognizes the complexities of the humans, black and white, who were emeshed in “the peculiar institution.”

    BTW, Genovese did not remain a Marxist. Several years ago, both he and his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, converted to Catholicism.

  • Eric,

    I’m making generalizations precisely because I know that not everyone on the right is objective, but that objectivity is a “principle” of the right. Subjectivity is a principle of the left (that doesn’t mean nobody on the left is incapable of objective reasoning), would you not agree?

    Utilitarianism and consequentialsm are much more asso
    ciated with the left. These philosophies are not typical of the right at all. What might be confusing you is the distinction between what government must do, and what we as Christians must do for others and what people must do for themselves. Christianity opposes socialism, it demands charity.

  • Matt,

    I don’t think that it is necessarily a principle of the right, just as I don’t think that subjectivity is a principle of the left. I don’t think it’s so clear-cut. Though, I would agree that liberalism more manifestly embraces modernism.

    I think utilitarianism and consequentialism more describe the moral ethics of many conservatives I’ve ever encountered and debated. Even among evangelical conservatives, it is not as common as we’d like to think — at least from my experience — to find natural law thinking. But by and large, I’ve heard arguments more from the right in justification of evils such as torture on the basis that the ends justify the means or as I believe, cloaking preemptive war behind the “just war” doctrine and the natural law when it really is consequentialism, imperialism, militarism, nationalism, and many other “-isms” of modernity. Does the left make such errors? Sure. You’ll find hyper-liberal environmentalists supporting abortion as a means of human population control to protect nature’s resources as if population growth is really the issue.

    In all charity, I think the politicization of the Christian faith into a ready political view that is largely and predominantly conservative is profoundly mistaken. For one matter, I don’t believe that liberalism and socialism are synonymous nor do I believe that the alleged alternative — conservatism — is the only solution.

    I’ll agree with you on one point: Christianity demands charity, so in good charity, I respectfully disagree. Thank you for your dialogue.

  • Eric,

    I don’t think that it is necessarily a principle of the right, just as I don’t think that subjectivity is a principle of the left. I don’t think it’s so clear-cut.

    Ok then, what are the principles of the left?

    I would use this list as the principles of the right as described by Edmond Burke.


    1. “Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.”
    2. “Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems;”
    3. “Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and the Leviathan becomes master of all.”
    4. “Faith in prescription and distrust of ‘sophisters, calculators, and economists’ who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs.”
    5. “Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.”

    What are the principles of the left? I can’t seem to find a good reference, perhaps you could provide one.

    Though, I would agree that liberalism more manifestly embraces modernism.

    like a hand in a glove.

    I think utilitarianism and consequentialism more describe the moral ethics of many conservatives I’ve ever encountered and debated. Even among evangelical conservatives, it is not as common as we’d like to think — at least from my experience — to find natural law thinking. But by and large, I’ve heard arguments more from the right in justification of evils such as torture on the basis that the ends justify the means or as I believe, cloaking preemptive war behind the “just war” doctrine and the natural law when it really is consequentialism, imperialism, militarism, nationalism, and many other “-isms” of modernity.

    So, based on your unfounded belief that splashing water on a person’s face is torture, or your belief that enforcing a truce agreement designed to protect the neighbors of a past aggressor is a “pre-emptive” war violating just war doctrine you impute these errors to conservatism?

    You can mischaracterize any argument you want, but it doesn’t make it reality.

    Does the left make such errors? Sure. You’ll find hyper-liberal environmentalists supporting abortion as a means of human population control to protect nature’s resources as if population growth is really the issue.

    abortion is the sacrament of the left, it’s not just found on it’s fringes… surely you’re aware of this?

    In all charity, I think the politicization of the Christian faith into a ready political view that is largely and predominantly conservative is profoundly mistaken.

    So opposing moral evils such as abortion is politicizing the Christian faith? What really happened is the Christian faith re-asserted itself in the political spectrum. Remember how this happened when the left completely abandoned it’s own Christian roots, and attempted to shift the nation deeply to the left, first in economic policy, then later in morality.

    For one matter, I don’t believe that liberalism and socialism are synonymous nor do I believe that the alleged alternative — conservatism — is the only solution.

    They aren’t synonymous, but they are inter-related. What is your solution? I never said conservatism is the “only” solution, just that (as a principle for government) it most complies with the teaching of the Church on the role of government.

    It may be that what you oppose is not conservatism at all but a lefty-mischaracterization of conservatism?

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Matt,

    While I myself would be interested to hear Eric’s formulation of liberal principles (not because I don’t think liberalism has principles, but because “liberalism” has meant a number of different things over the last 200 years and I’d be curious to hear how Eric approaches the matter) I’d like to encourage you to maintain a less aggressive tone.

    Though it’s sadly rare to see a liberal/progressive approach to economics and politics paired with traditional Christian morality these days, that doesn’t necessarily mean that such a pairing is impossible — and I think if you’ll look back at Eric’s post during the election you’ll see that he takes the moral issues very seriously. Indeed he came out strongly against Obama despite agreeing with him on many economic issues.

    There are many aspects of modern progressivism that I do not agree with, but one should disagree with them on their own, not dismiss them by tying them to false moral beliefs and practices which in this case Eric doesn’t hold with anyway.

  • Matt,

    The virtue of charity would be appreciated. I can understand that debate can easily impact emotions, but the condescending nature of your arguing really isn’t appreciated.

    Admittedly, I profoundly disagree with many points you made particularly in regard to torture. I wouldn’t call my belief unfounded nor that of many Catholics, who call themselves conservative, who oppose it just as ardently as I do.

    I don’t think the Christian faith is exhaustively conservative. These stringent labels hardly have any meaning given their constant evolution.

    Nevertheless, at this time, I don’t see it best to continue trying to present my point because it seems to be taken, from my perspective, as an absurd attempt to argue to frame the so-called inherently evil “liberalism” as consonant with Catholic beliefs. I think your view is misguided just as you surely think the same of me.

    I’m not going to answer you point by point because this is my last response on the matter. But it seems self-evident that the loud minority on both sides of the political spectrum do not even speak for the majority on that side because people tend not to be as monolithic as political idealogues make us out to be. There are probably as many “conservatisms” as there are “liberalisms.” Many aspects of both side speak to our Christian belief and many tendencies are incompatible with Christian belief; this is hardly surprising. In regard to one comment you made, being Christian does not mean only opposing abortion nor does opposition of abortion indicate a Christian political party. I think the Christian faith cannot be exhaustively be politically translated nor is it confined to express itself on one side of the political spectrum.

    I am a believing Catholic and I also frequently refer to myself as a “liberal” or “progressive” because I politically identify with Democrats moreso than Republicans; my subjective convictions in regard to such matters makes no statement on what other believing Catholics should do aside from abide by Catholic moral teaching.

    I believe as a “liberal” that society has a committment to protecting the weakest and most vulnerable among us. In the past election, my assessment was that the Democratic Party continued to ignore its historical committment to this fundamental principle in regard to the poorest of the poor — unborn children — and I voted against Barack Obama. My vote for John McCain was really a vote against Barack Obama because Sen. McCain and I had very few agreements on both policy and political philosophy.

    I fervently believe — rightly or wrongly — that the Republican Party under the label of ‘conservatism’ employs Christian moral themes in its rhetoric and panders to Christians as a whole because we are an active, powerful voting bloc. This is not to say that there are no sincere and authentic Christian conservatives. But I do believe much of the talk about traditional moral values and building a “Culture of Life” occurs during an election cycle and not as much in governance. This comment won’t be popular, but Ronald Reagan loved dearly by the religious right never went to church nor did he help the pro-life cause by appointing Kennedy and O’Connor to the Court. Seven of the sitting nine Justices post-Roe have been appointed by conservatives yet only four of them are pro-life. It does not take an appointment of a whole court to get a 5-4 majority. It s makes suspicious of whether the GOP really takes its rhetoric seriously. It’s one reason I’m not a “conservative.” If we’re going to end abortion, I think we would be better positioned to get principled Christians on all sides of the political spectrum. That’s my two cents.

  • Darwin and Eric,

    I meant no offense, I’m just trying to get resolution on Eric’s retort to my original statement “objective truth is a principle of the right, and anathema to the left”.

    Eric suggested that objective truth is not a principle of the right I responded with my best understanding of conservative values. Eric introduced a number of attempts to divert the conversation by alluding vaguely to some anecdotal arguments about torture without making distinctions on what torture is.

    In charity here are 4 expressions from Eric’s first response:
    “over reaching generalizations”
    “really unfair and unfounded”
    “nit-picky classification”
    “unrealistic”

    I don’t think it’s fair to accuse me of being overly aggressive in light of this.

    Matt said: unfounded belief that splashing water on a person’s face is torture

    Eric said:
    I profoundly disagree with many points you made particularly in regard to torture.

    Well support your point then. There is no basis in Catholic teaching for declaring the practice of “water-boarding” for the purpose of extracting intelligence from a known terrorist to be torture. Prove me wrong.

    Here’s a handy reference from the Catechism:
    Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

    Gathering intelligence does not fall under any of these categories. And by intelligence we mean information which can lead to the prevention of future attacks that have been planned or participated in by the subject, or to locate the names and whereabouts of his accomplices who are likely to be preparing such attacks.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Matt,

    I’m sure you didn’t intend to cause offense, but I saw a danger of things going down hill fast when hitting a committed Catholic who is politically progressive on some issues with statements like “abortion is the sacrament of the left”. Certainly, a lot of people who are leftist treat abortion in that way, but I don’t think that one could turn around and say that political leftism must necessarily do so. (To my knowledge the various Christian Democrat parties in Europe do not make this pairing, though they trend at least as far left on economic issues as the Democratic Party in America does.) It strikes me that making that statement in this particular context could be just as antagonistic as when someone like Mark Shea starts shouting at us conservatives that torture is a sacrament of the GOP.

    I’m just trying to get resolution on Eric’s retort to my original statement “objective truth is a principle of the right, and anathema to the left”.

    Eric suggested that objective truth is not a principle of the right I responded with my best understanding of conservative values.

    Well, I’m not a progressive, but I’ll give it a shot in the interests of intellectual fairness. It seems to me that one of the most basic principles of progressivism is that communal action should be taken to change existing political and social norms in order to right injustices and improve the overall lot of society. As such, progressives are often quick to see the evils of the existing social and political order, and demand change immediately in order to right perceived wrongs.

    This can be a source for good in society, when progressives have a proper understanding of what “the good” is. The abolitionist movement, which I tend to think of positively for obvious reasons, was a highly progressive movement in its outlook and rhetoric. Early campaigns for better working conditions and an end to child labor, universal education, etc. were also progressive movements.

    The danger, of course, is that since progressives are eager to boldly go in new directions in order to improve society, they are often in danger of causing new problems because they aren’t aware of all the possible side effects of their actions. And if their ideas of what “the good” is, we get all sorts of trouble. So especially in a time in which much of society is highly confused in its ideas of what is good, I think conservatism is a much safer philosophy.

    However, since progressivism is directional (trying to improve society) I’d tend to argue that it at least implies in its overall model some sort of objective good — though as Christopher Dawson argues, in modern secular versions of progressivism this direction is really a vestige of a religious sense now continuing without justification.

    Well support your point then. There is no basis in Catholic teaching for declaring the practice of “water-boarding” for the purpose of extracting intelligence from a known terrorist to be torture. Prove me wrong.

    Here’s a handy reference from the Catechism:
    Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

    Gathering intelligence does not fall under any of these categories. And by intelligence we mean information which can lead to the prevention of future attacks that have been planned or participated in by the subject, or to locate the names and whereabouts of his accomplices who are likely to be preparing such attacks.

    I’m not sure what moral difference you’re positing between “gather intelligence” and “extract confessions”. I’d tend to see the two as interchangeable. But if it’s the fact that we’re gathering intelligence rather than “to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred” that makes waterboarding acceptable, then by the same argument wouldn’t it be okay to “gather intelligence” by ripping out fingernails or branding with hot irons or cutting off thumbs or what have you?

    And if the reason why gathering intelligence by any of those means would be wrong is that they inflict severe pain, damage and humiliation contrary to human dignity on the person being interrogated, then I think that if someone concluded that waterboarding did they would be justified in saying that waterboarding was torture.

    Myself, I’m not one of those who freaks out that we’ve become a “torture state” or some such. I don’t think it’s necessarily surprising in our history of the history of nations that we did what we did to a dozen or so people in Guantanamo in an effort to protect our nation. But while it doesn’t necessarily strike me as shocking or surprising, it does seem to me at this point that it caused us more harm than good. And while I think the administration acted in good faith, I’d prefer others to be more hesitant in the future.