Colonialism is a complicated subject for our generation. In part, it’s for the same reason that discussions about the South and race are difficult in the United States. While not totally resolved, many of the problems associated with colonialism or slavery do not exist to the same extent, and have no existed within the memory of anyone in my generation. Britain has been a country without an empire for most of the last century. The civil rights era was finished almost a half-century ago. Yet, there is more to be done. Which leads me to this interesting question: Should Britain pay India reparations?
There’s an excellent New York Times article advocating for the creation of Puerto Rico as a state. His argument was that although Puerto Rico citizens don’t have to pay federal income tax on income earned in the territory, this is substantially outweighed by the federal caps on money for social programs and poverty assistance, unlike programs for states. The article noted:
In the near term, Puerto Rico can manage its crisis with smarter policy making, but the only enduring solution is statehood. At a recent congressional hearing, I told my colleagues: If you give us the same rights and responsibilities as our fellow American citizens, and let us rise or fall on our merits, we will rise. But if you continue to treat us like second-class citizens, don’t claim to be surprised when we fall.
Answering the problem left off on my last post, why is nationalism succeeding where univeralizing notions of politymaking have failed?
1) Nationalism’s Politymaking Advantage
Gay argues that nationalism is an “incarnation” of democracy. While liberals may love to live in a world of permanent ideal disembodied souls (or, to their preference, minds), refusing to accept the dirt of the material condition of lived national identities, that is simply not the world we live in. In short, democracy (and every other form of polity) has an address, a set of majority and minority languages, accents, resources, and members. Although political communities are works of the imagination, they exist in dialogue with the material world. Nation-hood in a set of ideas, attitudes, thoughts, and feelings, but any one nation is about things- a particular place, acts, symbols, buildings, goods, and foods. This nation-hood is then passed through generations in ritual, language, institutions, law, and religion. None of these things are essential to any one nation’s existence. Hence, there are nations that identify with a variety of languages, worship a variety of religion
This is a distinct advantage over universalist notions of polity-making, because much can be left unexplained and still make sense to the average person. Universalism requires not just assent to broad ideas like “human rights” but also the application of those rights in a particular context. Universalists have trouble with having to define the embodiment of principles and ideas into particular institutions, people, and places. Universalist states must be imposed since little is assumed. As certain attitudes and acts that are anti-social are policed internally by the society, external forces like police and courts don’t have to deal with it. But in a universalist state, the rights and duties of individuals are monitored only by the external force of the state to give individuals maximal autonomy.
Every nation-state will have the problem of majoritarian oppression of minorities, which is a serious problem, and likely the cause of most anti-nationalism that exists. However it is almost always these countries with, historically, the strongest notions of nation, the highest degree of solidarity among the people there, and the greatest uniformity of language, culture, and heritage that we find the greatest provision for minorities, such as the poor, immigrants, children, the handicapped, the elderly, and the sick. Countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark and states like Massachusetts and Connecticut are some of the finest examples of high degrees of social solidarity leading to good outcomes for minorities, at least when looking at the past century or so.
2) Christian Political Ethics and Nationalism
In conducing this short explanation and argument about nationalism, inspired by the work of Doug Gay’s Honey from the Lion, it is important to examine how Christians need to approach the ethics of nationalism differently. First and foremost, the Christian duty to love your neighbor does not stop at the border of your nation. From the beginning, we are one family (Gen. 1), called to steward creation. From our first crime, humanity was indicted by the question”Am I my brother’s keeper?” to which the YHWH responded yes. There is plenty of historical and anthropological evidence that those labeled “other” have been denied their full humanity, usually on the grounds of being “wrong” ethnically, religiously, politically, socially, and a host of other ways. The Biblical story names them in several ways, including neighbor and enemy, but in every case there is a command to love. As Gay summarizes, Christians hope and pray for a society that is a) beloved and joyful, b) free, just, and equal, c) landed and lawful, and d) complex and peaceful. For Christians, ecclesiology always trumps biology, and water is always thicker than blood.
Of particular significance for the Christian understand of nationalism, is the story of the Tower of Babel. Labeled by poet Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh in The Midge as the “Alcatraz of Languages,” the destruction of the tower and the scattering of people is seen as an act of divine providence and blessing that reinforces the diversity of the mandate of creation and resets humanity back on the path for which it was designed. This linguistic and cultural diversity is a direct gift from God. Gay says, “My stewardship of my culture involves both celebration and penitence and I should also welcome and expect that from others in their stewardship of their culture…I am charged not to do violence to your culture, but to be hospitable to its difference from mine.” In a sense, culture and language are vocations. At Pentecost, this is confirmed, as the Apostles don’t conform the world to God’s language, but are given the gift of tongues, to speak God’s word in every language. The Church’s catholicity doesn’t abolish diversity, but transcends it. It is a resource to be stewarded, enabling resistance to imperialism. Finally, the vision of Revelation is one in which every tribe and language and people is present. Therefore, there is certainly biblical support for the idea of nationhood.
Christian political ethics therefore combines both themes when engaging nationalism. I wholeheartedly agree with Doug Gay, that to sweeten nationalism, to make nationalism acceptable for Christians, nationalism must renounce “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Roughly, this means renouncing imperialism, essentialism, and absolutism. Imperialism is national dominaiton and superiority over all others. Essentialism is biologically-based nationalism, with it’s convention of ius sanguinis or law of blood, as opposed to ius solis or law of territory, a habitat-based nationalism. Absolutism is to place the state over God, asserting the state is accountable to no one but itself. If a nationalist political theory rejects these three forms, then it is one which a Christian can ethically support.
But that leaves us with another problem: how can and do we explain the United States as a “nation”?
Another time perhaps.
Globalization intertwines the world in a tightly knit ball. Hundreds of corporations now rival major countries for size, strength, and political influence. Hundreds of millions of people have migrated from their home countries for economic, social, and political reasons. Supra-national politics and policies predominate the world, whether aggressive (with the rise of Communist China, hyper-sunni Islamism of ISIS, and Russia planning to recover the Soviet Union colonies) or passive (the EU, TPP debate in USA). Billions are poured into the International Criminal Court, the UN, Eurasian Union, the European Union, and other trans-national, inter-national, or pan-national organizations, institutions, and initiatives.
In spite of all this, there has, arguably, been a massive resurgence of nationalism. Why?
Many have argued that the fall of Greek economy and the recent referendum indicates that “socialism” has failed. Is that fair to say? Can the Greek government that has been in charge for the past 4-6 years since the crisis began and the economic system in place today arguably be considered “socialism”? If so, what bearing, if any, should the examples of other European welfare states have on our understanding of whether or not “socialism” has failed?
In the news I recently read about two authors, Joseph S. Nye Jr. and Harold Evans, (and many others) that wrote about the American Century, and many have argued about its conclusion. The American Century is argued to have occurred from 1900-2000, where the United States of America has dominated the world as either its only or one of a few superpowers. Certainly, even if our century is over, it’s unlikely that a country as large and wealthy as the United States will become unimportant. However, the American Century was about more than a new world order, military-technological domination, or the rise of global capitalism. It has always been, in part, about the sharing of the American public faith and the American ideals. The growth of American military and commercial power has almost always accompanied an attempt to promote what I would call the American Mission, immortalized in the Declaration of Independence. In that document “All men are created equal” was prefaced by “We hold these truths to be self -evident.” This early modern idea reshaped the globe well after philosophy, science, and religion moved on to new concepts.
Apart from a few classical academics like Harry Jaffa and Alan Bloom, and their students at select universities, is this idea defensible today? Is it truly self-evident? If it isn’t so, hasn’t the American mission already failed?
Justice in this life is always incomplete, and many, if not the majority, of all good acts will not be given their fair due until the day of Judgment. There will always be compromises made when it comes to using landmarks and monuments to recognize the good done by particular people on behalf of others. This is especially true in currency, when a few are memorialized in a way that pervades our everyday affairs. We, quite literally, trade their images back and forth. No nation has to recognize any individual on their currency. Using national symbols and engravings of historically relevant places or events would serve just as well, if not better, in a nation that defines it’s nationhood based on ideals.
However, should anyone be recognized on currency, it would seem to be that those who are most identifiable with the sovereignty of the nation would be most appropriate. The term “sovereign” has for centuries meant both a nation’s rulers and currency. In a monarchy, the monarch would fit that description. In a republic or a democracy, representatives of the people would probably be best. Therefore, in some way, the currency of the United States ought to be, at least somewhat, representative.
These questions have been brought to mind in large part due to actions and announcements by the Department of the Treasury, that Alexander Hamilton will be removed or will be sharing a space on the $10 note with an important woman in American history. I both love and am somewhat disappointed by this idea.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is experiencing a profound shift. The foundation of unitary government in the UK has been broken, in part through deep reflection over the experience of violence and discord in Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, the UK is beginning to federalize, with significant debate still as to the extent and timing. Why devolve? Broadly speaking, the member nations of the United Kingdom have argued that certain local affairs are best governed locally, while other affairs are not. This same logic ought to apply to encourage greater unification among the commonwealth realms.
On July 2nd, 1776, the United States declared independence. It is an event over which I have debated, going back and forth on whether it was justified response to Great Britain’s actions. Certainly, atrocities were committed by both sides, the liberties, rights and responsibilities of several parties were not upheld by the others, and in general, there was significant devastation and loss for those who, on both sides of the Atlantic, wanted reconciliation and negotiation. However, envisioning what would have happened had American demands been listened to well, can give us an image of what could happen in the future.
For several hundred years Christians have experienced unprecedented and undeniable privilege in the United States of America, and throughout the world American Christians have gained due to the status of being American. However, there has been a shift, and America isn’t the country it was. This battle is over. The war will continue, as our battle must so long as Christ tarries, but prudence dictates that a change in strategy is necessary. It ought to be clear that the mission is the same. There is no change in the command to go and make disciples of all nations. No change in the command to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. No change in the command to love your neighbor has yourself.
However, in the United States of America, corruption is rampant. The rule of law is failing, both at home and worldwide and the US is left in the lurch, overburdened by allies who won’t help and enemies who can’t be stopped alone. The world order is changing, and the security we have felt in America, which secured missions of peace, development, and sharing the Gospel abroad for decades, is disappearing.