Why Be a Patriot? Why Prefer Our Fellow Americans?

 

In response to my most recent post, Peter Robinson poses a fundamental question: Why should the government of the United States prefer the welfare of those who are citizens of this country to those who are not?

To begin to answer Peter’s question, one must ask what a political community is and what it is for. In addressing this question, Thomas Hobbes urged that we attend first and foremost to the genesis of civil society. He lived in the great age of European exploration, and he was aware that there were places in the world in which there were no states. He called the condition of men in this situation “the state of nature,” and he argued that human beings construct polities to escape the grievous disadvantages associated with that condition. Chief among these was the prospect of violent death.

John Locke refined this argument. He agreed that civil society is grounded in an agreement — explicit or tacit, but nonetheless widely understood — on the part of a group of human beings to defend one another. He suggested, however, that the passions underpinning that agreement are more complex than what Hobbes had in mind. Alleviating the fear of violent death is not enough. Those who join the civil association also want to protect their liberty and the property with which they provide for their livelihood. Without liberty and property, their lives are not worth much. This they understand.

If you were inclined to suppose that Aristotle and, say, Thomas Aquinas were at odds with this understanding, you would be right . . . and wrong. Their understanding of the genesis of the political community was quite similar to the understanding later articulated by Hobbes and Locke. They were aware that the political community is an achievement. Aristotle described the inventor of the polis as man’s greatest benefactor. And they understood that the political community comes into existence to defend its members against enemies from abroad and criminals at home. The word polis had as its original meaning “citadel.” But they insisted that, although it comes into existence for the sake of advantage, it remains in existence for the sake of something more — justice and the good. We enter the political community, they said, for mere life. We remain in it to live nobly and well.

This explains why they suggested that the members of a given political community are — or at least want to be — friends. There are, Aristotle tells us in his Nicomachean Ethics, three types of friendship: friendship arising from pleasure, friendship arising from material interest, and friendship arising from a common devotion to virtue. The political community is first and foremost a circle of friends held together by material interest. But there tends to be pleasure associated with the arrangement as well. Think of the interest Brazilians take in their national soccer team. And there also tends to be an element of virtue in the mix — for human beings rarely think of advantage alone. When they deliberate together concerning advantage, they simply cannot help themselves. They inevitably come also to consider justice and the common good.

Put in other terms, the members of a political community tend to share a common language. They often share a common religion, and they do share common moral commitments. They share a way of life — and where these elements are missing altogether, where they do not share a common language, where they are bitterly opposed in religion, and where they are at odds with regard to how they should live their lives — the polity tends to fall apart. Think of Lebanon or Belgium and you will see what I mean.

In modern commercial societies, situated on extended territories, the moral element in the mix may be attenuated. Religious diversity may be accommodated. In some measure, even moral differences can be ignored. But it would be a blunder to suppose that the moral element disappears altogether. Especially when there is an external threat, we tend to rally around the defense of a common way of life. Paradoxically, the attenuation of our moral convictions and the embrace of religious diversity and mutual toleration are arguably central to our way of life as Americans.

Archbishop Gomez — along with many another Catholic prelates and perhaps even the current Pope — has forgotten what Thomas Aquinas and everyone of any moment in the Catholic Church of yesteryear understood: that human beings need local communities, that man is fallen and sinful and tends to be greedy and unjust, that the world is in consequence a very rough place, and that men have a right and, yes, a duty to band together and defend their lives, their liberty, their property, and their way of life by excluding outsiders. As individuals, they may also have a duty to concern themselves in some measure with the welfare of these same outsiders. But their first duty — the one that takes priority — is to provide for their families, their neighbors, and their fellow citizens. They may be pilgrims here on earth. Their local ties may be transitory. But on this earth these ties are nonetheless real — and those who speak of pity and compassion and preach humanitarianism are often far more willing to redistribute the property of their fellow citizens than to share with those around them their own largess. Those who profess to love humanity often have little use for the needy in their own neighborhood.

Suppose that we were to open our borders, as Archbishop Gomez seems to think we should. Suppose that we were to accept all comers and to confer upon them citizenship. Would our lives be safe? Our liberty? Our property? Our way of life? Or would those seeking refuge here not deprive us of what is ours?

If the numbers of new arrivals were limited, we could, I am sure, accommodate them and educate them as Americans, as we have done in the past. Their presence, then, might be to our benefit as well as to their own. But if the numbers were great, they would re-educate us. They would deprive us of our way of life. And they might well take from us what we and our forebears labored long to acquire.

Here is one way to think of this. How many Muslims from, say, Pakistan could we safely accommodate? The British experience suggests that we should be exceedingly careful in this regard. Archbishop Gomez preaches compassion. He should also have recourse to common sense. In my lifetime, in this regard, the Catholic Church has lost its way. So have those left-liberals here and abroad who listen to National Public Radio and the BBC and thrill to references to “the world community.”

There is, in fact, no world community. There are separate political communities — some of them friendly to us and some of them quite hostile — and, as human beings, we desperately need the protection that our political community provides for our lives, our liberty, our property, and our way of life.

Let me add that we have an interest in liberty. It is an open question — one raised by Montesquieu long ago in his Spirit of Laws and one taken seriously by the American Founding Fathers — whether self-government can be sustained over an extended territory. As Montesquieu pointed out, great empires tend towards despotism. Those in charge tend to be far away — out of sight and out of mind — and, being out of sight and out of mind, they are unchecked, they can get away with abuses, and they tend to fall prey to temptation. Polities on extended territories also tend frequently to encounter emergencies, and this concentrates power in the center; and those who exercise that power are apt to exercise it to keep themselves in office.

Consider what has happened to the bulwarks of our liberty in the United States in the course of the last century. What has happened to the separation of powers? What has happened to federalism? These were the institutions devised by the Framers of our Constitution to protect us from the dangers identified by Montesquieu. It is by no means clear that our own republic will long endure. Attempts are being made to steal elections and suppress freedom of speech, and these attempts have enjoyed a certain success. More than 40 of the Democrats in the Senate have actually voted to get rid of the First Amendment. When I contemplate democracy’s drift, I fear for my country.

Liberty requires locality. To sustain locality, one must establish boundaries and defend them. Those who reject locality — both those who want to eliminate federalism and the separation of powers in this country and those who favor open borders and an abandonment of patriotic preference and the sense of friendship that binds citizens together — are, whether witting or not, the enemies of liberty.

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  1. wmartin Member
    wmartin
    @

    You don’t even need to look at Lebanon or Belgium; you can look at Los Angeles, which is the most diverse city in the world, and the U.S. city with the “lowest social trust.”

    • #1
  2. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    wmartin:You don’t even need to look at Lebanon or Belgium; you can look at Los Angeles, which is the most diverse city in the world, and the U.S. city with the “lowest social trust.”

    I can imagine.

    • #2
  3. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    Only Paul Rahe could, at the mere request of someone like me, and on no notice whatever, sit down at his keyboard and then produce an essay as well-reasoned, comprehensive, and compelling.

    Beautiful.

    • #3
  4. Jack Dunphy Contributor
    Jack Dunphy
    @JackDunphy

    Glorious. Thank you, Professor.

    • #4
  5. civil westman Member
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    Yes. You have encapsulated the reasons for my pessimism as to our endurance.

    • #5
  6. The Mugwump Member
    The Mugwump
    @TheMugwump

    We should remind ourselves that the far left of the Democratic party is friendly to neither patriots nor fellow Americans.  Their preferred company is that of fellow travelers, and the importation of a foreign constituency is simply a gambit to accrue and maintain power.  You will remember that Russian Bolsheviks preached revolution in the name of the proletariat only to reduce this very same group to the status of slaves.  That the totalitarian character of the American far left is becoming increasingly obvious should come as a surprise to no one.

    • #6
  7. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    In addition to the understanding of the venerable Aristotle, Thomas, Hobbes, and Locke, I would add the more homely  “Charity begins at home.”   If we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot help anyone else.

    With regard to size,  it may be that we are in fact too large to be a republic, a possibility I had never thought to contemplate.  On the other hand, one can live in an American city that is more or less tyrannical, even without the help of the federal government.   Size is not everything.

    • #7
  8. billy Member
    billy
    @billy

    Tom Wolfe had a great essay a few years ago on the need for a great “relearning.” His point being that Americans had forgotten, to its detriment, many eternal verities.

    One forgotten truth I would add: Nationhood is a difficult achievement. Living in a society where one has rights and privileges above those of being a member of a tribe is a rare condition and one worth protecting.

    • #8
  9. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Sandy:In addition to the understanding of the venerable Aristotle, Thomas, Hobbes, and Locke, I would add the more homely “Charity begins at home.” If we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot help anyone else.

    With regard to size, it may be that we are in fact too large to be a republic, a possibility I had never thought to contemplate. On the other hand, one can live in an American city that is more or less tyrannical, even without the help of the federal government. Size is not everything.

    You are right. Size is not everything, and I almost used that very phrase. Charity does begin at home, and those who pay no attention to the needs of those quite near are usually charitable elsewhere only with other people’s money.

    • #9
  10. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    billy:Tom Wolfe had a great essay a few years ago on the need for a great “relearning.” His point being that Americans had forgotten, to its detriment, many eternal verities.

    One forgotten truth I would add: Nationhood is a difficult achievement. Living in a society where one has rights and privileges above those of being a member of a tribe is a rare condition and one worth protecting.

    It is an achievement, and its endurance cannot be taken for granted.

    • #10
  11. Robert Lux Member
    Robert Lux
    @RobertLux

    A great little essay, Dr. Rahe.  In the previous thread, I was going to add the following excerpt for people’s consideration. The essential problem with the open borders people — or in our case, Ricochet libertarians who cannot process that the economic is epiphenomenal to the political — is that they they jump immediately to an abstract, other world. I.e., Zuckert’s comment about following the mandates of the divine intellect. They are a form of theocrat.

    “Likewise, reading [the Bible’s] Genesis in its own terms, in [Leo Strauss’s essay] ‘Jerusalem and Athens’ Strauss suggests that the story of the Fall, the Flood, and the giving of the Torah to Moses can be understood to be an account of of God’s teaching human beings they need to live under the rule of law, formulated by Divine Wisdom to which they have freely consented. Like Plato, the Bible not only teaches the practical necessity of the rule of law; it also suggest that so long as there are human beings, they will form nations that will war against one another. The reason the rule of law [or politics] is needed and war is unavoidable is, in both cases, the same. The primary attachment people have, first, to their own bodily existence and, then, to their own families or goods, makes it impossible for individuals, much less groups, always to follow the mandates of the divine intellect. Because no one wants to sacrifice him- or herself for others, people disagree about the best way of doing things. They form different factions or camps and, when their differences become severe, they fight. Those who wish to defend their freedom must, therefore, band together.

    –Catherine Zuckert, Postmodern Platos, p. 199.

    Emphasis mine.

    • #11
  12. user_517406 Member
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Amen Professor.  I join you in fear for our country.  At this point, things are not looking good.  I hope I am wrong and that we see a revival of our freedoms, but without that, we will have nothing to save.

    • #12
  13. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Robert Lux:A great little essay, Dr. Rahe. In the previous thread, I was going to add the following excerpt for people’s consideration. The essential problem with the open borders people — or in our case, Ricochet libertarians who cannot process that the economic is epiphenomenal to the political — is that they they jump immediately to an abstract, other world. I.e., Zuckert’s comment about following the mandates of the divine intellect. They are a form of theocrat.

    “Likewise, reading [the Bible’s] Genesis in its own terms, in [Leo Strauss’s essay] ‘Jerusalem and Athens’ Strauss suggests that the story of the Fall, the Flood, and the giving of the Toray to Moses can be understood to be an account of of God’s teaching human beings they need to live under the rule of law, formulated by Divine Wisdom to which they have freely consented. Like Plato, the Bible not only teaches the practical necessity of the rule of law; it also suggest that so long as there are human beings, they will form nations that will war against one another. The reason the rule of law [or politics] is needed and war is unavoidable is, in both cases, the same. The primary attachment people have, first, to their own bodily existence and, then, to their own families or goods, makes it impossible for individuals, much less groups, always to follow the mandates of the divine intellect. Because no one wants to sacrifice him- or herself for others, people disagree about the best way of doing things. They form different factions or camps and, when their differences become severe, they fight. Those who wish to defend their freedom must, therefore, band together.

    –Catherine Zuckert, Postmodern Platos, p. 199.

    Emphasis mine.

    Nice.

    • #13
  14. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Very much appreciate this essay, Paul. You have provided analysis for the intuition we all share, unless we consciously seek to avoid thinking it through, that community, family, neighborhood, nation, is essential.

    • #14
  15. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Peter Robinson:Only Paul Rahe could, at the mere request of someone like me, and on no notice whatever, sit down at his keyboard and then produce an essay as well-reasoned, comprehensive, and compelling.

    Beautiful.

    I am envious of his students.

    And I’ve thinking about Locke and Hobbes ever since I saw your question.

    Thank you, Professor Rahe.

    • #15
  16. user_82762 Thatcher
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Dr. Rahe,

    I would define the soft despotism that you speak of as an agnostic-formalist version of the hard atheist-materialist Marxist-Leninist anti-colonialism anti racism critique.  At its highly sophisticated core is a dread of freedom.  America and its Constitution of Liberty, in Hayek’s phrase, is the greatest proponent of freedom in the world.  Thus America must be demeaned, must be reduced, must be defeated.

    Something that just happened is so comic we all should laughing out loud. Obama after one of the summits with the European leaders said that they all insisted on America’s leadership.  Obama said “America is the Indispensable Nation“.  Logically, if America is an Exceptional Nation is does not necessarily follow that it is Indispensable.  However, if America is Indispensable then it logically follows that America must be Exceptional.  Thus, Obama has given direct empirical evidence of American Exceptionalism in action at the moment.

    A priori evidence of the importance of freedom and our central role in its defense.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #16
  17. CuriousKevmo Member
    CuriousKevmo
    @CuriousKevmo

    Paul A. Rahe: those who speak of pity and compassion and preach humanitarianism are often far more willing to redistribute the property of their fellow citizens than to share with those around them their own largess. Those who profess to love humanity often have little use for the needy in their own neighborhood.

    Very astute Sir.  This has certainly been a common thread among the progs that I live among.  Including some, sadly, in my own family.

    • #17
  18. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    An impressive essay. I wish I could agree…

    • #18
  19. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Even a Jesuit could agree with this.

    • #19
  20. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    Magnificent essay.  Thank you.

    • #20
  21. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    It is the US Government’s duty, indeed purpose, to prefer the welfare of US citizens over others.  But the Church answers to a higher power.  Why should the US Government and the Church have the same agenda or position?

    • #21
  22. jetstream Member
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    Peter Robinson:Only Paul Rahe could, at the mere request of someone like me, and on no notice whatever, sit down at his keyboard and then produce an essay as well-reasoned, comprehensive, and compelling.

    Beautiful.

    Professor Rahe must have a team of writers locked in his basement. How does one person continuously produce such a large volume of high quality work? It’s truly impressive.

    • #22
  23. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Zafar:It is the US Government’s duty, indeed purpose, to prefer the welfare of US citizens over others. But the Church answers to a higher power. Why should the US Government and the Church have the same agenda or position?

    They shouldn’t, but the Church should recognize and acknowledge our political needs, and it always did . . . until quite recently. To be precise, it did so until after the Second World War. Today’s Church has jettisoned both Augustine and Aquinas.

    • #23
  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Robert Lux:…or in our case, Ricochet libertarians who cannot process that the economic is epiphenomenal to the political — is that they they jump immediately to an abstract, other world…

    On the other hand, public choice theory seems to work, making the economists’ claim that politics an epiphenomenon of economics at least somewhat plausible.

    Nor is it obvious to me that political theory is any less abstract than economics. In fact, I’d be inclined to say the opposite. To me, it appears that economics addresses how ordinary people really behave, while political science addresses… something… allegedly… God bless those who find that something easier to understand than economics!

    Is deciding which is the epiphenomenon of the other really such an important question?

    • #24
  25. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Robert Lux:…or in our case, Ricochet libertarians who cannot process that the economic is epiphenomenal to the political — is that they they jump immediately to an abstract, other world…

    On the other hand, public choice theory seems to work, making the economists’ claim that politics an epiphenomenon of economics at least somewhat plausible.

    Nor is it obvious to me that political theory is any less abstract than economics. In fact, I’d be inclined to say the opposite. To me, it appears that economics addresses how ordinary people really behave, while political science addresses… something… allegedly… God bless those who find that something easier to understand than economics!

    Is deciding which is the epiphenomenon of the other really such an important question?

    Does this have anything to do with wise men?

    • #25
  26. user_517406 Member
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Paul A. Rahe:

    Zafar:It is the US Government’s duty, indeed purpose, to prefer the welfare of US citizens over others. But the Church answers to a higher power. Why should the US Government and the Church have the same agenda or position?

    They shouldn’t, but the Church should recognize and acknowledge our political needs, and it always did . . . until quite recently. To be precise, it did so until after the Second World War. Today’s Church has jettisoned both Augustine and Aquinas.

    Sounds like you agree with my husband, Paul.  His argument is that the school prayer decision changed the church/state paradigm.

    • #26
  27. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Paul A. Rahe:

    But their first duty — the one that takes priority — is to provide for their families, their neighbors, and their fellow citizens. They may be pilgrims here on earth. Their local ties may be transitory. But on this earth these ties are nonetheless real…

    Liberty requires locality. To sustain locality, one must establish boundaries and defend them. Those who reject locality — both those who want to eliminate federalism and the separation of powers in this country and those who favor open borders and an abandonment of patriotic preference and the sense of friendship that binds citizens together — are, whether witting or not, the enemies of liberty.

    I agree that liberty requires locality. I also accept that nations have borders (which could be more open or less open, but not nonexistent) – borders are evidently one of the things that makes a nation a nation.

    That said, I think human beings have a natural preference for their own kind, for the familiar. And if liberty requires locality, primary allegiance to something as big as the USA is at least a bit odd. How big, really, can you reasonably expect a polis to be?

    I sometimes suspect I’m too clannish by nature to make an ideal patriot. When I was a kid returning home from a family business trip in Canada, US customs agents once separated us kids from our parental units and pretty much asked us to inform on them. My siblings tell me I clammed up as if I were being interrogated by the Stasi, that my behavior was really rather amusing – I wouldn’t even tell the customs agents what they already knew. Personally, I think my reaction was the natural one. My family, my friends, the people I actually have some knowledge of, are “local” to me (even when we’re separated by wide distances) in a way that strangers simply aren’t.

    When Ricochet contributor Annika Hernroth-Rothstein told us of the threats her family faced in Sweden, she mentioned to me that she was overwhelmed by the offers of help she received both privately and publicly from fellow Ricochetians. Many offered her a place to stay in their homes if she ever made it to the US. Of those who did, I wonder how many would care if she were to flee Sweden for the US illegally (which isn’t her plan, incidentally – coming to the US isn’t even her plan). Our legal immigration system is rather as mess, as James of England can attest.

    • #27
  28. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Member
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    This is an excellent piece.  Here’s the way I see it, and i think it’s in tune with what you say.  We are obligated to love our neighbor as ourselves.  What constitutes our neighbor.  Well, there’s family, there’s friendships, there’s neighborhood, there’s city, there’s state, there’s country, there’s culture, there’s the rest of the world.  Each one is an outer ring of neighbor, and the closer to the inner circle the higher the obligation to love, assisst, and sympathetize with.  Human relationship bonds seem to work that way.  That does not mean we don’t sacrifice a thumbnail for someone in our inner circle for the life and well being of someone in the out circle.  We have to conduct some sort of balance and that requires analysis and assessment.  This is how I sort of how I split and distribute my charitable contributions.

    • #28
  29. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Manny:This is an excellent piece. Here’s the way I see it, and i think it’s in tune with what you say. We are obligated to love our neighbor as ourselves. What constitutes our neighbor. Well, there’s family, there’s friendships, there’s neighborhood, there’s city, there’s state, there’s country, there’s culture, there’s the rest of the world. Each one is an outer ring of neighbor, and the closer to the inner circle the higher the obligation to love, assisst, and sympathetize with. Human relationship bonds seem to work that way. That does not mean we don’t sacrifice a thumbnail for someone in our inner circle for the life and well being of someone in the out circle. We have to conduct some sort of balance and that requires analysis and assessment. This is how I sort of how I split and distribute my charitable contributions.

    I agree.

    • #29
  30. Marion Evans Member
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Lebanon has big problems and Belgium gets by ok when it is not invaded by Paris-bound Germans. But what about Switzerland? Different languages, different Christian denominations etc. Of course, their politics are mainly local.

    • #30

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