Cross-post: One God, many peoples V: Propositional peoplehood

Allow me to wrap this up.

Universalism, we’ve seen, goes way back.  The ideas of universal brotherhood, a universal natural law, and even of a single ultimate God were known to the pagans.  Far from a sign of spiritual advance, the separation of God from one’s people and social order has often marked spiritual decline.  In Voegelin’s terminology, the compactness of the world, the sense that local rituals and duties connect to ultimate reality, is lost.  The world’s Axial Age, and Israel’s Prophetic Age, were the time when people started to intuit God’s transcendence but didn’t know how to handle it.  They could no longer see God’s presence in the ancient theocracies and vaguely imagined Messianic kingdoms in which this tension could be overcome.  In the moral order, the question was how one could justify particularity in light of this new universalistic perspective.  Having mentally “risen above” the tribe, how does one get back down?

Christianity did not create this problem.  Christianity is one proposed solution, the most adequate on offer, in my opinion.

What is the other solution?  Imagine the predicament of man who loves his tribe or country but has come to accept that this love, loyalty, and piety are rationally and morally indefensible.  His highest moral principles condemn his noblest sentiments.  In fact, you don’t have to imagine this–you’re living it–but I’ll get back to that.  How can he live with such a spiritual wound?  The problem, as he misconstrues it, is this:  how, from a universal perspective (shedding, as he imagines he must, his own “empirical ego”) can it be justified to favor this group in particular?

The group must be special in some absolute, objective sense.  The only quality that really matters is morality, and the heart of morality (as he understands it) is universalism.  And here is the solution!  His group is the one to have discovered universalism.  That doesn’t, of course, mean that they own it, that they can hoard this treasure for themselves.  Quite the opposite!  They have a duty to spread their light to those still in darkness.  This is, indeed, the very essence and reason-for-being of the group:  to spread universalism.  A group dedicated to the abolition of groups.  A universal, a propositional people.  So our man lays down his natural loyalty, and in return he is allowed to pick up a new unnatural loyalty.  His new love, for an idea rather than a concrete people, is a cold and inhuman thing compared to the love he left behind, but it is the only thing his cold and inhuman morality of universal brotherhood will allow him, so he makes due with it.

Where do we see these propositional people?  Where don’t we see them?  Islam.  Freemasonry.  Reform Judaism.  The United States of America.  The European Union.  Each represents an attempt to make a tribe of anti-tribalists, a brotherhood of those who don’t believe in brotherhood.  Muhammad is the closest thing the world has had to the warrior Messiah dreamed of by the Prophets.  Be honest:  doesn’t the Messiah sometimes sound more like Muhammad than like Christ?  As we’ve seen, historians agree that Islam is, in its essence, more individualistic, egalitarian, and cosmopolitan than Christianity, Christianity being the religion that defines itself around its “scandal of particularity”.  The reform of Judaism undertaken by eighteenth-century German Jews was an attempt to repackage Judaism as a carrier for moral universalism, a boiling down of the Jewish faith to nothing but the Prophets.  America and its European copies you know all about.  And you know that the people who spout the most ludicrous nonsense about America being “exceptional”, as being based on “an idea” rather than “blood and soil”, are the people most drawn to “blood and soil”.  They are people who are looking for some excuse to affirm their own people and land while holding fast to the moral principle that one may not affirm one’s own people and land.

This is all clear to me because, as an American Catholic, I get hit by it from both sides.  As an American, when I hear that we’re a propositional nation, I see it as a denial that I as an American have any distinct culture that I’m allowed to cherish.  I see it as a commitment to my people’s eventual destruction through immigration and multiculturalism.  After all, a propositional people must aim at its own extinction.  It must desire for its carrier-ideal to become universally accepted, so the carrier itself shall disappear.  As a Catholic, I get to have propositional peoples shining their light unto me, calling me to join them in rejecting Christian tribalism.  From their point of view, this is a generous offer.  From my point of view, it seems that I’m being asked to renounce my ancestors, to admit that the Church has been in the wrong and villainous all the time after all, while they are being allowed to keep revering their predecessors, who after all were heroes in the fight against Catholic oppression.

This is what allows me to imagine what it must be like to be on the other side of these universalist exercises.  America as the propositional nation looks to me like suicide, but it looks to other countries like chauvinism.  “Our Founders were geniuses who came up with the one correct way for everyone to live.  Your ancestors were a bunch of superstitious savages, but don’t worry!  You can become an American, adopt our ways and revere our ancestors, too.  Aren’t we wonderfully post-nationalist to make you an offer like this?”  And while it is true that their universalist creed sets liberal Jews over Catholics in the march of history, anti-tribalism is killing assimilated Jewry.  Their panics over intermarriage are like Americans’ over immigration.  In fact, some of the clearest defenses of particularity have come from Orthodox Jews.

Thus, to our neo-pagan critics, we Christians warn you not to imagine that eliminating us will save you from the universalist plague.  The ability to mentally lose oneself outside of the tribe is a danger intrinsic to the human intellect.  As humanity abandons Christianity, it finds itself stranded in the landscape of American politics–the choice between Leftist cosmopolitan degeneracy and neoconservative ideological belligerence in the service, ultimately, of cosmopolitan degeneracy.

6 Responses

  1. Universalists tell us that an attachment to blood and soil leads necessarily to bloody soil, whereas attachment to universal principles will bring us at last to the sunny uplands of peace. This is wrong for reasons that should be obvious. To a man with a principle, men with other principles are in error, because the law of non-contradiction holds that x and not x cannot both be true. So men with conflicting principles quarrel necessarily. But a man may love his blood and soil without detracting in the slightest from my love of my blood and soil. He may of course covet my soil and hate my blood, but this does not follow necessarily.

    I can be angered by my neighbor’s political opinions, but I cannot be angered by the love he feels for his wife and children, or by the pride he takes in his property. In fact, that love and pride benefits me because it makes the neighborhood a better place to live. This seems like a paradox, but it isn’t. Universalism is a zero sum game, and particularism is not.

  2. Right as always, JMSmith. It’s amazing the simple things that cosmopolitans don’t realize.

  3. I find it interesting that code for Jews (a hyper-tribal group if there’s ever been one) used to be “rootless cosmopolitan.” How things change.

  4. There is a third alternative between “blood and soil” and universal principles which is “particular instantations of universal principles”.

    This third alternative is a sane alternative to “blood and soil” worship and rootless cosmopolitianism”.

  5. vishmehr24 @ An attachment to blood and soil is a particular instantiation of a universal principle, just as a man’s love for his wife is a particular instantiation of a universal principle. In the case of blood and soil, the universal principle that it is right and just that a man love his patria. In the case of a man’s wife, the universal principle is that it is right and just that a man love his wife. Notice that I’ve said that it is the love that instantiates a universal principle, not the patria or the wife. My land and my people are not simply the land and people who happen to be mine, just as my wife is not simply the woman who happens to be my wife.

    I know Durkheim tells us that all worship is ultimately worship of one’s own tribe. The answer to that is, “speak for yourself, Émile.” National feeling seldom if ever rises to worship, but it must have in it an element of piety. This piety can be exploited by mountebanks, but a person who lacks this piety is defective, like a man who lacks the olfactory sense. I’m not much for flag waving myself, but I recognize the flag-wavers as men. I can’t say this about cosmopolitan libertarians. If you tap them on the chest you will hear a hollow booming, like that of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz

  6. Have they? I originally wrote this whole post with the Jews (and, to a lesser extent, Americans) in mind, but decided I had to make it more general if I wanted to put it on the Orthosophere and have anyone pay attention to the main argument.

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