Christianity’s political form

Let us take encouragement where we can.  First Things has published a tepid defense of nationalism by Pierre Manent.

Islam was never able to abandon the imperial form that ­Christianity could never assume in a lasting way. Christianity instead found its form in the nation, or in the plurality of nations once called “Christendom,” then “Europe.”

“Nation” is not quite the correct word.  Christianity found its form in the plurality of kingdoms once called “Christendom”.  A kingdom is a type of nation, but not the only type.  The kingdom of France was a political expression of a Christian people; the Republic of France is founded on the public illegitimacy of Christianity.

Manent proceeds to lament France’s inability to muster a strong collective will, loss of a sense of the common good, and an anti-political European Union.  This is all encouraging for First Things, given its classical liberal beginnings.  What Manent says here about Muslims is certainly true.

Because only the individual and the human race are [deemed] legitimate, intermediate communities in which human beings actually live, such as nations and churches, have no legitimacy of their own and in fact bear the stigma of rupturing human unity. However, to be consistent, this delegitimation of communities should include or implicate the Islamic community. But this does not happen. European political elites speak of Islam and the Islamic community in a way they would never speak of Christianity and the church. In our public discourse, there are Muslims and there are Europeans. Why is it that only one form of living communal identity, the Muslim form, receives the unreserved recognition of ruling opinion?

The most decisive reason, I think, is the following. Those who decide what we have the right to say and do do not engage Islam as a social reality. It is not considered in itself. Instead, “Islam” becomes a test of our post-political resolve. It must be accepted without either reservation or question in order to verify that Europe is indeed empty of any national or religious substance that might get in the way of human universality. The refusal to treat Islam as a social or, more generally, a human reality therefore has nothing to do with Islam but instead with Europe’s self-image….

Precisely because it has been the enemy of Christianity over the centuries, and because its moral practices are now the furthest from those of the Europe of human rights, a post-political European sees Islam’s unhindered presence as demonstrating the triumph of European ideals. We have become so universally human that we have no enemies.

However, his understandable attachment to both his country and his Church makes him underestimate how radically antagonistic they are.

Here the Church must play a central role. Although Catholics seem to be pushed ever further toward the periphery of public life, even in our secularized present the Church is the spiritual domain at the center of the West. Her responsibility is proportional to this centrality, which in truth is inseparable from her identity. The universal Church alone is up to the task of holding together a European form of life that has the capacity to offer hospitality to Judaism, Islam, evangelical Protestantism, and the doctrine of human rights. And so, the Church in France—that is, French Catholics—have a special responsibility for the common good in which the other spiritual forces of my country participate.

No, the Church lost any “special responsibility” to the atheist-Jewish Republic in 1905.  Also, it’s not clear what this special responsibility entails.  There’s no hint it involves stopping the Muslim colonization.

It is my contention that France’s Muslims will find their place only if the French nation accepts them, not just as rights-bearing citizens, along with other bearers of the same rights, but as a distinctive community to which that nation, shaped by Christianity, grants a place. Our Muslim fellow citizens must obviously enjoy the rights of French citizens without any kind of discrimination, which is not always the case at present. They cannot, however, find a place in a vacuum. They find their place only within a nation that has the spiritual and intellectual resources to be generous without being complacent.

To find their place in a France alive to its Christian center, Muslims must want to participate actively in the life of a political body that does not and will not belong to the umma; they must therefore accept a degree of separation from the umma. For the nation to accept them as Muslims without reducing their religious mark to a private particularity with no relevance to the political body, it is necessary that they accept this particular nation, the French nation, as the site of their civic activity and, more generally, of their education. A certain “communitarianism” is inevitable. Muslims will inevitably form a visible and distinct community. This will lead to difficulties, on one side or the other. But this is desirable to the degree that it prevents the ideological lie of the new secularism, which obligates us to pretend to be nothing but citizen-individuals who are permitted common action only for the sake of “humanity.”

I’m a communitarian myself, especially by the standards of French civic totalitarianism, so I’m happy for the Muslims we unfortunately can’t get rid of to have their own spaces.  But fair is fair.  French Catholics should also get their own spaces dominated by their own ethos.  Except that can’t happen unless Muslim fellow citizens are subjected to “discrimination”, not in their “rights of French citizens” narrowly conceived but in a very publicly relevant way should they encroach on Catholic communities.  Would Manent allow this, or has he himself imagined Catholics as so universally human that we don’t have enemies?

The essay ends with an amusing (but reasonable) argument that we should preserve historically Christian nations because it’s good for Jews and Muslims.  Frenchmen are still not being encouraged to pursue their own collective interest for its own sake, but I suppose this is still a step in the right direction.

It is up to Christians to renew the meaning and the credibility of the political community ennobled by the Covenant. We will not do this by inviting Islam to join a vague fraternity of the children of Abraham. We will renew the meaning and credibility of the Covenant only by renewing the meaning and credibility of the distinctively European association that bore the Covenant until only recently—that is, the nation. Now that the Jewish people have taken the form of a nation in Israel, the nations of Christian Europe cannot break with the national form without fatally wounding the legitimacy of Israel. So long as the walls of the Arab-Muslim world are crumbling and Muslims seem to have more and more difficulty producing a political form from their own resources, to admit them into, or rather to abandon them in, a Europe without either political form or gathered collective action for the sake of the common good would be to take away their best chance for a civic life. It does not suffice to bring men together to declare or even to guarantee their rights. They need a form of common life. In France, a nation of the Christian mark is the only form that can bring us all together.

3 Responses

  1. @Bonald – You have far more stamina that I could muster in ploughing through such a mash-up of hand-wringing, constipated burble. What on earth is the point of articles like this – virtue signalling perhaps? It is the verbal equivalent of multivariate analysis based modelling – shove in everything you can think of, to generate an incredibly complex and predictively-useless equation…

  2. Such worm-tongued speech is forever weak and tainted, and means more distracting and waste than anything.

    Forthright honesty, even if some can’t understand it, must be always the answer.

  3. […] considers Christianity’s political form, which is unlikely to be mentioned, as such, in the pages of First […]

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