Repost: Christianity and Love of the Other (On the consistency of particularism and Christian charity)

It is a good thing to want one’s fellow man to be happy in the everyday use of the word.  It is an even better thing to want one’s fellow man to be virtuous, better still to want him to be holy.  To love God, to affirm His Eternal Law and be conformed to it, is man’s highest calling.  Yet charity does not rest even with this, that he and I should both separately obey and separately adore God.  As Aquinas said, benevolence alone is imperfect friendship; perfect friendship also requires communion.  This, then, is charity’s end:  that my neighbors and I should be united in worshipping God, that we should praise Him–as it were–with one voice and make a collective obeisance to His Law.  As Augustine insisted, this and this alone constitutes a group of men as a true republic.  It’s fullest form is, of course, the Church herself.  In the Church, believers are united in one body that is none other than the mystic body of Christ, engaging in one collective sacrifice that is none other than Christ’s own sacrifice sacramentally re-presented.  However, while the Church is the supreme corporate offering to God, she is not, and does not wish to be, the only one.  Every authoritative organization–family, tribe, local and national community–is grounded in a recognition of a transcendent moral order and ordered to a collective conformity to this order.  So far is the Church from that jealousy that marks the secular state–the godless state that prefers to rule over a social desert so that it can rule alone–that the Church’s greatest wish for these other authorities is that they should recapture a sense of their true grandeur.

There are, of course, many types of human groups that do not impose moral obligations on their members, but we conservatives are less interested in these purely voluntary organizations.  (Admittedly, one would not get this impression given the Right’s last half century of vague talk about “civil society” and “voluntary associations”, as if it were all the same to us whether a city is filled with churches, bowling clubs, or–God help us!–NGOs.  I will be speaking of the genuine conservatism of Maistre and Bonald.)  Our most important attachments, though, possess real authority over us, whether the concentrated authority of a ruler or the more diffuse authority of custom and social expectation.

Liberal Christians tend to see human authorities and traditions as competitors to God and morality, while conservatives see these things as ways of making moral duties concrete and making God present to the communal life.  It is obvious how the regulations of the Jewish Torah and the Muslim Sharia inject a consciousness of God’s sovereignty into the affairs of daily life.  We, too, rely on traditions to provide a sort of language for recognizing our neighbor’s dignity, giving concrete content to the demands of courtesy, modesty, filial piety, etc.  The “statements” we thereby make are generally made through symbolic action rather than direct verbal expression, and critics of tradition may well wonder why that is.  If tradition and hierarchy exist to “say” something, why not just say it in plain English and have an end to the hocus-pocus?  There are two answers to this.  First, a direct statement can only belong to the one who says it; you and I could both separately say the same thing, but we could not say it with one voice.  If you allow me to speak for you, we have already resorted to representative symbolism.  The life of the community, though, is supra-personal and transcends the consciousness and personal limitations of its members.  This brings us to the second reason, that symbolic action is supra-rational.  It is a type of showing rather than saying and so is not limited by our conceptual categories.  Our traditions do encode propositions but could not be exhausted by any finite set of them.  Symbolic action is thus the most fitting way to corporately express mysterious truths.

Authority is one way that God’s will is made present to a community.  As the magnificent Islamic-Persian maxim puts it, “a just sultan is the shadow of God on Earth”.  According to Saint Paul, the magistrate imposes justice as the representative of God, while a husband loves and rules his wife as the image of Christ over His church.  The Apostle was not here imposing a religious gloss over basically secular institutions; the family and the city were religious at their inception, as authorities have been in most places and at most times.  Even at Rome’s nadir of impiety, Cicero saw that a collective consensus on justice is an essential property of a republic, and this consensus on justice is nothing other than the collective affirmation of God’s Law that I identified above as the key feature of an authoritative community.

Understanding these norm-imposing communities is key to understanding conservatism.  Liberals and other nonconservatives often ask us how we reconcile our commitments to group loyalty and universal morality, to tradition and natural law.  It’s a very good question, and those who ask it deserve better answers than the ones they often get.  A related question is this:  are groups to be seen as means or as ends?  The liberals insist that groups are means to the fulfilment of individuals.  When we consider the dignity of the human person, bearing as he does the image of God, and think of how repugnant it would be for persons to be used as mere cannon-fodder, we realize that the liberal must be at least partly right.  It cannot be the case the a group’s members are nothing but raw material for the group.  The fascists, on the other hand, say the opposite, that it is the state that is the end and the individuals who are means (i.e. ends only insofar as they are part of the state).  When we consider how empty would be a life devoted merely to individual self-fulfilment and how much of the best of the human spirit is actualized only in collective effort, we realize that the fascist must also be partly right.  Individuals cannot, for their own sakes, have no end but themselves.

I’ve said that, for the conservative, authoritative communities are collective affirmations of God and His Law.  They do serve the end of connecting individuals to God, but this does not make them means, because what they are for is not distinct from what they are.  Such a community is not a means to make a collective affirmation of God; it is a collective affirmation of God.  For such a group to seek its own advantage through injustice to God, to outsiders, or to its own members is not only wrong but contradictory.  To say this is only to repeat the traditional belief of the West–both Christian and pagan–that an unjust law is not a law, and an unjust republic is not a republic.  Also, because all legitimate authority is ordered toward a Good that transcends it, a conservative has no trouble acknowledging multiple authorities, each authorized directly by God.

It is, then, perfectly right that we should love our communities.  Just as a man who loves his wife treasures his marriage, patriotism is a case of love becoming conscious of itself and endorsing itself.  We value our communities for connecting us to our neighbors and to God.  What’s more, we love them as particular beings for their own sakes.  We wish for this particular community, this particular channel to God, to flourish and to outlive us.  We respect other communities, and we think it proper that foreigners should love their own countries as we love ours, but our love and our loyalty necessarily belong to our own communities alone.

It is also right that we should protect our communities.  Therefore, we do not recognize a duty to endlessly accommodate foreigners and subversives regardless of the cost to our common life.  The community’s moral consensus must be upheld by censorship and law enforcement.  Borders must be secure and immigration limited to nondisruptive levels.  Invading armies must be met with lethal force.  Ancestors must be publicly  revered and the public mythology defended.  We cannot tolerate our children being taught history from the viewpoint of our nations’ enemies and learning to despise their own ancestors as criminals.  No other people would stand for this sort of moral obliteration.  Ask the Native Americans and the Africans if they would be willing to renounce their own ancestors in exchange for all the white man’s wealth and power.  Ask the Arabs if they would be willing to acquire all Europe’s wealth at the price of joining Europe in apostasy.  I expect most of them would give the manly answer, which shows that what we are doing to ourselves is worse than the conquests we once inflicted on them.

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