It is like a science-fiction movie from the 1950’s. Mysterious radiation from outer space takes over the brains of Asian men in America, turning them into moral zombies that go on killing sprees: a Buddhist in Texas who tried to beat the demons out of his three-year-old son who had eaten meat; a discharged IBM employee who shot up an immigrant hospitality center in Binghamton, New York; the Vietnamese father in Mobile who threw his three children off a bridge. Simultaneously, from the South, comes an invading force of violent aliens importing toxins that destroy the souls of those who ingest them. And all across the country the familiar cry goes up, “Nothing can stop them!”
It is not surprising that Barack Obama and the other leaders of his Democratic Party of the Left refuse to take measures to protect the American people from mutants and aliens. After all, they hate the people, the country, and its traditions. Just to put a period to his loathing of the old America, President Obama returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the British government. No reason was given for snubbing our wartime ally, but everyone knows the reason: Churchill took steps to suppress the Mau Maus—a gang of terrorists who expressed their protest against British rule by murdering and raping British farmers and their families.
The Grand Old Party of the Center Right is hardly more patriotic than the Democrats. Oh, it is true that a senator here and a congressman there have made speeches about illegal immigration—hardly ever about the real problem, which is legal immigration—but the Republicans are controlled by a libertarian/Wall Street Journal mind-set that has relegated nation-states to the dustbin of history. Here is the one point on which Marxists and libertarians are in complete agreement: Neither nations nor communities nor even families should command the loyalties of free and equal individuals.
Claude Polin, in a brilliant article on fraternité (Catholica 100), has shed some light on this convergence of right and left. He points out that any authentic notion of human brotherhood is excluded by the modern attachment to the other Jacobin articles of faith, liberty and equality, because “a being who conceives himself as totally free and essentially equal to his counterparts (semblables) must experience a natural propensity to treat the other as a means of serving his own ends.” This explains why exchange is the dominant mode of social interaction in the modern world in which “each seeks the society of others only insofar as he finds his own interest in it and through which he makes every effort to maximize it.” When moderns do invoke the concept of human brotherhood, they are either hypocritical egoists who know that to enjoy the right to maximize their own interest they must pretend to grant others a similar right, or else they are members of an officially designated group of victims who, though they are brothers in misfortune, are not brothers to all mankind. Brotherhood requires us to believe we are all the children of God, made in His image, and it is that image—that capacity for virtue—that we must love even in our worst enemy, not his vices or even his membership in the club of privileged victims.
To extend our friend and colleague’s point, we can say that, insofar as parents and children are motivated by liberty and equality, they will regard their relations not as a series of duties and affections arising from ties of blood but as a set of reciprocally profitable exchanges. The ties of common citizenship, being weaker and less natural, will hardly be felt at all by the free and equal. Who would go to war, defend a border, or restrict trade if such exertions were not personally advantageous? Marx hated nations and states, but the doom of historic nations was already pronounced by the classical liberals of the 19th century.
And yet it is Christianity, not Marxism or liberalism, that usually receives the credit or blame for the repudiation of loyalty and patriotism. Pseudochristian leftists—including far too many Catholic bishops in the United States—make the preposterous claim that Christ came to liberate us from the duty to defend borders or respect the law. Antichristian nationalists, following in Nietzsche’s drunken meandering footsteps, complain that Christianity weakened Western man’s resolve to defend his interests against other peoples and races. Paradoxically, many of these neopagans are also followers of Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman—the liberal gurus who did their best to dissolve all the bonds linking human beings and to replace them with (to use a phrase Marx borrowed from Carlyle) the cash nexus.
If the neopagan nationalists had ever read any history, they would, perhaps, be puzzled by the behavior of Christian warriors like Justinian and Charles Martel, Saint Louis and Saint Joan, but their response would be that Saint Joan was a bad Christian who did not understand Christ’s message as well as they do—ill-read pagans though they are. What else did Jesus mean in His Sermon on the Mount?
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you . . .
Some pacifists, Christians among them, have construed this passage to imply an express condemnation of all forms of violence and all use of force whether in self-defense or national defense, but neither the context of the passage nor the wider context of the Scriptures and tradition would bear out this interpretation.
Jesus is primarily addressing His followers, the brethren He had assembled from the towns of Galilee. Like most Mediterranean peoples, the Jews were a fractious and litigious lot. In Greek, the enemy He refers to is an echthros, that is, a personal enemy, and not the foreign enemy (polemios) who rides in to slay, rape, and pillage. A personal enemy is someone with whom you are having a dispute over a property line, an inheritance, or insults that may have been exchanged when the two parties were in their cups. Anyone who has lived in a small town, suburban neighborhood, or co-op apartment building knows that man is not just wolf to man but also weasel and jackal, ready to start a lifelong quarrel over a loose dog, an unpainted fence, or a noisy party. What a waste of time and energy this can be, especially among brothers who are told to love one another.
It is true that Tertullian completely rejected the Roman Empire and, consequently, all forms of imperial service, including soldiering, but Tertullian was an extreme rigorist who withdrew, with other Montanists, from the Christian mainstream. Earlier Christian apologists, such as the author of the “Epistle to Diognetus” and Aristides the Athenian, only singled out Christians for their moral purity. Otherwise, “Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, speech, or custom,” and, although they are treated as aliens, they shoulder the burdens of citizenship.
Saint Augustine regarded the charge of pacifism as a slander used to discredit Christians as loyal Roman citizens. In a letter to an imperial commissioner, Augustine argued that the admonitions to turn the other cheek and not repay evil with evil have to do with the Christian’s mental disposition and not with the need to correct, with charity, an erring son, a criminal, or an invader. John the Baptist, after all, did not tell the soldiers to lay down their weapons and desert but was content with instructing them to “do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). The barbs were aimed at soldiers who augmented their incomes by collaborating in the extortions of tax collectors.
When a Christian engages in killing, either as executioner or soldier, it is the ruler and not he who is morally responsible. The soldier is merely the instrument of a ruler whose power comes from God, as Christ informs Pilate during His interrogation. Saint Paul sums up the Christian position succinctly: “Not in vain does he [the ruler] hold the sword” (Romans 13).
Vengeance belongs to God, who then delegates that power to the ruler, who is to protect the innocent from violence by punishing lawbreakers and defending his kingdom or empire against invaders. His subjects or citizens, correspondingly, have a duty to pay their taxes, obey the laws, and defend their country. This reasoning depends on an important premise, that a commonwealth—whether city republic or kingdom or empire—is a legitimate human institution that requires the power to defend itself. In the high Christian Age, Thomas Aquinas would make it clear that Christians owe a primary moral duty to their family and a civic duty to their commonwealth. All other arguments are, quite simply, moral heresy and lead to pernicious consequences. The greatest Catholic moral theologian, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, while laying down conditions for a just war, is careful to explain that a conscripted subject does not sin even by fighting in what turns out to be an unjust war. “I was only following orders” may not be an excuse for a war criminal, but it is a justification even for the citizens of a republican government that has decided to go to war.
To delegitimate nations, some radicals misleadingly cite Paul’s statement that, in baptism, “There is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28), but this statement is aimed at repressing quarrels that broke out between gentile and Jewish Christians. The sentence continues, “there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” And yet, so far from uttering a word against slavery per se, he instructs slaves to obey their masters, and Paul, who has been unfairly stigmatized as a misogynist, can hardly be accused of pursuing a feminist agenda.
Some leftists have pretended that Christians cannot restrict immigration into their country, even if they believe it is harmful to their nation’s security and prosperity. They cite such statements as “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Like most prooftexts taken out of context, these sentences are open to misinterpretation. Did strangers possess the same rights as Jews? Certainly not. A foreigner who approached the tabernacle was put to death (Numbers 1:51). A Jew could charge interest on money loaned to a stranger but not to a Jew (Numbers 23:20), and the Jews’ ethnic first cousins, the Edomites, only gained full rights after three generations of living with the children of Israel (Numbers 23:10). The Torah did prescribe justice and kindness to strangers, but when Solomon conducted a census of the strangers in Israel, he was sufficiently alarmed by their numbers as to send many of them off to do hard labor.
Like most ancient peoples, the Israelites were intensely chauvinistic. By their own (exaggerated) account in Joshua and Judges, they exterminated the populations of Canaan when they entered the Promised Land, and, once installed there, the tribes were forever quarreling with one another, their non-Jewish neighbors, and, more perilously, with the great kingdoms of the Middle East. The prophets warned the kings of Judah and Israel repeatedly, but the Jews did not heed them, and the result was the Assyrian conquest of Israel and the Babylonian captivity of the Judeans.
In an outburst of quite justifiable xenophobia, the Israelites, returning from the Babylonian captivity, separated themselves from non-Jews and made a covenant not to intermarry with them (Nehemiah 10: 28-30). When a Hellenistic kingdom replaced Persian rule, the Maccabees led an uprising against a universal empire that overrode local distinctions. Later, under Roman rule, the Jews refused to accept the fact that Herod had established Greek city-states, and when the emperor did not find in their favor, they staged the rebellion that led to their destruction.
Greeks and Romans wondered, rather unfairly, why Jews could not get along like other conquered peoples, but whatever use we make of the Old Testament as a political inspiration, it is simply disingenuous to argue that the Jews’ undoubted kindness to sojourning strangers constitutes an argument against either defensive war or immigration restriction.
Catholic and Orthodox rulers and their subjects had no reluctance to defend their commonwealths against pagans, heretics, and their fellow communicants, and, if they had no other piece of Scripture, the story of the Tower of Babel would have informed them that their Creator had established separate peoples and warned them against any attempt to corral all the nations into a world government. Christians only began to lose their will to defend themselves during the Enlightenment, precisely the period when they began to replace their Christian Faith with the moral absurdities of John Locke and Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant.
I am not concerned to defend any nationalist policy or any particular immigration law. My object has been to point out the dishonesty and absurdity of “Christian” arguments against waging war and restricting immigration. When pastors and priests, bishops and theologians today defend illegal aliens or invoke the doctrine of “civil disobedience,” they are not speaking as Christians but as Marxists or Hindus. And when supposedly conservative writers try to tell Christians that they have undermined the West, it is time to tell them that they are defending a West to which they do not belong.
This article first appeared in the June 2009 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.