The poor United States of America: so far from God, so close to Mexico.

President Franklin Roosevelt, in his First Inaugural Address, announced what became known as the Good Neighbor Policy.  “In the field of world policy,” Roosevelt said, “I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the right of others.”  Later that year, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, at the Montevideo Conference, gave American support to the declaration that “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.”  Two days after its adoption, Roosevelt confirmed the intention of that declaration when he said, “The definite policy of the U.S. from now on is one opposed to armed intervention.”

In the three quarters of a century since then, the American empire has violated its own freely offered policy on numerous occasions, in respect of Latin America and elsewhere.  Following 1933, when U.S. forces departed Nicaragua leaving Anastasio Somoza in command of the country, Washington has either invaded or engineered wars and coups in Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Nicaragua, Granada, Panama, Nicaragua again, Colombia, and Venezuela.  This record of aggression against sovereign Central and South American countries stands in surreal contrast to the willingness of the United States to tolerate, over the past four decades, the invasion across her southern border of tens of millions of Latin American immigrants, the large majority of them Mexicans but among these many Central and South Americans as well.  This history of passive-aggressive behavior on the part of a major power must be unparalleled since the days of the Roman Empire if not earlier, depending on which historian one consults.  It seems to defy explanation, yet history, being a human process, must be humanly explicable to some degree or another.  In this instance, the answer may have to do with the fact that an empire views itself and its interests differently from how a nation-state does, and that, since 1945, the United States has come increasingly to think like a global empire, rather than like one nation among a couple of hundred others.

This explanation accounts for the classical historical parallel mentioned above.  The ancient empires, nations, and republics did not, of course, enjoy the benefit of a Christian understanding of sovereignty, of the nation, and of the national state that was formulated during the Middle Ages and early modern times.  Neither do modern Western governments, which have long been post-Christian entities, ruling over post-Christian populations.  This suggests how an arrogant, aggressive superpower (shortly to become an arrogant, aggressive ex-superpower) can behave as a passive, self-insecure nation, at once capable of offensive and belligerent behavior against other nations and incapable of resisting a “peaceful” invasion from what the Russians would call her near-abroad (and elsewhere) in defense of her sovereign borders.  Once the United States abandoned the concept of nationhood as it is understood in Christian terms, she forfeited the self-respect to which Roosevelt referred.  And in doing so, she learned a general disrespect for both nations and the notion of national interest that has encouraged her to run roughshod over other countries in pursuit of ideological aims, such as the realization of democracy and democratic capitalism around the globe.  The resulting attitude is summed up in the now familiar phrase, “invade the world, invite the world”—maximum imperial self-confidence joined with minimal national confidence; post-Christian international hubris linked to a sentimental, post-Christian denial of what is owed to oneself, to one’s near-and-dear, to one’s people, to one’s culture, to one’s religion, and to one’s country.  Thomas Aquinas would have argued—indeed, he did argue—against both heresies.  So did Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who earned the scorn of the enlightened West, as well as that of the Soviet communists, by insisting that individual nations are so many facets of the divine human creation, each one of them endowed with its own integrity, interest, and discrete splendor.

Here is the reason why the United States has always made such a botch of her relations with her immediate south-of-the-border neighbor, why she has never been able either to live with Mexico and her people, or apart from them, either in real enmity or true amity.  It is entirely in accordance with the evolution of American political thought, feeling, and development that the nation which seized northern Mexico from the government in Mexico City 160 years ago in the name of Manifest Destiny is nowadays unwilling to deny illegal immigrants from Mexico what amounts to free and unlimited (if often inconvenient) access to the United States in the name of international humanitarianism.  It is thus that the alien “Panchos,” “greasers,” and “wetbacks” of yesterday have become the “children of God” whom Senator McCain welcomes today.  Once again, we see how the United States—which, while acting as an ideological empire, has the moral confidence to bully the world—is, in her role as a traditional nation-state, insufficiently confident to press her most fundamental rights and interests.  And this philosophical confusion has produced results that have been unfair to herself, as well as to Mexico (and other countries).

For this confusion, we have the Christian churches to blame, as well as the politicians.  Beginning in the last century, organized Christianity in all its denominations has been vocal in expressing its belief that empires and nation-states are theologically suspect, if not actually in defiance of Christian principles and teachings.  Whether secular or religious liberalism is responsible originally for the spread of this sort of thinking is arguable.  It appears, though, that here is an instance of Christians trying to make themselves and their Faith palatable to modern liberals by updating it to conform with the principles of liberalism and liberal internationalism, in the manner that the Catholic Church in the United States, following the War Between the States, tried to make Her peace with democratic America by reassuring non-Catholic Americans that She was more the American Church of Rome than She was the Church of Rome in America.  Since then, this American Church has been increasingly inclined to fall into line behind the Protestant churches, as their teachings developed from the Social Gospel and Protestant liberalism generally—not, of course, in respect of social teaching, but rather of national and international politics.

A sea change has occurred since World War II in the Roman Catholic understanding of the right to immigration, as well as emigration—partly in response to the international migrations of peoples during the past half-century caused by overpopulation of the Third World, and partly to the political instability and economic collapse, repressive governance, nationalistic excess, and racial and ethnic conflict that have marked this period of history.  In addition to these external factors, the Church’s own councils have influenced Her attitude toward migration, in particular Vatican II (1962-65), which stressed ecumenism and international cooperation, thus underscoring the magisterium’s suspicion of the nation-state. In the 1980’s, an aptly named priest, Fr. Paul B. Marx, told his congregation in Buffalo, New York,

I tell the Mexicans when I am down in Mexico to keep on having children, and then to take back what we took from them: California, Texas, Arizona, and then to take the rest of the country as well.

For these remarks, Father Marx should have been removed from his parish and sent back to seminary for a refresher immersion course in traditional Catholic theology, the works of Augustine and Aquinas especially.

In the summer of 2008, Washington became embroiled with Mexico City in a dispute over the terms of a bill then wending its way through the U.S. Congress that provided substantial financial aid to the Mexican government in prosecuting its war against the drug cartels, the narcotraficantes, and the coca and marijuana farmers in Mexico.  At issue was a provision in the bill that defendants prosecuted in the course of what amounts almost to civil war must be tried in accordance with American notions of procedural fairness.  The Mexicans, quite understandably, bristled at this demand.  What right had the gringo government to decide details of legal procedure south of the Rio Grande?  It was not as if the Americans were acting from the goodness of their hearts; they, too, stood to gain from President Calderón’s success in defeating the cartels, which are entrenched in cities along the international border as well as the Mexican heartland.  In the end, an accommodation was reached, the bill was passed, and Mexico City will soon have its money and its helicopters.  But it is important to set this controversy in the context of the Bush administration’s concurrent “crackdown” on illegal Mexican aliens in the United States.

During the presidency of Mexican President Vicente Fox, as now under that of Felipe Calderón, the government, at what it considered to be prudent intervals, sent the Federales—the Mexican army—into the Sierra Madre Occidental with orders to burn out selected mota and perico fields—“the crop that pays,” as the Mexicans say—under cultivation by a few unfortunate farmers.  Not many fields, not many farmers—just enough to convince Alfred E. Newman in the Casa Blanca in Washington that the Mexican government was doing its part to halt the smuggling of drugs across the border into El Norte.  (What George Bush may know, or not know, is that it is the habit of these burned-out farmers, and all who depend on them and their crop, to head north themselves—to El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles—to recoup their profits in the drug business there, before returning to the wilds of the bandit-ridden Sierra to seed their fields once again with the crop that pays.)

Similarly, and while the fight over the drug-war bill was in progress, Mr. Bush was involved in an act of grandstanding of his own, one whose intended audience was in part the Mexican government but, more importantly, the American public itself.  It is difficult to believe that the President who laid his reputation on the line in two attempts to pass an amnesty, or “comprehensive immigration reform,” bill expects his current, much-touted “crackdown” on the employers of illegal immigrants, and on the aliens themselves, to succeed, or that he wishes it success.  At best, this is political theater; at worst, a cynical attempt at enraging the targeted employers and annoying other Americans by leaving their apples unpicked and making it hard for them to find all the nannies and gardeners they think they need—by forcing, that is, the congressional enemies of amnesty to cry uncle to their constituencies.  Whether this understanding of Bush’s intentions is fair or not, a significant number of immigrants is on its way home to Mexico in what amounts to an act of mass self-deportation.  That is all to the good so far as the United States is concerned.  It is not so good in respect of the Republic of Mexico, and of Mexico’s “children of God” whose illegal presence here was encouraged and abetted by one presidential administration after another.

All this could have been avoided had the United States, morally secure in her identity as a traditional nation rather than infatuated with her self-image as a city on a hill and a beacon to mankind, insisted on her internationally recognized rights as a sovereign nation and secured her borders against invasion by foreigners.  Then the illegal immigrants would not have come here, we would not have as many as 20 million of them living among us, the authoritarian and often repressive Mexican government could not have relied on emigration to the north as a social and political safety valve, and the Mexican politicians would have been forced to make the appropriate political and economic reforms.  But it was not to be.  The United States is, indeed, too far from God.  And Mexico is far, far too close to her welcoming, beneficent Uncle Sam.