Christianity, Liberalism, and Love of the Other, Part II

(Part 1 is the post immediately below.)

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.

25 thoughts on “Christianity, Liberalism, and Love of the Other, Part II

  1. “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.” This raises a question for me–really a simple one. You are clearly defining a certain connection between church and state. But what then is the difference? I doubt you mean to say they are simply the same. But it is not clear to me from what you have presented so far how you define the difference.

  2. “It is, then, perfectly right that we should love our communities.”

    But what shall we do when our communities have become as unlovable as our own American “community” has become? I look at my forefathers’ European homeland with revulsion: they have gone so far down the path to destruction that I thank God for my ancestors’ wisdom in leaving their lands for America. However, I see us on the same path as our European brethren—just not as far down it as they. I once thought we might turn back, but there is no evidence that we, as a people, are going anywhere but straight ahead on this road to ruination.

    We seem well on our way to what some call the United Soviet States of America. I fear that if I do not escape soon, I will be unable to escape when I want to, that my very life will be in danger due to the unleashing of minority resentments and violence that continue apace. Even if I survive that, will I survive the purge of the conservatives or the purge of the Christians?

    I hate to say things like this, but I see no reason to believe that things will get better before they get far, far worse.

    I hate what the left has done to my country and my countrymen, that they have turned it into such an unlovable thing. But how can I love such a community?

    • If you only love your nation insofar as it’s Christian, traditionalist, etc., so that you increasingly hate it for its lack of Christianity and traditionalism, there’s a good case to be made that you don’t really love your nation.

      Likewise, if you love your family only when they’re obedient, respectful, kind, helpful, etc., and increasingly hate them when they are difficult, burdensome, etc., you probably don’t really love your family.

      Certainly having these qualities are good things for both a nation and a family. It makes it *easier* to love them, or to understand oneself as loving them. But they are not love itself.

      The solution is to (a) hate that which is corrupting your nation, as being unworthy of it; and (b) revile those who are corrupting your nation as traitors to it, and pray that God either open their eyes or else close them forever.

    • As long as the core of goodness remains, we must continue to love our communities and not abandon them. If a nation stopped in any even implicit sense to be authoritative as I described it, the country you love would be dead. There would be no reason for you to love the social creature that killed and replaced it; it would be more natural to mourn your country and hate its supplanter.

      It takes a lot for a country to really be dead, though. Just having wicked rulers isn’t enough, as long as the sense of obligation and loyalty lives in a large part of the subject population.

      • Thank you all for the thoughtful replies.

        I see the America created by the Founding Fathers as dead. After more than a century of attack by the left, the final blow was the ruling, on June 28, that ObamaCare was constitutional. This was the formal declaration that the republic, under a government of limited, enumerated powers, was over. We are now a socialist state; it only remains for those in power to consolidate that power. If Obama is re-elected—which is far more likely than one would hope—then I fully expect a Jacobin nightmare to follow, probably during his second term.

        I cannot love such a country. I can no longer display the flag, nor pledge allegiance to it, because what it stands for is so wicked. “Independence” Day was a day of mourning for me this year.

        Yet, I still feel strongly about what America was, and what it might be after the coming revolution crumbles. I suppose I feel a little like Solzhenitsyn: great love for his patrimony, but a dissident, refusing to accept the immoral government of the day.

        As with all things, I will continue to pray. This, too, must be part of God’s plan, “for there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Romans 13:1)

    • > I look at my forefathers’ European homeland with revulsion:
      > they have gone so far down the path to destruction that
      > I thank God for my ancestors’ wisdom in leaving their lands for America.

      Maybe you should visit Eastern Europe to get a sense of a real Europe which one can be proud of.

      Stuff like this happens here regularly:

      Also the campaign: “Ban gayism”

      Of course it is not a conservative paradise, the liberal media does the possible and impossible to push liberalism, and there are lots of libertarians, but there is no total conservative paradise anyway at the moment, so I guess that Eastern Europe (well, excluding Czech Rep.) is the closest one can get.

      > I hate what the left has done to my country and my countrymen,
      > that they have turned it into such an unlovable thing.
      > But how can I love such a community?

      The key to avoid complete pessimism is to try to surround yourself with like-minded people. A conservative church can help a lot here.

  3. Thank you for this work, Bonald. I muse about it, but here, may I ask if you think that your argument depends on our not being able to love an essence? I am not convinced that such is true, but the rest of your argument seems reasonable. Furthermore, who is our neighbor? Christ’s command is pretty clear, and the liberal Christian’s position seems to hang on every human being’s (or even rational being’s) being our neighbor.

    • Your error lies in the neglect of the body. Man is embodied soul and thus he can not be a neighbor to everybody at the same time.

    • One might say that the liberal position is that it is more meritorious to love a stranger than a neighbor, since benevolence towards my neighbor will probably result in my neighbor’s benevolence towards me, making the whole thing smack of quid pro quo. I’m not sure what it would mean to love an essence, but I doubt that we humans are capable of properly loving an abstraction or an idea. People are often fiercely loyal to ideas, but to my mind love always involves a trace of pity for beings that are finite, like ourselves. This is why I think love of country should be experienced through love for a particular part of that country.

    • Hi Joseph A.

      If I understand your argument, you’re saying that if Platonism is true, then one could love an essence, because the Forms are themselves subsistent beings and not just as abstractions, but that being an Aristotelian I discounted this possibility without even thinking of it. You may be right. My claim implicitly relies on my belief that essences only exist 1) in particular instantiations, 2) in the mind as abstractions, or 3) for “pure perfections” in God as identical to the Divine essence. So, a man who says he loves justice really means that he’s committed to an abstraction or, if he imagines that there is some subsistent Justice “out there”, he is really talking about God Himself.

  4. Man is a political animal. What does that mean,
    It means that man lives in particular communities that are bound by their particular laws.
    Thus there is a distinction between a citizen and a stranger,
    Liberalism seeks to erase this distinction. This can be done either by
    making everyone a citizen (Progressivism) or by making everyone a stranger (libertarianism).
    The modern conservatism flounders between these two liberal streams.

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    • I find it somewhat amusing that people constantly forget what they have already learnt. Christians have had to deal with Gnostic heretics for almost two millennia, and Christians have refuted their errors for that entire span. That argument is part of the “public record,” so to speak. And yet, every time the press flashes its Blue Light Special to showcase another Gnostic find, sad rags and silly papers use the opportunity to ask, “Is Dan Brown right?” It’s Fleet Street sensationalism in an impious age . . .

      • The reason I had asked bonald is because he has a great way of presenting strong arguments which I do not. A friend was challenging me on the article and rather than let him win the argument I was hoping to get some good points from bonald so as to show him why he is wrong.

      • Hi chesterpoe,

        I wasn’t even going to bother reading about it, but having been prompted, a few things jump out at me.
        1) Even the fragment’s proponent, Professor King, thinks it’s useless as a historical document about Jesus. Her main interest is in the light it may shed on gnostic beliefs in the late Roman Empire. I don’t disagree with her; I just find the Gnostics much less interesting than she apparently does.
        2) Not that it matters who the mystery lady is supposed to be, but it’s not clear that it’s Mary Magdalene.
        3) Professor King’s risible understanding of the role of the family in orthodox Christianity does not inspire confidence in her as a guide to religion in late antiquity. She should check out St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians; it’s complete, and it’s even been translated into English. Something that’s supposed to be a symbol of Christ’s love for the Church couldn’t have been conceived as all bad.

      • “In recent years, accounts of the early church claim that scriptures and gospels were very numerous, until the mainstream Christian church suppressed most of them in the fourth century. This alleged purge followed the Christian conversion of the emperor Constantine, at a time when the church supposedly wanted to ally with the empire in the interests of promoting order, orthodoxy, and ecclesiastical authority. According to modern legend, the suppressed works included many heterodox accounts of Jesus, which were suspect because of their mystical or even feminist leanings.

        The problem with all this is that the Eastern churches had a long familiarity with the rival scriptures, but rejected them because they knew they were late and tendentious. […] The deep conservatism of these churches, so far removed from papal or imperial control, makes nonsense of claims that the church bureaucracy allied with empire to suppress unpleasant truths about Christian origins.”

        From Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity

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