Posted: April 7, 2004
he work of American politics is the making of citizens, and that means the making of governors. In the context of immigration, this means that the American claim that men are capable of self-government requires that we appraise newcomers in terms of their readiness not merely to submit to the rule of our laws, but to give us laws. We may, for example, demand that they know the language in which we are usually commanded, precisely because we envision them giving such commands. We understand, then, that immigrants may be deemed worthy to govern us but not yet ready to govern us. Thus they must be made ready to govern in order to be made our fellow citizens.
As complete as this brief account may be, there are compelling and even urgent reasons to elaborate upon it. I will cite only two: first, Pierre Manent's suspicion, voiced this winter, that President George W. Bush (and perhaps America altogether) wrongly insists upon distinctions of "good and evil" in matters of foreign policy (and in politics generally); and second, Walter Berns's argument in his recent book, Making Patriots (University of Chicago, 2001), that patriotism is something more than, something beyond, mere citizenship.
The more straightforward of these two challenges is Berns's sprightly volume, for in it he steadfastly defends the idea of American patriotism (with little else by way of complication). Moreover, his effort is praiseworthy in its endeavor to exalt patriotism in an era of postmodern (mainly European) suspicion of such sentiments. In the end, he doesn't really respond to those suspicions, which is why I take exception to his accomplishment. In the course of his argument Berns makes two fundamental claims that seem ill-considered. The first of these is that the "social contract" citizen is not at all "naturally inclined" to patriotic citizenship but rather "to lead an essentially private life.... Unlike the citizens of every previously existing democracy, he himself does not govern. Governing is done by his representatives." A second doubtful claim is that this "social contract" citizen's God is not a real God; that is, his God takes no interest in the affairs of men.
In the case of the first error, we witness an extension of Hobbesian reasoning beyond the limits that even Hobbes indulged. For Hobbes insisted that three compelling appetites moved men—desire, fear, and reputation—whereas Berns reckons merely on desire and fear: "Why should such a man, who institutes government in order to secure his private rights, have any concern for anyone else? Why should he be public spirited?.... As Locke said, he can expect to profit under a government that secures his rights and can be expected willingly to accept the duties it imposes." But this minimal "public spiritedness" is hardly very spirited. This very fact, surely, is why Berns seeks to inculcate patriotism, and why he turns to the example of Lincoln in order to supply what otherwise has no rational foundation in the polity and no poetic home in the soul. Equality, then, far from organizing human moral energies, spawns a debasement of the soul that only gratuitous poetry can relieve. Patriotism is more than citizenship, according to Berns, because citizenship in the godless "commercial republic" is not worth singing about!
The same consequences emerge still more clearly from Berns's second error, namely, the identification of the Declaration of Independence's reference to "Nature's God" with a deliberate refusal to embrace the God of Abraham. Founding this judgment particularly upon Christ's distinction between the secular and the sectarian, Berns holds that "Jesus...made it impossible for a Christian to be a patriotic citizen in the classical sense." Now, while there are serious arguments about the effects of Christianity upon the world (effects that Machiavelli certainly explained with great cogency, and none more important, perhaps, than the obscuring of the beautiful), it is a fundamental mistake to take "render unto Caesar" as intending to sunder the secular and the sectarian. It is, after all, no accident that the religious leaders to whom Christ addressed himself in that famous statement held in their hands coins bearing Caesar's likeness, while at the same time they were posing to Christ questions of religious doctrine. In short, the confining of the secular to realms of lesser human significance may well have spelled the end of the comprehensive political community, but it by no means spelled the end of the ambition for moral excellence. The true significance of this exchange is that it pointed to the emergence of a new moral hierarchy, redefining rather than eliminating patriotism. By this new moral hierarchy, politics would be judged. And when those new political standards came to the fore, the regimes that attained or aspired to them would naturally attract a fiercer loyalty than those that did not.
The mistake is to think that because the government is not to direct faith, faith is not invoked or required; or, to put it differently, to imagine that because man may not speak in God's name, God no longer speaks to man. Berns perhaps derived the inspiration for his second error from Harry Jaffa's familiar reliance upon Jefferson's Statute of Religious Liberty as the decisive statement of the founders' position on matters religious. It is certainly true that the idea of settling the religious wars by means of toleration stands at the center of the founding. Nonetheless, the definitive account of religion's role in the founding is more likely Washington's long series of national pronouncements on the topic, which advocated toleration but also much more, forging a direct link between professed faith and political prosperity.
Washington's adaptation of Micah 6:8 in his famous Circular Address of 1783 is decisive here, for it invokes the "author of our blessed Religion" and in the same breath explains that it is America's political goal to imitate Christ. Washington tied man's justice to God's will. When he resigned his army command, he had already made it clear that he aimed to continue the effort to found a unified nation that could secure its "national character" into a remote futurity. In basing his final prayer for his countrymen on Micah, so amended as to embrace the most extensive human ambition, Washington projected the goal he aimed at:
That [God] would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristicks of the Divine author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.
Washington's imitatio dei converted Micah's humble prayer ("What does God ask of man, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?") into an ambitious program to shape a world-historical people. More significantly, he constructed a doctrinal foundation for the founding considerably more ambitious than the goal of religious toleration. For no one can imitate God without posing the question, quid sit deus.
In the latter portions of his book Berns finds good reason to praise Christian fellowship as a foundation of patriotic citizenship, although he maintains that there is no foundation for that connection in the regime's principles. Let us see, then, whether the regime of equality does not make that rather a necessary than an incidental consequence of the regime. The American Revolution, the revolution of equality, was not founded in resentment, whereas elsewhere revolution drew entirely upon class and religious hatreds. Liberal democracy arose from the boldest 18th-century theories, but in the United States it was put into practice upon a significant condition—namely, the expression of confidence in religion in addition to those theories. The Americans, then, stopped short of the extreme forms of revolution that otherwise characterized the theories of the 18th century.
They were able to do so because they affirmed a notion of equality that reinforced, rather than undermined, principles of moral duty. They observed the need for principles of relationship independent of politics in order to make liberal democracy work —social principles, beyond political principles. In their view, the attempt to make politics the totality of the human experience in the context of liberal democracy would create moral chaos, leaving people who require social and moral guidance without any restraint or guidance. Thus, a people who ought to be self-governing would become ungoverned and ungovernable.
The doctrine of consent was not, as Jaffa in A New Birth of Freedom has shown, to be the realm of "unconditional rights" revealed by modern science. It was rather
based on the idea of unalienable rights endowed by man's Creator. Such rights were not unconditional. They were to be exercised only in accordance with the laws of nature and of nature's God, which were moral laws. Rights and duties were in a reciprocal relationship.
Surely, what bedevils Berns's argument is a notion of rights and duties for which no provision of direct enforcement is made. But that is the very essence of consent, self-government, and universal suffrage. These rest in an expectation of community apart from politics. Thus the focus should be on making citizens rather than making patriots—citizens for whom politics is the efficient means of maintaining and defending the community. The proposition of universal suffrage must be based on the idea that human beings (as such) can come to be capable in a given community of reasoning together about the human things and the common good. Human beings altogether (or to so wide an extent that the omissions are trivial) must come to be capable of moderation, self-government, and moral sense in order to justify confidence in universal suffrage.
Berns points to, without explaining the necessity of, a particular regime devoted to protecting our "attachment to principles that are universal." That is, we make citizens in order to defend our principles and not the reverse. The idea of the state, of its existence and our commitment to its welfare, is intrinsic to the health of those principles by which we govern ourselves. This is the reality that eludes Pierre Manent, who in a lecture given at Harvard's Program on Constitutional Government October 18, 2002 ("Can the Distinction between Good and Evil Provide a Sound Foundation for an Effective Foreign Policy?") teaches that 21st century Europe,
having enjoyed a long and complete peace after so many wars and convulsions, and having built common institutions whose purpose is to "do good" without any clear responsibility toward a definite body politic, tends to forget not only the continuing relevance of self-defense, but also, more generally, the political nature, that is, the circumscribed or "autarchical" as well as threatened nature, of the political good.
For while Manent recognizes that "where [people] live makes a difference," he argues nonetheless that liberal principles fully developed are postmodern principles, in which "the rights of man are slowly but surely swallowing the rights of citizens." What does this mean politically? He applies his premise to Israel —and America's intemperate loyalty to Israel —to make the point:
As soon as you have got a fatherland, you are part of a particular body politic which excludes those who do not belong to it, and thus you are deservedly under suspicion of the rights of man. I would submit that Israel has no choice but to concede something to this "religion of humanity," which is the strongest authority on earth.
It is, then, Manent's discovery of this new civil religion (or perhaps it is better to say a new political humanism) that underlies his impatience with President Bush's tendency to speak about foreign policy in stark terms of good and evil.
To be fair to Manent, he concedes at the outset of his presentation that in domestic affairs one cannot escape the language of good and evil. He uses the example of court decisions concerning sodomy, in which those opposed to the approval of state police power in this area brand the conduct "completely private" and therefore immune to public judgment in terms of good and evil. At the same time, the very insistence that private matters should be immune to public inspection itself embodies a notion of what is simply if not absolutely good. Nevertheless, Manent is not willing to let "do-gooders" off the hook, even in domestic matters. For in addition to making judgments of good and evil, the do-gooder "puts at the center of his purpose a consideration which, however necessary and precious to human life, cannot by itself give it content and meaning: the do-gooder makes his central theme—the good as opposed to evil—what should be [only] the continuous accompaniment of his life." He is "moralistic" rather than "morally serious," losing sight of the good proper to each domain.
The entire point of Manent's argument seems to be to establish that liberal democracy's chief work is stilling human conflict—"thwarting the tendency of international relations toward the state of war inasmuch as two nations whose regimes were fully democratic in the modern, that is representative sense, have never been found to engage in war against each other." Accordingly, he argues, the chief political good today is concord among the democratic states in a cooperative (multilateral) endeavor to manage potential world conflicts without recourse to war. This end, in turn, requires some degree of forgetfulness about parochial claims, perhaps most significantly those claims that distinguish one people from another and are most implicated in ideas of national citizenship and national sovereignty.
Because the liberal project, in Manent's view, resolves primarily into the ambition to strengthen everywhere "the two great instruments of liberal politics, the State and the Market," it has become urgent to decide how to do this. But here Europe and the United States have recently begun to diverge:
...the United States and the European countries more and more tend to belong to two different political species. As I have intimated before, the EU countries tend to proceed under the assumption that politics belongs to a primitive stage of human development, and that "good government" should give way to "good governance," that is, the happy marriage of competence and good will working through an impartial administration, an administration responsible not before a particular community, but before mankind as such whatever that means. In the present European dispensation, the rights of man are slowly but surely swallowing the rights of citizens. On the contrary, even before the measures taken in the wake of September 11, America was becoming more and more "national," looking with suspicion, indeed with contempt, on any and all collective agreements, thus reneging ever so slightly on its Declaration of Independence by showing no decent respect to the opinions of mankind.
This lusty indictment concludes that Europe and the United States are becoming estranged, not merely rivals. "Europe more and more resembles Aristotle's God, moving others by being loved and desired. The European Union is politically effective through opening, or closing, its doors to others' goods or citizens." The United States, on the other hand, retreats into a doctrine of national self-defense, using its great power and singular authority to muscle changes at will throughout the globe, rather than reflecting the "republican" inclination to undertake war only with reluctance.
It is perhaps for us the most important discovery of Greek philosophy that the good is the common good, and that the decisive choice before us is always between the exclusive appropriation of a lesser good and the participation, the taking part in, a greater good. However urgent the defense of America as such, the paramount concern of American policy makers should be the defense of the free world, or the community of democratic peoples as a whole, if only because America has been attacked as the leader of the latter.
Now this is a very long indictment, and I do not have space sufficient to reply to it in detail. Let me, for now, provide a response in general. To begin with, let me take issue with the proto-argument, too long and too often repeated, that liberal democracies do not fight wars against each other. It's hard to say which is more questionable, relying on the history of states only recently become democratic in any meaningful sense (and I include the 20th-century democracies of Western Europe, for few were democratic prior to that and most are still only qualifiedly democratic), or closing one's eyes to the reality that for the entire period in which the so-called liberal democracies have been liberal democracies, they have also been military allies. In social science terms, correlation seems to have been mistaken for causation. This would perhaps be forgivable if Alexander Hamilton had not long ago, in The Federalist, knocked the legs out from under the argument about the pacific nature of republics. At any rate, much of the remaining argument about the "reigning democratic doxa" amounts to nothing more than the familiar claim that in the postmodern era the Westphalian system is no longer relevant; national sovereignties are no longer useful. It is this fashionable, but unfounded, claim that requires a further response, because if there is no longer room for national sovereignty, there can no longer be room for making citizens.
It is somewhat surprising that Europeans in general, and Manent in particular, seem to be forgetting the necessity of political coherence and integrity:
The time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty...has passed; its theory was never matched by reality. It is the task of leaders of states today to understand and to find a balance between the needs of good internal governance and the requirements of an ever more interdependent world.
This casual dismissal of sovereignty (in terms identical to Manent's articulation of the new European view) uttered by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1992, entailed greater risks for the United Nations and world peace than it did for the interests of any significant state. The faction of policymakers who take the view that multilateralism is less a means than an end must realize, just as George Washington did, that doctrines however worthy are not self-realizing. It was therefore manifestly self-contradictory for France's President Chirac to praise the American build-up in Iraq for persuading Hussein to begin disarmament, and then to propose the build-up's indefinite extension in the interest of world peace but exclusively at American expense. There is no international law that can justify an open draw on any particular nation's treasury in the interest of peace. Sovereignty constitutes the protection against such an insane presumption.
Accordingly, the Euro-American divergence attested in the analyses of Robert Kagan ("Power and Weakness") and Ronald Asmus and Kenneth Pollack ("The New Transatlantic Project") ought properly to be regarded as a case of divergence in regime understandings, rather than a divergence in strategic principles. To be blunt, a fundamental misunderstanding of the character of the United States lies at the root of the debate. It is possible to regard American power as Hobbesian, and European appeasement as postmodern, only upon the tacit but false presumption that Europe would still live in a "self-contained world of laws and rules" in the absence of the order assured by American power. Moreover, it fundamentally misconstrues the nature of American interest, which derives from the necessity of the United States's consistent defense of justice in order to preserve the foundation of the regime of equality.
* * *
If we revert to the eras of the American and French Revolutions, we can detect the origins of these divergent strains of thought. They derive from the false universalism of European ideas of revolution. The French Revolution was not carried out in the name of this particular people, the French, but in the name of humanity. The revolution in the United States, by contrast, had an impact that was worldwide (as Lincoln correctly observed, the example of the United States would continue to do so) principally by structuring peoples' expectations of political decency. Although the Declaration of Independence appeals to the "candid" judgment of the world, and the first Federalist holds that the American founding settles a question for mankind and not just for the United States, this revolution was not directed outside the immediate political sphere of the United States. To be sure, Americans had to explain themselves to the world, because in justifying their revolution they had raised the standard of reason, which in turn was attached to natural law. Thus they created a particular society, although no longer determined by blood, in the context of a general conception of humanity.
The French Revolution lacked such modesty; it declared illegitimate every foundation of social order except those mirroring the events that transpired in France. Instead of identifying the French nation as having a peculiar title to these revolutionary claims, and urging the rest of mankind to act accordingly, the French revolutionaries ended by separating human beings rather than uniting them. The reason is that on these terms a Frenchman is no longer a Frenchman, strictly speaking. A Frenchman is merely a human being, with no more fellow feeling for his neighbor or fellow citizen than for a stranger 1,000 leagues away. There is no intrinsic, social principle by which one can argue that neighbors ought to sustain one another, apart from going through the task of establishing a social contract and constitution and committing themselves to a specific political (not social) order, whose laws are binding with all the strength called for by Rousseau's "general will." Which implies, further, an exaggeration of homogeneity among men.
Men in such circumstances are not truly citizens and certainly not patriots. They are Hobbesian subjects, whose fate in world politics must depend either on their own power or on the opportunity to benefit as free-riders from other people who are distinctly non-Hobbesian (i.e., who defend themselves without subjecting others). Thus the Euro-American divergence is nothing other than the divergence between the original French and American revolutions.
Fifteen or so years ago, I was invited to present my reflections on the subject of European integration at a conference in Treviso, Italy. I spoke on America's transition from a loose federation to a genuine state-nation, indicating along the way the potential benchmarks that would signal Europe's progress toward integration. At the conference, however, I learned that I had misconstrued its subject. My hosts were primarily interested in the question of how to deal with the then burgeoning numbers of mainly North African, and to some extent Asian, immigrants flowing into their countries. Specifically, they wanted to learn how to guarantee the immigrants their fundamental rights, without at all conveying title to citizenship, French, Italian, or what have you. In short, they wanted to devise humane principles of integration that, in the end, would differ little from the long-standing German post-war "guest worker" program that brought so many Turks into Germany.
Most European states perform miserably at assimilating immigrants of diverse cultural backgrounds. They do so, I submit, precisely because they don't conceive of their regimes in terms that confirm the general eligibility of human beings for citizenship. They think that citizens are born and not made, despite the fact that that notion is very much a feudal residue. Ironically, their notion of the postmodern regime's carefully managed resolution of conflicts derives as much from their continuing feudalism as from any recently discovered philosophical or moral commitment.
Let me summarize my argument by quoting a few paragraphs from my essay, "The Truth About Citizenship," published in the Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law (Summer 1996):
"Tribes, peoples, and nations may have members, but only regimes founded in universal principles can properly have citizens.... The paradox of citizenship properly so-called is that it cannot occur universally, is rather realizable only in particular instantiations, and nevertheless addresses the end of every human being.
"American citizenship is defined strictly in terms of those human characteristics and circumstances that manifestly apply to all human beings. Because those terms, as suggested in the Declaration of Independence, invoke human interests and ambitions as the basis of membership in a good polity, it follows that wherever persons hope for the fulfillments to which their individual interests and ambitions aspire, they will naturally regard themselves as capable of American citizenship. This premise is the novus ordo seclorum—a world in which men can imagine "marrying themselves abroad" without conceiving that to do so entails abandoning their dearest attachments. When Aristotle identified intermarriage as the fundamental condition for unity in the polis, he pointed beyond the immediate relationships among individuals to the realms of human imagination. In that realm, what counts is the good that one can imagine for oneself. Whatever offers that prospect becomes automatically the standard of decency and fulfillment.
"By holding out such a promise, the United States and every similarly constituted republic make a commitment beyond the limits of their own territories. That commitment is to recognize and reward to the extent practicable the aspirations of human beings who find in this promise cause for virtuous exertion. It is this condition of modernity that chiefly distinguishes it from the ancient world....
"It is a paradox of considerable complexity that what is held out to every human being willy-nilly can still hold forth the prospect of excellence. There are many thoughtful critics who may deny such a possibility a priori. They do so, in my view, in ignorance of the precise character of modern citizenship, which hinges on affirmation of the people's capacity for rule despite long-standing doubts on that score.
"The truth about citizenship is not only that it elevates statehood and displaces nationhood, but that it is also the decisive condition for articulating the idea of a common good under modern sovereignty. The idea of modern sovereignty emerges from the discovery of natural rights and the resulting requirement of consent in order to establish legitimate government—a state as opposed to a nation. Nevertheless, it is not so much natural rights as the practical goal of self-government deduced therefrom which creates the moral conditions of citizenship. The [resulting] state-nation is defined more by constitutional goals, in contrast to the nation-state in which...nationhood or social histories prevail. The chief constitutional goal is that of self-government—a moral reality that is prior to and must shape the political reality, [inasmuch as it is] the fundamental condition of political legitimacy.
"Thus, even when one is skeptical of the philosophical principles of natural rights, one still must confront the reality of modern sovereignty in the form of self-government as the irreducible human claim."
This argument trumps even the argument for peace, conducing much more surely to making and defending citizens.