Brexit and the Moral Vision of Nationhood

I have a lengthy guest post over on Mere Orthodoxy, reflecting upon the recent Brexit vote, and what it may reveal about a growing class and ideological divide in the UK and in the world more generally. Within it I explore a wide range of different issues, even some very controversial ones. Writing as someone who supported the Remain side, my hope is that it encourages a rather more sympathetic understanding of those who supported Leave and attention to some growing social divides that we need to address.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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7 Responses to Brexit and the Moral Vision of Nationhood

  1. mnpetersen37 says:

    This is thoughtful and very helpful. I especially appreciated the last several sections. Thanks.

    I have a few, what should I call them, ruminations perhaps, on this that I’d be curious for your response to (I wrote these up as I was reading, they aren’t criticisms of the piece, particularly because of the touching concluding paragraphs–though they weren’t when I wrote them either–but they do represent real, practical questions):

    First, regarding the loss of identity due to immigration: In The Nomos of the Earth, Schmitt argues that England was a sea empire that therefore did not have to respect the territorial integrity of the conquered peoples, but was able to impose English mores and values and ways of life throughout the rest of the world, while also insisting on the territorial integrity of its own borders. A jurridical situation represented in this diagram. Though, seen from a non-European perspective, this vision of the world is parochial, and, in many ways, unjust (since it is in violation of the Golden Rule), the injustice was almost invisible to Europeans, and so we can still respect the Englishmen who acted in it. However, it may be possible to understand Merkel’s admittance of people to Europe as the result of a recognition that European land is not unique, and so as an attempted, though deeply flawed, turn from (I almost said repent of) the modes of action that result from the division of the territory of the earth that Schmitt describes. (Though, I suspect that in a different way, it represents a similar imposition of modern European particularity on others.) If this is the case–particularly if the memory of the past sins is repressed–it would go a long ways to explaining why there is so much hostility to people who oppose so much immigration.

    Developing that further: Schmitt’s description of the nomos of the jus publicum Europaeum is also one of the reasons I’m concerned about strict opposition to immigration: Is that opposition implicitly an advocacy for the status quo ante, in which England–and even more so America–has the authority to subject all others to her norms, but is unwilling to bow before, and be subjected to outside norms? Or, more accurately, if, in advocating for restrictions on immigration, we are advocating for a large part of the old nomos–the inadmissibility for the whiter parts in Schmitt’s diagram to dominate the darker parts–and so are hearable as advocating for the nomos as a whole, how do we disassociate that advocacy for the territorial integrity of European lands and ways of life from the historically (though not philosophically) connected denial of the territorial integrity of non-European lands and ways of life?

    That question is related to questions of carbon technologies too: Particularly in the US, the “yokel” does not seek to return to a Berrian pre-industrial US, but to an oil based US–as seen, for instance, in conservative support for factory farming, and for big gas guzzling cars, and rejection of climate science. (And in the UK, by the rejection of green values among those who voted to leave.) But the effect of this oil based way of life is not limited to the soil on which oil is consumed–even if we bracket aside oil production–but affects the chemistry of the atmosphere and the ocean, which is the common property of all lands. And, in and through the changes of the atmosphere and sea, these activities within the land of the US, deleteriously affect the climate of the whole world, particularly, of the people who are seeking to enter as refugees. So again, how do we defend the territorial integrity of the US and England, and US and English ways of life, without, in the same action, defending our right to maintain a way of life dependent on carbon technology, and which, therefore, destroys the way of life of peoples in other parts of the globe, even when the activities themselves are contained within the spacial borders of the US and England?

    Nor is this merely hypothetical. The current refugee crisis is, in large part, driven by the war in Syria, which is itself partially the result of American and English intervention in Iraq, and, perhaps also, US and English carbon technology–particularly if, as Northcott (following, I think, Latour) argues, the US and English ways of life are, in large part, based on carbon technologies. That is, it is the injustices of the nomos that conservatives would defend that results in the refugee crisis. How do we struggle with questions of the loss of English and American ways of life, without claiming that we are not the ones who are to face the consequences of our national actions? It seems that if we identify with the nation, we have to be willing to treat the international actions of the nation as ours, and not treat our border as porous in only one direction.

    Second, and related, Schmitt argues that one of the consequences of the modern (as opposed to Medieval) application of just war, is that it inevitably results in declaring that the defeated side is an unjust enemy, and so in their demonization, and the justification of the victorious side. I wonder if part of the fear of giving other than mealy-mouthed responses to racialized crime is an instinctive fear that the crime is understood in racial terms precisely because of the need to make our political neighbors into unjust enemies. Though the immigrants are in England or the US, they are often legally still foreign citizens, and so part of that foreign nation; and even if they are no longer foreign citizens, they are often visibly foreigners, and so, in a sense, enemies. This means that if Schmitt is correct here, there is a strong need to make them into unjust enemies. (Though, I think there’s something deeply self-serving about the progressive response–and obviously, Schmitt wasn’t pure here himself.) And this too is deeply connected to questions of national territorial integrity, since it is, if Schmitt is correct, precisely the international legal system which creates this need to justify the self–or rather the larger nation with which the self identifies–and demonize the enemy as an unjust enemy.

    All this, I suppose, is asking, how, in our current situation, are we able to call for the integrity of national bodies; while also advocating we, in those bodies, and as members of them, love our Political enemies as ourselves.

    (Which, incidentally, is also related to the question of how the literate can love their/our political enemies–the yokels, and the “ignorant religious”, and the non-liberals–since our neighbors are not–as I think Michael Allan shows–territorialy separated, but separated and defined through different reading practices. And so are, in a different sense, provincial.)

    These two questions are also related to the question of the sacrifices of our elders, and the moral vision of the nation they bequeathed to us. If, as Schmitt, and in a different way, Rosenstock-Huessy, say, the moral project of England was, in part, one built on the appropriation of, and domination for, foreign lands, then because of the power of sacrifice to uphold that moral vision, as a coherent whole, how do we simultaneously, call for the continuation of that moral vision, and for the ending of it–its continuation in the particular localities, and its ending in its claim to be able to exercise authority throughout the non-European world? You touch on the need to, but I’m concerned with the possibility of it–what sort of techniques can we use that avoid the scylla of unjust national identities and charbydis of progressivism, and unjust international particularities.

    Third, I’m somewhat troubled by Orwell’s definition of patriotism–particularly the clause “which one believes to be the best in the world.” In That Hideous Strength Ransom defends a form of Patriotism, but he also severly reprimands Dr. Dimble (I think it was) when Dimble suggests that the English way of life is, at its best, superior to other ways of life. If Patriotism is built on familial love, it doesn’t seem that I ought to think the American way of life the best in the world, any more than I ought to think my parents the best in the world. Moreover, that clause seems to proscribe an international humility, in which we look up to other national ways of life and “esteem others better than ourselves”, while remaining a whole person, and not destroying our own bodily integrity. (For instance, it seems to proscribe Anglophilia, since, ex hypothesi the American way of life is, for Americans, better than the English one.) You say something similar later “Patriotism does not accord value to its country because it has been persuaded that its country is objectively better than all other countries…”, but that seems to be different from the plain sense of the Orwell quote.

    Finally, I’ve wondered recently if John 12:24 has something to say to our relationship to our parents’ culture. There are deep injustices that we, nationally, need to repent of. (Not in the sense of “saying sorry for”, but in the deeper sense of turning from.) But there are also, deep beauties that ought to be recognized and respected. We are, perhaps, in a situation not unlike Tolkien’s high elves at the end of the third age, whose cheifest beauties had to die (and were deeply intertwined with sin), but precisely in and through that death, gave life to other peoples. are we to hope that others will be able to reap the fruits of our labors, and trust in the God who raises the dead that they will; but are called now to treat those labors as our life, and so to let them fall into the ground, like a grain of wheat.

    As a funny aside: I find it confusing that that “remain” is the more progressive option, whereas “leave” is the more conservative, whereas linguistically, the opposite should be true. Conservatives want to remain as they are, and progressives want to leave their parochialisms.

    • Andrew says:

      It’s interesting observing the assumptions about Christian views on nations and societies embedded into this post. In contrast, Alastair’s original does a good job of showing how two different starting points lead to two quite different ways of viewing “good” when applied to politics, nations and societies.

      Perhaps the biggest contrast between the Old and New Testaments is how they view the embodiment of the People of God. In the Old Testament, God founds a nation, and the People of God is embodied in that nation (prophecies notwithstanding). In the NT, the People of God are consistently presented as “aliens and strangers” in a country not their own, looking instead towards a new all-encompassing kingdom that God will establish.

      In the OT, God’s People transition from a tribal group (Abraham) to a theocratic gathering of tribes (Moses and the Judges) to a kingdom (Saul onwards) to a subject people under various foreign governors (exile onwards). From Moses onwards, they are defined by a code of laws.

      A, if not the, key focus of these laws is holiness. Israel is to be a holy nation, not a cosmopolitan one. Israelites adopting foreign practices are to be punished by expulsion or death.

      Tolerance for foreigners within Israel varies. During the harvest, a portion is to be left for the “poor and sojourner” (Lev 19:9-10). The “sojourner within your gates” is to observe the Sabbath rest (Deut 5:14). Foreign women may be married, but Israelites must not follow their ways. And there are a couple of instances where foreigners are summarily expelled.

      Meanwhile, while expansionist behaviour by Israel is limited to a single period of history, they live in world where nation conquers nation and is conquered in turn. There’s a general idea that being conquered is bad, and Israel’s independence as a nation is often tied to their obedience to God and whether he will protect or judge them. However, the ongoing cycles of conquest are not described as a-priori evil. Or, perhaps a better way to say it is that the status quo is not described as a-priori good: there’s not a natural level and form of government that is optimally moral.

      In contrast, the New Testament is quite clear that God’s People are not expecting or working towards a worldly nation. This is partly an eschatological issue, and partly because the NT writers want to avoid giving unnecessary offence to local powers and authorities. They are quite willing to declare to earthly powers that they must stand in judgement before the divine King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but this must not take place via local rebellions. Conquering the world is God’s task; his people are merely ambassadors and refugees.

      OT social – as opposed to political – instruction carries over into the NT. Although the OT Law per-se is obsolete, Christians are still to grant it moral authority over their practice, especially in matters of good living and sexual purity. Filial obligations continue in a manner similar to OT practice (also similar to many ANE cultures). Authority is still to be practiced, although remapped somewhat to a church rather than tribal or political environment. And as conquered Israelites were taught to submit to their worldly masters (while remaining holy), so the church should avoid being rebellious towards secular authority.

      The rise of Christendom throws a spanner in the works. A Christianised secular government doesn’t fit exactly with either the OT or NT model. The Bible doesn’t teach “live and let live”, but “all things under God”. But it also teaches “in his time”.

      The Church must seek purity, but has a mission to sinners. Those who persist in immorality must be put out of the Church community, but what happens when the lines between Church and State blur? Is everyone part of the Church?

      We should also be careful about assuming God’s will for international relations. Yes, there’s plenty of room for sin when you have an army at your back, but it doesn’t follow that national borders are inviolate.

      For example, consider colonialism. Is this a naked power grab, or a mechanism for bringing civilisation to primitive societies? The OT certainly condemns various expansionist pagan rulers, but the specific accusation is typically against their arrogance in denying God’s hand in their success. Do native peoples have first claim on lands simply because they were the most recent conquerors before Europeans invaded? Conversely, it’s obviously unsatisfactory to argue that might is sufficient to make right. What principles should be followed in such situations?

      And is colonialism and forced conversion to European lifestyle any less noble than puppet governments and making native peoples dependent on European aid and then making said aid conditional on accepting secular social agendas?

      It’s easy to evaluate the politics and application of state and national power according to our own sophistries while self-righteously condemning the sophistries of prior ages. Formulating a genuinely Christian model of national and international politics and powers is no simple task, and we should be slow to judge prior ages until we have wisely judged our own.

    • Thanks for the extensive interaction, Matt!

      The following is a sketch of a response:

      1. At the outset, the central distinction I draw in my piece between wealthier and more powerful cosmopolitans and more provincial and parochial people should be borne in mind. The former are arguably the primary heirs of the imperialists and in many respects continue dimensions of their project. While they may not be jingoists, they are the ones who are deeply invested in establishing and enforcing a global economic and political order. Universal humanitarianism and market demands motivate highly interventionist foreign policies. Domestically, today’s cosmopolitans are almost certainly not only the spiritual heirs of the imperialists, but their actual heirs, their great-great grandchildren. In the UK and in the US, it is easy to make the lower classes the whipping boy for the past sins of more wealthy and powerful classes. The British lower classes have had their communities damaged enough by the upper classes: why should they be forced to accept this?

      2. Whatever the morality of cosmopolitans, we shouldn’t fool ourselves that our actual political and business leaders are primarily motivated by altruism. Immigration is about the free movement of cheap labour, increasing the ranks of first world consumers, and breaking down the solidarities and agencies that oppose the market and those whom the market most benefits. This isn’t about atoning for past sins.

      3. There is a difference between repentance, turning from past sins, and accepting consequences and the sort of guilt that can do nothing but resign itself to whatever treatment people choose to inflict upon it.

      4. European civilization is in a peculiar situation in having such a guilty conscience. This fact is exploited by peoples and nations that consistently seem to demonstrate the absence of such a conscience. Where, for instance, is the Arab handwringing about the historic spread of their territory through violent conquest, about the many centuries of their brutal slave trade, about the barbaric treatment of women, minorities, and vulnerable people groups that continues to be the norm in so many of their countries, etc.? Another example: Turkey recently challenged Germany’s reference to the Armenian genocide, referring to the Nazis. Yet this highlights the difference between the two societies: Germany is prepared to repent of and wrestle with its past, but Turkey is not. There are peoples and nations who will opportunistically prey upon the West’s guilty conscience who lack such a conscience of their own. While we should submit to just measures, we have every right to resist such groups.

      5. Following on from this, we should be careful not to adopt a Western exceptionalism here. The moral principles that apply should be applied universally. Just judgments and sanctions should apply to everyone, or else we are advocating something other than justice. For instance, Schmitt’s discussion of the division of the world within English thought might be compared to the conceptual division of the world within Islamic thought and the use of that conceptual division to justify conquest, violence, and slavery. Yet post-colonialist thought tends to be surprisingly indulgent towards Islam and the Arab world in particular. My concern is that much post-colonialist thought is really just dissembled anti-Western thought, rather than a genuine commitment to justice and to challenging the legacy and continuing forms of colonialism and imperialism, wherever they have been found.

      6. You also seem to want to use past colonialism as a partial and perhaps somewhat ad hoc justification of the current state of affairs (do European nations have to accept immigrants from countries they didn’t colonize?). Yet, as in other areas, this seems to lack much attention to particulars, gravitating to implied big floppy constructs such as a generic West and generic non-Western world and some undifferentiated reality of colonialism. Specific questions and analysis are important here. British colonialism, for instance, was a profoundly mixed and varied phenomenon, including military domination, broadly benevolent paternalist government, but also softer forms of political hegemony. Forms of colonialism differed from country to country and between colonial powers (Belgian colonialism was a very different beast from most British colonialism, for instance). British colonialism was by no means an unmitigated evil, but often brought considerable good to the regions it affected—education, rule of law, democracy, infrastructure, security, technological and scientific advancement, etc.—and ended or reduced great evils that preceded it. We have British colonialism to thank for such things as the end of much of the Islamic slave trade, for instance. Nothing of this denies the considerable evil that it brought about and that is the dominant reality of its legacy. American political hegemony is a similarly mixed reality, but one which, on balance, is probably far to be preferred over almost all of the alternatives. Like the British Empire that preceded it, it espouses a self-critical liberalism and has maintained a relatively peaceful world order, protecting the world from evils such as Nazism and Communism. If we truly move beyond the brutal imperialism of the past, that will have more than a little to do with a culture made possible by Britain and America as the chief world powers of the last few centuries.

      Also, regarding empires more generally, Scripture is nowhere near as straightforwardly condemnatory of them as some seem to suppose. Although there is typically great evil that comes with empire, the fashionable categorical condemnation of it is not biblically justified. More generally, empires can bring peace, prosperity, security, and justice better than most other systems. I doubt I am alone in preferring the world domination of a strong hegemonic power such as the US over the insecurity and instability of a radically post-colonial world. Such powers tend to be more enlightened and benign than many of the other forces that people would fall prey to in their absence.

      7. Establishing principles of international justice in a situation where, for instance, virtually all land has, at some point or other, been obtained through violence, fraud, or injustice isn’t easy. In most situations there isn’t some tidy pre-colonial period to revert to, for instance: people who were dispossessed were themselves people who had themselves dispossessed others. It is important to be unflinchingly honest about our history and the past injustices from which we benefit. It is also important that we resist staying at the level of vague statements about ‘justice’ and the encouragement of such generalized guilt. Remedies, where they can be made, must be made by demonstrably responsible agents to demonstrably wronged parties in specific situations where a clear case of injustice can be proved by a legal authority. The failure to get specific, with the preference of working in terms of vaguely defined injustices and highly generalized offenders is a big problem here. It advances the power of generalized cultural guilt (which can easily be exploited, not least by privileged elites who use racism to smear the lower classes and underwrite their moral superiority and cultural dominance), but not really that of justice.

      8. It is really important not to conflate the American and British situation here. Britain isn’t built around the automobile in the way that the US is. Many of us hardly use cars at all over here, because our places of living were not primarily designed around mass mobility, we have a tolerable public transport system, and our country is compact. Nor is Brexit a straightforwardly right wing versus left wing issue. Brexit won in large measure because it had such considerable support on the left. Also, America’s foreign policy isn’t simply the responsibility of the Western world as a whole.

      9. The resistance to climate science and environmentalism among the working classes should be approached with a measure of sympathy. This resistance owes a lot to the fact that, in a country designed around the automobile, cheap fuel and food is fairly necessary to their participation in society. Among the middle and upper classes, environmentalism is often a sort of individual status signalling, connecting wealth and morality through purchasing choices. Not everyone can afford to drive a Prius, live off organic food, and buy carbon offsets every time that they fly. If environmentalism really is to gain ground, it has to become something that we make affordable for the poorest and no longer a moral badge for the rich.

      10. I share your concerns about the extreme externalities of an oil-based way of life. However, compared to China and America, European countries hardly rate as polluters. The English way of life is not based upon carbon technologies to anything like the same degree as America’s, whether we are measuring per capita or the nation as a whole. The cult of the car is more of an American phenomenon.

      11. The situation is also complicated by the fact that oil and related products are the chief exports of most of the countries from which migration is currently coming. Yes, our carbon based way of life has brought much damage to many of these countries. However, it is unhelpful to regard the state of affairs as if these countries are the innocent victims of our externalities. Rather, these countries are often more like the dysfunctional family that wins the lottery and tears itself apart in dissolution and violence. The influx of oil money into clannish countries that cannot easily sustain democratic and open societies has fuelled violence, corruption, and repressive governments. Oil money has given these countries international power and significance, but has also exposed the deep flaws and vices that exist within their societies. The West doesn’t need to create problems in these societies—although we definitely have and should take responsibility for those places where we have—as most of these countries’ problems are home-grown.

      12. It might also be worth asking again the extent to which environmentalism and concern about pollution is a value that is considerably more prominent in the West than elsewhere. In large part this is because we have the financial luxury of caring about the manner of our societal subsistence. However, even the minimal concern about the immediate environment that we take for granted in the West is lacking in many of the countries in question. My girlfriend has commented on how litter strewn across streets was the norm in Syria when she visited, and hardly any bins were to be found. Rivers and waterways full of trash are common sights in many of the countries in question. Concern about our responsibility for the global environment requires a tendency towards universal values that is unusual outside of the West. Even a concern for the immediate environment is frequently strikingly absent.

      13. Interacting with you on the subject of immigration and the foreigner—both here and in the past—it seems to me that your analysis often suffers from a tendency to employ polarized and binary categories, when the reality is considerably more complex and variegated. For instance, few people—myself most definitely included—has ‘strict opposition to immigration’. Immigration is a highly variegated phenomena and most of us oppose or want greater restrictions some forms, while encouraging others. As a result, you struggle to deal with the many ways in which we can actually positively relate to people, while resisting the current progressive orthodoxies around immigration. You often seem to drift towards abstract theoretical categories and don’t really wrestle enough with the particulars. Problematic universalist assumptions are thereby frequently smuggled in. A refugee or immigration policy isn’t formed by abstract philosophical musings about the ‘other’, for instance. Rather, it requires incredibly specific prudential deliberation about the numerous forms of aid or refuge that can be provided to those who need it, about the many forms of immigration that exist, about their long term effects on all parties, about the scope and prioritizing of our responsibilities, about the levels and patterns of immigration that are the most sustainable and healthy, about the balance of immigration and emigration between countries, about the specific character of cultures or persons involved and peculiar affinities and differences, about the retention of national integrity, about the difference between sending out aid and the many different ways that we can take people in, etc., etc.

      Immigration from some countries fairly consistently works. Other immigration, such as immigration from Pakistan, has generally not proved so positive (and the assessment of whether such immigration is positive need not depend entirely upon its effect upon the host culture). Questioning and restricting such immigration, or creating laws that curb the cultural practices that most cause problems (e.g. making consanguineous marriage illegal), doesn’t mean that we need condemn Pakistani Muslim persons as enemies, for instance. We can still take concern for the well-being of Pakistani Muslims, while recognizing and acknowledging the consistent difficulty of making them part of that ‘we’—or sustaining that ‘we’ in a society with a growing Pakistani Muslim population.

      14. There are many, many options for showing love and concern for other peoples that don’t entail insisting that they can become one of us. Indeed, often we can best love people when we maintain our distinction from them. Breaking down the distinctions between people often precipitates conflict, precisely because it can transform the difference of an outsider that can be accommodated into an intimate threat to our identity and integrity. As I’ve pointed out in the past, both Girard and Friedman in their own way highlights the danger of too close relationship, where healthy differentiation breaks down. Good fences can genuinely make good neighbours. Indeed, ‘fences’ can be those things that connect and bring us close to our neighbour, enabling the neighbour to draw near to us without threatening our identity. The ‘fence’ can be the interface between the two. Fences and borders are particular, mitigating the polarization between assimilation and absolute alienation, between completely undifferentiating the outsider from us or absolutizing their difference from us. It is the extreme universalism of the assumption that a successful society can be formed without close attention to the particulars of people and their groups that is at issue here.

      15. On Orwell’s definition of patriotism, I think you might be putting too much weight on those words. It seems to me that his meaning is comparable to the meaning of a ‘World’s Greatest Mum’ card. It is the fact that the patriot’s country is in some sense absolute to them that is the point. And this being absolute need not preclude a profound awareness and acknowledgement of their country’s faults. We can see similar things on a more trivial and amusing level in people’s attitude to sporting teams. A person may hate their team’s new manager, their new stadium, the new signings, the new coach, and the new strip, yet still insist that their team is the greatest. While they will typically appeal to objective points to support this, the real claim is a subjective one of love. One’s wife, for instance, is the best in the world, not because she excels all others in objective criteria, but because she alone is your wife and you love her above all others.

      16. Finally, we may indeed be called, like many, many other civilizations before us, to die. However, we have not been called to commit suicide through imprudent immigration policies, inflicting such an end upon ourselves. If an unchecked guilt complex and loss of cultural spirit is causing Europe to accede to its destruction, let’s not dignify it with clumsy post hoc rationalizations of the state of affairs or with Messianic notions of our fatal attraction to our civilizational demise.

      I had best leave this conversation at this point. Thanks for the thoughtful interaction, though!

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        Thanks for the response. I appreciate the time out of your schedule to interact with me.

        A far longer than I had hoped clarification:

        I think my intentions may not have been quite as clear as I had thought. I’m in general agreement with your article. My goal was not to disagree or challenge you, but to raise questions I’ve struggled with regarding how to work, in healthy ways, to both dwell integrally at home, but peacefully together with our neighbors abroad. (And our neighbors abroad, when they dwell among us.) Your comment on the OP, I think, sums up my concern: “What is required is…a creative labour of the imagination in the context of growing mutual understanding.” You apply that to domestic questions, and my concern definitely includes that, but is also (and I don’t think you disagree) how to apply that same concern internationally.

        So, regarding 1&2, yes, I agree. Though on 2, while I don’t think that the elite actions are a true repentance, I do think that there is something like an anxiety over past wrongs, and an anxious attempt to turn from them. My main goal of the first (real) paragraph was to introduce Schmitt’s distinction, and gesture to a way that I think it may inform these questions, not to side with the elites, or say they are genuinely repenting.

        Regarding 5: Yes, there is lots of anti-Europeanism, and often, lots of anti-Christianity. But I think there are good impulses, if often very faulty application.

        Or at the least, if we are working to find ways to remain faithful to the ways of life handed down to us, and to maintain filial piety, but also looking to learn to dwell together in mutual understanding, it seems that some attention to the ways we have done wrong is required. My only two reservations with your comment are: 1) Though I think there should also be attention to the injustices of other nations, I’m not entirely sure that’s my business, or at least, not in the same way. And 2) I think Matthew 7:3-5 may apply here. That is, you’re right, the moral principles should be applied universally, though, I think only a universal judge can apply them universally, we all are, IMO, required to apply them particularly.

        Regarding 6: I think we might be talking past each other here. At least, I don’t see myself as attempting to justify the current state of affairs (rather the opposite), and honestly I’m not sure why it sounds like I am. Nor am I sure why it sounds like I’m using big concepts like “western” and “non-western” (e.g. I never use those terms in my original comment, nor can I, on re-reading it, see them structuring it invisibly). Perhaps it is somewhat present in my in quote of Schmitt’s claim that there has been a legal and imaginative distinction between European and non-European lands. But even there, my concern is not with other peoples qua non-Western, but qua neighbor.

        I more or less agree with 7.

        Regarding 8&10: Yes, and I should have been more careful in my first post. Northcott argues that the US is an oil state (and not just because of the automobile), and England was a coal state.

        Regarding whether European countries count as high polluters: Some of the statistics I’ve seen argue that Europe only seems relatively green because pollution for materials produced abroad, but destined for Europe, is treated as pollution for the country in which the materials are produced, not the ones in which they are consumed. (Though, one of the problems here is figuring out who to trust.)

        I agree whole hardheadedly with 9.

        My suspicion regarding 11 is that the situation is more complicated than either people who attribute dysfunction to other peoples, or who attribute it to western imperialism, think. Anyway, both gestures are finger-pointing, unless done very carefully, and so impediments to growing mutual understanding, and neighborly dwelling.

        Regarding 13: My “strict immigration” was an infelicitous phrase, particularly in its alternation with, and so textual identity with “restrictions on immigration”. My concern is that in our public rhetoric articulating concern for our own national identities, we, in precisely the same action, advocate for a lack of concern for other identities (because of the character of our national identities, when considered in their outward face). The point of raising the concern is not to say we should not advocate for our own national identities, but to raise an obstacle to doing so well, so we can do so well. Nor does it mean that, if we advocate for the perseverance of our national identities, we cannot relate well to our personal neighbors, even when they are foreign. Or even that there are no ways to get around the problem I raise–only that it’s a difficulty I see here.

        But setting that aside, I’m honestly not sure why it seems I’m undertaking “abstract philosophical musings about the ‘other’’’. Perhaps language intended to show that I value the points made in 14, and am attempting to highlight tensions that I am finding between different modes of dwelling and dwelling together with our neighbors–and so people separated from us by, at least, the walls of our dwellings–comes across as claims of abstract principles I am using to structure my reasoning?

        15. That’s helpful. Thanks.

        16. Yes, I agree. My concern is more with attempts to keep our ways of life alive through force–to Make America Great Again, for instance.

        Anyway, I’m sorry that’s so long. I think there may be miscommunication that this comment may help resolve. And I understand that you probably won’t have time to respond, and am not expecting a response.



      • mnpetersen37 says:

        This paper (In PNAS, which is the US’s version of Nature), argues that the UK (and, it seems, by extension, though they don’t look, the rest of Europe), only seems to be green because of faulty accounting.

  2. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair,
    Thank you for your great article. You have given us much food for thought, and I am still thinking about the complexities of the Brexit vote!
    I just read your link ‘Who belongs?’ and this struck a chord with me : ‘For ordinary people a citizen’s relation to a stranger is a gift relationship, not a rights relationship.’
    I grew up in South Wales, but I have lived in the Midlands since I was thirteen. Welsh is not my mother tongue, but I do know some Welsh – for instance I learnt the Lord’s Prayer in Welsh before I learnt it in English and Welsh was part of the school curriculum. When our children were young, we were sometimes embarrassed when visiting North Wales, because shop/café owners often conversed in Welsh with each other and with Welsh-speaking customers. On one occasion we ordered tea and bara brith in a café and the owner asked where we were going next. When I replied, ‘Llangollen’, the owner’s face lit up and he told us that we could have the tea and cake ‘on the house’ because my pronunciation of Llangollen ‘proved’ that I was Welsh… I ‘belonged’! This was all very nice, but I realised that if my husband had been the one who said that we were going to Llangollen, he would have pronounced it with an English accent, and we would probably have paid the full price, which was what we expected to do anyway! It was a lovely cup of tea and the cake was delicious, but I felt uncomfortable about this positive discrimination. I am still thinking about the phrases ‘rights relationship’ and ‘gift relationship’ in the context of the experience I have described above – the kaleidoscope keeps moving round!
    Thank you again.

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