Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Politics and a People: Finding a Modus Vivendi in Diversity

THE CONCEPT OF "A PEOPLE" is an interesting one, and the unusual nature of the concept as a unit in plurality is betrayed by the fact that in some contexts "a people" is used as a singular count noun, yet in others a plural count noun. It is as if this word has an ambiguous count. "We are a real people," the Palestinians may insist against Newt Gingrich's assertion that they are an invented people. Here we have a plural noun ("we") magically transformed into a singular count noun ("a people"). "The American people are a free people," we might hear a political candidate say, suggesting people is a plural noun. And yet, Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America can write: "Republicans . . . profess the opinion that insofar as a people is free, it must be moral, religious, and moderate." So why does this word sometimes tolerate different subject verb agreement, sometimes taking a singular verb, other times a plural? Curiously, even the word "a people" may itself be plural, yet it has a plural form to boot. Churchill could write a history of the English speaking peoples, yet the Venerable Bede wrote a history of the English people. Both were writing of the same people(s).

A people--whether as a demos or as an ethnos--is an aggregate of persons who somehow become "organically" united into a unit, and this unity in a people is something moral, even spiritual in character. A people, then, is more than a simple aggregate of individuals, they become one, a one-in-many and a many-in-one. This explains the grammatical curiosity of the word "a people." It reflects the subtle complexity of the concept.

A people is not formed through positive law or through a forced or artificial communion, since this communion is something that cannot be forced or created out of whole cloth. There must be a "sharing of life and values," and an "organizing unity" prior to a people, one which the positive law enshrines, is a formal expression of, and which it preserves. It is the "sharing of life and values" which, on the spiritual or moral level "is the source of communion" of a people. (Compendium, No. 386)

Perhaps in theory, a perfect overlap between a people qua demos and a people qua ethnos is ideal. Here a people's political reality is perfectly aligned with a people's cultural, religious, ethnic, linguistic, and racial reality. In such an instance, the demos is composed of a perfectly homogenous ethnos.

There are few nations that can be cited where there was near homogeneity (or monoculturalism) and the people qua ethnos were essentially one with a people qua demos. Perhaps ancient Israel approached this ideal. The twelve Semitic tribes of Israel were united under one law, one culture, one religion, and language. Saudi Arabia may be a modern day example of a country whose people qua demos and people qua ethnos overlap to a large degree. Of course, the fact that a people qua demos and a people qua ethnos are substantially identical does not remove all friction or conflict. However, when differences in religion, culture, and language are removed from the possibility of social conflict, it lends itself to greater harmony and solidarity. Hence the ever-present impetus to impose religious, cultural, or linguistic uniformity.

But even in ancient Israel, a polity put together by God, there was "the other," the person who was not one of the people of Israel. There was that person who was an alien, a stranger, a sojourner (Hebrew: ger [גר]). And the people of Israel were constantly reminded to treat the stranger, the alien, the sojourner who lived among them justly. E.g., Ex. 22:21, 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34, 25:35; Deut. 10:19; Zech.7:10.*

There is in practice no place where the limits of a nation will be perfectly coterminous with the limits of a people qua demos or a people qua ethnos. Most countries have a variety of peoples qua ethne within their borders. Perhaps one of the most ethnically diverse States in history was the Habsburg Empire. It included within its political boundaries such diverse ethnic groups as Germans, Czechs, Poles, Ruthenians, Slovenes, Italians, Magyars, Slovaks, Rumanians, Croats, Serbs and Szekels.

Although the United States, the world's "melting pot," has numerous ethnic groups, these tend to lose their identity over time, become Americanized and thereby become part of the greater American people, a people qua demos. A residue of their prior condition as a separate people, however, remains, and for that reason we seem to speak of "hyphenated Americans," of Hispanic-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Muslim-Americans and so forth. In the past, such epithets were considered disparaging, and both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson advocated the notion of "unhyphenated Americanism."** Modernly, however, with the emphasis on multiculturalism and rejection of monoculturalism, we seem to relish in them. Roosevelt and Wilson were insisting that the citizens, regardless of their prior condition as a people qua ethnos, had become part of a larger people, the American people, a people qua demos. In other words, they believed in enculturation or assimilation.

Modernly, with the rise of the concept of normative multiculturalism, there has been an emphasis on maintaining one's ethnic or cultural inheritance as primary, even against the ethnic or cultural inheritance of the ethnic or cultural inheritance of the majority of the people qua demos. The notion of Leitkultur, where there is a leading culture to which the minorities must in some sense acclimatize or into which they ought to integrate, was rejected for a multiculturalism (Multi-Kulti)

In the desire to preserve the integrity of the various peoples qua ethne, even the substantive values of the majority people qua ethnos is rejected as the basis for the political life of the entire political group, the people qua demos. This sort of secularism, for example, is what the sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas advocated. He suggested that no one worldview of any people qua ethnos ought to govern the body politic. Instead, substantial values of the various peoples qua ethne must be bracketed, and the values of the people qua demos should be governed by a rather insipid "constitutional patriotism" (Verfassungspatriotismus) something akin to, but broader than, what Bellah called a "civil religion."

In some cases, multiculturalism is viewed as a positive good, and heterogeneity of a people as demos is seen as better than homogeneity. Such people advocate increasing the role of, and the diversity of, various peoples qua ethne.*** Sometimes the multiculturalism that is advocated is so extreme that it risks making the content of the "constitutional patriotism" or "civil religion" so thin, that it risks the unity of a people qua demos by minimizing the shared values or by bringing in values that are in fundamental conflict.***

Most countries fall in between the homogeneity of Saudi Arabia and the heterogeneity of the Habsburg Empire. For a variety of reasons, "national boundaries do not always coincide with ethnic boundaries." And as a result there will always be "minorities" with Nation States, the modern analogue of the Scriptural alien or stranger.

In a nation with a multicultural society, the people qua demos (of which there is one) and the people qua ethnos (of which there can be many) are separated by design. The proponents of a multicultural society insist that there ought to be no effort to strive for a homogeneity, unity, or even greater overlap (enculturation or assimilation) between a people qua demos and the people qua ethnos. This of course also means that the substantive values of any people qua ethnos, including a people qua ethnos who may be the majority, ought not to be set up as the substantial values of the greater people qua demos. The reasoning behind this is that such an imposition by a people qua ethnos who are in a majority would infringe upon the rights of a different people qua ethnos who are in the minority.

So the advocate of multiculturalism loves heterogeneity, and tends to reject any kind uniformity, certainly religious uniformity and racial uniformity, but even cultural, linguistic, or moral uniformity. The advocate of multiculturalism resists the need for assimilation and encourages diversity. In practice, this means that the values of the people qua demos becomes highly insipid or very thin, to the point that the substantive values that are shared among the people qua demos end up being almost nothing other than some sort of procedural agreement. The people qua demos, then, share nothing but process, political or positively-derived (legal) values and certain political or civil rights, entirely free from traditional culturally-based or religiously-based values. When the shared values of a people qua demos becomes so thin, there is a risk of political separation. Additionally, when a people qua ethnos reject the notion that their values ought to be bracketed for the sake of a modus vivendi with the people qua demos, the result is one where that group refuses to integrate and becomes ostracized or even hostile.†

The Compendium does not address these issues except by certain broad principles that recognize that minorities, or what we have called a people qua ethnos, have certain rights to preserve their culture, yet they also have a duty to assimilate, to contribute to the common good of the greater people, what we have called a people qua demos, of which they are a part. They also have a duty to allow freedom within their ethnic groups, so that they are not closed to the thoughts and values of others.

The Compendium's message regarding the treatment of minorities (a people qua ethnos that are in the minority) is not unlike the Scriptural message regarding the alien among the ancient Israelites: "The Magisterium affirms that minorities constitute groups with precise rights and duties." Most basically, minorities have "the right to exist," and this right is violated in its most extreme form in genocide, but it may also be violated by other forms of oppression, including legal and social burdens or restrictions. (Compendium, No. 387)

Minorities also have "the right to maintain their culture, including their language." They have the right "to maintain their religious beliefs, including worship services." In some cases, minorities may legitimately seek "greater autonomy or even independence," from the nation state of which they are a part. It is hoped that any legal separation between one people and another is done through "dialogue and negotiation," and through peaceful means. Terrorism as a means to achieve independence is entirely proscribed. (Compendium, No. 387)

Minorities may have rights, but they also have duties. Foremost among the duties of the minorities to the nation of which they are part is to work for the common good. "In particular, 'a minority group has the duty to promote the freedom and dignity of each one of its members and to respect the decisions of each one, even if someone were to decide to adopt the majority culture.'" (Compendium, No. 786) (quoting JP II's Message for the 1989 World Day of Peace.)

*This is quite different from traditional Islam, where non-Muslims are treated to an unjust dhimmitude (if they are a tolerated "people of the book," the Ahl al-Kitāb (أهل الكتاب‎)) and to even more severe injustice if they are outside of this category (e.g., pagans or atheists).
**John Hingham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (Rutgers University Press 2002), 198.
***This was the impetus that gave rise to a radical change in immigration policies as reflected in the The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Hart-Celler Act) in the United States. Prior law had a quote system which showed a preference for European immigration, and a hostility toward Asian, Middle Eastern, and African immigrants. The importance of assimilation and enculturation, and not normative multiculturalism, is what drove the old policy. Depending upon their political philosophy, some have criticized the change in policy, and others praise it.
†One of the best examples of this is the problem of Muslim communities in Europe. Here, the Islamic shari'a is at odds with not only Christian freedom and notions of justice, but with liberal and secular values of modern Western democracies. Whether Muslims as a people
qua ethnos can be incorporated into the peoples as demoi of Western democracies is dubious. In fact, the problem has become so serious, that many European political thinkers, including UK's Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkl, Australia's former prime minister John Howard, Spain's ex-premier José María Aznar, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have expressed the fact that multiculturalism is a failure.


  1. Do you know who Jurgen Habermas is? This guy belongs to the Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt School is about transfering Marxism from economics to Culture. The Frankfurt School is about Marxizing Western Culture.

    What Christian quotes this guy or refers to him? This man is the devil incarnate; the wolve in sheep's clothing.

    Multiculturalism is about replacing Western Culture. Multiculturalism is the culture for globalization. This post is all wrong. Men are to live in their racial units. This is part of the Natural Order. Habermas promotes Jewish culture---not Western Culture. Habermas has no business whatsoever in Western Culture and certainly no Christian needs to read him.

  2. Yes, I know who he is. I'm certainly not advocating or espousing his Marxian/globalist and anti-Christian views. I've quoted numerous folks of whom I am very critical, such as Rawls. But this was not a piece directed at his views. I am against the sort of secularism he advocates, which I label "a rather insipid "constitutional patriotism" (Verfassungspatriotismus)." These are not words of praise or endorsement, but their opposite.

  3. Moreover, the photography kinda lets you know what my view of multi-culti is.

  4. I missed that red slash in the sign. Since political correctness is everywhere and is ubiquitous, one would think that the Catholic Church would be fighting it. Instead it has adopted it.

    Political correctness is a deracination ideology; it is about breaking down and destroying race.

    One would think that Catholic attention would be directed towards race preservation for it is from race that culture comes from. Instead of worrying about minorities, Catholicism needs to start worrying about Europe and its survival.

  5. I think Europe and its survival is at the forefront of Pope Benedict XVI's thoughts, words, and work. I don't know how you can say that he is not insistent that Europe do things to maintain its Christian culture.