Reflections on 9/11

by Jeffrey Polet on September 11, 2010 · 25 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Economics & Empire,Politics & Power

9-11

When I woke up the morning of September 12, 2001 I did so under the assumption that the previous day’s events were now part of the landscape of American life. Like the Israelis, we would have to learn to deal with terrorist attacks as a permanent feature of our politics. This would mean greater security and greater restrictions on our liberties, but it would also mean that American optimism would be unalterably tempered by the persistence of tragedy in our midst.

Furthermore, it seemed to me that the thousand-year fraternal battle within Islam had now drawn the West permanently into its orbit; and, given the West’s own imperialist reach, the clash was certain to be long and bloody, and that America would be fighting this battle largely on its own.

Nine years later, I am amazed that we haven’t had further terrorist attacks on the homeland. This is not for lack of effort on the part of the terrorists. I spent some time in 2008 with the then Deputy Attorney General of the United States who told me in hair-raising detail some of the plans his office was tracking and foiling on a daily basis. If we take it to be the case that one of the fundamental responsibilities of government is to provide security for its citizens, I have to say I think they’ve done a pretty admirable job.

Things don’t end there however. We know that Osama bin Laden considers all Americans, children included, to be legitimate targets of violence. We know that he considers such targeting to be just recompense for the suffering America has visited upon the Muslim lands. We know that he holds America and Israel singularly responsible for this suffering (making explicit mention of the fact that al Qaeda has no interest in Sweden). I see no reason to accuse him of bad faith on these issues; that is to say, I believe he believes what he says.

For we Americans this raises at least two questions. First, is there any legitimacy to his complaints? To raise this question is to invite heated rejoinders, for Americans do not respond at all well to the idea that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 might be warranted, but not justified. I’ll say more about this in a moment.

The second question is in a sense far simpler and more practical: is being an American worth the implicit death threat under which you place yourself, your spouse, and your children? As a parent, and as someone married to a Canadian and thus possessing a citizenship option I could easily exercise, this question seems to me not just an abstract one. Is being an American worth taking such a chance? Which, of course, raises the question of what, exactly, it means to be an American.

The questions are in part answered by reference to America’s self-understanding as derived from the Puritan settlements. Sacvan Bercovitch has contributed the important argument that the jeremiad forms an essential part of America’s justification of itself both to itself and to the world at large, for America is uniquely concerned about the idea that its existence has some sort of transcendent purpose. The jeremiad was a public acknowledgement of America’s special place as God’s chosen people, but also a way of reorienting the community so that it could fulfill its promise. God punishes those he loves, especially when they stray, and uses punishment as a way of reminding them of their dependence on divine favor. As a result, the communities can reorganize themselves according to the dictates of divine command.

The divine punishment can manifest itself in many ways: natural disasters, disease, or through the violence of a scourge. The latter, a cat o’ nine tails, could also be metaphorically any agent which expresses divine ends through evil means. Not of God, they serve God’s purposes. Attila the Hun was so considered, the whip by which God punished and called his people to repentance.

Lincoln explicitly referred to the war as a scourge by which God was punishing the nation for the sin of slavery, and also by which it was being called to fulfill the vision of being an “almost chosen people.” The jeremiad, as Bercovitch points out, is an affirmation of the “ultimate success” of the political community. “The purpose of their jeremiads,” he wrote, “was to direct an imperiled people of God toward the fulfillment of their destiny, to guide them individually toward salvation, and collectively toward the American city of God.”

In a secular age, thinking of the events of 9/11 in the context of the Jeremiad is not an unacceptable option. Responses range from self-loathing to self-congratulation (“They hate us for our freedom”). Inadmissible are serious attempts to understand bin Laden’s claims, or to think about the events in terms of America’s self-understanding as a convenantal people. For, admit it or not, America, like all nations, stands under the authority of divine law, and its history unfolds under the watchful eye of Divine Providence. So believed many of our religious and political leaders in the past.

When studying American history one has to resist the temptation to treat the Puritans or thinkers such as Lincoln as if they were delusional, or simply victims of the “universal neurosis” that is religion. We are likely to say “They thought they were God’s chosen people” not realizing that they may have, in fact, been God’s chosen people. If we accept the claims that there is a God, that this God is powerful, that this God can enter time and present himself in human form, that this God has an interest in human affairs, and that this God is both judging and merciful, then we are brought to the point of thinking about how God works in time, and through what agents, and that the events of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina may have been recondite punishment for collective sins.

What sins might we have committed? Here we are brought face to face with the unpleasant realities of America’s imperial reach and ambitions. We consider the unraveling of American democracy at home as we increasingly inhabit a culture that takes libidinous satisfaction to be the summum bonum. We consider the exporting of the meanest and basest expressions of our collective creativity in film and television. We consider our consumption of other nation’s resources, and the military establishment required to sustain this standard of living. We consider the complications our reflexive support of Israel creates throughout the Middle East.

Within the immediate shock of the terrorist attacks such considerations were rightly inadmissible. Nine years on, we ought to be able to face these questions squarely, and to consider why plots continue to have to be foiled every day. I’m not naïve enough to believe that if we just left others alone they’d leave us alone. I also believe that our well-intentioned philanthropy can create resentment and anger. Nor do I believe that the world would be better off without American military power in it. But such power can only be intelligently defended if it is related directly to a proper and well-judged sense of purpose.

The theologian Stanley Hauerwas once said that dying for the United States of America was like dying for the phone company. If America is little more than an administrative state, then there can be no compelling reason to continue to risk our lives and fortunes, and that of our children, in the face of continued plotting. I remain convinced that we haven’t seen the last attack.

So the question of 9/11 remains: what does it mean to be an American? What makes it worthy of the sorts of sacrifices now expected of us (for, despite the rhetoric of our political parties, sacrifices there will surely be). Where is our Lincoln, who with soaring rhetoric can articulate this sense of collective identity and purpose? We know that neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama’s are the chosen ones in this regard.

Nor am I. Maintaining my citizenship in America is only tacit acknowledgment that it’s worth the risk. The articulation of a healthy patriotism that takes seriously the sense of limits and place seems to me one of the most important functions of the Porch. It is a patriotism grounded in the virtue of gratitude, which recognizes the efforts of those who risked their lives and fortunes so their posterity might enjoy the bounties of freedom. This gratitude extends to the remarkable durability of the American Constitutional system which has provided for high levels of political stability, freedom, and material abundance.

At the same time, taking seriously the unity of the virtues, this patriotism must combine gratitude with temperance, justice, humility, and modesty. It must acknowledge that a God who blesses is also a God who judges and chastises. If the events of 9/11 are to be meaningful, they will be so if they move us as a political community to a greater recognition of our dependence on and subordination to the laws of a God whose very being transcends the comings and goings of empire. Osama bin Laden with his religious language seems to get that. I’m not sure a secular state has the resources or the stomach to fight the battles that lie ahead. Only if it draws our attention back to the spiritual resources which ground our politics and creates a virtuous patriotism will 9/11 achieve its purpose.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar C R Wiley September 11, 2010 at 11:40 am

Well said.

avatar David September 11, 2010 at 12:03 pm

This is a foreign mind to me. Forgive me the following confessions.

First, America is God’s chosen people. Perhaps Wales is as well, or Japan, or Guatemala. I am not from those places (though my some of my favorite ancestors were Welsh) so I cannot speak to what God has chosen them for. That is for them to work out.

The error of the Puritans (and Calvin’s debacle) was to believe that the state of “chosen” is exclusive, rather than inclusive. But ontological soteriology aside, that you could chose to be or not be an American is foolish thinking.

You are an American. What you can chose to do is deceive others (and possibly yourself) that you are not. I regret much of this editorial form on FPR. A real danger lies in adopting this clinically distanced, diagnostic-perspective.

I think it was Strauss who pointed out that philosophers must be careful in their work giving service to the community they live in, using their foreign perspective to bring meaning and develop the rich self-awareness of culture. Lest the host tire of the parasite and rid itself of the nuisance.

Instead this essay comes off as some sort of freelance “world citizen” tripe negotiating your childhood against your parents. Go, fine, emancipate. Let the rest of us ignorant natives get on with being the chosen people.

avatar FlutterDrew September 11, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I just shared a link to this blog with the community at bleditor.com. Thanks for sharing.

avatar Mark Perkins September 11, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Jeffrey,

Though-provoking essay. I laughed at this, “The theologian Stanley Hauerwas once said that dying for the United States of America was like dying for the phone company.” I do find it oddly paradoxical that many Americans who most aggressively denounce “the government” and “politicians” nevertheless revere the United States Army as basically the Lord’s. Of course, they’d probably say the Army defends the Constitution while the government tries to undo it. Nevertheless, it is one beauty of that Constitution that the military serves at the behest of civil authorities.

David,

“You are an American. What you can chose to do is deceive others (and possibly yourself) that you are not.”

I think that’s putting a little too much stock in the organic nature of the nation-state, wouldn’t you say? Is changing citizenship–choosing to align oneself with a different nation-state–a denial of one’s true state? Am I first an American or an Southwestern American or an Arizonan or a Tucsonan? If I switch my residency to somewhere else in the future, as given my chosen career I will likely do, am I deceiving others?

And as for America the chosen people, is America called to be the kingdom of heaven? What do you mean by “America”? Does God deal with nation-states? Or do you mean America the government? America the country? America the land? America the Americans? Is Arizona the chosen people? Tucson?

Feel free to insert your state and hometown in place of mine and answer thusly.

avatar polistra September 12, 2010 at 8:40 am

“I spent some time in 2008 with the then Deputy Attorney General of the United States who told me in hair-raising detail some of the plans his office was tracking and foiling on a daily basis. ”

Sorry, I don’t buy it. If you insiders want us lowly plebeians to believe that the government is on our side, you’ll have to break down and TELL US a fact or two.

avatar Jordan Smith September 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm

A fine reflection, Jeffrey.

David:

America is God’s chosen people?

Such distinctions or designations are arbitrary, nonsensical and divisive. I am a Canadian and a Christian, but would not presume to call Canada God’s chosen people. Heck, I wouldn’t even call Israel God’s chosen people anymore. I thought one of the things that Jesus came to do was extend the blessing of being “chosen” to any who would call upon His name. To my simple mind, that mitigates any special distinction for any ethnic, national or denominational body. (Cue the response from all the Catholics on this site. :) )

And for anyone wanting to criticize my commenting on this topic a Canadian, let it be known that I think Canada has entered the same cycle of judgement as America. Our sins are pretty much the same.

avatar Dave Trowbridge September 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I don’t think it was Stanley Hauerwas, but Alisdair MacIntyre.

“[M]odern nation‑states which masquerade as embodiments of community are always to be resisted. The modern nation‑state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf; it is like being asked to die for the telephone company…”

avatar Brian September 12, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Dave Trowbridge is correct. It was MacIntyre, not Hauerwas. Bill Cavanaugh wrote a provocative essay on the nation-state’s war-making habits, using the MacIntyre phrase in his title:

http://www.jesusradicals.com/wp-content/uploads/killing-for-the-telephone-company.pdf

avatar Jeffrey Polet September 13, 2010 at 7:57 am

Dave and Brian: the author of the idea is indeed MacIntyre. Hauerwas borrows the phrase from him. Thank you for the correction.

David: This is the first time I’ve been accused of cosmopolitanism. I fail to see how saying national citizenship is voluntary at some level commits me to cosmopolitanism. At the mundane level, we hold multiple citizenships. At the spiritual level we hold two. Dusting off the Augustinian distinction between dual citizenships does not a cosmopolitan make.

Polistra: among the 9/11 discontents in the misguided notion that we don’t face serious threats, and thus any curtailing of our liberties is unjustified. We can’t have any serious discussion about such curtailment without acknowledgment that the threats are real and persistent.

avatar David September 13, 2010 at 9:51 am

Excellent, usually when I have something contrarian to say on FPR I am deemed uninteresting. It helps that this time the issue was genuine.

First to Mark, there is no basis for the nation-state other than organic. You are born where you are born. You begin life, not as some sort of citizen of the world “free agent”. You are American, or Russian, etc. You have a family, a local community (however dysfunctional), language, culture (regardless of its lack of refinements) and ties to the soil (I, myself, probably have Valley Fever dormant in my system, from my native soil). You can immigrate, but you’ll always be an immigrant. You can convert (I did) but you’ll always been a convert. That’s just facts, called as I see them.

I am still a child of Exeter, California (once called the “Mayberry of the West” though we called ourselves the “cowchip throwing capital of the world”). Everything about Exeter is still in me though I live in a bedroom-suburb of Los Angeles now. Even in my religious conversion I am acutely aware of how my Eastern Orthodoxy is colored by what churches of Christ (Campbellite) formation gave me as tools. Even the ways in which I have gone more extremely “native” are reactions to previous deficiencies in my former tradition.

I was once asked by a writer on this blog, “Can you change your mother?” Rhetorically on point, no?

Jordan’s cultural humility is distinctly Canadian (my first wife was from the great white north). I appreciate the desire to appear more intelligent and postpone insult by denying the ordinary; however, my claims to be among God’s chosen people is a matter of revelation and I was prepared to accept ridicule by those who fashion themselves above such things. You are not simple, but you are engaging in abstractions. We’ll keep a eye on you and decide if your a Gnostic in the coming weeks. Ask a Greek, or a Georgian, or an Israeli, if they are God’s chosen people.

MacIntyre’s quote is missing the point. Of course America doesn’t exist. (I’ve mentioned my desire to see such constructions labelled as the delusions they are.) However, one can still be, and in fact must be, American if one was born and weened on this continent within the political boundaries. America is still a useful fabrication, a sort of shorthand way of pointing out that you are not French or Australian. We are also forced to admit we would be different persons if we were. Not just different because we would like soccer more than football, but different because we would have started life with a different set of obligations. Non-existence doesn’t stand in the path of the draft.

Jeffrey, the extent to which your citizenship is voluntary is a matter of some debate and depends on the laws (that is, the force possibly employed) by the nation-states you’d like to think you have the freewill to engage. If you immigrate, you will do so in accordance with the laws (or the failure to enforce the laws) of those communities. You will do so as a part of your obligations.

But more importantly, none of this will change that which is still American about you. You cannot simply erase your heritage or the first decades of your life from the script. But my charge of “cosmopolitan” (I’m not sure that’s exactly my charge) arises as much from your prepositional assumption that your contemplation of citizenship is a matter of enlightened self-interest.

This is why I included dismissive remarks. You are among us (Americans) and have made yourself a foreigner without committing to the dirty work of it. I am curious how one can say such things without having already begun the process of disentangling themselves philosophically from the place and people of their birth.

Again I return to my charge for all the FPRers, who’s contribution I take most seriously. Take care what you are playing with when you distance yourself from your community to study it. That sort of reserve can alienate you without your awareness. I have seen it happen. But the very nature of the philosophical beast, temptation looms large. Jeffrey might just be the first person I challenge on this point, but others have brought up the paradox of FPRers forming a “virtual community” around this website, so I doubt this will be the last or even the worst case.

For me, I am learning that while a few might be able to study themselves and their tradition while standing against the corruption such a necessarily alien perspective presents, it would be far better to live my life fully within my tradition, my place, and belonging fully to my people. You are all welcome to study me and make whatever grand pronouncements about my foolish native eccentricities suit you, but I’ll have lived a life come the day of my death, not merely studied the lives others have lived.

avatar D.W. Sabin September 13, 2010 at 10:23 am

Polet,
The old saw that “those who oppose what is going on do not perceive the threat” is a classic bit of passive aggressive distraction. One simple childs fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and one joke, the one about fighting crotch crabs with a razor, a match and a hammer seem to sum up the larger political operation of this real threat.

The recent judicial sanction of the secrecy rights of the Executive is a profound victory for the Terrorists because it is a large successful assault upon the United States Citizen , one that will outlast the current war. The Terrorists are conducting a successful Rope-A-Dope on the American Government and it happily obliges by fighting itself in the asymmetric war. They are bleeding us with blood money and foreign aid dispensed by the Billions in guilt. They are watching as we suffer the typical losses of an occupation while maintaining a constant state of amnesia as a result of hitting ourselves squarely between the eyes, daily.

Is there any mystery, whatsoever, that this war is turning into the longest war in our history despite us having the highest number of highly educated Military Brass in history?….said military brass the most politicized in our history and said military brass more engaged in post-service lobbying for military industrial pursuits in our history?

One thing I do not do, unlike some, is confuse my Gadsden Flag with reckless jingoism. I’m damned proud of being an American, more grateful than proud in fact and i look forward to the day when the people disengage themselves from the comic book gnosticism of our media and their political assigns and return to the role of the liberty loving American: Citizenship as secondary to Getting the Job Done.

avatar Jordan Smith September 13, 2010 at 8:22 pm

David,

Should I be worried that you are keeping an eye on me? Do you work for Homeland Security?

As for gnosticism, I have never been able to figure out just what it is, despite reading about it numerous times. But if gnostics believe that anyone calling on the name of Jesus is qualified to be among the “chosen”, then call me a proud gnostic.

But don’t mistake my belief that our primary citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20) to mean that we can’t be proud citizens of nations on earth, or that I think Creation is imperfect in anyway. However I do believe that all of our human constructions and organizations are imperfect. Humility doesn’t enter into it. It just seems to my “simple” mind a rather sensible, logical and healthy way of looking at the world. Thinking otherwise is a dangerous thing. History is littered with examples of war and genocide when one group of people begin to think that they are superior to another in some intrinsic way. If that is what you believe someone ought to be keeping an eye or two on you.

Unless of course you believe as I do that being “chosen” means to be a servant of the world, and not a hegemon.

avatar Mark Perkins September 13, 2010 at 8:26 pm

David, I think you may be misinterpreting Jeffrey. I don’t think Jeffrey is talking about a matter of erasing his heritage. He’s talking about a choice for his future, rather than an elimination of his past.

And his choice is related to his citizenship in a nation-state, which is far from an organic community. I am born an American and will remain one always, but I’m not sure I’m intrinsically an American citizen, and if I chose differently, I would no longer be a citizen of that nation-state.

You, for example, bear the mark of your Church of Christ youth, but are you a Protestant? Does not your volitional, conscious choice to become Orthodox mean that you are, in reality, Orthodox, even if imperfectly so? Even if in some respects you continue to bear the marks of American Protestantism?

Our heritage and past define but do not determine us. I think of a person like John Lukacs, who is certainly an American, even though he is just as certainly a Hungarian.

One can, like T.S. Eliot, change citizenship and allegiance (though I don’t recommend rapidly developing a British accent, even if you are a great poet). That does not mean that Eliot ever really shook out his Americanness. Not by a long shot. But neither are we determined machines at the utter mercy of environment. We are creatures, and our conscious choices matter.

As for you being among God’s chosen people, I do not doubt it. I only doubt what your Americanness has to do with it–and whether someone is part of God’s chosen people by virtue of being American.

avatar David September 13, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Jordan, for a quick intro to Gnosticism see St John’s epistles. He mentions them as not believing Jesus came in the flesh (you don’t want to be these guys). A better introduction would be St Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies”.

In a modern context, I’ve found most folks of traditional Church backgrounds (conservative Catholics and Orthodox types) use Gnosticism rhetorically against those who degrade the physical world. They tend to be neo-Platonist talking about the “really real” spiritual world. They tend to be iconoclastic and chiefly abstract in their thinking. To my mind, there is a connection between Gnosticism and modernism, but that is probably a stretch.

As for your post, I don’t know if that’s what you’re doing. Though I threw up the yellow card, because I hear some key terms or phrases that set my ears back.

As for what I mean, I only mean what Orthodoxy says (though I might not say it well). I specifically said that being “chosen” was mistakenly interpreted by Calvin as exclusive. Perhaps I need to be more blatant. I don’t know about people from other countries or churches. I said that they have to figure that out for themselves. I’m simply stating that I know for what I am chosen (both politically and ecclesially).

Incidentally, if you are worried about hegemony from me, realize that to say such a thing would be to assume that I see myself as the servant with 20 talents, to whom much is expected (if I see myself as anything at all, other than fortunate).

Mark,

If Orthodoxy was not the fulfillment of my upbringing I could not be Orthodox. The churches of Christ seek the New Testament church and I found it. (Oh, it is much more complex than that, but that will serve as an explanation here.) This is not so unlike the native Aleuts to whom St Herman bought the fulfillment of the Gospel.

Let me point out that my belief that Americans are a chosen people has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. I am not a Dominionist. The hand of God is on every head of state, for all authority comes from God. America is the modern attempt for citizens to hold up under the pressure of that hand.

We have done well, and poorly, for we are flawed as are all men.

While I appreciate your claim that the past cannot be undone, you seem to present an operative excise or at least suppression of the past. TSE would not be TSE without being American.

I am not saying one cannot change citizenship. I do not believe we are free agents. Rather even in the act of changing citizenship we respond to the the obligations which preexist in the country of our origin.

And to speak frankly I found his contemplation of such a change both shallow and self-interested, and a narrow self-interest at that.

I get why FPRers would have all manner of criticism for the nation-state (particularly of the unimaginable size and complexity of the United States) when considering the preferred localism. However, that doesn’t negate your local community’s part of that national landscape and relationship to others within that landscape.

I’m fine with talking about my Californian citizenship if that moves the subject along. Or better still, we can all talk about how we should take our home town more seriously than did Jeffrey.

I do not believe these relationships are dispensable at our convenience. Or perhaps I should say that they cannot be dispensed without paying a heavy price.

The question is, do FPRers honor local ties with their lives or just their lips? Is this all a vehicle to exercise our philosophical amusement on the topic, or do we live intentionally within our values (such as we can within the obvious limitations)?

avatar Brian September 15, 2010 at 9:59 am

From the Second Century Letter to Diogentus:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

avatar Brian September 15, 2010 at 10:11 am

Pardon the amateur pedant, but the alleged intended recipient of the letter is Diognetus, not Diogentus.
For nerds, like me, who seek context for the chapter I cited, see:

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/diognetus.html

I have to get back to being a pediatrician now…

Brian

avatar Jordan Smith September 15, 2010 at 10:28 am

Amen!

avatar Jeffrey Polet September 15, 2010 at 10:48 am

David:

“Can you change your mother? Rhetorically to the point, no?” Well, no. As Mark said, you’re putting too much stock into the organic nature of the nation-state. Can I change my religion? Well, sure, although I would always carry with me the marks of that which I left. You say that America is a useful fabrication, and my essay is in part designed to ask exactly what kind of fabrication it is. The answer isn’t self-evident.

You also say: “You are all welcome to study me and make whatever grand pronouncements about my foolish native eccentricities suit you, but I’ll have lived a life come the day of my death, not merely studied the lives others have lived.” I have no idea what that means in this context, or what charged is being levied against me here. I don’t see how this conclusion is reached from this essay. Not do I see how you reach the conclusion from my essay that I don’t take my home town seriously. Quite the contrary. Would that my nation take it as seriously as I do.

DW: A nifty debaters trick. You take my claim about security and treat it as if it’s an apology for the war. While some might use it that way, I certainly don’t.

Brian: you’ve pointed to a very important tradition of Christian reflection on these issues, that as Christians we hold dual citizenships and our temporal ones are not the ones that have a primary claim on our allegiance. I couldn’t agree more.

avatar D.W. Sabin September 15, 2010 at 11:34 am

Polet, we accuse one another of the same device but what remains in common is the fact that SECURITY has surmounted liberty as the primal creed. This, of course, shall result in neither. Am I grateful that there are people professionally disrupting attacks on the civic body? Sure, but I am not convinced that having nearly a million people with High Security Clearance is worth the security implied, particularly when Secrecy is elevated to an Executive prerogative.

avatar David September 15, 2010 at 11:42 am

I was not a charge, but a warning and as I indicated in my post it was a warning to everyone in the professional FPR-biz. It was meant more helpfully and less rhetorically.

I am genuinely concerned for my own soul and the souls of those I share my life with. I don’t mean here some sort of concern in a matter of damnation (I trust in the mercies of the Lord towards us all, on that account) but there are lesser spoils against the soul than the lake of fire.

I apologize for some of your confusion concerning the style of my posts. I think it arises from my tendency to speak through my response to you to the “audience”. This is actually rather discourteous on my part and not intended as such. Please accept my apology.

Speaking directly to you, as it were. You can change citizenships, but you cannot do so freely (I mean here without consequence or without procedure). You must abide by the rules that govern a change of citizenship. You present an attitude towards those obligations that extend no further than an economic evaluation of the legal aspect–as do the comments of several others on this board. That’s disappointing.

I know that I am in the minority here when I say that national interests are more connected to local interests than personal interests are. But I am still informed by the same underlying thinking. That is, I am concerned with national interests (or even intermediate regional interests) because my local community is interdependent on those interests.

You changing citizenships will have an impact on your hometown. Negligible? perhaps, but undeniable.

Let’s consider the property taxes paid by those living in your hometown that paid for your public schooling as an investment in future productivity. Many localists feel there is an ethical question about relocating to a different community after that investment. You aren’t contemplating moving “to the big city” but actually taking that investment and granting it to another sovereign body–handing off their hard labor to foreigners.

Moreover, was the work of the teachers merely an economic exchange of value? When they were instructing you in civics was it not with the anticipation that you would be an active participant in the public life of the union?

Can you return value to them from a foreign land? Of course, but the awareness of these TIES THAT BIND which are not merely economic or legal in nature is the essence of what I find so compelling about the sort of conservative thinking I have found on FPR.

avatar Mark Perkins September 15, 2010 at 12:25 pm

“While I appreciate your claim that the past cannot be undone, you seem to present an operative excise or at least suppression of the past.”

I’ll repeat myself. The past defines but does not determine you. What I mean is that while we have no choice but to respond to our past, and that response essentially defines who we are, we are not inevitably bound to respond to the past in one particular way. And in still other words, we are free to respond to the past, though we are not free NOT to respond to the past.

You suggest that any action that wrestles with the past, that consciously engages the past, that does anything but completely capitulate to the past in some black wallowing Dostoevskyian determinacy, is a suppression.

To treat human beings as helpless victims of an all-determining past is not realistic or historically conscious, and it’s certainly not humane.

If I had to sacrifice my life for my God, family, church, local community, or even in defense of my country, I hope that I would be ready and willing. If I had to sacrifice my life to make the world safe for democracy or to prevent the building of the so-called Ground Zero mosque or to export American capitalism, I would be somewhat less interested. I would move.

avatar Jeffrey Polet September 15, 2010 at 12:27 pm

DW: We agree that there are credible security threats. We agree that a central government has both the legitimate and the moral authority to engage in preventive measures. We agree (I think) that security will necessarily entail some sort of attenuation of liberties. (The old saw about those who sacrifice liberty for security get neither is an ineffective and largely nonsensical piece of rhetoric; after all, liberal politics is fundamentally about such trade-offs). Where we might disagree is in how much authority we give to the federal government in general and the executive branch in particular. There’s no formula for this, of course. I only note here that we have, in fact, gone 9 years without another attack and we really haven’t had any significant diminishment of our civil liberties (seriously, other than the lunacy that is airport security, has your life in this regard changed at all?). We also agree that the war was an irrational response to the problem. My preference would be to keep the feds as limited and as transparent as possible in these matters. Still, if we had attacks going on every month, you might want to reconsider the balance of your primal creed.

avatar D.W. Sabin September 15, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Yes Polet, my life has changed, materially in fact. Aside from watching the last bit of my nest egg vanish, the tawdry bit left over from the vigorous clutching of the louts in three institutions of higher learning, but I digress …but watching the last dribbled bits of the war chest vanish as a result of market dysfunctions in no small measure due to cockeyed Fed Policies, I must now also watch as my home can be confiscated under eminent domain as a result of the Kelso case and given to a private developer who can build something that pays more taxes but beyond that and more to the point and not to be too abstract: My servant, the Executive, can now, as a result of judicial action and with utter impunity, lock me up and throw away the key, waterboard me and declare that they do not know my whereabouts because of “national security”. This, of course, may be entirely beneficial in my case. You may reply that this is a preposterous over-extension of the law. Everything is a hypothetical over-extension of the law until some government decides it suits their perfidious aims.

However, the beauty of the law, designed in part by people like Ben Franklin, who you seem to blithely assert is “nonsensical” for asserting that people who favor security over liberty will have neither , but the beauty of the law in this country was that it was built upon checks and balances and rights of privacy and the principle of being innocent until proven guilty by a jury of peers and it is no longer secure in this redoubt. It is not so much that the Framers designed a political system with the knowledge and confidence that there would always be fine upstanding citizens to carry on the work of American Representative Democracy….no, they designed a creaky, somewhat quixotic system that would insure malign interests could not easily have their way with it. Ben also quipped to his fellow signers that the people now have a Republic “if they will keep it”. Yee haw, its going bye bye.

With the political cluster-boink unfolding now, are you confident that our government will remain benevolent?…particularly in the event of another terrorist attack? Not to mention the financial limb they are busily sawing away at.

The point is that we could effectively fight the real terrorist threat under a rule of law that does not open us up to hazard from within or erode the Checks and Balances that have been crucial to our success. Perhaps the fundamental changes in the law, as a result of this wildly “nonsensical” Homeland Security crusade have flown under your radar. This would not be surprising because not much is said about the creeping Authoritarian Agenda. Obama has met the Bush Bet and raised it and the media grins along like the perfect little crackpot sunbeams they are.

Were we to have attacks every month, circumstances might change but this grinning insouciance with which the Government tells me I can’t understand what they are doing on my behalf gets my blood to boiling and it should do the same to yours….if, indeed, you want to “keep a Republic”. And by the way, the airport security dance is nothing compared to the various erosions our elected government and the judiciary are actively pursuing ” for our security and on our behalf”.I don’t personally mind a professional airport security at all. If your preference is is to keep the feds “as limited and as transparent as possible”, you can kiss that preference good bye and greet “the Feds are as transparent as they feel like telling me”.

This all said, I think I’ve accosted you and beat this dead horse enough and would only exhort you to not be quite so blithe about referring to security as being worth reductions in essential liberties protected under the Constitution. This area needs not only sunshine, it needs a laser focus….and it is not getting the benefit of it.

avatar Mark Perkins September 15, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Mmm, yeah, the whole “your life hasn’t changed” business only works so long as you aren’t Maher Arar or someone else caught in the cogs.

avatar Jeffrey Polet September 20, 2010 at 2:51 pm

DW: the quote is Richard Jackson’s and purportedly goes “Those who would give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety.” Well, yeah. In part because anyone that stupid operating with those qualifiers doesn’t deserve much of anything. I have not “blithely” dismissed anything. I believe my responses are born of sufficient care and deliberation. Your adoption of the airport security dance indicates that you understand the nature of the tradeoffs.

I’m not sure how the examples you give can all be pinned on the government’s reaction to 9/11. Have they always acted prudently or Constitutionally? By no means. That wasn’t my point. The point of my article is that we haven’t had a subsequent attack in 9 years, and this is something not to be gainsaid.

Neither am I convinced all the concerns you have were materially different before 9/11. In fact, I share many of the same concerns. My question is simply one of interpreting that event.

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