Devon, PA. For months now, I have been sitting on an incomplete draft of a series of essays on “Localism and the Universal Church,” wherein I seek to show that the commitment of myself and many Catholics to the small platoons of family, parish, and county derives directly from my commitment to the One, Holy, Apostolic — and Universal — Church. It was a delightful project to undertake, and I am looking forward to seeing how some FPR readers greet its claims. But . . .
But . . . it becomes awfully hard to make such a claim, and to make it persuasively, when the USCCB (the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) raises some its most vocal support in favor immigration and citizenship policies that trivialize a country’s sovereign right in these matters. CatholicCulture.org reports,
The Justice for Immigrants campaign of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is urging priests across the nation to “incorporate petitions, prayers and homilies” into Sunday Masses on September 25 in support of passage of the DREAM Act. The bill, first introduced in 2001, would provide a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
The Justice for Immigrants campaign has also issued an invitation to “plan a vigil or public event between Sept. 18 – Oct. 9 in support of our DREAM students and youth” and offers a “sample agenda and elements of a powerful event” to assist in planning.
The argument of the campaign is not implausible: many children are brought to the United States illegally by their illegal-immigrant parents. Through no fault of their own, they have been raised in a foreign country in which they have no legal right to dwell. In such cases, it may indeed be a matter of prudence to allow such children, as they enter adulthood, a path to remaining in the United States. The DREAM Act provides such a path through college education or military service. If it may be prudent, it is certainly not a matter of justice. But Justice for Immigrants is the very name of the Bishops’ campaign.
As apostles of the Universal Church, Catholic bishops do indeed have a responsibility to provide pastoral care to every human being in their respective diocese; and, in many diocese, that includes a swelled and swelling number of illegal aliens. As I wrote years ago, the threat of immigration laws that would make the demands of charity a crime are frankly unjust: a Christian has an obligation to the practice of charity, and priests and bishops in particular have a responsibility to see to the care of the souls of the strangers who walk among us; from ancient times, the Church has recognized this responsibility extends especially to the immigrant (See the quotation from St. Justin Martyr in Catechism of the Catholic Church 1351). This basic obligation in charity in no way challenges the authority of states to control immigration or determine criteria for citizenship.
But programs like this patently encourage the continued growth of a demimonde of fragmented ethnic cultures and shadow citizenships. In conflating a possibly prudent policy with their pastoral responsibilities in charity, the US Bishops seem to pervert the very meaning of justice in claiming it for the DREAM act and in implicitly suggesting that the upholding of present law, and the sovereign act of a state to protect borders and determine citizenship, is somehow unjust. This appears in violation of Church teaching and the Bishops’ own past statements (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2241). Just as the Church has an irreducible obligation to pastoral care in charity, any state has an obligation to control and delimit citizenship as part of its irreducible responsibility to establish justice. Thus, the Bishops’ position sounds more like a childish tit-for-tat rather than an intelligible argument about the nature of justice.
Further, the Bishops seem to ignore the rather serious consequences to the cultural and economic integrity of American communities — communities that include Americans over whom they have primary pastoral responsibility (a bishop is the bishop of a particular diocese after all, not of the entire Church). To paraphrase from lines of Scripture and past USCCB documents on immigration, it is true that, in charity, we must welcome the stranger among us; and it is true that, in the scales of reciprocal justice, we have certain intrinsic obligations to our fellow human beings qua human beings. But to welcome the stranger is not necessarily to make him a citizen; moverover, violation of US immigration law is itself a violation of justice, and the response of justice should not be merely to ignore the fault (save, of course, should prudence so dictate — but, in that case, we are no longer talking about principles of justice, which is just the arena into which the Bishops have errantly thrown these questions).
American Catholics have in their shared memory a peculiar history of immigration into this country, and it is one they ought to maintain, but which they and other Americans are inclined naively to sentimentalize. It is idle sentiment to say, “we are a nation of immigrants.” For it is not because of our varied and uneven origins, or the often sordid means by which we came to the United States, that we grew into a distinct nation (or nations). Rather, these very actions retarded and, indeed, frustrated the course of the formation of a coherent American nation. In consequence, quite happily, there is no American nation, but a number of smaller nations that share a taste for sports and the interstate highway system. But, these smaller nations have their own integrity that is hard won and easily vulnerable. Rather than pretending they do not exist, by defending a sprawling nation “of ideas,” or by pretending that only individual persons are real, we should be asking what kind of laws make the integrity of those small communities and small nationalities that exist within the various sovereign United States to flourish.
Rather than helping in that inquiry, under the auspices of a perverse theory of justice, the Bishops give the appearance of having joined up with the globalized elites who rule us in trying to dissolve the bonds that unite the members of a community. I fail to see how this dissolution becomes more just or desirable when it is no longer done in the name of the global economy but in the name of a universal Christian charity.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Catholics appreciated how dangerous and dissolvant their own immigration experience had been, and they fought to preserve the integrity of the “ethnic” Catholic neighborhoods they had established despite the difficulties their own immigration had caused. While the ghettos they created were often squalid places, they grew to prosperty precisely because of a cohesive national and religious ethos — and that cohesiveness was jealously guarded. I am myself the descendent of Poles from a Chicago Polish neighborhood that quite vigorously policed its borders for decades. A wise and prudent jealousy, that.
Having escaped the ghetto for the suburb, however, it would seem many descendents of those same Catholics retain only the partial, sentimentalized memory of immigration mentioned above. They forget that the prosperity they have attained was necessarily won by building up an integral and delimited community upon the ruins of immigration. They thus assume that a country without a culture, a State without coherent and cohesive communities, can get along just fine. Thus, initiatives like this one regarding the DREAM Act seem to dissolve and devalue the cultural and communal bonds that we all need to live and live well. In mounting this campaign under the moniker of justice, the Bishops act as if it were a violation of the State’s constitutive principles to seek to preserve those vital bonds, whereas in fact such preservation precedes and makes possible the establishment of justice in the first place (for family and friendship precede justice, just as the family precedes the State).
It is tempting to read the Bishops’ campaign as cynically motivated: they have seen that immigration built up the American Church, and demographically immigration from Latin America is keeping the pews full at a time when the dissolution of communal bonds, a suspicious individualism, and a frank philosophical materialism has led many American Catholics to join their former Protestant “brothers and sisters” in believing in not much of anything (except for a doctrine of “fairness” — but more on this another day). But the cases do not seem analogous. Some immigration from Latin America resembles that of the old Irish, Italian, Polish, Slovak, and German Catholic immigrants. Most of it, however, is more ambiguous, leading to the creation of transient ghettos that never become cohesive communities and keep their financial and emotional ties to the home country. Do the Bishops believe they will build the enduring parishes of tomorrow from such straw? If so, theirs is a naivette wrought either by sentimentalism or cynicism.
To draw these reflections to a summary close, let me note, first, that the United States are too vast to constitute a single nation, but it is a country that flourishes, and flourishes because, within its borders, it has allowed a number of coherent and integral smaller nations to emerge. It is a fact to be appreciated as unfortunate that those nations were in no small part the product of waves of immigration wrought by the unsettling of a “modernizing” and industrializing Europe.
But, second, if we consider the manner in which those immigrants established communities in the United States, we see that they did so in a manner that, to some extent, led to assimilation into the American cultural tradition, and, to some extent, led to the formation of jealously guarded, local communities that recognized what a Polish and German immigrant, say, had in common (the fact of their immigration) was less important than the deeper ethos Poles shared with Poles and Germans with Germans. This coupling of assimilation with tribalism made possible the emergence of enduring communities that, on balance, have contributed to the growth and prosperity of the United States. The harm that such waves might have caused was mitigated somewhat by restrictions on immigration and pressure to assimilate, and the descendents of those immigrations and emergent immigrant communities have thus been the beneficiaries of such restrictions and pressures rather than the victims.
Thirdly, present pro-immigration programs, including that of the Bishops, seem to ignore the necessity of assimilation and tribalism alike. They thus give the appearance of indifference to the necessity of stable and enduring communities for the happiness of the individual person and for the intregrity of a nation. In turn, this suggests a contempt, on the part of the Bishops, for the authority and responsibility of the United States to determine and mold their citizenry, and a selective memory regarding the processes that made the Catholic Church a vibrant presence in the United States in the first place.
Fourthly, and finally, all things by their nature seek to possess the good forever. It is a sign of a flourishing community or nation that it should seek to realize itself as an entity and to perpetuate itself in the future. Pope John Paul II articulated this most persuasively in including nations as a type of personhood, with rights, dignity, and authority of their own. I view the Bishops’ program, and the indifferent, lax, or suspicious attitude of many Americans toward immigration policy as a sign that they do not see much in their cultural traditions and in the communities to which they belong worthy of preservation. If they did, they would guard that good more jealously as did their ancestors (including their immigrant ancestors) rather than seeking its dissolution into a clientalist “multicultural” zoo, unfitted for self-government, and policable only by an impersonal administrative superstate.
For further reflections on the fragility and necessity of communities (and for an explanation for the picture accompanying this essay) see my “Fables of Fragility.”
Professor Wilson, regarding your fourth point — I think many of the bishops just hold to a form of proposition nation. The latest example is a recent statement by Archbishop Chaput.
Apparently the thinking for many, not just Catholics and Catholic bishops, is that cultural traditions may be worth preserving, but they have no bearing on the community or the good life.
I think I’m on the verge of just disbelieving in nations. The localist (and the Christian) in me grows weary of the endless cycles of folks in the kingdom of far-far away messing around in my backyard. Perhaps it is better to think of them, not as persons to be voted for (these national gods, these politicians) but merely ascribe their effects on my daily life like the weather, worthy of complain but so pointlessly obvious and beyond my control that they are best ignored except when it is necessary to hide in my house away from their ill effects.
Pay more attention to my neighbors and less to whether or not some group of people I’ve never met and have little interest in their reasons or their rhetoric want to compel another group of people who neither know me about matters that will or won’t be resolved with whatever particular fortune it holds for me and mine. Even my more prized political considerations, if held on the national stage might (though they help a great many) be a ruin on my own home town. Who knows what doom of hurricanes is in the flutter of a butterfly’s wings.
In the context of contemporary American political sentiment, the fourth conclusion offered here seems to be the one which strike a chord with most Americans. Many of “red-blooded” Americans who oppose the rather apathetic enforcement of immigration laws have a sort of vaguely imagined ideal of American culture and identity.
But, I wonder if such dilution of identity is not inherent in the democratic body politic. In somewhat Platonic terms, one could say that the person dissolves when it is ruled by the belly and lower appetites instead of its head. Monarchical rule (whether of states or persons) not only guides the person, but identifies and unifies it as well.
In America, the closest thing we have to this identification is the a Pledge of Allegiance to a piece of cloth…and to the Republic for which it stands. But, those things are rather safe precisely because they make no impact on our lives. Because they have no practical meaning for us, can mean whatever we decide them to mean: just as in politics, we can decide what the laws mean because we make the laws.
We have no true identification with the concrete authority which rules us. It would be unthinkable to almost any American to make a Pledge of Allegiance to the President, much less George W. Bush or Barack Obama. We are rather like backwards dogs with tails that flee from the head. We are all still sojourners and wayfarers.
As with an earlier post on immigration by JD Salyer, I apologize that my response is an essay itself.
While there is much a Porcher could draw from the Catholic tradition, I think ultimately the localist perspective and Catholic teaching will be found incompatible, for some of the reasons I outline below. I also think that Wilson has not dug deeply enough into the Catholic tradition to understand why the US bishops conclude as they do on immigration.
Wilson argues that the US Catholic bishops forget that the preservation of local communities is in fact necessary for the good life, and that “for family and friendship precede justice, just as the family precedes the State.” It is certainly true in one sense that family and friendship precede justice, in that we need strong families and communities if we are to have just individuals and a just society. But there is another sense in which justice precedes family or any local community. In Catholic thought, the unity of humankind precedes any particular community, or in other words the dignity of a person simply as human is prior to any particular community, and these particular communities exist precisely to protect and promote the dignity of persons. So this is what I mean that justice precedes the family or friendship, that local communities must be governed by justice in how they treat their members and those outside the community.
The bishops are not ignoring the importance of local communities by emphasizing welcoming the stranger, but instead are saying that a local community that is going to fulfill its role in promoting the common good must be welcoming to the stranger. Many immigrants are seeking refuge from a type of poverty unknown to almost all Americans. What the bishops are saying is that a community that closes its doors to these people is not only harmful to the immigrants, but to its own full development into what God is calling us as human beings.
Another way to put this is that it not only protecting local communities that is important, but also what those communities stand for and how they live. I believe that this is a problem that traditionalist conservatism cannot overcome. When central importance is given to tradition and custom, it becomes less important what is passed on and more important simply that it is passed on. An evaluation of the traditions themselves must make some sort of appeal beyond the community, and therefore becomes something other than traditionalism. This is one significant reason that I think localism and Catholicism remain incompatible, because the concept of natural law, a universal concept, is so central to Catholic thinking.
Back to the issue at hand, Wilson’s emphasis on the “sovereign act” of the state in determining immigration law seems to illustrate my point. Wilson hints that the US bishops official Catholic teaching on the issue, citing paragraph 2241 of the Catechism, which reads: “Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption.” But the point is that states should not do so arbitrarily, but rather for the common good, as immediately prior to this it states: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.” This is exactly the point the US bishops make in their statement on immigration, Strangers No Longer, adding that the common good cannot exist when people have no way to exercise their right to migrate in search of a dignified life for themselves and their family. This is why the US bishops have always considered current US immigration law unjust.
Also, Wilson writes that “violation of US immigration law is itself a violation of justice,” but the Catholic tradition would say this is not necessarily the case. There are situations in which the law forbids what one is morally obligated to do, and in such cases it is just to break the law. Many regions of Mexico and Central America have unemployment of 50% or more; there are simply no opportunities to make a living and support one’s family, and no social support for the unemployed. And yet we have a moral obligation for self-preservation and to care for our families. US immigration law places major restrictions on who can enter our country legally. Therefore a person could be justified in violating our immigration law as a means of supporting their family. Wilson’s principle of family preceding justice can be turned against him.
Finally, just some historical notes. Wilson claims that many immigrant communities today, as opposed to the past, are “transient ghettos that never become cohesive communities and keep their financial and emotional ties to the home country.” Historically, though, many Italian immigrants in the early twentieth century seasonally traveled back and forth between Italy and the US, and 20 to 40 percent permanently returned to Italy. And early immigrant groups did not face restrictions on immigration. It is hard to develop a cohesive community when it can take several years for family members to gain legal entry, or when substantial numbers must live in the shadows because they are undocumented.
I no longer, as a rule, reply to comments on my FPR essays on line, and indeed avoid reading them when I can, but I wanted to compose a note praising Matt’s excellent, even compelling, analysis. I think my longer series will delve more adequately into some of those points you think are inadequately treated in this essay — especially, on a theoretical level, the tensions between certain forms of traditionalism and Catholicism.
You are of course right that an ordination to the common good is the purpose of a community, and this ordination includes both the practice of charity for its members and the practice of justice to all persons and I think my essay suggested as much (though chiefly in terms of the freedom of charity, whereas you rightly indicate justice is entailed here — which I mention but do not unpack).
The question remains whether, and in what ways, a community can welcome the stranger without destroying its own nature. If the nature of a community really would be destroyed by mass immigration, then there are two possibilities: a) I have misunderstood the nature of community altogether, and it is ordained for some other end that includes in a less qualified way the acceptance of immigrants; or, b) as I suggest here, such immigration is an evil.
Your observation about the history of American immigration is also illuminating, and food for thought. That said, though I did not elaborate my full thinking here, I have a sense that the American “Know Nothing” response to earlier waves of immigrants knew wiser than it is now given credit for: there were existential questions at stake in the immigration of Catholics from all over the world, and they were defending traditions that were compromised and a national character that was also compromised by them (I say this, of course, as a Catholic descendent of those Catholic immigrants, not as a Know Nothing (!) myself; and, more than incidentally, I teach at a University whose first campus was incinerated by Know Nothing arson). The Know Nothings feared the dissolution of one nation and the creation of something worse; we may rightly do so as well under very different circumstances. To say this self-preservation is a violation of a community’s nature would seem to derive more obviously from the teachings of Peter Singer (who has advocated a materialist form of kenosis from the West to poorer nations for decades) than those of the Church.
Timely and well-put.
Nietzschean neopagans regard Christianity as the progenitor of Enlightenment liberalism, which teaches that men are social atoms.
They also argue that the Church is an essentially anti-human entity that promotes not the redemption of the created order but rather contempt for it, and that inevitably attacks rather than perfects natural human attachments to community and kinfolk.
Unfortunately a great many Catholics themselves seem determined to bolster the neopagan argument.
“The question remains whether, and in what ways, a community can welcome the stranger without destroying its own nature.”
Perhaps the more fundamental question is what kind of community we’re considering. I can think of many communities that would be destroyed by an influx of certain kinds of strangers, and I would applaud the destruction of those communities precisely because I regard them as deeply disordered — in fact, I would see the destruction of those communities and their traditions as a great good for their members and adherents. The first question should not be “what can I do without destroying my community and tradition,” but “what do I have a duty to do?” If justice requires the demolition of your tradition, then by all means demolish it.
The most frighteningly un-Catholic thing about the kind of traditionalism that Wilson is considering here is that it threatens to set ‘communities’ and their ‘traditions’ up as the fundamental source of goodness and justice. That view, besides being philosophically indefensible, is anti-Catholic to the core. Catholics do not believe in the Church because of tradition; they believe in their tradition — or, rather, those parts of their tradition that they do not rightly repudiate — because they judge that it represents the truth. For those inclined to do so, there are all kinds of dizzying MacIntyrean things to say here about rival traditions of rational inquiry, but perhaps the simplest thing to say is that to be a MacIntyrean traditionalist is not to be a Burkean; you can be a Burkean if you like, but don’t pretend that you can also consistently be a Catholic.
So the question, I’m afraid, shouldn’t start with “how can I protect my local traditions?” but “is it an injustice to detain and deport people who have been living in a place for most of their lives and return them to a place filled with poverty and violence?” I don’t mean to endorse the Bishops’ answer to that question — so far as I’m concerned, it’s an open question, and probably more complicated than most people would like to admit — but only to insist that it is the right question. Even entertaining the idea that protecting our communities could somehow take precedence over justice is ludicrous from a Catholic point of view.
These bonds that maintain the integrity of communities are what philosophers these days call “homeostasis.” Those forces that dissolve these bonds I call neikophilia. See “Cultural Homeostasis and Multicultural Neikophilia”: http://apoxonbothyourhouses.blogspot.com/2009/09/cultural-homeostasis-and-multicultural.html
“Perhaps the more fundamental question is what kind of community we’re considering. I can think of many communities that would be destroyed by an influx of certain kinds of strangers, and I would applaud the destruction of those communities precisely because I regard them as deeply disordered — in fact, I would see the destruction of those communities and their traditions as a great good for their members and adherents.”
But I do not believe my ideal community, a community of Traditional Anglo Saxon Catholics, is such a community. I would therefore support deportation in defense of it.
Assuming the strangers are no more wicked than those who already live in a community, why would any healthy community be destroyed by their inclusion in it?
Hmm, shocking how djr would would applaud the destruction of those communities. Where communities are ethnic or religious groups, their destruction used to be called genocide.
“Assuming the strangers are no more wicked than those who already live in a community, why would any healthy community be destroyed by their inclusion in it?”
That is true in many respects. But any excessive influx of immigrants would be hazardous even though a few would be beneficial. And if the immigrants are wicked themselves, as may be the case with some of our immigrants from Mexico, then we are being damaged even more by immigration.
Re: And if the immigrants are wicked themselves, as may be the case with some of our immigrants from Mexico
Do you think the Mexicans are more wicked than we are? I do not (and in fact I think arrest data backs me up). And I will say something about those folks: they are not lazy. I have seen plenty of white people begging and plenty of black people begging. I have never once seen a Hispanic person begging. Selling flowers and junky trinkets, yes. But never asking something for nothing.
The Third World invasion is the greatest issue of our age. Those who side with the mestizo and other Third World invaders are anti-Western traitors and should be shunned.
I am a Catholic and also consider myself to be a Burkean. If I ever found the two to be in conflict, the faith would, of course, take precedence; however, I have never run into any inconsistencies in adhering to the teachings of the Church and the Burkean approach to law and society. It’s possible that I’m missing something – but I doubt it.
I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll just say that we’re not on the same team.
“Do you think the Mexicans are more wicked than we are?”
In general no. But there are some organized criminals who come from Mexico and the rest of Central America, such as the Maretrucha Salvadora Trece (MS13). And many of the immigrants who come here are so alienated that they freely vote for leftist candidates even when it is obvious they will harm their own cultural traditions.
Assuming the strangers are no more wicked than those who already live in a community, why would any healthy community be destroyed by their inclusion in it?
I’m not sure “wickedness” is the issue here.
Is there anything “wicked” about someone who, say, stays up late, listens to loud music, and is generally sloppy?
I say “no”, but that doesn’t mean he would be a “good fit” for a house full of early-to-bed-early-to-rise, iron-their-underwear types. Please don’t read too much into the specifics–this is an analogy, not an allegory–my point is that while “different” doesn’t mean “bad”, it doesn’t necessarily mean “good”.
Where communities are ethnic or religious groups, their destruction used to be called genocide.
A community could easily be “destroyed” without physical violence to person or property; right?
Re: And many of the immigrants who come here are so alienated that they freely vote for leftist candidates
Huh? Immigrants (most especially illegal ones) cannot vote, until they become citizens, at which point they cease to be immigrants and are simply citizens.
Tom: Mexico is no longer a “Third World” country. It is in fact in the top third of the world’s nations in respect to personal income stats.
But a more serious complaint with what you wrote: if siding with the poor against the wealthy is “treason” then Mother Teresa, St Francis, and Christ himself were traitors.
“at which point they cease to be immigrants and are simply citizens.”
And vote for people we may not desire them to vote for.
“Huh? Immigrants (most especially illegal ones) cannot vote,”
These people can expand the importance of government and the welfare state, and the middle class social workers who help deal with these social problems show a strong tendency to vote on their behalf even if the immigrants themselves do not vote.
But Tom was not discussing wealth. He was discussing race and ethnicity. I can’t entirely agree with him, but we should remember that his argument is not about opposition to the poor, but opposition to the non-white. I oppose racism and can easily see people without white skin as my brother, but I also believe the concept of the “extended village” is beneficial to a nation.
Re: And vote for people we may not desire them to vote for.
This statement is so incredibly hubristic I will not address it beyond that one adjective lest I sin against charity.
It may be “hubristic” but it may also be true and a legitimate concern, if they are voting for the party seeking to maintain the welfare state and promote progressive morals.
Prof. Wilson doesn’t read the comments, and that’s dandy, but I wonder if he wouldn’t elaborate on thwhat constitutes these “smaller nations” that the USA comprises. Are they states? Regions like New England or Appalachia? Or something less geographic?
“It may be “hubristic” but it may also be true and a legitimate concern, if they are voting for the party seeking to maintain the welfare state and promote progressive morals.”
You hit the nail on the head.
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