In an earlier thread, in which I sought to challenge some of the presumptions and delusions of the economistic modes of analysis that too often shape public policy, a reader commented that mass immigration is the greatest issue confronting the Western world today. It is incontrovertible that immigration is one of the most salient of all the momentous questions that confront us; whether we are considering the disruption of the social fabric, the alteration of the economic patterns and relationships that prevail in our country, the devolution of our political culture, or the immigration-driven presence among us of devotees of the jihad, immigration is implicated in all of these developments. But it seems to me somewhat precipitous to pronounce that immigration is foremost among these issues, in the sense that doing so might be placing proverbial carts before proverbial horses. Rather, or so it seems to me upon reflection, immigration is an element - a critical and integral element, nonetheless - of a broader historical tendency, a tendency often presented to us under the aspects of inevitability and progress. We might even look through the historicism with which we are often confronted, seeing in it merely the masquerade of a doctrine of fate, of the totality to which all of the particulars of our societies are to be sacrificed.
For, in reality, immigration, that visceral sign of the great unraveling of the West, a portent foretold by men thought mad at a time when the West seemed all but unassailable, is but a consequence and corollary of that grand strategy of openness which aims at the creation of the open society of uniformity-in-diversity and nondiscrimination. Mass immigration is but the underside of a global ethos which leads grown men to prattle like babes about the withering away of the nation-state, of the inexorable forces of technology and commerce that are rendering the political and cultural forms of the post-Westphalian order obsolete, as Man casts away the carapace of American, English, French, or Russian identity, thus to emerge from his self-imposed historical tutelage. Peruse any of thousands of public speeches, any of thousands of books published in the past twenty years, and it is not so much argued as asserted, taken for granted, presupposed, that technological and economic development are hurtling the nations of the world onward to a point of systemic convergence: one integrated architecture of exchange - cultural, economic, political, and demographic.
Two truths are often forgotten, orphaned, one might say, by means of this monotonous dythramb to the renunciation of the responsibility to choose this day how we are to live. The first is that myths of fatality are merely the dissimulations of the powerful, who seek to legitimate their actions by essentially dissolving them into process; History ordains all things, they will say, and they are powerless to stand before it. They have no choice. And if they are but the playthings of History, then how much more so are we all? - this is the logic we are bidden to embrace, that the lowly might learn not to ask too much. The second is that there is nothing new under the sun, that this talk of History and inevitability is naught but the evocation of specific forms of social and political organization, a way of investing the mundane - and often sordid - with mythic status, creating a cosmion of meaning for the benefit of the creators.
The language of fatality and convergence, of inevitability and interconnectedness, is in reality the language of an imperium. There is no sense in shrinking back from this, as though turning away from a thing deprives it of its being; the phenomenon assumes many forms, and while we often assume that this phenomenon requires overt manifestations of martial grandeur - and while these often accompany and sustain it - this external factor does not get us to the essence of the thing. To grasp this, we do well to turn to history - history, not History - though without the consoling fiction that what was will be once more, or already is. In history, there are never more than serviceable analogies, limited in application; family resemblances, we might say. But the family has a spiritual lineage, as we see from this passage from volume one of Eric Voegelin's monumental History of Political Ideas (which ended up as a sort of rough draft for his later Order and History:
The internal structure of a political unit, the great theme of Greek thought, receded to the second plane, while the rise and fall of empires became the new fascinating topic. Politics was no longer seen as the internal affair of an unquestioned community, but as a movement of power structures on a world scale expressed by the new categories of the vicissitudes of history and of fortune. The imperial organizations and the men dominating them had lost what roots they had in the life of a people; power became a game in the abstract to be played by professionals, while millions of people could do nothing but bow and dodge in order to escape the worst blows of the storm raging over them.
We have to grasp this fundamental event of the dissociation of the power structure from the people thoroughly, in order to understand the atmosphere of the concepts evolving in the next centuries. (The centuries following the conquests of Alexander the Great - Maximos.) As long as a political organization is the living form of a people, there are definite limits to expansion because an indiscriminate expansion of empire over other peoples has internal transformations as an inevitable consequence. Only when the disintegration of a people has reached a certain degree, as it did in the eastern Mediterranean of the Hellenistic period, can the power apparatus expand indefinitely; so long, that is, as the military and administrative organization holds together. (Emphasis mine.)
The essence of empire is the deracination of the ruling part, and the concomitant dissociation of the governing, authoritative institutions of a people from the concrete life of that people - the living form of a nation. It ought to be beyond cavil that this is the defining characteristic of our age, what with the establishments of Western nations falling over themselves to avow themselves the custodians of such chimeras as "universal nations", "propositional nations", and nations devoid of character save that of being open to all national characters. However, this is not all. There is also the mythos of fate, which we have already touched upon. And there is also that notion of abstraction: what could be more abstract, more dissociated from the living form of a people, than all of the twittering about the accelerating pace of information and capital flows, of the transfer of these abstract signifiers and quantities over invisible networks - abstract totalities demanding the sacrifice of the real? What could be less concrete than a burgeoning system of commerce at once so vast and so abstract that it is not, as one would expect, given the etymology, tied to a national household or commonwealth? What could be more ethereal than political forms which no longer correspond to the being-in-the-world of particular peoples, but encompass such vast arrays of functions that no one can comprehend them, political forms which themselves answer to abstractions such as History, the Market, and not to identifiable populations?
Moreover, there is that working out of the logic of abstraction: expansion beyond the limits of the living form of a people entails the transformation-by-incorporation of that original people. Migration. Absorption into larger demographic units in which heterogeneity all too often becomes homogeneity, and when it does not, is a merely private affirmation, perhaps nothing more than nostalgia or kitsch: a style of dress or decoration, a type of cuisine, denatured for global tastes, memory and custom as a postmodern version of the household gods.
Ours is the age of openness, of expansion, of empire - of empire not merely as a political phenomenon, but as an economic and cultural phenomenon of that quasi-public, quasi-private process of commerce. Ours is an age in which almost nothing of public significance corresponds to the form of life a specific people, but rather strives to encompass, to standardize, to routinize and regiment across nations and cultures; for this is what it means to embrace "universal (ideological) values", "the Market", and progress. This, if a theological note might be struck, is modernity's parody of catholicity: an immanent, world-historical substitution for the union of all believers in Christ. The great age of Christendom witnessed the marvelous flourishing of cultural diversity amidst spiritual unity; and now the logic of our institutions is to externalize this unity, not merely in the absence of spiritual unity, but in opposition to it, in the name and by the power of things inimical to spiritual wholeness and harmony among men. If, then, mankind is creating empires of various types, all in pursuit of a worldly mode of catholicity, what should be the response of the Church?
To this, I will offer but a cryptic suggestion: If, as some of the fine folks over here are arguing, Christendom is not our ideal, our final cause, as it were, than perhaps we have done nothing more than immanentize the eschaton, albeit in a manner distinct from the way in which Eric Voegelin perceived that secular modernity has done. Perhaps, that is to say, we have already passed the sentence of judgment upon those things which are passing, and will pass, away, seeking in our spiritual pursuits a refuge of eternity in the midst of a natural order destined to die. Perhaps we have merely sought to lessen the eschatological tension of the age by withdrawal, by affirming the world as the world, and by failing - or refusing - to challenge the world, for the world. Perhaps we have claimed already to know the location of the tares, we might say, and in this we have become the spiritual kin of the secular prophets.