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Shouldn't we all be propositionalists?

The title is deliberately provocative. A big part of the problem is that a term like "propositionalist" is not well-defined in debates about politics. Propositionalism is supposed to be bad, and it's supposed to have something to do with believing that the essence of being American is believing certain propositions. Hence, supposedly, it involves ignoring things like the love of a place and culture.

But that's not really a definition. How much love of place is necessary not to be a propositionalist? What is meant by "culture," and doesn't "culture" have something to do with beliefs? (If someone is a Christian, that involves his beliefs and will necessarily influence his cultural practices, like praying to Jesus and going to church.)

So after the manner of boring analytic philosophers the world over, I propose that we disambiguate the term, separating it into propositionalism1 and propositionalism2. I say that propositionalism1 is naive and foolish while propositionalism2 is sensible and importantly right. Here we go:

Propositionalism1 includes, but may not be limited to, the following theses:

1. All groups of people the world over, regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, are equally likely (or approximately equally likely) to produce good naturalized American citizens.

2. All that is necessary to turn people into good naturalized American citizens is to teach them certain propositions about the nature of politics, freedom, and the like, which they will eagerly embrace as soon as they understand them.

Therefore,

3. It would be wrong to discriminate in any way in immigration policies on the basis of ethnic or cultural background.

4. The success of the American form of government can readily be repeated in other countries with vastly different cultural backgrounds from America's.

Propositionalism2 includes, but may not be limited to, the following theses.

1. America has become great in no small measure because of the nature of the form of government put together by America's founders, who were right in their propositional ideas concerning the wisdom of the details of their system--e.g., checks and balances, separation of powers, freedom of religion, and the limitation of federal powers to those enumerated.

2. There is another set of important ideas presupposed by the American form of government which are not, unfortunately, exemplified in all other countries of the world and are centrally important to America's greatness. These include the evil of government corruption, the equality of persons under the law, the value of honesty and hard work, and the importance of the rule of law.

3. An understanding and love of the ideas in #1 and #2 is a crucial part of being a good American citizen.

4. It is not only theoretically possible but also a live, practical possibility that some people not born in America will develop this understanding.

5. If people can come to embrace these ideas, there is a good chance that they will make good naturalized American citizens. In fact, Americans born in America from generations of American citizens who scorn these ideas may be worse and less loyal citizens than those naturalized who have a deep understanding and love for these ideas. Those who have no concept of these ideas have suffered from a sad gap in their American civics education which should be remedied if and when at all possible.

6. Being of non-Caucasian lineage is not by itself sufficient to make it so highly unlikely that one will embrace these ideas and become a good citizen that all persons of non-Caucasian lineage should be debarred from coming to the United States and attempting to become citizens. While race and ethnicity are closely bound up together and can be important cultural markers, race by itself is not everything and does not automatically designate cultural fitness or unfitness for presence in the United States and future good citizenship.

7. Loving one's soil and kindred is not enough to make one a good American, per se, as opposed to a patriotic citizen of some country (any country) or other.

All of this is likely to ruffle some feathers. I'm happy to consider myself a propositionalist2, and I don't think this should be mistaken for being a propositionalist1.

Comments (80)

Ah, the long-awaited post arrives. This should be fun. :-)

Jeff, I left you completely out of it! But I look forward to your contributions to the discussion. :-)

This will need a lot of thinking about, but one worry springs immediately to mind: Propositionalism1 & Propositionalism2 are only two of indefinitely many possible versions of propositionalism.

I take it that the *locus classicus* of propositionalism - call it Propositionalism0 - is Lincoln's address at Gettysburgh, which could be taken to suggest that the essence of being American consists in *dedication* to "the proposition that all men are created equal."

Is that right?

Doesn't Item #3 under Propositionalism1 also belong under Propositionalism2 as Prop.2 is described?

Andrew E.,

No. Not even remotely.

Notice (you can see it coming out in #6) that propositionalism2 leaves any amount of room for acknowledging the importance of cultural background. Culture might, in fact, make it extremely difficult for some people to embrace those important ideas described in propositionalism2, #1 and #2.

Propositionalism1 leaves no such room, as propositionalism1, #1 and #2 show.

1 in Prop2 seems problematic. At what point in American history did "the limitation of federal powers to those enumerated" go out the window? Certainly no later than 1942, and some date it at the Civil War. Requiring people to love a system of government which America abandoned seventy or more years ago in order to be called a "good American citizen" seems pretty odd.

If you stop to think about it, 6 is a jointly empirical and normative claim of significant complexity. The claim is, first, that some non-Caucasians can make good citizens. Second, that there is some method of sorting (including, possibly, no effort to sort) among these non-Caucasians which will keep the good-citizen proportion high enough that, in some unspecified sense, it is worth it (it is morally obligatory? it is morally permissible?) to let in (some?) of the non-Caucasians who pass the test. This all seems impossible to check at the current level of specificity.

There's also the problem that 6 doesn't rule much of anything out, practically, at least if "by itself" means what it seems to. For example, one could hold that non-Caucasianness does, in conjunction with the very poor public understanding of and mechanisms of transmissions of 1-3, rule out non-Caucasian immigration. Or all immigration for that matter. And for a long, long time. In fact, point 5 seems to be acknowledging this very problem or one closely related.

Also, Mencius Moldbug is not a good American citizen, violating as he seems to, 3. Also, people who believe that the establishment clause only limits the federal government and who are, in addition, in favor of state established religions are not good Americans, unless freedom of religion has a much narrower ambit in 1 than in does in typical talk about American public policy.

There is this unexplained pro-growth asymmetry in propositionalism. How come ain't there provisions for expulsion of the baddies mentioned in 5? Can't we ask bad Americans to leave? Why does bad Americanness bar immigration but not bar, say, citizenship? How 'bout commies? Can we kick them out?

There is this unexplained pro-growth asymmetry in propositionalism.

Too many things to address there right now, Bill, but I'll just say this: Actually, the "pro-growth asymmetry" is precisely not a result of any sort of propositionalism at all. Instead, it's a result of the idea that citizenship is a lifelong privilege, which is in itself non-propositionalist. In fact, the strongest blood-and-soiler should believe it, because it has to do with some sort of idea that citizenship is like being part of a family from which you can't get kicked out. I suppose that a really extreme (and terrifying) sort of "propositionalism" might require all of us to pass a "good citizen" test every ten years or so in which we had to affirm x or y or else get sent off God-knows-where (outer space?). No, the notion that citizenship is irrevocable is scarcely a "propositionalist" notion.

Dear Boring Analytic Philosopher, WAY TO GO. Nice work. I don't have time to actually think your props through, though, so I reserve the right to pick a few nits later.

Lydia, it may take my slow brain and two typing fingers a little while, but I'll get to it.

As I said in response to Andrew above, the two are different because it is possible for someone who embraces propositionalism2 to acknowledge the importance of culture and the fact that certain cultures are, shall we say, problematic and hostile to America's. (That, in fact, is what commentator Bill, above, seems to think deserves criticism for some reason.) Someone who embraces propositionalism1 must deny this.

However, looking at it now, I can see that to make propositionalism1 and propositionalism2 strictly incompatible in both directions, I should include in propositionalism2 a #8 that refers to propositionalism1 and says, "Propositionalism1, #1-4, are false."

Nice distinction between bad and good propositionalism. I don't think anyone can seriously deny that ideology is one important part of Americanness. Some paleos do deny it, but they're polemically overreacting to bad propositionalism. If America were to become a dictatorship of the proletariat or an Islamic republic, it wouldn't be the same America anymore, even if all its citizens were of founding stock.

For what it's worth, I subscribe to P2, except for number 3: I would judge good citizenship purely on behavior, not mental states.

For me, even good propositionalism (P2) doesn't have much to do with immigration. Becoming a good citizen should be a (usually) necessary but nowhere near sufficient condition for granting someone citizenship.

Steve Burton: I think that would be a misreading of the Gettysburg Address. You could only misread it that way by ignoring the opening "our fathers" clause. The nationalism scholar Walker Connor cites the Address as an example of ethnic nation-building rhetoric. I think it's a brilliant revisionist speech that defines America as a combination of an ethnic and propositional nation.

My first comment didn't really express how much I liked this post. I really liked it very much, not just for what it said but for its "stance." It found the sane mean between two crazy extremes. Most of the debate seems to be proponents of those two extremes shouting at each other and calling each other names. That's the case for propositionalism and for other issues as well.

Way to go, Lydia, for taking it away from that. This was the kind of contribution that's really needed.

Thanks, Aaron.

About Mencius Moldbug, whom Bill mentioned: I find him pretty hard to follow, but _if_ I follow him correctly, he rejects the principles of the American founding lock, stock, and barrel, and he uses his quirky writing talents to try to induce others to do the same. Now, it's hardly surprising that when someone is that much of a crank, and that type of a crank, on issues of civics, other people should consider his positions not to be those of, let's say, the ideal citizen. IIRC, Moldbug has more than once wished for the entire American form of government to collapse; if his concrete ideas for bringing it all crashing down were more active than they in fact are, he could plausibly be indicted for sedition. So I hardly think that I should have to accommodate the proposition, "Mencius Moldbug is a good citizen" in my ideas of citizenship. I'd say the same if I had a friend who was a great guy to have over for dinner but who wanted to turn America into a Rushdoony theocracy. (I don't actually know anybody like that, but you get the picture.)

It's an interesting point that Aaron raises, though: Is there perhaps an ambiguity on a phrase "a good citizen" between behavior and ideas? I think in a sense the Muslims have brought home to us the fact that ideas have consequences. One might have a neighbor who mows his lawn, chats in a friendly manner, whose wife goes around without a hijab, seems like just a plain, ordinary guy and thus behaviorally a "good citizen," but if he actually believes that America should be governed by sharia and that terrorism is justified, this is a problem for his being, really, a good citizen. And it's likely to have practical consequences--perhaps contributing to terrorist groups abroad, perhaps voting for local politicians who will try to insinuate sharia into law and practice.

As I made clear above, I would never advocate that people who are already citizens should be made to undergo some sort of interrogation out of the clear blue sky about what they now believe in order to retain their citizenship! Far from it; that seems to me totalitarian. But when someone isn't yet a citizen or when he is seeking to come into the country and get on a road to citizenship, that's the time to take these things into account and check them out.

I take it that the *locus classicus* of propositionalism - call it Propositionalism0 - is Lincoln's address at Gettysburgh, which could be taken to suggest that the essence of being American consists in *dedication* to "the proposition that all men are created equal."

Steve, I don't think you quite hit the nail on that. It is very important that Lydia's #1 and #2 state "ideas" both times: there is never just ONE statement that encapsulates the entirety of the propositions that are at the center of American propositionalism2, it always takes more than one proposition because they qualify, delimit, clarify, and perfect each other in necessary ways. Just as "the quintessential property" of the American form of government cannot be found in just one branch of the federal government: essential to our form is the interplay, checks and balances, limits, etc. Lydia's format is perfectly sensitive to the fact that no one statement is THE proposition.

It is also, I think (Lydia, correct me if I have mistaken your thought) important to say that propositionalism2 does NOT stand for the position that it is precisely in becoming explicitly aware of the set of propositions, and then persuaded of their truth, and then willing to stand up for them and defend/protect them, that is the root quality of good citizenship. It is sufficient (though far from ideal), to be a good citizen, to have a strong sense of the ideas, and an intuitive, indistinct but not explicit grasp of the rightness in propositions in which the ideas can be adequately expressed, and a deep respect for the ideals that these ideas are about. Many of the poor, uneducated farmers and simple craftsmen lived liberty a heck of a lot better than they could express liberty, and it was in living it well that they could recognize someone trying to stifle it. That's good citizenship. It is important for the form of government and the common good that there be many people who actually are capable of expressing the propositions well, but people who cannot do so can still be good citizens. The actual declaratory act of professing the propositions is a by-product of holding the ideas in the propositions, and holding the ideas is sufficient for good citizenship.

I agree with you about inexplicitness, Tony. I thought even of saying it myself. For example, an honest man who would never think of bribing a policeman "knows" at some level that this would be wrong even if he's never said to himself, "We don't do that kind of thing around here." A member of a very different country might take bribing a policeman as a matter of course.

I think that when children are educated, it's a good thing to make many or all of these inexplicit things explicit. That would be _good_ civics education. Needless to say, I don't trust the public schools as far as I could throw them to do a good job of this, but _if_ there were some kind of widespread civics education, I believe that's the form it should take. Things like, "In America, no one is supposed to be above the law. It's not like you can be a Duke and commit a crime and get away with it." And so forth.

Steve, I wouldn't venture to say with any confidence exactly what Lincoln meant by the claim that America is "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." If I took a simple-minded stab at it, it would be something like this: "The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal. That should mean, if it means anything important, that slavery is wrong." Given all the mischief that has been done since Lincoln's time in the name of equality, I'd be a lot more cautious than either the writer of the Declaration or Lincoln about such sweeping pronouncements as, "All men are created equal." But hindsight is always 20-20. In hindsight, I'd say it's better to confine oneself to more carefully circumscribed claims like, "Slavery is wrong and should be abolished," "No one should be able to commit a crime and get away with it just because of who he is or because of who his victim is," etc.

I wouldn't venture to say with any confidence exactly what Lincoln meant by the claim that America is "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." If I took a simple-minded stab at it, it would be something like this: "The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal. That should mean, if it means anything important, that slavery is wrong."

I think that is a fair statement of what Lincoln said and how his hearers took it. I think going case-by-case in negative fashion is the only way it even could be an applicable principle of government.

Given all the mischief that has been done since Lincoln's time in the name of equality, I'd be a lot more cautious than either the writer of the Declaration or Lincoln about such sweeping pronouncements as, "All men are created equal." But hindsight is always 20-20. In hindsight, I'd say it's better to confine oneself to more carefully circumscribed claims like, "Slavery is wrong and should be abolished," "No one should be able to commit a crime and get away with it just because of who he is or because of who his victim is," etc.

"All the mischief done" by the pronouncement? Can we keep the pronouncements on freedom? What idea isn't dangerous? What idea can't be carried to far? What can we judge by its abuse? I just do not see any justification for statements like this. In my view it promotes the idea that there is some perfect verbal formulation that could have avoided all the trouble of excess, and discourages the view that there are insoluable problems of life that cannot be avoided. That in each generation and age excesses and deficiencies must be fought in real life with vigor; that there is no other way and this is how God intended it. This is to say nothing of the dangerous ideas that are distinctly Christian such as love of neighbor.

So rather than wish for a past with a perfect formulation that we can't quite imagine even now with all the evidence at our disposal, and implicitly imagine some of the wisest of our forbears somewhat foolish for not seeing the error that would result from their words, I think there is a better way to think of it. I think there is good reason to think that the Founders, and Lincoln and his supporters, knew full well what trouble might come from these statements, but that they knew that such trouble would have to be faced by people like us, and the fate of the country would depend on us as it did on them.

I think it would have been a grave mistake to have the sort of watered down missional statements about all manner of things that folks here are always pining for. Such attempts at over-precision have at least as many problems as clear statements of truth, indeed far more in the unlikely event that anyone even remembers them in all the qualifiers. Fleshing out practice from theory is the stuff of life.

Lydia, I hope my comments didn't sound overly harsh. I'm in a hurry to get home. I completely agree with your propositionalism2. I'm one too. :)

I find it immensely interesting that so many of our commenters, most of them quite sympathetic to Lydia's propositionalism2, still end up giving us strong eloquence in the service of anchoring those propositions in praxis, in lived reality, in flesh and bone actions of actual men.

For instance:

essential to our form is the interplay, checks and balances, limits

It is sufficient ... to be a good citizen, to have ... an intuitive, indistinct but not explicit grasp of the rightness in propositions ... and a deep respect for the ideals that these ideas are about

Many of the poor, uneducated farmers and simple craftsmen lived liberty a heck of a lot better than they could express liberty, and it was in living it well that they could recognize someone trying to stifle it. That's good citizenship.

In my view it [is a bad thing to] promote[] the idea that there is some perfect verbal formulation that could have avoided all the trouble of excess, and discourages the view that there are insoluable problems of life that cannot be avoided.

in each generation and age excesses and deficiencies must be fought in real life with vigor; that there is no other way and this is how God intended it.

Fleshing out practice from theory is the stuff of life.

I have always contended, not that propositions and principles and ideals are unimportant, but rather that they are too important to be left to the world of dry abstraction. They must be embodied to some extent in a lived tradition. To be more specific in the American context, it is the lived tradition of government by deliberative assembly, by persuasion rather than force, by compromise rather than imposition, by community commitment to self-government. This lived tradition began at a very humble level. I have written previously of the awesome solemnity of the covenant or compact established by the Pilgrims on the very deck of their ship, and of the pattern of that compact down through the ages. Those hardy Pilgrims took propositions mighty seriously, and so should every American.

I have always contended, not that propositions and principles and ideals are unimportant, but rather that they are too important to be left to the world of dry abstraction. They must be embodied to some extent in a lived tradition.

It sounds to me like you would agree that "dry abstractions" are necessary but not sufficient. If so, this was my point in a nutshell. Focusing on the insufficiency is fine, as long as we don't forget the fact that it is *necessary*. For example, systematic theology consists of many dry abstractions, and even with a healthy understanding of its severe limitations I think it is still accurate that without the attempts distinguishing heresy would be exceedingly difficult. Necessary, but not sufficient.

For example, statements that are considered true in all the ways relevant to the public understanding at the time I don't think are unwise at all. Because of misunderstandings about the meaning of "equality" now, we must make distinctions between moral equality, equality before the law, and that there are quite different from equalities of wealth, position, outcomes, etc. are part of the political discussion we must now undertake because of the widespread confusion today. Denials of "equality" without making distinctions on what is being denied is not helpful in my view. Likewise many Christians deny that happiness is a worthy goal, rather than accept that the problem is that happiness is now considered by some to be a pleasurable feeling of satisfaction rather than a life of virtue.

This lived tradition began at a very humble level. I have written previously of the awesome solemnity of the covenant or compact established by the Pilgrims on the very deck of their ship, and of the pattern of that compact down through the ages. Those hardy Pilgrims took propositions mighty seriously, and so should every American.

I agree. The Pilgrims were deadly serious and humble in their way. But they are a safe group among a crowd like this. Move away from them to those who took political stands and pride and humility get turned around real fast. In the heat of political understanding, the humble and steadfast folks of the same ilk in less distant circumstances are often vilified in the popular mind. Few actors in American history can be seen as dispassionately as the Pilgrims are to many Christians, and the study of most other groups and times is much more challenging even to get beyond the commonplaces, which are often not very accurate.

Mark, I should have linked to some previous writings of mine on this. There is a long backstory between Lydia and me.

On the subject of the Pilgrims and their continuing importance: http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2010/03/preamble_and_compact.html

On the subject of propositionalism: http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/02/a_challenge_for_the_propositio.html

I'll take a closer look at the "preamble" discussion later. The "proposition" discussion is the familiar one. I see nothing to disagree with what you say there, and much to like. Again, it seems avoiding extremes is the goal. Hoping for God's providence as we've had, without which we're all sunk anyway.

Still, my only notable observation is that for all the complaining about "universalism" in one form or another you'd never know that the "smallness" and "regionalism" commonplaces has been so thoroughly and deeply imbibed by now by many of us on the Right that American history as it was has nearly vanished. In my studies of American history even now I'm astonished that after ten+ years of reading American history pretty intensively I know very little about antebellum society that didn't fit that template, and I'm beginning to think there is much. I'm not so sure now that those claiming the citizenry so hell-bent on "universalist" ideas are any closer to the American tradition as it was by their commonplaces than the Liberals anymore. I've always been a particularist, and I'm highly suspicious of those bearing meta-narratives without a deep knowledge of who did what, when, and why. Strangely left out of all these universalist equations are the volumes of CW diaries and such where common folk explain exactly why they are fighting. Instead we have narratives on how Lincoln fooled the poor rubes into doing what they'd never have done, rather than the truth that they'd have destroyed his presidency if he didn't. Not trying to turn this into a CW discussion at all, and won't, but I'm a particularist and there are as many dubious and crackpot narratives on the Right as on the left, sadly. Politically, I'll always go fully with those on the Right, but still , , ,

Mark, I wasn't at all trying to patronize Lincoln or anyone else by my reference to 20-20 hindsight. To the contrary. That very phrase was meant to imply that it's impossible for human beings to guess all the crazy ideas that other human beings will come up with from what should be, in context, non-crazy statements. I don't think it's any insult to anybody from 1776 to 1900 or later to say that they could not have guessed the insanity that others would take from a statement like, "All men are created equal." Who would ever have thought that anyone would be so out of touch with reality as to deny that people differ in abilities, for example, and even that these differences sometimes fall into predictable group patterns? Who would, even more, have guessed what we have now in the form of gender-bending, gender-denial, etc., the denial of even the most self-evident differences between men and women, on the grounds that "everyone is equal"? One naturally expects something other than infantile, willful foolishness on the part of those who come later and read one's words. Unfortunately, that expectation has too often been disappointed. Moreover, Lincoln was not writing, for example, a legal opinion that would be used as a precedent, so he had no responsibility even to try to pick his words with an eye to how they might be used as a precedent.

If I were to pick a sentence in the Declaration that I _do_ think was unnecessarily and foolishly sweeping even for its time, it would probably be the assertion that all men are endowed by their Creator with a right to the pursuit of happiness. That seems to me not to take due account of the depravity of man.

Lydia, I know you weren't trying to patronize Lincoln, and it would't matter to me in any case. I was referring to the modern tendency to implicitly patronize those who went before us generally. No offense, but it is a modern conceit.

I disagree with you that the Declarations statements about happiness are problematic for the reasons I already hinted at. The concept of eudaimonia is so very, very deep in Western culture and the Founders were standing squarely in that tradition. Stepping out of the tradition to condemn it is puzzling. If I repeated back to you your words that it is foolish to make a sweeping statement of the foolishness of this foundational idea of Western culture you'd probably be offended. Yet I've never seen in the past or now that in your condemnations of "equality," "happiness," and such that you ever seem interested in saying what you think these things are. I find this a strange sort of literalism incomprehensible for someone who self-identifies as an analytic philosopher. I have no idea what to make of this.

I would encourage people to do a deep dive on what the Founders and the West meant by this statement before they condemn it.

I don't condemn equality. In fact, it's precisely _because_ I'm an analytic type and therefore a "splitter" rather than a "lumper" that I don't like to be asked either to condemn or to endorse anything so huge and multifaceted as "equality."

I think it is fair to say that you condemn what you aren't willing to discuss, and I find this not at all helpful. Without the attempt, how is it coherent to say that the statement "all men are created equal" doesn't account for human depravity? What linguistic rules are in play in your "foolishness" charge? Generalities are required for communication.

I think your desire to rule out excesses in reality by unspecified linguistic moves is not sufficiently appreciative of human depravity. Doesn't human depravity works in our language as much as anywhere else. Isn't some suspicion of what can't be stated briefly in common sense terms as justified as the opposite extreme of not being able to endorse equality as the Founders understood it? Otherwise, how can I know that you even have a reasonable understanding of equality? I often complain about terms, but not without positive suggestions about better ones or approaches. If not, what is the point? Why cultivate skepticism about something without being willing to critique it? You don't seem to want to even entertain the widespread learned notion that what constitutes happiness in recent times has turned it into something else. A "morally inferior" version in the words of Solzhenitsyn in his famous Harvard address.

The word "equality" is problematic. Stop the presses. So are the terms freedom, love, justice, righteousness, and innumerable others. Putting meaning to these is the stuff of life, and there are no shortcuts, linguistic or otherwise. Folks that live within a system of government began with stated understandings of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" tend to become cynical don't they? It isn't hard to guess why. But those privileged to know immigrants who lived in places of the world where they rarely fail to note its importance, and the powerful attraction of the freedom to pursue happiness properly understood. By accident I know several such immigrants from Eastern Europe, and they think the cynicism about "happiness" in the Declaration a sign of Western decadence. I do too. I also read widely among immigrants from these societies and they do not entertain notions of the foolishness of the "happiness" clause in the Declaration.

BTW, I do not self-identify as an analytic philosopher because it has a taint of what I think are some negative connotations. I associate analytic philosophers not with analysis at all, since we all do that, but rather with an ahistorical outlook that tends to approach texts they read as if they fell out of the sky. I find they ignore standard commonsense rules about attention to genre and context in ways I find deplorable.

Lydia, this is an important topic and probably too important for me to say much about without seeming to be quarrelsome. But seeming to be quarrelsome has never stopped me before. :-)

W4's contributors and readership base undoubtedly rejects your Propositionalism1, so we can dispense with that. As for Propositionalism2, a few comments:

1. America has become great in no small measure because of the nature of the form of government put together by America's founders, who were right in their propositional ideas concerning the wisdom of the details of their system--e.g., checks and balances, separation of powers, freedom of religion, and the limitation of federal powers to those enumerated.

Straight out of the gate: is it only possible to be a good American citizen if one holds the foundational government of the United States of America to be "great"? If "great" just means praiseworthy in many respects, and well-suited to the needs of our people, then I'm fine with that. That's normal and healthy and patriotic. But if the subtext is something like what the belligerent neo-con means by "great", as in "the greatest nation on God's green earth", or "the pinnacle, summit, and culmination of western civilization", then I've already got a problem.

Likewise, if dissent from one or more of the founders' chief propositional ideas - say, limitation of federal powers to those enumerated - precludes one from being a good American citizen, then we have already written off the majority of Americans and possibly some of the founders themselves. If I'm not mistaken, Alexander Hamilton was not of the opinion that federal powers were strictly limited to those constitutionally enumerated. (Paul Cella, perhaps, can confirm or deny.) Hamilton also held that the British system of government, with its limited monarchy and parliament, was "the best model the world has ever produced".

Let me ask you this. Can someone who believes this -

The sovereignty of the people, however, and this without any reference to God, is held to reside in the multitude; which is doubtless a doctrine exceedingly well calculated to flatter and to inflame many passions, but which lacks all reasonable proof, and all power of insuring public safety and preserving order. Indeed, from the prevalence of this teaching, things have come to such a pass that may hold as an axiom of civil jurisprudence that seditions may be rightfully fostered. For the opinion prevails that princes are nothing more than delegates chosen to carry out the will of the people; whence it necessarily follows that all things are as changeable as the will of the people, so that risk of public disturbance is ever hanging over our heads ...

From these pronouncements of the Popes it is evident that the origin of public power is to be sought for in God Himself, and not in the multitude, and that it is repugnant to reason to allow free scope for sedition. Again, that it is not lawful for the State, any more than for the individual, either to disregard all religious duties or to hold in equal favor different kinds of religion; that the unrestrained freedom of thinking and of openly making known one's thoughts is not inherent in the rights of citizens, and is by no means to be reckoned worthy of favor and support.

- be a good American citizen?

I hope so, because that is what every Catholic must believe. To hold that the legitimacy of public authority derives from popular sovereignty is heresy. To hold that elected representatives are nothing more than delegates chosen to carry out the will of the people is heresy. To hold that the State may legitimately disregard religious duties, or hold in equal favor true and false religions, is heresy. To hold that unrestrained freedom of speech and expression is inherent in the rights of citizens is also heresy. Many will argue, however, that these ideas are the foundational propositions of our Republic, and that to dissent from them diminishes one's American-ness.

I have reason to hope that yours is a much more nuanced view, taking into account that the general understanding of the founding fathers, and of the original states, was not as absolutist as the language sounds to us. But as you clearly do understand when it comes to Jefferson's "all men are created equal", the specific language of a proposition matters as much or more as its original context and lends itself to certain interpretations.

So here's where I think we've got to be careful: the Constitution does not create Americans or define American-ness. The Constitution embodies certain laudable aspects of the American character, but that character in its best expression might have produced something quite different. It is an exceptionally wise document, worthy of respect and even reverence, as are many of the principles behind it. But there were Americans before there was a Constitution; there are Americans today, at a time when the Constitution is almost a dead letter; and there will be Americans tomorrow, long after the Constitution has been replaced with something else.

Immigration policy, naturally, requires a certain attitude on the part of immigrants toward the receiving nation's existing government and institutions, so oaths of loyalty and political fidelity are entirely appropriate when it comes to admitting new citizens. And every American should be taught to love what is good and wise about our nation's founding principles. But from a Catholic perspective, and I trust also from a traditional Protestant perspective, our Constitution is a compromise. A necessary and even brilliant compromise for its time, perhaps, but a compromise nevertheless. It's not the best we can do, it's not the pinnacle of good government, and it's not the best form of government the world has ever known. It's missing something profoundly important. Admitting this much should not make one a bad citizen.

Gotta get back to work, more later I hope ...

Jeff, no time to say more now, but I almost think I should put you and commentator Mark in a room together and let you duke it out. When I express some hesitation about so sweeping-sounding a statement, written by what you, Jeff, have called one of the "Jacobins" among the founders, as "inalienable right...to the pursuit of happiness," Mark faults me for being a nit-picky analytic philosopher (and perhaps suspected paleocon), insufficiently grateful for the freedoms I enjoy as an American, who believes that documents fall out of the skies and thus can't admit the self-evident wisdom of Jefferson's unqualified statement. When, on the other hand, I use the term "great" for the founding principles of our country, you ask me to abjure neocon belligerence.

I just find it a little amusing.

But your comments are valued and deserve a much better response than that, which I hope to make later on.

Ha, I think I'd rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick. Watching Maximos and Mark duke it out would be more entertaining.

My response thus far is just meant to confirm whether you mean what other people mean by the same genre of propositions. You probably don't - which pleases me - but then I still need to address the idea of propositionalism itself.

Jeff C.,

Now this discussion is getting interesting. You say:

"To hold that the legitimacy of public authority derives from popular sovereignty is heresy. To hold that elected representatives are nothing more than delegates chosen to carry out the will of the people is heresy."

Really? So the Catholic Church has never qualified its statements about popular sovereignty, stating, for example, that governments around the world should be consensual and/or take the "will of the people" into consideration when making decisions? I'll do some research tonight, but I bet recent encyclicals have not been so hostile to democracy.

"To hold that the State may legitimately disregard religious duties, or hold in equal favor true and false religions, is heresy."

Again, given modern pluralistic societies, the Church hasn't authored a more nuanced view of this idea recently? The fact that the U.S. gives a tax break to a Protestant church as well as a Catholic church -- is that really heresy? What does "religious duties" mean in this context anyway -- what are the State's positive duties the Church has in mind?

"To hold that unrestrained freedom of speech and expression is inherent in the rights of citizens is also heresy."

Here I think, happily, the Church and the U.S. Constitution are actually in alignment (especially the Constitution as interpreted with an originalist bent) -- most of us would obviously agree that freedom of speech does not include obscene speech or pornography and everyone would agree that libel or yelling "fire" in a crowded theater should be properly restrained.

"Many will argue, however, that these ideas are the foundational propositions of our Republic, and that to dissent from them diminishes one's American-ness...So here's where I think we've got to be careful: the Constitution does not create Americans or define American-ness."

Actually, I would argue that the Constitution does indeed create Americans -- that was the point of adopting the document! And no, the people who were here before the Constitution was adopted were not Americans, but British colonists (and before that, North American Indians or Spanish Colonists, etc.) And so I don't know about Lydia, but yes, I would argue very strongly that if you aren't on board with certain foundational propositions, you are being willfully un-American.

Regarding the Church and democracy, here are just a couple of interesting bits of wisdom I found just now:

1) first from the Catechism

1901 If authority belongs to the order established by God, "the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens."20

- the footnote refers to GAUDIUM ET SPES, which is from 1965

2) the second from John Paul II

The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate (On the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, No. 46)


Sorry, Jeff C., but apparently GAUDIUM ET SPES is the document I was looking for, as I decided to keep reading and came across this gem:

76. It is very important, especially where a pluralistic society prevails, that there be a correct notion of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and a clear distinction between the tasks which Christians undertake, individually or as a group, on their own responsibility as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience, and the activities which, in union with their pastors, they carry out in the name of the Church.

The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.

The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men. The more that both foster sounder cooperation between themselves with due consideration for the circumstances of time and place, the more effective will their service be exercised for the good of all.

Of course, an interesting question, totally separate from the matter of this post, is what the heck was the Church talking about when it spoke in the quotes you cite earlier?!

Maybe our esteemed commenter Tony can help us out here...

In my thread on the history of England, commentator Grobi asks why instead of thesis #6 above for propositionalism2, I don't have:

Being of non-Caucasian lineage by itself doesn't make you more or less prone to embrace these ideas and become a good citizen than being of Caucasian lineage. Period. (Though being of non-Caucasian lineage may contingently indicate that an immigrant grew up in an environment hostile to democratic values).

And Jeff C. says, reluctantly, that he prefers that wording with some caveats about what Grobi would probably mean by "democratic values."

I'll first point out that the two wordings are compatible. #6 as it is presently worded is this:

Being of non-Caucasian lineage is not by itself sufficient to make it so highly unlikely that one will embrace these ideas and become a good citizen that all persons of non-Caucasian lineage should be debarred from coming to the United States and attempting to become citizens. While race and ethnicity are closely bound up together and can be important cultural markers, race by itself is not everything and does not automatically designate cultural fitness or unfitness for presence in the United States and future good citizenship.

Now the intent of the phrase "make it so highly unlikely" was simply to refer to an epistemic state in a person thinking about possible immigrant groups. That is, I meant it to be taken as "justify the assignment of so low a probability" or something to that effect. It wasn't intended to be a causal statement about making people _be_ a certain way, though I suppose I can see how it could be read that way.

Grobi is apparently noting that one might assert #6 as written while believing that there are such things as innate characteristics associated or statistically correlated with race that actually make a person from the outset more or less likely to embrace certain ideas and become a good citizen.

Since we're talking about some pretty high-level values, not just things like, say jumping high, running fast, or even scoring such-and-such on an IQ test, I can certainly see that any connection between innate characteristics and the embracing of the values in question would be pretty attenuated and able to be swamped by upbringing--perhaps upbringing from infancy.

But I'm not willing to take a stance that says that there is _nothing_ innate about _anything_ that would have _any_ connection to _any_ of the values in question. Let's pick one less likely to make people angry: Am I willing to assert, "There is not and never will be any innate characteristic statistically correlated with any racial group that makes that group to any degree whatsoever more likely to be rigid and inflexible about rule-making"? Call this the "German gene," if you like. Do I really want to _insist_ on the absolute non-existence of any such thing as a German gene? Heck, I don't know. The interaction between innate, biological characteristics and psychological tendencies is extremely complex. People on the autism spectrum (people with Asperger's Syndrome, for example) tend to be pretty rigid about rules and routines, so obviously biology has something to say about the matter. Why couldn't it be the case that an entire ethnic group had a statistically significant number of people with a more mild version of "some of that" innately, leading to a higher amount of rigidity in the culture?

Now, that's obviously intended to be a deliberately non-hot-topic example, but I think the point is clear. I'm not going to make the strong statement that biology and culture are so completely disassociated that there could never be _any_ innate characteristic statistically correlated with some racial group that would have _any_ negative impact whatsoever on _any_ of the American values I've described. That just seems more like an insistence on what "should be" the case rather than on what we can really know is the case.

Now, having gone that far, I'd far rather discuss Jeff C's other questions about religion, etc., than the whole topic of innate characteristics and race.

When I express some hesitation about . . . "inalienable right...to the pursuit of happiness," Mark faults me for being a nit-picky analytic philosopher

No, I faulted you for not picking any nits at all, but rather complaining about things I'm left to guess at. I think "some hesitation" is an understating emphatically declaring "I _do_ think was unnecessarily and foolishly sweeping even for its time."

(and perhaps suspected paleocon), insufficiently grateful for the freedoms I enjoy as an American, who believes that documents fall out of the skies and thus can't admit the self-evident wisdom of Jefferson's unqualified statement.

I didn't say any of this and don't think it. As far as the paleocon thing, I'm not clear on the meaning of it so I'm not sure who is and who isn't.

it's not the best form of government the world has ever known.

It's funny to hear you state it this way. In CW diaries and letters on the Union side it is common to read them state they were fighting to prevent the "best government in the world" from being destroyed.

Jeff S and and Jeff C. are having fun about some statements of heresy - can I play? I have been noting this debate for a while. Some time ago, I read a debate at Disputations blog about the use of the political theory "by the consent of the governed" which, it was being maintained, was a strictly Enlightenment theory directly at odds with the Catholic view, and condemned by the Catholic Church (in the Syllabus) as heretical. But to the contrary, the view more recently among many Catholic scholars is that the "consent of the governed" theory becomes a problem only when it is specifically severed from "any reference to God", as Leo XIII phrases it in Immortale Dei. Just in the last 2 days, though, I came across the passage from St. Robert Bellarmine from De Laicis that I posted in the commercial republic thread, of which I will just give 2 sentences here:

Note, secondly, that this power resides, as in its subject, immediately in the whole state, for this power is by Divine law, but Divine law gives this power to no particular man, therefore Divine law gives this power to the collected body....Note, in the fourth place, that individual forms of government in specific instances derive from the law of nations, not from the natural law, for, as is evident, it depends on the consent of the people to decide whether kings, or consuls, or other magistrates are to be established in authority over them; and, if there be legitimate cause, the people can change a kingdom into an aristocracy, or an aristocracy into a democracy, and vice versa, as we read was done in Rome.

Bellarmine can hardly be accused of Enlightenment heresy, he was a total scholastic Thomist and a Doctor of the Church. So, according to Bellarmine, it is not merely that the authority subsists in God as origin, and God permits the men of a state to designate individuals to whom God will then commission as HIS delegates, holding authority. No: Rather, God emplaces the authority directly in the body politic, and the body as a whole must select the men who are to wield the authority, and therefore the authority passes from God, to the whole state, and from the whole state to a select few. Therefore, the select few are, truly, delegated to act on behalf of the whole people. It is just that this delegation is not without reference to God

, which is what Leo XIII condemned.

Whether a state has a monarchy, or a republic, or an aristocracy, it remains the case that it cannot achieve this form except by a choice made by a number of the people who initially agree to submit to that form.

Actually, I would argue that the Constitution does indeed create Americans -- that was the point of adopting the document! And no, the people who were here before the Constitution was adopted were not Americans, but British colonists (and before that, North American Indians or Spanish Colonists, etc.)

I don't quite agree with that. Patrick Henry, a good 15 years before the Constitution was adopted, said "I am an American first, a Virginian second." The formal declaration of a new entity, the United States, did of course depend on the adoption of the Constitution. But part of the reason the Articles of Federation had not worked was that they failed to incorporate formally what was a de-facto reality: that America was already a union of united states, in very important respects. The Constitution could not possibly have been ratified, and could not possibly have worked if it did not formalize a reality that was already at least 80% actual.

Just as definitively, the July 4th Declaration could not have been a true document in any sense if the "colonies" that declared it had not already been, largely, united in important enough ways that a SINGLE declaration sufficed to announce to the world that each of these entities was independent from Britain. Further, when the peace treaty was signed, it was signed for the American side not by 13 separate governments, but by one. The reality of America as a unitary entity preceded the formal ratification of the Constitution.

I would admit that the American reality was not a 100% completed reality before 1789, but these things are rightly a matter of degree or gradual accumulation. When did England become England? There is no single date that specifies the sole turning point, such that before that date there was no such thing as England, and after that date all the country was England full of Englishmen. In 1787, America existed, incompletely but really.

Tony,

Thanks for both of your contributions. I especially like your idea about America and Americans. I was really pushing back against the notion in Jeff C.'s comment that

But there were Americans before there was a Constitution; there are Americans today, at a time when the Constitution is almost a dead letter; and there will be Americans tomorrow, long after the Constitution has been replaced with something else.

I took him to mean that folks like the Indians, the early French and Spanish settlers and maybe the early colonists could properly be called "Americans". I would reject this idea, but at the same time, adopt your view that when we did become Americans is not quite simultaneous with the adoption of the Constitution, but rather sometime before then.

Ironically, I'm reading a not very good book about Christianity and on the section dealing with England the author makes the case that the Venerable Bede in describing the efforts of Gregory and Augustine to re-engage the British for the Church simulataneously turned the Anglo-Saxons (and Britons) into the English, sometime in the 7th to 8th centuries.

Actually, I would argue that the Constitution does indeed create Americans -- that was the point of adopting the document! And no, the people who were here before the Constitution was adopted were not Americans, but British colonists (and before that, North American Indians or Spanish Colonists, etc.) And so I don't know about Lydia, but yes, I would argue very strongly that if you aren't on board with certain foundational propositions, you are being willfully un-American.

Jeff, I'm with Tony on this. I think Americans existed before the Constitution, and I don't take this to be in conflict with Lydia's propositonalist2. If there is such a thing as propositionalism, then I think it would follow that those pre-1787 Americans had propositions then as now. Later documents would codify those to the extent possible, though putting them on paper involves sweeping generalities because sweeping generalities are required for public communication to a national (even world-wide) audience. But it still doesn't follow that the propositions didn't exist until the Founding documents codified them to the limited extent this is possible. Bottom line is propositions are mental entities that exist in the minds of persons and aren't created by documents. See below for some quotes from an essay I read recently that may put some meat on the bones of this issue.

A distinct political identity was forming far in advance of the Constitution's adoption, or even the Revolution. Here are some notes from Donald Ratcliffe's essay "The State of the Union" copied out of my Evernote repository relating to the degree to which there was a shared American outlook before the ratification of the Constitution. The numbers and separation of the ten items below are mine, but the words are just a literal transcription of the relevant parts of the essay.

". . . Intercolonial trade and the postal service were reinforced by religious excitements such as the Great Awakening and, above all, by the pressures of war against the French and Indians."

". . . This shared political outlook was fully revealed after 1763 as the colonies came into conflict with the British government. Though each colony had its own grievances, the underlying rationale was the same and the common ideology gained clear expression in the resistance to the Stamp Act of 1765 . . ."

1) Then continuing argument quickly transposed this sense of a common British citizenship into an exclusive American self-identification . . . In these circumstances, colonial newspapers, notably in the South, increasingly used the word "American" as the common descriptor of the colonies and by 1773 were expressing a clear sense of colonial identity."

2) The very character of the Revolution assisted the social construction of this national feeling. The transfer of power to the former colonies was justified on the principle of the sovereignty of the people, but that principle was necessarily based on the assumption--clearly expressed in the Declaration of 1776--that Americans constituted a single, coherent "people." Aware of the need for outward expression of this identity, Americans everywhere adapted traditional British street celebrations into rituals that legitimized the new order; the toasts--initially thirteen in number--offered at public festivals expressed national rather than provincial pride.

3) Most important, the reports of the scattered events of the Revolution and of local celebrations then circulated through the press, giving them a national import and helping to create what Benedict Anderson has called an "imagined political community." Indeed, we might argue that the sense of American nationality gained deep roots so quickly because the binding thread of a common "print-language," so essential for creating an awareness of sharing a communal identity, was not restricted to an upper class, since literacy was already widespread and newspapers were extraordinarily numerous. Hence the evidence of recent cultural historians increasingly suggests, in David Waldenstreicher's words, that "Americans practiced nationalism before they had a fully developed national state."

4) In practice, a Union government was established even before the separate states had a legal existence. Faced by British military and naval power, the colonies had no choice (as Franklin said) but to hang together. The Continental Congress, called in 1774, swiftly began to act in the collective interest of the colonies, authorizing a Continental Association to embargo trade with Britain, raising a Continental army, issuing a Continental currency, and negotiating with foreign powers, long before its constitutional powers were defined. The Association of October, 1774, in particular was an act of revolutionary nationalism, with Congress bypassing provincial governments and directly ordering the creation of extralegal local authorities, which was accepted with "an amazing agreement through the continent." As the crisis deepened in 1776 the Virginia House of Burgesses recognized that it fas inappropriate for a single colony to declare its independence and so pressed its representatives in Philadelphia to persuade Congress to take the critical step on behalf of the whole American people.

5) It may have been difficult--in John Adams famous phrase--to make thirteen clocks strike as one, but the United States took its stand as an integral political entity on the world scene long before any state asserted its sovereignty. When foreign powers recognized Congress as the legitimate and authoritative exponent of the Union's will, in both the French alliance of 1778 and the peace treaty of 1783, they in effect recognized the priority of the sovereignty of the United States.

6) Popular commitment to the new republic gained deep emotional roots as a result of the War for Independence. Just as the French and Indian wars had a unifying effect on sentiment before 1763, so Americans sanctified their cause by spilling of blood together in resisting the British effort to conquer them. Some historians have argued that the fighting between 1775 and 1781 had probably a greater impact on proportionately more of the American population than the Civil War fourscore and ten years later, as ordinary people all over the country bullied neighbors, fought skirmishes, had property impounded, and suffered harassment, injury, and tragic loss. In the South, the last eighteen months of the struggle degenerated into a guerilla, even terrorist, war between Patriot and Loyalist neighbors. The memory of the war subsequently became the touchstone of national feeling, just as the Civil War did for the late nineteenth century.

7) Strikingly, the Congress agreed in the early 1780s that, since the war had been a common effort, those states such as South Carolina that had paid out proportionately more than average for the war effort should be recompensed by the states that had paid less. A congressional settlement commission promptly began to audit state accounts in order to apportion the cost of the war among the states on a per capita basis, though this commitment to back patriotic sentiment with hard cash remained unfulfilled in the 1780s because of postwar financial difficulties and Congress's lack of authority.
The weakness of Congress after the war reflects the reality that the new republic was made up of thirteen very different and widely separated states, each proudly asserting the provincial autonomy that it believed Britain had threatened. Moreover, the ideology of the Revolution emphasized the principle of self-determination and insisted that the states came together in voluntary association. As a consequence, the Articles of Confederation (drafted in 1776-77 but not ratified until 1781) expressed the conviction of the states that Congress must not become an overly powerful central government that might threaten the plural and decentralized nature of the Union.

8) But, faced after 1783 by the republics ineffectiveness in dealing with hostile foreign powers and imperial neighbors, and experiencing the disruptive social and political consequences of the postwar financial and economic crisis, politically aware Americans faced up to the need for constitutional revision remarkably quickly. The new Constitution of 1787 was produced by a nationally conscious political elite that welded together an overwhelming coalition of merchants and urban artisans, young men and old patriots, slaveholders and capitalists, major ports and financially overstrained states, exposed frontier areas and metropolitan interests. The eleven state conventions that approved for Constitution before 1789 did so, overall, by a two-to-one margin among their members.

9) The decision has often been seen--like the initial Act of Union in 1776--as a forced response to the critical situation in which the newly independent states found themselves. . . . but many indications confirmed that a basic sense of American political community did already exist. For example, when Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote . . . the famous Federalist Papers--they necessarily emphasized the pragmatic utility of the Union and the merits of the new constitutional scheme, but their argument constantly assumed, and without any disagreement from their opponents, that a single "American people" existed that rightly belonged together in some sort of political relationship.

10) Indeed, the decision to create a "more perfect Union" in 1787-88 cannot be satisfactorily explained without the prior existence of some sense of nationality. After all, those who opposed ratification of the Constitution--the "Antifederalists"--controlled at least six of the ratifying conventions when they first met, but proved unwilling to vote the new scheme down. . . . Lacking a viable alternative of their own, enough Antifederalists were persuaded by the merits of the proposed scheme--and encouraged by the promise of a Bill of Rights--to produce the necessary majorities; and by the time of the first federal elections in the fall of 1788 even the most recalcitrant of their fellows had accepted the new framework and promptly worked within it. Their ideas persisted, but in future the former Antifederalists of 1787-88 would argue over the meaning of the Constitution, not its legitimacy.

Jeff C. said so many interesting and controversial things in his initial comments that have sparked such interesting conversations that I can't address them all at once. Here's one I would like to address:

the Constitution does not create Americans or define American-ness. The Constitution embodies certain laudable aspects of the American character, but that character in its best expression might have produced something quite different. It is an exceptionally wise document, worthy of respect and even reverence, as are many of the principles behind it. But there were Americans before there was a Constitution; there are Americans today, at a time when the Constitution is almost a dead letter; and there will be Americans tomorrow, long after the Constitution has been replaced with something else.

I think the reason that Jeff S. reacted negatively to this is that it _seems_ to be saying that American-ness is entirely separable from the ideas highlighted from the Constitution in propositionalism2, so that there were Americans not only before there was a literal Constitution but also before there was anything like it in the minds of Americans.

Particularly controversial is this part:

long after the Constitution has been replaced with something else.

Doesn't that depend on a) what it is replaced with and whether it bears any resemblance to what went before, and hence b) whether the putative Americans are in agreement with the new document and/or ideas that replace the Constitution?

For example: Suppose that America became a Communist country. Really, literally. In that case, I would say that the true Americans would be the people working in the underground! Or _at least_ not actively cooperating with the Communists. Somebody energetically writing lies for the New Pravda or sending people off in the Black Marias to the New Gulag would _not_ be a true American, no matter where he lived, no matter what his ancestry, no matter what church he belonged to, no matter what, period. He would be a traitor to all that America is or should be. If this be propositionalism, make the most of it. :-)

Now, Jeff C. puts forward the following, concerning America and religion, for our consideration:

But from a Catholic perspective, and I trust also from a traditional Protestant perspective, our Constitution is a compromise. A necessary and even brilliant compromise for its time, perhaps, but a compromise nevertheless. It's not the best we can do, it's not the pinnacle of good government, and it's not the best form of government the world has ever known. It's missing something profoundly important. Admitting this much should not make one a bad citizen.

Well, let's unpack this.

Proposal 1: The Constitutional set-up at the American founding isn't the best we can do as a form of government.

Inclined to disagree. I'm especially inclined to disagree because I can't think of anything better and have worries about what Jeff C. would probably propose that he would think is better.

Proposal 2: The Constitutional set-up at the American founding isn't the best form of government the world has ever known.

Undecided. Is the claim that a) there is another form that is better, that b) it's apples and oranges and is impossible to make such comparisons, or that c) there are other forms of government that we can definitely tell are equally good? Perhaps I'd agree with b. That's the kind of thing that often seems sensible to me. Inclined to disagree with a, for the same reasons I disagree with Proposal 1. Don't know what to say about c, but it would surprise me if I became really convinced of it. Maybe I need to get acquainted with a larger variety of forms of government.

Proposal 3: The Constitutional set-up at the American founding is missing something profoundly important.

What? Apparently, an established church. At least, I'm guessing that's what Jeff C. means--that the American constitutional order would be improved if, instead of the First Amendment, we definitely _did_ have an established church for the entire country, presumably Catholicism. If this is what Jeff C. is getting at, then I disagree. I think established state churches are highly imprudent and that the formal establishment of religion is also bad for the religion in question.

Proposal 4: Believing proposals 1-3 doesn't make you a bad citizen.

This is going to come up repeatedly, so let me say this: Good citizenship is an amalgamation of a _ton_ of different things. So any given thing that is problematic could be outweighed by other considerations. For example, I would consider someone a better citizen if he believed that America would be better off as an officially Catholic country *and also* was hard-working, socially conservative, chaste, charitable, kind, supported 2nd-amendment rights but would never in a million years engage in an act of terrorism or violence against the innocent, etc., etc. than if he were a gang member, hip-hopper, and had a string of illegitimate children but would condemn the very notion of an established church (with much colorful language).

You get the picture. One can't simply say, "X is a good citizen" or "X is a bad citizen" and have this cover all the options.

But let's take our first man above--the good one. Compare him to an alternative version with all the same characteristics _except_ that he realizes (I use the word "realizes") the wisdom of the Founders in not having an established church, does not pine for it, and in fact supports the foundational American idea of our having no formal establishment of religion. Then, since we have set up an "all else being equal" scenario, I would say that he is civically better than his establishmentarian doppelganger. He's better connected with what makes America America. He's more distinctly American; he is wiser about a rather important civic matter concerning the form of our government.

Lydia, I think I agree with you, while at the same time I agree with Jeff. ??!?

That's pretty odd, so I hope I can explain it. First of all, it is easier to say what I mean about agreeing with Jeff. I think that all creatures are designed to glorify God, to the extent that their natures allow/provide. Non-rational creatures do it without free will, just by being their own good little selves. Rational creatures do it by being virtuous, and one of the pre-eminent virtues is piety: Rational creatures ought to worship God. The state is a derivative rational creature, by reason of the nature of man, which is social and communal, so that man's nature requires the state. It is better that the state take cognizance of God and render Him due reverence insofar as that reverence pertains to the whole community (rather than simply to individuals) than that the state NOT do this. My belief is that, among other things, this means that the state give especial recognition of God's designated ministers in the ordering of His church, and thus to recognize marriages carried out by those ministers. Thus, for example, the ideal state would follow the Church when the Church declares that a perceived marriage is null. And the ideal state has no problem declaring days of prayer, days of thanksgiving, and so on. In addition, any state that is going to provide special recognition to religion in any way at all (i.e. to many religions, as ours does) is going to (a) have to decide what qualifies as "religion" in order to be granted that recognition, and (b) deny recognition to those entities that don't pass muster. Based on this, the state must have an innate capacity, simply using reasonable argument and not revelation, to decide when a so-called religion is irrational or not rooted in historical reality and does not qualify. Therefore, even NON-establishment states can rightly disregard a so-called religion, and this is a step toward an establishment of religion at least in a partial sense.

The federal Constitution permits states to have an established religion. I believe that it is perfectly acceptable for the American constitutional form to have states that have established religions severally in the states. As a result, it is not necessary for the federal level itself to have its own established religion in order for the state to honor and worship God in the manner suitable for a state. Therefore, I am fine with the idea of a federal entity that does not have an established religion. If there were some states that had established the Episcopalian church, and others that had established Catholicism, and others other churches, this would not disturb the American idea of the federal form in the least.

If there were a situation (as a thought experiment) where there were a federal form of government, and all of the member states had established the SAME church, would this either automatically make that church established at the federal level, or logically demand that the federal form take on the establishment of that church? I don't think so: even if each of the states had established Catholicism formally as their state religion, it would not follow that each state had done it in the same manner or degree, or with respect to the same sets of rights, privileges, and demands. One state might require that the governor be a Catholic, while another not. Therefore, it could be reasonable to say that the federal level would remain without an established religion.

I think established state churches are highly imprudent and that the formal establishment of religion is also bad for the religion in question.

I am sure that when Christ comes the second time, you will be perfectly happy with His establishment of His reign, which will meld governance and worship in some as yet unknown way. So I assume that your comment is with limited respect to this worldly sphere as yet subject to sin and evil men. I also think that religions that are created by the state are a bad idea, because by definition such a religion is dependent on man rather than God. If, however, a state merely recognizes a religion by, in effect, a declaration that this religion is (1) reasonable, (2) supported by convincing historical record, and (3) supported by miraculous testimony of God, and is therefore recognized by the state as being singularly qualified, it does not automatically lead to the evils that often come about where the state has established a religion. I would admit, however, that while the evils don't follow as a logical necessity, the appearance from history for the record from formally Catholic states as well as formally Protestant states (and formally Shintoist states) is not so overwhelmingly good as to preclude a reasonable person taking Lydia's stance.

Tony, I do definitely think that the distinction between what is going to happen eschatologically and what we should seek to bring about by political action in this world is incredibly important. Murderous utopianisms of all kinds have arisen from the neglect of this distinction. So, too, have disastrously foolish but well-intentioned policies. When, for example, somebody says, "Eliminate poverty," any sensible person should get the jitters. Yet I'm sure that poverty will be eliminated in Jesus' eternal reign. The same is true of the union of church and state and everyone's belonging to one visible church and being in total theological agreement. We shouldn't expect any of that this side of the eschaton. Theological agreement we can of course try to bring about through simple persuasion, but that's a different matter.

Now, you speak of the state's recognizing God, the definition of a religion, national holidays and days of prayer, and the like. I wouldn't want it to be thought that I'm advocating an ACLU theory of "separation of church and state." If I were a lawyer I would argue within established church-state precedent for the good of my client, but in actual fact I think most church-state precedent is a huge mess and wrong-headed. The idea that it constitutes an "establishment of religion" for a government entity to do anything that a reasonable person would take as an endorsement of religion would have made the Founders' heads explode. It probably would even have seemed extreme to Jefferson.

So when I speak of an established state religion and express opposition to the idea, I mean it only in the simple-minded, whole-hog, originalist sense--the sense in which Anglicanism has been the state religion of England and Russian Orthodoxy the state religion of Russia.

You bring up the very interesting question of established religions for states vs. established religions for the whole country. It would be bad history on my part to pretend that the Founders tried to ban or eliminate the former. They obviously didn't. The whole doctrine of incorporation is another can of worms and a later innovation. And it isn't true that it _automatically follows_ that if an established religion for the whole country is a bad idea an established religion for a state is also a bad idea. Scale matters. It matters hugely. It matters to, for example, voting with one's feet. This is true of so many things. I have far fewer objections to "government schools" if that literally just means that my local city takes city property taxes and runs schools--no state department of education, no federal department of education, no MEAP (state testing), etc. If we're talking about some sort of extremely local level, there's much less to object to.

This might also be true of established churches, though it certainly should not be true of truly objectionable and alien religions such as Islam. I would definitely object to a mini Sharia state in Dearborn!

On the other hand, I think that _some_ of the same arguments that one would use for or against the establishment of a church for an entire country are also going to apply at least at the state level if not also at the local level. It seems pretty obvious that a person who would get really enthusiastic about turning Maryland back into a formally Catholic state would probably think it even better if he could turn America as a whole into a formally Catholic country. And someone who would object to the one is likely to object to the other.

What this means about citizenship, I'm not sure. I think that a good constitutionalist originalist should oppose an established church for the entire country and should, at a minimum, support a fairly wide doctrine of religious freedom even at the state level. Not sure what this would mean in detail, but it seems like it would definitely preclude throwing Baptists in jail in Maryland for attending an unauthorized church. :-)

Jeff C., by bringing up enumerated powers, I don't mean to recapitulate the entire debate between Hamilton and Jefferson over implied powers. I'm not qualified to do so in any event. However, my strong impression is that even Hamilton's view would be considered an "enumerated powers" view in the larger sense that it would stand in contrast to the view that Congress can do anything it thinks good and helpful under the "general welfare" clause, that Congress can punish you for not having health insurance and call this a "tax," or that Nancy Pelosi is something other than an idiot for laughing to scorn the question of Congressional authority for enacting Obamacare. I'm guessing Hamilton would look like a conservative originalist in today's legislative world:

"This specification of particulars evidently excludes all pretension to a general legislative authority, because an affirmative grant of special powers would be absurd as well as useless if a general authority was intended." - Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 83

Unfortunately, the civics education of too many Americans has been so utterly abominable and wretched that they literally believe that the federal Congress should and may take up *any matter whatsoever* so long as it is really important. Are they "good American citizens"? I'll ask you a question in return: If some Catholic teenager has received an abominable and wretched Catholic formation that leads him positively and energetically to deny some basic and extremely important tenet of Catholic doctrine, yet he is generally pious, well-behaved, and well-intentioned, and he goes to Mass regularly, is he a good Catholic? Obviously, the answer is "yes" in one sense and "no" in another. And obviously you would be rightly furious at his teachers for his poor formation *as a Catholic*. Same here.

a person who would get really enthusiastic about turning Maryland back into a formally Catholic state

Lydia, you have to get your facts right: Maryland never had a formally established Catholic identity. Here's how La Wiki puts it:

In Maryland, Baltimore sought to create a haven for English Catholics and to demonstrate that Catholics and Protestants could live together harmoniously, even issuing the Act Concerning Religion in matters of religion...

In 1649 Maryland passed the Maryland Toleration Act, also known as the Act Concerning Religion, a law mandating religious tolerance for trinitarian Christians. Passed on September 21, 1649 by the assembly of the Maryland colony, it was the first law requiring religious tolerance in the British North American colonies. The Calvert family, who had founded Maryland partly as a refuge for English Catholics, sought enactment of the law to protect Catholic settlers and those of other religions that did not conform to the dominant Anglicanism of England and her colonies...

In 1689, Maryland Puritans, by now a substantial majority in the colony, revolted against the proprietary government, in part because of the apparent preferment of Catholics like Colonel Henry Darnall to official positions of power...The victorious Coode and his Puritans set up a new government that outlawed Catholicism...

I had thought, and Wiki seems to agree, that Maryland never established Catholicism. But that's really neither here nor there for your point, which is perfectly clear: I think that _some_ of the same arguments that one would use for or against the establishment of a church for an entire country are also going to apply at least at the state level if not also at the local level.

I don't really know what to say. A lifetime of living in a country that was, formerly, strongly pluralist Christian, but is now mostly secular, leads me to see several pitfalls in political arrangements of any sort. Perhaps our sensibilities are not entirely trustworthy. A country that is happy to enforce a specific religious outlook may end up enforcing secularism, which I believe is not only bad, but is positively against the natural law and violates human rights, as the Church document Dignitatis Humanae makes clear. So yes, there is inherently some danger to the point of view that religious establishment is good. Yet a state that cannot go whole hog and establish a specific religion seems subject to ever increasing indifferentism, resulting in secularism anyway, so the evil feared is possible with or without establishment.

General common sense seems to say that it is OK for a state to announce days of thanksgiving or penance and thus seems to present grounds for the state to agree formally with certain religious ideas, which inherently means excluding certain opposed religions. And once you do that, what's to stand in the way of including more and more issues under the formally approved category until you effectively have an established religion in all but name? If the matter is more one of prudential determinations rather than principle, then we should not expect to find a definitive general pronouncement other than that official state preferment of one religion over others is not contrary to the common good, the natural law, or prudence.

One system I have seen proposed is that the state may (if all of its people are of one religion) provide that the state shall coordinate and condition its laws with the ideas that the religion teaches, but even then the state should not erect a formal exclusive relationship with a specific church body or specific religious authority. Theoretically, this would leave the state free to judge the religious authorities independently on civil matters, and not get embroiled in religious matters (and leave the church free to respond to its own interior life without direct interference from the state). This sounds like a reasonable compromise between having no state recognition of religion at all, and formally establishing the Anglican Church, eg. But the skeptic in me thinks that this is a bit naive, that you cannot thoroughly separate out the religious teachings from the religious authorities who promulgate such teachings: what happens when you get 2 sub-groups that disagree?

I believe that I subscribe to the theory of religious freedom given in Dignitatis Humanae. Which is a little cagey about particulars, but generally it would:

preclude throwing Baptists in jail in Maryland for attending an unauthorized church

But it would not preclude throwing Maryland Baptists in jail for teaching things about Catholicism that simply aren't true.

I definitely agree with Lydia that good citizenship in America is an amalgamation of a ton of particulars, including many propositions. We have a constitution that has been amended a couple dozen times, because MOST OF AMERICA agreed that it wasn't quite right on this or that issue. This implies that normally it takes more than disagreeing with one or two propositions with respect to America, even when those propositions are pretty important in the overall picture. But it could be done, if you thought all of the following: (a) separation of powers between different governmental functions is evil; (b) distinction between the federal level and state level of authority is wrong; (c) limiting the power of the government according to theories of individual rights harms government. If a person thought all of these, I don't see how he could be a good American.

Regarding the enumeration of powers: I thought the Hamilton - Jefferson debate was resolved (more or less, at least temporarily), with the theory that the powers that were not explicitly enumerated but were definitively necessary to carry out or put into effect the things that WERE explicitly enumerated are included in the federal powers. This does not provide a lot of satisfaction to today's liberals like Nancy Pelosi, who seemed to think that the Constitution itself is just a quaint document that is no longer relevant. (And so a "living" document was turned into a dead document in a short time). My point is that with the power to amend, and the reasonable flexibility of accepting implicit powers that rest directly on explicit powers, there is plenty of room for government to operate and do its proper business.

And once you do that, what's to stand in the way of including more and more issues under the formally approved category until you effectively have an established religion in all but name?

I've become really suspicious of sorites arguments like this. I used to use them. Now I try to avoid them. Compare the following:

"It's not inherently wrong for a parent to deprive his badly behaving eight-year-old of dessert as a punishment. But if that's true, then it's also not inherently wrong for a parent to send his badly behaving eight-year-old to bed without dinner as a punishment. And once you do that, what's to stand in the way of removing more and more of the child's access to food as a punishment, until you are effectively starving the child to death?"

In politics, I suppose a parallel would be,

"It could be legitimate for the government to put some regulations on the preparation of food to be sold. But then what's to stand in the way of adding more and more regulations until we get to the point where there must be a live webcam accessible to the government 24/7 in every kitchen in which food is prepared for sale to the public?"

In other words, we can move from "reasonable and no problem" to "wicked," "totalitarian," "crazy," etc., by a series of intermediate steps.

Since that's the case, it seems that one could reasonably be absolutely fine with a President's establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday, with the clear understanding that the God being honored by that holiday is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Christianity, while at the same time being _strongly opposed_ to taxing the people of some state or country in order to pay the priests and fund the churches. Not to mention throwing Baptists in jail for teaching what Catholics consider to be falsehood about Catholicism. :-)

Or even really teaching something that is false about Catholicism.

LOL

I don't really know what to say. A lifetime of living in a country that was, formerly, strongly pluralist Christian, but is now mostly secular, leads me to see several pitfalls in political arrangements of any sort.

Tony, what is the basis for your judgement that the nation was once strongly Christian, and now "mostly secular"? How do we measure that?

Tony, here's a light moment for you. You'll appreciate this. Speaking of Protestants who tell falsehoods about Catholicism. I have a seventh grade health book produced by A Beka Books, a fundamentalist Protestant press in Florida. Here is a doozy from the book (exact quote, not making this up):

During the Middle Ages, the official church, in emphasizing the spiritual part of man, de-emphasized the body. Thus as Romanism flourished, personal cleanliness declined.

Catholicism causes body odor. Who knew?

During the Middle Ages, the official church, in emphasizing the spiritual part of man, de-emphasized the body. Thus as Romanism flourished, personal cleanliness declined.

Terribly sorry not to have had time to keep up with this discussion, but I've enjoyed reading. It doesn't look good for me this week either, but we'll see ...

As for the quote from the A Beka Books health book, that's pretty bold and probably not coming from a nice place. But it's not all wrong. My cursory understanding is that, in comparing Catholic and Protestant societies at their best, you will indeed find "personal cleanliness" cranked up a few notches among the Protestants. "Cleanliness is akin to Godliness" goes the old axiom of Methodist missionaries, apparently popularized by John Wesley in some form. And it's been my general experience as well. I can say anecdotally that among the devout of each group, controlling for social status, the Prots are more likely to have immaculate homes and yards, the Catholics not so much.

Yes, I do think the demands and the other-worldliness of traditional Catholic piety once had something to do with it. Also the fact that Catholicism thrives better in agrarian settings. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a much better read and traveled man than I'll ever be, made the same observation in Liberty or Equality. But it's probably more just cultural inertia these days. As to the historical claim, I would think the expansion of Catholicism in formerly pagan lands tended to raise standards of cleanliness, not lower them.

I was, incidentally, shocked at the relative uncleanliness (dirt, dust, lots of cobwebs, no pest control) of the first Orthodox monastery I visited when still a Protestant. The monks were literally in church seven hours every day. The grounds looked almost as derelict and neglected as our little ranchette this time of year (and that's pretty bad). And yes, the body odor was highly discernible!

A final comment: isn't it interesting how often the tables seem to turn? Originally Protestantism was a force for worldliness, over and against the rigors of Catholic piety which left little time or motive for worldly pursuits. But in America, chiefly with the Irish immigration, Catholicism gained a rowdy, worldly, earthy reputation; while Protestantism was all about "me and Jesus" and "pie-in-the-sky". Now, the tables have turned again and Catholicism is perceived as intolerant, strict, and puritanical; while Protestantism is tolerant and easy-going and morally realistic.

Jeff C., I wouldn't have wanted to say any of the things you've said about cleanliness and godliness and in fact lacked even the anecdotal data, but the anecdotal data is interesting. It sounds like the most directly relevant data concerns an Eastern Orthodox monastery rather than RC anyway.

They were indeed talking about bathing, not about yard mowing. But as you say, the statement is meant to be an historical one. The period when ostensibly "Romanism flourished" and, as a result, "personal cleanliness declined" isn't identified. Is this supposed to apply to, say, the days of Constantine? Once Christianity became tolerated and flourished, Roman Christians took fewer baths than pagan Romans? How would this apply to the period immediately after the Fall of Rome? What about the High Middle Ages? And since "Romanism" had already been well-established for centuries in the High Middle Ages, where would the concomitant "flourishing" and "declining" come into the picture? As an historical claim, it's a mess. No data, no specificity, and exceedingly implausible on its face however one interprets it. It's not as though the world was once filled with cleanliness-is-next-to-godliness Methodists who were turned into might-as-well-not-bother-with-bathing, other-worldly Catholics! No such historical movement ever took place. It's just silly.

Lydia: Propositionalism2 sounds reasonable enough, except that I think the reference to being non-Caucasian in 6 somewhat misses the mark. Pakistanis are Caucasians; Singaporeans are not. Other things being equal, which nationality do you think would assimilate more quickly?

#6 doesn't address that question, Vincent. Actually, #6 is directed at a certain strand of non-mainstream conservatism that would, I'm afraid, deny it--in other words, people within that strain would hold that being "non-white" (which presumably would include both Pakistanis and Singaporeans) is a major problem per se for immigration. This is meant to disagree with them.

Tony, what is the basis for your judgement that the nation was once strongly Christian, and now "mostly secular"? How do we measure that?

Mark, the statement was purely ad hoc, based on generalities. If any specific data can be used, how about this: America has more or less accepted that schools cannot say prayers, even generic ones simply to God, without distinguishing a specific version of God. States and federal buildings cannot have monuments to religious figures or ideas unless those figures are used for secular ends. And so on. What about the fact that only 20 to 30% of Americans go to church on Sundays? Or the fact that more than half of American children now grow up in broken homes?

There is no definitive basis to measure when we became mostly secular. Lots of individual indicators are included, but there is no absolute measurement for it.

I've become really suspicious of sorites arguments like this. I used to use them. Now I try to avoid them. Compare the following:

Lydia, that's a very fair objection. The slippery slope is not a perfect argument. So, what basis would you use to limit the range of applicability for religious affirmation by the state, where the state prefers one religion (or group) and excludes others, even if that preferment does not amount to an establishment?

If any specific data can be used, how about this: America has more or less accepted that schools cannot say prayers, even generic ones simply to God, without distinguishing a specific version of God. States and federal buildings cannot have monuments to religious figures or ideas unless those figures are used for secular ends. And so on. What about the fact that only 20 to 30% of Americans go to church on Sundays? Or the fact that more than half of American children now grow up in broken homes?

Well there is no question that secular forces are gaining strength, but that is another claim. If we're going to make claims based on church attendance and such we need to look at church attendance in past times. We can't just think "well it should be higher so it must be declining." For example, I think church attendance now is probably considerably higher than in Colonial times. I think that Christians divorce at a rate roughly the same rate non-Christians, although it wouldn't surprise me if the children counted as in broken homes aren't more likely to be in a secular environment.

We can't just think "well it should be higher so it must be declining." For example, I think church attendance now is probably considerably higher than in Colonial times.

Mark, that's a good point. I have often wondered just how much Christianity was actually held by the average peasant in Italy in 800, or Germany in 1100, or Poland in 1300. But as for going to church in early America, my impression is that it was very, very high for Puritans, not quite as high for Quakers, and somewhat less so for many others but still higher than the average today. But that's just an impression, and it has to take into account that people who lived more than 2 or 3 hours travel from church (6 to 9 miles) probably didn't go much, which (in my view) should not matter in measuring the rate of church attendance.

I think that Christians divorce at a rate roughly the same rate non-Christians,

Yes, and that is as good a measure of secularization as any of the others: their Christianity has been watered down quite a bit towards something pretty much like non-Christian. Even though I know fine Christians who are divorced, it is virtually always because at least one of the couple did not practice anything like true Christian love in the marriage, not a little due to secular influences.

#3 is wholly wrong. I have no idea what a person's belief on this or that aspect of governance has to do with their being a good citizen. In fact, I can pretty easily imagine someone entirely apolitical that is more tolerable than, say, the entire staff of National Review. Thomas Fleming is right about this; what a person says they believe means very little; it's how they act that is important.

I also don't know why anyone would expend any effort trying to justify the immigration of nonwhites. The US needs no more immigrants, no matter where they come from, so what's the point? In any case, it doesn't really matter whether immigrants from Hindustan or wherever agree on paper with this or that proposition. If they cut all ties with their former countries and make an attempt to be an American then they're doing the right thing. Note that this is exactly what our rulers tell immigrants to not do.

Some good questions about an immigrant:

are they part of some ethnic lobby?
have they Anglicized their name or at least their childrens' names?
are they sending remittances back to relatives?
are they complaining about public displays of Christianity (if not Christian)?
do they have a flag from the home country displayed?
do they speak English, or at least attempt to while making sure their children do?

I could go on, but you get the point.

5 is also bad; loyalty has nothing to do with abstractions like liberty, equality, and fraternity. A sane person is loyal to people, not ideas.

If they cut all ties with their former countries

A sane person is loyal to people, not ideas.

Matt, I don't see how these 2 statements can be consistent. If becoming American means cutting off loyalty to your former country, then that is something about loyalty to something other than a person. Surely you don't mean that you think the immigrant should no longer have any loyalty to his parents, brothers and sisters back in the old country. He ought to maintain Christian love for them, which implies that he remain tied to them as son or brother, even if not as fellow citizen.

Loyalty to America cannot be completely isolated and apart from loyalty to "ideas". But that's not special to America: every country is, as such, partly a mass of people and partly something that lives in the mind and heart - a commitment to constitute a community bonded together. Without that intention, there is no country, it's just an undifferentiated amorphous mass of people. The set of "the people that live in Austria" would be just as irrelevant as the set of "the people whose last name is Schmidt" or "the people who have had cancer" in recognizing masses of people.

I purchase their (math and language) books but I'm not surprised you found something stupid in an A-Beka book. Their books tend to appeal to the "there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark and they were vegetarians 'cause, you know, bears have sharp teeth and they eat vegetables" crowd.


Lydia, I’m of that certain strand of non-mainstream conservatism that shall remain nameless and that would deny 6.

I'm not going to make the strong statement that biology and culture are so completely disassociated that there could never be _any_ innate characteristic statistically correlated with some racial group that would have _any_ negative impact whatsoever on _any_ of the American values I've described. That just seems more like an insistence on what "should be" the case rather than on what we can really know is the case. Now, having gone that far, I'd far rather discuss Jeff C's other questions about religion, etc., than the whole topic of innate characteristics and race.

I don’t think an advocate of that certain strand of non-mainstream conservatism has to understand the issue as merely “innate characteristics and race.” There are other mechanisms related to race that don’t require one to imagine a set of “good American citizen” genes that whites uniquely possess. One would be that THEIR ancestors didn’t build America and this civilization for that matter. I recall you admitted in another discussion that America would be less culturally “American” as it became more non-white but then you stated that this phenomena was non-contingent wrt race (I’m writing from memory here). I say who cares if it’s contingent or non-contingent and how could we ever prove its contingency anyway? The way it works could be as simple as this. Our country was built by dead white men. When non-whites look in the mirror they don’t see something like those dead white men they see something different. Yes, there are individual exceptions to this but it’s what happens in the aggregate that counts.

When non-whites look in the mirror they don’t see something like those dead white men they see something different.

If our educational establishment weren't a complete wreck, and worse than a wreck, a poison factory, reverence for and support for all the good things done and set up by those "dead white men" would be taught to all students, regardless of race, without group-resentment junk, and this wouldn't matter. As it is...I hear about black students who believe the Greeks-stole-philosophy-from-black-Egyptians pseudo-history. This isn't something they were born to believe. This is something they were taught.

I'm more pessimistic than you. I don't think people from around the world will identify with our heritage. And I don't think the left's narratives are the only thing preventing this from happening.

I'm more pessimistic than you. I don't think people from around the world will identify with our heritage. And I don't think the left's narratives are the only thing preventing this from happening.

I am very close with many people of South Asian ancestry, first generation Americans whose parents immigrated in the 70's (Hindu, Muslim, Catholic), some are more "patriotic" than others, none of them hate America, all of them are very grateful to be citizens of this country, all of them are Westernized though none have Anglicized their names nor plan to with their children, all are well-educated, productive citizens living relatively moral lives within liberal society. Also, as far as one is able to know, very few have a deep and abiding attachment to the American founding, the events or the peoples. They do not identify with Washington, Jefferson or Davy Crockett, the New England Puritans or back-country Scots, nor the Irish or the Germans and are frankly somewhat suspicious of conservative "white" America. They understand that those who colonized, created, civilized and settled America are different from them in important, unbridgeable ways. Again, as far as an outsider can ascertain, most feel separated from the beginning of the American story for reasons that seem to me entirely unrelated to what they learned in school or what they see in movies or on tv. If so, no nation can survive this kind of immigration.

Loyalty to America cannot be completely isolated and apart from loyalty to "ideas". But that's not special to America: every country is, as such, partly a mass of people and partly something that lives in the mind and heart - a commitment to constitute a community bonded together. Without that intention, there is no country, it's just an undifferentiated amorphous mass of people. The set of "the people that live in Austria" would be just as irrelevant as the set of "the people whose last name is Schmidt" or "the people who have had cancer" in recognizing masses of people.

What Tony said.

Our country was built by dead white men.

Very true. Excellent. Oh, except for the parts built by dead black slaves. And the parts out west build by dead Chinese. And about 1/2 of the concrete poured in construction, by dead Dagoes... oh, sorry, Italians, who were not quite considered "white" by the Anglo whites anyway.

What was the point again? Oh, yeah, that our country belongs to white people who immigrated here before the non-white people immigrated here. Except for the blacks. Sorry, that can't be it. It should be: our country belongs to the people who got here first, except not to the Indians who were here first. Oh, shoot, that's not it either.

Don't have time to fully respond to your smart-ass remarks right now.

And about 1/2 of the concrete poured in construction, by dead Dagoes... oh, sorry, Italians, who were not quite considered "white" by the Anglo whites anyway.

I have an Dago (via Trieste) great-great Grandfather. His immigration documents say he's white.

Tony,


The slippery slope is not a perfect argument.

I hadn't even thought of it as a slippery slope so much as a sorites argument--"If x is all right then y, which can be viewed as being on a continuum with x, must be all right as well." Actually, I sometimes endorse things that other people call "slippery slopes," because they are predictions: "If we do x, we will be doing y next." As these are empirical predictions, they may be well-justified by induction from past experience. Also, of course, sometimes one really can see underlying principles. For example, the connection between abortion and infanticide seems to me to be quite legitimate, because the unborn child really is a child; hence, a person who has no objection whatsoever to killing the unborn child has no principled reason for having any very strong objection to killing a born child. This is especially true if the support for abortion is based on the lack of actualized capacities when this is also true of a newborn infant. The reductio via infanticide is then a sound philosophical argument. So the whole thing is pretty complicated.

So, what basis would you use to limit the range of applicability for religious affirmation by the state, where the state prefers one religion (or group) and excludes others, even if that preferment does not amount to an establishment?

I don't have anything really profound to offer. I think originalism is probably going to be our best guide. For the courts, it should be the guide because theirs should be an interpretive rather than a legislative endeavor anyway. As a matter of wisdom and policy, things seemed to have been pretty sensibly arranged then. General recognition of Christianity and/or something like Judeo-Christian theism was obviously no problem at the federal level in the early days of our country. I think we can conjecture that in this same context they would have felt no qualms about _not_ giving similar recognition (e.g., through establishment of holidays, prayers to open Congress, chaplains in the military) to non-Western religions such as Islam. As a matter of historical background, the obvious source of the founders' concern for religious freedom was the history of religious strife and intolerance among Christian groups--particularly between Protestants and Catholics as well as between different varieties of Protestantism. So a refusal by the federal government to show clear favoritism among these groups seems a plausible inference as part of the meaning of the non-establishment clause.

What was the point again? Oh, yeah, that our country belongs to white people who immigrated here before the non-white people immigrated here. Except for the blacks. Sorry, that can't be it. It should be: our country belongs to the people who got here first, except not to the Indians who were here first. Oh, shoot, that's not it either.

No, the point was that America will become less recognizably American as it becomes more non-white and that the relationship isn't non-contingent but not all people who think race is more than skin color (unlike you) think that it's merely a matter of genes that select for Americanism. In other words, I reject the extremes of non-contingency and magical genetic determinism. Your anti-racist, let's bring up America's dirty laundry past rant was besides the point.

I should have said "Made by dead white men" since I wasn't referring merely to physical labor. I don't think blacks or Chinese "made America" in the sense that they had any necessary contribution that we'd be worse off without including their physical labor. That's besides the point though. Way to sieze on one insignificant sentence and ignore my point.

I think originalism is probably going to be our best guide. For the courts, it should be the guide because theirs should be an interpretive rather than a legislative endeavor anyway.

Amen. 100% agreement with that.

As a matter of historical background, the obvious source of the founders' concern for religious freedom was the history of religious strife and intolerance among Christian groups--particularly between Protestants and Catholics as well as between different varieties of Protestantism. So a refusal by the federal government to show clear favoritism among these groups seems a plausible inference as part of the meaning of the non-establishment clause.

I tend to feel that this is right. But I don't how to make gov. support of general Christian ideas come out in a principled way, without resorting to arguments that I am pretty sure you would end up rejecting in one form or another. I think that a really good government, with really conscientious leaders, would have a right to make legal judgments about religions that want to be considered for religious freedom, and say (of some of them) that they are too irrational, and have insufficient supernatural testimony, to be granted the same rights. Paganism, witchcraft, and New Age would fall into this category. Same with Islam. Some people would also want to push that approach into the debate between Christian groups as well. On what basis would that be a wrong effort? I cannot see how the principle ought to stay outside of that argument.

I think we could nix any official recognition of Islam on solid "secular" grounds such as Jeff Culbreath and Paul and I have discussed elsewhere--grounds concerning the incompatibility of sharia with the U.S. Constitution, the teaching of jihad, etc. We have excellent empirical evidence that Muslim chaplains in prisons are a danger to public safety.

As for the rest, we can lean pretty hard on history and just be thankful that none of those things actually _were_ recognized as religions at the time of the founding. That is to say, in originalist terms, even if America isn't a Christian nation, America is broadly speaking a Judeo-Christian nation. Even the God of the deists or the non-Trinitarian God of the Quakers wasn't anything like the entities worshiped by Wiccans.

It's important to remember, too, that when a federal, state, or local government is asked for an _accommodation_ of a religion, that's always going to be done on a case-by-case basis. Suppose for example that a Baptist group wants special permission to baptize in a stream where people aren't usually allowed to go in. Then the government decides if this is really important enough, whether they can't do it elsewhere, whether the considerations that put the stream off-limits in the first place should be treated as overriding. That's going to be a real judgment call. And the same has got to be the case if some bunch of Wiccans want special permission to use a park after sunset to dance around in a field. If the people who make such decisions in the privacy of their own minds take into account *among other things* the fact that Baptists have a religion "within the pale" and Wiccans don't, I can't see that it's any sort of constitutional violation. (Waiving incorporation issues here.) It's a little bit like employment "discrimination." Nobody is _owed_ special religious accommodation (just like nobody is owed a job), and people have to be allowed to make complex decisions using complex criteria without some court or bureaucrat asking for a complete inventory of all their thoughts.

If becoming American means cutting off loyalty to your former country, then that is something about loyalty to something other than a person.

It's something about loyalty to a lot of people, but not to some abstract proposition.

Surely you don't mean that you think the immigrant should no longer have any loyalty to his parents, brothers and sisters back in the old country.

I suppose it's a question of competing loyalties. An immigrant may be concerned about his family in his old country but he has no cause to lobby his new government to adopt a policy that helps them. By the second or third generation the relatives in the old country should be so distant as to not matter at all. It's the same way with history. If a Tutsi from Rwanda immigrated to the US, then he should simply wash his hands of all the old hatreds. That few immigrants can do this is only one of the good reasons why immigration should be discouraged; I can't for the life of me figure out why we are so fascinated with allowing for it.

Loyalty to America cannot be completely isolated and apart from loyalty to "ideas". But that's not special to America: every country is, as such, partly a mass of people and partly something that lives in the mind and heart - a commitment to constitute a community bonded together. Without that intention, there is no country, it's just an undifferentiated amorphous mass of people. The set of "the people that live in Austria" would be just as irrelevant as the set of "the people whose last name is Schmidt" or "the people who have had cancer" in recognizing masses of people.

I'm confused; what exactly is the proposition that all Austrians are to assent to? A person is Austrian by reason of lineage, not because he makes an isolated decision to be one. If I immigrated to Austria, I would not be an Austrian--if I play it right my 3rd or 4th descendant might be. Lineage is not just a blood component, no; there's also a shared history. But a history isn't a proposition either; it's something real that actually took place. It is true that without any blood ties or shared history there is no nation--welcome to America!

I'm left without any idea what the propositionalists really think here. Is an American monarchist (for instance) a bad American, or not an American at all? Neither one makes sense from what I can see.

That few immigrants can do this is only one of the good reasons why immigration should be discouraged; I can't for the life of me figure out why we are so fascinated with allowing for it. . . . a history isn't a proposition either; it's something real that actually took place. It is true that without any blood ties or shared history there is no nation--welcome to America!

Well Matt, you seem to have missed a large part of our shared history that "actually took place" or you'd know that Article 7 of the Declaration states one of the grievances against King George III was over immigration:

He "has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."

If you don't know why the country wanted immigrants, I don't know what to tell you. I wonder if you'd been born when my great-grandmother was in the Midwest when Fort Wayne Indiana and Cincinnati Ohio had foreign-born population of 40% and German language newspapers that it wasn't a real nation then. On your account we were never a nation. Perhaps you need to brush up on the shared history you claim to know before you start lecturing others on the topic. If you think the question is whether to allow immigration, rather than how many, then you simply don't know anything about the country you've inhabited all these years.

Is an American monarchist (for instance) a bad American, or not an American at all?

He's a confused American about what America is all about in its basis and founding. I made above I think the pretty good comparison to a Catholic who denies one of the tenets of Catholicism. In one sense he's a Catholic but in another sense he's got a problem with being a Catholic.

I think the considerations Matt Weber brings up could be reasons for keeping immigration _slow_. It takes time to transfer loyalties. In our present situation, of course education is not going to do a good job of the right kind of assimilation, but even in a much better situation, this all takes time, no matter what country one is from.

Ideas are the very motor of history, both good and bad ones. To to wish for a world other than the one that we live in where ideas play little part in human actions is itself a utopian idea.

Ideas explains everything from why Hitler invaded Russia (Liebestraum - room to roam,) the Eugenics Movement, various powerful ideas surround the American Revolution, to the American CW where the idea of equality of certain things was clearly understood by both sides to be the crux of the matter in the end.

It is a Hollywood notion that ideas don't matter. Witness the scores of movies boldly proclaiming that men DON'T fight for ideas, but instead for their buddies. But they didn't join and go to fight for their buddies, though when bullets fly that may then be their main concern. But it makes for memorable nostalgic lines, and that is one of the many reasons why movies are more effective at teaching history. But accuracy? Well, that's another matter.

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