The Corner

Re: Border Cross

Kathryn, I read your comments on the editorial on the Roman Catholic church and immigration with great interest.

I have to say that this caught my eye:

Archbishop Gomez contends that “immigration is about more than immigration. Immigration is caught up,” he writes, in “deeper questions about the next America.”

The “next America.” A choice of words interesting in the way that it appears to assume (at least as I read it) a break in historical continuity.  Food for thought, that.

We could argue for quite a while (I suspect!) about why the Roman Catholic Church has taken the stance on immigration that it has. Secular fellow that I am, I’ll admit that I think that part of the explanation is to be found in the realities of this world. Numbers mean clout. Always have. Always will.

But, more than that, we have to recognize that a strong element within the Catholic Church — the church that is, perhaps, the greatest advocate of Christendom (a Christian ummah, to use a naughty comparison) — has never been altogether comfortable with the idea of the nation-state. It is, for example, absolutely no coincidence that the two, so to speak, godfathers of the EU, were respectively a devout (Update: or maybe not, see below) Catholic (Jean Monnet) and, for quite a few years, a Communist (Altiero Spinelli), both of them thus subscribers to an essentially universalist view of mankind, and opponents of the idea of nation.

A month or so ago,“Theodore Dalrymple” (Anthony Daniels) looked at remarks made by Pope Francis in the course of a visit to Lampedusa:

Lampedusa is an Italian island of 8 square miles with a permanent population of 6000, which so far this year has received 7800 migrants trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean from sub-Saharan and North Africa, that is to say more than 1000 a month. When the Pope officiated at mass on the island’s sports field, there were 10,000 in the congregation, two thirds more than the permanent population…

In his homily, the Pope decried what he called ‘the globalization of indifference’ to the suffering of which the tragedy of the drowned was a manifestation and a consequence. Our culture of comfort, he said, has made us indifferent to the sufferings of others; we have forgotten how to cry on their behalf. He made reference to the play of Lope de Vega in which a tyrant is killed by the inhabitants of a town called Fuente Ovejuna, no one owning up to the killing and everyone saying that it was Fuente Ovejuna that killed him. The West, said the Pope, was like Fuente Ovejuna, for when asked who was to blame for the deaths of these migrants, it answered, ‘Everyone and no one!’ He continued, ‘Today also this question emerges: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We each reply: it was not I, I wasn’t here, it was someone else.’

The Pope also called for ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity that open the way to tragedies such as these to come out of hiding.’

With all due respect, I think this is very loose thinking indeed of a kind that the last Pope would not have permitted himself. The analogy between the two situations, the murder of the tyrant in Fuente Ovejuna and the death by drowning of thousands of migrants, is weak to the point of non-existence. After all, someone in Fuente Ovejuna did kill the tyrant; no one in the west drowned the migrants. Is the Pope then saying that Europe’s refusal to allow in all who want to come is the moral equivalent of actually wielding the knife?

By elevating feeling over thought, by making compassion the measure of all things, the Pope was able to evade the complexities of the situation, in effect indulging in one of the characteristic vices of our time, moral exhibitionism, which is the espousal of generous sentiment without the pain of having to think of the costs to other people of the implied (but unstated) morally-appropriate policy…..

The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Losotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words….

The whole piece is well worth reading.

UPDATE: Monnet was maybe not so devout after all – please see Von Ryan’s note in the comments below, and my reply. ”Steeped in the Catholic intellectual tradition” might be a better way of describing his thinking.

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