Postmodern Conservative

National Security & Defense

A Country Is a Country

And that means that a country can’t dispense with political leadership that balances particular concern for the safety and flourishing citizens with what can be called humanitarian or even Christian duties we have to all beings with rights.

So, as Tom Harmon says, “I can’t see why it’s impossible to hold both that Syrian refugees pose a grave security risk to the United States — especially given the stated desire to smuggle in fighters posing as refugees — and that there is an obligation to do what we prudently can for the Syrian refugees.” The latter seems especially be true because one cause of their displacement might be misguided or unfortunate American policy. The former seems especially be true because our political leaders — and those of France and other countries too — act irresponsibly when they are so humanitarian  or “post-political” as to be indifferent to the special trust they’ve been given  the particular people who are the source of their power.

The president, as president, has no authority to act as a “citizen of the world.” Strictly speaking, after all, global citizenship is oxymoronic. The refugee issue is, to some extent, about national security, and that is true for every nation. That doesn’t mean that nations shouldn’t be as welcoming or as generous as they can reasonably be.

“A country is a country” comes from Donald Trump. Almost everything he deduces from that first principle is wrong or excessive, but he’s right on the first principle. The extent to which borders are open or closed is a political decision to be made by each particular country.

So political life sits in between “humanitarianism” and “nativism,” and “the nation” isn’t to be confused with virulent nationalism. As Roger Scruton says, political life avoids the excesses of oikophobia and xenophobia. The foundation of political life isn’t racial or ethnic or religious but, as Orestes Brownson said, “territorial.” It’s the way of life of a particular people occupying a particular part of the world, a way of life animated by the distinction between republican justice and arbitrary despotism.

In the American case, as I say so often, we’re particularly animated, in Chesterton’s words, by “the romance of the citizen” and being “a home for the homeless.” Our two fundamental animations are, it goes without saying, typically somewhat in conflict. There’s no one excluded by race, class, religion, and so forth from becoming an American citizen, but you do have to believe what Americans believe about what the Declaration of Independence states with dogmatic lucidity. And, of course, it can’t be our real intention today, if we take citizenship seriously, to offer a home to all the displaced people of the world.

And to those who say that “human rights” trump citizenship and all that:  It’s only in and by particular countries that rights are effectively protected. 

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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