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7. March 2011

Quitting kumbaya: why division is necessary

The other day, I greatly offended an Arabic associate of mine.  During a conversation about the social contract, I tried to use an example of a group forming themselves into a nation, and I had begun the example with the statement, “suppose that a group of people like you were to get together, and decide to build your own country, with your own laws.”

His objection to my statement was that Christians and conservatives oftentimes enjoy separating themselves from everyone else, that we believe that people like him are not part of our group, that we in essence discriminate. In this particular instance, I referred to him as people like you, leading toward an idea and an effect which I had not intended. Why, he asked, could we not just all be considered human, and on the same team?

In this aspect, I believe conservatives are failing a major public relations battle. Within the past 60 years, as the left has marketed itself — though untruthfully — as the party of racial and cultural reconciliation and unity, the right has been spending their time and resources combating accusations of bigotry, racism, and all kinds of other malicious slander which has more to do with politics than reality.

Yet, some conservatives have begun combating these accusations untruthfully, by pretending that identity doesn’t matter so much, and that people who think it does are “intolerant.” But does identity matter? And if conservatives are going to win the battle against the left, can they necessarily do so under such a big tent?

Though indirectly, John Locke had an interesting answer. In Second Treatise of Government, chapter IX, he wrote that although we many times view mankind as a series of nations and races and peoples and tribes, we actually exist as one distinct community under our Creator and the authority of natural law. Within the parameters of this so-called Natural Law — the innate understanding of what it means to cheat, to steal, to murder, to rape, to assault, and to lie, as well as to bless, to protect, to shelter, and to nurture — humankind would have found its ideal unity. But none were content to live under that Law’s boundaries, instead preferring to transgress this Law in every way imaginable, forcing others into distinctive groups out of self-protection.

As one can imagine, had we kept ourselves under the total authority of our Creator, perhaps we might have still retained a uniform understanding of morality, and thus been able to consolidate our resources and communities more easily. But as time progressed and we became increasingly autonomous, being further removed from our natural circumstances, we found that humans were forming their laws around particular preferences. What would be considered thievery in one nation would be considered taxation in another. What would be considered murder in one nation would be considered acceptable revenge in another. And so humanity diverged according to rights, although these rights still revolved — and continue to revolve — around the stone backbone of Natural Law.

This divergence from an objective, original standard was and is dangerous, because entrance into a social contract necessitates that those benefiting from the contract sacrifice two rights. First, the citizen sacrifices the right to personally dispense justice, relinquishing that power to theoretically impartial public servants (not to be confused with relinquishing the right to self-defense). Second, the beneficiary of the state is to regulate his possessions according to whatever laws the society found necessary; for if a primary objective of the social contract was for the purpose of protecting property, then property must necessarily become subject to the government to which a person was allied. And this necessarily impacts the means by which a person finds subsistence.

If we consider that these two very important rights have been forfeited to some degree by anyone entering into any particular government, we must also acknowledge that a person’s ideology and culture will determine what kind of law they support, and that these laws will affect our defense and property. In this regard, it only makes sense to hold ideology and culture to serious inspection and healthy levels of prejudice, for ideology and culture, particularly in a democratic republic, will necessarily impact the law’s ability to defend you in the way you prefer, in ways which you by joining a lawful society cannot pursue independently (Second Treatise, chapter VII, sect 87). And had these ideological differences been trivial, it is not difficult to imagine that we might still be united under a common world government, or at least more heavily consolidated states.

Thus, it is not a sin to be suspicious of people from different cultures or religions, or to consider yourself part of any other distinct group with distinct preferences about law. John Jay had something specific to say about this matter in Federalist #2, remarking that Americans belonged together not because unity is a value in itself, but because they shared too many crucially important similarities to regard our differences as insurmountable.

Thus, an important point conservatives must make is that these ideological differences which conservatives must supposedly overlook (which leftists do not, by the way, as made apparent in their treatment of white conservatives) appear superficial and unworthy of serious opposition when the majority is still relatively homogeneous. But if we are to live in a free society, in which the people culturally unite to create their own government to suit their own purposes within the God-given boundaries of unalienable rights, we need to acknowledge that sooner or later, profound differences can and will become problematic.

Supposing these differences of opinion become so sharply opposed among the populace, the government’s interest will become directed toward maintaining power and cohesion, through a repression of any differences which the leadership arbitrarily determines to be divisionary, a government from the top-down instead of from the grassroots upward. At this point of forceful cohesion, which we are rapidly approaching, we will have both forfeited both our liberty and one of the few lasting institutions of brotherhood our forefathers could create for themselves and their progeny. And we will have ironically done so under the guise of peace and love, ends which we shall not see.

So, while some degree of ideological distinction may at first appear fearful and discriminatory, we must remember that people were forced to fearfully seek refuge in distinction due to the very evil of man, an evil which we decided we would combat most peculiarly to the remaining nations of the earth. It is in this common ideological identity which we find some degree of solace, and while it may not always have pretty results, it is far preferable to the state of lawlessness we found ourselves in before, or we would not have united into states.

So, while we are all made in the image of God, equality of human value and protection under an equal dispensation of human rights does not translate into equality of character, as our ability to organize and discriminate according to character is the only way in which we can pursue any serious form of justice, peace, or equality (at least, without divine intervention). And if that is wrong, then perhaps leftists should be consistent and admit that the existence of states is wrong as well.

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