14 April 2017

How 18th-century Virginians nearly made the United States more like Canada

James Madison
Two-hundred thirty years ago America’s founders met in Philadelphia to hammer out a new constitution that would bring the thirteen newly independent states together into an innovative kind of union: a federal union based on a separation of powers among legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. At least this is what Americans have been led to believe over the centuries.

The reality is a little more complicated, as F. H. Buckley reports in his book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America (Encounter Books, 2014). James Madison is often said to be one of the key architects of the Constitution of the United States, primarily because he defended it so eloquently in the Federalist Papers, a series of essays written to persuade the states to sign on to the new union. While this effort was successful, few are aware that Madison actually got little of what he had originally wanted out of the meetings held during the summer of 1787.

The majority of delegates to the constitutional convention thought the popular election of a president a very bad idea indeed. Better, they thought, to tether the chief executive to Congress, which would be responsible for putting him in office. Madison was one of a group of delegates from Virginia, arguably the most significant of the thirteen states and certainly the principal catalyst for bringing them together.

The Virginia Plan would have created a two-chamber legislature, the first chamber being directly elected by voters. The first chamber would in turn appoint the members of the second, and the two together would appoint a president, who would remain dependent on them for his power. In short, the Virginia Plan would have made the United States into a parliamentary system similar to Canada and Great Britain. Needless to say, the Virginians, including Madison, did not get their way, and we now associate Madison with a separation of powers constructed not so much out of principle as out of compromise between the larger and smaller states.

However, one element was missing from the ill-starred Virginia Plan. If, like our prime minister, the chief executive was to be dependent on Congress, the Virginians neglected to consider the need for a distinct head of state who would be counterpart to the monarch. We may think of the Queen and her representatives as ornamental fixtures in our own constitutional system, but this is not so. The principal role of the monarch is to ensure that there is always a government in place. She herself does not rule, but she must see to it that she has ministers in office capable of doing so. More significant yet, the Queen plays an essential unifying role that no mere prime minister can do. As J. R. Mallory put it, the monarchy
denies to political leaders the full splendour of their power and the excessive aggrandizement of their persons which come from the undisturbed occupancy of the centre of the stage. The symbolic value of the face of the leader on the postage stamp, the open and undisguised role of the leader and redeemer of the people, are hints of the threatened presence of the one-party state.

Indeed, as Buckley points out, the majority of countries with American-style presidential systems have gone through periods of dictatorship, and the concentration of executive power in one person makes this more likely.

By contrast, parliamentary systems with a divided executive tend disproportionately to be stable and more democratic for longer periods of time. This includes constitutional monarchies, like Britain and the Netherlands, but also parliamentary republics such as Germany, where a president serves as head of state and a chancellor as head of government.

If Madison and his fellow Virginians had had their way back in 1787, today the United States might look more like, well, us!

Principalities & Powers, Christian Courier, April 2017.

13 April 2017

Interview with Ashford

Bruce Ashford, Professor and Provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has posted an interview with me. Here is an excerpt on the subject of contemporary libertarianism:

Libertarianism is really an early form of liberalism that was recovered in the 20th century by the likes of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and others. It follows a principle articulated by John Stuart Mill in the 19th century, sometimes known as the harm principle. It runs like this: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Originally this was intended to apply only to the state, whose coercive power must be kept within strict bounds. From the libertarian perspective, a parliamentary body should not be legislating morality. The state makes no effort to impose and enforce social mores on the larger polity, and individuals should be granted the widest possible space for exercising their liberty. As long, of course, as they do not injure others.

However, at this latest stage in the liberal project, there has been a concerted effort to extend Mill’s harm principle into other areas of life where it does not really belong. In the real world all communities impose standards on their members, and not all of these are related to protecting them from injury or from doing harm. For example, a church congregation expects its members to confess the Christian faith and to live according to the Word of God. It further expects them to come together to worship God every week, even though their staying away for long stretches does no obvious harm to fellow members. Similarly, our daughter’s high school mandates the wearing of school uniforms. Not wearing the uniform does no evident injury to anyone, yet the school requires it all the same.

Our societies are made up of countless communities which impose on their members standards that vary from one to the next. Once the libertarian impulse has overtaken the state institution, it is difficult to limit it to the state alone. Yet if all communities were to adopt the harm principle and abandon the very standards that support their unique identity, the result would be an homogenizing of these communities. Every community, even marriage, family, church and state, becomes a mere voluntary association stripped of every claim to authoritative status. In this respect, libertarianism, which begins with a healthy suspicion of state action, ends in a kind of totalitarianism suspicious of all authorities and standards not rooted in the freely choosing wills of individuals.

30 March 2017

The Evolving American Constitution: Change Without Amendment

Might the United States be headed for significant constitutional change without formal amendment of the document we know as the Constitution?

One of the key features of the modern constitutional document is the amendment process, which is found in Article V of the US Constitution and in Part V of Canada's Constitution Act, 1982. Yet even without formal amendment, constitutions continue to develop, often simply through change in usage. In the Westminster tradition, the unwritten principles which govern a political system are known as conventions of the constitution, enduring for long periods of time and perhaps falling into desuetude when no longer deemed appropriate. In this way, the strong Tudor and inept Stuart monarchies gradually developed into constitutional monarchy, then parliamentary government, Cabinet government and, eventually, something approaching prime ministerial government. These are not insignificant changes in the ancient English constitution, yet the fundamental institutions have remained the same over many centuries, prompting Samuel Finer to call Great Britain's constitution “a democratic one, but poured into a medieval mold.”

Ironically, it was the American victory in the war for independence that led to the effective transfer of executive power from the king to the prime minister. But it was an even earlier event—a scandal, actually—that had led to the establishment of the office of prime minister itself half a century before.

Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister
King George I was the first of the Hanoverian monarchs called upon to rule, not only his German territories, but the two Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, beginning in 1714 on the death of Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts. Three factors prevented King George being a hands-on king. First, he was absent from Great Britain for about a fifth of his reign, preoccupied with matters in his Electorate of Hanover. Second, his mother tongue was German, and he spoke very little English, rarely meeting with his ministers, thus setting a binding precedent to be followed by later monarchs and their representatives. Third, his reign was plagued by scandal, politically incapacitating him and further empowering his advisers. In a 300-year-old precursor to the crashes of 1929 and 2008, the South Sea Bubble of 1720 impoverished many investors, implicating the King in this imaginative scheme connected to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Thus discredited, George had to rely increasingly on his ministers, including one Robert Walpole, who became thereby the first prime minister, a post that came into existence almost by accident.

What we now know as the Westminster constitution, famously described by Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution (1867), was never planned. There were no founding fathers, no constitutional engineers weighing alternative political arrangements appropriate to the times. There was no Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan or Connecticut Compromise. Political leaders simply adjusted their actions to changing circumstances within longstanding institutions. Canadian John Farthing aptly described the Westminster tradition in these words:
Our constitutional inheritance was the living product of a long process of historical growth and development, and the tradition it embodied is of an order already proven of value in dealing with changing conditions of life and with changing climates of opinion.
For Farthing, Americans tied their Constitution “to the ideas and mental climate of the eighteenth century,” while the unwritten British constitution, because it is constantly evolving, “is in no way bound to or fettered by any historical epoch.” Farthing was the son of an Anglican bishop, and it was easy for Christians to defend the British constitution as the happy result of the workings of divine Providence.

We all know, of course, that the Constitution of the United States was the product of hard-fought negotiations in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787. Or was it? Yes, the basic institutions were established then, but their subsequent functioning has been just as subject to the vagaries of history as the British and Canadian constitutions. This suggests that there is a larger unwritten American constitution whose principles are not easily captured in a single document but are based on a general respect for the rule of law. Until 1940, the two-term presidency was one such unwritten convention, established as a precedent by George Washington in 1797 and later codified in the Twenty-Second Amendment (1951).

Judicial review is another convention. Unmentioned in the text of the Constitution, the justices of the Supreme Court simply asserted it in Marbury v. Madison (1803), and no one bothered to stop them. The congressional power to declare war, enshrined in Article I, section 8, may be said to have become by convention a dead letter simply because it has not been invoked for three quarters of a century. And finally, the constantly changing relationships between federal and state governments on the one hand and between President and Congress on the other have developed in ways parallel to the shifting relationship between King and Parliament across the pond. Yet no formal amendment has wrought these profound changes. In other words, there is a case to be made that British and American constitutions are not that different after all.

A young Woodrow Wilson
F. H. Buckley has recently argued that the American founders originally desired, not so much a separation of powers, as congressional government, with a president dependent for his position on Congress, and not on the electorate. A century after the American founding, Woodrow Wilson, the only academic political scientist to become president, believed that the US was moving along the path pioneered by Westminster and expressed this view in his Congressional Government (1885). With a series of weak presidents following the Civil War, effective political power had passed to congressional leadership, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, if not exactly becoming a de facto prime minister, nevertheless taking on an increasingly central role.

Present circumstances could see many of the founders and Wilson finally getting their way. As the current occupant of the White House is widely regarded as less than fully competent, and with many observers seriously questioning his ability to govern, effective political power could shift back to Congress, with congressional leaders increasingly taking the reins of government. This would require no formal amendment to the Constitution, yet the constitution in the broader unwritten sense is flexible enough to accommodate such a possibility.

Would this be a good or bad thing? Having lived in Canada for over three decades, I understand and appreciate the advantages of separating the offices of head of state and head of government, of forcing a government to defend its policies before the people's representatives on a daily basis, and of ensuring the easy removal of a government that has lost the ability to govern. Of course, not every form of government works everywhere. A constitution that serves Britain and Canada well may not be a good fit for Americans, who are famously attached to their political institutions and are convinced of their innate superiority. Nevertheless, it might be a very good thing to see the presidency cut down to size and to have the gap filled by the people's representatives in Congress. It has happened before, and it could happen again.

David Koyzis is the author of Political Visions and Illusions and We Answer to Another: Authority, Office and the Image of God. He has recently begun work on a new book exploring the relationship between political culture and governing institutions. A slightly different version of this was published at First Thoughts.

20 March 2017

Announcement: termination of employment

Friends:

This is to let you know that, after teaching political science at Redeemer University College for thirty years, I have been let go due to programme restructuring and budgetary constraints. Some of you may recall that I was nearly let go two years ago but was reprieved by the institution's senate. This time, however, my termination was approved by the senate and the board of governors. Accordingly I will not be teaching during the 2017-2018 academic year.

As I am approaching the normal retirement age, I may take that option at the end of that year, but, if so, under the conditions of my termination I will do so without receiving emeritus status from Redeemer. Instead I will use the next year for my own research and writing, as well as to seek other employment opportunities. If you know of any such opportunities, I would be grateful if you would let me know.

In the meantime, if you have young people who are considering university, please do consider Redeemer, where they will continue to receive a high-quality education.

I would appreciate your prayers for my family and me, as well as for my soon-to-be former employer.

Thank you.

David Koyzis

09 January 2017

'No core identity'? The impossibility of the state without a soul

I am no friend of nationalism. Given what my paternal relatives experienced as refugees in their own country of Cyprus, I thoroughly detest the clashing ethnic nationalisms that tore apart the island. I hate what the Turks did to the Armenians in 1915 and what they did to the Greeks of Smyrna seven years later. I dislike what Serbs did to Croats and vice versa. And, of course, I need hardly mention the Holocaust ruthlessly implemented for the sake of an ethnically pure Germany.

That said, I cannot endorse Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's assertion that Canada is "the first postnational state," as indicated in this article from The Guardian: The Canada experiment: is this the world's first 'postnational' country?  Here is author Charles Foran:

But as well as practical considerations for remaining an immigrant country, Canadians, by and large, are also philosophically predisposed to an openness that others find bewildering, even reckless. The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, articulated this when he told the New York Times Magazine that Canada could be the “first postnational state”. He added: “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.”

The remark, made in October 2015, failed to cause a ripple – but when I mentioned it to Michael Bach, Germany’s minister for European affairs, who was touring Canada to learn more about integration, he was astounded. No European politician could say such a thing, he said. The thought was too radical.

For a European, of course, the nation-state model remains sacrosanct, never mind how ill-suited it may be to an era of dissolving borders and widespread exodus. The modern state – loosely defined by a more or less coherent racial and religious group, ruled by internal laws and guarded by a national army – took shape in Europe. Telling an Italian or French citizen they lack a “core identity” may not be the best vote-winning strategy.

Trudeau's description calls up some very strange mental images. One might envision a robot programmed to do all, or most, of the things a human being can do, but, like the unfortunate tin woodman in The Wizard of Oz, lacking a heart. In Canada we like to think that our identity resides in our very lack of identity. Not satisfied with citizenship in a soulless nation, some go so far as to assert that what defines Canada is its universal health care. But neither of these will work, and they certainly will not satisfy the human soul.

Following the late Benedict Anderson, we might call a nation an imagined community, given that we do not naturally feel a sense of kinship and camaraderie with those living even half an hour from us, much less on the other side of the country. But this is all the more reason for a country to cultivate and maintain certain intangibles that cannot simply be created de novo. Even the most diverse of nations requires some sort of commonality, that is, certain shared assumptions about life that set the tone for the larger society and for just governance. A common culture—especially political culture—is needed if a nation is to be more than just a collection of insular tribes under a political order so abstract as to be unable to command popular support.

Such shared assumptions need not be based on skin colour or blood ancestry. We needn't follow Gus Portokalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding in asserting that there are two kinds of people in the world: Greeks and those who wish they were Greeks. There is no reason to conclude that our nation is the biggest and best in all respects and has a special mission to fulfil, based simply on the fact that we happen to live here. This is jingoism at its worst. Nevertheless, a nation should include at least such elements as common commitment to the rule of law, generally-accepted limits on political power and rhetoric, belief in constitutional governance, the rights of citizens, etc. English-speaking democracies have generally excelled at cultivating this political sense of nationhood better than many continental European countries whose governing institutions have not yet stood the test of centuries.

The danger of Justin Trudeau's rhetoric, however well meant, is that it may provide a pretext for government to manage all this diversity if it gets out of hand. Such government management will not, of course, be devoid of assumptions about the best way of life. The political managers will operate on the basis of their own worldviews, which in some sense they will be imposing on everyone else. As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus correctly observed more than three decades ago, a naked public square cannot long remain naked. Some comprehensive doctrine—some "thick" conception of human life—will inevitably fill the vacuum. If this is true in political life, it is also true in social life. Canadians, like Americans, cherish the contributions made by their immigrants, whom they have generally welcomed. But immigrants have come here, not because Canada has no core identity, but precisely because of Canada's core political identity: a stable democracy with a vibrant tradition of the rule of law rooted in British and French precedents. More to the point, this core identity is unlike the political cultures these immigrants have left behind.

Common assumptions, usages and customs, passed down through the generations, infuse life into a nation and generally preclude the necessity of government's micromanaging the larger society. A government that makes a policy of denying the normative character of these customs in favour of a vague multiculturalism does so at the peril of the larger culture to which it owes, yes, its own core identity as a constitutional government.

A slightly different version is posted at First Thoughts.

26 December 2016

The 'Kuyperian' Warfield

B. B. Warfield
During this Christmas season, I think it is most appropriate to post this wonderful passage from one of the writings of the great Princeton theologian, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921). In Reformed Christian apologetics, Warfield and Abraham Kuyper are often seen as opposed to each other, as the former focuses on evidences for the faith while the latter emphasizes the presuppositions that either support or oppose the faith. However, the following passage, taken from Warfield's collection of sermons, Saviour of the World, indicates that we ought not to overstate their differences and that they were at one in their understanding of the nature of redemption in Jesus Christ as encompassing the whole creation. I have broken up the passage into smaller paragraphs for easier reading.

It belongs to the glory of Christ that His salvation enters into every region of human need and proclaims in all alike complete deliverance. Even the lower creation, by virtue of the relation in which it stands to man, partakes in his redemption. If the very ground was cursed for man's sake that the place of his abode might sympathetically partake in his punishment, no less shall it share in his restoration. Man's sighs are not the only expression of the evil that curses human life in its sinful development. The whole creation groans and travails together with him. But it shares also in the hope of the coming deliverance.

For there shall be a new heaven, we are told, and a new earth. Under these new heavens, in this new earth, shall gather redeemed humanity, in the perfection of its idea, and in perfect harmony with its perfected environment. In the perfection of physical vigour: for what is sown in corruption shall have been raised in incorruption, what is sown in dishonour shall have been raised in glory, what is sown in weakness shall have been raised in power, what is sown in selfishness shall have been raised in spirituality. In the perfection of social organization and intercourse: for there shall be none to hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain, and all the people of the Lord shall have learned righteousness. In the perfection of spiritual communion with God: for then it is that the Lord shall make Himself known to His people and shall dwell with them, and they shall need no Temple to which men should require to repair in order to meet the Lord, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple thereof, and the grace of the Lord shall flow down the streets in a river of the water of Life washing into every nook and corner.

Such is the picture the Scriptures draw for us of the salvation of our God. And let us not fail to note that it is a picture of a saved world. As no sphere of human life is left untouched by it; as on its touch, every sphere of human life is transformed; so the completeness and the profundity of its renovation of man is matched by the wideness of its extension over man. It is the renewed heavens and the renewed earth that we are bidden to contemplate; and dwelling in them in endless bliss renewed humanity. Renewed humanity; not a meagre company withdrawn from the sin-festering race, but the race itself, cleansed and purified and gathered home to the Father's arms; not without loss suffered by the way, it is true, for there are some who shall not enter into this holy city; but with all losses made good, all breaks in the ranks filled up, and all lacks and wants supplied by Him who has redeemed it to Himself and led it to its new estate of perfection in itself and eternal communion with Him. Such is the salvation that has been wrought out for us by Christ (Warfield, The Savior of the World, pp. 49-50).

"And He shall reign forever and ever!"

21 December 2016

The old neighbourhood

I grew up in a modest neighbourhood in a suburb of Chicago in the 1960s. My parents built their first home there in 1958 for the princely sum of $19,000! It was a three-bedroom ranch that shared the same basic design with a row of ranches on the south side of the street. On the north side were a line of one-and-a-half storey bungalows with dormers on the roofs. As children we played regularly with the other children who lived around us, and our parents generally knew each other and would occasionally be at each other’s homes. The elementary school was right on the opposite corner from us, and we mixed freely together in the school and playground.

Although this was not an old neighbourhood, having been laid out shortly after the end of the war, it was good neighbourhood where people chatted with each other and seemed to have a sense of community.

There were some colourful characters living near us. The elderly couple we all feared because they didn’t like children playing in their yard. A woman whom we called “Mrs Fritzy” after the eponymous dachshund she walked past our house every day. The man who had spent ten years in the Soviet GULAG and travelled around lecturing on the threat of communism. The sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times who briefly lived across the street and almost immediately moved away after his divorce. The professor with three PhDs who would regularly come to our house to borrow, of all things, our dictionary.

We lived there for ten years, but they were formative years for my siblings and me. We were Presbyterians attending a public school named for a New England transcendentalist. I knew which children in my classes were protestants and which Catholic, and at least two of my teachers were evangelicals, one of whom had a Frisian surname and was a member of our church. Although a girl in my sister’s class was an atheist—an exotic specimen in my hometown—our school nevertheless put on a full Christmas programme every year, complete with carols about the birth of Christ. And then there was the Fun-o-Rama, a spring fund-raising bazaar in which everyone participated in some fashion.

Our town was in a flood plane, and an especially malodorous creek flowed behind our house. On a dare from a friend, I swung over the creek on a rope hanging from a tree branch, only to have the rope break and find myself plunging into the filthy waters below, much to the irritation of my long-suffering parents.

Having had such a wonderful childhood, I find it easy to become nostalgic about our old neighbourhood. I still dream occasionally of that ranch house in which we somehow managed to squeeze eight people—albeit not exactly comfortably. It was not a perfect neighbourhood, but we nevertheless made the time to cultivate the bonds of friendship with the people living around us.

Is this still true today? Do neighbourhoods still have a sense of community? I cannot speak for everyone, of course, but judging from my own experience I fear it may be a thing of the past. Houses are consumer items that we purchase, knowing full well that we are likely to sell them again at some point. We put a lot of our financial resources into our homes, trying to maintain and even increase their value so that they can be resold easily when the time comes. But this makes whatever community exists in a neighbourhood very transient indeed. We are committed to our homes, but less to the communities of which we are supposed to be part.

What if a group of friends were to buy up adjacent homes with the intention, not just of securing their own economic well-being, but of building community and improving the shared life of the surrounding neighbourhood? It might be even better than the neighbourhood in which I grew up so many years ago.

This was first published in the 14 November issue of Christian Courier. Please subscribe today.

16 December 2016

A student poem

One of the real joys I've experienced this past term is teaching two sections of a humanities course, Western Culture and Tradition I, which forms part of the new core curriculum at Redeemer University College. I love teaching political science, of course, but I've found that preparing this new course has allowed me to bring more of myself and my various interests into the classroom. Altogether I've taught around seventy-five students, or about half of the incoming class.

Among other things, we discussed the history of the earliest Christians who were often subject to persecution under the Roman imperial authorities. We noted that the ancient symbol of the faith, by which Christians were able to identify each other, was the fish. The Greek word for fish at that time was ΙΧΘΥΣ, an acronym for:

Ιησούς = Jesus
Χριστός = Christ
Θεού = of God
Υιός = Son
Σωτήρ = Saviour

Throughout the term, the students handed in journal reflections on either a text we studied or a cultural artefact such as a building or a work of art. I allowed for some creativity in the assignment, and one student came up with a striking poem on the fish symbol in the form of perfect Petrarchan sonnet:

                    ICHTHUS

I tread alone in vacant Roman roads
And hide in shadows cast by morning glows.
I glance from side to side for any foes
Who might appear from dubious abodes.

A sudden light in front of me forebodes
A passerby who might a danger pose.
My hand, though hesitating to disclose,
A single arch upon the sand encodes.

A mirror arch he scratches in the sand.
A fish we've drawn, two parts becoming one.
His shining face the rising sun now greets.

I've found a brother in a hostile land.
We fully trust in Father, Spirit, Son,
And stride abreast through swarming city streets.

Daniel Vander Hout, first-year student, HUM-110, December 2016

I commend Mr Vander Hout who, at such a young age, already manifests promising poetic skills. Bravo!

22 September 2016

The downside of deindustrialization

One summer in her youth my mother worked at the Willow Run factory in suburban Detroit where the short-lived Kaiser-Frazer automobiles were manufactured. The plant had been constructed just ahead of America’s entry into the Second World War for the production of B-24 Liberator bombers, which began rolling off the assembly line in 1941. A month after Japan’s destruction of the US naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Wartime Production Board to supervise the conversion of the country’s industrial might from civilian to military purposes. This adaptation was crucial to the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.

During my childhood Detroit continued to manufacture the automobiles that had become indispensable to American life, fuelling the nation’s economy. In fact, my maternal grandfather was working on an assembly line at a General Motors plant in Pontiac, Michigan, while I was growing up.

Half a century later North America’s thoroughfares are largely filled with Japanese, German and Korean automobiles, with GM, Ford and Chrysler marques definitely in the minority. What happened to our domestic automobiles? Where did our manufacturing jobs go? Often they were exported to Mexico or overseas where nonunionized labour is less expensive and government regulations lax. In 1979 nearly 20 million workers were employed in manufacturing jobs, but by 2007 fewer than 14 million held jobs in this sector, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over five million manufacturing jobs were lost just during the eleven-year period following the turn of the millennium, which indicates that the decline has accelerated in recent years.

Is this decline a bad thing? If increasing numbers of employees are now sitting at desks staring at computer screens, is this something to lament? Not necessarily, but it may be a sign of an unbalanced economy.

Free-trade liberals tend to extol the virtues of an international division of labour, in which production of goods and services varies from one country to the next. If each country had to produce everything internally for its own people, huge numbers would not have life’s basics. Switzerland lacks arable soil, while Canada is one of the world’s breadbaskets. We buy Swiss watches and they buy foodstuffs. Everyone gains. Our “buy local” movements may not see this as clearly as others do.

Nevertheless, the deindustrializing trends of the past half century are producing a world in which brain and brawn are more geographically distant from each other than ever before. There have long been white- and blue-collar neighbourhoods in our cities. But now we may be seeing the rise of white-collar and blue-collar countries, where the differing legal systems prevent the development of healthy workplaces and labour relationships, especially in poorer countries attempting to live at the whims of the wealthy west’s consumption choices.

But there’s also a negative for the western countries. Given the rapid decline of industry, especially in the US, there is reason to doubt that that country could repeat its impressive performance in the Second World War. If a new leader were to arise elsewhere bent on world domination, would an effort to convert a shrinking industrial base to military use be sufficient to carry the day against such a determined enemy?

The General Motors plant in Pontiac, Michigan, is long gone, and GM closed the historic Willow Run factory in 2010. No one can deny that changing economies are a reality to which we must adjust as well as possible. Yet it may be time to work towards rebalancing our economies to put more unskilled labourers to work, to renew our manufacturing bases, and to lessen the widening division of labour between the west and the rest.

David T. Koyzis is the author of Political Visions and Illusions (2003) and We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God (2014). He teaches politics and humanities at Redeemer University College. This post appeared in the 13 June issue of Christian Courier.

20 July 2016

The impossibility of equal concern: compassion is no substitute for justice

In recent months, terrorist attacks in different parts of the world have left scores of people dead and injured. Attacks have occurred in Paris, Beirut, Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul, Baghdad, and now Nice. After each of these episodes, North Americans are moved to express solidarity with the victims. On Facebook, such expressions generally consist of overlaying one’s profile picture with the colors of the French flag or posting a meme proclaiming “Je Suis Charlie” or something similar. Alternatively, we link to stories about the tragedy for friends and family to read.

But, as many have pointed out with some embarrassment, we do not offer our sympathies equally to everyone. We are more likely to express horror at attacks in Brussels, Orlando, and Nice than at attacks in Istanbul, Beirut, and Baghdad. Part of the relative inattention to Beirut and Baghdad is due to the fact that, because these cities have so often been war zones, violent acts are not altogether unexpected there, sad to say. We have become inured to the chronic bloodshed in the Middle East. An attack on Brussels, however, catches us off guard. We are horrified because Brussels is a peaceful city in which violence on such a scale is rare.

But there is another reason for the inequality in our expressions of concern. Culturally speaking, Paris and Brussels are more like New York and Toronto than are Beirut and Baghdad. We tend naturally to sympathize with people who are like ourselves. Even educated Western cosmopolitans who castigate everyone else for being too parochial in their concerns tend to sympathize more with other educated Western cosmopolitans than with, well, everyone else.

Excessive parochialism is, of course, a bad thing insofar as it tempts us to ignore the evil and suffering outside of our own communities. Nevertheless, we must always bear in mind that a functioning society has diverse spheres of responsibility in which individual actors properly care more for the things that are closest to them. This is something Aristotle understood better than Plato. And Tocqueville had a better grasp of it than Rousseau. While we may aspire to have equal regard for everyone without discrimination, in reality we are limited creatures with limited abilities. Our capacity for compassion is thus limited as well. When my daughter falls and scrapes her knee, my compassion for her is much greater than for the little girl down the street who does the same. And that is as it should be.

The problem arises when we tie compassion too closely to justice. True, compassion is often a motive to do justice. My own decision to study politics as a young man was motivated in part by compassion for my paternal relatives who had lost their homes during Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in 1974. But I quickly came to understand that compassion is no substitute for concrete policy proposals, and that justice is more likely to be accomplished by hard work and the willingness to compromise than by claiming that such-and-such is the compassionate thing to do.

Furthermore, if we move too quickly from compassion to justice, we are at great risk of miscarrying justice. Why? Because if I seek “justice” only for those with whom I am personally able to identify, I may be unwilling to take into account the competing claims of a party I find less sympathetic.

Justice must be based on equitable treatment under a law that applies to everyone. When it comes time to weigh various interests in the balance, our political leaders must make their policy decisions without bias towards one side or another. Importing the language of compassion into the political or judicial processes could tempt decision-makers to tip the balance in favour of those with whom they can most readily identify—and that, of course, would be nothing less than injustice.

This is cross-posted at First Thoughts.

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