On Universal Citizenship

On Universal Citizenship

James V. Schall, S.J. writes that “universal citizenship” exists in the City of God, begun in this world by divine providence but fulfilled only in the next.

From high over the planet in a space capsule, all boundaries on earth disappear. It looks like one unified system below. But you better not land your craft just anywhere. You need an adequate landing field with a reception posse that does not immediately arrest you for trespassing.

The borders that separate the some 200 countries on this planet are, geographically, oceans, rivers, mountain ranges, or surveyor’s lines. When we see colorful international variety on display, say, at the Olympic parades, we become aware both of national differences and of the fact that the contestants run the same races or vault over the same bars. By winning or losing these competitions, they separate themselves from each other by a standard of excellence that transcends all the boundaries.

Why would it not be a good thing, many ask, if we discarded the political frontiers? We could all be citizens of the same world-government. Why do we not just love each other no matter what? Why is there not an international citizenship that gives the “right” of passage and residence to everyone, everywhere, and at any time?

Have not all men evolved to be equal? Are not all differences of color, race, sex, religion, and culture mere accidents? Why should we not work for this ideal of everyone being welcomed everywhere no questions asked? Why cannot we be hospitable to everyone at all times in all places? Is this openness not our natural “right”?

We are now constitutionally free to believe whatever we want. Why can’t we live wherever we choose, and as we choose, according to our own lights?

The ancient Romans used to talk of one law, one language, and one brotherhood. Nations were still allowed to practice their own quaint habits of dress, language, and religion – provided they did not conflict with the higher law. St. Paul, a Roman citizen, could travel all over the Mediterranean world speaking mainly Greek and preaching Christ crucified. Apparently, in the end, it cost him his life.

Thomas More had a somewhat similar experience in the sixteenth century. More’s “Utopia” came to symbolize a world in which all that is not good is removed. All religions say pretty much the same things – a kind of happy getting along together. Everyone welcomes everyone else. No dogmas are unchangeable. The impediments of property arrangements, race, and class structures are all removed by universal citizenship in the world state of general well being for all. Everything has been rendered safe for human exchange on a worldwide scale. No distinctions that would separate us remain.

Mankind is tired of all this violence. It causes wars. Wars are caused by distinctions, by differing religions, by racism, by poverty, by genderism, by property. Let everyone have access to everything. We can eliminate evil. This is the “right” of every world citizen if given his due.

Above all, no set “doctrines” exist, no “sins,” except for the denial of world citizenship without restrictions. We can now control mankind’s numbers, his earthly “environment,” his physical and mental well-being. We can decide what we want, all of us. Marx was wrong: Not “Workers of the world arise,” but “Citizens of the world arise!” Nothing escapes us that we cannot explain. We are the masters of our fate now. Technology/science enables us to make and freely distribute everything to everyone.

This one earth is both our home and our stepping-stone to the cosmos and its riches that await us. The reign of the gods is over. The reign of mankind is upon us. We have nothing to fear. No commandments are found that we do not make ourselves. Our judgments decide the terms of our universal citizenship. Mankind (to coin a phrase) is within a step of reaching its destined perfection when all is given to all.

Yes, we are no longer Gentiles or Jews, Romans or Greeks, barbarians or civilized, Christians or Muslims or Hindus, or Chinese. Nothing is above us. Nothing is below us. We are impatient. We have waited long enough! We are at home everywhere. Nowhere is alien to us.

I look at these claims as a reader of Augustine. He already understood most of these things in the fifth century after Christ. He thought them all mostly true – but only after this life. Here, we are in a vale of tears, a broken world. We are not asked to save the world, but to save our souls in a world mostly at odds with what it means to save our souls.

We are given commandments to keep, not to oppose. The only “universal citizenship” is in the City of God begun in this world following the plan of divine providence, but completed in the next. The meaning of our times is straightforward. We refuse to accept the world for which we were created. What we see about us is the universal citizenship of our collective refusal.

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3 comments on “On Universal Citizenship

  1. The Sacking of the West


    If you’re looking for a good reason to vote Clinton this November, let me point you in the direction of this video. Movie director Joss Whedon has set up an organization dramatically labeled Save the Day, and is making some short videos staring an assortment of celebrities, mostly from his Avengers movies, with a few “ordinary” people thrown in the mix for good measure and implied humility. While the video starts by discussing the importance of voting, it doesn’t take long to realize that the only votes that Whedon values are those against Trump. That’s how the day will be saved, if Trump loses.

    For the sake of this discussion, I am not concerned with the politics of who is more likely to save (or ruin) the day. What interests me is the mode of the communication.

    Is the video convincing? Well, consider the tactic. The assumption is that because these people are famous, and because they’ve entertained you throughout your life, you’re supposed to care about their opinion. To be fair, they don’t just lean on their celebrity. A few reasons are offered to support their cause, one of which is that Trump is a “racist abusive coward who could permanently damage the fabric of our society.” This claim is apparently both compelling and requires no evidence, because it’s espoused by a celebrity. Furthermore, Scarlett Johansson makes the impeccably logical point that it might not be a good idea to give nuclear weapons to a man who “fires things.” Oh, and in case none of that is convincing enough, there’s one more incentive they’ve thrown in. If Hilary is elected, one of the actors, Mark Ruffalo, will appear fully naked in a movie.

    It is clear in the video that this particular incentive is a joke—Ruffalo acts as if he knows nothing about it, but the other actors continually reassert the promise. The fact that they make a joke, and the fact that the joke is about that fact that, as Robert Downey Jr. says, “Mark Ruffalo is gonna have his d*** out” demonstrates a disturbing point.

    This video offers real insight into the state of rhetoric in the modern West. Apparently, the way to convince the masses is to entertain them. Joss Whedon seems to be under the (quite probably accurate) impression that entertainment is the soma of the West, and therefore the way to manipulate its citizens is through the old adage, “make ’em laugh.” Such thinking is not new. You might remember a similarly star-studded video from 2008 urging Americans to vote for Obama. But this type of thinking goes much further back than that, in fact it has been a hallmark of many great and troubled civilizations throughout history. Consider the Romans.

    Saint Augustine, in The City of God, explained the moral mood of Rome as follows:

    Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement. If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it once possessed (2, 20).

    The true gods of Rome were perpetual excitement and cruel and voluptuous pleasures. Everyone that spoke against such pleasures was to be branded a public enemy. It seems unnecessary to point out that such a statement could be made with startling accuracy about the current state of Western civilization.

    Saint Augustine wrote The City of God as a response to Roman claims about Christianity after the sacking of Rome. There were very public grumblings amongst the people, suggesting that the reason that Rome had been destroyed was because they had abandoned their old gods and started following Christ. As he writes,

    “…the multitudes who now reproach the Christian religion, and impute to Christ the ills that have befallen their city; but the preservation of their own life … they attribute not to Christ, but to their own good luck” (1, 1).

    Again, this statement reads as a prophecy of our times. There is one word in it, however, that should be changed. The modern West does not attribute its fortune to luck, but to something far more pernicious—to their own human genius. Whereas the Romans thought themselves merely lucky to avoid the sword, modern man sees himself as his own great liberator. The fact of history that is ignored is of course that it was the genius of some specifically Christian people, that contributed so much to humanity’s advancement. In an Orwellian rewriting of history, the connection between Christianity and human flourishing through science and discovery is suppressed into non-existence. The view is now that through sheer willpower and intellect, man can save himself.

    But save himself to what? To what end is humanity to be saved? Recall that the campaign of Whedon’s video is called Save the Day. Assuming for now that the day needs to be saved, what shall it be saved to? The answer, again, is offered by Augustine.

    Depraved by good fortune, and not chastened by adversity, what you desire in the restoration of a peaceful and secure state, is not the tranquility of the commonwealth, but the impunity of your own vicious luxury … so abandoned are you, that not even when crushed by the enemy is your luxury repressed. You have missed the profit of your calamity; you have been made most wretched, and have remained most profligate. (1, 33)

    Augustine recognized that adversity did not create a space for society to reflect upon its own nature and correct from within, rather, the reason to escape adversity and restore order was to further pursue hedonism. Even in their moments of calamity, the Romans played the blame game. The enemy was bad because they prevented pleasure, and all those that spoke out against pursuit of pleasure were the enemy.

    This is where one of Augustine’s most repeated points in the early books of The City of God finds its most profound connection to our society. He writes that

    “Rome, which was founded and increased by the labors of these ancient heroes, was more shamefully ruined by their descendants while its walls were still standing, than it is now by the razing of them” (2,2).

    Rome fell internally before it fell externally. It was ravaged by an interior cancer which left it hollow and brittle—ready for the onslaught of the Gauls.

    This internal rot was of the moral kind. Even “the wisest pagans” agree with Christianity that there are moral evils which are evils of life and conduct, and that it is by these kinds of evils that

    “states are ruined while their cities stand uninjured.” In Rome, the pagan gods “made not the smallest provision for preserving their worshipers from these evils, but, on the contrary, took special pains to increase them” (2, 16).

    This is where we find ourselves. Inhabitants of a civilization with walls, but one that is being internally eaten away by moral corruption—the kind of corruption which flourishes when humanity creates an altar for personal pleasure and entertainment and sacrifices all that it is to that god. The kind of corruption that convinces itself that famous people speak truth because of the empty distraction they offer us. The kind of corruption that even considers convincing people to vote with the lure of a naked celebrity. The kind of corruption that wants to save today so it can ruin tomorrow. The kind of corruption that maintains this day should be saved “for the sake of our children,” yet does so by campaigning for a person who promotes the systematic eradication of children. The kind of corruption which is so in love with its own desires, and so hardened against those that suggest personal pleasure is not the meaning of life, that logic cannot penetrate their hardened exterior.

    The persuasive powers of logic, it seems, have reached an all-time low. There is a lack of basic commonsense logic in public debate that manifests itself in an infuriating flexibility of ill-defined terms, tactical ad hominem maneuvers that are more convincing than truth, and entire discussions building and breaking down straw men. As a teacher, I have often blamed the state of education for this complete inability to effectively disagree amicably and logically—a requirement of effective democracy.

    But, once again, Augustine reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. As a defense of his writing, he says that

    “if the feeble mind of man did not presume to resist the clear evidence of truth, but yielded its infirmity to wholesome doctrines”

    then the truth would easily

    “refute the errors of empty conjecture.”

    But apparently, even back in the fifth century, this “mental infirmity” was more

    “prevalent and hurtful than ever, to such an extent that even after a truth has been as fully demonstrated as man can prove it to man, they hold for the very truth their own unreasonable fancies, either on account of their great blindness, which prevents them from seeing what is plainly set before them, or on account of their opinionative obstinacy, which prevents them from acknowledging the force of what they do see” (2,1).

    Humanity, it seems, has not progressed very much at all. We may be able to travel faster and further, communicate over long distances and visit faraway planets, but our inner condition is unchanged, and whatever good technology has done, our wicked hearts have also invented ways to use it to further our own depravity. Nothing has changed since the time of Augustine. Perhaps this may give us despair, but seen in another light, it can fill us with hope. Rome was depraved and Rome fell—but the Church did not. The City of Man will fall and be rebuilt, but the City of God is unshakeable. As we look around at these uncertain times, and ask how it came to choosing between these two candidates, it might appear, that the world is falling to pieces. It is not. The West might be, just as Rome did, but the world is God’s and God will not forsake it.

    If, like me, you are tempted to accept all as futile, let us remember the words of Augustine in his preface.

    “But God is my helper. For I am aware what ability is requisite to persuade the proud how great is the virtue of humility.”

    The City of God will prevail, and God is our helper.

    Kenneth Crowther is the Head of English at Toowoomba Christian College, in Queensland, Australia. He holds a Master’s degree in Arts: Creative Writing from Macquarie University.

  2. H/T Drudge
    Clinton Campaign Email Outlines Effort “To Produce an Unaware and Compliant Citizenry”
    Hillary insiders panicked over Trump’s celebrity appeal
    Paul Joseph Watson – October 10, 2016

    A Clinton campaign email released as part of the Wikileaks data dump earlier today talks about the need to maintain political power by producing “an unaware and compliant citizenry”.

    The email was sent to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta by former Clinton administration official Bill Ivey on March 13, 2016.

    Ivey was appointed Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts during Bill Clinton’s second term. According to his bio, Ivey “is a trustee of the Center for American Progress (a Clinton campaign front), and was a Team Leader in the Barack Obama presidential transition.”

    In the email, Ivey outlines the panic amongst some Democrats that Donald Trump’s “celebrity politics” persona cannot be matched by Hillary, who is “not an entertainer, and not a celebrity in the Trump, Kardashian mold.”

    “Money isn’t all that important if you can conflate entertainment with the electoral process. Trump masters TV, TV so-called news picks up and repeats and repeats to death this opinionated blowhard and his hairbrained ideas, free-floating discontent attaches to a seeming strongman and we’re off and running,” complains Ivey.

    Ivey wonders how Clinton can combat Trump’s larger than life appeal, worrying that simply ‘defaulting to policy’ won’t work.

    “And as I’ve mentioned, we’ve all been quite content to demean government, drop civics and in general conspire to produce an unaware and compliant citizenry,” he writes.

    “The unawareness remains strong but compliance is obviously fading rapidly. This problem demands some serious, serious thinking – and not just poll driven, demographically-inspired messaging.”

    To emphasize, Ivey admits that the left has ‘conspired’ to “produce an unaware and compliant citizenry” but that they’re not as easy to manipulate anymore and that this is a problem. He characterizes “unawareness” amongst the public as a positive thing for the Clinton campaign.

    Ivey ends the email by saying he will attend a Clinton fundraiser and that he fears, “we are all now trying to navigate a set of forces that cannot be simply explained or fully understood.”

    The email is a shocking insight into the elitist and arrogant mindset that pervades the Clinton campaign, with Americans viewed as dumb sheep who need to be herded in the right direction.

  3. Good points.

    Unfortunately, the U.S. has already started down the slippery slope of becoming a post-Christian Third World banana republic dictatorship in which reason and the rule of law have gone out the window. Even at the author’s own Georgetown University the Catholic tradition of St. Augustine’s City of God has been marginalized and suppressed by the treason of the heretical progressive modernists within the Society of Jesus and the liberal anti-Catholic co-conspirators. Father Walsh, Father Bunn, Bishop Carroll, and St. Edmund Campion could never stop throwing up if they could see what has happened to the Catholic education they dedicated their lives to defend and preserve, along with the antics of the anti-Catholic bigots and impostors who have taken over.

    How many contemporary Georgetown students even learn who St. Augustine is? How many American college students in general even learn who St. Augustine is? There’s the problem. Without real Catholic education the decline of civilization proceeds unimpeded.

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