July 25th, 2008


a fellow citizen of the world

“In Berlin, Obama made exactly one point with which it was possible to disagree.” According to David Brooks, it was not this one:
The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.
    We know they have fallen before. After centuries of strife, the people of Europe have formed a Union of promise and prosperity. Here, at the base of a column built to mark victory in war, we meet in the center of a Europe at peace. Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together; in the Balkans, where our Atlantic alliance ended wars and brought savage war criminals to justice; and in South Africa, where the struggle of a courageous people defeated apartheid.
    So history reminds us that walls can be torn down. But the task is never easy. True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy; of progress and peace. They require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other.
Thanks, but no thanks. Touting fellow citizenship of the world is this century’s ladylike complement in stupidity to Woodrow Wilson’s fatal fixation on self-determination as an imperative principle of national action, the principle indispensably and preponderantly responsible for incessant warfare tearing apart the Old World throughout the past century. Today, we Americans could scarcely do worse than forswear our tribal loyalty to the founding documents that circumscribe the walls of our nation. We owe no duty of citizenship to those unwilling or unable to abide by our mandate. On the contrary, to affirm such duty is to undermine the compact that created this nation and continues to maintain it to this day. Our nation is unique in being held together by nothing but its founding principle. It has welcomed the worthiest and the worst off at the cost of renouncing all prior allegiances. It cannot stand without sustaining the boundaries defined by this renunciation. Nor can it go forth tearing down the boundaries between hidebound races, fanatical faiths, and complacent cultures.

On 20 November 1858, while supporting himself as a surveyor, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal: “Who are bad neighbors? They who suffer their neighbors’ cattle to go at large because they don’t want their ill will,—are afraid to anger them. They are abettors of the ill-doers.” Obama’s alignment with cosmopolitan clastics recalls the prophet of neighborly love, said to have united Jews and gentiles by breaking down the middle wall of partition between them. But the world that defines its commons by disparate commitments to creeds and traditions, must be served by policies that embody bullish insularity of Thoreau, not by fantasies that abet the ill-doers through capturing ovine inclusiveness of Jesus. And that is the neighborly policy that America perpetually renews in virtue of her Constitution, with each turn at mending walls refusing the sufferance of our neighbors’ cattle going at large. And our best foreign policy would commit to a like mending by all neighbors, everywhere in the world.