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Universal Will

Something minor can sum up a situation. An example is a recent comment by George Will (referenced by Lawrence Auster) to the effect that America is founded on John Locke, not Jesus Christ, so America is not a Christian country and it’s illegitimate to disfavor Muslim immigration.

There we have the whole of what passes for educated conservatism today: America is a “proposition nation,” with the proposition something John Locke is thought to have said. It follows that America is not a particular complex society made up of particular peoples with their own histories, beliefs, loyalties and relationships, the well-being of which would require taking such concrete realities into account and fostering what benefits them, but a legal structure set up in 1787, based on universal principles of liberty, equality and property, and dedicated to the exclusive triumph of the principles upon which it is founded.

Instead of a nation, country or civilization as traditionally conceived, America thus becomes an institutionalized ideological movement dedicated to remaking all social relations everywhere on individualistic contractual lines. Global markets and neutral rational procedures become the only public authorities allowed to exist, while historically developed cultural and religious values are reduced to purely private interests. To oppose massive third-world immigration becomes anti-American, because it tends to preserve a society dominated by people with a somewhat coherent historical identity and culture, and therefore interferes with the sole triumph of Lockean principles.

Such a view strikes me as unbelievably perverse. America is not an ideology, it’s a country that at one point adopted a form of government that could in fact be changed. The federal government was established for particular practical purposes as a limited federal union among thirteen political societies. Such a background, which excluded most public concerns from federal purview, made the contractual emphasis evident in the 1787 constitution easily comprehensible. I would expect the Universal Postal Union to have an even more strictly contractual orientation. By contrast, state constitutions, which establish governments of more general jurisdiction, call quite freely on divine sanction and providence even today.

What has happened since 1787 is that the powers and self-assumed responsibilities of the American federal government have grown, to the point that they now encompass the purification of all human relations in the name of civil and human rights, and the political salvation of mankind in the name of spreading freedom and democracy. Nonetheless, the basis on which those responsibilities are understood and exercised has remained the same: contractual and procedural neutrality. What were once procedural points characteristic of strictly limited government have therefore become substantive universal principles to be forced on all social relations everywhere. The result is something utterly senseless and inhuman. Why identify it with America and treat it as a religion?