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Universalism, True and False Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S. J.   
Tuesday, 29 November 2011

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The Roman Empire, in its philosophic roots, incorporated everyone under one law, with one brotherhood and one language. Similarly, the natural law is said to be universal. It binds all men. It makes no distinctions between borders and human divisions. The command to the Apostles to “go forth and teach all nations,” likewise, was a trans-frontier admonition. No culture was completer by its own definition. Though they need not be, these traditions can be read as a rejection of localism, particularism, and federalism.

Aristotle opposed the similar imperial sentiments of Alexander the Great. Aristotle thought it would take a divine mind and total power to unify all men under global jurisdiction. The only thing such an organization could bring about was massive tyranny, something reflected in the Book of Revelation.

On the same basis, Leo Strauss urged that we learn a certain “moderation” in expectations of such universal ambitions. Chesterton’s “flag of the world” and Wendell Berry’s localism were in part reactions to subsuming all men under one roof in this world.

Nietzsche wrote, in Beyond Good and Evil (1887), speaking of his good European friends:  “As I have discovered, you no longer like to believe in God and gods now” (#295). This wide-spread, practical disbelief was probably the major cause of Nietzsche’s own contempt for Europe, its faith, and a modern philosophy that ended in intellectual incoherence but would not admit it. Nietzsche was ready to believe if believers believed, but he found that they did not.

When we rid ourselves of God, we eliminate the possible cause of a willed rational order both in the universe and in our own being. Looking back, we see history, Nietzsche said, is a “gruesome dominion of chance and nonsense” (#203). We must replace God with something if anything is to make sense. For Nietzsche it was will – obliged to nothing but itself.

For many others today, however, it is universalism or globalism, though with the same “willed” basis. We no longer believe in God, but we do “believe” in man and his “rights,” in making the world a “better place,” provided we do not define “better.”

       Socrates stayed in Athens rather than taking exile to Thebes or Thessaly. We have a world today full of immigration often powered by lack of births in countries that need labor to take care of aging or unproductive populations. Some quasi-mystical notion of the poor, of the huddled masses, has taken the place of God.

            Friedrich Nietzsche by Edvard Munch, 1906

Thus, if people have a “right” to immigrate, all nations have an obligation to receive them. Our ideal is to mix everyone with everyone else. No one is to notice who is next door. Distinctions of religion, race, culture, wealth, sex, or age make no difference. All absolutes are to be dumbed-down, to be made insignificant. Unity is achieved when diversity completely disappears as a factor deciding anything.

But many nations do not want immigrants or only a certain kind. Yet if immigrants get into a country legally or illegally, they have a “right” to stay there. They are to be treated exactly as citizens. National boundaries are really obsolete. We have an implicit “world” citizenship. Globalization backs us up. Environment backs us up. Communications back us up. We cannot have the luxury of national states. We need world government and organization to correspond to this “reality” in which any citizen of one nation is a citizen of another.

Everyone has a “right” to everything anyone else has – health, food, work, clothing, housing, schooling – wherever he is, no matter what he does or contributes. Wars have ceased to matter. We will not need them or have them. Religion is fine so long as it does not mean anything other than quaint customs.

We no longer have a tradition, a morality, a common national heritage. We are citizens of the world first, not last. We “will” this new arrangement into existence. Everyone is friend to everyone. Citizenship and friendship are universal. Particularism, even of families, is outmoded. Children belong to everyone. Charity is not a divine gift. It is a work of man. It is a right.

God is replaced by the world and its goals. The human species is what counts, not its individual members. Evil is caused by those who do not accept such a vision. Everything can be tolerated except doubts about this universalism. Those who do so will be “forced to be free,” to recall a famous phrase.

In such a world, we can find no need for revelation. What could it contribute that we do not already have? The claim that something is beyond this world, that something limits our claims, only undermines our self-confidence in our inner-worldly mission. What could revelation possibly tell us that we do not already know? For the universal common good, as it’s now commonly defined, it is best not to know.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That Is Catholic.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Achilles, November 29, 2011
And yet dear Father, ironically, diversity is one of the rallying cries. This is an excellent, stinging but necessary commentary on the modern mind. I can feel the clenched fists of the modern citizen of the world barking “ 'peace peace' when there is no peace.”
written by Ray Hunkins, November 29, 2011
Thank you Father for a sedulous and thought provoking essay. "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see". I pray they are many.
written by Other Joe, November 29, 2011
What is so maddening about the post-Enlightenment project is that no one seems to take the measure of its failure. With each new progressive victory indices of social wellbeing trend ever downward. Soon they will just have to legislate happiness. Those who break the law will be punished. "I'll give you something to cry about..."
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., November 29, 2011
Thnaks you, Fr. Schall for this wonderful, penetrating tour of the last several centuries's foolishness and what it has led up to. I have never seena a more succint recounting the nature and consequences of mankind's arrogacne and erros. Shortly there will be no freedom, for the vacuum left by the rejction of the gift of Faith must surely suck in ideologies foremd from our lowest, most vile inclination, beginning with the desire to play at being gods. Those "freethinkers" who think it can't happen hear and are annoyed by relgious expreesion will find that prayers, hymns, and even incense are easiser to abide that the evils that men cook up when the make gods of themsleves.
written by HV Observer, November 29, 2011
An excellent analysis. Pope Benedict XVI has a similar take on the notion of "regnocentrism" in Book 1 of "Jesus of Nazareth."
written by TeaPot562, November 29, 2011
And those who deny God in the name of material progress and so-called tolerance become intolerant of any religion that teaches that objective standards of right and wrong, and morality and immorality exist; and that humans ignore that at their peril.
written by Stanley, November 30, 2011
I always thought the best argument against universalism is what happens when the universal government becomes corrupt? Where can you seek refuge then?
written by benedict1, November 30, 2011
Most welcome, Father Schall. When Western Civilization abandoned Scholastic Philosophy based on St. Thomas and Aristotle it was the beginning of the long slide into this mess we face today.
written by Stanley, December 02, 2011
Great story...
MMA great from Russia Fedor Emelianenko fought American Jeff Monson in Moscow a few weeks back and Monson broke his leg.

Monson, an anarchist with tatoos all over his body about Socialism in Russian language, decided to go to the hospital. Basically a hard-core "Occupy" type of guy.

He writes on his blog that it felt like being in a Civil-war era hospital.

So much for universalism and its idealism

written by Barry from Victoria, January 13, 2012
This question of universals brings up something that's been bothering me since I read St Augustine's analysis of Cicero's views on whether God has foreknowledge. The problem with foreknowledge in Cicero's view was that if God has foreknowledge it is the same as saying that everything is foreordained, and therefore men cannot be held accountable for their actions. Sin then becomes God's responsibility, not ours. Augustine couldn't accept that because it would invalidate the entire Christian enterprise, and even worse that God was responsible for evil as well as good. Since God could only be good, this was impossible. But that raises another problem: if God is bound to be Good, then it would have to mean that even God was restricted in his actions and that furthermore Good and Evil preceded God. The idea of Natural Law has a similar problem. Is God bound by a universal law as much as we?

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