C.S. Lewis once wrote an essay called "On the Reading of Old Books" which contains this insight:
All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook--even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united--united with each other and against earlier and later ages--by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century--the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"--lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H.G. Wells and Karl Barth.
I don't know what posterity will say, but I'm detecting some common assumptions these days, that seem to unite disparate minds with as little notice as the water in which different fish swim.
Now the great Wretchard at the Belmont Club
has joined the crowd criticizing Donald Trump for his call to halt all Muslim immigration or entry to the country for the time being.
Donald Trumps proposal to bar Muslims from entering the US is, as Senator Ted Cruz points out, manifestly wrong but also emotionally resonant. Amy Davidson of the New Yorker came face to face with this contradiction after noting the approving crowds which cheered Trump's plans in South Carolina on Monday night. How can a wrong idea be resonant?
The "tell" for me was the expression "manifestly wrong". To me, it comes from the same shop as "Everyone knows..." In other words, an assumption so basic, so universally accepted, that one doesn't even have to mount an argument for it. Just as "everyone knows" that Republicans are bigots, or that global warming has been proved, so "everyone knows" that Trump is wrong.
And yet, to read the comments that followed Wretchard's essay, it is NOT so obvious to everyone that Trump is wrong. People patiently relate the appropriate passages from 8 U.S. Code § 1182 and give examples from the past, as well as arguments from morality and cost-benefit analyses. The overwhelming majority of Wretchard's faithful readers conclude that HE is the one who is manifestly wrong, not Trump.
I'm finding the same thing all over the place. Dale Price
is one of my go-to guys for straightforward conservative thinking, but he too calls Trump's idea "a garbage policy from a garbage human being, unworthy of consideration."
So what's going on here? I think maybe I'm detecting one "common assumption" tying these ideas together with similar arguments on the Left. And that's the idea of the Church of the Nation.
The emotional reaction is what I would expect from a 16th century Spaniard suddenly threatened with excommunication. It's appalling, unthinkable! The Nation has taken the place of the Church, and alienation from it is the worst fate possible. As the Catholic would see himself facing exile from Paradise, so the citizen sees himself rejected and outcast from the source of all benefits, including identity.
This also explains the furious rejection of the possibility of stripping criminals of their citizenship: it can't be done! You can't take away a person's citizenship! But why? I've long been in favour of the old tradition of banishment for some criminals, especially hostile aliens like Muslims. We Canadians even did it ourselves, a little over 40 years ago
, when the FLQ terrorists who kidnapped a British diplomat were exiled to Cuba. But modern devotees of the Church of the Nation feel that to have no state is worse than a death sentence today. The modern idea of a passport as a sort of untouchable badge of belonging is quite recent, dating not much further back than the bureaucratic 20th century, and yet it now totally dominates modern thinking.