Friday, September 20, 2013


The following is reprinted in its entirety by permission from Modern Age, Vol. 55, No. 3, authored by Jude P. Dougherty.

"Who GETS TO BE French?" is the title Karl E. Meyer gave to a brief essay in the New York Times. (1) It is a vexing question: Who or what can be defined as French? When Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president of France in 2007, he fulfilled his campaign promise that if elected he would create a cabinet-level position to address social issues resulting from France's previous liberal immigration policy. Newcomers from the Middle East and North Africa are known to grumble, "Our passports say that we are French, but we do not feel French because we are not accepted here." One may ask, "Whose obligation is it to rectify that?" The Left demands that the host country adjust. Richard Thompson Ford of Stanford University Law School finds that "the right to a cultural difference is now widely (if not universally) understood to be a basic human right, on par with rights to religious liberty and racial equality." (2) Here we have yet another right manufactured by the Left, with the presumption that the native has the obligation to yield identity to the newcomer.

When the promised cabinet-level post, Minister of Immigration and National Identity, went to Brice Hortefeux in 2007, Sarkozy's own position was not unknown. In his book La Republique, les religions, l'esperance, Sarkozy pointedly asserted that the French need to talk about religion and its role in society and to talk also about the Hellenic and Christian sources of French culture. Migrants, he maintained, have to be integrated through language and adhere to the principles, values, and symbols of French democracy. Muslims, for their part, have to understand the importance of the secular state and equality between men and women.

With the support of Hortefeux and his successor, Claude Gueant, legislation was passed requiring foreigners to meet a language requirement and to profess allegiance to French values. Candidates for citizenship under the Sarkozy initiative are to be tested on their knowledge of French culture and history and are obligated to prove that they can speak the French language as well as an average 15-year-old can. They are required to sign a document setting out their rights and responsibilities. Applicants will not be able to claim allegiance to another country while on French soil, although dual nationality will still be permitted. France, with an Islamic minority making up approximately 10 percent of its population, has the troubling task of integrating a people who choose to retain their own identity and live among their own kind under their own law.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, like former president Sarkozy, has similarly grappled with the problem of national unity but on a vaster scale. In a remarkably astute address, "Russia--The Ethnic Issue," delivered on January 23, 2012, he sets forth his view of a post-Soviet Russia and the means of maintaining it through the cultivation of patriotism and a common educational program. (3) Patriotism, he believes, hinges on an awareness of national identity, a sense that one belongs to an identifiable whole; that is, a national unit in which one can take pride. Unity, he recognizes, is challenging, since historical (Imperial) Russia was a composite of many "nationalities." "We need a national policy based on civic patriotism," he said in that January speech. "Any person living in our country must not forget about his faith and ethnic affiliation. But he must above all be a citizen of Russia and be proud of that. No one has the right to place distinctive ethnic and religious features above the laws of the state. But at the same time, the laws of the state themselves must take into account the distinctive ethnic and religious features." As president, Putin recognizes that without patriotic allegiance on the part of the people, without a common awareness of belonging to a single nation, rule is impossible. He touches again on the themes of national identity and patriotism in his presidential address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation on December 12, 2012. (4)

 Putin hopes to advance patriotism largely through education, principally through instruction in Russian history, but also by significantly distancing Russia from the West. In his address on the ethnic issue, Putin calls for a Russian version of Mortimer Adler's Great Books of' the Western World. "Let us conduct a poll," he says, "of our cultural authorities and form a list of 100 books that each graduate of a Russian school will have to read. Not memorize in school but specifically read on his own.”

According to Dimitri S. Peskov, Putin's press secretary, as reported by Ellen Barry for the New York Times, Russian intellectuals are distancing themselves from modernization along Western lines. (5) Western culture is beginning to be looked upon with disdain. As Peskov claims: "Everyone is sick and tired of talk about democracy and the issue of human rights." The debt crisis has stripped the Eurozone of its role as an economic model, and the results of the Arab uprising have undermined the Western policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East. In his interview with Ms. Barry, Peskov reports that Putin understands well that there are no general Western values, that the European Union, instead of providing a model, is suffering from a tremendous cultural collapse, torn apart by the contradictions it has embraced. The same may be said of the United States, though less so.

In the drive for an expression of Russian unity, Putin, like Sarkozy, recognizes the unifying role of religion. Speaking of the diverse religions found within Russian boundaries, he says, "Despite all their differences and distinctive features, the basic, common, moral, ethical and spiritual values are based on Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism--compassion, mutual assistance, truth, justice, respect for elders, and the ideals of family and work. It is impossible to replace these value guidelines with anything, and we need to strengthen them.”

It is known that Putin has welcomed if not solicited the support of the Orthodox Church itself, whose leaders regard the West as the source of dangerous turbulence in the world. In the speech mentioned above he calls attention to "one of Russia's earliest philosophical and religious works, the Sermon on Law and Grace by Metropolitan Hilarion, which opens with the salutation, "Blessed Be the God of Israel, the God of Christianity who visited his people and brought them salvation." (6) It is not widely known that Putin's mother had him secretly baptized as an infant, secretly because his father was at that time a parry functionary and might have lost his job in the officially atheistic USSR if the deed were known. In his biographical sketch, Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft, Allen C. Lynch relates, "In 1993 Putin's mother would give her son his baptismal crucifix to have it blessed at the tomb of Jesus Christ during his official visit to Israel. Putin obliged and has not taken the cross off (at least in public) to the present day.” (7)

Obviously it is easier to speak of Sarkozy's France than of Putin's Russia. "To understand a nation," wrote the French poet Paul Valery, "be it England, France, Germany or Italy, one must attend to what each has created in the realm of the mind, expressions of intelligence and learning. The total intellectual and artistic treasure, the accumulated beauty of great works of art--written, sculpted, painted and constructive--is constitutive of a culture that would not exist apart from its roots in a particular national setting." Every nation of Europe, he notes, is a composite, the result of the different ethnic elements that came to be mixed with her territory. And in none of them is a single tongue spoken. Thus Paul Valery can say of France, "The French nation resembles a tree several times grafted, the quality and flavor of whose fruit are the result of a happy wedding of very different saps and humors combining in a single and indivisible life." In a poetic mode, he continues, "Whether we speak of the Capetians, of Joan of Arc, Louis IX, Henry IV, Richelieu, the Convention, or Napoleon, we are referring to one and the same thing, an active symbol of our national identity and unity." (8)

For Russia, with its wide range of languages, traditions, ethnicities, and culture, the national question is, without exaggeration, of fundamental importance. Putin is convinced that any responsible politician or public figure must recognize that one of the main conditions of his country's very existence is civil and interethnic harmony. He says, "We are a multi-ethnic society, but we are one people held together by a Russian core." That core, he believes, must be one of "unshakable values, fundamental knowledge and worldview." Thus the civil goal of education, of the educational system, is to give every person sufficient knowledge of the humanities to form the basis of collective self-identity. To that end, says Putin, "The state, society, should welcome and support the work of Russia's traditional religions in the system of education and information, in the social sphere, and in the Armed Forces. At the same time, the secular nature of the state, of course, must be preserved." (9)

Putting aside the problem of governing a nation as vast as Russia or instilling a sense of what it means to be French, we find that national identity matters to hosts of recent immigrants to both Europe and North America. Many seek to retain not only their inherited customs but even their native language in their adopted country. Many cannot easily identify with what for them is perceived as an alien culture. As Valery has explained, identity is the characteristic of a people who have inhabited a land over a period of time, who have developed certain collective habits, evident in their manners, their dress, the feasts they enjoy, their religious bonds, the premium they put on education, and their attention to detail and precision. These are not universal traits but rooted in centuries past and dependent upon a historical consciousness, attention to the deeds of ancestors past. Ingrained customs are not easily shed.

To focus on the United States, assimilation of an immigrant population became a problem only in the final decades of the last century. Massive immigration to the United States in the nineteenth century was of European people, linguistically different, but essentially of a common faith. We could at that time speak of the West as Christendom. The overwhelming majority of American immigrants may have been able to trace their ancestry to some European country, but they had reason to take pride in their adopted country and identify with it, for it resembled the land they had left.

Although sometimes applied to defuse concerns about immigration of peoples from alien cultures, the "mixing bowl" metaphor cannot aptly be applied to immigration in the last part of the twentieth century. U.S. immigration policy was drastically reversed in 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Hart-Celler Act, legislation sponsored by the late senator Edward M. Kennedy. The 1965 legislation replaced the Immigration Act of 1924, which favored immigrants from Northern and Western Europe and Canada. Kennedy argued that previous immigration laws were discriminatory and that American immigration policy should accept people not on the basis of their nationality. He assured opponents of the legislation that "the bill will not flood our cities with immigrants. It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission." Kennedy did not justify the supposition that one had a right to immigrate and thus could not be discriminated against, and he did not live to experience the full effect of the Hart-Celler Act on the culture and on the composition of the electorate. (10) Ancient texts, if not common sense, would have dictated otherwise.

On the subject of citizenship, there is a short treatise in book 3 of Aristotle's Politics that is worth revisiting. Ancient texts do not always speak to the present, but human nature being a constant, and given Athenian circumstances somewhat similar to our present one, certain of his observations are relevant to the present discussion. Residence in a particular place, Aristotle finds, does not make one a citizen of that place. He who is a citizen under one regime may not be under another. A citizen, he says, is one whose mother and father were citizens. We know that in Aristotle's day a class of noncitizens had been drawn to Athens by economic opportunity. In Athens the noncitizen had the duty to defend the city but did not have political rights.

A certain excellence was required for citizenship. Membership in the political community entailed the ability to take part in the framing of law and participating in judicial proceedings. In socially stratified Athens, the great majority of the population was not enfranchised. This was true not only of slaves but of husbandmen and laborers who were thought to lack the leisure to follow the affairs of state and consequently did not possess the intellectual acumen to participate in the framing of law and/or service in the judiciary. Aristotle recognized that states in their constitutions differ and that in a democracy the husbandman or laborer, who may not be capable of actually ruling, may be capable of choosing his representative. Aristotle defended a principle that France, to its regret, ignored in its colonial period: "Citizenship cannot be extended to colonies or subject cities.”

Citizenship and immigration policy are but surface manifestations of an underlying political philosophy. We find professors of political theory arguing that membership in a state does not matter in a fundamental way, since we are all members of a global economic association with global obligations. The Left typically favors, if not open borders, a liberal immigration policy and is not much concerned about national identity. From that perspective, there is nothing particular to defend. Advocates of what has come to be called globalism, cosmopolitanism, or multiculturalism are averse to anything that speaks to the exceptional character of Western civilization or to its Christian source. The Left typically rejects the notion of "integration through assimilation" and defends the right of the immigrant to be different and neglects to offset this right by demanding civic behavior and cultural responsibilities in relation to the indigenous population or society as a whole.

John M. Headley, professor emeritus of history at the University of North Carolina, has countered the globalists with a compelling volume, The Problem with Multiculturalism: The Uniqueness and Universality of Western Culture. Headley proceeds from this premise: "The current literary and intellectual fashions that prevail in the life of our campuses suggest that there is nothing unique or exceptional about Western civilization except perhaps its oppressiveness." He shows that without an acknowledgment of its classical and Christian sources, Western civilization cannot be understood, even as it repudiates its past in favor of an Enlightenment-based secularism. "In our haste since the 1960s to learn about other civilizations and peoples beyond our own, we have lost our palate for the West, gorging ourselves upon otherness." Headley finds that in departments of language, history, economics, and sociology, Europe and Western civilization are marginalized if not ignored. "Drunk, if not drugged with Derrida, Foucault, and political correctness, none in our educational establishment today looks upon education as a moral transformation of the self in preparation for citizenship and even life." (11)

If the United States has indeed become a polyglot nation, as many believe, there are implications to be faced both conceptually and practically. From a conceptual point of view, in what sense is one a citizen in a geographic entity that lacks a national identity to which one can give allegiance? Normally one does not swear allegiance to or even declare oneself to be a citizen of, for example, Indiana or Illinois. It is just a place where one lives. No doubt for many immigrants the United States is just a place where they live, enjoying the benefits of an advanced society. Given membership in the electorate, the vote of the newly arrived is easy to predict.

One is drawn to the conclusion that Mr. Putin is correct in his view of citizenship, that is, membership in a culturally defined nation. In Soviet Russia, "citizen" and "comrade" were roughly interchangeable forms of address, comrade more clearly linking citizenship to labor and the Marxist understanding of the revolutionary project. "Citizen," for Putin, and apparently for most Russians, means membership in the cultural-national unity that provides material benefits and, not unimportantly, glory for the individual. As both Sarkozy and Putin understand, education is the key to the formation of a sense of national identity or its opposite, the notion that one is a citizen of the world. Both concepts have economic as well as cultural implications. Undoubtedly, the battleground for the soul of a nation is the academy, sadly often closed to free and open discussion on many campuses in the United States.

(1.) Karl E. Meyer, "Who Gets to Be French," New York Times, April 11, 2012, http:/

(2.) Richard Thompson Ford, "Cultural Diversity and Social Capital," Monist 95, no. 1 (January 2012).
(3.) Russkiy Mir Foundation, Publication 0235.


(5.) New York Times, November 21, 2012,

(6.) Allen C. lynch, Vladimir Plain and Russian Statecraft (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2011), 13.

(7.) Pamiatniki dukbovnoi literatury vremeni velikogo kniazia laroslava Logo (Moscow, 1844).

(8.) Paul Valery, Collected Works, vol. 10, trans. Denise Folliet and Jackson Matthews (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1962), 407, 408.

(9.) All quotations are from Putin's January 23 speech.

(10.) Today it is acknowledged that the Hart-Celler Act, by opening the doors to immigrants From Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, did change America's demographics. Ethnic and racial minorities as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau rose from 25 percent of the population in 1990 to 36 percent in 2011.

(11.) John M. Headley, The Problem with Multiculturalism (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2012), 87.

Jude P. Dougherty is professor emeritus and dean emeritus of the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He is editor of the "Review of Metaphysics" and author most recently of "The Nature of Scientific Explanation".

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