vendredi, mai 16, 2014

Scots Independence: Response to David K. Koyzis

RESPONSE by Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh to  

Honey from the Lion: Christianity and the Ethics of Nationalism 
by Doug Gay. SCM Press, 2013. 192 pp.
As a life-long pro-independence Scot myself, I appreciate the attention you have given to Doug Gay's important essay. Your welcome review is certainly not unconstructive, though overall I do find it somewhat frustrating. On the constructive side, you summarize the book admirably: "But Gay's arguments should be seen for what they are: a prudential case for reversing the union of 1707 and not so much for nationalism as an ideology." On the frustrating side, much of your subsequent review is spent attacking "nationalism as an ideology".

Your insistence on defining the term "nationalism" negatively reminds me curiously of Dawkin's definition of "faith" as "believing that for which there is no evidence". Discussion becomes problematic with another who by default demonises the key term.

Of course, as a good Dooyeweerdian, I fully appreciate that "isms" are doomed from the start, signalling as they do (to use the parlance) "an idolatrous absolutization of that which is temporal and relative". Thus (contra Dawkins) you and I no doubt agree that "Faith" is good, but "Fideism" not. "Science" good, but "Scientism" not. "Bible" good, "Biblicism" not. (This is elementary stuff I know - but perhaps novel enough to some readers.) It does appear that, shorn of any terminal "ism", what is being referred to can readily become legitimate and wholesome. My slightly impertinent point is to venture the observation that, faced with reviewing a book with "nationalism" in its title, you seemingly cannot forgive that last pernicious syllable. You write:

'It is the rare nationalist indeed who can favourably quote Kuyper's famous "not a square inch" dictum. That tells us immediately that, if Gay is a nationalist, he is a highly unusual one, because many, if not most, nationalists are unwilling to share the limelight with a rival deity, much less to recognize his sovereignty over their own lives...Gay is at pains to point out that favouring a distinctive Scottish national identity, which he seems to understand broadly inclusively rather than narrowly ethnically, need not entail raising "such an identity to any kind of idolatrous position where it becomes the sole possible determinant of political legitimacy." Nevertheless, it must be admitted that real flesh-and-blood nationalisms have done precisely this.'

As you acknowledged in my first quote above, Gay amply contends that what is currently happening in Scotland does not in fact match your definition of "nationalism". However, given this non-conformist information you choose NOT to expand your use of the term to allow positive content. You resolve the tension rather by banishing the author to (variously) the grey area of the conditional clause ("IF Gay is a nationalist"), to the fog of inarticulacy ("which he SEEMS to understand broadly inclusively rather than narrowly ethnically"), and to the isolating no-man's land of being non-representative ("It is the rare nationalist indeed", "he is a highly unusual one").

If we were to take the famous Irish advice and "not start from here", we might imagine Doug Gay's book re-entitled "Honey from the Lion: Christianity and the Ethics of Seeking National Self-determination". Or the even more cumbersome and Victorian: "Christianity and the Ethics of Rescuing One's Country from a Failed and Destructive Incorporating Union". In other words, if we expunged the term "nationalism" and focused entirely on the question of how legitimate it is for Scottish Christians to pursue more satisfactory governmental structures, I do wonder to what extent your review might be nuanced differently. (A bit intrusively here I should confess my personal preoccupation with linguistic as much as political matters).

I need not remind you of course that Dooyeweerd has provided us with a very relevant and constructive critique of such various issues, for example in his "Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options":

"Today Christians face a fundamental question, namely, what historical yardstick do we possess in this new age for distinguishing between the reactionary and the substantially progressive directions in history? We cannot derive this criterion from the ten commandments, for they were not meant to save us from investigating God's creational ordinances. To answer this basic question, one needs insight into the specific ordinances that God established for historical development. It requires in-depth investigation." (p60)

And of supreme relevance is Dooyeweerd's profoundly helpful insight (echoed I note in your review) concerning the rootedness of Nazism in Historicism:

'By "historicism" I mean the philosophical conception that reduces the whole of reality to an absolutized historical aspect... Although the Historical School fundamentally rejected the validity of general laws, it nevertheless tried to compensate for this by seeking to reach a kind of compromise with the Christian belief in "divine providence." It proclaimed divine providence to be a "hidden" law of history, arguing that God's providence rules the history of a nation. As the Christian mask was laid aside, "providence" was replaced by Schicksal, the historical destiny or fate of a nation...We will do well to keep the affinity between national socialism and the Historical School in mind...' (pp51,52)

Among other useful tools for assessing political movements, Dooyeweerd, in his New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol 3, argues that the foundational function of the State (ie "monopoly of the power of the sword over a given territory") must be tempered or "led" by the "juridical" function. That is to say, insofar as a State fails to pursue "social justice", it becomes simply an oppressive power. You acknowledge and summarize Gay's own discernment of this in the current Scottish context when you write:

"Whether or not Scotland should be a sovereign nation-state is ultimately a prudential judgement about whether justice for its people would be better served in a United Kingdom or in a separate country. After weighing the relevant factors, he believes a separate Scotland is a defensible goal for the serious Christian."

You go on to endorse the same structural dynamic in principle: "Of course, doing public justice in a complex society may call for the breakup of existing states...".

But then you apparently feel you have overly affirmed Gay, so you call him to heel again by questioning his breadth of assessment:

"...although the inevitable political and social dislocations this brings should have us thinking twice before taking this route. If Gay's reasons for favouring Scottish independence are well-argued, my own suspicion is that he ignores its possible negative ramifications, as well as the possibility that a Canadian- or American-style constitutional federal system might make outright independence unnecessary."

This latter (at-first-glance plausible) "federalist" solution is in fact a non-starter for two reasons: 1) Scotland with 8 per cent of the UK population cannot command this option, and 2) England with 84 per cent of the UK population shows no interest in this option. Forgive me though if I mischievously muse whether you leave yourself vulnerable here to Gay's own challenge when he writes:

"The rehabilitation of nationalism in the postcolonial and post-Soviet eras has been an ambivalent one, often acknowledged grudgingly by those whose own secured power and settled state borders left them to project ‘nationalism’ on to others, while quietly ignoring their own claims and how they had been secured. The paradox of nationalism both being implicated in the cause of imperialism and seeming essential to its downfall remains. Those who deplore nationalism need to explain why the ambitions of colonized people to secure independent statehood are philosophically incoherent. Or they may need to rethink what they mean by nationalism." (p189)

We clearly are all agreed that "Righteousness exalts a nation" (Prov 14:34). And as for the future of Scotland, I have no doubt Doug would join me in the earnest prayer: "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here" (Ex 33:15).

Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh