In our last blog, we discussed how many people are drawn to ethnic tribalism because it offers many substantial rewards to them in the here and now. And that to override and dismiss these feelings can lead to disastrous consequences, as the Labour Party found out. But the phenomenon is not unique to the UK. Parties of the left are failing to engage across the whole world. Where are the mighty French Socialists and German SPD now? Where the powerful Democratic Party and Trades Unions that once stood behind Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman? We at LSS believe that tribalism will have fatal long term consequences in a nuclear-armed world. To ask people to abandon it there must be a better offer. We believe that is Justice: but to explain it we must beg your forgiveness for diving into the past; but that was where we were educated.
In his masterly History Of Medieval Europe Professor Davis described how the Romans’ success in uniting the Mediterranean Basin into a single economic unit had produced centuries of peace and prosperity. To do it, they distinguished between Custom, which was local, and Law, which being linked to reason and justice, was universal . Once law was universal, trade and learning could be practiced over larger and larger areas. No one can deny modern examples; the various states of the USA such as Virginia or Rhode Island have prospered far more by pooling their sovereignty than if they had remained independent polities, as have the nations of Europe or the different states of India. The trouble for the Romans came when the barbarian tribes intruded into this empire because of
..the determination of the barbarian invaders to prefer the law of their ancestors to the law of reason, since that preference implied the superiority of one’s own race over loyalty to the civilised world
A contemporary, St Augustine, realised the disastrousness of this (we transcribe Davis’ quotes)
Set aside Justice, and what are kingdoms but great bands of brigands? And what are brigands’ bands but little kingdoms? The underlings are directed by the same commander, they swear a confederacy, and the takings are shared out by law among them.
Augustine cited the case of Alexander the Great, who captured a small time pirate and demanded “why do you plague the seas-how dare you?”
To which the pirate replied ” Because I do it with one little ship, I am called a pirate. But you do it with a whole navy, so they call you Emperor. How dare you?
It is clear that states can be based on ethnic tribalism. But they can never be Just. Once Justice is rejected, then corruption and favouritism become endemic. The essential question asked of every new thing is not “Is this Just?”, or “Is this reasonable?”, but rather: “Does this shore up the defences of our society?” The enemies of that society are everywhere, usually in league with Foreign Devils. Universities become an international joke. The arts shrivel into sterile conformity. Scientific research becomes distorted and eventually fails. The list of artists and scientists banned by the Nazis was very long. But the principles of Relativity are not Jewish, as there are no Jews in other Galaxies. Eventually the presence of other gangs and Foreign Devils becomes unendurable, and war breaks out. This time with chemical, biological and nuclear consequences.
If we cite the ancient example of the Romans, it is because their idea worked, for a while. And we have tried to show limited examples of more modern successes. The counter offer to the tribe must be a shared prosperity. That working together alone will solve the common problems such as global warming and antibiotic resistance. And that justice is the reasoned set of rules which will let that happen.
St Augustine’s vision of the future was “The City of God” Perhaps that is a little dated.
But future of radiant, prosperous communities is graspable, perhaps not only on Earth. Think then of Justice as an insurance policy as well; and it will sell.
RH Davis A History of Medieval Europe Longman
#justice #ethnictribalism #staugustine #USA #EU