Scruton Addresses the Vlaams Belang
Every society depends on an experience of membership: a sense of who ‘we’ are, why we belong together, and what we share. This experience is pre-political: it precedes all political institutions, and provides our reason for accepting them. It unites left and right, blue-collar and white-collar, man and woman, parent and child. To threaten this ‘first-person plural’ is to open the way to atomisation, as people cease to recognize any general duty to their neighbours, and set out to pillage the accumulated resources while they can. Without membership we risk a new ‘tragedy of the commons’, as our inherited social assets are seized for present use. ~Roger Scruton
Mr. Scruton makes many excellent points, including his valuable discussion of his neologism oikophobia (fear of home, fear of one’s own), but I do wonder about this claim:
Communities founded on a national rather than a religious conception of membership are inherently open to newcomers, in the way that religious communities are not. An immigrant to a religious community must be prepared to convert; an immigrant to a national community need only obey the law.
At the risk of being pedantic, communities founded on a national conception of membership raise the bar much higher than religious communities, if by “national conception of membership” we mean belonging to the nation, the natio, the tribe. Perhaps Mr. Scruton means something else, in which case the following will be redundant, but I do not really know what it would mean to describe a “national conception of membership” if it does not mean this. It is possible to become a member of another nation, but the resistance to newcomers is surely greater in a community defined by nationality than one defnied by religion.
The Byzantines could welcome Theophobos and his Persian soldiers, provided they converted, and nothing else save the obvious loyalty to the empire was required. Because religion is so fundamental, particularly to traditional peoples, this requirement can seem a heavier burden, but it is practically much more open to newcomers who wish to become part of the community. There are actually fewer and less daunting barriers to changing religious identity than attempting to enter into a community that defines itself along “national” lines, as joining a national community–as we are re-discovering again and again–is not simply a question of obeying laws but also a question of the identity of that national community and the extent to which newcomers must embrace a new identity in order to belong. A national community often expects its newcomers to adapt linguistically, culturally and, broadly speaking, morally in the habits they must discard and adopt. Failure to expect, indeed require, this adaptation seems to frequently result in failed long-term integration and the breakdown of social relations between immigrants and natives.
Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis