The following is a bit long. In order to facilitate a quick read, I have put key elements in bold.
In his most recent column, Pat Buchanan comments on Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s message to Pope Francis I and King Felipe VI of Spain demanding that they ask for forgiveness for Hernando Cortez’s conquering of Mexico 500 years ago.
As one might imagine, the “paleoconservative” Buchanan is having none of it.
After saying “[n]ow no one denies that great sins and crimes were committed in that conquest,” in effect admitting that what Cortez and Spain were wrong, he asks in the next breath “…But are not the Mexican people, 130 million of them, far better off because the Spanish came and overthrew the Aztec Empire?”
Buchanan’s article is impressive in its rhetorical force. Some of the jarring questions he asks:
- Did not 300 years of Spanish rule and replacement of Mexico’s pagan cults with the Catholic faith lead to enormous advances for its civilization and human rights?
- [I]s there never a justification for one nation to invade another, conquer its people, impose its rule, and uproot and replace its culture and civilization?
- Is “cultural genocide” always a crime against humanity, even if the uprooted culture countenanced human sacrifice?
- Did the Aztecs have a right to be left alone by the European world? If so, whence came that right?
- Which leads to another question: Are all civilizations and cultures equal, or are some more equal than others? Are some superior?
Near the end of this article Buchanan states:
“Behind this demand for an apology from Spain and the Church is a view of history familiar to Americans, and rooted in clashing concepts about who we are, and were.
Have the Western peoples who conquered and changed much of the world been, on balance, a blessing to mankind or a curse? Is the history of the West, though replete with the failings of all civilizations, not unique in the greatness of what it produced?
Or are the West’s crimes of imperialism, colonialism, genocide, racism, slavery and maltreatment of minorities of color so sweeping, hateful and shameful they cancel out the good done?
Is the white race, as Susan Sontag wrote, “the cancer of human history”?”…. (bold mine)
I point out that Buchanan brought up “whiteness” like he did and in the context that he did for a very strategic reason. While I would argue that Western civilization, or Christendom, and being white are clearly not synonymous, that distinction appears to make very little difference to many today.
Buchanan’s last paragraph is particularly interesting:
“Query: Can peoples who are ashamed of their nation’s past do great things in its future? Or is a deep-seated national guilt, such as that which afflicts many Germans today, a permanent incapacitating feature of a nation’s existence?”
To address Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell—who “wondered if Spain should seek an apology from France for the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and crimes committed by the armies of Napoleon…?”—I note with interest that after World War II, Germany actually did apologize for their crimes, while Japan did not.
And, other than having some real issues currently with immigration, Germany, as a whole, doesn’t seem to be doing too badly, do they? Perhaps this kind of thing is worth thinking seriously about….
Speaking of Germany, in his scholarly book about racism in antiquity, Benjamin Isaac also talks about the desires of powerful empires to subjugate others.
I know you are probably thinking about Hitler right now (probably not Merkel and Germany’s leadership role in the E.U.), but that is actually not where I am going with this. Hold on…
In Isaac’s book, he looks into the matter of empire and race in no little depth, speaking of what we learn from the works of men like the Roman senator and historian Cornelius Tacitus:
The Roman views—and especially those of Tacitus—on the Germans are probably the best example to be found anywhere in ancient literature of a full integration of proto-racist stereotypes and imperialist ideology. To conquer and rule them was not only the ultimate test of a warrior-empire, it was also a necessity for its long-term survival. As long as the Germans would remain independent and maintain their pure lineage—as emphasized by Tacitus—they would preserve their strength. Their subjugation and Romanization would corrupt them and remove the threat they represented. Romanization represented a successful process of ethnic decomposition and imperial integration, necessary for the establishment and maintenance of full control. Where this failed, the empire was under threat. There is a continuous preoccupation with the decline of Empire in antiquity. When Gibbon chose the title of his great work, this entirely reflected ancient views of history (515, bold mine).
At the same time, not everyone in Rome shared Tacitus’ view about how to run an Empire vis a vis those whom it would conquer. In fact, in Tacitus’ own writings, (Annals 11.24.1, from the 1st and 2nd century A.D.) we hear about how the emperor Claudius had a different view than his own. Claudius, he says, believed Rome should allow men from Gallia Comata to attain public office and hence membership in the Senate, and hence said the following:
“The oldest of my ancestors, Claudius, was originally a Sabine. He was adopted at the same time into the Roman state and into the patrician class. These ancestors encourage me to follow similar ideas in governing the Republic, by relocating here anything of excellence. You are not, of course, ignorant of the fact that the family of the Julii come from Alba, the Coruncanii, from Camerium, the Porcii, from Tusculum, and—to pass over ancient history—men have been accepted into the senate from Etruria, Lucania, and the whole of Italy. Then, the very expansion of the state to the Alps united not just individual men but whole lands and tribes under our name. There was a firm peace at home and our influence abroad was strong at the time when the people living beyond the Po were given citizenship, when we accepted the strongest provincials to support our weak empire under the pretext of spreading our legions over the world. Are we truly sorry that the Balbi have come to us come from Spain? That no less remarkable men have come from Gallia Narbonensis? Their descendants are still with us and their love of our country is no less than ours” (bold mine).
In other words, Claudius is all about, at least rhetorically, promoting multiculturalism/diversity and the sharing of power in the Roman Empire.
Now, this might seem like par for the course for us today, but I note that, per scholars like Isaac and Denise Eileen McCoskey, it has not always been this way… In fact, Isaac notes that this kind of thinking was extremely uncommon in ancient Greece and Rome, which tended to distrust foreigners.
In short, they simply did not believe that diversity or multiculturalism was a benefit to the empire. Given the sampling of documents that have come down to us intact today, they rather believed such things led to “degeneracy” (even as, in the Roman mind, “peoples who are entirely cut off from the rest of the world [also] have no merit ). For the Romans, it was possible for a people to regress though contact (contamination!) with outsiders but not progress – and, hence, fear of the foreigner at times actually put the brakes on imperial ambition.
Issac goes on:
At the root of these fears was, first, the idea, familiar throughout antiquity, that traveling and contact with foreigners are bad because they impair the traditional integrity of a people. Second, it was thought that a change of environment can only lead to deterioration and never to improvement. Third, there is the elementary absence of a belief in progress. Change can only be for the worse. Fourth, and connected with the third concept, we have seen that, ever since the second century b.c., Rome was preoccupied with the decline of her Empire, a process considered inevitable by many Romans. Loss of masculinity, integrity, and patriotism, factors just listed, was frequently thought to be the main cause. Thus the expansion of empire carries with it the cause of its destruction. An interesting connection between Roman stereotypes of other peoples and the self-perception of the Romans as conquerors can be discerned.
These attitudes often go far in their imperialist hostility. There are elements for which there is no parallel in modern or early modern thinking, such as the almost total absence of any belief in long-term progress….(510, bold mine)
At this point Isaac, writing in his book from 15 years ago, goes on to say something extremely interesting, and something which begins to bring us back around to this article’s main point:
…Furthermore, the deepseated mistrust of communication and contact between peoples is not common in modern western culture, nor do we encounter in the history of European colonialism anything like the Roman fear of corruption of the colonial armies by natives. In modern times, disapproval of individuals “who went native” was censure of an individual form of presumed degeneration, which could be avoided and was not regarded as a serious large-scale threat. On the whole the European colonial powers were confident of the superiority of their own Christian faith and they felt comfortable ruling masses of Moslem, Hindu, or Buddhist subjects without Old Cato’s fear that these religions, or the native cultures in their colonies, would prove stronger than their own cultures. Such fears have increased in recent times. As I write these lines, parties in western Europe are in the ascendance which warn of the dangers supposedly posed to western cultural, moral, and social identity, by immigrants who do not identify with and accept the existing values. (510, bold mine)
On the one hand, I find it interesting that Isaac attributes Western colonialism’s relative success to its confidence in its own culture, and particularly its confidence in its Christian faith. There are few these days, after all, who would find any confidence from such a thing. On the other hand, I find what he says to be somewhat mistaken. The reason for this is that my every impression is that colonialism, whatever positive benefits may have come out of it, was, according to Christ’s teachings, a deeply misguided process.
After all, colonialism is fundamentally selfish and related to theft. It is like going into the home of another person and setting up shop. It’s offensive. Like the proverb says, “when in Rome you should do as the Romans do” and show respect. In fact, I think the only good kind of colonization is the Kingdom of heaven advancing! And Christians should adopt other cultures insofar as they are able to do so without sin.
Especially if you are going to live in another country, you should do everything you can, without sin, to become like them. If you are going to live there for an extended period of time, you should expect to be willing to fight in their military and die. Anything less on your part demonstrates a lack of respect and love.
This is not like a marriage, where a man marries a woman and should expect to adjust his way of life to be a married man but to nevertheless act like headship is a real thing. It is a matter of showing proper honor to a people and their home. If Christians can’t get this, no one will.
I realize some will point out that the colonial project was more complicated than this,[i] but I will still maintain that it was evil and wrong, whatever benefits it brought. At the same time, one is not wrong to insist that those who took part in it, being as influenced as they were by Christianity (I am sure that some involved in all of this were Christians and that others were not), had, for the most part, very different attitudes about and towards the people they ruled than those in Rome… There was no doubt a lot of horrific sin there, but nothing, I think, like that found in the ancient world. Why do I say that? Because of simple little paragraphs like this found in the midst of Isaac’s massive book:
The last section of chapter 2 [sic] discusses large-scale killings and genocide. Although these happened not infrequently, it is clear that there was no accompanying proto-racist justification. It appears the perpetrators of such deeds felt no need to justify their actions (250)
More on that:
It should not surprise us that a society which developed the amphitheatre as a form of entertainment should also enjoy graphic descriptions of slaughter in war and, more important, have armies willing to engage in them. Polybius may, of course, be right in his belief that it had a function. This is made probable by the combination of uninhibited violence with discipline: first systematic slaughter without robbery, then, upon a signal, systematic pillage. It is also quite likely that causing terror was the intention and the actual result. Furthermore, to return to the previous topic, there was no emotional need for the Romans to declare their victims animals or inferior humans. None of our sources express a need to justify such acts, unlike the alleged behavior by rebels described above. Unlike genocide, cannibalism is not permitted whatever the circumstances.
It is therefore a common accusation directed at the enemy. It is important to note that large-scale massacres were not really a moral issue. One commander was more interested in killing than another was, but it was quite possible for a commander to be a gentle philosopher and also to exterminate entire peoples, as we hear in the case of Marcus Aurelius… (222)
This, along with things like slavery, may well have been a trans-cultural and trans historical phenomenon prior to “the light shining in the darkness” and the coming of faith (see John 1 and Gal. 3 here), but try getting away with that now in a land heavily influenced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.[ii]
You can’t — at least not for long in historical terms. Even hard right Christian men like Buchanan will call you out. And here, reflecting on this, saying “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue” is not enough.
We also need to say this:
Rationalization is also the homage that lawlessness pays to the law of God.
For those who do not believe, all they can do in the face of the evil that Christians among them will inevitably call out is to pretend there is a non-material force, being, thing, or entity which is a) not the God of the Scriptures, b) that is sufficiently good and strong enough to dissuade particular human beings who have the power to impose their evil wills on other human beings.
Isaac offers no help here. At the end of his book, all he has, in effect, are damning words of truth:
“This study therefore is an attempt to give the Greeks and Romans their due: if they have given us, through their literature, many of the ideas of freedom, democracy, philosophy, novel artistic concepts and so much else that we regard as essential in our culture, it should be recognized that the same literature also transmitted some of the elementary concepts of discrimination and inequality that are still with us. It is possible also that in considering these phenomena in their early shape, we may gain a better understanding of their contemporary forms” (516).
The Bible, on the other hand, is different, as great men in history like William Wilberforce could surely tell us. As we read in Acts 17, we are all one in Adam, all God’s offspring (also see the glorious picture in Rev. 7!):
And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’
It is indeed a cruel world out there, but Jesus changes everything. As such, we can…
- Contra the currents of the ancient world, realistically seek some progress among the races.[iii]
- Without any shame, marry one another, even joining one community with another and extending our bonds of family and friendship.[iv]
- Insist that no person or group, by nature, is “born to be a slave” and deserves to be oppressed because of this.[v]
- Even welcome the foreigner without any fear (!) — while yet insisting on the goodness of assimilation without wider imperial designs.
- And… because of Christ, we can utterly condemn all wars of offense, especially wars waged where the main goal is perhaps to enslave and subjugate peoples.[vi]
Oh yes – and getting back to the title of this article?
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador might well mean an apology from Spain for evil – in that it will make them weak – but God can use it for good, as a golden opportunity for national repentance and a turn once again to Jesus Christ!
After all, if you think an apology like this is realistic, you must also be saying that you want a Christian people!
In the end, a people will only stand before God – and stand tall before all people, including one’s enemies – in Him. When the Psalmist writes to rulers of the nations, “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,” that exhortation still stands today. For there is still indeed the “hope that [the nations] might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…” (Acts 17).
So, you kings and peoples, just apologize… turn towards Christ, and stand strong.
And to do that, consider listening to people like Matthew Cochran as he speaks of nations living in a way that accords with God’s designs….
Images: All non-book images are from Wikipedia.
[i] A smart friend, who is a linguist and pastor, says makes a distinction between imperialism and colonialism and says the latter was actually all about Western nations letting capitalistic, perhaps even “proto-globalist” impulses running wild:
“Putting aside later justifications for colonialism, such as the civilizing of barbarians etc, and putting aside the ‘colonialism’ of Spain and Portugal, which were almost entirely extractive in nature, and thus more imperialistic than colonial, properly speaking, the ‘advantage’ of colonialism was that it, in essence, established puppet governments, run by one’s own people, with which the mother government could conduct trade. It was an early way of creating a ‘trade block’ when, in general, imports and exports were, as a rule, heavily taxed by all nations. If one wanted ‘free trade’ one needed to actually secure the territory with which one wanted to trade through the formation of a colony.
There is no denying that there is a large economic benefit to free trade, and so, in an age of tariffs and imports, colonies were a good way to establish ‘free trade’.
An economic problem with free trade is that it benefits both parties involved in the trade. However, if one is not fond of one’s neighbors, you are not thrilled that trade with them is also helping them while it helps you. But colonialism also helps solve this problem, because if you only really trade with your own colonies, you are never trading with your rivals, so the parties that benefit are merely ‘the mother nation’ and ‘the colony of the mother nation’.
These things become obsolete when free trade as a policy becomes, to varying degrees, adopted by most nations, and the ‘defense’ risk of trading with other nations dissipates when those nations are your allies.
For example, it was a national security risk for Britain to trade with France, as they were rivals. It was therefore safer for Britain to buy textiles from the Northern American colonies than from the textile factories of Lile. Now, however, Britain and France are allies, so trade between the two not only makes them economically richer, but geostrategically more powerful, as they act as a single military unit due to their various alliances since 1900.”
[ii] People in west felt like they needed to rationalize their slavery also…they had no choice because while the bible does not condemn slavery it also does condemn man-stealing, even calling for the death penalty here, and the Old Testament law also required that Israelites free fellow Israelites after seven years. Katharine Gerbner, in her recent book Christian Slavery, argues that slavery developed in the peculiar way it did in the United States (race-based emphasis) because, it seems, people did know their Bibles… and didn’t like what they heard. What if all my slaves convert and thereby become my brothers? Or at least the missionaries in this Christian culture I am living in are telling them I need to treat them like my brothers? (again, on the basis of what the Bible says about how believers are to treat, and eventually free, their believing slaves)… Since I can’t say they can be my slaves now because they are unbelievers, I need another reason… Race, and the notion that some persons are “born to be slaves,” as Isaac points out. She summarizes her key arguments from her book in the following podcast: http://www.jude3project.com/podcast/christianslavery?rq=slavery and here is a helpful book review: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/christian-slavery/
[iii] Again, not in the ancient world, says Isaac:
“At another level, the third and last section of chapter 3 considers ancient doubts about the desirability of contact with foreigners. Fear of strangers and their ideas, corresponding fantasies about a golden past in which there was no need to travel elsewhere and no foreigners disturbed peace at home, are frequently encountered in Greek and Latin literature. There is a connection with the view, discussed in the first chapter, that pure lineage is better than mixed ancestry. So it is frequently asserted in ancient Greek literature that any contact with other peoples, seafaring, trade and commerce, not only endangers safety, but may also have social results: moral decline through the influence of foreign languages, customs, and trade is to be expected” (250).
“The idea of pure versus mixed lineage proves to be one of essential importance to many peoples of all periods. Indeed, the idea that there is a permanent connection between race and soil is a concept revived with vigor in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries… The Romans did not claim pure lineage, let alone autochthony, for themselves, yet regarded the descent of other peoples as important. They shared with many others the assumption that mixed descent is a form of corruption and results in human beings of inferior quality.” (504). “There is a firm conviction, encountered in numerous texts, that mixing leads to degeneration. The idea is not so much that purity of lineage will lead to improvement; the reverse is true: any form of mixture will result in something worse” (514).
“Most Greek and Roman authors did not feel an urgent need to justify and rationalize slavery in the manner in which Aristotle attempted to do this. Slavery was a fact of life and not a topic for active contemplation and discussion. Yet the theory was known among intellectuals and there were elements of it…
The idea, however, that long-term imperial rule reduces peoples virtually to a condition of natural slavery was very influential. Thus, paradoxically, what is seen in our days as a remarkable success of the Roman Empire, namely its
integration of subject peoples, is represented by at least some of the important Roman authors as a process which reduces those peoples from fierce and free humans to degenerate slaves. Since the common assumption is that this is an irreversible process, we end up with the image of something rather akin to Aristotle’s natural slaves….” (249).
[vi] It should be clear that Christians do not have “a green light” to bear the sword in God’s name, as some did in the new world vs. the indian tribes. That said, it is indeed a time of war for us, whether we realize it or not, but it is a spiritual war – and our weapons must likewise be spiritual – not fleshly (Eph. 6:10ff. also see John 18:36; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Isa. 42:2-3). There are some judgments that only God is meant to administer.
“Thus this proto-racist ideology [we see in Rome] serves to justify wars of conquest. This does not mean it causes such wars, but it helps in justifying them” (506). More: “Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery influenced later writers. Several accept the natural inferiority of some peoples as a given fact and posit that this justifies their subjugation and enslavement. This was a matter of both inevitability and justice. Moreover, both sides profited from the relationship. In this form it recurs in Cicero’s de Republica. Relevant passages, however, have been preserved only indirectly, through quotations in Augustine’s City of God, where arguments are cited in favor of the justice of slavery and imperialism. The foundation for this is that some peoples are by nature suitable to be subject to others” (183)…
“From this it follows that even warfare is by nature a form of acquisition—for the art of hunting is part of it— Aristotle thus asserts that among the barbarians there are only two categories of human beings: male slaves and female slaves. Among them there are no masters by nature such as we find among the Greeks. Following his grand theory he immediately draws the conclusion that the barbarians should be slaves of the Greek (men) who have a category of masters among them. So far he has not stated whether there are any natural slaves among the Greeks, but it is clear that among the barbarians there are only slaves. Later in the work he says so explicitly again: “the uncivilized peoples are more servile in character than Greeks (as the peoples of Asia, in turn, are more servile than those of Europe); and they will therefore tolerate despotic rule without any complaint.” These are ideas that we saw in chapter 1: they first appear in explicit form in the treatise Airs, Waters, Places which is undated, but certainly belongs to the fifth century” (177, 178).