Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Nation-State and the Common Good

Via Verbum Ipsum, we find the essay Killing for the Telephone Company: Why the Nation-State is not the Keeper of the Common Good,(PDF Format) in which William T. Cavanaugh makes a very contrarian argument. He holds that the nation-state never claimed to look after the common good, that "society," in its unitary sense, is actually a creation of the modern nation-state, and, echoing Simon Schama, claims that a potent state is the enemy of vibrant communities.

A few quotations:
"Globalization is, in part, the hyperextension of the triumph of the universal over the local on which the nation-state is founded."

"The nation-state may be understood theologically as a kind of parody of the Church, meant to save us from division."

He also has a revealing quotation from a political scientist named Michael Budde, on his encounter with the ecclessial bureaucracy:
Once upon a time, I was hired as a consultant for a public-policy arm of a state-level Catholic bishops’ conference. The bishops, according to the institution’s staff people, wanted to engage in rededicated efforts to confront the realities of poverty in their state.
What the church bureaucracy had in mind was something on the order of a new lobbying initiative in the state legislature or perhaps an expert conference on poverty in the state.
I told them that they should attempt to take every Catholic in their state on an intensive retreat, with follow-up programs upon their return. Nothing the Church could do would benefit poor people more, I argued, than to energize, inspire, and ignite the passion of larger numbers of the faithful. Without attempts to “convert the baptized,” in William O’Malley’s phrase, the stranglehold of self-interest, isolation, and religious indifference would continue to throttle the church’s attempts to deal seriously with poverty in a global capitalist order.
My advice, to put it gently, was unappreciated. I was fired. They had an experts conference. As far as I can tell, poverty in their state remained indifferent to their efforts.

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