Heresies in the Mirror: The Genesis of Globalism

Men, bound by ties of blood and marriage, are by nature limited in their moral and political horizons.  Just as healthy children assume their family home is the center of the world, which is limited largely to their own neighborhood and perhaps, as they grow older, to their town and region, so healthy societies  begin as parochial bands of local chauvinists and gradually spread to accord human status to neighbors and even enemies .  When Aristotle declared that men were born for citizenship, he meant, among other things, that the small polities of Greek cities constituted a natural order.  

It had taken the Greeks centuries to agree on a common name for the different dialects, ethnicities, tribes, and cities they belonged to:  They were Hellenes.  As time went on, Dorian Greeks adopted the largely Ionian Homeric Iliad and Odyssey as their scriptures, while Ionians adopted a literary form of Doric Greek for choral lyric poetry.  The great games—Olymmpic, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean games—and the pan-Hellenic shrines at Delphi, Olympia, Dodona, Delos, etc.—further strengthened their common identity and enabled Dorian Sparta and Ionian Athens to lead the alliance against Persia in 480.  There were even a few faltering steps taken toward confederation:  the Delphic amphictyony that looked after the shrine of Apollo, and the league of mostly minor towns in Achaea.

In the fifth century, a Greek poet from Boeotian Thebes (Pindar) could travel to Dorian Syracuse and Agrigento and Ionian Athens and win plaudits, and the Athenian Aeschylus spent so much time in Dorian Syracuse that he died in Sicily.  Herodotus, among the most generous-minded of Greek writers, could appreciate the virtues of Persians and Egyptians but never lost sight of the superiority of the Greeks, of whatever dialect or ethnicity. 

Despite this developing sense of unity, the history of archaic and classical Greek cities is one of intense local chauvinism and conflict, which often ran along lines of ethnicity and dialect:  When Ionian Athens, late in the Peloponnesian War, decided to attack Syracuse, the cities of Sicilian Greek lined up for the most part along ethnic lines, Ionian cities backing Athens and the Dorian cities backing Syracuse.

Since Greek cities, like the quarrelsome Jewish tribes, could not get along with each other, they were hardly likely to conceive of a world without borders or distinctions.  Plato might be said to have taken steps in that direction, but Aristotle, his greatest student, was an Hellenic patriot and a firm believer in the autonomy of cities.  He is said to hav advised Alexander to treat barbarians (namely Persians and other Orientals) as slaves and Greeks as free men, though Alexander and his successors in the East found it impossible to establish stable kingdoms without granting rights and privileges to non-Greeks.  Intellectually, the great leap into world-consciousness was made by a Hellenized Phoenician from Cyprus, Zeno, the founder of Stoicism.

Zeno was an eclectic forager, borrowing from Plato, the Skeptics, and Aristotle to produce a synthesis, which, as Cicero shrewdly observed, owed its success less to the originality of its thought as in the packaging:  Stoics wore a mantel of extreme and rigid virtue and employed a technical vocabulary that baffled non-philosophers.  Nonetheless, they contributed a great deal to logic and ethics and exercised great influence.

Zeno and his successors developed Aristotle’s concept of natural justice and handed it on to Cicero.  They also counseled   indifference to the duties and pleasures of ordinary life and cultivated abstinence from pleasure and the  ability to endure pain.  Why, asked one Stoic, should a man mourn the death of his own wife more than he would mourn the death of another’s?  

Stoicism, until the Romans learned to modify it, taught moral absolutism. A man was either totally wise, or else a fool.  As a means of humbling ourselves and practicing discipline, it is good to remind ourselves of our limitations, but philosophers—ever prone to arrogance—more likely to use absolutism as a tool to elevate selves above the rest of humanity.  

If family ties and local patriotism mean little, then the Stoic should regard all men as his fellow-citizens.  He should be a cosmopolites—a citizen of the world.  Like most of the harsher teachings of the Stoics, cosmopolitanism is easier to mouth than to practice.  So austere a Stoic as Cato the younger was able to hand off his wife to a friend, but he could not cease to be a Roman patriot who preferred death to living under a dictator who, among other sins, cultivated the friendship of foreigners.

Early Christian ethics owes a great deal to Stoicism, though the brotherhood taught by Jesus had nothing to do with politics:  It was a strictly ethical and spiritual bond among people who had received the faith.  The early Church was plagued by dissensions between Jewish and Gentile converts, and the Apostle to the Gentiles had to spend a great deal of time instructing Jewish Christians that their old ritual observances, kosher laws, and superstitions would avail them nothing.  However, neither Christ nor any of his disciples ever preached against the rights of nations and empires to defend their borders or their interests.  Indeed, at his trial, Jesus told Pilate explicitly that the power he had—which included the power he was about to exercise in executing the Christ—was a gift from God.  Fifteen centuries later, unChristian sophists conflated Christian brotherhood with Stoic Cosmopolitanism and spiced it with the developing hatred of Christendom that emerged in the 16th century in order to bring forth an ideology—it was certainly no philosophy—that minimized or even denied differences of race, ethnicity, and religion.  This was the birth of the universalist dream.

More to come 

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

12 Responses

  1. James D. says:

    Dr. Fleming,

    Is the Russian criticism of Jews as “rootless cosmopolites” founded in the Jews’ view of themselves as “citizens of the world” with a duty to “heal the world?” Are these Jewish beliefs founded in Stoicism? Or perhaps re-founded by Stoicism in light of the coming of Jesus?

    Also, despite their current degraded nature and many faults, are Fraternities and Sororities under attack, at least in part, due to their Greek foundations, and essential Western heritage?

  2. Thomas Fleming says:

    I can’t speak to the origin of the criticism you refer to, but generally speaking, the ancient criticism–repeated into recent times–was that Jewish people are too parochial, not too universal, that as a peculiar and chosen people, they have–as Greeks and Romans complained–a two-tiered moral system that required better treatment for Jews than for Gentiles. True or false, this belief underlies the statements that Jews (and therefore Christians) were misanthropists. There was at least some truth in this, as regards more chauvinistic Jews and narrow-minded Christians. Interestingly, it is an attitude condemned by the Apostles, Peter in particular, who insisted that Christians would be best served by setting a good example to the gentiles, and various early Fathers declare that Christians are not eccentric and obey laws, pay taxes, serve in the army just like their pagan neighbors.

    There are many reasons to attack the “Greek System.” First off, it was a bastion of privilege for the middling and upper classes. Secondly, few of htem admitted either Blacks or Jews. Third, until recently, fraternities and sororities were havens of normality in the freakish atmosphere that has been suffocating campuses at least since WW II and probably before. I say this as someone who found fraternities funny and would never have dreamed of joining one, but I remember fondly all the parties I went to with friends who were “brothers”.

  3. James D. says:

    By “citizen of the world” I meant that they are, rightly or wrongly, accused of not being good citizens of whatever nation in which they reside, often undermining the native culture, etc. Their tribal, religious or cultural affinities supersede their duties to whatever nation has taken them in. I think that is the root of Russian term and understanding.

  4. Thomas Fleming says:

    Yes, I understand that, but it is possible to be a bad citizen of France without being necessarily a citizen of the world, and, conversely, it is possible to regard one’s self as a citizen of the world without necessarily being a bad Frenchman. The “rootless cosmopolites” of legend are, after all, Marxists and other leftists, ex-Christian as well as Jewish, who embraced a universalist ideology, whether out of idealism or out of hatred for the countries in which they lived–I think hatred, by the way, is the more dominant element in the mix. That ideology, though brought to a point by Marx, had been developed by postChristian intellectuals. By the way, the one Russian most accused of this sort of anti-Semitism is Igor Shafarevich. The CIA made a translation of his work, Russophobia, which I read carefully. While he singles out the Jews for blame, he does in fact lump them in with Gentile Liberals and Leftists. When I dined with him in Moscow, I tried to tease him into expressing the irrational prejudices the US govt accused him of. I got nowhere. His anti-semitism, so far as I could tell from one dinner, several letter exchanges, and a reading of some of his work, consisted entirely of his Christian faith.

  5. James D. says:

    Thank you. That is very interesting. I have noticed that many of the harshest critics of Jews who operate in this manner are other Jews who do not want to be unfairly lumped in with the disloyal element and/or recognize that this behavior will bring more pressure, derision, etc. to bear on their people. Though, as far as I can tell, the members of the loyal element tend to have the smaller bank accounts.

  6. Thomas Fleming says:

    Recall our Lord’s exclamation on seeing such a person: “An Israelite without guile!” They do exist and are usually rather nice people in addition to being good. I can name a fair number of Jewish writers, who, when the word went out that I was to be destroyed, either defended me, as Rabbi Neusner did, or called to me reassure me that in a battle between allies, they would remain neutral. Murray Rothbard, for all his eccentricities and quarrels, was a steadfast friend–unlike too many of his gentile followers.

    A little story. I was once asked by a rich coin dealer–let’s call him Danny–to start and produce a newsletter on racial conflict in America. It was a very part time job for $5000 per month plus research expenses. I called Danny’s friend, let’s call him Burt. Burt’s first reaction was to say, “Danny’s a Jew and a half.” After a fit of laughing, I asked if I could trust the guy. Burt replied, “Never trust a libertarian, never trust a coin dealer, never trust a Jew.” “But Burt,” I exclaimed, “You’re all three–a Jewish libertarian coin dealer.” To which he replied, “Tom, when did I ever ask you to trust me?” As I already knew, it is exactly those people who do not boast of their loyal who turn out to be loyal.

  7. Robert Reavis says:

    John Connelly died and may our merciful God grant him rest and peace.
    I often enjoyed his stories over lunch during summer schools about growing up and living in New York City when it was parochial instead of global. Also his straw hat which protected his head from the Rockford heat and his pall-mall filterless cigarettes which always accompanied his delightful conversation. They were gentlemen then and fully alive with praise.

  8. Thomas Fleming says:

    Robert, I just got a note from Chris Check, who got it from his brother Fr. Paul Check. As I observed to Chris, John was a man whose outer graces–his careful dress, his courteous manners, his cheerful demeanor–were an indication of an inner decency and charity. It was a comfort to be with him when he was silent, and a real pleasure to hear him speak. He came to many Summer programs over the years, and he will be missed by all who knew him.

  9. Raymond Olson says:

    Indeed, I shall miss Mr.Connelly, whom I recall as you do, Robert and Tom. What a gift it was–reliably–to be with him at table and during discussions formal and casual.

  10. Thomas Fleming says:

    Perhaps we should insist that the men attending the summer school all wear a seersucker jacket and a panama hat. And let’s not forget the cigarettes we used to call Pall Mells when I was going to school.

  11. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Oh dear, I shall miss John. What a delightful man. He was a real raconteur, especially on the subject of his many years teaching at a NY Catholic high school, where he was apparently the only devout Catholic on the staff. Imagine! I will recall from last summer his evocation of Old New York, when he was 10 and it was safe enough for him and a friend to take the subway up to the Polo Grounds to see the football Giants play. And I am certain the list of books he expected his class to read would have met with the approval of our Louisiana headmaster Robert Peters.

  12. Robert Geraci says:

    This is such sad news. I attended my first summer school in 2011 and for various reasons was apprehensive and certainly did not know what to expect. Following instructions by Chris Check, I made my way to the Van Galder bus terminal at O’Hare. Sitting there was a gentleman in a seersucker jacket and panama hat. I just knew immediately that he would also be attending the summer school and I said hello and enjoyed a marvelous conversation en route. Yes, Tom, a dress code and manners shown by Mr. Connelly demonstrate perfectly the message running between the lines for each of the programs regardless of the specific subject matter. John will surely be missed by all of us.