During Providence’s Christianity and National Security Conference, Paul D. Miller spoke about nationalism, internationalism, and the liberal order. He reviewed how American identity can be defined through either a creedal or cultural lens. The following is a transcript of the lecture.

Thank you for that introduction, and um, Travis ended by talking about how useful it would be for us to recognize what we have to offer the world, to embrace our founding ideals, and to recognize the implications they have around the world. And what a great segue. That’s largely what I’ll talk to you about right now is the implications of American identity for our foreign policy and different ways of conceiving of American identity and the implications of those different views. 

“America is winning it. America is respected because we are putting America first. We’re taking care of ourselves for a change, folks. You know, they have a word. It sort of became old fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say really? Okay, we’re not supposed to use that word. But you know what I am? I’m a nationalist. I’m a nationalist.” That’s President Donald Trump at a rally in Houston one year ago in October of 2018 invoking nationalism as his preferred political organization, his “ism,” his political theology. 

Trump was appealing to one way of thinking about motivation and thus American identity. Nationalists believe that humanity was divided into mutually distinct, internally coherent groups defined by shared traits. Traits like language, religion, or culture. And that these groups should each have their own government. Is this a good way of thinking about human political life? Is this a good way of defining America? And, is this a good foundation for foreign policy? Is there an alternative? 

Well I think that there is an alternative. And what I want to do today is contrast two different ways of defining American identity, and then teasing out the implications of those two different ways for our foreign policy in the world. We could define American identity credaly, or culturally. Credaly or culturally. In the credal or civic definition of American identity, we think of America as a nation defined by decree, by the principles of the Constitution, of the Declaration of Independence, the ideas of 18th Century classical liberalism, as some of our speakers have talked about today. This is what Lincoln meant, I think, when he talked about America as a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

By contrast the cultural definition, or the nationalist definition of American identity understands our nation defined not primarily be ideals but by a shared heritage. Sometimes it’s left vague what that heritage is, but recently I’ve noticed a lot of nationalists growing more specific and more explicit what that shared heritage is. They label it Anglo- classicism, our shared heritage of Anglo-classicism. Sort of a Maureen Evolvi… I mean, no, no not Evolvi… uh, Garanzini and others have made this more clear.  

And, uh, right away you might be thinking well these two definitions are actually the same because you might respond and say well Paul, the ideals of the American experiment grew out of our shared Anglo-Protestant heritage. The ideas are the fruit of the heritage. And so in fact, these two conceptions of America today are really the same thing. If we want to keep the one, don’t we have to keep the other? Isn’t there at the end of the day no real difference between these two ideas? 

Well I want to respond quick and say actually, that’s precisely what the nationalists want you to believe. They want you to believe that there’s a necessary connection between Anglo-Protestantism and the ideas of liberal democracy. They believe that our cultural heritage is the necessary precondition for the survival of the American experiment, and they argue that to separate the Creed from the culture is to misunderstand both. I disagree and I once argued that there really are two rival versions of American identity that have real different implications for how we think about public life and America’s role in the world.  

So briefly, I want to demonstrate that by highlighting a few different areas of the public life where the difference is very clear. Second, I want to um, describe the difference in more abstract, theoretical terms for those of us in the room. And third, I want to defend the justice of internationalism, and fourth conclude with a critique or a review of nationalism.  

So where do we see the difference between the credal and the cultural understandings of American identity? First let’s think about immigration. Credalists would argue that we can restrict immigration as an… as needed for national security reasons, perhaps economic policy. But a credalist would look at the cultural diversity that immigration brings and celebrate it; think that it’s an asset, not a liability. By contrast, when nationalists look at immigration, and say often that we should restrict immigration to preserve our democratic or our cultural identity. We should give priority to immigrants who are predisposed to accept our ideals and our way of life. Usually understood to mean fellow Christians or Europeans. It’s a difference in how we look at immigration. 

A second area is in morality legislation. Okay, how many of you followed the French d’mar debate during the summertime? This is what I’m talking about. Credalists, like the French, argue that we of course can pass laws to uphold public order and public decency, but the government should otherwise sustain viewpoint neutrality and not privilege one religion or culture or theology over the other. Credalists are far more hesitant to use the power of the State to kind of put its finger on the scales and pick winners and losers culturally. We should not ban or limit the activities of a group just because we find their views objectionable. That’s how you get drag queen story hour in public libraries. 

Nationalists, Wexler Amaury, argue that we should pass laws to privilege or protect Anglo-Protestant, or Western, or European cultural norms and standards of morality because, they say, America is and should remain a “Christian nation” whose standards of public morality are explicitly derived from our shared Judeo-Christian ethic. And so we should, they say, we should use the power of the government to privilege our values, our way of life.  

The third area I want to highlight where the divergence has been seen very clearly, and most relevant to this conference, is in foreign policy and America’s role in the world. Credalists understand that the United States is an exemplar of liberty, a city on a hill for all the world to see. And we understand that when other countries follow our example, well we celebrate. That’s a good thing. And we would say that it’s possible in principle for the ideals of classical liberalism to be adapted around the world because the ideals aren’t ours. We didn’t invent them. They rather are, in principle, utilizable and other countries of the world can adapt them as they see fit. That’s a good thing.  

When we do so, we recognize that the spread of our ideals, the spread of liberal ideals is an asset to American national security. We can trust other like-minded states. We can cooperate with other like-minded states. We can form alliances with them. We can trade with them, cooperate with them. Relations with other democratic states are a positive sum. It’s a win-win situation when we have a disagreement with that, we can find a solution that usually benefits us both. That’s the great thing about the free world order, that liberal international order. It is a system that works for everyone involved who finds itself to be a stakeholder in this system. 

Credalists recognize that authoritarian powers… This is not the case with them. While authoritarian powers can sometimes be partners of convenience, as was the case with the Soviet Union in World War II, or we’re pressed today, unfortunately, with Saudi Arabia, we also recognize that over the long-term, authoritarian powers are all certainly going to be rivals if not enemies because they envision a different world than we do. They envision a different world than we do.  

And so ideological similarity is a very convenient marker for alliance and friendship. Ideological dissimilarity is a convenient marker for rivalry at least, if not enmity and hostility at worst. And so we can map the world that way. 

Nationalists have a very different way of looking at the world. Nationalists espouse the doctrine of “America first.” Nationalists believe that because they think that the American ideals are a powerful organic outgrowth of our particular cultural heritage. They’re therefore not universalizable. We cannot and should not try to foster, spread, or champion such ideas around the world. If other countries find their way to democracy, good for them. But it’s kind of not our business. President Trump said very clearly on the campaign trail in 2016, our foreign policy began to go wrong when we tried to foster democracy in countries that have no appetite for it.  

It’s a nationalist belief that we have no particular interest in seeing democracy spread. We shouldn’t try to get involved because it’s generally doomed to failure. And we should engage with other nations, both democracies and the authoritarian missions, to engage in a zero-sum competition for prestige, power, and wealth. That’s what international politics looks like to a nationalist. Nationalists are suspicious of, distrustful of, cooperation, alliances, and international organizations, which they denigrate as, say it with me, “lowness.” “Lowness.” 

So these are the three areas where I think we see the difference very clearly between these two, right, conceptions of American identity. You define America as the creed, things look one way. Immigration looks one way, foreign policy is one way… And if you define America culturally, primarily by, right, those Anglo-Protestant values, it looks very different. Let me try to describe the difference more abstractly for anybody interested in political theory. We see that these two visions of the American identity by radical differentiation in public life.  

 Credal patriotism is primarily affection for our homes, loyalty to our neighbors in the American context, dedication to American ideals. America is defined by those ideals of liberty, as reflected in the Constitution and the Declaration. These ideals are, we think, universal, but America is the story of living these ideals out in this manner and striving towards that goal to be evermore to perfect this union evermore, and to live up to these ideals better and better as the years go by. We love our country, we cultivate the best of our history, and we strive to embody our ideals in the future.  

Nationalism is different than that. I want to really belabor this point because oftentimes nationalists will try to say that they advance nothing more than love of country. Well, love of country is just what I said. It’s patriotism. Nationalism as a theory depends upon a whole lot of other ideals. Nationalism is a fairly complex theory about human life, as best organized. It asserts that there are these things called “nations.” These nations are not simply territories under calm rule, but that they are groups of people defined by a common trait: language, religion, cultural heritage. Nationalism is the belief that these cultural groups should form the basis of a political organization. Nationalism is a belief that nations and the people in them flourish best when they govern themselves without interference.  

Nationalism is the belief that national units should be the fundamental units of politicization and international relations. Nationalists believe that governments should promote and protect the nation’s unique, particular cultural identity. It actually adds a whole swath of jurisdiction to what governments are supposed to do, and that means that the government is supposed to encourage whatever traits define that nation and discourage, maybe even outlaw, traits that fall outside national interests. Nationalists believe that America is and must remain defined as a nation of predominately Anglo-Protestant culture.  

And by the way, I am trying to frame their argument in the strongest terms. There’s a weaker version of the argument that stresses ethnicity, race, we all know that the implications of that are evil. I try not to engage with that, but I try to engage with the more sophisticated argument about culture, not race.  

Now this can get confusing because there are lots of things we do to celebrate America. They can really be interpreted either way. Much of what we do to celebrate American identity is, I’d say, ambiguous on this question of credal… credal culture. Celebrating national holidays, holding days of prayer, flags and anthems, parades, monuments and memorials, national museums, historical sites and battlefields, national cemeteries, statues, unifying symbols and on and on and on. Look, I love them all because I’m a patriot and I love this country. Like Travis said when he concluded his remarks. I am proud to be an American. As Mark said, I’m a veteran of the Armed Forces, and there’s nothing wrong and everything right with celebrating our country, loving our country, and being proud of our country. All these things that I just listed off are great ways to do it. That’s why I have no objection to any of those practices on their face because they don’t require us to celebrate on version of American identity against the other version of American identity. 

I am sometimes cautious about these celebrations because of their ambiguity. They can sometimes subtly reinforce the notion that what we’re celebrating are the not ideas but the culture. That we’re not celebrating America’s aspirations but we’re celebrating Ango-Protestantism. Or they can even, these celebrations, imply that these two versions of identity are the same. What I’m going to say as a Patriot is that we can and should patriotically love our country without believing that it constitutes a nation in that thick sense. That it does not constitute any people of shared traits. Because we don’t. We are wonderfully pluralistic and diverse. 

I think we can be patriots without believing that our government, the jurisdiction of our government, necessarily should overlap perfectly with the boundary lines of an imagined cultural group. We could be patriots without believing that our government should take upon itself the responsibility of protecting and promoting and orchestrating a universal cultural template for the whole nation. I think we can be patriots without insisting that our government engage in competition, a zero-sum competition, for prestige and power with other nations in the world. And so I want to rescue this notion of patriotism from nationalism and say to you, get the permission to call yourself patriots and love this country without falling into the… the traps that I see coming with nationalism. 

So what are the implications of this for… for international affairs, for America’s foreign policy? Let me give you a few thoughts. One, I think, is the justice of internationalism as opposed to nationalism. The justice of internationalism opposed to nationalism. What do I mean by internationalism? I simply mean the international application of the American dream. If we believe that all are created equal, and if the government ought to treat us with dignity and respect, we sort of ought to apply that internationally and treat other countries, other states, and governments, the people within them, with equal dignity and respect. 

This results in what today is called the liberal international order. It is a system of ordered liberty among other nations. A system of ordered liberty among other nations. It’s a system that’s grown over four centuries to allow equal sovereignty among all the hundred and ninety five states in the world, but also has pressure points pressuring these states to protect their people, their individuals, through things like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, right? That’s what makes the order liberal, because we are trying to encourage all countries in the world to be liberal in their policies towards their own people. 

That’s why it is just. This liberal international order is now, not… I don’t think it’s intrinsically just. It is instrumentally just because it is the best mechanism that we have yet invented for the achievement of a just and lasting peace among nations of the world. That’s the suma modem. That’s the goal, is peace and justice, a lasting peace and justice among the nations in the world. And what we have built over the past, since World War II, is a mechanism for achieving the best shot we’ve got at that peace and justice than we’ve ever seen in the word.  

This liberal international order is not inconsistent with national sovereignty. It is not inconsistent with national sovereignty. Nationalists like President Trump regularly say that he wants to reinforce national sovereignty over against the globalists who want to do away with it. I think that’s a false dichotomy, holding up national sovereignty against the liberal order. That doesn’t exist. That might be a few folks out there who want to do away with sovereignty and go with world government. I don’t know. That’s not me, and it’s not the community of people who are key internationalists that I know of. The liberal international order rests upon sovereign governments and would not exist without sovereign governments. So yes, I affirm and uphold the goodness of sovereignty, understood as the responsibility of the government. 

Internationalism is in one sense the habits of goodness and neighborliness among nations. That’s all it is. It’s being a good neighbor in the neighborhood of nations. It’s having polite consideration for how our behavior affects others and it’s the mature recognition that others’ safety and prosperity matters to us. It’s that reciprocal, mutual concern within the family of nations. That’s all internationalism is. I’ve got kids age 10, 9, 6, and they’re very young and they have no conception of the consequences of their actions and they’re very selfish and they don’t understand how their behavior affects everyone else in the household they live in. They’re like roommates and they’re sloppy and they’re inefficient, right? But as they grow in maturity, we learn how to be better roommates, right? And hopefully you’re learning that in college in your dorms. I see married people out here who are good roommates with their spouses.  

And so as you mature you gain more consideration for others in your immediate household and your neighborhood. That’s maturity. Internationalism is a form of political maturity in the family of nations. America first is kind of juvenile. That’s kind of my critique here is… it is very short-sighted. It’s like… It’s like the toddler version of foreign policy. You know? Insisting upon my interests, only my interests. I’m just gonna like, look down and not look out at the neighborhood of nations and ignore how my actions affect other people. It’s very short-sighted. Liberal order…  

Internationalism recognizes that liberal order, the free world order, is the outer perimeter of American security. Liberal order is the outer perimeter of American security. Liberal order is the outer perimeter of American security. When the speaker repeats himself three times, that’s important. This was the thesis of my last book. Liberal order is also a chief engine of American prosperity and a chief tool of American influence. So it’s a good and just thing.  

Let me conclude with some thoughts on the case against nationalism. I’ve just spoken to you on my end of the virtues of internationalism and the American creed applied internationally. Let me conclude with a few thoughts on what I think are the flaws or foolishness of nationalism. I have seven or eight points against nationalism and because of time I can only assert them rather than argue for them. I look forward to debating after. 

First, nationalism is impractical. The government lacks the competence to orchestrate culture. It can barely deliver the mail. I don’t know why anyone would think that the government has a capability to sustain, create, or orchestrate a common national, cultural template for 320 million people. It just can’t.  

Second, nationalism is unnecessary. And here’s my rebuttal to the argument that says we must stay in our Anglo-Protestant culture to sustain our democratic ideals. I’m here to share the good news that the Constitution and the Declaration and the ideals of them can exist and thrive outside the culture context of Anglo-Protestantism. Anglo-Protestantism, yes, it was absolutely the originating conditions of liberal democracy in the world. That’s a true historical statement. That does not mean that Anglo-Protestantism is the necessary precondition for liberal democracy elsewhere in the world in the future. Originating preconditions and necessary preconditions are different things.  

The pristine case happened in 18th Century Britain. Yay. Does that mean that we need to export the 18th Century Britain all over the world? No. You can’t do that, and we didn’t do that. And happily, you can look around the world and see liberal democracies existing and thriving all around the world today in non-Western, non-European, non-Christian cultures and climates everywhere from Japan to India, Botswana to Kiribati, to South Korea, and I could list off three dozen other non-Western, non-Christian countries. And if your immediate response is well, yes, that’s because of Western Imperialism, the answer is no. I don’t have time to get through all of that. I’ll talk to you afterwards.  

Third, nationalism is incoherent. The definition of the “nation” keeps changing, and there is no decision principal to resolve our disputes for us of what the shared definition of nation is supposed to mean. Nationalism cannot account for cross-cutting identities. It insists that we fit out identity into one identity category, the one that they deem to be the one that’s most important. They insist that we identify with just one group when in fact all of us have multiple affinity groups. The way we combine our particular set of affinities rarely lines up with the ways others group their… group affinities. So I’m glad that I have a lot of different aspects to whom I am. And I don’t really want the government telling me which aspect of my personhood is supposed to be most politically relevant, or which one qualifies me as being a real American. I think what makes me a real American is I’m a citizen. I was born here, and I read the Constitution, and I’m loyal to it.  

So fourth, nationalism ends up being illiberal. Illiberal. Nationalists, because of an incoherence, try to resolve this dispute by fiat, basically decreeing to us what our national identity is supposed to be. That is why nationalists today are increasingly strident that America is supposed to be a country of Anglo-Protestantism, but who gave them the authority to say? Who gave them the authority to tell us who we are? In a… In a country dedicated to freedom, we ought to be free to explore, to discover, to reinvent American history and American identity. To adapt, revise, reject, and recreate our heritage and our national identity. 

And so fifth, nationalism is counterproductive. Counterproductive. When nationalists or a nationalist government try to impose a cultural template, it will inevitably produce a backlash by those who don’t belong, who are excluded, or don’t want to belong in that definition of Americanness. That’s what leads to a never-ending culture war. Culture war happens when the government decides it’s in charge of telling us what our culture is, and people have disagreements of what that culture ought to be. And so we have this never-ending culture war. There’s a reason why every culture war battle ends up being called a new form of McCarthyism. Because McCarthy was a culture warrior. He insisted we had to fit his model to be an American, and that kicked off our culture war.  

Sixth, nationalism is unjust. Orchestrating culture is simply not within the government’s jurisdiction. Full stop. 

Seventh, nationalism is therefore un-American. In a very real sense, America was not founded on a certain cultural identity. Or at the very most I could say some of them did believe America should be the home of a certain cultural type, and they’re the ones who seceded in 1861, and they were thankfully defeated on the battlefield.  

And so lastly, I’ll say nationalism is irresponsible. It is internationally irresponsible. It is a… can deteriorate into a selfish and belligerent form of international behavior on the international stage. So if I haven’t offended enough, I’m happy to take your questions. Thank you very much. 

Q&A 

Question: Hi. I’m Aida with Patrick Henry College. So I think that often for people who have grown up in a system where nationalism is seen as a positive term, it can be difficult to have a productive conversation that convinces people that the rewards of conformity to a more basic American identity that instead upholds the ideals of the Constitution, that lie sort of below that Anglo-Protestant culture that seems to be dominant at this time during American history, um, can be really difficult. So how would you go about, um, convincing somebody who’s coming from that standpoint of nationalism that what they want is conformity to American ideals over culture? 

Answer: So you’re asking me how to convince someone that we should go about defining ourselves primarily by our ideals in our culture? 

Response: Yes. 

Answer: I would encourage them to meet, and primarily to spend time with people who are different than they are who are also Americans. And that’s a great way of coming to recognize, hey look, America doesn’t depend upon being like you and I are. Talking like I do, looking like I do, or even coming from the same kind of background I do or the same Church I do. Like, it’s good to experience that difference, and that’s actually what I think grows our hearts so that we can be more culturally ecumenical. I think that was certainly true of… of my life.  

Question: Hi. Quick comment and then a question. The comment is that I find it incredibly perplexing and baffling to see conservative and traditionalist Catholics defending nationalism, which tried to stomp out the Catholic Church during most of the 19th Century on the grounds of an Anglo-Protestant identity specifically created to exclude Catholics. That being said, what’s interesting about Anglo-Protestant frame is isn’t there a sense in which Anglo-Protestantism really, originally is kind of Creedal? I mean the idea of being a quote unquote “Englishmen” until the 1830s requires him to be a Protestant, and Protestantism is sort of based on a creedal notion, a notion of sort of your commitment to a certain set of beliefs and values. So I guess, maybe you can explain since you’re putting the best case forward, how is that seen as a form of cultural nationalism and not credal? 

Answer: Yes, um, thank you for that. Um, so yeah what you’re… I think what you’re getting at is the close tie between the cultural creed and the historical circumstance that the culture gave rise to. And again, that’s absolutely true historically. There’s no doubt about that. What’s interesting is that today I think those who make an appeal to culture tend to overlook at the creedal content, which is one… one of my chief complaints about it. I also want to add my observation that you no longer have to have the culture for the creed to take over around the world. And as an empirical observation about the world today, that often gets overlooked or dismissed or downplayed by folks who somehow think that non-Western democracies are fake or not worth as much. But look. I think that democracy exists and it’s real and, uh, we should celebrate that and recognize that it doesn’t depend on Anglo-Protestantism.  

Question: John Wilsie, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and thank you. Brilliant as always, I’ve come to expect. [Um thank you, next question.] [Laughter.] As you know, we’ve had many discussions about this. I’m very sympathetic with… with your entire thesis, and I just want to ask a question just for clarification. What you, as you think through, uh, credal patriotism and nationalism defined by religion, defined by Anglo- um, Anglo-Protestantism, where does history fit into this? Because Americans are still… we still have shared past experience. What… We’re… we’re a pluralistic nation, and different groups have different histories. I’m thinking primarily blacks, whites, peoples of color, and so forth, have different experiences in the past and different histories. But… But Americans have dealt with that history together and sometimes, you know, t’s sometimes faulty, right? But… but that, that shared past experience is also, it seems to be, cultural. And also, forming a coherent, uh, narrative to defining American national identity. So I’m very sympathetic with credal patriotism, but how does shared past experiences fit into your model?  

Answer: Thank you for your question, and I share my indebtedness to John. You read your books. Italian American, is that right, Exceptionalism and Civil Religion? [Yeah.] Where you make a distinction between open exceptionalism and closed exceptionalism. It was influential, I think, in writing this. So thank you. So check out John’s book.  

Um, C.S. Lewis wrote about patriotism that it depends upon uh… I’m going to butcher this. He gets at this, this idea of history being a part of patriotism. It’s something about cherishing the best of our past and wanting to participate in a shared future. And I like that formulation. We all have, ancestrally, very different backgrounds. We’re American, and that’s part of what makes us great. We should not try to force ourselves into one story of where we came from, because that’s just false. Right? I think what we should do, patriotically, is to teach American history, teach truly about our failings as much as our successes, and by the way, that’s where nationalists sometimes differ, they’ll say no. Let’s focus on this stuff, right? No. We focus on our failings as well. And then focus on how we can do better in the future. That I think is a good… a good patriotic or credal understanding of history. 

Question: Luke Gillam from Psy College. So in your talk you talked about… you say ideals, democratic ideals can be transferred to different cultures. Are there any, um, cultural preconditions that you think that… that are necessary for democracy to take place? Or, do you say it’s completely nothing? 

Answer: So I… I looked at this question in my first book, and there’s… there’s no scholarly consensus and I, uh, I think Hudson Institute actually did a survey for literature, and he said well there’s been seventeen different variables proposed, as the essential precondition and none of them are persuasive as the master variable. And everything has been proposed like income, and culture, and Protestantism, and roads, and mountains and… so it’s very inclusive. Uh, I’ll note that many of the things that would make democracy easier simply make government easier, like being rich makes democracy more likely. That’s true. It also makes autocracy easier because you could tax people and fund your secret police. 

So the question is what is the dispositive, what is the distinctive variable that makes democracy more likely than other forms of government. And I’ll say I think the answer is people who believe in democracy, right? If you have the presence of a people with an excess resource, who believe in these ideals, that makes democracy more likely. And if you don’t have them, then you’re not going to have democracy. So I think that’s probably the best answer I can give you that is distinctive to that form of government.  

Question: Ward Hiddleston, Patrick Henry College. I’d like to try to ask two questions. First, unless I missed it, I didn’t seem to hear much perspective from Scripture associated with your ideals. How do you deal, for example, with the fact that Scripture… the existence of nations if not nation state per se, seem to be replete as opposed to the more globalist perspective which you seem to reject? Secondly, if we accept your premise and conclusions, to what extent does that as Christians essentially disarm us in our internal domestic, cultural dialogue and discussion? For example, on sexual orientation and transgender issues. If it’s… if our identity is solely at this idea level, separate from culture? 

Answer: So second question first. I think the doctrine of liberal neutrality is our best friend. Liberal neutrality is what is keeping alive a lot of Christian Churches, organizations, Bible studies. I will say these things that meet in public areas like schools, they exist because of the doctrine of liberal neutrality. If we get rid of neutrality because we don’t like drag queen story hour, we will lose access. We, Christians, our Churches, our Bible studies, will lose access to school cafeterias across the nations. Thousands of Churches will be homeless. So neutrality is essential for protecting our access to public resources. And this is stated by Chris West far more eloquently than I do. So I suggest that you look at his book.  

Okay. First question. That’s much harder. What was the question? Scripture and…? 

Question: The existence of nations and as it’s opposed to a more globalist or universalist perspective. 

Answer: Yes, so there’s… there’s a passage in, I think it’s Acts 17 that says “God has set out the times for the nations of the Earth.” I don’t think that means nation-states. I don’t think it implies the full political 19th Century national activity as I articulate it. It does not mean we have to believe in the existence of an eternally coherent, mutually distinct, cultural units that can take on governance. It just means that God is provident. That God is above all thing. He has created all peoples. There’s no one master race, right? I think that’s not part of what the passage was getting at. And, um, we did celebrate the, um, the diversity of Creation.  

Um, why didn’t I spend more time on the Bible? Because I only have 25 minutes. And, um, there’s a much longer argument here about the Christian basis of liberalism… pre-18th Century liberalism. Um, Augustinian liberalism, that I would love to give you at another time, um, that shares my view on why we as Christians can look to the Bible to embrace certain liberal practices like representation, minority rights, and so forth. But that’s for another time. So sorry if that’s an insufficient answer.  

Question: Um, Nick Carlson, Liberty University. Um, you talked about how viewpoint neutrality is our best friend as Christians. You know, without it, we’d be kicked out of the square. So… So I guess my question is, aren’t we as Christians being kicked out of the square right now in the name of liberalism, in the name of viewpoint neutrality? I believe Sora Meyer’s point is that right now in the name of liberalism, in the name of viewpoint neutrality, out ideas are being squashed and it’s not happening, um, like it should, a free exchange of ideas.  

Answer: Um, great question. So I think Sora was correct about that. Now my challenge is what’s the right answer? Is it to throw out neutrality, the aspirations for neutrality altogether and just try to fight back by exile… exiling all of our homes from the public square? Or is the answer to reaffirm the proper understanding of neutrality? You’ve got to understand what’s going on is that progressivism, invented about 150 years ago, borrows the language and rhetoric of liberalism but actually does sort of the opposite conceptually of what liberalism advocates for. And so they claim that they’re out for liberty and equality.  

Well they’re actually as you say, kicking people out of the public square and then opposing a sort of progressive orthodoxy. So I think our solution is to reaffirm old-style pre-progressive, 18th Century liberalism. And uh, that’s much better than the alternative, which is essentially to kind of form a nostalgia for Christendom which is just completely un… infeasible. Thank you. Next question. 

Question: Good afternoon. Cho Huang-Li, PhD candidate at American University. My question is one of the often criticisms raised against the liberal international order is this ideal that it sets a double standard in which say countries like the United States is often forced to pay a greater burden for other countries, say NATO countries. So my question is your definition of liberal international order doesn’t emphasize that, like, equal playing field for all countries, or does it include the idea that for instance a political principled country has more… has a moral obligation to go above and beyond and take care of those who are… countries that are less fortunate, for instance?   

Answer: Yeah, so I guess the first thing I say is I’m most interested in defending the principles of a liberal international order. I acknowledge that the actual existing liberal international order needs some revision, needs some updating, needs to be readjusted here and there on the margins. But I want to emphasize fundamentally it’s good, it’s just, it’s worth keeping. Okay. Now let’s have a conversation about how they can do better. Better burden sharing? Sure. Every president for seventy years has said that. Trump’s not unique in that, he’s right about that. And Trump’s kind of bad about how he goes about it, but, you know, another question.  

Do bigger states have more responsibility? Yeah, I think so. Not because of superior moral virtue but because of superior power. Um, the, um, you know “to him who has been given much, much will be expected.” Or it’s sometimes called the Spiderman doctrine of international relations, right? You know: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And I’ve seen people write that on a term paper once. So yeah I… I just think that great powers do have more responsibility to help because it’s inescapable. Great powers will effect world order whether they want to or not. Whether you choose to or not to, you do. And so you better choose to do it deliberately and in the right direction.  

Thank you very much.