Christianity and the Cultivation of Global Citizens - Intercollegiate Studies Institute

Christianity and the Cultivation of Global Citizens

“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of
his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
—1 Timothy 5:8

JEFFREY POLET is Associate Professor of Political
Science and Department Chair at Hope College.

When Barack Obama gave his speech
“A World That Stands as One” in
Berlin, the most receptive audience to his
claim of being a “citizen of the world”
who believed that “the burdens of global
citizenship continue to bind us together”
may have been the American academy,
which has come to be dominated by cosmopolitan
concerns. The college where
I teach, Hope College, has as part of its
mission statement that it will prepare students
“for lives of leadership and service in
a global society.” Nor is my college unique
in this regard. Campus Compact, an organization
dedicated to turning institutions
of higher learning into citizenship prep
schools, boasts over 1,100 member colleges
and universities. The Association of
American Colleges and Universities works
with its 1,200 member schools to develop
a “meaningful and relevant curriculum”
whose “essential learning outcomes” will
prepare students for global citizenship.
Indeed, perusing the mission or vision
statements of the 200 colleges and universities
listed at the top of the U.S. News and
World Report rankings indicates that more
schools understand themselves as cosmopolitan
universities, not dedicated to serving
their local communities or even the
nation, but to serving the world; and they
seek to educate students not by teaching
them to think the unity of truth, but by
“providing” them with “knowledge and
skills” to be leaders in “a global society.”

With the advent of media coverage of
large sectors of the globe over a twentyfour hour news cycle, an increasingly
interdependent global economy, and a
renewed emphasis on multilateralism
in the wake of the end of the Cold War,
the social conditions became favorable
to a renewal of cosmopolitanism. While
Stoicism provides a model for these educational
theories, these theories likewise
require the reality of empire as the sine qua
non for their project. Proponents advance
formal education as a program of moral
action and moral development, one that
casts our moral possibilities as broadly as
possible. St. Thomas’s reflections on charity,
however, provide a superior way of
thinking about the nature of moral obligation
and its relation to education, and they
also show that the cosmopolitan vision is
not exacting enough, for in attempting to
love all, it actually loves less.

There is nothing novel about the idea
that education cultivates citizens. Theorists
from Plato to Montesquieu have
argued that good citizens are made, not
born, and that the making of good citizens
involves the cultivation of virtue. Various
social institutions other than schools have
fulfilled this function throughout the history
of the West. Education for citizenship
could take place through moral example,
or through the didactic value of the law, or
in the household.

In America, however, colleges and
universities increasingly served this function.
While the nineteenth-century college
dedicated itself to moral education, by
the twentieth century such ideas seemed
old-fashioned at best, anti-democratic at
worst.1 Indeed, the mottoes of many colleges
and universities now seem like relics
of a world that, as far as current faculty and
staff are concerned, is well lost. Most private
colleges in America were established
as church-based schools, designed to serve
the church and their local communities. As
such, they were intentionally and intensely
engaged in the project of moral formation,
not in the sense that they presented students
with moral dilemmas and let them choose
their own responses, but in the sense that
students were immersed in codes of conduct,
in chapel programs, in traditions of
inquiry, and in being mentored by faculty
who were expected to be models of rectitude.
This program was held together by
the belief that there was truth, that it was
a unified and intelligible whole, and that
its apprehension made a difference in the
moral lives of individuals. The advent of
moral and epistemological relativism thus
had a corrosive effect on the very nature of
American centers of higher learning.

Currently, many colleges have renewed
an emphasis on citizenship. It is not surprising,
in this context, that persons
reflecting on the inattention to moral
theory and its connection to citizenship
would turn to the Stoics, who articulated
most clearly the relationship of individual
moral development to a cosmic ontology
that bound everyone together in a universal
community. An articulate contemporary
example of this position is Martha
Nussbaum’s book Cultivating Humanity.2 In
it, Nussbaum attempts to synthesize the
moral imperative of questioning custom
and tradition, Stoic conceptions of humanity,
and contemporary social science. Her
project involves intensive case studies of
fifteen different colleges and universities
to see how well they were engaged in the
project of “educating for world citizenship.”
A liberal education, she argues, is
one that brings into question the bondage
of custom and habit, overcomes the passivity
of the mind engaged in its natural
world, and moves students beyond themselves—
beyond the hearth and heath—to
ever wider horizons.

There is merit to this aspect of Nussbaum’s
argument. Education, of course,
involves intense questioning, a shifting
of perspective, and an enlargement of
our understanding. An educated mind
refuses to accept something as “right” or as
“the best” simply because that is all it has
known. In making judgments concerning
what is good or best, an educated person
can do so by making comparisons. Educated
individuals engage the world imaginatively.
Learning a foreign language is a
classic example of why we seek to be liber
ally educated. Were we to simply stay in
one place it would have no practical value,
and the joy of learning a foreign language
is diminished if the only reason we acquire
it is so that we can use it in our careers.
Reading something in a foreign language
is indeed an expansion of our intellectual
and imaginative horizons. A liberal education
presents us a kind of “otherness”
that becomes increasingly familiar, and
always a little strange. It broadens our
understanding of the world and satisfies
our intellectual curiosities, even though
curiosity is not necessarily a virtue. It can
be an expression of the human desire to
know and to know well, or it can be a form
of sloth, the intellect’s dissipation in the
novel and the trivial.3 A liberal education,
improperly grounded and not in service of
Divine Truth, encourages the wrong kind
of intellectual development, for it detaches
rather than attaches.

Nussbaum’s book reflects a social reality
where widespread detachment has already
occurred, and she argues it is more important
than ever that students grapple with
the changing requirements of citizenship.
These requirements include an enlargement
of the imagination and sympathies,
greater compassion, and recognition of
mutual vulnerability. Students develop the
gift of “critical thinking,” which allows
them to put aside particular engagements
for the broader ones that alone can be the
condition for mutual understanding and
peace. Indeed, Nussbaum argues that such
an education creates the necessary conditions
for world peace, with the corollary
that allowing local attachments to remain
undermines that project. Becoming citizens
of the world rightly exiles us from our
own ways of life, which are particular and
idiosyncratic, and contrary to the interests
of a true community, which is universal
and bound by common interests. Education
in this context requires students to
love other cultures more than their own.
While Nussbaum concedes that local
attachments can’t completely be done away
with and may even have some legitimacy,
the bias of her book is clearly in favor of
their negation. “Above all,” she writes,
“education for world-citizenship requires
transcending the inclination of both students
and educators to define themselves
primarily in terms of local group loyalties
and identities.”4

Cosmopolitan education begins in
infancy, takes seriously sex and race issues,
and requires a faculty with the right sort of
global consciousness. In this sense, Nussbaum
weds Stoic theories to the political
impulses of postmodernism.5 A global
education is best promoted, Nussbaum
believes, through the formation of a literary
imagination. Reading the right kind
of literature will cultivate in young people
the ability to see the needs of others and to
respond sympathetically to those needs; it
will create a self-recognition of the moral
attributes required to prevail in different
circumstances; it creates compassion,
which Nussbaum believes is the greatest
of all moral sentiments; and, by increasing
the student’s sense of contingency and vulnerability,
it will lead to a recognition that
we are bound to all other persons on the
globe by our mutual vulnerabilities. “We
do not fully respect the humanity of our
fellow citizens—or cultivate our own—if
we do not wish to learn about them, to
understand their history, to appreciate the
difference between their lives and ours.”6
To accomplish this, cosmopolitanism both
justifies and is caused by the expansion of
political authority.

There is much that is compelling about
Nussbaum’s argument, particularly for
those of us in the Christian tradition who
are taught to see in all persons the image of
God, and are taught by Christ that “even
as you have done to the least of these, you
have done unto me.” Christianity itself is
an enlarging of our sense of community,
the belief that the church universal commands
a greater allegiance from us than our
local communities or our nations. Christ
stated that allegiance to His Kingdom
would supersede all other allegiances. The
Christian command to love our neighbor
has no obvious limits. So the idea of global
citizenship apparently fits in well with the
Christian message. Stretching the limits
of our awareness more fully to appreciate
how our actions affect others, or how
different ways of living may improve our
own lives as well as others, can hardly be
thought of as bad things. There are at least
seven reasons, however, to be skeptical of
Nussbaum’s argument.

First, for all her talk of “cultivating
humanity” and developing our moral sense,
there is no discussion of what, concretely,
these obligations entail. Indeed, the book
seems to do little more than advance the
belief that moral actions are simply expressions
of moral sentiments. To be “moral,”
then, is to be concerned about the right
sorts of things, to feel compassion for those
who are otherwise or unfortunately situated.
Nussbaum spends a chapter on human
sexuality, and another chapter on women’s
rights, where moral action begins and ends
in compassion, supported by doctrines of
toleration and assertions concerning the
universality of rights. But those doctrines
and assertions are never rationally defended.
Indeed, since her main argument in favor
of Socratic education is that it gets us to
question why we believe what we do, it is
inconsistent for her never to question her
commitments to conceptions of universal
human rights, toleration, respect for sexual
differences, and concern for racial equality.
If in fact everyone in the world were so
indoctrinated, it is possible the world would
be a more peaceful place. Nonetheless,
the fact remains that precisely those moral
claims are ones about which peoples and
cultures engage in significant disagreement.
Nussbaum asserts that global citizens ought
to recognize the worth of every human life
(after birth), but not everyone does, and that
disagreement is the source of tremendous
conflict. In her defense, she does not say we
should not judge other cultures, at least not
until after we have studied, understood, and
respected that culture. She provides us no
criteria for judging and respecting, however,
and the result is that the engagement with
other cultures really amounts to a kind of
cultural imperialism.7

Second, this cultural imperialism tracks
the political imperialism required to sustain
her project. The reality of the Roman
Empire as the instantiation of the cosmopolis
held a central place in Stoic writings.
Cicero defined a commonwealth as “not
any group of men assembled in any way,
but an assemblage of some size associated
with one another through agreement on
law and community of interest.”8 Now,
there is no law where there is no coercive
authority, and given the absence of effective
coercive authority in any international
organization, a global commonwealth can
only be brought about through the actions
of an imperial power. The interconnectedness
of the globe does not just happen,
but is a symbiotic activity of corporations,
mass media, and government in its military
capacity. The problem becomes especially
pronounced when the ecumene is
technologically bound together, but is not
a community of shared interests or mores.
In such situations, as Eric Voegelin has
argued, the order of the ecumene can only
be held together by the actions of an imperial
military power, lest there be a complete
power vacuum. Nussbaum, however,
is completely silent about the political reality
undergirding her moral theory.

Alasdair MacIntyre argues in After Virtue
that every moral theory presupposes
a sociological reality. The only actually
existing sociological reality presupposed
by Nussbaum’s moral theory is the
organization of the contemporary university,
which operates as only one institution
within political society. Nussbaum
is blind to the political requirements of
global citizenship: a coercive unifying
authority over a community of shared
ideas and interests. Indeed, the sense of a
dimension of universal humanity in Stoic
thought only emerged because Rome had
stretched her imperial power across the
known world and was not due, as Nussbaum
suggests, to developments in philosophy.
The Stoic impulse was grounded
in sustained rule by a powerful empire,
which itself (according to Livy) emerged
because different peoples were invited to
the under-populated city of Rome with
the concomitant insistence that civic ties
were more important than familial ones.
Indeed, it is in the interest of any empire
to promote cosmopolitan values. Here also
Nussbaum’s Stoic impulse conflicts with
a postmodern sensibility concerning the
authenticity of self-generated moral ideas.
While she allows citizens to choose their
own conception of the good life, such
choosing must be kept from devolving into
anarchy. Nussbaum attempts to resolve
the conflict between the particularity of
individual conceptions of happiness with
universal moral obligations by asserting,
in Emersonian fashion, a metaphysical
harmony grounded in the spontaneity of
moral impulses—a speculative principle
that undergirds all her claims.

Third, Nussbaum seriously underestimates
the causes and nature of conflict.
People can often engage in intense conflict
over sharing the same aims (such as desiring
the same piece of property), or because
they have competing aims (women have
or don’t have rights). While she might
concede the latter point, there is little
appreciation for the former one. It is not
the case, historically, that regimes that
share the same values are conflict-free or
that they share all the same values. In a
case of conflict between two communities
(church and state, for example), both
of which make serious claims on our allegiances,
mutual recognition does nothing
to resolve the need on occasion to make a
choice between those communities. Further,
she fails to provide any criterion by
which such a choice can be made, other
than to assert generally the primacy of the

Nussbaum conceives these allegiances
in terms of a series of concentric circles,
whereby the larger circle has a greater
metaphysical reality and thus also a stronger
claim on our allegiance.9 Our family
may be the most immediate circle under
this approach, but it cannot have the greatest,
most substantive claim on our humanity
and sense of moral obligation. Our
moral energies must be directed toward
the outer circles, making the cosmopolitan
demand the greatest on our attentions.
Anyone who believes that local,
immediate obligations are more pressing
is, according to Nussbaum, guilty of bad
faith. This proposition is itself an instance
of “bad faith,” because it contradicts the
central claim of cosmopolitan morality
that all choices about the good life must
be accorded equal respect and recognition.
Hence the educational program requires a
razing of a person’s inherited moral sense
in favor of a cosmopolitan one.

Fourth, citizenship is a type of belonging,
and citizens have a say in how government
works and hold government accountable.
Global citizens, one would assume, are
entitled to tell any government anywhere
how to operate. Surely one of the functions
of the concept of universal rights is
that it provides global citizens legitimate
authority to intervene in any situation on
the globe. The grandness of the ambition,
however, can only be backed with
the coercive authority of military power.
Global citizens seem quite ambivalent on
this score, especially in employing U.S.
military power to enforce “human rights.”
Such expansion of purpose is unlikely to
solve many problems, and will likely lead
to a depletion of a nation’s capacities.10

Fifth, Nussbaum’s theory is hemmed in
by its concern with contingency; that is,
the fact that we happen to be born in a
particular place at a particular time means
that we ought not to place undue moral
weight on our particular situation. Indeed,
particularity must be transcended. But it
is not exactly clear why the particularity
of anyone else’s situation ought to make a
stronger claim on us than our own. Accidents
of birth may be contingent, but they
are not meaningless. The contingency
of our existence entails our inclusion in
structures and practices that give shape to
human choices. Such structures and practices
significantly mollify the contingency
of our lives, and undermining those structures
and practices can exact a high price in
increased alienation and anomie. Contingency
is not a problem for good education:
it is simply the condition under which we
engage in the quest for truth.

Sixth, the cosmopolitans may sound
admirable in theory—broadly educated,
large-hearted, sympathetic, and compassionate—
but all too often they end up
being less than admirable in the real
world. Precisely because there are no obvious
or immediate moral claims beyond
an enlargement of sympathy, the actual
claims of actual persons, especially if they
are in the smaller concentric circles, lack
the obligatory weight of the greater circles.
Morality becomes sentimental rather than
active, universal rather than particular,
abstract rather than concrete. One may be
tempted to become a public servant but a
private rogue. The gap in moral action is
filled with the insistence that the cosmopolitan’s
claims are universal and enlightened,
while those who live in accordance
with immediate demands are narrowminded
and parochial.

Such failure to meet the immediate
demands of moral obligation is likely to be
accompanied by some guilt. To compensate,
the cosmopolitans are likely to feel
compelled to assert the moral superiority
of their expansive vision. They become
educators to proselytize. Parents, Nussbaum
insists, cannot be trusted to give their
children the sorts of knowledge, imagination,
and sympathies they will need to be
peaceful citizens in the world-city. Indeed,
parents have no intrinsic right to educate
their own children. Rather, the imperatives
of world-citizenship give educators
not only the right, but also the ineluctable
moral authority to reeducate the deluded
masses and to take children into a new setting
and turn them against their parents.11
The cosmopolitans achieve the fullness of
the moral life in enlightened, universalistic
sentiments they impose on other people’s

Finally, a significant weakness to Nussbaum’s
argument may be found in its
minor premise: namely, in the belief that
colleges and universities ought to reflect,
adapt to, and provide for the world around
them. Michael Oakeshott argues, to the
contrary, that the university ought simply
to occupy its place and not to think
about “contributing.” “Taken by itself,”
he writes, “this ideal of a university which
reflects fully and accurately a world as it
has come to be is, of course, nothing better
than an unconditional surrender to the
absence of discrimination.”12 While Nussbaum’s
book is a significant attempt to
rethink moral education in America, it is
ultimately captive and subservient to both
American empire and contestable ideas.

An alternative model that takes Nussbaum’s
call for moral education seriously,
while avoiding the pitfalls, may be derived
from Thomas Aquinas. Thomas wrote in
something of a cosmopolitan age, with
emergent universities, a resurgence of governments
and the central authority of the
Church, and in the wake of invasions and
interactions with the East. Unlike many
of our contemporaries who talk about
respecting other cultures but have no
actual acquaintance with them, Aquinas
was thoroughly acquainted with the works
of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and
many Islamic scholars as well. His writings
show he read Muslim writers such as
Avicenna, Averroes, and Algazel carefully.
His Summa Contra Gentiles as well as the
brief De rationibus fidei contra Saracenos, Graecos,
et Armenos ad Cantorem Antiochenumas are
models of sympathetic engagement and
thoughtful critique. Additionally, he did
his academic work in various and generally
cosmopolitan urban centers that facilitated
the exchange of ideas. One might
easily conclude that life at the University
of Chicago is more cloistered than that of
St. Thomas ever was.

Thomas’s discussion of charity takes
place in the context of reflections about
the nature of friendship,13 harking back
to Aristotle’s discussion of the different
types of friendship in Books 8 and 9 of the
Nichomachean Ethics. Specifically, Thomas
is interested in Aristotle’s third type of
friendship, namely that which is concerned
for what is genuinely good for the other (as
opposed to friendships of utility or pleasure).
Such friendship requires proximity,
mutual communication, equality, and
reciprocity; it requires trust, and engagement
in mutual projects. Indeed, one can
have only a few real friends. Aquinas’s
connection of charity (love) to friendship
is important because friendship is singular,
discriminatory, infrequent, active, and
hierarchical. When we love a friend, we
distinguish that person from all others and
love him for his particular qualities. We
love, more or less, with differing degrees
of fervor.

Love involves the proper ordering of
our passions and desires, first to God and
then to our fellows. Indeed, without love
of God, Thomas believes, love of our fellow
man becomes impossible: “So, too,
the charity by which we formally love our
neighbor is a sharing in the divine charity”
(2–2. 23. 2). All the other virtues we
possess depend on our capacity to love,
grounded in our relationship to God and
vouchsafed by divine love. Because charity
is directed at our ultimate end, it orders all
other human action.

Thomas divides friendship into different
species: God, first of all, then kinsmen,
fellow citizens (either through natural or
civic association), and our fellow human
beings. For Thomas, this order reflects the
proper ordering of love, and hence moral
obligation which entails knowing what
we owe others, and we owe most to those
closest to us. So insistent is Thomas on the
intimate nature of love that he argues that
these differentiations and attachments will
occur even in heaven. Charity necessarily
involves “loving greater goods more and
lesser goods less.”14 In God alone we find
perfect charity, a charity that loves all, and
we are not required in the here and now
to perform what belongs to charity’s perfection
(2–2. 25. 9). Indeed, the desire to
perform perfectly, in addition to being susceptible
to the sin of pride, draws us closer
to the realm of hatred, for it increases frustration
and anger in our actions.

One of the central mysteries of love
involves understanding what moves one
to love, and why one loves the things one
does. Just as it is true that I might love a
person that others might not love, so also is
it possible for one person to love God and
another not. This apparent truism, however,
is complicated in the Christian tradition
by the belief that love takes on the
qualities of its object—in this case God,
who is love itself. Would not the love of
God overwhelm? The movement of the
soul in love toward God is a reciprocal
movement to that of grace, which moves
the soul to seek God seeking it. Now it
seems some souls are more predisposed to
respond affirmatively to the movement of
grace, but even then, Thomas says, such
predispositions may be a result of the
actions of the Spirit. In short, the process
by which friendship between God and man
occurs is essentially mysterious (as are all
friendships), involving in a dynamic interplay
of approach and avoidance, of calling
and pleading, of longing and fearing that
our desires might be satisfied. Once established,
however, the soul grows in love
as it draws nearer to God. As we grow in
charity, we grow in all the virtues, resembling
more and more the perfection we
can never attain, but for which we always
strive. So drawn, our motives for acting
are responses of humble gratitude, coupled
with prudence, fortitude, justice, temperance,
and the other virtues (2–2. 23. 7).

Charity, thus, is both the greatest of the
theological virtues and the foundation for
all other virtues. In order to understand
charity properly, we need to connect it to
the cardinal virtues and thus look at it (at
least) four ways: with regard to its intent,
with regard to its object, with regard to
the act itself and the means chosen, and
with regard to the effects produced by the
acts on the object. Since charity cannot be
genuine unless it is rooted in the love of
God, an apparently obvious act of charity
such as “clothing the naked” can be considered
sinful if it is not born of the right
intentions, for the right reasons, mindful
of the range of effects, and aimed at what
is ultimately good (2–2. 23. 8).

Once we have established that we are
to love God above all, and are drawn by
divine love to Itself, we are called to follow
the second commandment to love our
neighbor as ourselves, under the aspect
of loving God (2–2. 25. 1). But who is
my neighbor? And what does love of
my neighbor actually entail? This question
has long been a source of discussion
in the Church, going back to the story of
the Good Samaritan, told in response to
that very question (Luke 10). Augustine in
his work On Christian Doctrine noted that,
while on the one hand we should look on
every man as our neighbor (I.30), at the
same time since “one cannot do good to
all, we ought to consider those chiefly who
by reason of place, time, or any other circumstance,
by a kind of chance, are more
closely united to us” (I.28). In other words,
contingency is not a problem to be overcome—
it is part of the human condition
and ought to be embraced in recognition
of our limitations and finitude. It gives
shape to moral action. Thomas argues that,
while we should wish good for all persons
(the rule of benevolence), our favors must
be dispensed preferentially and inequitably
(the rule of beneficence) (2–2. 26. 6).
Friendship wills the good for a particular
person (eunoia), and those who are most
closely united to us are those to whom we
must wish the most good and express the
most charity.

Thomas’s reflections here are remarkably
detailed (see especially 2–2. 26).
Ought we to love our parents more than
our children? Ought we to love our mothers
more than our fathers? Ought we to
love our wives more than ourselves, or
our bodies? Ought we to love our wives
more than our parents? Should we love the
neighbor more who is a better person, or
the one who is in closer proximity to us?
Should we love more the better person in
lesser need, or the lesser person in greater
need (which presupposes the capacity to
make such distinctions)? Ought we to love
more those who are kind, or those to whom
we are kind? The importance of Thomas’s
ruminations resides not so much in the
answers he provides, but in the questions
themselves, for they reveal that he sees the
nature of charity to be discriminatory,
preferential, concrete, unequal, and bound
up in our particular circumstances. Indeed,
circumstances will dictate almost everything
in the determination of appropriate
charitable acts, which means that charity
requires prudence for its proper expression
(2–2. 31. 1). For example, when Thomas
says, “In a case of extreme necessity everything
becomes common property,” he is
saying that desperately needy people are
allowed to take what they need if no one
will give it to them, and conversely people
should always be engaged in the acts of
giving if they are able to do so (2–2. 32.
8). He also assumes that the person “taking”
can make a prudential case concerning
both the nature of the need and the
relation of the thing taken to that need.
At the same time, as justice and temperance
require, we must be careful never to
give people more than they need, as it may
lead to the development of vice on their
part. We should never do for another what
he ought to do himself. Thomas’s claims
depend on having intimate and immediate
knowledge of the person to whom charity
is being offered. There can be no obligation
to act where there is no intimate
knowledge. Indeed, such acting may actually
be a vice, since its primary effect is to
make the person offering the charity feel
better and thus is a kind of self-love that is
not sufficiently mindful of its effects.

Furthermore, our engagement in charity
depends upon our resources. A man
must first provide for his family and friends
and then give alms out of his surplus. If
we have an excess of time or means, it is
right to give them to those in need, but
only after we have taken care of those closest
to us. Just as in nature heat and energy
are transmitted to organisms closest to the
source, so also with charity. Now there are
two kinds of charity in this regard, often
grounded in sympathy, both of which are
designed to alleviate deficits in the other
person. Corporal alms involve feeding,
clothing, housing, giving succor, visiting,
and giving drink to those in physical need.
Spiritual alms, which are primary, go to
repairing the deficits of ignorance, despair,
foolishness, anger, impatience, pride, and
sloth. Only by first understanding a person’s
spiritual deficits can we begin to
address his physical ones. All this inverts
Nussbaum’s theory of concentric circles, for
Aquinas believes moral demands decrease
the farther we get from the center.

What of Christ’s command to love our
enemies? Thomas breaks this question
down to its constituent parts. Are we to
love them as such, that is, qua enemies?
Obviously not, Thomas believes, for they
mean to do us harm. Are we to love them
according to their nature? Yes, he argues,
inasmuch as we extend a general indiscriminate
love of well-wishing to all our
fellow humans. We should wish for them
that their souls become ennobled by divine
grace. And while charity does not require
a special movement of love to every person,
the enemy included, as this would be
impossible, it does require that we open
our hearts and minds to the possibility
of loving even those who mean us harm
(2–2. 25. 8), should the circumstances permit.
Furthermore, love requires that we
use the coercive instruments of civil magistracy
to protect our fellow citizens from
the harm enemies might cause, for one
aspect of love is its quality of preserving.
In thus supporting the protective measures
of civil authority we twice engage in acts
of charity: once to our fellow citizens and
once to the enemy, since in vanquishing
him we prevent him from doing more evil
(2–2. 25. 6).

Thomas’s view of charity is preferential,
particular, discriminatory, and hierarchical.
The better the person, the more worthy
he is of our love. The more desperate
the person, the more in need he is of
our love. The closer the person, the more
he may rightly demand our love. Love,
then, rightly understood, both depends
on and helps to form all ethical decisionmaking.
This is not cheap love, and it is
not a sentiment. It is a series of actions,
grounded in love of God, directed discriminatingly
toward those who have a
rightful claim, mindful of the effects, and
concerned about the means. It may not
choose means that are easily pursued (such
as writing a check). It requires sacrifice,
pain, patience, magnanimity, fortitude,
prudence, temperance. Without these virtues,
civic friendship becomes impossible.
Cultivating men and women with such
attitudes and virtues is an educational project
radically different from Nussbaum’s,
for it involves not only growing in love—
and is in that sense more truly universal
than Nussbaum’s approach—but it also
involves restraint. Education is the process
of learning “in circumstances of direction
and restraint.”15 The growth of the soul is
not revealed in the number of persons it
encompasses, but rather in the disciplined
and prudential concern of mature persons
operating in limited and limiting circumstances.
16 The soul grows vertically, not
horizontally; it is measured by its depth
and not its breadth. Nussbaum’s belief that
cosmopolitanism will lead to peace is misdirected.
It is the denial of passions and
desires or the satisfaction of them in God,
not the expansion of them to encompass all
humanity, that leads to peace. The universality
of love is not found in questionable
theories of toleration and universal rights,
but in the concrete acts of genuine charity
performed by individuals in their social

For good reason Scripture tells us to
love our neighbors and not mankind as
ourselves. Chesterton remarks that while
we make our friends and make our enemies,
God makes our neighbors. “The
duty towards humanity,” he wrote, “may
often take the form of some personal choice
which is personal or even pleasurable. That
duty may be a hobby, it may even be a dissipation.”
It can be an indulgence of our
desires, especially our desire to avoid difficult tasks, but not our moral duty. We
don’t choose our moral projects, for in
neighborly love the project is given to us.
“We have to love our neighbor because he
is there—a much more alarming reason for
a much more serious operation.” This is a
much more compelling notion of “negotiating
differences” because we cannot do so
on our terms, we cannot opt out, and the
negotiation will have actual consequences
for us. If a person seeking the moral life
wants to interact with a person different
than himself, “he had much better stop at
home and discuss religion with the housemaid.”
17 Indeed, it is in the immediacy
of this kind of life that the full range of
humanity is on display: the drunkenness
of a father, the nastiness of a colleague, the
lassitude of a sibling, the eccentricity of
an uncle—these are humanity in our face.
Our immersion in the humanity of the
household and street and workplace alone
exposes us to the fullness of human types
and their demands.

Friendship as a civic bond has been
replaced by notions of fraternity. When
Aristotle made friendship the measure and
the means of human excellence, he made
a move away from fraternity. Aristotle saw
that, contrary to popular locutions, a friend
is really much closer to us than a brother
is, for precisely in the reality of choosing
a particular person, and in the pursuit of
appropriate ends, we have made a move
beyond necessity and nature. Our brothers
are givens; our friends are gifts. As
such, there is a depth as well as a breadth
to friendship that fraternity cannot match.
Yet precisely because of its discriminatory
and voluntarist nature, friendship becomes
a tenuous base for political order. And
even though Aristotle expanded individual
friendship into an idea of “civic friendship,”
it no longer remains clear in what
sense it can be thought of as friendship at
all, other than a vague wishing for general
good without specifics. Emphasizing
global citizenship attenuates engagement
and commitment.

How strange would it seem if our colleges
and universities, instead of trying to
cultivate global citizens, tried to cultivate
good fathers and mothers, respectful children,
good neighbors, and trustworthy
friends? How much better off might our
democracy then be if it were populated
with such persons? Limited democracy is
not a perfect solution to the problems of
imperfect beings, but it is a modest attempt
to make incremental progress in human
affairs by leaving alone the realms of ethical
action that belong to human beings in
their families, their local communities, and
maybe, perhaps above all, in their reciprocal
friendships, which both demand and
prepare the self to meet the demands of
others. If our universities do nothing more
than cultivate persons in this fashion—to
give youth an interim where they escape
the world’s problems and do not try to
solve them—they will have done enough.


  1. See Derek Bok, Universities and the Future of America
    (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990). For the idea
    that moral education is undemocratic, see Richard Rorty
    in Richard Rorty, Julie Reuben, and George Marsden,
    “The Moral Purposes of the University: An Exchange,”
    The Hedgehog Review 2 (2000) and Rorty, “The Priority of
    Democracy to Philosophy,” in Objectivity, Relativism, and
    Truth: Philosophical Papers, Vol. I (Cambridge: Cambridge
    University Press, 1991).

  2. Martha Nussbaum, Cultivating
    Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education
    (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).

  3. See
    Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 167.

  4. Nussbaum,
    Cultivating Humanity, 67.

  5. Likewise, Rob Gilbert argues
    that “citizenship education . . . would not be distracted
    by national symbols of flag or parliament, but would
    focus on concrete principles of rights and the practices of
    political action.” He argues that educating today’s youth
    ought not in any way undermine “the stimulations and
    pleasures of postmodern society,” “Citizenship, Education,
    and Postmodernity,” British Journal of Sociology of Education
    13(1) (1992), 66.

  6. Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity, 295.
  7. An incoherence that manifested itself in Obama’s Nobel
    Prize address, where he argued America would respect the
    integrity of other countries and cultures, so long as they
    respected our conception of rights.

  8. Cicero, On the Commonwealth
    and On the Laws (Cambridge: Cambridge University
    Press, 1999), 18.

  9. Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity,

  10. See Claes Ryn, America the Virtuous: The Crisis of
    Democracy and the Quest for Empire (New York: Transaction
    Publishers, 2003).

  11. See Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity,
    Ch. 1, for her argument that education ought to be
    an act of parricide.

  12. Michael Oakeshott, The Voice of
    Liberal Learning (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
    1990), 126–127.

  13. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae:
    Latin Text and English Translations, ed. Dominicans of
    the English Province (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975).

  14. Augustine, Of True Religion (Chicago: Regnery Publishers,
    1991), 48.

  15. Oakeshott, “The Study of ‘Politics’
    in a University,” Rationalism and Politics and Other Essays
    (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991), 187.

  16. See Irving
    Babbitt, Literature and the American College (Washington,
    DC: National Humanities Institute Press, 1986), 112.

  17. G. K. Chesterton, Collected Works, Volume I: Heretics (San
    Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 140.

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