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What would Thomas Aquinas, in his wisdom, say about President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim countries, in terms of its justness and conformity to right reason?…

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I am grateful to The Imaginative Conservative for publishing Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s reasoned defence of President Trump’s executive order placing a ninety day moratorium on immigration from countries deemed to pose a terrorist threat to the United States. I am grateful also for a recent essay by John Horvat II in which Mr. Horvat discusses what Thomas Aquinas says on the thorny topic of immigration.[1] Both of these essays have served as catalysts for my own thoughts on the topic of immigration in general and President Trump’s executive order in particular.

Little needs to be added to Fr. Longenecker’s upbraiding of the media for their rabidly irrational response to the President’s executive order and for the callous calumny to which journalists have succumbed in discussing it. One can only hope that reasonable people will respond to the media’s irrational rants by switching the channels on their TV, by switching the newspapers that they read, or, best of all, by turning to websites such as The Imaginative Conservative for a balanced perspective.

Leaving Fr. Longenecker’s essay to speak for itself, let’s turn to the quotations from Thomas Aquinas that Mr. Horvat discusses in his essay.

“Man’s relations with foreigners are twofold: peaceful, and hostile,” St. Thomas states, “and in directing both kinds of relation the Law contained suitable precepts.”[2] With insightful and incisive realism, Thomas Aquinas does not begin with the “nice” idea that we should all be “nice” to each other. He knows that we are called to love our neighbor and to love our enemy. This is a given. The point is that some foreigners are peaceful towards us and some are hostile. It is prudent to know which is which and to respond accordingly. It might be prudent to open our doors to immigrants who are “peaceful,” if their entry into the country serves the common good; it is, however, imprudent to open our doors to those who are “hostile,” especially those who might plan terrorist acts after they arrive. Initiating a moratorium on immigration from countries in which a significant portion of the population are hostile to the United States, until such time that an effective vetting procedure is put in place, enabling the “hostile” to be sifted out from the “peaceful,” makes absolute sense, not merely pragmatically but morally. Doing nothing would make the President culpable should one of these “hostile” immigrants carry out a terrorist attack within the United States. The President’s failure to act would be a sin of omission.

St. Thomas also distinguishes between the two types of foreigner within a host society: the newcomer (advenam) and the traveler (peregrino), the former being what we would now call an immigrant and the latter what we would now call a tourist. In both cases, says St. Thomas, citing Scripture, the foreigner must be treated with the dignity due to him as a human person. In other words, we must love him as our neighbor. There can be no question of a Christian hating the immigrant or treating him unjustly.

Thomas then discusses the question of citizenship, agreeing with Aristotle, whom he cites, that citizenship should not be conferred automatically upon the immigrant but should only be granted after a period of time judged prudent, presumably after a period of assimilation. “The reason for this,” he continues, “was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled down in its midst, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people.” Here, St. Thomas is showing due deference to the host culture, which has a right to protect its way of life from immigrants seeking to impose a radically different worldview. It is implicit that St. Thomas is insisting that immigrants to a host culture are duty-bound to assimilate to the culture and not seek to impose the culture from whence they came. In seeking to be accepted by a host culture as newcomers they are expected to respect that culture which, in practical terms, necessitates assimilation and integration. There can be no question, for instance, if we follow St. Thomas’ line of reasoning, that Muslim immigrants should not have the right to impose Sharia law on their communities, if it contradicts or contravenes the law of the host nation. The imposition of such law results in the balkanization of the culture into ghettoized factions, which are hostile to each other, as can be seen all too clearly in many parts of the world.

As usual, it makes sense to consult the great sages if one wants to know how to judge the actions of one’s leaders. There are few sages greater than St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, whose place as a theologian and a philosopher are preeminent in Christendom. It certainly makes more sense to turn to Thomas Aquinas than to turn to the New York Times or CNN!

St. Thomas, in his wisdom, shows us that President Trump’s executive order is just and that it conforms to right reason. The President can learn from the Saint that he can act in good conscience in seeking to ensure that the nation he has been elected to govern is safe from “hostile” immigrants who might become terrorists in our midst. Sadly, there are many Christian leaders, following false guides and forgetting the wisdom of the saints and sages, who could learn from St. Thomas Aquinas that their own response to the President’s executive order is not in conformity with sound Christian teaching.

Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

[1]  http://www.returntoorder.org/2014/07/saint-thomas-say-immigration-2/

[2] The quotations from Aquinas are taken from the Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 105, Art. 3

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6 replies to this post
  1. It should be kept in mind that the ban does not apply to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, all of which have harbored terrorists who have murdered thousands of American citizens. I can only suppose that they have not been included in the ban because their governments are allies of the U.S.

  2. If it were the case that a ban that includes people who have been well vetted and pose little or no danger would make us safer (I think, for instance, of the Chaldean Catholic, the person who fled for their lives from Iraq, the scientist doing lifesaving research, or interpreter who works with the US army), then this policy would be reasonable.

    I have heard no convincing or data-backed arguments that indicate that this particular moratorium does significantly increase our safety. If it does amount–as I think it does–to little more than a symbolic and counterproductive protection that, in the process, hurts very many good people, including people we have already pledged legal or even indefinite entrance to, then I think it would violate justice.

    The debate in its favor seems to be that there are bad men from these countries and US vetting process is not sufficient to weed them out yet. The first is evident, but it is also evident that the bad men from those countries have not as of yet become a major source of terrorism in our country. The second does not seem evident to me. I question how Trump could even have done the research to demonstrate it was necessary to impose such terrible injustices upon even residents of the United States in the little time he’s been in office. How could he have done the research necessary to demonstrate that this truly is the required means of accomplishing his end? If they could demonstrate to me that there was no way to do it that did not leave people homeless, helpless, or disrupt the lives and businesses of so many, then I would be forced to accept this under the reasoning given above. As it is, I oppose it.

  3. Thank you Joseph for a well reasoned article from the reason expert himself, Aquinas. Davidlane, your comment is very accurate as well. A sad reflection on an American foreign policy that has long ago lost it’s way.

  4. Joseph Anthony
    the list of seven countries was compiled by the previous administration as major sources of terrorists, this is NOT a ban but a pause, it is the legal responsibility of the president by US law, while many of the terrorist actors in the US were not from these countries, almost all of them traveled there and studied in the years previous, they also would have a hard time coming back and would be examined closely, BTW I never heard any complaints from the media when Obama instituted travel bans while he was in office, I guess he was different in some way. Also the countries not included have been forthright with info on travelers, the countries involved provide almost NO information, meaning it is almost impossible to vet travelers, this is a pause until we can set up information channels and procedures to properly vet travelers and immigrants. We used to use Ellis Island, port of Baltimore and several other places to vet immigrants and many were sent home, for a plethora of reasons

  5. Contrast how the Catholic Enyclopedia speaks of immigration with how Francis does: From The Catholic Encyclopedia on “Migration” — http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10291a.htm :

    The legal control of migration began when it ceased to be collective and began to be individual. Laws have been passed preventing people from leaving their native land, and also, by the country of destination, forbidding or regulating entrance thereto. Extensive regulation has been found necessary applying to transportation companies and their agents, the means of transportation, treatment en route and at terminal points. The justification of public interference is to be found in the right of a nation to control the variations of its own population. The highest necessity is that arising from war: on this ground nations almost universally regulate very closely the movements of population, forbidding emigration, that they may not lose their soldiers, and guarding immigration as a military precaution. Restrictive measures are also justified on grounds of health and morals, and on the general ground that a national family has a right to say who shall join it….

    …The many varied problems of immigration are best illustrated by its history in the United States. Perhaps no more composite nation has existed since the Roman Empire engulfed the various nationalities of Western Europe. At a very early period in the history of the American Colonies, the Negro was introduced — a race so remote anthropologically, from the first colonists as to be impossible of assimilation. The American Indians, isolated from the first, have ever since been tending to extinction, and hence need not be considered as a possibility in the problem of national and social composition. As time passed, other races came to still further complicate the problem. Besides these distinct racial elements must be reckoned an infinite number and variety of nationalities marked by lesser differences and capable of assimilation

  6. St Thomas also treats of the interest of each countries’ guardian angels being at odds with each other until they consulted Divine Truth, God, for clarification. And concerning charity and love of enemies, he says that Christians are bound by charity to both pray that people are punished so that they are converted as well as aiding the enemy in their humanity out of Charity in their need. He also says that people or enemies of the true Faith cannot be forced to accept the Catholic faith and that the infidel even if enemies of war captured, must be respected to keep their erroneous faith (if unbaptized). So complementing the St Thomas recipe! Thank you

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