The Renan Factor and the American Doctrine
By Jean H Charles
I have been an observer of the American politics for the past thirty five years. I have been drumming the idea that I could, one day, become Prime Minister of my home country: Haiti, and replicate the culture of democracy seen in the United States, in the homeland. After helping a losing presidential candidate recently, I am now more inclined and more interested in developing a plantation of small banana and sour orange to sell to the United States. The baby banana commands a good selling price and the sour orange could make a cooking revolution in America, it can transform any cook into a chef. Its future in replacing lemon as the main ingredient for seasoning poultry, beef and pork is underestimated and undervalued. The texture, the color and the taste of the meat marinated with sour orange is just exquisite.
My stand has nothing to do with that introduction; I have been fascinated by Ernest Renan and his doctrine of nation building. I suspect the United States, the best proponent of that concept does not know, they hold the key to salvation of this world by spreading and preaching their own journey to the philosophy of a shared vision of the future.
I would like to share with the American public and the World, some critical conceptual thoughts that, I believe, would help to rekindle an aura of good will, all over the Universe.
It is clear to me that the two main forces in the world that motivate people into action are philosophy and religion. We have seen in the past how the philosophical doctrine of Karl Marx had created havoc all over the world with a skewed conceptual framework of human interaction and of personal motivation. We have seen also how Osama Ban Laden has perverted some minds in the Muslim religion to create AL Qaeda and poison the brain of young men who did not hesitate to kill some three thousand people in New York City (hundred more in London and in Madrid) with the false promise of a paradise filled with virgin girls.
On the other side of the paradigm, the Christian, the Jewish, the Buddhist and indeed the true Muslim doctrines with their values of compassion, humility and generosity motivate people to care for the unfortunate and give solace to the afflicted. I have made this introduction to arrive to the notion that the United States in its quest to help this world fight against terrorism, poverty and alienation must clarify and define their own philosophical doctrine in simple and clear terms that can be understood by everybody.
The French people have given to the United States two substantial gifts. One of them is the well known Lady Liberty that sits in New York City’s harbor as a beacon of hope and freedom for people coming from all over the world. The other, less known gift is the concept of nation as defined by the French historian Ernest Renan. In looking at the history of the United Sates, it is clear that these United States hold the key to the best definition of the concept of nation as defined by Renan.
At a seminal conference at the Sorbonne in Paris, in 1882, piercing into the dark ages of nation building, he said to create a nation you must “consent to live together, have the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form as well as wishing and working to perform still more deeds together.”
In a nutshell he said you must meet three critical criteria:
1- Your boundaries must be well defined and not in dispute
2- The people of that country must have a common knowledge of the past
3- And they must agree to have a shared common vision of the future.
The United States with its boundaries from sea to shining sea have no territorial disputes with another country. Most Americans have a clear understanding of and appreciation for the Founding fathers such as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The United States, however, from its creation in 1776 did not include the Black population in its vision of a nation. Abraham Lincoln later went to war against the South to impose the notion that Black men and Black women should be full fledged American citizens. Some 400.000 white men were sacrificed before we arrived to the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st 1863.
Yet we have to wait another century, starting with the gallant presence of Jacky Robinson at the ball park sixty years ago, the sparks of Rosa Park on the segregated bus, the advocacy of Martin Luther King Jr on the Jefferson Mall and the leadership of Lyndon Johnson to see the enforcement of the Civil Rights Laws for the Black population. We could say, the United States have then, become a nation.
The United States during the last (40) forty years (1964-2004) have accomplished more than any other nation of the world (including the nations with a predominance of a black population) in practicing the concept of a shared vision of the future for and amongst all. Through laws, affirmative action and culture change, it has been possible for the young black male or black female in the Union to aspire to become a Colin Powel, a Condoleezza Rice, an Oprah Winfrey or even a Barack Obama, (a leading presidential candidate). The program of “no child left behind,” church-based initiatives, and the stakeholders citizens have all the elements of the idea of expanding the concept of a shared vision for all.
So what is my point? I would suggest that some time in the near future, the President of the United States make a presentation Urbi and Orbi ( from Washington or from the United Nations, to the World) explaining to the Universe that the United States, albeit a work in progress is “a beacon for those who hope and a compassionate home for the vulnerable; a place where every single citizen (black or new citizen from Afghanistan or Haiti) has the means to realize his dreams and his aspirations” to wit the Russian immigrant, former taxi driver who recently bought the most expansive home in New York City.
In comparison to other western countries such as France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain or even Canada,(that still have to define their own clear path to citizenship) we find that the welcome mat in the United States holds more promises once you get your citizenship. Access to education, good job opportunities, decent housing, and health care are offered to all, irrespective of the country of origin.
America is the country to emulate because it went into the painful and the laboring process of creating a nation not only in defeating the British army but also in dismantling the racist concept of slavery of the South and in abolishing the Jim Crow policies and the racist attitudes of the past century. The United States is in Iraq to help to create a nation where the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds can see themselves as legitimate members of the future of their own country. They are in Afghanistan to help the Afghans stop the concept of no allegiance to their own nation. There should be an international consensus to engage in Somalia to eradicate the clan culture that poison the minds and prevent the creation of that nation while it harbors potential terrorists who will disturb the whole world.
The United States want to urge all countries of the world to adopt and incorporate the principles of Ernest Renan that we have incorporated in our psyche and in our ethos. We have been creating a more perfect union not through demagogy or rhetoric but through a national budget that is sensitive to the plight of the minority and the needs of the majority.
Our message to the people of the World and to their governments of the Universe is: America is not the eagle that seeks to conquer new lands. America has been a frequent but a reluctant interventionist that helped to produce vibrant democracies in Europe in Japan and in South Korea. It has not been so successful in the other interventions. Yet America is the living model for peace, prosperity and democracy because every year its national budget tries to create a more balanced and shared vision of the future for all. The citizens of the world, in spite of their conflict at home, have been able to live peacefully in the United States because of the culture of appurtenance that glazes in the country.
To the people of Europe, in particular France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy the recent riots in France of young Muslim men indicate the malaise of the non assimilation of the new immigrants; the door to education and equal opportunity must be wide open for all in order to create a peaceful nation.
To the people of Latin America in general, Mexico, Peru and Bolivia in particular, to bring peace, prosperity and democracy in your country, you must create a space for the indigenous Indian population in your national budget.
To the People of the Caribbean Islands in general, the country of Haiti in particular you must create a sense of belonging for the peasant population left behind for the past two hundred years, You must rise up to the challenge set by your gallant forefathers: extend a share of the wealth of the country to those brought directly from Africa with no issues and no lineage from France!
To the People of Africa in general, those from Zimbabwe, Congo, and Ivory Coast in particular, the culture of tribalism within the same country must come to an end. All the children of one country must share and enjoy the abundant fruits and resources of that country irrespective of the tribe they belong to.
To the people and governments of Asia, credit and honor should be given to the government of China, India and Malaysia for taking steps to extend the concept of a shared vision of the future to the country side. Indeed that policy has allowed some 800 million Chinese peasants to rise from a squalor condition to a middle class status.
For us, in these United States, the challenge ahead, is to build on the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, Jacky Robinson and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to insure that the next forty (40) years of this country as a true nation, we shall continue to bridge the gap of disparity in education, in health care, in job, in housing and in the pursuit of happiness for all. We are urging the Civil Rights Leaders to continue to advocate
for parity and equal access for all. We are expecting also that they urge the young black men and women of the Union to take full advantage of the present educational opportunities to create a culture where the squalor of the ghetto is not glamorized to rise up to become the prominent idol standard sold for mass market distribution throughout the Union and the world adding to our depiction as ugly Americans. Again using Renan language: “look at the great men of the Renaissance, they were neither French, Italian nor German, they had found the secret of the true education of the human mind, and they devoted themselves to it with all their heart. How well they acted! “
Indeed this is the gift of America to the world; the United States have taken the concept of Renan and have adopted and perfected the idea to create a more peaceful and prosperous nation. We are urging the nations of the world, in the spirit of the Renan doctrine to create a true shared vision of the future to make a better world for their own people. After all, while on the humanitarian ground it is important and proper to urge such a path for all countries, on a security ground it is crucial to enforce and impose the creation of nations out of the failed states that are the breeding ground for all kind of extremists. In the end the morale of this message is we must create nation out of the many countries of this world .This might be in the end, our only salvation in this extremist driven era.
I also thought that the immigration issue in the United States could be explained and solved for the satisfaction of all in the light of the Renan Doctrine.
1- To parody the Great Chief Justice John Marshall, It is the province of a sovereign nation to control its own borders. It must know who enters and who leaves the country. Renan says: to be a true nation you must have no dispute in your borders and you must be able to have full control of your frontiers.
2- The citizens of the country and those who are seeking
citizenship must have a clear vision of the past. The
Government must insure that those who want to
become American citizens learn English and
be familiarized with the American History as well as
accustom themselves with the mores and the ethos of
the American spirit, (while retaining and sharing their language and their culture with others). Again to respect the Renan doctrine, we must create and preserve a common vision of the past.
2- But, once they become American citizens they must have, with the support of all the citizens and of the governments of the Union all the rights and all the privileges enjoyed not by second class citizens but by first class citizens: full access to good schools, decent health care, comfortable housing and the right for the pursuit of liberty and happiness. In the spirit of Renan they must share in the vision of the future.
This is the true America as designed by, emerged from,
and implemented by the United States Constitution and
the Civil Rights Laws.
These are the roadmap for a new immigration policy that will be acceptable to all because it is based on the same principles of nation building made of full control of your borders, common acceptance of the past and the shared vision of the future as lay down by Ernest Renan.
Now, have you tried to spice your meat with sour orange?
Jean H Charles, MSW, JD.
He can be reached at
The Renan Factor
A model policy initiative
Based on the shared vision of the future
For the American Government
The American Congress
Jean H Charles, MSW, JD.