Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) was a famous Scottish novelist and poet who we’ve highlighted before on this site. The following is a passage from chapter twenty-seven of Scott’s novel The Heart of Midlothian on national partiality or the tendency of humans to show favoritism towards people with whom they share a common ethnic bond.
The eagerness with which Scottish people meet, communicate, and, to the extent of their power, assist each other, although it is often objected to us as a prejudice and narrowness of sentiment, seems, on the contrary, to arise from a most justifiable and honourable feeling of patriotism, combined with a conviction, which, if undeserved, would long since have been confuted by experience, that the habits and principles of the nation are a sort of guarantee for the character of the individual. At any rate, if the extensive influence of this national partiality be considered as an additional tie, binding man to man, and calling forth the good offices of such as can render them to the countryman who happens to need them, we think it must be found to exceed, as an active and efficient motive, to generosity, that more impartial and wider principle of general benevolence, which we have sometimes seen pleaded as an excuse for assisting no individual whatever.
The friend who discovered and sent me this quote had this to add:
There is no author who expresses the beauty of national kinship quite like Walter Scott. Notice how Scott understood perfectly that national prejudice, far from mitigating harmony between the nations, in fact enables and deepens international peace.
When you pretend that national bonds don’t exist, or that they are sinful and retardant of charity, you drive polity further and further toward complete indifference. If every individual must convince his neighbor of his worthiness for charity, we will end up in a world of basic indifference.
And of course this does not extinguish the invincible human need for sociality. That need, instead of being satisfied in natural circles of family, neighborhood, and nation, is transferred to faceless institutions. Some will even channel their desire for belonging onto remote and abstract groups of peoples entirely alien to their national context.
A second friend on this quote:
This is an excellent description of the one and the many dynamic. When responsibility to others is universalized, then love and concern is seldom actualized with particulars.
Modern man loves abstract man, generic man, distant man, ahistorical man, and future man. This allows him to be egalitarian in his love for others. To love actual men, particular men, men nearby, historical men, and men as they exist, is to love with prejudice. Modern man loves the idea of man, but does not love the realization of men in particular.
While the Christian principles of general benevolence towards mankind are in no way negated, each man is far too limited to be able to effectively aid every single other person in the world. Either he would shrink from the gigantic task overwhelmed and aid no one, or he would be spread so thin trying to help everyone that any aid to any particular person would be miniscule and ineffective. And so we see the wisdom in 1 Timothy 5:8, where each person is given primary responsibility towards their own family, community, and nation both making the task manageable and the aid given most effective as it comes from those closest to and most invested in the people and groups involved. Far from a sinful practice, national partiality is a Christian practice.