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It has become fashionable among settler societies--and many societies are settler societies or societies born of (often violent) migration if one goes back far enough--to reconsider their origin stories, or at least the legitimacy of their presence in the lands to which their principles or aspirations took them. Self loathing has become an artform as those in the vanguard of these rituals seek both to to loath and lead. There is irony in this. The irony is especially acute where the principles invoked in these reconsideration narratives are born of the very principles whose embrace brought settlers to the lands that now serve as an increasingly (if only psychologically--and politically psychologically mostly) inauthentic home. And indeed those principles make it possible to indulge in self loathing with little consequence other than appearances (though in an age of gesture appearances may be ore important than substance). Of course, this suggests that the stance is only a part time affair. Almost simultaneously with a rejection of the authenticity and legitimacy of settlement comes an embrace both of a right of current occupants to stay and of new settlers to come and leave their own mark on the place that is the object of their settlement journeys. In an age of settler self loathing, the invitation to others to augment settlement waves in contemporary migration makes it possible to indulge in gesture while increasing the magnitude of the fault, but now shared among a wider community of settlers. These actions, too, are born of the very principles which simultaneously make that settlement so--in the language of our times--unsettling.
It is with that in mind that it may be possible, if only for an instant, to appreciate an act (the ramifications of which caused great harm to some) that brought (eventually) glad tidings (Luke 1:19) to much of the world (even those who were the initial bearers of the harm brought by those who fashioned it for themselves.
The Mayflower Compact reminds us of the values that are generally shared by this political community--the sum of an almost infinite number of the children of those wronged (and sometimes greatly) by each other and by others, which now find themselves sharing the same political space--for good or ill--and drawing on the same instruments (as distasteful as those who drafted them might seem to many). In this context, loathing--and self-loathing--becomes self defeating, especially in the construction of community within a space in which settlement from equally self-serving communities of settlers continues undiminished, and who in coming inevitably displace elements of those who came before. It is always easy to focus on the indictment of harm. It is harder to appropriate those instruments that brought (in the beginning) oppression and harm to some even as it liberated others. For some in the Christan community, the Cross bears that burden and provides an example of extraordinary self overcoming--of the transformation of the sign of oppression and cruelty to that of liberation; there are many other examples. And yet those are the very instruments that provide a means for achieving solidarity--eventually. Eventually because it may be hardest to detach oppression and benefit--to depersonalize it (from a communal or volkish perspective; to let go--and embrace the divine voice in even the most historically and ironically cruel of documents--to make that document one's own, but not one's own, to make it an instrument of solidarity.
Perhaps in that spirit, and on this day, it is possible to re-read the Mayflower Compact--warts and all--in a way that points to the great and away from the small, that departs the city of àjé and without the hunger born of the need to consume one's enemies, to see it and those around one, in the settler society that might yet overcome itself, as a document that joins rather than divides, that points the way forward even as it itself is shackled by the times in which it was made.
The Text of the Compact, rarely read today, executed by the men of that society, follows. It was altogether a small covenant, but it was sufficient. It provided the possibility that a people could make themselves from the constituent parts of others--that it was in the covenanting, the act of will and of solidarity, that something new could be created. Certainly not in 1620--people then (and to some greater extent now) continue to be shackled by the idea that solidarity is provided by birth, condition, race, ethnicity, or other factor over which the individual has no power, but which has power over her. And yet it is possible to wrest from that document the seed (in inadvertently planted) that is it just possible for people to will themselves into a political community of (more or less) shared values.
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.