Friends, Citizens, Strangers: Essays on Where We Belong


325 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-9079-6
DDC 302'.14




Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of


The cover flap summarizes the problem succinctly. Is our first priority
as individuals to humanity as a whole, to our own country, or to friends
and relatives? This collection reviews the thoughts of philosophers from
Jesus Christ to John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to John Stuart Mill
on citizenship and nationalism.

To find answers, Vernon examines the works of four English writers
(Locke, Mill, Mary Wollstonecraft, and George Eliot) and four from
France (Rousseau, Auguste Comte, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Henri
Bergeron). Vernon believes that everyone has a responsibility to the
human race, to his/her own country, and to friends and family; one
cannot easily or usually be supportive of one without being supportive
of all three. However, from a Spartan mother indifferent to the fate of
her children as long as Sparta won the battle, to Nazi SS officers who
eagerly enforced commands from an evil government, people have had to
make choices and establish priorities.

These are extreme cases that most never face, and Vernon discusses the
complexity of the problem. Of course one must not engage in crimes
against humanity, but what is a crime against humanity? Did Adolf
Eichmann commit crimes against humanity or against one specific segment
of humanity (the Jewish people)? Are pirates guilty of crimes against
humanity? Vernon’s ninth chapter deals with that. Nuremberg was a
turning point, but it was victors’ justice rather than international
justice. Vernon welcomes the trials of leaders from Rwanda and the
former Yugoslavia, as well as the creation of the International Criminal
Court. The 1948 Declaration of Universal Rights helps to define crimes
against humanity.

There are memorable passages. Religious toleration may have prevailed
in the United States because Roman Catholics and Jews became
“‘protestantized’ in the sense that they came to assert their
individuality and to attach less importance to authority.” Jesus
appears in the first of three chapters of de facto conclusions, where he
triumphs 3:1 against his opponent, Polemarchus.

Vernon deals with a serious and difficult problem, and discusses it in
a scholarly, yet readable, manner.


Vernon, Richard., “Friends, Citizens, Strangers: Essays on Where We Belong,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 23, 2024,