Fergus Hodgson on citizenism

Fergus Hodgson recently wrote an article for the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation titled Nativism, the Citizenship Union, and Barriers to Movement. His piece offers an interesting critique of citizenism, the idea that national governments should design policies, and their individual citizens should support policies, that place substantially greater weight on the interests of citizens (and their descendants) compared to the interests of non-citizens. Hodgson does not use the word “citizenism” but instead opts for “nativism” to describe the citizenist position.

The word choice is interesting. I’ve noticed that defenders of citizenism rarely call themselves nativists but prefer to describe themselves as immigration patriots, while the more erudite among them may refer to themselves as citizenists. In contrast, their detractors, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) typically describe them as nativist. It’s interesting that, although I am not a fan of citizenism (see our blog posts tagged citizenism) I find that the word ‘citizenism’ feels like a nicer word than the word ‘nativism’ to my ears, although they describe approximately the same attitude. I don’t know whether this is an effect of the fact that “nativism” is used more by detractors and “citizenism” by supporters of the ideology, or whether this is the cause of that (in other words, perhaps supporters and detractors choose their words as a response to how people instinctively react to them).

Hodgson draws an analogy between citizenism/nativism and support for unions. This analogy is well-designed to appeal to an audience of liberty-minded individuals, principled meritocrats, and union-haters. Similar arguments can be constructed to appeal to, for instance, opponents of affirmative action. Unfortunately, I don’t think that these arguments will have widespread appeal. They may also backfire among other groups of potential supporters: many people on the political left, and some on the political right, love unions.

Later in the piece, Hodgson writes:

Perhaps without realizing, enforcement proponents are also facilitating the rise of an expensive police-state apparatus, and not just at the border. The reality is that one can only enforce strict movement controls and legal inequalities with police-state tactics such as inland checkpoints, encroaching surveillance, a militarized border, and the imposition of law-enforcement duties on private individuals.

I’m glad that Hodgson rejects extreme versions of economic determinism, which argue that it is not possible to curtail migration through enforcement. Instead, he acknowledges (like I do) that enforcement methods can cut down on migration, but also that these measures exact costs on citizens interacting with the migrants, costs that, if people thought more about, might make them less enthusiastic about supporting some enforcement measures.

Nonetheless, I am pessimistic about whether natives will be able to connect the dots between harsher immigration enforcement and the consequent reduction in their own liberties. I would cite for justification of my pessimism the lack of outrage over many forms of intrusion, kill lists, and erosions of due process that have occurred historically around the world, typically in the context of perceived threats of terrorism and foreign threats. Admittedly, there may be many liberties that people are willing to give up in the face of (perceived) threats of terrorism that they would be loath to part with merely to keep out immigrants, so some of my pessimism may be unwarranted.

My main disagreement with Hodgson is regarding his leading para:

The day is rapidly approaching when the epithet “nativist” will carry as much power as “racist.” Not only is nativism — the practice of favoring the established inhabitants of a country over recent immigrants — hateful and based on a fallacy; its destructive consequences are becoming more apparent by the day.

While I look forward to the day when citizenism is a fringe idea, I really doubt that the day is “rapidly approaching.” The arguments that Hodgson makes in his article do not show that citizenism is empirically becoming weaker. It may be that to Hodgson and FFF readers, the “destructive consequences [of citizenism] are becoming more apparent by the day” but I doubt this is the case among the masses at large. Joe Arpaio, a very public face of restrictionism in Arizona, has repeatedly won re-election. Even outside the immigration context, I haven’t noticed any decline of citizenist rhetoric in recent years, either in the US or elsewhere, though I certainly don’t follow political debates closely.

To be clear, I do think that over the long run (a scale of a few decades) citizenist ideas will become less popular. I do not, however, see evidence of its rapid decline. In the short run, I think citizenism is thriving, though the efforts of people like Hodgson may be chipping it away at the edges.

One thought on “Fergus Hodgson on citizenism”

  1. The obvious difference between ‘citizenism’ and ‘nativism’ is that there are citizens who are not natives. ‘Nativism’ sounds like it is about excluding even legal immigrants who enter with the consent of the citizenry, or mistreating non-natives who have already become citizens.

    Citizenists may want to be selective in who becomes a citizen, accepting citizens who will make the existing stock of citizens better off, but once the new citizen has been accepted, they count just like any other. This is why accepting the right immigrants is seen as such a weighty decision: like choosing a spouse one takes on obligations in the relationship, even though one is entitled to choose a spouse who would be best for you and reject other suitors.

    The policy of the UAE might be considered nativist: foreign workers are encouraged to enter for their economic benefits, but are kicked out when they cease to benefit the native rulers and citizenry, and not encouraged to become citizens with the special privileges thereof.

    Singapore, however, appears citizenist: they are happy to take skilled immigrants and fully integrate them into the Singaporean polity (allowing others only as guest workers for mutually beneficial transactions, without joining the polity or gaining the special concern of the government).

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