Regular readers of the blog are quite familiar with citizenism, but for those who’re new here, citizenism is basically the view the government policies should discriminate in favor of current citizens and their descendants, relative to prospective migrants and any descendants those migrants might have. Citizenism is one of the more common philosophical bases for anti-immigration arguments. The term is due to Steve Sailer, and more discussion can be found at our backgrounder page on citizenism and our blog posts tagged citizenism.
In a previous blog post, I argued that citizenism is an important under-current in the way people think about issues related to migration, even if very few people explicitly subscribe to it. However personally distasteful it might seem to people who support open borders, they (or shall I say, we) need to deal with it. But, how should we deal with it? In this blog post, I discuss some possibilities.
Approach #1: Avoid explicitly addressing citizenism (either favorably or unfavorably), while keeping citizenistic tendencies of the people you’re addressing in mind
Citizenism is only one of many under-currents in people’s thinking. Different choices of framing can put emphasis on different under-currents. One option for open borders advocates is to concentrate on a framing in terms of equality, human rights, opportunity, freedom, justice, or what not (see our moral case for starters) that does not either condone or challenge citizenism.
The logic behind such a strategy is that most people behave citizenistically only if citizenship and national identity are brought to the fore in the framing presented to them. If we explicitly mention the concepts, whether favorably or unfavorably, or even discuss them neutrally, it primes people in a certain way that will not redound to the benefit of open borders advocates. This is not to deny the possibility of a citizenist case for open borders. However, any such case typically depends on other factors (for instance, economic literacy, willingness to challenge taboos against putting a price on things) that may be even harder to sidestep or remedy than citizenism.
Obviously, this strategy will not work with hardcore citizenist restrictionists such as Steve Sailer. But such people form only a small minority and one might argue that, in public messaging, it’s worth sacrificing the need to address or steelman these individuals if that allows for easier outreach to people who don’t have strong priors on migration.
Note that one danger of this strategy is the sip taste test problem: even if ignoring citizenism might yield significant short term positive results in terms of how easily one seems to convince people, it might lead to worse long term results once the hardcore restrictionists issue responses (whether in comments on the website, letters to the editor, or separate responses in articles or talk shows). Thus, even people who choose to strategically ignore citizenism when making the “first round” of their case need to be prepared to address it if somebody brings up citizenistically laced arguments in response — and need to address it in a way that does not make them look bad for having ignored citizenism in the first place.
Approach #2: Make arguments within a citizenistic framework, without personally endorsing citizenism
The idea here is to point to the many benefits that migration may confer to receiving countries, and in general, point to the citizenist case for open borders. Perhaps even endorse keyhole solutions such as immigration tariffs or migration taxes that are designed to meet explicitly citizenist goals. All this, without holding citizenism as a moral standard or personally endorsing it.
Such arguments may be combined with other arguments in favor of migration that describe the benefits to migrants, their home countries, and the world at large. The difference is that the benefits to immigrant-receiving countries are treated more saliently and given particular importance as a guiding principle in the design of keyhole solutions.
Approach #3: Challenge citizenism, or at any rate, challenge some aspects of citizenism
The blog posts on citizenism on our site have largely followed this approach: challenging citizenism in part or whole. This does not mean that we argue that citizenism is completely wrong. Rather, various bloggers on the site have argued that there should be limits on citizenism and that arbitrary denial of the right to migrate falls outside those limits. Bryan Caplan’s post on Himmler and Nathan Smith’s follow up post stressed this point: citizenists need to specify more clearly the moral side-constraints they are operating within, and explain why they think that arbitrary denial of the right to migrate does not violate those moral side-constraints.
Where I stand
In the first year and a half of Open Borders, Approach #3 got a lot of prominence, with Approaches #1 and #2 getting some prominence, but less so. Over time, I’ve gravitated in favor of Approach #1.
The problem with focusing on Approach #3 is that, after laying out the basic arguments, there’s not a lot to say. It’s also very combative, and tends to degenerate into a game of signaling moral superiority without making substantive progress. So with Approach #3, I’d say it’s good to make the point clearly a few times, but not to make that too much of a focus of argumentation.
The problem with focusing on Approach #2 is that it doesn’t distinctively make a case for open borders, and it plays too closely to the mainstream moderate pro-immigration arguments, as opposed to the radical brand we offer here. The moderate arguments are useful, but there are already a lot of people making them. The value of adding to them at the margin is unclear.
Approach #1, by ignoring citizenism as an explicit view to address, most closely reflects the natural universalistic thinking of many open borders advocates. In that sense, it’s more honest, even if it seems evasive. It’s honest in the same way as an atheist would be more honest not to provide biblical arguments for a position every time he argues for it — the absence of explicit coverage of citizenism correctly reflects the low importance of citizenistic reasoning in the minds of open borders advocates. Of course, it’s good to have thought through and written stuff along the lines of Approach #3 to handle pushback, and even to have stuff along the lines of Approach #2 to occasionally add to the arguments.
PS: The very fact that this blog post is the first after several months that explicitly mentions citizenism is some evidence that we’ve increasingly moved to Approach #1 on the blog.