The term citizenism has been much in vogue lately. Sonic Charmer’s blog post I, Citizenist started the trend. My co-blogger Nathan wrote two blog posts on citizenism, one on the citizenist case for open borders and the other on Christianity vs. citizenism. I think co-blogger John Lee also has much to say on citizenism, though (as of now) he hasn’t published his thoughts on citizenism.
However, lest the term “citizenism” get bandied about too loosely, I want to clarify exactly what is meant by the term. The term “citizenism” was first introduced by Steve Sailer. References to and quotes from his writings on the subject are at the citizenism page. Here, I wish to highlight several different aspects of citizenism which are substantiated by quotes from Sailer:
- Citizenism places substantially greater weight on the rights and interests of citizens than non-citizens, though, as Nathan pointed out, it operates within moral side-constraints.
- Citizenism is about current citizens, not about the people who may become citizens as a result of immigration or deportation policy. Thus, unlike other forms of “analytical nationalism,” it is relatively immune to compositional effects paradoxes. For instance, if a new person were to join the country and earn a below-average income, but were to boost the incomes of all natives, a citizenist would have no problem with this at least from the income angle, but a “maximize-the-average” analytical nationalist would have a problem. On the other hand, a citizenist would object to the deportation of a current citizen with below-average income, despite the effect this may have on raising the national average. Thus, citizenists can calmly refute point (3) in Bryan Caplan’s list of questions in his Vronsky syndrome blog post.
- Citizenism, as conceived by Sailer, is both about the individual ethics of voters and about the responsibilities of elected representatives. Sailer is not merely arguing that governments should concern themselves only with the welfare of citizens. He is arguing that citizens, qua citizens, should be concerned primarily about the welfare of their fellow citizens. I am not sure if Sailer would go further and argue that citizens have a duty to favor the interests of fellow citizens even in their private lives, but it certainly seems like he would admire such behavior.
- Citizenism is about loyalty, not admiration, toward one’s fellow citizens. A citizenist does not claim that his/her fellow citizens are the world’s best, but simply defends their interests. I think of it as nationalism without romance. As Sailer puts it, a citizenist looks at his less-than-ideal fellow citizen and says, “he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”
I think Sonic Charmer, and most other “moderate” citizenists, would have no trouble signing on to (1) and (2). (3) seems to me the most controversial, and Sonic Charmer’s logic for why governments should be citizenist does not (to me) seem to imply (3). My co-blogger Nathan seems to have most of his issues with (3), not with (1) or (2), as he writes in his most recent blog post:
[T]here is a difference between citizenism as a personal meta-ethics and citizenism as a political meta-ethics. Sorry for the jargon. What I mean is that there’s a difference between saying (a) “I only care about Americans” and (b) saying “The government should only care about Americans,” and while (a) is definitely un-Christian, (b) might not be. Someone who believed the US government should help Americans and put near-zero weight on foreigners’ interests, but who thought Americans as individuals are obligated to be generous to foreigners as well, and who is personally very generous, would probably not imperil her soul much by her political attitude, even if she is mistaken.
I want to explain a bit more about why I consider (3) to be particularly significant. To do this, I want to distinguish citizenism from another related idea thrown around by opponents of open borders: the idea of collective property rights. Collective property rights simply asserts that a nation-state has the moral authority to arbitrarily deny non-citizens entry, because the nation-state, as a representative of the people, has property rights over the land, particularly the publicly owned parts of the land (there is a variant of this logic, called the anarcho-capitalist counterfactual). I won’t attempt to rebut this logic here — the collective property rights page discusses various rebuttals. Rather, my goal here is to highlight the differences between collective property rights and citizenism.
Collective property rights is simply an assertion that the nation-state, via its elected government, can deny non-citizens entry. Claims of collective property rights do not, in and of themselves, offer any guidance on when and how these rights should be exercised. Here are many different ways a believer in collective property rights could consider the exercise of these rights:
- Radical agnosticism: The nation-state’s government can admit or deny non-citizens in a completely arbitrary fashion, without having to justify itself to either citizens or non-citizens. In this view, whatever the government decrees is the right thing.
- Agnostic democratic fundamentalism: Non-citizens should be allowed or denied entry based on whether the majority of citizens would consent to their entry. Not every single entry is to be determined by referendum, but the ideal should be to design rules that most closely approximate this democratic fundamentalist ideal. Note that the rationale that the citizens use to reach their decisions is irrelevant as far as the democratic fundamentalist is concerned. Democratic fundamentalism allows for voters who are citizenists or universalists, Christians or atheists, informed or deluded, moral or immoral, saints or psychopaths. If open borders hurt 100% of citizens, but 51% of voters still supported it because of their religious or secular altruistic or moral beliefs, the democratic fundamentalist would give open borders the green light. Interestingly, many restrictionists use arguments of a democratic fundamentalist nature when citing citizen preference for reduced immigration as a rationale for cutting immigration.
- Citizenism via democratic fundamentalism: Here, elected representatives need to make decisions based on what the majority wants. But in addition, individual citizens, whether as voters or political lobbyists or elected representatives, need to make and justify their political decisions using citizenist premises.
- Citizenism as a direct basis for political decision-making: Here, elected representatives directly make decisions on a citizenist basis, irrespective of what the democratic majority decrees. In the ideal world here, the ruler is a benevolent citizenist dictator.
What these possibilities highlight is that even if you’re convinced that nation-states have collective property rights, citizenism is a far stronger proposition, because it is a normative claim about what nation-states and individual citizens should do. It’s perfectly possible to believe in collective property rights but reject citizenism, for instance, by being an agnostic democratic fundamentalist.
And citizenism comes in two flavors: as a direct guide to decision-making by politicians, and as guideline for voters. Given the prevalence of democratic fundamentalism in the modern world, not too many people argue for citizenism as a direct basis for political decision-making. And even citizenists who would prefer a benevolent citizenist dictator understand that such a message would not go down well in today’s democratic fundamentalist environment.
Rather, most people argue for citizenism via democratic fundamentalism: citizen voters have a duty to be citizenists, and elected representatives have a duty to heed voters’ preferences. But to make this argument, you’d have to make the strong claim (point (3) in my first list) that individual voters, not just elected representatives, have a duty to be citizenists. In other words, they have a duty, when making the decision to vote, to reject altruism toward foreigners and replace it with greater altruism toward their fellow citizens whom they may not care much about. This is the most controversial aspect of citizenism, but it’s also crucial for the citizenist who wants to appease the democratic fundamentalist majority. And this is the aspect that open borders advocates should concentrate most on.