The occasionally nasty but frequently lucid discussion triggered by Bryan Caplan’s provocative post about Himmler shed new light, for me, on citizenism. While I’m convinced by Vipul’s arguments that citizenism is (much) more influential than its currency in public discourse would suggest, it’s unusual to encounter people explicitly defending it. However, to Caplan’s challenge– “How did Himmler misapply citizenism?”– I think the citizenists’ answer is quite clear: moral side-constraints. My favorite comment was by Theo Clifford, who basically summed up the whole discussion…
The obvious point here is that the citizenists show up and reply, “of course we believe in moral side-constraints to citizenism!” And then it’s the same old philosophical and empirical argument about whether freedom of migration should be one of those side constraints.
… while also pointing to where the discussion could most productively go next. I would characterize Peter Hurley, Tom West, Eric Falkenstein, Kenneth Regas, and possibly Hansjorg Walther as suggesting some form of moral side-constraints, whether they were themselves self-identified citizenists (like Ken) or definitely not (like Peter) or non-committal (like, I think, everyone else). Of course, I may be biased because “moral side-constraints” is my term, and I noted early on in the discussion that this was a tack citizenists were likely to take. I was right, and the discussion tends to confirm my knee-jerk reaction that citizenists aren’t like Himmler because they accept, albeit usually implicitly and half-unconsciously, moral side-constraints. By the way, my least favorite comment was Eric Falkenstein’s response to Theo Clifford:
Theo: citizenists show up and reply, “of course we believe in moral side-constraints to citizenism!”
That’s silly, characterizing the reasonable limits of a citizen-centric policy as an ad hoc confabulation. Every virtue becomes a vice if sought to an extreme. Balancing competing principles (liberty vs. property) is what makes prudence essential. Moderation in all things.
This comment is the kind of vapid, platitudinous, condescending humbug that gets in the way of serious argument. Falkenstein wants to replace the useful phrase “moral side-constraints” with the loaded, cumbersome phrase “reasonable limits of a citizen-centric policy,” because he doesn’t want to accept Theo’s invitation to engage in “philosophical… argument about whether freedom of migration should be one of those side-constraints. ” His mention of “property” is an allusion to an earlier comment in which he argued that “a nation is the ‘commons’ of a population,” a view which I think I could pretty easily tear apart in an argument but which has at least a crude surface plausibility. But to quote “property” against open borders advocates as if they hadn’t heard of it is ridiculous. No, Theo is right to posit that all citizenists seem to accept moral side-constraints of one kind or another, and to steer the conversation towards a discussion of what appropriate side-constraints are. Incidentally, Hansjorg Walther’s comment…
Just a question. Sailer in the quote you give says the following:
– My starting point in analyzing policies is: “What is in the best overall interests of the current citizens of the United States?”
How do you get from that to your claim that his position is equivalent to Himmler’s position:
– Himmler embraces absolute devotion to “the best overall interests of the current citizens of Germany” as the highest morality.
Can’t you take something as a starting point for analyzing a policy without embracing it with absolute devotion as the highest morality which trumps everything else?
I don’t see how you can make this leap.
… is important because Steve Sailer, coiner of the term “citizenism,” endorsed it with a one-word comment: “Right.” Perhaps I’m overthinking this, but Sailer seems to have picked his moment shrewdly. For his comment dodges the Himmler analogy while being extremely non-committal. Citizenism, he suggests, is his starting point for analyzing a policy, but it does not follow that he embraces absolute devotion as the highest morality. Maybe Sailer means that he acccepts some other, higher morality as more absolute, but citizenism as a starting-point, as indeed even Vipul suggests might be appropriate when a policy doesn’t affect the welfare of non-citizens much. Maybe Sailer does embrace absolute devotion to citizenism as the highest moral value, agreeing with Himmler, but doesn’t want to say so openly, and is eager to establish that he can’t actually be proven guilty of that view based on what he’s written. Maybe Sailer wants to pursue citizenist ends subject to a certain basic respect for human rights. At any rate, he doesn’t say. Which is why I think he’s shrewd. This is not an argument that can work out favorably for him. He’s got popular prejudices on his side at least to some extent. He does not have reason on his side. “I’m not like Himmler, but I won’t tell you why I’m not,” may be his best bet here. But I shouldn’t make too much of an argument from near-silence.
By contrast, Kenneth Regas, self-declared citizenist, directly met Caplan’s challenge with admirable forthrightness, in one of the clearest defense of citizenism by an avowed citizenist that I have ever heard. For the rest of this post, all blockquotes are from his comment.
I am a citizenist and will take up Dr. Caplan’s challenge.
“For the SS Man, one principle must apply absolutely: we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood, and to no one else.”
Citizenists believe that we are obligated to be honest and decent toward ALL people. So after his first quoted sentence, we’re already in a starkly different camp from Herr Himmler’s.
Or as I would put it, citizenists accept that there are moral side-constraints.
“What happens to the Russians, the Czechs, is totally indifferent to me.”
It is natural, normal, and moral to experience loyalty and comradeship in a graduated fashion, strongest towards family and close friends, weakest toward strangers in strange lands. So we citizenists are not obligated to care about the fates of foreigners we’ve never met, although many do take an interest. Some even make generous gifts of time and/or treasure.
On the other hand, we certainly DO have a moral imperative to be “honest and decent” to those strangers by doing no harm. Of course, our understanding of “doing no harm” is different from Dr. Caplan’s. We do not construe the regulation of human traffic across our national borders, even with deadly force, as doing harm, for reasons I will give later.
Yes, exactly. The question is what kinds of moral side-constraints one is subject to in pursuing citizenist ends. While I’m not a citizenist myself– I am a Christian and I think Christianity forbids it, for starters– I think a citizenist framework for analyzing policy is actually much less problematic than the fact that the restrictionists accept the wrong moral side-constraints, and in a sense I have actually been making the citizenist case for open borders for years.
“Whatever is available to us in good blood of our type, we will take for ourselves, that is, we will steal their children and bring them up with us, if necessary. Whether other races live well or die of hunger is only of interest to me insofar as we need them as slaves for our culture … When somebody comes to me and says, I can’t build tank ditches with children or women. That’s inhumane, they’ll die doing it. Then I must say: You are a murderer of your own blood, since, if the tank ditches are not built, then German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. That is our blood. … ”
Launching wars of imperial conquest, stealing children, enslaving them and their parents – I would call these good examples of doing harm.
As for Dr. Caplan’s rationales #1 – #4, none of these really hits the nail on the head. Himmler misapplies citizenism by being willing to commit huge crimes to advance what he perceives to be German interests. It’s not evil for a German politician to have the interests of the German people closest to his heart. It’s evil for these interests to trump the obligation to be honest and decent to all.
And what does “being honest and decent to all” consist in?
We citizenists do have at least one idea in common with Heinrich Himmler, insofar as the quotation. We consider it OK to make a distinction between citizen and non-citizen. However, and this is crucial, the rights and obligations that WE assign to citizen and non-citizen are VERY DIFFERENT from those assigned by Himmler. He says of non-Germans, “We have only rights and no obligations with respect to them, not even the obligation to not harm them. They have no rights. If they have any obligation toward us, it is only to bend to our will.” In contrast we say — you’ve heard it.
Now then, what about the foundational crime of citizenism, namely that of keeping people out? It’s all about the nation state, unequal social and economic conditions around the world, and low-cost transportation.
The nation state is the most successful political organization in history and has made possible spectacular levels of material progress and human liberty.
This is a very contestable claim. First, while spectacular levels of material progress and human liberty have occurred in the context of the nation-state, correlation is not causation, and other factors, such as science-based technology and market capitalism and religious freedom, may explain the improvements in human welfare that have occurred over the last two centuries. Indeed, there are much stronger theoretical reasons to believe that market capitalism, for example, promotes human welfare, than to believe that the nation-state model of political organization does. Second, there is a problem with the claim that “keeping people out… is all about the nation-state,” namely that it is far from clear, as a logical matter, that nation-states and open borders are inconsistent, and in the 19th century borders were open and nation-states were flourishing. Third, the material progress and liberty Regas celebrates is not a general feature of nation-states, but only of a small minority of them. He immediately admits this…
Not all nation states are prosperous and free, but all prosperous and free societies exist inside sovereign nation states.
… but he fails to see that this concession eviscerates his whole argument. One can’t really describe the nation state as “the most successful political organization in history” because it “has made possible spectacular levels of material progress and human liberty,” when most modern nation states have singularly failed to promote material progress and human liberty. Indeed, the empirical claim is even more flawed, for the places where the nation state with closed borders has been the scene of great material progress and human liberty tend to be the very places that were clearly on track to material progress and human liberty before they became nation states with closed borders, whereas the places where the nation state was introduced as an innovation sometime in the 20th century, and thus where the supposedly beneficent nation state had an opportunity to do its good work, have tended to fare badly. The 20th century, when the sovereign nation state with closed borders became the global norm of political organization, didn’t see faster material progress than the 19th– if anything, economists are beginning to conclude that the economic frontier was moving forward fastest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and has since slipped into a (relative) “great stagnation”— and as far as human liberty was concerned, it was mainly distinguished by the emergence and spread, first in Europe and then in the Third World, of appalling new forms of tyranny. Granted, the Anglosphere and a few other places avoided these disasters, but even here it is probably realistic to say that liberty has been, on balance, eroded and curtailed, and while the second half of the 20th century was better than the first, it seems a singularly inept interpretation of history to celebrate the closed-borders nation-state as Regas did.
The function of a nation state is to defend a culture. Cultures are the means by which the benefits of learning are passed down the generations. This learning is often both very expensive and exceedingly valuable. Europeans don’t have to fight religious wars anymore, because they remember when they did. Medicine, law, science, manufacturing, commerce, etc. all amount to inheritances delivered through culture.
This is all rather too vague to rebut, but the facts that medicine, law, science, manufacturing and commerce, and in general “the benefits of learning,” have always spread across borders, and of course they do so through verbal communication and not blood inheritance; that religious wars were succeeded by even bloodier ideological wars and were ended not by closure of borders but by American intervention; and that the 19th century, with its open borders, was more peaceful than the 20th, may be sufficient to deprive this hand-waving of any persuasive force that a superficial reading might impute to it. Also, the claim that “the function of a nation state is to defend a culture” is odd, considering that cultures have existed and persisted and defended themselves for millennia before the nation state was invented.
National cultures are not all alike. Some are fabulously successful, others are dismal failures.
Yes, which is why it’s unfair to trap people in the dismal failures.
If you break the nation state, you disinherit vast numbers of people from invaluable legacies.
Objection 1: but open borders advocates do not want to break the nation-state, historical instances of a nation-state being broken by immigration seem to be non-existent, and keyhole solutions offer ways to safeguard institutions while opening borders. Objection 2: it is not clear that even the dissolution of nation-states would destroy the invaluable legacies, especially in view of the fact that several past regimes of political organization, such as the city-state republics of Renaissance Italy, or the absolute monarchies of the Enlightenment, have passed away without their cultural, institutional, and scientific legacies being lost. Objection 3: those “invaluable legacies” are part of the case for open borders, because by opening the borders, you give a lot more people the chance to absorb and enjoy them.
Think of just one, say respect for the rule of law. It is fundamental to the prosperity of millions of people, but far from universal.
As there was respect for rule of law long before nation-states, the idea that the dissolution of the nation-state would end the rule of law is superficially implausible. An argument for this claim would be needed. None is given.
The preservation of a national culture requires that a critical concentration of its members, the citizens, be maintained. If there are too many non-members, the bonds of shared language, beliefs, and assumptions breaks down.
The “preservation of a national culture” is too vague and conflates a lot of things. I would question whether, in America, there is much by way of “bonds of shared… beliefs” left. A huge diversity of religion and irreligion has long been a feature of American life, culture becomes ever more fissiparous, and nowadays on a crucial question like marriage the gulf between gay marriage supporters and religious conservatives is rather wider than the gap between religious conservatives and Homeric Greeks or medieval scholastics.
For example, honor systems of all sorts are common in countries where cheaters are looked down on. Add enough newcomers from a society that admires cheating and pretty soon the citizens of the host county are deprived of a valuable cultural inheritance.
So most nation states regulate how many foreigners may enter. And if they allow naturalization, they demand some proof of acculturation first.
Now, I wouldn’t endorse a version of restrictionism that says, “we can only admit people of our own culture, so before we can naturalize you, you have to prove that you’ve acquired it.” I wouldn’t endorse it because there’s no reason people of different cultures can’t mix. Lots of successful polities throughout history have governed multicultural populations or rubbed along nicely with significant cultural minorities in their midst. Still, it’s interesting to think about the kind of migration regime that would be implied by Regas’s scheme. It seems to suggest a regime in which anyone who learns English, expresses a belief in religious freedom and democracy and natural rights or whatever the relevant contents of American culture are, can become a citizen. That would be a strong incentive for people to preemptively embrace American culture so they can immigrate. Of course, no degree of assimilatedness to American culture and values entitles a person to immigrate, and even a lot of people who have grown up here are subject to deportation, so this justification of migration restrictions makes them sound much more rational and justified than they really are.
Of course, if standards of living were roughly the same all around the world, and if travel between countries were not as cheap as it is now, these laws might not be needed. But there are huge differences in standard of living and travel is cheap. So the citizens of prosperous nation states have no choice but to forcibly keep people out, if they wish to preserve their cultural legacies.
This is the argument by which Regas fends off the comparison to the 19th century, which otherwise would make nonsense of his claim that open borders is incompatible with nation states. It has some force, but it’s really an argument for keyhole solutions, not arbitrary and discretionary exclusion. Low transport costs and vast global inequality do suggest there is a danger that rich countries would get swamped to the point of losing their institutional integrity (though not their cultural legacies, really: again, culture inheres in people and can be passed on from parents to children even when different cultures are living all mixed up together). But immigration taxes can deal with that problem.
None of this refutes the libertarian view that regulating borders, by restricting human freedom, is a crime. But that view arises solely upon an unprovable axiom: that the preservation of human liberty is the highest of all moral goods.
Umm… err… what?!
At the beginning, Regas said that we have an obligation to be honest and decent to strangers, and not do harm. That was promising. He then made an argument that the aim of citizenism– preservation of the nation state, and of national cultures within it– was a supremely important human good. I am largely unconvinced that the nation state is such a beneficent institution, unconvinced by the claim that closed borders are necessary to preserve the nation state, and still less convinced that either preservation of the nation state or closed borders are necessary to the preservation of national cultures. But more to the point, even if Regas’s argument were successful, it would not differentiate him much from Himmler. While Himmler seems to have had a very Darwinian focus on blood alone, he surely felt that he was trying to secure the survival and flourishing of the German people in its cultural as well as its racial aspect. He would certainly have agreed with Regas that some nations are more successful than– he would have said, more bluntly, superior to– others. Where Regas is supposed to differ from Himmler is in feeling the need to be honest and decent to everyone and do no harm– or more succinctly, in accepting moral side-constraints. So, what moral side-constraints? And why? Instead of explaining his own moral side-constraints, he imputes to his “libertarian” opponents a different end.
I don’t claim that “the preservation of human liberty is the highest of all moral goods.” I don’t know what that means. I do think that it’s unacceptable for deportation policy to separate a million family members by force. And I do think that such deportations are an inevitable consequence of the prevailing doctrine that each and every human being on US territory must have the US government’s permission to be there. I would suggest “Don’t separate family members by force” as a fairly absolute maxim, or at any rate one that the US government isn’t even close to being in such desperate circumstances as to have an excuse for disregarding. I don’t find the claim that exiling people who have spent almost their whole lives in America to Third World misery is treating them “honestly and decently” and “doing no harm” to be one whose proponents can be credited with good faith and common sense. In Principles of a Free Society, I try to think through questions about the just powers of governments pretty carefully, and what I find is that exclusion of immigrants by force is not among those just powers. In particular, it can’t be derived from the social contract, even if we generously regard that ideological construct as having merit. It can’t be derived from self-defense as long as immigrants are peaceful.
I don’t know of any society in which this axiom is a cultural norm.
And open borders advocates don’t accept it either.
On the contrary, it is my impression that respect for national sovereignty is universal (outside libertarian circles, of course).
National sovereignty is like divine right monarchy or feudal aristocracy or white supremacy: it is the reigning ideology of a particular era. Before World War I, open borders was the norm. In the Middle Ages, national sovereignty wasn’t even conceivable. There is a lot of status quo bias here: people accept the opinions that are handed down to them by the powers that be. In the same way, they once took divine right monarchy or feudal aristocracy, the caste system in India or the “Mandate of Heaven” in China, on faith. Yet in a sense all undocumented immigrants, and their landlords and employers and sympathetic friends, fail to respect national sovereignty. They approve of the violation of the will of the relevant sovereign power. Why? Because it’s obviously the right thing to do, in the particular case where they know the facts. It’s the right thing to do in many, many other cases, too.
And to the extent that there may be any “wiggle room” in the axiom – any reasonableness test – then I assert that the necessity of regulated borders to sustain national sovereignty, the universal acceptance of that sovereignty, the extraordinary value embodied in the national cultures that it preserves, and the mountains of blood and treasure that human beings have expended over the centuries to create and defend sovereign nation states, all argue strongly that the supposed right of any person to travel to any place must yield to a yet higher good.
And why, then, shouldn’t the Russian women and children dying to dig tank ditches for Nazi Germany not “yield to a yet higher good?” Regas initially seemed to commit himself to moral side-constraints, but now he sounds like he’s overriding them.
The final part of Dr. Caplan’s challenge is to identify American policies advocated on a citizenism basis that one disagrees with. I’ll take sugar quotas. This is fishing in a barrel and uninstructive. All laws adopted in the United States, at every level of government, are promoted as good for the general welfare. If you’re a liberal citizenist, then you’re likely to deem the Great Society programs, such as Medicare, are great accomplishments. If you’re a conservative, you may think that they are catastrophes, judged on the same basis, namely the general welfare of the citizenry. For that matter, both sides of the current immigration debate argue that their approach is best for the country as a whole.
Only libertarians argue that advancing the general welfare of the citizenry is the wrong top priority.
When a law is promoted as “good for the general welfare,” this begs the question of whose welfare. Sometimes it is quite properly only the welfare of the citizenry, or even of a much narrower group, say, the inhabitants of a city or neighborhood. A law about trash pickup or building a park doesn’t much affect non-locals, so it’s innocuous to leave effects on non-locals out of account. By contrast, when Bush promotes a federally financed campaign against AIDS in Africa, the primary intended beneficiaries are Africans, and everyone knows that, even if foreign aid is sometimes pitched as somehow indirectly related to the national interest. Again, when we intervened in Libya, rightly or wrongly, we had virtually no stake in it other than to prevent Gaddafi’s troops from slaughtering people in Benghazi. Likewise Kosovo. Most Americans would indeed judge the Great Society programs based on how they affect the US citizenry, because these programs don’t affect foreigners in any obvious way. It doesn’t follow that they think the welfare of the citizenry is the top priority in any general way.
But, to the extent that citizenism is a widespread view, this does nothing to help Regas differentiate himself from Himmler, who certainly did regard the interests of Germans, though defined more by race than citizenship, as his top priority. Regas’s claim to differentiate himself from Himmler depends entirely on his declared acceptance of moral side-constraints, which, however, remains underdeveloped, and his commitment to which is called into question by his later language about the “right… to travel… yield[ing] to a yet higher good” and “the general welfare of the citizenry [as] the… top priority.” Does he deny that there is a right to migrate? Or does he think there is one, but it is trumped by national sovereignty and the necessity of preserving cultures? If he denies it, on what grounds? Simply because it is “an unprovable axiom?” It’s doubtful in what sense any moral claim can be “provable,” but moral reasoning does have some resources, and a defense of the right to migrate can be made which is at least as powerful as the case for most of the moral claims that are widely accepted today. If he thinks the right to migrate can be overridden, what other rights can be overridden, and why shouldn’t the lives of Russian women and children conscripted to help save Germany from the genuine horror of Soviet conquest be included in the list? Halfway through Regas’s comment, I thought I knew where he differed from Himmler. By the end, I was not sure.
The citizenists who answered Caplan’s challenge were half successful in meeting it. It does seem clear that they accept some kind of moral side-constraints on how citizenist ends can be pursued, and that is the only way, some other unsuccessful arguments notwithstanding, in which they differ essentially from Himmler. But they are much too vague and non-committal about the content of those moral side-constraints.
This post is long enough, but I also found the social contractarian line taken by a few commenters interesting. Possibly more on that later.