Tag Archives: citizenism

Citizenists need to clarify their views on moral side-constraints (a response to commenters on Caplan’s Himmler post)

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. Continue reading “Citizenists need to clarify their views on moral side-constraints (a response to commenters on Caplan’s Himmler post)” »

Is citizenism a commonly held belief system?

Here at Open Borders: The Case, we have devoted a large number of blog posts to critiquing citizenism. Some others on the open borders side have been critical of this resource allocation decision. One criticism is that by devoting so much attention to citizenism, we’re giving it more serious consideration than it deserves. This sentiment was echoed in a comment by Andy Hallman for instance.

Citizenism would deserve consideration if it were either plausible or popular. As Bryan Caplan writes:

As a rule, I do not respond to positions that are neither plausible nor popular.

So, is citizenism either plausible or popular? If we look at the explicit origins of citizenism, we might be tempted to think otherwise. The term “citizenism” has been coined by Steve Sailer, who, while doubtless considerably more widely read than Open Borders, is quite controversial himself, and hardly mainstream. The use of the term hasn’t caught on much outside a few select circles: Sailer’s ideological fellow travelers on the one hand, and a few other blogs such as Open Borders and EconLog on the other.

Even among Sailer’s ideological fellow travelers, consent to the term is far from unanimous. For instance, the very first commenter on one of Sailer’s posts on citizenism begins with “Citizenism deserves all the scorn it gets, no doubt about that.”

I believe that even though few people explicitly subscribe to the tenets of citizenism as formulated by Sailer, most restrictionist arguments, particularly those that refer to the harms to immigrant-receiving countries, implicitly make their normative claims using citizenist reasoning — they weigh the interests of natives/citizens much higher than that of non-citizens, and view this as a legitimate basis for immigration restrictions. Citizenism is an important undercurrent in the majority of restrictionist thinking and perhaps even in some mainstream pro-immigration circles.

A more general framing it is that a lot of people subscribe to the moral relevance of countries. But, the mere assertion that countries have considerable moral relevance could be interpreted and made more concrete through a number of different normative ethical perspective such as:

  • Citizenism, the idea that national governments and citizens should give primacy to the interests of current citizens (and their descendants). Citizenism may be justified by neocameralism or some variant thereof.
  • Territorialism, the idea that national governments should give primacy to the interests of people within the geographic area of the nation-state, regardless of their citizenship status.
  • Local inequality aversion, the idea that local inequality within national boundaries is an evil in and of itself, independent of global inequality.
  • Nation as family, a variant of citizenism which asserts that the family is a useful metaphor for the nation, and that the head of family is the nation-state’s government.
  • “Maximize the average” type views, where the goal is to maximize the average indicators of the nation as it is constituted in the future, through appropriate migration, deportation, and extermination policies.
  • Love for the physical land or specific cultural capital of the nation-state as a motivator for national government policy, independent of whether people are willing to pay to preserve these.
  • “Proposition nation” theories: Here, the goal is to preserve specific values or institutions associated with the nation, such as slavery, ethnic strife, democracy, free markets, or a large welfare state.

All of these are important and they interact in interesting ways, but I contend that citizenism is one of the more important formalizations of the moral relevance of countries. Later in the post, I will return to the question of why it isn’t more explicitly embraced or discussed in mainstream circles, and why it took a relatively heterodox figure like Steve Sailer to articulate it clearly.

Sophisticated citizenism among policy wonks and social scientists

A passage from a recent op-ed by Tyler Cowen (which has been praised by David Henderson on EconLog and many of my Facebook friends) notes and critiques the citizenistic underpinnings of many policy analyses relating to immigration:

“Imagine that it is your professional duty to report a cost-benefit analysis of liberalizing immigration policy. You wouldn’t dream of producing a study that counted “men only” or “whites only,” at least not without specific, clearly stated reasons for dividing the data. So why report cost-benefit results only for United States citizens or residents, as is sometimes done in analyses of both international trade and migration?”

For some other examples of citizenistic arguments from an unexpected quarter — leftists in the UK — see here and here (HT: co-blogger John Lee for both links). Here’s a relevant quote from the latter (emphasis added, not in original):

I would guess that it remains the common sense assumption of 90 per cent of British citizens that public policy should give preference to the interests of citizens before non-citizens should the two conflict: that does not mean you cannot be an internationalist, or believe that it is a valuable part of our tradition to offer a haven to refugees, or believe that all humans are of equal moral worth and if they are in British space are entitled to certain basic rights. But it does mean that the first call on our resources and sense of obligation begins with our fellow citizens.

And this should be a central principle underlying immigration policy that the authors do not spell out robustly enough: immigration policy must be designed to serve the interests of existing British citizens, especially poorer ones. [see also our master race page] It is true that it is not always easy to work out what those interests are. It is also true that Matt and Sarah do accept discrimination on grounds of nationality (and reject post-national arguments in favour of global social mobility) and understand that immigrants do not necessarily have the same entitlements as the settled population, but this is all rather tentative and overshadowed by a far more robust and often repeated commitment to a human rights ideology that too often overtly seeks to dissolve the precious distinction between citizen and non-citizen.

In a Facebook post, I posited three possible explanations for the implicit citizenism in policy analyses and policy wonk discussions. Continue reading “Is citizenism a commonly held belief system?” »

Tell Me How Himmler Misapplied Citizenism

This is a guest post by Bryan Caplan. Caplan’s previous guest post, My Path to Open Borders, has been one of the most viewed and most liked blog posts on our website.

Heinrich Himmler delivered his infamous Posen speech on October 4, 1943. The speech, which was actually recorded, is best-known as a smoking gun for the Holocaust. But the three-hour lecture also makes a foray into political philosophy. Himmler’s deep thoughts:

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. What happens to the Russians, the Czechs, is totally indifferent to me. 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; otherwise that doesn’t interest me. Whether 10,000 Russian women fall down from exhaustion in building a tank ditch is of interest to me only insofar as the tank ditches are finished for Germany.

We will never be hard and heartless when it is not necessary; that is clear. We Germans, the only ones in the world with a decent attitude towards animals, will also adopt a decent attitude with regards to these human animals; but it is a sin against our own blood to worry about them and give them ideals, so that our sons and grandchildren will have a harder time with them. 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. That is how I would like to indoctrinate this SS, and, I believe, have indoctrinated, as one of the holiest laws of the future: our concern, our duty, is to our Folk, and to our blood. That is what we must care for and think about, work for and fight for, and nothing else. Everything else can be indifferent to us.

At least on a superficial reading, Himmler seems to be whole-heartedly embracing what Steve Sailer calls “citizenism.” Sailer’s words:

Personally, I am a citizenist

My starting point in analyzing policies is: “What is in the best overall interests of the current citizens of the United States?”

In contrast, so many others think in terms of: “What is in the best interest of my: identity group / race / ethnicity / religion / bank account / class / ideology / clique / gender / sexual orientation / party / and/or personal feelings of moral superiority?”

Sailer repeatedly appeals to citizenism to reject open borders.  Though I think he’s totally misguided, I would never equate him with Himmler.  I wouldn’t approvingly quote Sailer if I thought otherwise. I mean this in all sincerity, and do not mean to damn with faint praise. To condemn all citizenists because someone kills in the name of citizenism is pure guilt by association. Homicidal maniacs have yet to find a political philosophy they cannot twist into a rationalization for their crimes.

So why bring Himmler’s speech up at all? Because this particular homicidal maniac appears to correctly deduce his criminal actions from citizenism. Himmler embraces absolute devotion to  “the best overall interests of the current citizens of Germany” as the highest morality. In consequence, we can politely but firmly ask mainstream citizenists for clarification. Precisely how does Himmler misapply your political philosophy?

Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Himmler is misapplying citizenism because the actions he defends were ineffective or counter-productive means to advance German interests. This story has the implausible implication that Himmler would have been right if the policies he advocated did in fact tip the scales of victory to Germany, leading in turn to a higher standard of living for Germans than we’ve actually observed.
  2. Himmler is misapplying citizenism because many of the people he wanted to murder were German. This story has the implausible implication that murdering non-Germans was OK. Furthermore, Himmler could reply that any so-called “Germans” he wants to murder lost their German citizenship years earlier.
  3. Himmler is misapplying citizenism because the doctrine only applies to Americans. While Americans should favor fellow Americans, Germans should not favor fellow Germans. This story has the implausible implication that it would have been morally permissible for Americans to work Russians, Czechs, and other foreigners to death if it had promoted American well-being.
  4. Himmler is misapplying citizenism by taking it too literally. As Sailer puts it, “All ethical principles come with endless grown-up qualifications to fantasies hatched by childish minds.” But Himmler could easily retort, “All ethical principles come with endless childish excuses to escape unwelcome duties.” As he explains elsewhere in the Posen speech:

    The Jewish nation will be rooted out, says every Party Comrade, that’s quite clear, it’s in our program: shutting the Jews down and out, rooting them out; that’s what we’re doing. And then they all come along, these 80 million good Germans, and every one of them has his decent Jew.

My best guess is that avowed citizenists will flock to something like #4. I hope they do. But I still have to ask them: Given the horrific actions that people like Himmler have explicitly committed on citizenist grounds, why don’t you calm our fears by fleshing out the crucial qualifications that the Himmlers of the world fail to grasp? Why don’t you go further by naming some actually-existing American policies you oppose even though they’re literal implications of citizenism? If citizenists want their position taken seriously, they should start pre-emptively defending their positions from misinterpretation, even if it does tax their patience.

The photograph of Heinrich Himmler visiting Dachau concentration camp featured at the head of this post originates from the German Bundesarchiv, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence.

Rolf Dobelli on Citizenism

I am currently reading The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, which gives a summary of the many cognitive errors that human beings are prone to make, errors that inhibit our ability to think clearly and logically. The book also gives advice on how best to overcome some of these biases. One chapter in the book struck me as being relevant to the debate on the moral relevance of countries and the ideas around citizenism, a debate to which my co-bloggers Sebastian Nickel and Nathan Smith have recently made contributions (see here and here). The chapter is called “Why You Identify With Your Football Team: In-Group Out-Group Bias” and it appears as Chapter 79 in the book. Below I reproduce, with the author’s permission, the entire chapter (I have added hyperlinks):

When I was a child, a typical wintry Sunday looked like this: my family sat in front of the TV watching a ski race. My parents cheered for the Swiss skiers and wanted me to do the same. I didn’t understand the fuss. First, why zoom down a mountain on two planks? It makes as little sense as hopping up the mountain on one leg, while juggling three balls and stopping every 100 feet to hurl a log as far as possible. Second, how can one-hundredth of a second count as a difference? Common sense would say that if people are that close together, they are equally good skiers. Third, why should I identify with the Swiss skiers? Was I related to any one of them? I didn’t think so. I didn’t even know what they thought or read, and if I lived a few feet over the Swiss border, I would probably (have to) cheer for another team altogether.

This brings us to the question: does identifying with a group — a sports team, an ethnicity, a company, a state — represent flawed thinking?

Over thousands of years, evolution has shaped every behavioural pattern, including attraction to certain groups. In times past, group membership was vital. Fending for yourself was close to impossible. As people began to form alliances, all had to follow suit. Individuals stood no chance against collectives. Whoever rejected membership or got expelled forfeited their place not only in the group, but also in the gene pool.  No wonder we are such social animals — our ancestors were, too.

Psychologists have investigated different group effects. These can be neatly categorised under the term in-group-out-group bias. First, groups often form based on minor, even trivial, criteria. With sports affiliations, a random birthplace suffices, and in business it is where you work. To test this, the British psychologist Henri Tajfel* split strangers into groups, tossing a coin to choose who went to which group. He told the members of one group it was because they all liked a particular type of art. The results were impressive: although A) they were strangers, B) they were allocated to a group at random and C) they were far from art connoisseurs, the group members found each other more agreeable than members of other groups. Second, you perceive people outside your own group to be more similar than they actually are. This is called the out-group homogeneity bias. Stereotypes and prejudices stem from it. Have you ever noticed that, in science-fiction movies, only the humans have different cultures and the aliens do not? Third, since groups often form on the basis of common values, group members receive a disproportionate amount of support for their own views. This distortion is dangerous, especially in business: it leads to the infamous organisational blindness.

Family members helping one another out is understandable. If you share half your genes with your siblings, you are naturally interested in their well-being. But there is such a thing as ‘pseudokinship‘, which evokes the same emotions without blood relationship. Such feelings can lead to the most senseless cognitive error of all: laying down your life for a random group — also known as going to war. It is no coincidence that ‘motherland’ suggests kinship. And it’s not by chance that the goal of any military training is to forge soldiers together as ‘brothers’.

In conclusion: prejudice and aversion are biological responses to anything foreign. Identifying with a group has been a survival strategy for hundreds of thousands of years. Not any longer; identifying with a group distorts your view of the facts. Should you ever be sent to war, and don’t agree with its goals, desert.

*Henri Tajfel’s classic paper on the behaviour of groups is Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination.

Moral Relevance of Countries Bleg

The generally accepted idea that the institutions of countries and citizenship have considerable moral relevance has always struck me as bizarre. To me, it seems obvious, on the face of it, that where a person was born, or who a person’s parents are, are arbitrary matters (that said person has no influence over) and therefore cannot be relevant to such evaluative questions as whether that person has a right to rent property or accept a job in location X. (See John Lee’s post on Phillip Cole’s moral argument for open borders, which also relies on this point.) Likewise, where we have come to conventionally draw borders on maps seems to me a matter of historical circumstances that virtually nobody alive today has any responsibility in and that therefore can have little moral relevance in evaluating people’s actions. (While I think some compelling consequentialist arguments can be made along the lines that disrespecting existing borders might dangerously offset an equilibrium, I do not think this kind of argument can take you all that far. More on this in an upcoming post.)

Perhaps most people can at least relate to my prima facie attitude described in the previous paragraph, but I am clearly in a small minority in persisting in such a view in the face of common political discourse. Almost everybody treats the moral relevance of countries and citizenship as a given (often in the form of citizenism).

This renders discussions of the morality of migration restrictions difficult and unpromising for people with views similar to mine, as it seems that those who disagree with me reason from entirely different starting points and have very different ideas about who holds the burden of proof, compared to my views. Consider the last paragraph from a response by Sonic Charmer (aka The Crimson Reach) to Michael Huemer’s guest post on Open Borders:

Let’s just note that in this ridiculous construction, not allowing someone to permanently relocate to the United States has been equated with abusing them to one’s heart’s content. Is this a real argument? I don’t think so. Even if the intended point here were stated in a more sober and less straw-manny way, the problem is that there is simply no Universal Human Right To Immigrate To The United States Of America. Such a thing is, if anything, even more problematic and mythical than the concept of a literal ‘social contract’. But if the professor nevertheless thinks there is such a Universal Human Right, where did it come from? Why didn’t he include his actual argument for its existence in that (already very long) piece?

The idea, as I understand it, is that the onus is on Michael Huemer to establish the existence of a Universal Human Right To Immigrate To The US. (Thomas Sowell expresses apparently the same view here.) This task seems hopeless, as the idea of a “Universal Human Right To Immigrate To The US” seems ridiculous. I agree that it seems ridiculous, but not because I do not think that people are generally within their (moral) rights to move to the US. I also think it would seem ridiculous to posit a Universal Human Right To Ride A Bicycle On A Tuesday, even though people generally are well within their rights to do so. We simply do not normally talk of moral rights to actions with specific, morally irrelevant features.  (Compare this point with the 9th amendment to the US Constitution; HT: Vipul.) Given that I see no good reason for considering countries morally relevant in such matters, I contend that all that is needed is a right to rent property and to accept a job, and that the burden of proof is on restrictionists to establish that the geographical location of the property or of the work environment nullifies this right.

When I say that I see no good reasons to overrule the prima facie moral irrelevance of countries I described above, I suspect that many people will diagnose me with outrageous naiveté and ignorance of strong arguments that “everybody knows” (even if they may not be able to properly articulate those arguments themselves, but then they might defer this task to figures of “obvious authority”). But while this puts me under some social pressure to pretend otherwise, the truth is that no arguments I have heard for the moral relevance of countries have seemed compelling, let alone sufficient to me.

If I were to attempt an Ideological Turing Test (i.e. to argue the position that countries are morally relevant as best I can), I might try a social contract angle, a “fragile political equilibrium” angle, a “collective property” angle, a social capital angle, a “brain drain” angle, a “differences in national IQ and personality factors averages” angle, or a “cultural differences” angle, and perhaps I would not fare much worse than many people who really hold that position – but I would find myself very unconvincing, especially because it seems to me that most of these arguments are compelling only if we’re already assuming that countries are morally relevant. (This is particularly true of the welfare state objection to open borders, as the moral relevance of countries seems essential to justifying a national welfare state as opposed to non-nation-bound welfare programs.)

Since it seems necessary to me to take such a “back to basics” approach, given the persistent disagreement about what the morally relevant starting points are, I hereby issue a bleg: What are the strongest arguments (both in objective terms and in terms of their appeal to the masses) for the moral relevance of countries – particularly concerning such questions as where one may rent property and work? (Not excluding arguments pertaining to one of the “angles” I’ve listed above – I do not claim to have conclusively laid the viability of any of these general lines of argument to rest.)

Afterthought: Although this is isn’t what I primarily have in mind, Vipul’s previous bleg about universalist defenses of citizenism might provide an interesting way of approaching this question, too.