Tag Archives: citizenism

Phillip Cole’s classic summary of the moral case for open borders

Phillip Cole is a professor of ethics at the University of Wales, Newport and recently wrote half of a book arguing that modern egalitarian liberal ideals demand open borders (the other half, written by another ethicist, took the opposite position that states have extremely broad powers to exclude whomever they desire from entering their territory). In December of 2012, he delivered a lecture summarising the ethical arguments for open borders. I urge you to read it in full, even though if you are familiar with the contents of Open Borders: The Case, not much in Cole’s talk should surprise you.

Cole starts by defining open borders, noting that this is not synonymous with “no borders”:

…the right to cross borders is embodied in international law, but only in one direction. Everyone has the right to leave any state including their own. This is a right that can only be over-ridden by states in extreme circumstances, some kind of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation. What we have is an asymmetry between immigration and emigration, where states have to meet highly stringent tests to justify any degree of control over emigration, but aren’t required to justify their control over immigration at all.

In effect all I’m proposing is that immigration should be brought under the same international legal framework as emigration. Immigration controls would become the exception rather than the rule, and would need to meet stringent tests in terms of evidence of national catastrophe that threatens the life of the nation, and so would be subject to international standards of fairness and legality. This is far from a picture of borderless, lawless anarchy.

Cole builds the ethical argument for open borders on 3 pillars. The first is human agency: as human beings with dignity of our own, we are the captains of our own lives. Those who would prevent us from “authoring our own life story,” as he so eloquently puts it, need to meet stringent tests in order to do so:

Human rights constitute a framework that supplies the conditions people need to become empowered to achieve their own humanity on their own terms.

If we place the right to mobility in this context, we see it as an essential component of human agency, such that it is a crucial part of people’s ability to become free and equal choosers, doers and participators in their communities, including the international community.

An illustration of the power of this idea is how unacceptable we would find it if our right to freedom of movement, including the right to settle, was restricted at the national level. It seems surprising to find how easily people accept the idea that it is alright to block people’s freedom of movement at the international level.

Cole’s second pillar rests on global Rawlsianism (the moral argument I typically find most compelling), and he quite unforgivingly tears apart conventional liberal norms that certain moral rights stop at the water’s edge:

I take it that a central commitment within liberal political morality is the moral equality of persons – not citizens, but persons. This is the universalist and egalitarian ethics that has made liberal political thought so dynamic, yet it’s a universalist and egalitarian ethics which some think stops at the national border…

We can’t exclude anybody from the scope of our moral principles unless there’s a morally relevant difference that justifies us in doing so… And yet we don’t seem to consider that the determination of life prospects by the randomness of birth to be rare and exceptional at all –we just accept it as morally legitimate. But how bizarre is that?

His third pillar is that there are no “common sense” arguments for immigration restrictions; you need to build extremely sophisticated ethical arguments in order to do so. He takes on some very sensible and pragmatic objections (the feasibility of maintaining a welfare state, the overriding importance of citizenist principles, the lost sense of community concomitant with rising immigration levels, the risk of a “swamping” catastrophe, etc.) directly and shows how they are impossible to reconcile with modern moral norms. Rather than quote a third of the lecture to you, I urge you to read Cole’s lecture itself.

In closing, Cole turns to some broader questions, and notes that his analysis is troubling for conventional ideas about citizenship. It’s worth noting that one possible reading of Cole is that all barriers to acquisition of citizenship anywhere are unjust (though Cole never makes this claim himself); this claim I would not find convincing. Cole quite wisely devotes most of his lecture to stressing the immorality of existing barriers to movement.

I am in awe of this lecture, primarily because of how well it summarises the moral case for open borders. Cole unpacks a whole host of arguments in a fairly compact amount of time. In a single bracketed throwaway paragraph, for instance, Cole unleashes the novel (at least to me) argument that citizenist policies are ironically only justifiable in a world with open borders:

[Which side of the border you are born on is clearly arbitrary from a moral point of view, and so this can’t be used to justify the moral priority of insider-rights over out-sider rights. The only way location could be used to justify ethical priority is through freedom of choice– if people have freely chosen to be here rather than there. And so the only way an egalitarian liberal can claim that members’ rights have moral priority over the rights of outsiders is if the members have freely chosen to be members and outsiders have freely chosen to be outsiders – in other words, under conditions of freedom of movement. Ironically, it seems that the only thing that can justify the morality of special rights between co-nationals which over-ride rights of non-nationals is, in fact, complete freedom of international movement.]

Michael Clemens’s lecture “The Biggest Idea in Development that No One Really Tried” is to me the classic summation of the economic case for open borders (though it makes a fairly compelling moral case too). Cole’s lecture is, I daresay, a worthy moral case counterpart to Clemens’s.

Citizenism and open borders

This is a guest post by Michael Huemer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Huemer’s webpage is here. His paper Is There A Right To Immigrate? has been referenced at many places on the Open Borders site, particularly on the starving Marvin page. Huemer’s most recent book, The Problem of Political Authority, argues against political authority and for the proposition that anarcho-capitalism is a superior and feasible alternative to the status quo of nation-states. It received a rave review from fellow anarcho-capitalist and open borders advocate Bryan Caplan.

 

Vipul Naik invited me to contribute a post, and he suggested (among other possible topics) addressing the citizenist argument against open borders. As most readers probably know, this argument claims that the state is justified in closing its borders to foreigners because the state has special duties to promote the interests of its own current citizens, duties that it does not owe toward anyone who is not presently a citizen.

This citizenist argument has three main problems. First, it’s unclear why we should think the government has these special duties. Second, even if the government has special duties to its citizens, the citizenist argument requires arbitrarily privileging some citizens over others. Third, even if we ignore the previous two problems, the citizenist argument doesn’t work because one’s having special duties toward certain people does not make it permissible to violate the rights of other people.

I. Does the State Have a Duty to Benefit Citizens?

To begin with, then, why do citizenists believe that the government has special duties to its current citizens? Some just assert this without argument (see, e.g., Steve Sailer). Others appeal to the social contract theory (see, e.g., Sonic Charmer): maybe the social contract requires the government to serve the interests of its own citizens.

Sonic Charmer also pointed out the most obvious problem with this argument (though it doesn’t stop Sonic from embracing the argument anyway):

[A]ll Smart People think the ‘social contract’ is nonsense and couldn’t possibly imagine anyone with a brain believing in it. The whole idea that the basis and legitimacy of a government comes from anything resembling a ‘social contract’ is totally out of favor, and indeed is considered to have been long ago fully and definitively discredited by (whoever … some professor I think).

I could not have said it better. I know of no living person who works on political authority and thinks that we actually have a valid social contract. And I say that after having just written a book on political authority that contains 359 references.

Very briefly, contracts, in any other context, satisfy at least the following four principles: (i) all parties to a contract must have a reasonable way of opting out (without being forced to give up things of great value that belong to them), (ii) explicit, up front statements of non-agreement should generally be recognized as a way of not accepting a contract, (iii) an action cannot be interpreted as signaling agreement, if the terms of the contract would have been imposed on the agent regardless of whether they performed that action or not, and (iv) contracts generally require both parties to undertake enforceable obligations to each other, and if one party repudiates or simply fails to uphold its obligations under the contract, the other party is no longer bound to hold up their end either. The “social contract” violates all of these principles, and blatantly so. This is discussed at length in my recent book, The Problem of Political Authority, chapter 2. This is why I say that the “social contract” bears no resemblance to real contracts, as understood in any other context. If you took someone to court for an alleged “breach of contract”, no court in the world would recognize a claim of contractual obligation if you had nothing better than the sort of arguments that social contract theorists have relied upon.

But let’s say you don’t care what those annoying egghead intellectuals say. They’re always trying to convince us of ridiculous things, like that the Earth is round and that we came from monkeys. There’s a social contract, arguments to the contrary be damned! Okay, but what does the contract require? Here are two views: Continue reading “Citizenism and open borders” »

Citizens versus non-citizens and citizens versus rulers

We at Open Borders have devoted lots of posts to critiquing citizenism, so one might suspect that we’d soon hit diminishing returns. But the theory of citizenism, in so far as it is the main normative ethical perspective that most restrictionists use to make their arguments, conceals a lot of assumptions behind a simple framing, and it’s worth picking these apart. In this blog post, I want to concentrate specifically on an argument that Steve Sailer and others have made: the constitutional/social contract origins of citizenism. The idea is that the constitutions and founding documents of the US and other countries explicitly attest that rulers must give primacy to the interests of citizens.

Co-blogger Chris Hendrix already considered some aspects of this in the context of the United States. Being less knowledgeable or curious about the specifics of history, and more interested in the common thread behind arguments across multiple nations, I wish to approach this issue from a different angle. To that end, I’ll quote Steve Sailer from his blog post, where he quotes the Preamble to the US Constitution:

It’s worth noting that the Preamble to the Constitution is rooted much more in my way of thinking than in Bryan’s:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. [Emphasis mine]

Sailer is a US-centric citizenist, but citizenists around the world could point to comparable statements in appropriate parts of their nation’s founding documents that affirm something to the effect of the following social contract:

  • The people vest authority in the government.
  • In return, the government promises to put the interests of the people above its own, i.e., instead of politicians working for their private benefit, they work to serve the citizenry who have vested trust in them.

The theory behind this kind of social contract is that the citizenry are ceding something — giving the government a monopoly on the use of violence — and in exchange, demanding that the government work for the interests of the citizenry. Give up something, get something in return. Sounds reasonable. (There are many objections to social contract theory, but this is not the place to go into them).

What alternative arrangements have historically competed with this “citizenistic” social contract? The divine right of kings is in some ways the polar opposite theory — it says that rulers basically have carte blanche to do what they want, because they derive their authority from God. My reading of the citizenistic social contract is thus that it is a contract that seeks to move away from a divine rights of kings framework to a framework where the rulers are bound by the citizenry. In other words, it is a claim about the mutual responsibilities of citizens and rulers.

Under this reading, then, non-citizens don’t enter the picture at all. Thus, the citizenistic framing of various founding documents across the globe cannot be construed as directly implying Sailer-style citizenism which is about favoring the interests of (current) citizens (and their descendants) relative to non-citizens. These two forms of “citizenism” are not inconsistent, but they are far from equivalent.

The hardcore natural rights argument for migration would be that if, prior to the social contract, the (prospective) citizenry did not have the moral right to restrict migration, then the social contract — whereby the citizenry cede some rights to a government — cannot confer on this government the moral right to restrict migration. If the citizens didn’t have the moral right to restrict migration of non-citizens, how could their government acquire a right to do so through a contract signed between the citizens and the government? Continue reading “Citizens versus non-citizens and citizens versus rulers” »

How opponents of immigration on the left and right differ: territorialism versus citizenism

Post by Vipul Naik (regular blogger and site founder, launched site and started blogging March 2012). See:

Alex Nowrasteh recently tweeted criticisms of open borders from two fronts: Daniel Costa of the progressive Economic Policy Institute in a blog post titled On International Migrants Day, remember that guest worker programs aren’t the solution for immigration reform and Mark Krikorian of the center-right Center for Immigration Studies in a piece on National Review titled Black Unemployment: Just Don’t Mention the Immigration!

So I read both pieces. What struck me (and I also tweeted this) was that a quick reading of the articles wouldn’t reveal clearly which one was coming from a progressive/left-leaning perspective and which one was coming from a right-leaning/conservative perspective. Superficially, both arguments fell under what Bryan Caplan might dismiss as the master race argument — the idea that low-skilled natives are the ultimate interest group who should be given special preference in any policy discussion. It’s not my place here to critique this line of argument (though, if you’re interested, Nathan Smith blogged about teens and immigrants a while back, and Alex Nowrasteh had a critique of a related CIS study several years ago).

The point I want to make is that, despite the superficial similarity in the two pieces, there is one important difference, which I think is the key difference between the left-wing/progressive segment of opposition to open borders and the right-wing/conservative segment of opposition to open borders. Namely, progressive opponents of open borders tend to be influenced by a mix of territorialism and local inequality aversion. Their sphere of moral concern includes everybody who is within the geographical territory of their country, including citizens and non-citizens, and including both legal and illegal immigrants. And, in addition to being concerned about the absolute status of these people, progressive opponents of immigration are also concerned about inequality within the territory. As Arnold Kling notes in his three axes theory, the distinguishing feature of progressives (compared to conservatives and libertarians) tends to be their tendency to give more importance to the oppressor-oppressed axis (I’ve also written about why I find this sort of folk Marxism unconvincing, even when it is ostensibly pro-open borders). Combining a focus on the oppressor-oppressed axis with territorialism and local inequality aversion produces the kinds of proposals and concerns that Costa raised in his EPI blog post. Explicitly, it generally involves a combination of a path to citizenship, stricter enforcement, strong laws against worker exploitation, and an immigration policy designed to benefit currently low-skilled natives.

Anti-immigration individuals on the center-right, which probably includes all the hardcore restrictionist groups from CIS to VDARE and anti-immigration voices in more mainstream conservative outlets, are more likely to favor citizenism instead of territorialism. They are more likely to favor policies that explicitly discriminate in favor of current citizens. Immigrants and non-citizens who happen to reside within the geographic territory do not get the special status that citizens do, and in so far as they crossed borders illegally, it is considered moral to deport them. As per Kling’s three axes, center-right individuals are likely to be more focused on concerns of civilization versus barbarism, and while the alien invasion metaphor is probably an exaggeration, basic concern about how illegal immigration undermines the rule of law adds to the general worries about the harms created by immigration. Thus, center-right restrictionists are more likely to favor reform proposals that include attrition through enforcement and stronger border security while simultaneously reducing future levels of legal immigration, and while they are not completely averse to a path to citizenship, they would probably insist that it be restricted to a very special subclass (for instance, Mark Krikorian has expressed support for a version of the DREAM Act, but not the current version being passed around).

All in all, the main difference between progressive restrictionists and center-right restrictionists lies in how they want to deal with the illegal immigrants already here. Generally, restrictionists in both camps agree that future immigration levels need to be cut down or tailored to the interests of low-skilled natives, that enforcement (both at the border and in the interior) needs to be stricter, and that large-scale guest worker programs create more problems than they solve. Nonetheless, the differences between these two groups present unique challenges to those who are trying to come up with keyhole solutions. A keyhole solution that denies a path to citizenship, or walls off eligibility to the welfare state, might appeal somewhat to some (but not all) center-right restrictionists, but would be taken very negatively by progressive restrictionists.

A quick final note: I don’t mean to suggest that anybody who subscribes to citizenism or territorialism must necessarily be a restrictionist. Open borders do benefit many citizens, and keyhole solutions can be devised that help make them a win-win for the vast majority of citizens and those living in the geographical territory (as an example, see Nathan Smith’s DRITI proposal, or his blog post the citizenist case for open borders). Progressive restrictionists concerned about a path to citizenship might nonetheless come to the conclusion that expanded guest worker programs, despite their ills, and despite the lack of a path to citizenship, are still an improvement over the status quo. While I personally think of both citizenism and territorialism as morally flawed, there is no prima facie inconsistency between adopting these stances and supporting considerably freer migration than the status quo allows.

Universalist defenses of citizenism bleg

We here at Open Borders have been putting in quite a bit of effort into addressing citizenism. But I think there are some defenses of citizenism that people have in their minds which haven’t been quite clearly articulated. Specifically, these are defenses of citizenism from a universalist perspective. In other words, these are defenses that go along the lines of: if everybody behaved citizenistically, the world would be a better place from a universalistic perspective. [UPDATE: As BK points out in the comments, such a defense can argue from “realism” by saying that citizenism is the only practical ethics that lies at the intersection of the feasible and the universally good, so pure rational universalist-utilitarianism, even if better in theory, is not a realistic option to consider]

A good analogy is Adam Smith’s invisible hand metaphor, something that economists over the last two centuries have worked on elaborating. The metaphor explains how, when each individual acts in his/her self-interest (subject to moral side constraints) the world is benefited more than if each individual were to act as if the interests of all individuals mattered equally. Here are a couple of Adam Smith’s quotes:

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

To take another example, a utilitarian may argue that if everybody believed in libertarian natural rights, the world would be a better place, so it is okay to preach a normative ethics of respect for natural rights, even though the utilitarian may not believe in natural rights per se. Might the universalist similarly argue that even though citizenism is false in a meta-ethical sense, it still makes sense as a practical ethics for people to follow, if it yields the best universalist fruit?

I can sort of see how to make this argument, but since I’m not a citizenist, I may not actually be able to do justice to this case. Obviously, one possible universalist justification of citizenism is that it helps maintain closed borders, which you may consider good from a universalist perspective. I’m interested in whether there are other justifications that come to your mind.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

PS: Here’s a relevant quote from Sailer:

Personally, I am a citizenist. That is not a word you see often (here are all twelve uses of the word known to Google) which is not surprising because few pundits seem to think like this.

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?”

Precisely because basing loyalties upon a legal category defined by our elected representatives is so unnatural, it’s the least destructive and most uplifting form of allegiance humanly possible on an effective scale.

Note: I’d really appreciate if you use the comments to address citizenism and its universalistic defenses, rather than general issues you have with open borders. For general issues with open borders, please consider commenting on the open borders open thread for November.