Tag Archives: electing a new people

Open borders and religious freedom

I am probably in the minority among Open Borders: The Case contributors in regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in United States vs. Windsor as legally absurd and ominous for liberty, and especially for religious freedom. Ben Domenech gives a good description of the threat to religious liberty from the gay marriage movement:

The problem with gay marriage is not about gay people getting married – they’ve already been doing that, or living that way. The problem with gay marriage is not that it will redefine marriage into a less valuable social institution in the eyes of the populace – that is already happening, has been for decades, and will continue regardless of whether gays are added to it or not. And the problem with gay marriage is not about the slippery slope of what comes next – though yes, the legal battle over polyamory and polygamy is inevitably coming, as the principle of marriage equality demands it does…

No, the real problem with gay marriage is that the nature of the marriage union is inherently entwined in the future of the first line of the Bill of Rights: our right to religious liberty. Orthodox believers of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths were slow to understand this. I’m talking about something much bigger here than the discrimination lawsuits brought across the country against bakers and photographers: I’m talking about whether churches will be able to function as public entities in an era where their views on sin, particularly sexual sin, are in direct conflict with not just opinion but the law – and proselytizing those views from the pulpit or in the public square will be viewed as using the protection of religious expression to protect hateful speech.

We saw this problem already in Illinois’ marriage law, where churches that do not allow same sex unions would essentially have to close their doors to full participation in civil society. We see it as a constant issue regarding Canada’s hate speech laws, where courts must discern whether quoting Bible verses amounts to “harming the public discourse.” We will see it more here. That obvious oncoming clash strikes me as the most troublesome aspect of this, and the one that has received the least attention in the rush to legalize. The argument has been more about benefits and social outcomes and “won’t somebody think of the children”, ignoring the core problem, which raises challenges to the freedom of speech and expression the likes of which led to the pilgrims crossing the sea in the first place.

The conflict between sexual liberty and religious liberty is unlikely to be one the religious will win, in large part because of the broad and increasing acceptance of an idea President Obama has espoused more than once in public: that the religious have a freedom to worship, and that’s where it ends. When you leave the pew, you must leave your faith there. Among the religious, this is absurd – their entire lives are defined by their faith, in ways large and small. For both Christianity and Islam, the core of their faith is built on a call to take the message to the world, spreading it through public witness and preaching. Yet this belief in the limited freedom to worship is what led Obama’s administration to argue that faith-based hiring and firing is a discriminatory act for religious entities

In a litigious society, those conscience conflicts will multiply, with pressure on anyone who “refuses and refers” to be stripped of their government-provided license or memberships in professional society…

In a nation where fewer people truly practice religion, fewer people external to those communities will see any practical reason to protect the liberty of those who do. The world could in time come full circle to Mrs. Campbell’s old line: You are free to believe, as long as you don’t do it in the streets, so as not to frighten the horses.

Now, I won’t presume that you agree with Domenech here. Maybe you think his fears are overblown. Maybe you think he’s right that religious freedom will be curtailed in due course by the gay marriage movement, and it should be. In the interest of coalition politics, though, it’s worth sympathizing for a moment with people who see things this way. For open borders is connected to religious freedom, in several ways.

First, it’s a good bet that open borders would let in populations considerably less favorable to same-sex marriage, on average, than the US public currently is. Same-sex marriage and other recognition of legal status for same-sex couples is largely restricted to parts of the US and western Europe. With opinion having turned sharply against them in recent years, social conservatives might want to consider trying to elect a new people through open immigration, whom they have good reason to suppose would be more favorable to their point of view.

But even more fundamentally, it would be nice to have some place to go to if religious freedom in the United States does suffer a major setback in the years to come. A few months ago, I wrote a post about the Pilgrims. They fled from western Europe to the largely uncultivated wilderness of America. (Yes, there were Amerindian tribes here, but they were sparse and far below the carrying capacity of the country.) It took a great deal of courage to leave their native country that way, but of course it was crucially important that there were places where they could go, having procured a sort of vague royal approval gotten by backdoor methods (albeit not for the site where they actually landed), but basically without needing anyone’s permission.

I anticipate significant personal costs from the advent of gay marriage. Conscience does not permit me to refer to a gay relationship as a marriage, yet now, in law, that’s what it will be, and all sorts of anti-discrimination laws will tend to force me into situations where I will be obliged to violate my conscience in order to avoid seeming by my words or actions to condone gay marriage. Now, suppose I find that this strain is too much. I can’t stay. I can’t reconcile the demands of discrimination law with the demands of conscience. Or worse, my church is forbidden to operate because it refuses to perform gay marriage ceremonies. So I and many others like me want to emigrate. The Pilgrims went to America. Where could we go now?

It would be nice to have the IMPALA data in order to get a basic idea of what the emigration options are. Does anyone know, by the way? It would be no use emigrating to western Europe, where the threat to freedom of religion is if anything worse, but what about East Asia? Africa? Latin America? At any rate, for the moment, religious conservatives still have some influence in US politics, and one thing they could do with it might be to urge the US government to negotiate freedom of migration deals with other countries, so that if, at some point in the future, religious repression becomes intolerable, they’ll have someplace to go where they can live their religion freely. This is yet another reason why Christians should favor freedom of migration.

Incidentally, this post is relevant to Fabio Rojas’s post on social conservatism and attitudes to immigration. Rojas finds a significant positive correlation between support for gay rights and support for immigration. While that’s not too surprising, a quick look at the map of gay rights around the world suggests that opponents of gay marriage should, in principle, welcome hordes of immigrants from Asia and Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America. See also Pew’s global snapshot of same-sex marriage. Immigrants to the US might assimilate to the prevailing views in the US, but I suspect that founder effects will be less important here, since while much of the institutional legacy of a country consists of procedures known to specialists to which the broader public conforms and in which new specialists are trained, gay marriage seems to be an issue on which the average person is more likely to have his own opinion and not to defer to the status quo. Of course, for opponents of gay marriage, the rest of the world’s lack of enlightenment might be an argument against opening the borders and jeopardizing the progress already made.

The Tanton memo and restrictionism among US Republicans

A few months ago, I blegged for readers’ views on the relation between immigration and US politics. Here’s what I wrote:

Logically, I can make out four broad positions one can stake on immigration and US politics. I’m curious to hear from readers and co-bloggers about the relative merits of the positions:

  1. Immigration good for Democrats, bad for Republicans regardless of either party’s position on immigration. In other words, even if the Republicans took a pro-immigration stance, more immigration would still hurt them. The electing a new people argument offered by Peter Brimelow of VDARE has this structure. Mark Krikorian of CIS also makes similar arguments. This argument naturally appeals to:
    • Those trying to sell restrictionism to the Republican Party.
    • Those trying to sell pro-immigration policies to the Democratic Party.
  2. Immigration good for Republicans, bad for Democrats regardless of either party’s position on immigration. I don’t know anybody who has taken this position, but I’m adding it for logical completeness. This argument naturally appeals to:
    • Those trying to sell pro-immigration policies to the Republican Party.
    • Those trying to sell restrictionism to the Democratic Party.
  3. Immigration good for whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance: In this view, both parties need to compete to be more pro-immigration, and whichever party manages to be more pro-immigration will benefit more from immigration. This seems to be the view of many open borders advocates and other pro-immigration forces, such as my co-blogger Nathan here and here. This argument naturally appeals to pro-immigration forces trying to simultaneously make inroads into both parties, setting up a “race to open borders” between both parties.
  4. Immigration bad for whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance: In this view, both parties gain from adopting a more restrictionist stance. Restrictionists who are trying to make a broad-based appeal to both parties would find this argument appealing. In this view, the vote of people with restrictionist sympathies matters a lot more than the votes of potential immigrants and their apologists. Thus, whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance will lose a lot more in terms of restrictionist votes, even if they gain a few immigrant votes. Such an argument, if believed, would lead to a “race to closed borders” between both parties. Some restrictionists have made these types of arguments, though they’ve largely focused on (1).

The general consensus in the comments, which saw a fair bit of participation from people who are not Open Borders bloggers and have a somewhat critical/skeptical take on open borders, was in favor of point (1). Namely, immigration is good for Democrats and bad for Republicans, and this holds mostly regardless of the parties’ respective stances on immigration. In other words, if the Republicans adopt a more pro-immigration stance, they will see some gains among immigrants, but still won’t get a majority of the immigrant vote, and the overall increase in immigrant numbers would swamp the slight increase in immigrant share (basically, a small increase in the share within the immigrant vote could be overridden by a greater increase in the immigrant vote share relative to the total vote — this is the electing a new people argument).

Nathan in particular dissented from this view. He suggested that there may be more of a case for (3) in the somewhat longer run, i.e., either party could gain from immigrant votes by marketing itself well. This would of course be ideal from the open borders perspective, as I noted above. In this post, I discuss a memo sent out by John Tanton and the extent to which it sheds light on the discussion above.

The Tanton Memo

The Cafe Con Leche Republicans website’s self-description reads: “We are Republicans who think the GOP should be more welcoming to immigrants.” The site recently published a memo by John Tanton (here’s the PDF of the memo) from 2001. For those unfamiliar with John Tanton, he is an anti-immigration activist who played an important role in helping found leading US restrictionist groups such as CIS, FAIR, and NumbersUSA. Many people on the pro-immigration side view Tanton as a mastermind responsible for much of the success of restrictionism in the United States. I suspect that people have a tendency to overplay Tanton’s role (just as critics of libertarianism overplay the influence of the Koch brothers) but his contribution to the human condition (positive or negative, depending on your perspective) is far more than that of most people. I quote the memo in full below (emphasis mine):

Roy Beck [referencing Roy Beck, CEO of NumbersUSA] and I think we have come up with an idea that can actually move the battle lines on the immigration question in our favor. While we are working on other ideas to move Democrats, this one involves using the recently released census data to show Republican members of Congress, the Administration, and the party’s leadership how massive immigration imperils their political future. The goal is to change Republicans’ perception of immigration so that when they encounter the word “immigrant,” their reaction is “Democrat.”

Here’s what the Census Bureau tells us: There are 28.4 million foreign-born persons living in the U.S. (This was before the Census Bureau recently added another 5 millionto their totals, probably mostly more illegals.) The Center for Immigration Studies breaks the numbers down this way. Of the 28.4 million, 5.5 million are illegals, and 500,000 are here on temporary visas, like the HI-9. Of the 22.4 remaining, 10.6 are already citizens. That leaves approximately 12 million legal non-citizens, about 8 million of whom, having lived here the required five years, could be naturalized. The other 4 million are still in the waiting period. And, of course, we’re adding about 1 million or more to the queue each year.

We know about the heavy tilt of recent immigrants toward the Democratic Party, both from polling booth exit surveys, and from regular surveys like the Harris Poll, enclosed as Item 1. These folks vote at least 2 to 1 for Democrats, and even up to 9 to 1 – see The Boston Globe article (Item 2). Mr. Bush got 35% of the Hispanic vote overall; i.e., Mr. Gore got about 65% – a landslide. I could send many similar articles, but will stop with a U.S. News & World Report (Item 3) confirming the saliency of this view.

Our plan is to hire a lobbyist who will carry the following message to Republicans on Capitol Hill and to business leaders: Continued massive immigration will soon cost you political control of the White House and Congress, given the current, even division of the electorate, and the massive infusion of voters about to be made to the Democratic side. We are about to replay the Democratic hegemony of 1933-53, fueled back then by the massive immigration of 1890-1924.

We have a candidate for the lobbying work in James Edwards, a former staffer for a member of the House Immigration Subcommittee, recently a lobbyist with a trade association, and the co-author of The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform. He has just joined an independent lobbying firm. He’s solidly in our camp, is very well connected in Republican circles, and is willing and able to take on this assignment. We would like to hire him half-time for a year to give this a try. Our budget for this project is $1 00,000. Mr. Edwards would pay his expenses out of his hourly fee of $1 00.00.

May we have your frank opinion of this idea? If you think it plausible, would you be willing to help support it financially?

Implications of the memo

The memo, if legitimate, suggests that Tanton sought funding to promote the position which I label as (1) in my list: immigration good for Democrats, bad for Republicans. The points I make below assume the authenticity of the memo.

  • This memo certainly indicates a definitive strategy on the part of John Tanton and others in restrictionist circles to appeal to Republicans’ political concerns.
  • Tanton wasn’t the first restrictionist to make this sort of argument. Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, in which Tanton hasn’t played an important founding or ongoing role, made the electing a new people argument in the pages of National Review back in 1997 (four years before the Tanton memo).
  • Judging by the mostly consistent stance that restrictionist groups have taken in support of this position over the last few years, this strategy seems to have been selected for, though Tanton’s role as an individual in selecting this strategy for all restrictionist groups is questionable.
  • Of course, just because restrictionists chose to focus their resources on the argument doesn’t mean that it is false (unlike what Cafe Con Leche Republicans seems to suggest). In contrast, the reason they selected that argument is possibly because of its element of plausibility and truth. The ideal position from the restrictionist perspective, after all, isn’t (1) but position (4) on my list: Immigration bad for whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance. That Tanton and other restrictionists chose to adopt (1) instead of (4) reveals that they were constrained in their narrative by the facts. More in the next point.
  • This and related evidence make it reasonably clear that restrictionists are restrictionists first and foremost, and their political party loyalties, if any, are secondary. Their choice to align with the Republican Party is a strategic choice based on a belief that they can convince the Republican Party more easily about the synergy between restrictionism and the Republican Party, not out of a principled loyalty to the Republican Party. Specific restrictionists may well be Republicans, but others may well feel more at home with the Democratic Party. Even in the memo, Tanton says in the very first para that he will be searching for parallel strategies to woo Democrats. For this reason, Republicans would be well advised, from the perspective of electoral success, to view restrictionists with a good deal of skepticism when restrictionists claim to have Republicans’ best interests at heart. It may so happen that on a particular issue, the restrictionist position coincides with what is electorally favorable to Republicans. But restrictionists have an incentive to exaggerate their case.
  • I don’t think that restrictionists are overall wrong in terms of their very basic numbers (I’m excluding restrictionists such as Ann Coulter for the purpose of this statement). Where I think Republicans may go wrong (from their own electoral success perspective) is in taking restrictionists sufficiently seriously that they don’t consider the possible gains from new, somewhat untested, pro-immigration configurations.

My co-blogger John Lee has argued (here and here) that Republicans may well benefit electorally from smartly chosen pro-migration and pro-migrant strategies, though he is fairly qualified and cautious in selling his case (for instance, John rejects the view that immigrants are likely to become majority Republican, at least in the near future). While I think John makes a fairly good case, a Republican strategist whose job is to provide Republican candidates advice to win elections would surely be advised to account for the possibility of bias in John’ assessment. Insofar as the discussion above suggests that the “immigration good for Democrats, bad for Republicans” meme was deliberately selected and exaggerated by people who are restrictionists first and Republicans second (if at all), similar caution is advised for Republican strategists listening to restrictionists.

Lebanon and political externalities bleg

A few weeks back, my co-blogger John Lee blogged about the worldwide success of the Lebanese diaspora and used this to argue against the hypothesis that people in a conflict-torn and economically unsuccessful region will necessarily be unsuccessful elsewhere in the world. Reading John’s post led me to ask the question: what about Lebanon’s immigration policy? Prima facie, Lebanon appears to be the poster child of the problems with a liberal immigration policy for refugees, ranging from political externalities (electing a new people) to culture clash. Here’s what Wikipedia’s page on the Lebanese Civil War states (footnotes and hyperlinks removed):

The Lebanese Civil War (Arabic: الحرب الأهلية اللبنانية‎) was a multifaceted civil war in Lebanon, lasting from 1975 to 1990 and resulting in an estimated 120,000 fatalities. Today approximately 76,000 people remain displaced within Lebanon. There was also a mass exodus of almost one million people from Lebanon.

The government of Lebanon had been dominated by Maronite Christians since the state was created as a safe haven for them by the French colonial powers. However, the country had a large Muslim population and many pan-Arabist and Left Wing groups which opposed the pro-western government. The establishment of the state of Israel and the displacement of a hundred thousand Palestinian refugees to Lebanon (around 10% of the total population of the country) changed the demographic balance in favour of the Muslim population. The Cold War had a powerful disintegrative effect on Lebanon, which was closely linked to the polarization that preceded the 1958 political crisis, since Maronites sided with the West while Left Wing and pan-Arab groups sided with Soviet aligned Arab countries.

The militarization of the Palestinian refugee population, with the arrival of the PLO forces after their expulsion from Jordan during Black September, sparked an arms race amongst the different Lebanese political factions and provided a foundation for the long-term involvement of Lebanon in regional conflicts. Fighting between Maronite and Palestinian forces began in 1975, and Left Wing, pan-Arabist and Muslim Lebanese groups later allied with the Palestinians. During the course of the fighting, alliances shifted rapidly and unpredictably: by the end of the war, nearly every party had allied with and subsequently betrayed every other party at least once. Furthermore, foreign powers meddled in the war, such as Israel and Syria which supported and fought alongside different factions. Peace keeping forces, such as the Multinational Force in Lebanon and UNIFIL, were also stationed in Lebanon.

So, Lebanon first let in lots of Maronite Christian refugees (under French colonial rule), leading to a Christian-dominated government. Then, they let in lots of Palestinian (mostly Muslim) refugees (in the wake of the creation of Israel and subsequent hostilities) leading to the tipping of the population scales in favor of Muslim domination. Net result: 15 years of civil war.

Bleg for anybody interested:

  1. What lessons, if any, does the story of Lebanon hold for migration policy worldwide?
  2. What other parts of the world, current or historical, resemble the pre-civil war situation in Lebanon?
  3. What parts of the world might resemble Lebanon if they moved to considerably more liberal immigration policies, particularly policies that approximate “open borders” as discussed on this site?

UPDATE 1: I discovered a lengthy article by Steve Sailer titled Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also … Lebanonization. Choice excerpts (hyperlinks removed):

Although many in our ahistorical punditariat had declared that Iraq was going to be “the first Arab democracy”, Lebanon was a successful democracy beginning in 1943, when it gained independence from France. It enjoyed a free press, women’s suffrage (from 1953), and a booming economy centered on banks, trade, and tourism.

And then it all came tumbling down. A hellish civil war erupted in 1975 and flared on and off into the early 1990s, with 100 different militias pounding each other with artillery duels inside Beirut.

Although it’s hard now to remember, during its three decades of stability and prosperity, Beirut was known as the “Paris of the Arab World”.

The more serious problem: Lebanon’s demographics shifted. The constitution was based on the 1932 census, when Christians comprised 54 percent of the population. Regrettably, but predictably, the best educated ethnicity, the Christians, had the lowest birthrate and were most likely to emigrate. In contrast, the poor and backward Shi’ites proliferated—and stayed put.

As the demographics changed, the original distribution of power among the groups became increasingly contentious. The Shi’ites demanded a new census. The Christians, who predominated in the cushiest government jobs and were guaranteed half the seats in the legislature, resisted.

Then, immigration became the straw that broke the fragile Lebanese camel’s back. David Lamb, the Los Angeles Times correspondent in the Middle East, wrote in his 1988 book The Arabs:

“Lebanon worked, however artificially, then because one group, the Christians, were clearly in control, lesser minorities were given freedom to maneuver as long as they didn’t get too uppity and everyone who mattered was making money. Tensions and hostilities festered only beneath the surface. But in 1970 Lebanon’s delicate balance was upset.”

Palestinian refugees had started arriving in 1948 and sped up after the 1967 Six Day War. Then, in the “Black September” of 1970, King Hussein of Jordan turned on Yassir Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization and booted them out of his country. They relocated to Lebanon.

By 1973, Palestinians made up one tenth of Lebanon’s population, and were radicalizing. They forged alliances with the other outsiders, the Druze. And PLO attacks on Israel brought retribution raining down on Lebanon as a whole, outraging the ruling Maronites.

On April 13, 1975, four Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting of a church. Later that day, a Maronite Phalangist militia massacred 27 Palestinians on a bus. The country descended into civil war, polarizing along Christian-Muslim lines, but with many strange alliances and rapid betrayals.

UPDATE 2: Here’s an EconLog comment by Ali about Lebanon (emphasis mine):

Mr. Econotarian, what race/ethnicity is ILLEGAL? And why on earth should Americans embrace people of any race/ethnicity who do not respect us or our laws? Yeah, you’re libertarian, but government does provide services other than welfare and THAT depends on the cooperation of the members of society. If someone makes their first act here breaking the law, and they’re rewarded for it, why on earth would they think they have to follow ANY laws? Moreover, as for “diversity” doing away with welfare, it may well do that–and with the nation itself. My grandparents, Arab Christians, left Lebanon because that country became so diverse it fell apart.

UPDATE 3: Bryan Caplan’s post Does Conflict Immigrate? is tangentially related.

UPDATE 4: A lengthy response article (in German) to Steve Sailer’s claims about Lebanon.

Immigration, identity, nationality, citizenship, and democracy

A subtle danger for open borders advocates is that we may devote too much attention to arguments from eloquent restrictionists who, however, are themselves well outside the mainstream. Restrictionists like Steve Sailer at least have arguments that can be answered. But those arguments tend to have a “hard right” flavor that would probably alienate most Americans, who, however, are not open borders supporters, either. Unlike the restrictionist hard right, the mainstream is largely destitute of arguments, dealing rather in arbitrary and groundless moral assertions, e.g., “we have to control our borders,” or in wildly false claims of fact, e.g., “all we’re asking is that they put forth some effort and come in legally.” The great fact that we live in a world apartheid regime where most people are excluded from birth from the United States and generally from the most prosperous countries and because of this are subject to far more poverty, violence, and political tyranny than the favored few, is not something that the mainstream has come to grips with and cold-bloodedly endorsed. It is something that the mainstream is largely ignorant of. They suspect; they hear rumors; they could inquire further and neglect to do so; but the moral test still largely lies in wait for them. The main task of an open borders advocate, then, is less to answer a body of coherent arguments, than to wander in a kind of shadowland of ignorance and be prepared to counter all manner of naive claims that might jump out of the darkness. What people will ultimately say when they’ve realized the nature of the world apartheid regime we’re living in is hard to predict. They might say anything or nothing. They might become instant, skin-deep converts to open borders, only to flip as soon as the word “illegal immigrant” is mentioned, or the likelihood that some natives would see their wages fall. Or they might make any of the arguments in the drop-down menus at this site, or others… although come to think of it, the background articles at this site do seem to do a pretty good job of outlining the major themes in the inarticulate mainstream resistance to open borders. Anyway, it’s probably more important to answer this mainstream resistance than to duel with Steve Sailer and other articulate restrictionists who, however, are almost as far outside the mainstream as open borders advocates themselves are.

Now, my sense is that the focal point of mainstream resistance to open borders, which prevents people from seeing the issues clearly in the first place, and shapes their reactions when they have understood it, lies, somehow, in the intersection between the five concepts mentioned in the title of this post: immigration, identity, nationality, citizenship, and democracy. Who are we? to begin with, as the title of Samuel Huntington’s book asks. If people immigrate, who are they? Are immigrants them or us? What nationality is an immigrant? What about citizenship? On what basis can and/or should citizenship be granted or withheld? Do “we”– whatever that means– have the right to grant or withhold citizenship as we see fit, or are there some principles of justice at stake here, constraining what we can do? If there are principles, what are they? If citizenship can be withheld from other people, can it not be withheld… from (thinks the ordinary person) me? Why not? What we’re up against is not so much a set of convictions as a set of confusions. As long as everyone you deal with is a citizen and a national and a resident, etc., of one’s own country, as long as we’re all “the same,” all these questions don’t arise. That’s a nice, secure feeling. Immigrants cast doubt on all the usual categories.

Democracy is relevant here because it gives all these questions particular urgency. As I always say, democracy is a good form of government because the people who live under the laws have a say in what they are, and immigration restrictions are the mathematical limiting case of undemocratic law because the set of people who are on the receiving end of them is the exact inverse of the set of people who have a say in making them. This argument will probably strike anyone but a dogmatic restrictionist as plausible, but it is problematic because the suggestion that foreigners ought to be given votes does not lend itself to any obvious structural realization. Should the entire human race get to vote in American elections inasmuch as they touch on foreign and immigration policy? How would that work exactly? “One person, one vote,” runs the democratic slogan, but we don’t actually mean that every single person gets one vote. Children and felons aside, we mean that every single… well, citizen… or maybe, national… gets to vote. In short, every one of us? But again, who are “we?” Open borders advocates can respond to the electing a new people argument by saying: Let them in, but don’t automatically let them vote. But where does that leave “one man, one vote?” Where does that leave democracy? Immigrants are a threat partly in the same way that the returning heir of a deposed dynasty is a threat: he may not be doing any harm for the time being, but his mere presence is a challenge to the reigning principles of legitimacy.

Ideas about nationality and citizenship vary greatly around the world. This was brought home to me during my travels in the Caucasus, where I was often asked Kto ty po natsionalnosti?— “What nationality are you?” I would say Amerikanets, “American,” but they would object, Net, eto — grazhdanstvo. Kto ty po natsionalnosti? “No, that’s a citizenship. What nationality are you?” For people in the Caucasus, nationality vs. citizenship is a fundamental distinction. States and empires have come and gone, making and bestowing and revoking and altering various citizenships; and people move about, too; but Azeris, Georgians, Ossetians, Armenians, Lezgins, Russians, Chechens, Avars, Kabardins, Ingush, and so forth remain. You can’t become an Azeri; you’re born one, or not; at any rate, that’s the local ideology. It’s not true. A colleague of mine had an Armenian name but was Azeri and Russian by blood. In the chaos of the revolution, her grandfather had simply put an Armenian aristocratic suffix on his name because he liked it, as if I were to call myself Nathan O’Smith because I like the Irish, or Nathan von Smith from pretensions to be a Germanic philosopher descended from some castle-owning baron. Of course, I couldn’t get away with that here, but literate history is not very deep in the Caucasus, and many personal and place names have been Russified, though Russian rule dates no earlier than the 18th and 19th centuries. But the local ideology assigns people to “national” categories by birth, and treats citizenship as a political superficiality overlaid on the ancient facts of nationality. Since there are no ancient demographic facts (not even pretended ones) in America (Amerindians aside), people in the Caucasus don’t accept “American” as a nationality. I insisted: Amerikanets. I have some English and Norwegian roots, of which I know little and care less. They are not the most fundamental fact about who I am. They are not, to an American, really important. The point, though, is not that the American view of nationality and citizenship is better or worse than that of the Caucasus, but simply that concepts of personal and collective identity vary greatly, both in the world today and over the course of history. The former Soviet Union is the region that I know best, other than the US, but co-blogger Grieve Chelwa discusses the artificiality of borders in Africa, and my impression is that in the Middle East, tribal identities on the one hand and pan-Arab and even pan-Islamic identities are more important than “national” ones, while in Latin America solidarity within countries is impeded by racial divisions and class stratification and nationality is somewhat eclipsed by regional identity among the Catholic Spanish speakers ranged from the Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. The US, parts of western Europe, and a few East Asian countries, where nationality = citizenship supplies a powerful source of identity that unites polities, are exceptional.

Why does identity matter? Voter status aside, is it– to broaden a question recently raised by co-blogger Sebastian Nickel– morally relevant? Before answering that, what kinds of identity are there? We classify human beings in many ways: nationality, citizenship, class, caste, religion, gender, family, tribe, civilization, race, education, profession, place of employment, place of residence, political party, membership in clubs and societies and organizations, honors and achievements, and no doubt many others. Answers to the question “Who are you?” might identify a person in any number of ways, but virtually always they will help to define and distinguish a person while also establishing their membership in one group or another. “I am a Christian” or “I am a Communist” establishes one as a member of a broad community of believers. “I am an American” defines a nationality and a citizenship; “I am an Azeri” establishes a nationality but not a citizenship, for there are Azeri citizens of Russia and Georgia as well. One might also say, “I am a parishioner of Holy Trinity parish,” or “I am a member of the American Economic Association,” or “I am a sculptor,” or “I am Joseph’s brother-in-law.” People have, not one identity, e.g., American, but many identities, overlapping and interacting in complex ways, sometimes in tension, sometimes reinforcing each other, sometimes compatible but not particularly relevant. One can be an economist and a Republican or an economist and a Democrat: both combinations are entirely feasible, though a Republican economist is probably a somewhat different kind of economist (more free-marketeer) than a Democratic economist, as a Lutheran plumber is probably not different from a Presbyterian plumber.

Now, it’s not too hard to see why some of these kinds of identity are morally relevant. Religious identity, for example, is morally relevant because believers in various religions feel morally bound to abide by the various rules of those religion (though of course they don’t always live up to this), and also because religious rituals tend to regulate participation according to religious status. It would be immoral for a non-Catholic to commune in a Catholic church, for example, because at least from the Catholic point of view this is sacrilege, and there should always be a presumption against doing things that are gravely offensive to others. Professional identity is morally relevant, because professional skills qualify one to do things that non-professionals can’t do safely (or even legally). It would be immoral for a non-pilot to fly a commercial airplane, or for a non-doctor to conduct a surgery. Family identity is morally relevant: it is all right for a woman to sleep with her own husband, but not to seduce another woman’s husband; it is all right for a man to tell his own children what to do and punish them for disobedience, but not (usually) for him to order around, or punish, other people’s children.

Let me try some more challenging suggestions. Might it be morally unacceptable for a philosopher to accept a traditional prejudice for which he could discover no arguments in favor, yet at the same time, morally acceptable for a laymen (non-philosopher) to accept the same traditional prejudice? The layman doesn’t have the time or talent to reason things out for himself with any kind of depth or thoroughness, so the best he can do is largely to believe what he’s told. But the philosopher is capable of thinking things through, of doubting, of demanding, seeking and appraising evidence, and of exploring alternatives, so for him, to accept a traditional prejudice that critical reasoning tends to challenge or overturn, would be culpable lazy-mindedness. Again, might it be acceptable for a peasant to run away in the face of danger, but unacceptable for a knight to do the same? In the knight, perhaps, but not in the peasant, there has been inculcated a certain ethos of valor which is both noble and useful, and society expects him to take risks and fight for what he thinks is right; but the peasant has never been taught such virtues, and what society tacitly asks of him is merely that he labor to support his family. How about this case: a certain Leader, not possessing any particular legal authority but full of wisdom and experience and commanding deference from many people thanks to his prestige and charisma, has ordered you and me to look after and protect each other. The Leader is a busy man and did not stay to hear our answer, and we only exchanged glances with each other, yet each of us expects the other to fulfill the Leader’s expectations. Has a kind of social contract been created, even without explicit consent, with some force to bind me to protect you in time of danger, and vice versa? Is such a thing possible?

From arguments like the above I would derive an argument that countries tend to be morally relevant, though I think virtually any parallelism between the “countries” of the contemporary world is without merit, and while countries are morally relevant, they are relevant in very different ways. For example, consider the issue of how the cultural legacy of mankind is to be preserved. We cannot all learn all there is to know about all cultures: that’s far too much to fit into any human being’s mind. But it is desirable that much of mankind’s cultural legacy be preserved. Not all of it: there is an opportunity cost to preserving cultural artifacts, and many, many cultural artifacts just aren’t worth preserving. But it probably is desirable that many people have read Shakespeare, and Hemingway, and Tolstoy; that many people are Bob Dylan fans or know how to square dance; that many people have thoroughly absorb the ethos of Dostoyevsky; that many people understand Kant and Hegel and the whole brilliant succession of German philosophers; and so forth. And it might be quite a wise division of labor for many people to give a priority to mastering the treasures of “their own” culture, for Germans to know something about Kant and Russians something about Dostoyevsky and Americans something about Dylan. Aside from being (probably) an efficient way to preserve mankind’s cultural legacy, this is also likely to give German, Russian, and American neighbors something to talk about with each other. And fellow nationals can help one another master the national curriculum. It is surely easier to find someone to introduce you to the genius of Dylan in America than it would be in Germany.

Again, in matters like disaster relief or national defense, mere informational and logistical considerations can do much of the work in establishing a principle that people should prioritize their own compatriots. Americans, it may plausibly be suggested, are better able to discern how much aid hurricane-hit New Orleans needs, and what kind and when, than Europeans are. When it comes to customs and manners, the best thing to do morally may often be to learn whatever customs and manners prevail locally and practice them, so as to ease communication and cooperation and hospitality. There are obvious advantages to having people who live near one another speak the same language, and this makes a certain degree of linguistic segregation efficient. It does not follow that non-English speakers can be excluded from America by force, but that linguistic homogeneity is a reasonable desideratum for societies is clear enough.

Yet in spite of all these arguments, I don’t think there is or ought to be a general answer to the question “What is nationality?” It means different things to different people, and all the things it means have their own histories and their own usefulness. The sovereign nation-state paradigm of politics which has been universalized since World War II attempts to organize the world on a national principle, treating this as a universal feature of human nature and human society, when it isn’t. This leads to all manner of awkwardness.

When it comes to citizenship, the famous dictum of John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” is instructive by how quixotic and irrelevant to contemporary affairs it sounds. In the United States, citizenship is automatic and doesn’t demand anything of us. It can’t legitimately demand anything of us because it’s automatic. Conscription used to demand a real sacrifice of citizens, which was rather unjust, since citizens hadn’t agreed to be citizens. But at least, in the time of conscription, it was not bogus to speak of the duties of citizenship. Well, there is jury duty, too. And taxes, only they are not a duty associated with citizenship, for people with low enough incomes need not pay them, while resident foreigners who are earning wages do have to pay them. Citizens do not have to vote, but “good citizenship” is nonetheless a plausible explanation of why so many people do vote, and devote considerable effort to following politics in order to decide whom to vote for. Volunteering for the military might be another way to practice “good citizenship,” but only a small part of the population does that. If citizenship involved more duties to go with the privileges, one could argue that immigrants be allowed to perform the duties and thereby earn the privileges of citizenship.

I argued earlier that there are many kinds of identity. Let me add that it is quite false to suppose that there is some natural or necessary hierarchy among these kinds of identity, such that national identity is somehow the most important or basic or fundamental. One person might be an American first, Christian second; another might regard Christianity as his only real ultimate loyalty and being an American a mere practical asset; a third might consider himself a sociologist first and foremost and at home only in the international community of sociologists. I believe that the primacy which our own age attaches to nationality and citizenship vis-a-vis other forms of identity is anomalous and problematic. We may need to give freedom of association more respect, and allow other forms of identity to flourish, while at the same time we need to be more generous in recognizing and defending the rights simply of human beings as such. The trouble is that one of the functions of identity is to provide a moral structure for society, and people are justifiably nervous that if we deny the moral relevance of countries, we’ll end up with a society deficient in structure, excessively fluid and chaotic. There are many ways to answer the questions Who am I? and Who are we? but there probably is some danger that people will ultimately be left saying, “I don’t know,” or with answers so haphazard, subjective, and changeable as to be almost empty. Such, at any rate, is my attempt to diagnose the vague fears of the mainstream about open borders.

Electing a new people in Malaysia: illegal naturalisation and election fraud

Malaysia is going to the polls on May 5th, and for the first time in perhaps living memory, there is a real chance that the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) will not be returned to power. BN is currently the longest-ruling political party in any of the world’s democracies, and its leaders will not be happy about losing their power and privilege should the election fail to go their way. Unsurprisingly, it turns out they have resorted to the easiest way out: importing foreigners, registering them as voters, and paying them to vote.

To be fair, the only evidence that has emerged thus far is that the Prime Minister’s office has been arranging an unusual number of charter flights for voters. It’s clear that these are meant for people to vote — the government has denied official involvement with these charter flights, claiming that friends of the party have paid to ensure their supporters are able to vote. It remains to be seen whether foreigners will turn up in large numbers to vote on May 5th, and what sort of papers they will have.

In my opinion, the relevance of this to open borders as far as policy goes is absolutely null. No sensible democratic government that plays by the rules would do such a thing as this. BN is only trying this because the party and the state in Malaysia are so unhealthily intertwined. I am no Islamist, nor am I a socialist, but in this election I voted for the Islamic party to represent me in Parliament and a nominally socialist party to represent me in my state legislature. I and even a Malaysian libertarian friend donated money to a particularly vocal socialist candidate. The current government of Malaysia doesn’t stand for anything other than its own corrupt self-interest, and kicking it out to put us on the road to a two-party democracy is the only realistic choice.

In any case, I’m not aware of any open borders advocate who favours immediate naturalisation of immigrants. If anything, we tend to urge a disentangling of the relationship between citizenship and residency. If you want to give foreigners a way to naturalise, that’s up to your country. But it would be a good idea to follow the rules, which the Malaysian government is blatantly not doing: an ongoing Royal Commission is currently investigating allegations of past illegal citizenship grants in the state of Sabah. And all evidence released so far strongly points to the government’s culpability.

However I do think discussing this story is relevant to open borders, in the sense that it illustrates some real problems standing in the way of open borders as a societal and policy reality. The reasoned and sensible thing to do in response to this evidence of election-rigging would be to demand an investigation and establish a process to ensure voters’ documents are in order. Fortunately, such a process does exist, and opposition parties are able to appoint their own agents to monitor the polling and counting processes.

But quite a number of people have gone further and embraced outright xenophobia in the guise of protecting Malaysian citizens and Malaysian democracy. I have seen people urging Malaysians not to give foreign workers Sunday the 5th off, lest any of these foreigners vote. I have a friend who personally saw people, without provocation, verbally assaulting foreigners at the airport. Banners have been erected warning foreigners attempting to vote illegally that if they are caught, they will be reported to the police — and “While waiting for police arrival, your safety is not guaranteed.”

Growing up as an ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, it has always grated on me that the government sees me as something of a second-class citizen. Chinese and Indians have often been told by those in power: “If you don’t like it, go back home” — as if Malaysia isn’t our home. And now, support for the ruling party has collapsed as a new generation of voters don’t feel ethnic Chinese and Indians are any different from other Malaysian citizens. That banner hinting at lynchings of illegal voters was signed by a group calling themselves Kami Anak Bangsa Malaysia — We are Children of the Malaysian Nation (“Bangsa Malaysia” implying a demand of full equality for Malaysian citizens regardless of race).

I am all for protecting the democratic process — which yes, means ensuring that only citizens can vote. But violent extrajudicial lynchings can only mar the democratic process. And I find it hard to believe that this sentiment isn’t driven at least in part by simple anti-foreign prejudice — not when I’ve never seen threats of physical violence against other illegal voters (most of whom in the past have been Malaysians, whose votes were bought outright by the ruling party). Not when the same people bemoaning being told to “go back to China” are now hurling ethnic slurs at Bangladeshis and telling them “go back to Bangla”. As one of my friends put it: “did someone really just try to tell me that a group of dark skinned people have no right to be in a Malaysian airport?”

We’ve previously noted at Open Borders the odd finding that Malaysians are perhaps the country most opposed to open borders in the world. But my personal observation has been that Malaysians in general are actually very tolerant of immigrants and happy to have them working with or for us. Even the anti-foreigner venom I’ve seen in this election has focused purely on the issue of voting rights. Immigration is not a hot-button issue in Malaysia for the masses — the cost of living, political corruption, and administrative ability are the issues this election is being fought on. Although I’ve been disappointed at how quickly people have resorted to racial epithets ostensibly in the name of defending democracy, I’ve also been inspired at how many Malaysians I’ve seen have been quick to embrace the spirit of human equality that demands both a fair democratic process and open borders. In closing, here is one note I’ve seen making the rounds on social media, authored by one Nathalie Kee:

In the midst of increasing evidence that BN is using foreign workers to win the elections, let us remember that a Bangladeshi on the streets of Masjid Jamek does not equate to the demise of democracy. A man from Myanmar, lining up on polling day, is not the real one to blame, although he does have to take some flak. These two men know nothing about BN, PR and their respective ideals and have been played into the hands of corrupt individuals, probably promised things that they would have otherwise gotten by working for two months. We welcome the Indonesian, Burmese, Filipino and Bangladeshi brothers and sisters, as long as they respect the laws of this land.

I can’t abide the demise of a fair and open political process in my country. But neither can I abide closing our borders for the sake of satisfying anti-foreign prejudice. And neither do I have to for the sake of democracy. Open borders is not about letting governments “elect a new people” to maintain their stranglehold on power. Open borders is about welcoming all our brothers and sisters of the human race who respect the laws of our land.