Tag Archives: history of borders

The modern borders regime was designed to secure international peace

This is part of a book project, see explanation here. It’s written as part 1B in this outline. For the Google Doc version, see here.

The UN-led international order is primarily dedicated to protecting the “sanctity” of borders against foreign invasion, or, to a lesser extent, interference.

The universal hegemony of the Western nation-state model is a major historic victory for the statesmen, especially Anglo-American statesmen, who built first the League of Nations and then the United Nations, and who successfully established a post-WWII world order largely conforming to their ideological vision of how mankind should be politically organized. Though Woodrow Wilson’s career ended in humiliating failure when the US Congress failed to ratify the Versailles Treaty, leaving the US outside the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson is probably the single most important intellectual influence on the modern geopolitical order, which attempts to embody the principle of national self-determination that he propounded.

The world was definitely not organized on the basis of national self-determination in 1914. For one thing, there was great freedom of migration. Though some border controls existed, e.g., at Ellis Island, where a small proportion of would-be immigrants were sent back for medical reasons, it was possible for most people to go migrate into and out of the leading nations of the world without passports or visas. If it is part of national sovereignty to control citizenship and residency in a nation’s territorial boundaries, as is often alleged, the nations of the world in 1914 did not enjoy, or at any rate did not exercise, effective national sovereignty. Furthermore, most of the surface of the globe at that time was governed not by nation-states, but by large transnational empires. Among these, there was a distinction between dynastic empires ruling over large landed territories containing ethnically varied peoples all subject to the same monarch, and colonial empires in which a “mother country” with an independent national life ruled over overseas territories inhabited by peoples who were definitely considered to be at a lower civilizational level, and with whom the mother country’s historic contacts, usually commercial in nature, had begun much more recently, during the European Age of Exploration. Of the dynastic empires, the leading examples were the Austrian Habsburg empire and the tsarist Russian Empire under the Romanov dynasty; China and the Ottoman Empire were other examples. Of the colonial empires, the leading examples were the British, French, and Dutch empires, though the Portuguese and Spanish empires, dissolved well before 1914, had helped to establish the pattern for this kind of colonialism. Woodrow Wilson’s principle of national self-determination, though initially directed mainly against the dynastic empires, was also inimical to the colonial empires, and the dissolution of most of the dynastic empires in the immediate aftermath of World War I and of the colonial empires after World War II both represent victories for Woodrow Wilson’s idea.

Many reasons can be suggested for the long-run success of Woodrow Wilson’s geopolitical reorganization of the world. Obviously, US military power is one major factor. The US remained potentially the largest military power in the interwar years, and became the world’s largest actual military power during and after World War II, as it remains to this day. Indeed, the military preponderance of the US only increased after the fall of the Soviet Union and may have been at a historic peak at the time of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. But the US did not exactly march out and impose its geopolitical vision on the world. It didn’t join the League of Nations and turned isolationist during the interwar years, except for a few interventions in the Western hemisphere. It joined World War II in self-defense after the attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war. That said, the US needn’t have prioritized the European theater, and the energetic war it waged in western Europe probably reflected sympathy for its democratic allies in Europe and pursuit of its principles of justice and right, more than national self-interest. Moreover, the US aided Britain and blockaded Japan before it was officially at war. From WWII on, US military power was deployed worldwide, but often in ways not particularly consistent with Wilsonian principles. Thus, in WWII, the US was the ally of two empires, and after the war, the US connived at the Soviet conquest of eastern Europe. In the Cold War, the US often made “realist” (i.e., cynical) alliances with authoritarian regimes, violating Wilson’s slogan of “making the world safe for democracy.” Wilsonian principles remained the goal, however. The US preferred to ally itself with democratic nation-states when it could, and US backing made it possible for some of these, especially in Europe and East Asia, to flourish in a security which they lacked the military strength to obtain for themselves. Continue reading The modern borders regime was designed to secure international peace

Did Open Borders Change the Course of World History?

Allow me to make the following counterfactual: Suppose all immigration of Germans to America had been blocked from the start. Restrictionists would have had lots of arguments on their side: Germany was a hotbed of various collectivist ideologies that were inimical to American liberty: rabid Nationalism, Antisemitism, Communism, and National Socialism. IQ of German Americans is at best average. German immigrants only slowly assimilated and kept speaking German. And then alien habits like minors can drink beer. Etc.

Now let’s go back to 1940.

The US had a population of 132 million, Germany including Austria, Greater Germany, had a population of 79 million. So the US had a population 67% larger than that of Greater Germany.

Today about 17% of Americans claim German ancestry. Since there was only low immigration of Germans after World War II compared to other groups, the fraction should have been even higher in 1940. Assuming a quarter of US population in 1940 was of German descent, US population in the counterfactual would go down by 33 million to 99 million. Add the 33 million to the German population and you get 112 million. So now Greater Germany is 12% more populous than the US. The effect would have been like another major power of 66 million had entered the war on the side of the Axis.

And it gets worse: Forget about General Eisenhower, and get used to Generalfeldmarschall Eisenhauer. Same for Chester Nimitz for the Navy (now: Generaladmiral Nimitz) and Carl Andrew Spaatz for the Air Force (now: Generalfeldmarschall Karl Andreas Spatz). And more as a footnote: also no William Patrick Hitler receiving a Purple Heart for his service in the US Navy.

I will not expand on the counterfactual and make a claim that the Axis powers would have won the war. But then I am not sure I could argue the opposite. In a world of completely closed borders for citizens of Germany, Italy, and Japan, you would have to repatriate also millions of German emigrants and their descendents from the British Empire and another big chunk of the US population for Italian Americans.

How well did restrictionist predictions stand up in the real world? Letting a fifth column onto your soil could have disastrous consequences. Plenty of danger for the US, right?

Not really. Incidents of treason and disloyality were few and far between. The “Christmas Declaration by men and women of German ancestry” was more representative, signed among others by Babe Ruth:

“[W]e Americans of German descent raise our voices in denunciation of the Hitler policy of cold-blooded extermination of the Jews of Europe and against the barbarities committed by the Nazis against all other innocent peoples under their sway. These horrors … are, in particular, a challenge to those who, like ourselves are descendants of the Germany that once stood in the foremost ranks of civilization. … [We] utterly repudiate every thought and deed of Hitler and his Nazis … [and urge Germany] to overthrow a regime which is in the infamy of German history.

Moral: You can look on immigrants as people who perhaps keep some allegiance to their old country and its culture. If that culture is thorougly collectivist as it was in Germany in 1940, that does not look good. Assimilation may be slow and incomplete.

However, that is looking on things only from the limited perspective of one country. If you look on them at a global scale, the effect is different. Even incomplete assimilation means having more people who are less committed to their previous views, and even some (and in the case of German Americans many) who are completely out of reach for collectivism. Open borders undermines collectivism.

So if you are concerned about liberty in the world long-term, you would want to have as many people as possible who are not stuck in collectivist societies and can be indoctrinated by totalitarian governments, and as many as possible who are exposed to liberty and have a chance to change their minds in an open society.

Good luck for the world that liberty went along with open borders for a long time.

The photograph of then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking with paratroopers on the eve of D-Day, 1944 featured in the header is available at the Library of Congress.

Immigration to US for whites only?

An argument that has been made by our friends over at VDare is that the entire idea of America being a nation of immigrants is misguided, at least immigrants of the multi-racial variety. After all, the constitution enshrined slavery (certain heterodox methods of interpreting the document not-withstanding) and the Naturalization Act of 1790 only allowed for citizenship for “free white persons”. Occasionally this argument veers off into strange directions. For instance when Peter Brimelow attempts to minimize the importance of immigration to American history:

It’s also true the intellectual elite tends to think America was Built By Immigrants because they live in New York or Los Angeles or somewhere like that—which are heavily immigrant cities, entirely immigrant cities.

But the last estimate that I saw, when I was researching Alien Nation, was that if there had been no immigration at all after 1790—none at all—the population of the US would still be about half of what it is now, through natural increase.

Having only half the population we currently have doesn’t seem like a way to ensure prosperity and minimizing the importance of cities like New York or LA (which make up a disproportionately large part of the American economy, these two cities alone accounting for about $2 trillion out of a total American economy of $15 trillion, or about one seventh , while combined of the only about 4% of the population, ~12 million people in the cities out of 300 million Americans) is even worse in that regard. But the primary focus of this critique of immigration is of the non-white variety. So, did the founders want only whites in this country (beyond perhaps slaves), and if so should we care?

Now the first and most obvious point is that the Naturalization Act of 1790 was an act about citizenship not immigration. We here at open borders have talked at length about the importance of disentangling these two concepts. But a modern understanding of the difference doesn’t mean that the Founders intended for this to be different. Perhaps they simply assumed that a path to citizenship was a necessary prerequisite for permanent residency in the United States. That’s what VDare would apparently like to argue anyways.

However, the Naturalization Act of 1790 could not have possibly been meant as an immigration restriction. After all article 1 section 9 of the United States Constitution states:

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

While this was primarily to prevent a blocking of the slave trade before 1808, the addition of “migration” as well as importation of “persons” seems to imply more than just slaves. Furthermore, the act which banned that trade did not attempt to ban voluntary non-white immigration. The text  only bans importing “any negro, mulatto, or person of colour, in any ship or vessel, for the purpose of selling them in any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States as slaves, or to be held to service or labour.” If the founder’s intent was to deny non-whites entry or the right to migrate to the United States they seem to have left enormous loop holes.

Also while writers at VDare are quick to cite Federalist No. 2 to support the idea of the white American ethnic identity, whether John Jay is truly encapsulating the ideas of his fellow founders, or is even accurate in his description of the United States at the time, is questionable. The relevant quote from Jay being:

Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs

With religion for instance, allow me to quote Thomas Jefferson in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

And over at the Huffington Post, David Bier present us with a number of quotes in favor of immigration generally and at least one quote from Thomas Paine directly in opposition to Jay’s view of the United States:

If there is a country in the world where concord… would be least expected, it is America…made up as it is of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in their modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was impracticable.

And yet Paine still argues the country works as a propositional nation (the very thing VDare is attempting to deny). What this demonstrates is not the Founders were unambiguously denying that America had a particular ethnic origin, but that they were divided on the issue. Their ultimate actions however look a lot more similar to keyhole solutions we here at Open Borders: The Case might support than the close the border solutions of VDare. If the United States was meant by some of the Founders to be for whites only, it’s equally not clear that the men who warned against the dangers to liberty of standing armies would have supported militarizing a border against peaceful immigrants.

But this leads us to the question of whether in the modern world we should even care what the founders thought? The founders also failed to end the immense injustice of slavery or give women voting rights, things even conservative admirers of the founders should find to be major failings. Franklin’s own position on Germans in the United States would seem to be rather problematic now that Germans are the single largest ancestry for Americans to claim. Losing 17% of the US population that is almost entirely white probably would not be a preferred outcome for the VDare writers.

But ultimately the founder’s views can only be a proxy. They were certainly intelligent men and the opinions of intelligent people are generally worth at least considering. But in the modern world we have far more data and experience on how economics, politics, and just the way the world in general works. Thus both people asserting the founders supported immigration and those saying they opposed it are discussing a point of view that should carry very little if any weight in modern debates. The founders may have intended a propositional nation or may not have (or more likely some believed in one position and others in the other). But they no longer have to live with the consequences of such a choice and those who do should decide the issue.

Discrimination and the semi-open border

A couple weeks ago the American Civil Liberties Union updated its position on the Senate’s immigration bill. Overall, the ACLU seemed to favor the bill for its path to citizenship and for due process improvements in detention and deportation processes. One of their concerns was that “LGBT couples do not have the same rights as straight couples in immigration proceedings.” The ACLU blog post was written before the US Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, a ruling that for the most part renders moot discrimination against gay couples in the Senate immigration bill, at least at the federal level. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that at a time of cascading victories for gay rights, when even opponents feel the inevitability of gay equality, one instance where discrimination can gain support is that of gay couples bestriding the border.

Of course, I’m probably overstating this effect. Those pushing to discriminate against gays in immigration proceedings are the same as those pushing to discriminate against all-American gays. Yet discrimination is a common theme in immigration restrictions. Though I view it as strategically unwise–not to mention unfair and not altogether honest–to denounce immigration restrictions as inherently racist, it’s also unwise to ignore the blatantly racist history of American immigration policies. Chris Hendrix has blogged about the first major restrictionist legislation, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, but even before this, naturalization (as opposed to immigration) was restricted on explicitly racist grounds. The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted naturalization to “free white persons” of “good moral character”. This may not be surprising for a nation that allowed legal slavery of Africans and those of African descent for nearly a century, but this racial requirement was the law of the land until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Immigration isn’t the same as citizenship, yet this unpalatable history is clearly relevant to today’s discussions of immigrant assimilation (citizen or otherwise).

Perhaps partially as a result of this legal requirement, much of the history of assimilation has been entwined with the idea of “whiteness”. The story of the Irish in America, for example, has been one of transforming from a “racial” group into an “ethnic” group. In a reflection on St Patrick’s Day a few years ago on racismreview.com, blogger Jessie writes:

Over the course of the 19th and early 20th century, Irish Americans managed to a great extent to enter and become part of the dominant white culture. In an attempt to secure the prosperity and social position that their white skin had not guaranteed them in Europe, Irish immigrants lobbied for white racial status in America. Although Irish people’s pale skin color and European roots suggested evidence of their white racial pedigree, the discrimination that immigrants experienced on the job (although the extent of the “No Irish Need Apply” discrimination is disputed), the simian caricatures they saw of themselves in the newspapers, meant that “whiteness” was a status that would be achieved, not ascribed.

For some time now, Irish-Americans have been thoroughly regarded as “white.” Evidence of this assimilation into whiteness is presented by Mary C. Waters (Harvard) in a recent AJPH article, in which she writes that the once-rigid lines that divided European-origin groups from one another have increasingly blurred. Waters goes on to predict that the changes that European immigrants have experienced are “becoming more likely for groups we now define as ‘racial.’” While I certainly agree that the boundaries of whiteness are malleable – it is a racial category that expands and contracts based on historical, cultural and social conditions – I don’t know if it is malleable enough to include all the groups we now define as ‘racial’ Others.

Emphases in original. The intimate relationship between whiteness and American assimilation is possibly best described in the language of historical court decisions. In a paper titled Immigration and the Meaning of United States Citizenship: Whiteness and Assimilation (ungated here), SMU law professor George Martinez quotes some real legal gems:

[Assimilation] as a proxy for whiteness is confirmed by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Thind. In rejecting an immigrant from India’s claim to whiteness and the right to naturalize, the Court explained that Indians were unable to assimilate:

The children of English, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, and other European parentage, quickly merge into the mass of our population and lose the distinctive hallmarks of their European origin. On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu parents would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry. It is far from our thought to suggest the slightest question of racial superiority or inferiority. What we suggest is merely racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that the great body of our people instinctively recognize it and reject the thought of assimilation.

Lower court cases further confirm a connection between assimilation and whiteness. In United States v. Cartozian, the court considered whether Armenians were white. Connecting assimilation with whiteness, the court held that “it may be confidently affirmed that the Armenians are white persons, and moreover that they readily amalgamate with the European and white races.” Similarly, in In re Ahmed Hassan, the court held that Arabs were not white persons, observing that

it is well known that they are part of the Mohammedan world and that a wide gulf separates their culture from that of the predominantly Christian peoples of Europe. It cannot be expected that as a class they would readily intermarry with our population and be assimilated into our civilization.

Martinez goes on to quote the Supreme Court’s logic upholding the legality of the Chinese Exclusion Act: “[If Congress] considers the presence of foreigners of a different race in this country, who will not assimilate with us, to be dangerous to its peace and security … [Congress’s] determination is conclusive upon the judiciary.”

Explicit racism in immigration restrictions persisted after the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 formally severed the concepts “American” and “white”. In a curious collusion of Mexican emigration restrictionists and American immigration restrictionists, “Operation Wetback” was launched in 1954 to deport illegal Mexican immigrants and limit further Mexican immigration. The dangers, of course, are that a long history of racist justifications for immigration restrictions doesn’t just disappear down the memory hole when the law is officially changed and that explicit racism in American immigration policy has merely been replaced by implicit racism. One place to start looking for such implicit discrimination would be in the federal Secure Communities program, which has been criticized for encouraging racial profiling.

But I don’t want this post to be entirely about the historical connection between immigration restrictions and racism. Another, more subtle kind of discrimination is at play in the modern immigration debate, even in more enlightened quarters: discrimination against lower classes. A recent incarnation of this is the moralized evocation and denunciation of a “moocher class” composed of the lazy poor who take handouts from the government and give nothing back to society in return. The reality is somewhat different, with many upper class individuals failing to realize when they have benefited from government programs. As with racial discrimination, discrimination by socioeconomic class makes generalizations about large groups of individuals and judges them to be somehow worth just a little less than the dominant group.

This class discrimination arises in the distinction between “skilled” and “low-skilled” immigrants. Many people skeptical of allowing more low-skilled migrants across the border can even be quite enthusiastic supporters of more immigration of skilled workers. Reihan Salam of the National Review has summed it up this way:

The goal of means-tested benefits and publicly-funded human capital investment is to better the lives of all members of the American polity, but particularly the most vulnerable, by giving them a foundation for participation in our shared economic and civic life. We might disagree about how much we ought to spend and how these programs are structured, with people like me favoring a limited scope for social programs, choice and competition, and an emphasis on work supports, etc., but support for the idea of a safety net and a place for the public sector in education is pretty firmly entrenched. When we expand the American polity, it makes intuitive sense that we would want to do so by welcoming individuals who are already well-prepared to fully participate in economic and civic life, as we’ve learned through long experience that people who are ill-prepared will face tremendous difficulties, as will their children. For a variety of reasons, individuals with 8th grade education and limited English proficiency are less likely to flourish in the U.S. than individuals with a college education and a high degree of English proficiency. If it is also true that less-skilled and less-affluent U.S. residents with limited English proficiency benefit more from an influx of skilled immigrants (potential customers or complements) than from an influx of less-skilled immigrants with limited English proficiency (potential competitors), the case for a more selective, skills-based immigration policy becomes even stronger.

While this technocratic approach sounds sensible enough from some national central planner’s perspective, it sounds paternalistic from a view closer to the ground, as if those who are deciding when and how to “expand the American polity” are protecting low-skilled migrants from the “tremendous difficulties” of living in a developed country. People have been migrating to strange new places with novel difficulties to navigate ever since we spread beyond Africa. As autonomous agents directing the course of their own lives, presumably migrants have assessed the risks and difficulties of migrating to a new country and have judged their chances of flourishing to be greater with moving than with staying. This is true even for migrants “low-skilled” but nonetheless savvy enough to pursue higher wages when and where they can be found. If “low-skilled” workers will fail to flourish in a high-income host country, then they will almost certainly fail to flourish to a greater degree in their poorer countries of origin. And of course flourishing may be relative, with modest living in a rich country amounting to serious comfort to those who have only experienced modest living in a poor country.

The paternalistic, for-their-own-good argument seems to be a thin veil concealing the desire to make the “American polity” look a certain way.  The low-skilled migration restrictionists do not seem to be concerned with removing poverty so much as with removing poverty from view. I suspect the distinction between low- and high-skilled immigrants is really a euphemism for discriminating against poor and lower class immigrants. High-skilled immigrants, regardless of absolute wealth levels, are usually richer than low-skilled immigrants and they are certainly more educated. High-skilled immigrants have grown up in families that would be considered culturally elite or at least middle class in their countries of origin (this is how they attained the human capital to qualify as “skilled”). As such, high-skilled workers will more easily fit into “nice” parts of the rich world, like suburbs and medical schools. And they will do the host country the benefit of adding diversity to these institutions, making them appear more inclusive while still keeping out the riff-raff. They will not need to live in dense slums many-to-a-room in living conditions middle class natives find distasteful.

Low-skilled immigrants, by contrast, are more likely to come from lower social classes in their countries of origin and this will translate immediately, if not permanently, into a similar socioeconomic status in a rich host country. With that status come all of the disadvantages the native poor face, with the additional disadvantage living under constant threat of unceremonious deportation.

I don’t doubt the desire of folks like Reihan Salam to improve the lots of low-skilled natives, and even better, their desire for an institutional framework in which low-skilled natives improve their lots themselves. The problem is that their motivation to do so is to create a more superficially attractive nation, rather than to construct an actual engine of human flourishing.

How Did We Get Here? The Origins of Immigration Restrictions: The Chinese Exclusion Act

As promised, here is the start of my historical examination of immigration rule changes, and we begin with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. For those interested in the text of the act itself it can be found here.

For a little background, the first restriction on immigration to the US was actually the Page Act of 1875. This act too focused on Asian immigrants attempting to limit people being brought over for forced labor or prostitution. In practice that latter provision was a significant limiting factor on Chinese women coming to the United States, less because of most emigrating Chinese women actually being prostitutes than officials being overly skeptical towards claims of virtue. This association of the Chinese with crime was one of the major arguments used by anti-Chinese restrictionists in the years leading up to the exclusion act’s passage and parallels modern arguments about immigrant criminality. To explore this (and other major restrictionist arguments) the internet has made easily accessible wonderful resources such as arguments made before the California State Senate (the state with the highest Chinese population) by State Senator Creed Haymond. On page 4 he argues:

The State of California has a population variously estimated at from seven hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand, of which one hundred twenty-five thousand are Chinese…The evidence demonstrates beyond cavil that nearly the entire immigration comes from the lowest orders of the Chinese people, and mainly those having no homes or occupations on the land, but living on boats on the rivers, especially those in the vicinity of Canton.

This class of the people, according to the castes into which Chinese society is divided, are virtually pariahs—the dregs of the population. None of them are  admitted into any of the privileges of the orders ranking above them. And while rudimentary education is encouraged, and even enforced among the masses of the people, the fishermen and those living on the waters and harbors of China are excluded by the rigid and hoary constitutions of caster from participation in such advantages.

It would seem to be a necessary consequence, flowing from this class of immigration, that a large proportion of criminals should be found among it; and this deduction is abundantly sustained by the facts before us, for of five hundred and forty-five of the foreign criminals in our State Prison, one hundred and ninety-eight are Chinese—nearly two-fifths of the whole—while our jails and reformatories swarm with the lower grade of malefactors.

(Emphasis mine).

Continue reading How Did We Get Here? The Origins of Immigration Restrictions: The Chinese Exclusion Act