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

The occasionally nasty but frequently lucid discussion triggered by Bryan Caplan’s provocative post about Himmler shed new light, for me, on citizenism. While I’m convinced by Vipul’s arguments that citizenism is (much) more influential than its currency in public discourse would suggest, it’s unusual to encounter people explicitly defending it. However, to Caplan’s challenge– “How did Himmler misapply citizenism?”– I think the citizenists’ answer is quite clear: moral side-constraints. My favorite comment was by Theo Clifford, who basically summed up the whole discussion…

The obvious point here is that the citizenists show up and reply, “of course we believe in moral side-constraints to citizenism!” And then it’s the same old philosophical and empirical argument about whether freedom of migration should be one of those side constraints.

… while also pointing to where the discussion could most productively go next. I would characterize Peter Hurley, Tom West, Eric Falkenstein, Kenneth Regas, and possibly Hansjorg Walther as suggesting some form of moral side-constraints, whether they were themselves self-identified citizenists (like Ken) or definitely not (like Peter) or non-committal (like, I think, everyone else). Of course, I may be biased because “moral side-constraints” is my term, and I noted early on in the discussion that this was a tack citizenists were likely to take. I was right, and the discussion tends to confirm my knee-jerk reaction that citizenists aren’t like Himmler because they accept, albeit usually implicitly and half-unconsciously, moral side-constraints. By the way, my least favorite comment was Eric Falkenstein’s response to Theo Clifford:

Theo: citizenists show up and reply, “of course we believe in moral side-constraints to citizenism!”

That’s silly, characterizing the reasonable limits of a citizen-centric policy as an ad hoc confabulation. Every virtue becomes a vice if sought to an extreme. Balancing competing principles (liberty vs. property) is what makes prudence essential. Moderation in all things.

This comment is the kind of vapid, platitudinous, condescending humbug that gets in the way of serious argument. Falkenstein wants to replace the useful phrase “moral side-constraints” with the loaded, cumbersome phrase “reasonable limits of a citizen-centric policy,” because he doesn’t want to accept Theo’s invitation to engage in “philosophical… argument about whether freedom of migration should be one of those side-constraints. ” His mention of “property” is an allusion to an earlier comment in which he argued that “a nation is the ‘commons’ of a population,” a view which I think I could pretty easily tear apart in an argument but which has at least a crude surface plausibility. But to quote “property” against open borders advocates as if they hadn’t heard of it is ridiculous. No, Theo is right to posit that all citizenists seem to accept moral side-constraints of one kind or another, and to steer the conversation towards a discussion of what appropriate side-constraints are. Incidentally, Hansjorg Walther’s comment

Just a question. Sailer in the quote you give says the following:

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

How do you get from that to your claim that his position is equivalent to Himmler’s position:

– Himmler embraces absolute devotion to “the best overall interests of the current citizens of Germany” as the highest morality.

Can’t you take something as a starting point for analyzing a policy without embracing it with absolute devotion as the highest morality which trumps everything else?

I don’t see how you can make this leap.

… is important because Steve Sailer, coiner of the term “citizenism,” endorsed it with a one-word comment: “Right.” Perhaps I’m overthinking this, but Sailer seems to have picked his moment shrewdly. For his comment dodges the Himmler analogy while being extremely non-committal. Citizenism, he suggests, is his starting point for analyzing a policy, but it does not follow that he embraces absolute devotion as the highest morality. Maybe Sailer means that he acccepts some other, higher morality as more absolute, but citizenism as a starting-point, as indeed even Vipul suggests might be appropriate when a policy doesn’t affect the welfare of non-citizens much. Maybe Sailer does embrace absolute devotion to citizenism as the highest moral value, agreeing with Himmler, but doesn’t want to say so openly, and is eager to establish that he can’t actually be proven guilty of that view based on what he’s written. Maybe Sailer wants to pursue citizenist ends subject to a certain basic respect for human rights. At any rate, he doesn’t say. Which is why I think he’s shrewd. This is not an argument that can work out favorably for him. He’s got popular prejudices on his side at least to some extent. He does not have reason on his side. “I’m not like Himmler, but I won’t tell you why I’m not,” may be his best bet here. But I shouldn’t make too much of an argument from near-silence.

By contrast, Kenneth Regas, self-declared citizenist, directly met Caplan’s challenge with admirable forthrightness, in one of the clearest defense of citizenism by an avowed citizenist that I have ever heard. For the rest of this post, all blockquotes are from his comment. Continue reading “Citizenists need to clarify their views on moral side-constraints (a response to commenters on Caplan’s Himmler post)” »