The Ideology of Unrestricted Immigration

In Modern Age, Chilton Williamson Jr. has an excellent piece on “The Ideology of Unrestricted Immigration”. This piece is well worth it and contains lots of historical details. Williamson’s general thesis:

Whether the United States should allow any immigration at all is a question that has never been considered by our national government, but rather how much immigration, what kind of immigrants, and from where. Yet only after that existential question had been framed and carefully considered should the immigration issue have been passed on to the stage of detailed policymaking. The American Founders believed immigration to have been quite as unnecessary, and indeed undesirable, as the American majority does today.

Of the standard counterarguments from liberals and GOP, Inc:

America is the exceptional nation and therefore immune to the historical laws, demographic and otherwise, that have limited and constrained every nation in history. For immigrationists, the historical fact that other nations have been destroyed by immigration amounting actually to invasion (which is what we are experiencing) gives us no good reason to suppose that America, too, is susceptible to similar destructive forces. The perennial slogan of the dedicated immigrationist is “Immigration Now, Immigration Forever!” Because immigration did not destroy the country in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it won’t now and in the future. This is not rational thinking, or critical thinking, or historical thinking; it is ideological thinking—or no thinking at all.

Exclusion on nearly any ground is unfair, unequal, and discriminatory in the case of individuals, as well as groups. In the context of immigration, the liberal argument from rights and fairness emphasizes the ideological concern for individual immigrants, while overlooking the communitarian interest of the native population. But reasons drawn from considerations regarding the personal welfare of would-be immigrants and individual fairness are not the sole moral considerations at stake. The problem in its individual dimension is complicated by the valid moral claims of nations and communities to their own well-being and comfort, to their self-identity, their coherence, and their right to self-determination, and even self-preservation. The argument for exclusion speaks to what Michael Walzer calls the maintenance of “communities of character” built on consensus rather than on some universal ideal of moral perfection.

America is “the permanently unfinished country,” as Nathan Glazer once said. About twenty years ago, a Chinese-Hawaiian student, encouraged by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, confided to him that she would grade America “incomplete.” This sort of thinking, very prevalent in the United States today, reminds me of Nietzsche’s remark that the modern world is obsessed with becoming, while ignoring being. It was Toynbee who observed, “The same elements that build up an institution eventually lead to its downfall.” And Richard Lamm, a former governor of Colorado, argued thirty years ago that “immigration reform is not the death of the American Dream. . . . It is the necessary precondition for the preservation of the dream.”

Most importantly is his rejoinder to the ‘proposition nation’ concept that underlies pro-immigrationist positions:

America is not a nation in the sense that all other nations are and have been nations, but a “proposition country,” having no history and no identity apart from certain eighteenth-century political notions embodied in its Constitution and common law. Allan Bloom described the United States as a system founded by philosophers and their students, a great stage on which political theories are personified. But those eighteenth-century notions were mainly British ones, as of course the common law is, while the “philosophers” and “students” were of British descent. And since the colonies that created the United States were British ones, so too, in that sense, is their creation of 1787.

There is no space here to argue the proper definition of a “nation.” Suffice it to say that the propositionists’ arguments are even less remarkable for the thinness of their historical sense than they are for their determination to depersonalize the United States by reducing the country from a historical fact to an intellectual abstraction, which in its concrete form is a vast machine designed to manufacture democracy—and democracies. The quickest and surest way to destroy the American nation is to treat it as something other than the historical nation it really is, as the fastest way to kill a horse is to feed it on stardust and moonbeams, as if it were a unicorn.

In terms of political philosophy, seeing the U.S. as ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’ is what underlies much of the spurious and idealistic ‘proposition nation’ concept.

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