Open the borders?

Particular culture is basic to human life, and can’t be simply a private hobby. Mass migration is, at a minimum, uncontrollably disruptive.

(Nitish Meena/Unsplash.com)

Last month I commented on Catholicism and nationality. My basic point was that the existence of particular peoples is a natural and beneficial part of human life that should be respected.

That point is often rejected today, most strikingly through the growing demand for essentially open borders. That demand is sometimes expressed openly, but is more often implicit in denunciations of immigration enforcement.

The Christian argument for open borders is simple and vivid. Many Catholics, especially those who make their career as such, point out that “welcome the stranger” is part of the Faith. And what, they ask, is welcoming about walls, fences, and deportations?

But the Church has never treated specific counsels of charity as binding in all cases, certainly not in the case of legitimate government exercised for the common good. She says “turn the other cheek,” but also that the ruler “beareth the sword not in vain.” If deadly force can be OK, why not immigration enforcement?

Political discernment is primarily a matter of prudence: government exists to promote the well-being of the community it governs, subject to the requirement that it use morally licit means. And restrictions on immigration based on the common good are clearly licit.

A government, especially one as powerful as that of the United States, should also respect the universal common good. But a general right of free migration would injure the universal common good as well as that of recipient communities. It would depress less successful societies by encouraging capable and energetic people to leave for greener pastures. The “brain drain” is real. And it would disrupt population stability and cultural coherence in stable, prosperous, and well-governed societies, suppressing mutual trust and thus the qualities that make a society successful and attractive to immigrants.

Civilization builds bridges, but it depends on walls to protect stable connections and networks of trust. Who wants to immigrate to the Middle East, a crossroads of three continents that is now home to a remarkable diversity of peoples? Or to other border regions, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Sudan? Sicily is full of UNESCO posters praising its historic role as a meeting place of civilizations. There are no posters there saluting the historic happiness of its people, because their history has been their misfortune.

Why is it a good idea to make the world more like those places?

A recent Gallup Poll shows that would-be immigrants who don’t just go next door mostly want to go to historically less diverse places—Europe, the West generally, and to some extent East Asia (where they’re generally not admitted). So they want to go to the fringes of Eurasia, where migrations and other foreign interventions have been comparatively limited, or to fairly new settler societies, and not to the cultural, demographic, and historical complexities of—for example—India.

People don’t want to immigrate to such places because they like the climate, or because the people there are specially wise, worthy, or good. They go there because history has put the people there in a position to build societies characterized by high trust and functional civic institutions. So why not try to cultivate the elements of that history, including comparative stability of populations, as much as possible everywhere?

But if free migration is a bad idea, why do more and more people support it?

One basic reason is the self-interest of people at the top. Mass immigration means more competition and lower pay at the bottom and in the middle, and that means higher profits at the top. More generally, those in power today like integrated technically-rational enterprises. If borders were simply lines between administrative subdivisions the whole world would be immediately available as a resource for their undertakings. There would no longer be coherent peoples able to make trouble, and the well-placed and wealthy would find ways to insulate themselves from any drawbacks.

If you’re at the top, what’s not to like? Why not unify the whole world so you and those like you can run it in ways you understand? And if you’re an apparatchik promoting and carrying out policy, or the product of an educational system and public culture run by such people, why not buy into it? There might turn out to be problems even for those who seem initially to benefit, but people who think they can control everything don’t take such dangers seriously.

The self-interest of the powerful is of course not the only reason for wanting open borders. Other reasons are various, some religious, some patriotic, others based on general secular ideals.

We have touched on the religious reasons. In America the patriotic reasons usually involve the idea that America is based on the proposition that all men are created equal. Equality is an open-ended demand whose implications develop endlessly. It has now come to mean that foreigners can’t be foreign. They are human, so they are equal, and must be treated exactly the same as us.

That means they should become American, and America should become them. So we should unify the world economically under American leadership, and reform gender relations in Afghanistan by whatever means necessary. And we should open our borders and celebrate the end of a basically Western and European America, because that will make America more universal and propositional and therefore more American. If you think there might be problems with all that you’re obviously an isolationist, xenophobe, or white supremacist. Such is the level of public discussion today.

There are also more general reasons. The growing pervasiveness of technology in everyday life, and its success in dealing with many important things, lead people to believe it gives us the right way to deal with everything. So global technocracy appeals to a great many people today, who find it the only rational approach to organizing society.

The implicit idea is that we have schools, daycare, fast food, therapists, big corporations, and government social services, so we don’t need families or communities. The latter should be treated as optional pursuits to be chosen and configured according to personal taste. But that means that definite cultural norms to order families and communities and help them work aren’t needed.

People have therefore turned the dissolution of particular culture and community into a moral ideal. Cultures and communities have boundaries, so they’re bad. They don’t include everybody equally, and they tell people not to do some things they want to do, so they’re bigoted and oppressive. The conclusion is that it’s best to get rid of them through open borders, diversity, and multiculturalism, which disrupt every culture and deprive it of authority.

These are bad reasons that lead to a bad result. Particular culture is basic to human life, and can’t be simply a private hobby. Mass migration is, at a minimum, uncontrollably disruptive. A propositional nation eventually becomes tyrannical, unless the proposition is uniquely good and comprehensive, because it gets forced on the whole of life no matter how bad the fit. And our rulers and guides aren’t as wise or capable as they think.

Under such circumstances, why accept what we are told? Basic principles matter. There are problems with mass immigration that need to be discussed honestly and directly, especially in view of the importance of the topic. So let us do so.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About James Kalb 95 Articles
James Kalb is a lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism(ISI Books, 2008) and, most recently, Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).

21 Comments

  1. “The implicit idea is that we have schools, daycare, fast food, therapists, big corporations, and government social services, so we don’t need families . . .”
    .
    I realize this article deals with immigration specifically, but this is the first I have seen this particular idea (that families are not needed) noted anywhere. Families are very much needed, but I do not think people really give it much thought.
    .
    The Pope recently lamented the birth dearth and coming demographic winter. The Church is very caught up in the idea as children as a “gift” given by God, as oppose to “a helper” sent by God. Gifts are not necessarily useful or expected to be useful. They are apt to end up in storage or garage sales. A helper, though, is very different. We expect something useful from helpers.
    .
    My oldest “helper” will be at least 26 by the time he is done with his degree and is “useful” to me–after his father and I have invested many thousands in time and money putting him through college and grad school. Even if our youngest becomes the plumber I so desperately need at the moment, that is still a few years out.
    .
    When my relatively young, married tennis coach (Catholic school educated) tells me he and his wife have no desire for children, I nod my head. I think it is very sad, but understand their immediate reasons. And he/they are not alone. But at least they are married. I know so many others in the age demographic who are not, and see no reason to be.
    .
    We do not see how critical and useful family is, so I think its demise is not unexpected. Immigrants will eventually fill the void.

    • “We do not see how critical and useful family is, so I think its demise is not unexpected. Immigrants will eventually fill the void.”
      ********
      Unless things change in the very near future that would appear to be the case. But once immigrants settle in, their fertility rates drop, too.
      The Amish & Orthodox Jews view family differently & they’re rapidly increasing. In fact, the Amish are the fastest growing denomination in North America with new communities springing up all the time.

      • I do not know about the Orthodox Jews, but I don’t think the Amish really make use of the many social programs available. I believe their “social safety net” tends to be the family, extended family, and various Amish neighbors (although the ones around here do seem to make friends with non-Amish people and hire them to drive.) The family and children are “useful” to them, and have a much quicker turn around time and investment cost. I also think they tend to keep schooling to the immediate community (not the usual public school), but I could be wrong on that.

  2. Thank you Mr. Kalb for your persistent defense of “the common good,” against the high-handed totalitarianism of the globalist kleptocracy…the “pseudo-civilized” idiot-savants of big industry and big banking and big media, and their bloated blood-brothers in the “governing class.”

    It’s not hard to imagine that, with the profane immigrant monument brazenly erected to blight St. Peter’s Square just days ago, McCarrick’s Pope and “his team” are running a political agitprop for the pursuits of their mysterious benefactors.

  3. Basic principles do matter. So does logically reasoning from a sound premise to a sound conclusion. Open borders are not, in fact, mutually exclusive with the existence of distinct peoples, not least because the distinct peoples of the world are not, and never have been, immutable. Open borders is the civilizational norm, and had always been such in the West before nineteenth-century left-liberal progressivists started enacting immigration controls, naturally enough given their ideological commitment to technocratic state management of peoples:

    ericsgiunta.wordpress.com/2019/09/12/open-borders-part-1

    • Circumstances alter cases. You can have open borders and distinct peoples if people depend on local networks and connections that they’re born into for the practicalities of life. Then you’re not going to have much in the way of migration and to the extent you do the migrants will live within communities they form for themselves. Whatever may have been the case in the past though that’s not our world.

      • None of what you just wrote is true. The distinctions between people are not and literally never have been immutable. What constitutes a “people” in one generation is usually not the same thing that constitutes a “people” in the next. Furthermore, the wealthier people are, the more mobile they are (physically and otherwise), and the more options they have at their disposal to belong to multiple “peoples” (associations) simultaneously. The bases upon which people identify with each other are constantly changing, this is not inherently good or bad, and no one enjoys a natural or divine right to initiate violence in order to force others to be the sort of “fellow people” he thinks they ought to.

        Some people think their “fellow people” are those who share certain physical characteristics (like skin color), or their religion, or their specific religious denomination, or their economic status, or their profession. Others identify with others on other bases. The existence of distinct peoples — whatever that specifically entails — is not something that can be technocratically engineered by government “experts”; rather, it’s something that occurs spontaneously, through people’s voluntary actions and associations, including through migration, which is just a fancy word for “movement.”

        • How about stability rather than immutability? A “people” as I use the term is defined by a common way of life. A common way of life that deals reasonably well with the various stages, chances, and situations in life for various types of people takes generations to grow up. It involves a whole lot of accumulated experiences, common habits, memories, loyalties, and understandings, and overlapping networks of personal ties. Those don’t appear overnight.

          Dunno about “violence” and “technocratic engineering.” the arrival of the Sea Peoples in the late Bronze Age and beginning of the Migration Period in Late Antiquity didn’t lead to periods of peace, prosperity, and high culture. City walls have been around for quite a while, and if they’re technocratic engineering maybe it’s not always a bad thing.

          • I’m sorry, but your evocation of the ancient “Sea Peoples” is intellectually dishonest. You’re not making it in good faith. The Sea Peoples were literal invading armies, not mere migrants. The walls you’re referring to were never built to restrict migration, but to defend cities from literal armed invaders.

          • EG – The Sea Peoples were part of a large-scale movement of peoples at the time. That was the point of the reference.

        • Societies and civilizations are form of societal infrastructure. They need every bit as much repair and maintenance as physical infrastructure does. Physical infrastructure often collapses as a result of a long period of neglect and lack of maintenance. Societies and civilizations often collapse for the same reason. Roman civilization was not built in a day, and it was not destroyed in a day. It is this delay that social engineers can count on to push their crackpot schemes.

        • Give us some examples of mass migration that weren’t invasions. (At least 1,000 people relocating to the same locale occupied by a different people: village, town, city, not to occupy to an empty place.)

          • SOL,
            Didn’t we have what could be considered mass migration into the Americas? Perhaps the difference was that whole pre-Columbian cultures collapsed after diseases were introduced from Europe & Africa, wiping out perhaps 90% of the indigenous populations. So in some cases, no invading force was needed. Migration repopulated the land.

            I don’t think of European settlement of the New World as an “invasion”, but I imagine the original inhabitants did.

          • Mrs. Cracker, you could call what the colonists did invasion; I don’t know what every single tribe thought about ownership of territory and whether their claim was absolute in their own minds. The colonists settled in the territory they occupied; they did not join an existing political community or tribe. This is not what Eric Giunta means.

    • Up until 1918 & the Battle of Ambos Nogales there was no border fence or any physical barrier between the US & Sonora, Mexico. The international border in Nogales was simply a wide open avenue with US & Mexican businesses on either side.
      Following perceived espionage threats concerning Germany & Mexico, tensions arose & shots were fired between US & Mexican troops at the Nogales border on 08/27/1918. There were American casualties & many more Mexican deaths. After that incident,a border fence was erected & I think it was the first US border town to do that.
      So, you just wonder what has gone on in the past century to get us where we are today?
      I don’t believe in “open borders” as an immigration policy, but in practical, material terms our borders were completely barrier free until the not so distant past & we seemed to do just fine.

      • In the good old days of Emma Lazarus the USA didn’t have a social welfare state. In order to go back to the days of Emma Lazarus you would need to end the social welfare state. Also, isn’t a lot of the land in the western states under the control of the federal government? There have been clashes between ranchers and the federal government over land use issues. So the immigration safety valve of homesteading out west is nothing like what it was in the days of Emma Lazarus.
        *
        One thing that I have noticed about the open borders people is how often they are seriously anti-USA. Many of them have little good to say about the USA as a nation. Their multiculturalism is often anti-assimilation to the point that it looks an awful lot like the voluntary apartheid of tribalism. It’s almost like USA citizenship is a thing of shame to them. I hate to be blunt, but how many people come to the USA because they love the USA, and how many people come to the USA because they only love the USA’s wallet and would ditch the USA in a heartbeat for a better paycheck? To me way too many of the globalist elites talk and act like mercenary soldiers of fortune and hired guns.
        *
        You need to further consider how generally unrepresentative many of the international organizations are. Which of them does the average person have a real voice in? Does a “citizen of the world” have any vote and political franchise worthy of discussion? Most international organizations appear to be of by and for the unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats that run the organizations.
        *
        When people are no longer of any use or value to the globalist elites they are left high and dry, and written off as being deploreables and bitter clingers. The globalist elites treat the people in the USA heartland as so many serfs and peasants to be treated with scorn and derision. This is were a lot of the energy that is behind the populist movements comes from.

        • Immigration’s a complex issue. I’m totally against “open borders” in that respect. And I’m certainly not a globalist. I was just thinking out loud that permanent physical barriers on our southern border are a pretty recent development. You’re correct that the BLM controls much Western land, but miles of the international border still run through open, privately owned land.

          I think you’re correct that the increase in US social welfare programs has incentivized some immigration but the migrants I’ve met simply come across the border for higher paying jobs. And most of them would prefer to go back & forth to Mexico where their families live, but of course having first come here illegally, that becomes impossible.

          I guess I wonder what changes have caused the huge increase in illegal crossings. Drugs certainly have to be a part of that & I think those same folks also profit from human smuggling.
          It’s really a shame for towns on either side of the border that have taken a big economic hit from all this. Almost half the retail sales in Nogales, AZ are to Mexican nationals but many now are reluctant or fearful to come across to shop & US stores are struggling. And it’s the same story for US tourists who used to enjoy shopping or dining on the Mexican side.

  4. A good article pros and cons on open boarders assessed realistically. James Kalb touches on a related morally critical cultural phenomenon, “The implicit idea is that we have schools, daycare, fast food, therapists, big corporations, and government social services, so we don’t need families or communities” (Kalb). Israel had an agrarian practice that predated independence revived with Zionism. “Kibbutz members were not classic Marxists though their system partially resembled Communism. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels both shared a disdain for conventional formulations of the nation state and Leninists were hostile to Zionism. Nevertheless, in the late 1930s, two kibbutz leaders, Tabenkin and Yaari, initially attracted to anarchist ideas, pushed their movements to reverence of Stalin’s dictatorship and of Stalin whom many called Shemesh HaAmim, ‘The Sun of the Nations’. When the first children were born akibbutzt there were inevitably some ethical dilemmas that needed to be solved. One of these was that the kibbutz was striving for equality, including the equality of the sexes. Women were only seen as separate because they gave birth to children, automatically tying them to the domestic sphere. In order to liberate women and promote gender equality, they could not be tied to solely domestic duties and child care giving. The Kibbutz wanted to give women the opportunity to continue their work in the agricultural sector and industrial sector. As such, Communal education is the first step towards woman’s liberation” (Chayuta Bussel Wikipedia). The similarity to current gender dysphoria driven by growing secularism, Democrat socialism is startling. The breakup of familial ties fatherless families rocketing divorce rate abortion non contractual sexual relationships on the increase are all contributing factors to a growing secular socialism and related gender dysphoria. If as Kalb suggests “You can have open borders and distinct peoples if people depend on local networks and connections that they’re born into for the practicalities of life”. If the traditional family is not included in that summary we may have a secularist Israeli form of society coupled with the consequent destruction of a Christian society. Retention of immigrant familial ties is more vital than perhaps thought. The USCCB has at least that right.

  5. The reason I am for the wall is we have laws to abide by. When someone comes in illegally it makes it unfair to the people who come in legally and the people born here. When we give all kind of aid to illegals and forget our own we are saying laws don’t matter.

  6. Per the Bible, God gave specific lands to different nations. If a group of people want to call themselves a nation and wish to have sovereignty it should be their human right.

    IMHO, people leave mostly their countries because of the corruption that exists there. An exodus is not the right solution. The global effort should be to root out corruption so people don’t feel compelled to leave. Do not cooperate in evil.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Open the borders? -

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*