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.
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