I hope he’s popular with the ladies, too, since I am told that I am single again, after what was basically a roughly one-year relationship followed by a roughly one-year breakup. My apologies to everyone peripherally affected, most of whom know I generally try to avoid “drama.” Perhaps I can address romantic conquest as a subsidiary theme during this blog’s “Month of Imperialism” entries. In any case, for all the ladies out there who might get me mixed up with the Wikileaks editor, just remember this rule of thumb: I am not the one with the Australian accent.
Before turning our attention to imperialism, though: the sometimes-related topic of immigration, on the august occasion of the launch of Gerard Perry’s anti-illegal-immigration site American-Rattlesnake. I see that my own webmaster/debate-moderator pal, Michel Evanchik, is contributing to the site as well, perhaps concerned that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from hard-working Americans. But I will have to read in the days ahead to find out.
Surveying the topic in a broader — and more imperial — context, it’s interesting to me that there are two constellations of views, neither bound together by logical necessity, that seem to be catching on in recent years, one looking something like:
•more-or-less open borders + free trade + military interventionism
and the other looking something like:
•rigid borders + less trade + opposition to military intervention
By now, neither set of views is that surprising, but it’s not a dichotomy I would have predicted, say, fifteen years ago from the textbook “right” and “left” definitions of thirty years ago, but rather is a dichotomy that now describes both a split within the right and a split within libertarianism, due to the advent of all the Ron Paul types within libertarianism (except that libertarians wouldn’t sign off on the “less trade” part of the second constellation of views, sometimes seeming to substitute an animus against international trade agreements, rightly or wrongly).
Both of those splits are in turn replicated within the Tea Party movement, and indeed I’ve complained to Gerard that he and his allies should not seek to turn the Tea Party rallies into immigration debates, since they’ve been so admirably focused on resisting government spending (and in a way that still manages to partially transcend party affiliation — indeed, if the Tea Party helps the GOP regain power and, in all likelihood, the GOP screws us over again, it may be time at long last to try to steer all the Tea Party-admirers into an enlarged Libertarian Party and hope that someone at least as smart as Bob Barr is minding the store over there when it happens).
Adding to the weirdness of the times, if your views fell somewhere in between the two constellations described above — say, you want heavily regulated but not greatly diminished immigration and trade, with occasional military intervention — you’d arguably be more like a Democrat than like an idealized version of a moderate Republican, meaning that by some measures the right contains wings that are farther apart than either is from the Dems.
People have a hard time accepting “maybe” and “I don’t know” as answers — especially from people who are emphatic on other issues — but I think immigration and military matters both fall into grey areas, so I would just as soon not use them as wedge issues, coalition-splitters, or political tribe-definers, though times change and it may be that these issues loom too large now (compared to, say, the 90s) to avoid taking a stand on them.
Still one of those tolerant, high-minded, and mostly non-combative New Englanders at heart, I have to admit that despite my conservative tendencies I grew up mostly assuming that only troglodytes were anti-immigration, in much the same way I didn’t expect to meet intelligent people who espoused strong religious convictions or who were anti-gay (and for the most part, I still don’t). So I’ve sort of gone from being (1) an open-borders guy, comfortable telling people as much, to (2) semi-agnostic on the topic as it became more contentious in recent years and as the libertarian argument (right or wrong) that illegal immigration is an undue burden on the welfare state became more popular (again, it’s not that I’m completely craven or opportunistic when coalitional opportunities arise but rather that some potentially coalition-splitting issues, like foreign policy during the neocon heyday of the Bush administration, already fall into what I think are grey areas anyway — and, again, the philosophy student in me is comfortable “bracketing” issues for later resolution while the clear-cut ones are addressed first), to (3) now being concerned that the animus against illegals is so illogical — and distracting — that it may be necessary to espouse a radical no borders position just to clear the air.
By “illogical,” I mean primarily that most anti-illegal-immigration activists seem to have convinced themselves that they are not motivated by opposition to, say, Mexican culture but by the very fact that people come here by flouting our laws. Doesn’t this strike anyone as circular? I mean, I realize I’m technically an anarchist and all, but I have rarely heard conservatives take the view that Socrates did when he passed up an opportunity to escape from death row, that is, the view that the law must be obeyed simply because one owes deference to the code that has sheltered one throughout one’s life, even when it errs. Do conservatives feel that way about tax policy? Environmental regulations? Shouldn’t there at least be a very detailed public discussion going on about whether immigration laws are so stupid and Byzantine that they deserve to be flouted? I seem to remember applauding people who defied communist laws and made it over the Berlin Wall. Why am I to treat U.S. immigration law with substantially greater respect? How about simplifying (or eliminating) the laws so there’s no need to break them? Shouldn’t that at least be a bigger part of the discussion?
And by “distracting,” I mean that if, as claimed, the overburdening of the welfare state is the real concern, why on Earth are we passing up an opportunity (if it really exists) to turn all this populist rage against the real enemy, the U.S. welfare state, instead of poor Mexicans? The ready answer always seems to be that there’s little hope of shrinking the welfare state, so stopping newcomers is the second-best but more easily-achieved option. Really? Could we at least try focusing all that rage on what is purportedly the real target? In retrospect, I think California had (roughly) the right idea in the 90s, attempting to limit immigrants’ government benefits. If that’s the real concern, do something about it. Likewise, if someone claims he wants less government, I’d be suspicious if he said that as an imperfect first step we need to set up a massive, expensive new government agency for tracking the number of socialist organizations in the U.S. Cut to the chase.
All this has been complicated by 9/11, history is sure to record. (It arguably shouldn’t be, but one rarely gets to tease out issues for careful rational analysis in real-world politics, as becomes increasingly painfully obvious to one as one ages.) It became a great deal easier after 9/11 to paint border-crossers of any sort, on a vague subconscious level, as an imminent threat to national sovereignty, whereas I suspect people were traipsing across both the northern and southern U.S. borders unremarked all the time throughout much of the twentieth century, with aims no more nefarious than bringing back some primo weed from Vancouver.
In the end, the true libertarian position, which we may as well pursue now instead of waiting for some perfect day a century hence, should be that just as governments have no right to tell us how to live, they have no right to tell us where to live. Humans should wander the globe at will. Mass emigration brought down the Soviet Union at the end, and it might just be the fastest way to unravel all the other states as well. If welfare states collapse like ice cubes in boiling water under conditions of unrestricted emigration, so much the better. States are largely geographically-rooted. Humanity’s shifting desires, economic patterns, and cultural interests need not be (less so now than ever before in history, in fact). If governments can’t handle a human race that moves about freely, government should go away. But we knew that already.