Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 4 of 11)

The Nation-State and Borders

Nation-states have to possess immigration policies or they cease to exist. I mean any number of things by “cease to exist,” including falling apart organizationally and economically, to the point of being unable to provide a minimum degree of order, of predictability. (This last sentence might rub pure libertarians the wrong way. I am willing and eager to engage them on the topic of nation-states, societies, and social order.) This failure to function can be the result of an influx of large numbers of immigrants unable to provide for themselves, obviously. I am not suggesting that this is the only possible cause. It’s one cause and it’s staring us in the eyes as I write (April 2021, three and half months into the Biden presidency).

More prosaically, but also a little mysteriously, “cease to exist” may simply refers to the nation-state becoming something else, subjectively less desirable than what it was. The insulting word “nativism” does not do justice to the complex and subtle issues involved here.

Right now, for example, many French people believe that the large presence in their midst of un-assimilated Muslim immigrants endangers the fundamental building blocks of their society’s ethics and laws. These would include, for example, the separation of church and state (of religion and government) and the equality of men and women. Many French people who are not “white supremacists,” (or, more pertinently perhaps, not Christian supremacists) are calling for an end to all Muslim immigration. (Note that I have said nothing about whether I believe their fears are justified.)*

Guarded national borders have been the conventional way to protect the nation-state since the mid-19th century. They don’t have to be but other available methods are even less palatable to those who love freedom. If, for example, every resident of the US carried a personally identified GPS that it is illegal to turn off, it would be easy to monitor the totality of the population. Those moving about without an authorized GPS would stand out. Legal immigrants might be given a GPS with a different signal. Legal visitors who are not immigrants would get yet another with a signal set to come off on or just before their visa expiration. Illegal immigrants would carry no authorized GPS. This absence would designate them the attention of immigration authorities. (Of course, fake GPS would soon be for sale but they would be more difficult to create than are current SS card and other such paper or plastic documents.) And, thinking about it, a microchip painlessly implanted under each person’s skin might work even better! See what I mean about guarded borders not being so repugnant after all?


*The French left-wing media do not offer substantive arguments to calm the widespread alarm raised by the center, by the right, by many others. Instead, they try to make the alarmed feel guilty of “Islamophobia,” supposedly a close cousin of racism. This accusation quickly losses forces because many people realize that Islam is a set of beliefs and of values that Muslims are free to abandon, unlike race. At least, they may abandon it in the French legal context. (In several Muslim countries, such “apostasy” is theoretically punished by death.) By the way, a month before this writing, I talked on a Santa Cruz beach with a pleasant young French Muslim, a pure product of French public schools born in France. He told me calmly that he believed French law should forbid blasphemy.

With all the agitation and all the negative emotions, people with Muslim names appear well represented at all levels and in all sectors of French society. (Firm numbers are hard to come by because the French government does not allow its various branches to collect information on religious affiliation nor on ethnicity.) And, by the way, I just love what Arabic influence has done to French popular music and songs.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 4 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 3 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Nightcap

  1. Sweet Home Hialeah César Baldelomar, Commonweal
  2. The totalitarianism of origins Tal Fortgang, Law & Liberty
  3. Moralism, nationalism, and identity politics Andrew J Cohen, RCL
  4. A practical approach to legal-pluralist anarchism Jason Morgan, JLS

Nightcap

  1. Middle class: questioning the definitions Mary Lucia Darst, NOL
  2. On Romney’s child allowance proposal Scott Sumner, EconLog
  3. On the American constitutionalism, and nationalism Dennis Coyle, Modern Age
  4. Ottomanism, nationalism, and republicanism (IV) Barry Stocker, NOL

Nightcap

  1. Islamic State has stopped talking about China Elliot Stewart, War on the Rocks
  2. Can we see past the myth of the Himalaya? Akash Kapur, New Yorker
  3. Nation-building or state-making? (pdf) Bérénice Guyot-Réchard, Contemporary South Asia
  4. On national liberation Murray Rothbard, Libertarian Forum

Nightcap

  1. The Protestant ethic and the spirit of…nationalism? Wohnsiedler, et al, VOXEU
  2. Protestantism and the rise of capitalism (pdf) Delacroix & Nielsen, Social Forces
  3. America’s debt to Swiss intellectuals Bradford Littlejohn, Modern Age
  4. Up from colonialism Helen Andrew, Claremont Review of Books

Nightcap

  1. How slaves shape their societies Catherine Cameron, Aeon
  2. Geopolitics and change (pdf) Daniel Deudney, New Thinking in IR
  3. Bernie Sanders?
  4. Liberalizing the liberal order? (podcast) David Hendrickson, Power Problems

The politics of The Expanse

I am rewatching The Expanse, which is a deservedly popular science fiction show on Amazon Prime. It’s very good. As I said, I am rewatching it, mostly in anticipation of the new season, which comes out next month.

It’s good because I like my science fiction to be science-y. I prefer realistic scenarios. So Star Wars is not really my thing (even Star Trek is a stretch, to be honest, but DS9 is amazing).

One thing that strikes me as wrong in The Expanse is the politics. In the storyline, there are three political units: Earth, Mars, and the Belt. Earth and Mars are sovereign, and the Belt (based out of the asteroid belt) is semi-sovereign with a distinct and viable “nationalist” movement there. This is a sophisticated storyline for television. It’s better than DS9, which bore the standard for great science fiction television until The Expanse came along.

But I can’t stop thinking: why would the political alignment of the solar system be based on planets? If it were to be truly realistic, then Earth would not be a sovereign political unit. Instead, we’d have a dozen or so political units from Earth, some political units from Mars, and several from the Belt. Factions in the form of sovereign political units would dominate the political landscape, not planets.

Now, The Expanse does a good job confronting the issue of faction. Earth’s democratically-elected dictator has to deal with several factions, and Mars and the Belt both have factions, too. And several excellent subplots deal significantly with the issue of faction. But there’s not enough sovereignties in The Expanse. It doesn’t mean the series isn’t the best science fiction television series of all time (it is), but it does leave me wanting more.

Nightcap

  1. Sovereignty and the modern treaty process (pdf) Paul Nadasdy, CSSH
  2. How states wrest territory from their adversaries (pdf) Dan Altman, ISQ
  3. Farage’s dangerous appeal Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  4. Decomposing the nation-state (pdf) Murray Rothbard, JLS

Nightcap

  1. All ideologies eventually seem to fail Scott Sumner, EconLog
  2. State capacity libertarianism as a pipe dream Jason Brennan, 200-Proof Liberals
  3. China after Covid Wang Xiuying, London Review of Books
  4. Nationalism, Eastern European style James Felak, Law & Liberty

Nightcap

  1. The state of African literature Saint & Shringarpure, Africa is a Country
  2. Du passé faisons table rase Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
  3. Roger Taney’s statue (Dred Scott) Damon Root, Reason
  4. The Ottoman Empire and its Arab nationalists Christopher Clark, New Statesman

From the Comments: Nationalism, conspiracy theories

Isn’t nationalism itself a sort of conspiracy theory?

This is from longtime reader (and honored guest) Jack Curtis.

Nightcap

  1. Toward scientific civilization Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
  2. We colonize the sun first Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
  3. What it means to me to be an American Ken White, Popehat
  4. Nationalist conspiracies Siniša Malešević, Disorder of Things

Hazony’s nation-state versus Christensen’s federation

Yoram Hazony’s 2018 book praising the nation-state has garnered so much attention that I thought it wasn’t worth reading. Arnold Kling changed my mind. I’ve been reading through it, and I don’t think there’s much in the book that I can originally criticize.

The one thing I’ll say that others have not is that Hazony’s book is not the best defense of the status quo and the Westphalian state system out there. It’s certainly the most popular, but definitely not the best. The best defense of the status quo still goes to fellow Notewriter Edwin’s 2011 article in the Independent Review: “Hayekian Spontaneous Order and the International Balance of Power.”

Hazony’s book is a defense of Israel more than it is a defense of the abstract nation-state. Hazony’s best argument (“Israel”) has already been identified numerous times elsewhere. It goes like this: the Holocaust happened because the Jews in mid-20th century Europe had nowhere to go in a world defined by nationalism. Two competing arguments arose from this realization. The Israelis took one route (“nation-state”), and the Europeans took another (“confederation”). Many Jews believe that the Israelis are correct and the Europeans are wrong.

My logic follows from this fact as thus: the EU has plenty of problems but nothing on the scale of the Gaza Strip or the constant threat of annihilation by hostile neighbors (and rival nation-states).

The European Union and Israel are thus case studies for two different arguments, much like North and South Korea or East and West Germany. The EU has been bad, so bad in fact that the British have voted to leave, but not so bad that there has been any genocide or mass violence or, indeed, interstate wars within its jurisdiction. Israel has been good, so good in fact that it now has one of the highest standards of living in the world, but not so good that it avoided creating something as awful as the Gaza Strip or making enemies out of every single one of its neighbors.

To me this is a no-brainer. The Europeans were correct and the Israelis are wrong. To me, Israelis (Jewish and Arab) would be much better off living under the jurisdiction of the United States or even the European Union rather than Israel’s. They’d all be safer, too.

Nightcap

  1. Alesina was one of the most creative economists of his time Guido Tabellini, Il Foglio
  2. Alberto Alesina. A free-spirited economist Papaioannou & Stantcheva, VOXEU
  3. Nation-Building, Nationalism, and Wars” Alesina, Reich, & Riboni, NBER
  4. The case against Mars Byron Williston, Boston Review

The state as the illusionary Deus Ex Machina

The 20th century was a century in which societies consolidated the belief that governments should provide certainty and protection from collective risks and developed the expectation that governments are well equipped to do so through large-scale interventions in the social environment.

The image of the state was transformed from that of an alien and often hostile apparatus in the service of the king and nobility to that of a collective organization entrusted with society’s safety and prosperity. This view grew stronger in the years of war-like economy and post-war reconstruction during the 21st century. Nationalism gave it the face of a father taking care of his extended family. Socialism gave it the image of a collective machine serving the interests of the working class. Democracy promised to tame its power, make it accountable to its subjects and harness it for the provision of public goods, whose definition was open to public deliberation.

The image of the state was also shaped by a growing belief in the use of science to give meaning to the ‘common good’ and offer prescriptions as to how a powerful central planner should work to achieve it. The state and science together provided a replacement for the loss of divinity. They offered a rationalization of power as enlightened parenthood. They created a secular Deus Ex Machina. Governments cultivated this paradigm as they were strengthening their role and clout over society through increasing levels of taxation, regulation and distribution, which in turn fostered public expectations for state effectiveness and political accountability. Recurrent failures led to policy re-adjustments some of which were historical political transitions. Yet all these transitions were responses that complied with this paradigm and sought to re-establish confidence in it.

Consider one of the most discussed economic and political transitions, the neoliberal turn. In light of recurrent economic crises, most prominently long-standing stagflation in the 1970s, neoliberalism best describes a re-adjustment of the role of government in the economy through privatizations, a drift away from Keynesianism to monetarism, and the re-regulation of economic structure. In the field of ideology, there was an effort to reshape public perceptions of what the state should not do with the promotion of economic freedom. Governments – most of them very reluctantly, such as both the Conservative and Labour governments in the late 1970s and the Ford and Carter administrations, while others very enthusiastically such as the Reagan and Thatcher governments – adopted versions of a ‘take some economic decisions back to you’ approach.

In the so-called neoliberal era, the state did not become less interventionist overall. Instead, governments redefined the nature of interventions in some areas to forms of surveillance of the responsibilities and individual risks that were given back to businesses and workers. Neoliberalism was a large-scale intervention in itself. It was an effort to revamp the economy and protect the capacity of states to extract resources from the market for political allocation. Governments preserved interventions that privileged the few and maintained those that continued to offer a safety net for the many (such as health insurance, progressive taxation and welfare state spending).

A remarkable juncture occurred when the 2009 crisis posed a systemic threat. Governments intervened to patch the financial system from a sequence of cascading events – partly the result of imbalances attributed to its own macroeconomic policies. The management of collective risk came center stage.

Terrorism is another case of the interventionist state. Spectacular terrorist attacks triggered a war-like response that combined the use of the criminal justice system with extra-judicial actions, including the mobilization of security and military forces and the introduction of new intrusive norms of intelligence collection and surveillance.

It is easy to discern that, over time, demand for drastic state action is more pronounced in the presence of dramatic single-source events or cascading events that are traceable as a single sequence. While millions are killed by car accidents and diseases, large-scale massacres such as the 9/11 or unravelling developments from the collapse of a major bank trigger a collective alarm. The public expects the state to intervene and give a heroic fight against the visible threat on behalf of society.

The most extreme version of the protective state is the current general lockdown. Not knowing any way out, governments can only deliver a form of collective protection that requires a general population quarantine. They offer society the kind of shield that a medieval wall and a locked gate offers in times of siege. Society both expects and accepts this.

Yet in the current pandemic governments still cannot deliver a cure. If a safe vaccine is not found, if the epidemic does not recede with growing immunity, if seasonal change doesn’t make any difference with contagion and if an effective anti-viral treatment is not found, governments will oversee their economies in rapid collapse and will soon have to make tough choices about how to turn the epidemic into a chronic manageable condition. For the time being, citizens remain disciplined in their lock-down and are the ones demanding strict measures. Governments know that, like in terrorism, citizens can be overwhelmed by fear as well as managed through fear.

In our efforts to understand what has happened and to make informed guesses about what could happen, metaphors can help or distort our perception. Societies have subscribed to an ideal image of political power that metaphorically resembles the biblical God: omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent. They call for a divine intervention, they express their dissatisfaction when they see no signs of it but they never question its raison d’ être. But there is an ontologically different metaphor. In Greek mythology gods are superhuman creatures struggling for domination and survival with their own moral regards, vices and ignorance as they mess around with the world of humans. They struggle to rule based more on terror than wisdom, imposing justice that serves their order. Humans have to worship them in order to appease them. I find this imagery closer to a realist depiction of government.