Nightcap

  1. The Statue of Liberty is a deeply sinister icon Stephen Bayley, Spectator
  2. From socialist to left-liberal to neoconservative hawk David Mikics, Literary Review
  3. Populism in Europe: democracy is to blame, so what is to be done? Philip Manow, Eurozine
  4. When Medicaid expands, more people vote Margot Sanger-Katz, the Upshot

Legal Immigration Into the United States (Part 16): Toward a One-Party System?

There exists a prospect that continued immigration of the same form as today’s immigration could provide the Democratic Party with an eternal national majority. The US could thus become a de facto one-party state from the simple interplay of demographic forces, including immigration. There are three potential solutions to this problem, the first of which is seldom publicly discussed, for some reason. As the European Union has been showing for thirty years or so, residence in a particular country should not necessarily imply citizenship, the exercise of political rights, in the same country. Ten of thousands of Germans live permanently in France and in Spain. They vote in Germany. (In July 2018, a German woman, thus a citizen of the European Union, who had lived and worked in France for 25 years, and with a French citizen son, was denied French citizenship!) This arrangement, separating residency from citizenship, seems to pose no obvious problem in Europe. (Nikiforov and I discussed this solution in our article in the Independent Review.)

Curiously, in the current narrative, there are no loud GOP voices proposing a compromise with respect to some categories of illegal aliens, I mean, legalization without a path to citizenship. This is puzzling because this is precisely what many illegal aliens says they aspire to. Latin Americans and especially Mexicans frequently say they want to work in the US but would prefer to raise their children back home. (See, for example the good descriptive narrative by Grant Wishard, “A Border Ballad” in the Weekly Standard, 3/9/18.) The simple proposition that easy admission could go with no path to citizenship has the potential to transform immigration to the US, to dry up its illegal branch, and to facilitate border control to a great extent. Yet, there is no apparent attempt to wean immigrants away in this fashion from their Democrat sponsors. The GOP does not seem to have enough initiative to try to reach agreement with immigrant organizations on this basis thus by-passing the Democratic Party. Again, the silence concerning this strategy is puzzling.

In early 2018, President Trump seems to be seeking an answer to the problem of a permanent Democratic takeover by combining the two next solutions. First, would come a reduction in the absolute number allowed to immigrate. Fewer immigrants, fewer Demo voters, obviously. Small government conservatives like me, and rational libertarians also, might simply want to favor reduced immigration as the only sure way to avoid a one-party system even as we believe in the economic and other virtues of immigration.

The second conceptual solution consists in the broad adoption of so-called “merit-based” immigration. There is an unspoken assumption that a merit-based system would produce more middle-class immigrants and, therefore more conservatively oriented immigrants. This assumption is shaky at best. The example of  much of the current high-tech Indian immigrants  is not encouraging in this respect. More generally, immigrants with college degrees, for example, might turn out more solidly on the left than the current rural, semi-literates from underdeveloped countries who are also avid for upward mobility. The latter also frequently are religious, a condition the Democratic Party is increasingly apt to persecute, at least implicitly. At any rate, reducing the absolute size of immigration carries costs described throughout this essay and merit-based immigration is no panacea, as explained below. I fear that some significant trade-offs between political and other concerns are going to be implemented without real discussion.

[Editor’s note: in case you missed it, here is Part 15]

Should you vote today? Only if you want to.

Today is election day in the United States and everywhere I turn I see “get out the vote” ads. Even on Facebook my feed is filled with people urging others to vote. I am fine with these nudges insofar that they are just that – nudges.

I am concerned when I see claims that voting is one’s duty. I am especially concerned when I see claims that, if you don’t vote, you are allowing the evil [socialists/white men/etc] to govern. These claims concern me because they respectively promote worship of the state and tribalism.

There is more to life than being a politico. If Americans at large sacrificed their other activities in order to become fully informed voter-activists, we would be a boring lot. If you enjoy politics, go vote, but you needn’t feel superior over someone who thinks their time would be better spent playing music or grabbing a beer with friends after work. Life is short and should be spent doing what one enjoys.

Likewise, it is perfectly okay to have an opinion on how government should be run. I, and I imagine most NoL readers, have strong policy preferences. It is however beyond arrogance to believe that an educated person can only believe X and only a mustached villain would believe Y. To be clear, I am not saying that truth is relative.

NIMBYist policies lead to housing shortages, that is a fact. I am in favor of revising zoning regulations and ending parking subsidies to mitigate the problem. I don’t think that the family that owns a detached unit in Santa Monica and opposes denser development is evil though. I understand their hesitance to see their neighborhood changed.

If you wish to vote today, please do so but please don’t act like a snob towards those who do not. Express your policy preferences, but leave your holier than thou attitude at home.

Tldr; play nice.

From the Comments: Bolsonaro is no libertarian (but is he a fascist?)

Barry Stocker outlines the sentiments of many libertarians when he put forth the following argument under Bruno’s “Brazil turns to the Right” post:

Bruno (responding to this and your previous linked post), I’m delighted to be assured that Bolsonaro is not a homophobe, misogynist, a racist or a fascist (an absurdly over used term anyway). However, you offer no evidence to counter the impression that Bolsanaro has leanings in these directions in the Anglophone media, and not just the left-wing media.

Can you deal more precisely with some well known claims about Bolsanoro: he has praised at least one military officer who was a notorious torturer under the last dictatorship, he has praised the dictatorship. I’ve just checked your previous contributions on Brazilian politics and you seem to be in favour of the dictatorship as a agent of struggle against Marxism. I agree that marxism is a bad thing, but it’s not clear to me that means supporting rightist dictatorship.

You say that Bolsanaro understands the need for ‘order’ in Brazilian society. I’m sure we can all agree that Brazil would benefit from more rule of law, but calling for ‘order’ has a rather unpleasant ring to it. The ‘party of order’ has rarely been good for liberty. Can you identify some restrictions on liberty in Brazil that Bolsanaro would remove? Don’t you think there is the slightest risk his attitude to ‘order’ might lead the police to act with more violence? Do you deny that the police sometimes act with excessive violence in Brazil? Do you have any expectation that Bolsanaro will do anything to resolve this or the evident failings of the judicial system?

Do you deny that Bolsanaro said he would prefer his son to be gay rather than die? Don’t you think this gives gays good reason to fear Bolsanaro? I have had a message from a gay American friend who says he is afraid of what will happen and may have to flee the country? Do you understand and care why he is afraid? Do you have any words I can pass onto my friend to reassure him? Preferably not angry words about Gramsci, ‘cultural Marxism’ and ‘gender theory’. Could you actually explain what this ‘gender theory’ in schools is that it i so terrible and apparently justifies Bolsanaro’s crude language? Do you deny that he said a congress woman was too ugly to rape? Can you explain how someone can be fit to hold the highest office in Brazil who makes such a comment?

It’s nice of course that Bolsanaro says now he is favour of free market economics, but isn’t he now back pedalling on this and promising to preserve PT ‘reforms’? Exactly what free market policies do you expect him to introduce and what do you think about the rowing back even before he is in office? Could you say more about which parties and personalities represent classical liberalism now in Congress? If Lula and other leftist politicians (who of course I don’t support at all) have used worse language than Bolsonaro, could you please give examples?

On more theoretical matters

‘Cultural marxism’ to my mind is not an excuse for Bolsanaro’s words and behaviour, or what I know about them. Your account of cultural Marxism anyway strikes me as fuzzy. I very much doubt that Gramsci would recognise himself amongst current ‘cultural Marxists’ and the topics that concern them. I can assure you that a lot of people labelled ‘cultural Marxists’ would not recognise themselves as Marxist or as followers of Marcuse or Gramsci.

The politics of Michel Foucault are a rather complicated and controversial matter but lumping him with some Marxist bloc is hopeless. This isn’t the place to say much about Foucault, but try reading say: *Fearless Speech*, *Society Must Be Defended*, or *Birth of Biopolitics* then see if you think that Foucault belongs with some Marxist or cultural Marxist bloc. The claim that relativism about truth is something to do with Marxism and the anti-liberal left is absurd, all kinds of people with all kinds of politics have had all kinds of views about the status of truth over history. Jürgen Habermas who is an Enlightenment universalist is an influence on the intellectual left, as is Noam Chomsky, a belief in innate knowledge in the form of the universal grammar of languages and associated logical capacity.

Conservatism has often resorted to relativism about the unique values of different countries. Do you think the ancient Sceptics and Sophists have something to do with cultural Marxism? You are referring to these phenomena in a series of familiar talking points from conservative pundits which do not make sense when applied to rather disparate people with different kinds of leftism, of course I have criticisms of them but different kinds of criticisms respecting differences between groups, in which I try to understand their arguments and recognise that sometimes they have arguments worth taking seriously, not a series of angry talking points.

I look forward to being educated by your reply. Please do give us detail and write at length. I write at length, so does Jacques, so there is no reason why you should not.

Again, Barry’s arguments are a good indication of how many in the libertarian movement, worldwide, view Bolsonaro (and others like him, such as Trump), but, while I eagerly await Bruno’s thoughts on Barry’s questions, I have my own to add:

Bolosonaro got 55% of the vote in Brazil. How long can leftists continue to keep calling him a “fascist” or on the “far-right” of the Brazilian political spectrum, especially given Brazil’s cultural and intellectual diversity? Leftists are, by and large, liars. They lie to themselves and to others, and maybe Bruno’s excitement over Bolsonaro’s popularity has more to do with the cultural rebuke of leftist politics in Brazil than to Bolsonaro himself; he’s well-aware, after all, that Brazil’s problems run deeper than socialism.

Bolsonaro’s vulgar, dangerous language might be entertaining, and Brazil’s rebuke of socialist politics is surely encouraging, but it can be easy to “take your eye off the ball,” as we say in the States. Brazil has a long way to go, especially if, like me, you think Brazilians have elected yet another father figure rather than a president tasked with running the executive branch of the federal government.

Brazil’s Turn to the Right

Last elections in Brazil are not yet over. Brazilians will go back to the polls before the end of this month to decide who will be the country’s next president. But few doubt that Brazil’s next president will be Jair Messias Bolsonaro.

No matter what you read in mainstream media, Bolsonaro is not homophobic. He is not racist. He is not misogynist. And certainly, he is not a fascist. If he is any of these things, he hides pretty well. His language can certainly be very crude, and he can be very direct in his speech. Maybe that is exactly why he is being elected. Brazilians are tired of politicians who don’t speak their minds. With Bolsonaro, what you see is what you get.

And what do you get? Bolsonaro is not strong on any ideology. He is a self-professed Christian (somewhere between a Roman Catholic and an Evangelical), a Patriot and a family man. Because of his patriotism, for many years he believed in protectionism and developmentalism, but it seems more and more that he left these things in the past. Bolsonaro is inclined to defend free-market policies.

Alongside Bolsonaro, a very right-wing congress has been elected. For the first time in many decades, Brazil has many representatives who are ideologically classical liberals or conservatives. This is even better than having Bolsonaro as president. Meanwhile, the leftist parties (especially the Workers Party of Lula da Silva) lost quite some terrain.

If Bolsonaro and this Congress make a mildly good govern, the left will be in serious trouble in Brazil. Brazil is still a very poor country where people, for the most part, don’t vote ideologically. They vote in those who can bring development to their lives. That’s how Lula da Silva got reelected and was able to elect a successor, even with major corruption scandals surrounding him and his party.

The wind of change in Brazil is better than anything I could expect.

Nightcap

  1. Isolated in Africa, Chinese workers get religion en masse Yuan & Huang, Global Times
  2. Explaining Hazony’s nationalism Arnold Kling, askblog
  3. A prison journalist doing work — from the inside Daniel Gross, Literary Hub
  4. Character-based voting and the policy of truth Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth

Liberalism, Democracy, and Polarization

Is polarization a threat to democracy and what is the liberal position on this?

As I pointed out in Degrees of Freedom, most liberals have a preference for democracy. Modern-day democracy – with universal suffrage, a representative parliament, and elected officials – has been developed over the course of the twentieth century. The idea has its roots in antiquity, the Italian city states of the Renaissance, and several forms for shared political decision-making in Scandinavia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England. Democracy is not a liberal “invention,” but the term ‘liberal democracy’ has taken firm root. This is true because modern democracy is based on liberal ideas, such as the principle of “one man, one vote,” protection of the classical rights of man, peaceful change of political leadership, and other rules that characterize the constitutional state.

Remarkably, the majority of liberals embraced the idea of democracy only late in the nineteenth century. They also saw dangers of majority decision making to individual liberty, as Alexis de Tocqueville famously pointed out in Democracy in America. Still, to liberals democracy is better than alternatives, such as autocracy or absolute monarchy. This is not unlike Sir Winston Churchill’s quip “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.” Yet there is a bit more to it for liberals. It is has proven to be a method that provides a decent, if imperfect, guarantee for the protection of individual freedom and the peaceful change of government.

Of course there is ample room for discussion inside and beyond academia about numerous different issues, such as the proper rules of democracy, different forms of democracy, the role of constitutions in democracy, whether referenda are a threat or a useful addition to representative democratic government, the roles of parties, party systems, and political leaders, et cetera. These are not the topic here.

In the context of the election of President Trump, but also before that, both inside and outside the US, there is a wide debate on the alleged polarization in society. By this is meant the hardening of standpoints of (often) two large opposing groups in society, who do not want to cooperate to solve the issues of the day, but instead do everything they can to oppose the other side. Consensus seeking is a swear word for those polarized groups, and a sign of weakness.

There appears less consensus on a number of issues now than in the past. Yet this is a questionable assumption. In the US it has been going on for a long time now, certainly in the ethical and immaterial area, think about abortion, the role of the church in society, or freedom of speech of radical groups. Yet most (Western) societies have been polarized in the past along other lines, like the socialist-liberal divide, the liberalization of societies in the 1960s and 1970s, or more recent debates about Islam and integration. Current commentators claim something radically different is going on today. But I doubt it, it seems just a lack of historical awareness on their side. I can’t wait for some decent academic research into this, including historical comparisons.

As a side note: a different but far more problematic example of polarization is gerrymandering (changing the borders of legislative districts to favour a certain party). This has been going on for decades and can be seen as using legal procedures to rob people not of their actual voting rights, but of their meaningful voting rights. Curiously, this does not figure prominently in the current debates…

The (classical) liberal position on polarization is simple. Fighting for, or opposing a certain viewpoint, is just a matter of individual right to free speech. This also includes using law and legislation, existing procedures, et cetera. The most important thing is that in the act of polarizing there cannot be a threat to another person’s individual liberty, including the classical rights to life, free speech, and free association, among others. Of course, not all is black and white, but on the whole, if these rules are respected I fail to see how polarization is threat to democracy, or why polarization cannot be aligned with liberalism.