Contra Anthropomorphization

by John Derbyshire

Jay:

Hmph. Either we have immigration laws, or we don’t. If we have them, they should be applied strictly and fairly. I wouldn’t claim to know every jot & tittle of the asylum laws, but Ms. Valles Garcia’s case does not come under the proper scope of asylum as I have always understood it, nor as I believe the majority of Americans would wish it to be interpreted.

No doubt things are rough in her home town. Things are rough all over. I bet you could find examples of similar civic courage (assuming that’s what it was) in Albania, Bolivia, or Cameroon. Do they get settlement visas? Or if they don’t get ’em but Ms. Valles Garcia does, just on account of her town being close to our national border, isn’t that some kind of irrational discrimination? (Proximitism?)

I understand the generosity of spirit behind your position; but, as I have argued before on this site, generosity of spirit is a private virtue, not a governmental one.

I find, in fact, that a recurring theme in my differences with colleagues and readers is my complete opposition to the anthropomorphization of government. A government is not a person, and the qualities I admire in a person, and hope to find in my friends, and strive to cultivate in myself and my kids, are in most cases the opposite of those I desire in my government.

I want my friends to be trusting, generous, kind, and flexible. I don’t want my government to be any of those things.

I certainly don’t want my government to be trusting of Vladimir Putin, or Kim Jong Il, or Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, or people who have crossed our border illegally. I want my government to be suspicious — to assume that those it is dealing with are striving for their own advantage, without any regard to the general good of our country.

Nor do I want my government to be generous. Since a government has no money, other than what it can harvest in taxation from its citizens, its generosity must always consist of generosity with my money (and yours, and his). And government generosity will always be twisted towards loud, troublesome interest groups and skillful political players, to the further detriment of meeker or busier citizens.

Kindness is a noble and humane attribute, but again not one that governments should practice without utmost caution. Hundreds of millions of people all over the world are desperately poor, in want of the most basic necessities, and in daily fear of violence. It would be an act of great kindness to settle them all in the U.S.A., where no doubt they would be much better off. Would it be good for our country, though? That’s the only question our government should be concerned with.

And of course we should be flexible in our personal arrangements, bending our life rules and yielding our own preferences to others when we know they will reciprocate. That’s just good manners. A government under law, however, should be firm as steel, or the law means nothing and we fall into a state of nature.

I don’t want my government to be a kind uncle. I want it to be a flinty-faced, thin-lipped bookkeeper with a green eyeshade and a deep suspicion of human motives. I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that; but then, I can’t think of any of my friends who I’d want governing the country. Certainly not you, dear Jay.

Travel safely, and get home soon.