Glenn Reynolds points to one blogger’s reaction (quoted above) to talk by Americans disgruntled with the direction of the country that they’re going to emigrate — similar to the lefties who kept threatening to move to France if Bushitler won in 2000 or 2004. Rod Dreher, in the posting that started the exchange, told his friends considering such a move “that if things got so bad in the US that moving to Costa Rica seemed like a smart move, it’d almost certainly be the case that the situation in nations like Costa Rica would be much less stable.” That’s true, as far as it goes, but the whole concept is what I find disturbing, even contemptible. If you marry a foreigner and decide to move to your new spouse’s country and put your roots down there — more power to you. But it’s a very different thing to consider leaving your patria because marginal tax rates are too high or that politicians have helped screw up the economy. It betrays an instrumental view of nationhood, where the primary purpose of your country — not your government, which you can change in a democracy, but your country — is to provide you with satisfactory material circumstances.
As sordid as such threats of emigration are — from the left or the “right” — people in the end really do vote with their feet, and there has just never been much emigration from here, even under the most extreme of circumstances. After the Civil War, some Confederates moved to Brazil, but many of them eventually returned. During slavery and Jim Crow, a number of blacks moved abroad, to Europe or Africa or the USSR, but again, these movements never gained much traction, and many of those who did go regretted it, discovering that they were more American than they’d realized. (The Journal once ran a story about some contemporary black Americans moving to Ghana, where they encountered a local notable who asked something to the effect of “Why would you move here when everyone here wants to move to America?”) And during the Great Depression (sorry, Great Depression 1.0), some people moved to the Soviet Union to find work, only to end up in the gulag.