The Corner

The Moral Dimension

A thoughtful friend (whom, one day, I swear, I shall defeat in argument):  

I do need to disagree with you on a couple of points. I don’t agree either with the assertion that there is no moral dimension to immigration nor with the assertion that immigration is only about the

interest of America’s citizenry.

On the first point: morality comes into the question in two places. In the first place, it is not hard to make an argument that there is a moral obligation to make reasonable efforts to take in people fleeing  ersecution – that is to say, if one can afford it, to have a generous asylum policy. Many Western countries have such, and as such they are not especially controversial, nor do they raise the issues that bother  ou about immigration. Where they are controversial, the controversy is over whether the policy is being applied as narrowly as it was intended (i.e., are the authorities letting people in as refugees who really should be kept out as economic migrants) and/or over whether bad actors – terrorists, criminals, etc. – are successfully claiming asylum because they are being “persecuted” in their home country in part for their bad  actions. Both of these are larger issues for Europe than for the United States, and can be addressed without going so far as to deny a moral

obligation to do what one can to let in genuine refugees.

The second place morality comes in is, more generally, that we have some obligation to do good for our fellow men, and while in most ways this obligation decreases with distance (cultural and geographical) it does  ot by so decreasing go to zero. Immigration unquestionably benefits the

immigrants. If it did no harm to America or Americans, we would be obligated to open the borders. Of course, there is harm, so we are not  so obligated. But it is again a bridge too far to say there is no moral dimension; it would be more accurate to say that the moral obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves is not absolute and should be weighed appropriately, as on par with other kinds of  charity.

On the second point: I have articulated my reasons before for disagreeing with Steve Sailer’s “citizenism” because I’m not a pure contractarian. That is to say: I am comfortable saying that America is a  collective thing in and of itself and not merely the agglomeration of the utiles of individual Americans. As such, it is not prima facie nonsensical to talk about something being “good for America” in some  sense that is not reducible to “good for the individual interests of the

citizens of the United States.” As an example, you and JPod have a genuine and legitimate disagreement, I believe, over the importance of  mmigration to the meaning of the United States. Being open to lots of immigrants is something that – for good or bad reasons – has a lot to do

with what JPod loves about America. That love is a legitimate reason to favor open borders. I don’t think you disagree. After all, even if importing a class of non-citizen helots were in the interests of

American citizens, you would oppose such a policy because you don’t want to live in a country like that. And that’s perfectly fine and legitimate  as a reason to oppose, say, a massive guestworker program.

 [Derb]  “The agglomeration of the utiles”?  Sounds like some historical or Biblical event.

“And there came to pass the agglomeration of the utiles….”

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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