Monday, November 27, 2017

Why Objectivists REALLY Disagree on Immigration

Once upon a time, I believed objectivists were distinguishable from libertarians.  After all, in my own experience, I observed that libertarians often take "liberty" or the "non-aggression principle" as a kind of out of context philosophic commandment, whereas objectivism grounds liberty in a philosophical framework in which liberty logically extends from metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics to the political concept of individual rights.   Such a distinction is not just an abstract esoteric debate - there are real consequences.  Peter Schwartz wrote:      
"It’s important to realize that libertarianism endorses not simply a false theory—i.e., a dismissal of the philosophic roots of freedom—but a false practice. The protection of individual rights has two necessary components: a government that refuses to initiate force against its citizens, and a government that willingly uses force to repel any threats—whether domestic or foreign—against those citizens. Libertarians regularly oppose the second, thereby making freedom impossible." [emphasis mine]
And, while it's true that many libertarians do attempt to validate liberty on a more fundamental basis, either because they lack the objectivist framework, or because they still rely on the concept of "liberty" arbitrarily, many end up advocating anarchistic politics, for example, rejecting intellectual property rights or calling for the privatization of police and courts.  But, a major practical divergence is in the area of military defense, where many libertarians uphold a policy of blanket non-interventionism. 

This latter divergence is exemplified by the libertarian position towards Iran and Israel.  While intellectuals at The Ayn Rand Institute have consistently defended Israel as a beacon of freedom in a sea of theocratic dictatorship and condemned Iran as a state sponsor of jihadi terrorism, many libertarians such as Ron Paul, take a more or less neutral position towards Israel, while taking a hands off approach to the Iranian regime.  Several years ago, while objectivists cited concerns about the cultural and political implications of Muslims building a ground zero mosque, many libertarians, like Ron Paul, accused opponents of "racist demagoguery," likening construction of the mosque to the construction of a "soccer field."    

Those who rely only on economic arguments or liberty as a floating abstraction, as it relates to immigration, are committing the same error as Ron Paul and other Libertarians by not considering more fundamental facts and principles related to individual rights. In a recent post, Philosophical Foundations of Immigration in a Free Society, I argued that immigration policy should be seen as a subset of foreign policy as it relates to the national defense.  Seen this way, even putting aside concerns about the modern welfare state, an objective immigration policy can be seen as a necessary function of government with respect to protecting the sovereignty and rights of individuals within a free country.  Of course, if this is true, how much more important is immigration policy in the today's context, where we do have a massive welfare state, democratic elections affected by immigrant voters who skew left, and myriad threats from overseas.
That's why, in researching the views of libertarians and objectivists with respect to immigration, I was shocked to find what I regard to be an incredible anomaly.  Many prominent libertarians thinkers, like Hans-Herman Hoppe, whom I quoted in my post and who is quoted extensively here, actually make a strong case for restricted immigration - as do even so-called anarcho-capitalists like Lew Rockwell. Regarding Ludwig Von Mises, Joseph Salerno writes: "Mises did not evaluate immigration in terms of purely economic optima such as maximizing the productivity of human labor, irrespective of the political context. Rather, he assessed the effects of immigration from the viewpoint of the classical liberal regime of private property." On the other hand, many prominent objectivist intellectuals have taken the "open borders" position siding with libertarians like Alex Nowrasteh, and this author.  
After some research, I came to believe many libertarians and conservatives take a more classically objectivist approach than objectivists on this issue by considering more fundamental principles related to private property rights of citizens, the concept of sovereignty, along with a whole spectrum of issues related to culture, nationality, and economics.  How is this possible?  Within the scope of this article, I want to focus only on one objectivist intellectual whom I believe, to his credit, has taken the clearest and most detailed open borders position and has thus most influenced the objectivist community.  In a post titled, Immigration, Dr. Harry Binswanger writes that his article "is a defense of a policy of absolutely open immigration, without border patrols, border police, border checks, or passports." Mirroring the libertarian open borders position, Binswanger writes: 
There is no more authority to demand papers at the border than there is for the police to board a city bus and demand papers of everyone on it. A man, citizen or non-citizen, is to be presumed innocent. He does not have to satisfy the government that he is not a criminal, in the absence of any evidence that he is. 
At the nation's borders, instead of "inspection," there should simply be a sign: "Welcome to America."

Despite his own argument, it is not a position with which even Dr. Binswanger appears to agree, as we shall see later.  In reality, when conducting commerce or contemplating immigration policies, not intranationally (on a "city bus"), but between two nations (internationally) that may be allies, enemies, or in between, such as between the U.S. and China, Britain, Canada, Mexico, North Korea, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, or Somalia, there are other more primary factors that must be considered.

For example, should the government prevent a private company from selling military technology or weapons to North Korea or Iran?  Can a private property owner bring in individuals who carry a deadly virus?  Can a private property owner bring in and house thousands of communists who wish to overthrow the government? Could a private property owner who owns ocean frontage allow an enemy nation to dock its nuclear submarine fleet and board its military personnel? Can private property owners transact with nations under embargo?

Binswanger's argument ignores the more complex context of international borders, which is radically different from the context of movement between local jurisdictions or across state lines, within a free country, where there are long standing constitutional and legal agreements, and where there is a judicial tradition based on the common law.  

Now, in my post, I advocated an immigration policy based on the recognition that the government's primary function is national self-defense and that a community of private citizens and private property owners delegate affairs of state and the retaliatory use of force to the government.  The right of national self-defense is predicated on the concept of sovereignty which is predicated on the principle of individual rights. Binswanger's false equivalence between an international border and an intranational border represents a fundamental denial of the concept of sovereignty.  On this point, Ayn Rand wrote
A nation, like any other group, is only a number of individuals and can have no rights other than the rights of its individual citizens. A free nation—a nation that recognizes, respects and protects the individual rights of its citizens—has a right to its territorial integrity, its social system and its form of government. The government of such a nation is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of its citizens and has no rights other than the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific, delimited task (the task of protecting them from physical force, derived from their right of self-defense) . . . . 
Such a nation has a right to its sovereignty (derived from the rights of its citizens) and a right to demand that its sovereignty be respected by all other nations.

From these passages and knowing nothing else, I would have expected an objectivist to approach immigration very differently than an arbitrary "liberty as primary" econ-centric libertarian.  Now, while in one article, Binswanger endorsed a policy of "nothing but a welcome sign," confusingly, in this article, he admits that there are indeed potential threats from immigrants that warrant concern. He writes:  
...Entry into the U.S. should ultimately be free for any foreigner, with the exception of criminals, would-be terrorists, and those carrying infectious diseases. (And note: I am defending freedom of entry and residency, not the automatic granting of U.S. citizenship).

So, here he admits there should be a policy that would except "criminals, would-be terrorists and those carrying infectious diseases," however, he does not say how he would determine who is a criminal or would-be terrorist or disease carrier. The important point is that he concedes the principle that it is proper policy for a free country to police it's borders and to have some policy with respect to determining who is a demonstrable threat.  Unfortunately, he contradicts himself again in the following passage: 
To take an actual example, if I want to invite my Norwegian friend Klaus to live in my home, either as a guest or as a paying tenant, what right does our government have to stop Klaus and me? To be a Norwegian is not to be a criminal. And if some American business wants to hire Klaus, what right does our government have to interfere?

But what if Klaus is a criminal, or a would-be terrorist, or has an infectious disease?  How would we know? Furthermore, what burdens does Klaus's entry place on the rest of the private property owners, particularly, in today's context?  Of course, his own theory implies that Klaus would have to undergo some sort of border check before being allowed into the country. After all, Binswanger concedes:
....a person with an infectious disease, such as smallpox, threatens with serious physical harm those with whom he comes into proximity. Unlike the criminal, he may not intend to do damage, but the threat of physical harm is clear, present, and objectively demonstrable. To protect the lives of Americans, he may be kept out or quarantined until he is no longer a threat.

So would his "Welcome to America" sign perform a small-pox check or do a background check?  He doesn't say, but presumably, such a check would need to be executed by a border agent at a border check - the very authority he excluded when he claimed that his article was "a defense of a policy of absolutely open immigration, without border patrols, border police, border checks, or passports."  

Since it appears that Binswanger himself does not even advocate his own definition of open immigration, what exactly is open immigration?  I have yet to hear a clear answer, and it leads us to ask, "what the hell is this argument over?"  Well, Binswanger attempts to answer just this question.  In his 2015 post, Why Objectivists Disagree on immigration, he writes:  
Well, they [Objectivists] really don’t. I think we all agree (certainly Leonard Peikoff does) that in a laissez-faire world, there’d be open immigration. The disagreements arise because we are light-years away from that world
So, he asserts that "we all agree" and that the real problem is that we are "light-years away" from such ideal conditions when we can have this fuzzy thing he calls "open immigration" (where we have nothing but welcome signs but somehow can ascertain disease carriers).   In a telling passage, Binswanger claims that the current state of affairs deprives us of the use of principles: 
But philosophy deals in principles.That’s why there are continuing arguments about immigration among those who accept the Objectivist philosophy. 
Deprived of the guidance of principles, the issue then becomes one of concrete facts. 
And since we cannot use principles, he writes:  
"People can certainly differ on these factual issues, and raw, statistical (!) facts are all we have left when we can’t appeal to principles, because the principled path is not “politically realistic.”
I could not disagree more with this argument.  First, his assertion that "we all agree," i.e., that in the case of some fantasy laissez-faire system we would all advocate open immigration, is not true.  If open immigration means a border-less nation with no controls (and, again, I am not even sure it does), I would absolutely oppose such a system under any circumstances.  To not police our own borders, in any context, is a total abdication of the government's defense function!  

Although he appears to believe that we can crush and eliminate Islam as an existential threat, the fact is that there will always be a threat from someone in the future.  Would we also disband the police and the courts in a future laissez-faire world under the presumption that criminals will cease to exist, and humans will no longer need to resolve disputes?  As I said in my post: 
The idea that we can eliminate the threat by crushing our enemies overseas and therefore allow virtually anyone to subsequently enter the country does not recognize the nature of reality.  The fact is that there are always bad guys out there, and the government's job is to protect its citizens from them.  Simply put, there will never be a time when the government can cease to police its own border....  
Furthermore, to advocate defeating our enemies abroad based on rational foreign policy concerns, but not concerning ourselves with potential enemies crossing our own border is a wild contradiction.  Both aspects of defense are crucial and complementary.  

If the government's proper foreign policy endeavors to identify and eliminate existential threats from overseas by procuring intelligence and launching attacks against enemy states, why wouldn't its foreign policy seek to identify existential threats from those on its border seeking to enter the country?  Why wouldn't we apply at least as much scrutiny if not more to those entering the country? If it's true that we empower the government to repel a direct invasion force that would seek to undermine and overthrow our system of government, why would it ever be considered advisable to allow an indirect invasion to occur through legal or illegal immigration of potentially dangerous people?        

Second, eschewing principles in favor of brute empiricism is an example of the rationalism vs empiricism false alternative.   He seems to almost lament being limited to facts, where he is "deprived of the guidance of principles."  But, we should never start with principles and then abandon them once they don't fit the factual situation.  Rather, we derive principles from observable facts.  

For example, in my post, I discuss the factual nature of cognition - that it takes time, and some amount of political freedom, to learn and integrate knowledge.  I discuss the fact that most people accept their culture without consideration either because they have limited freedom, education, and/or aptitude - the very reason we have intellectual heroes.  I discuss the relevance of culture to immigration policy and the legal concept of citizenship.  I recognize the fact that people from around the world are not "atomistic" economic maximizers but share different ancestry, language, and culture and form bonds to their family and community due to these facts.  I recognize that our country recognizes naturalization as a vehicle to implement real citizenship and the fact that our government's laws can and should only apply to our citizens.  I recognize the fact that the government must perform a self-defense function in order to protect a nation of private citizens and property owners from an international invasion while protecting a citizen's right to conduct business with non-threats.  I point to other times in history where these principles have been applied and recognize the contextual nature of these immigration (or any defense) policies as threats emerge around the world vis-a-vis our own actual economic and political situation.  And so on.    

In other words, one must start with observable facts and induce principles by integrating those facts with preexisting knowledge.  Given the open-ended nature of concepts, this is precisely how we gain knowledge.  New facts refine our concepts and enhance our knowledge.  Dealing with ideal or simple cases is a method for understanding, illustrating or applying a principle - not for dispensing with reality.  Principles must always leave room for the unknown.     

Consequently, Binswanger's implication - that we should start with some out-of-context rationalistic conception of "liberty" as an ideal, treating humans as disembodied atomistic minds of equal ability, but throw it out, because reality doesn't resemble the rationalistic fantasy, and, therefore, confine ourselves to statistical and raw empirical arguments, is ludicrous.  Again, this approach is an instance of the rationalism vs. empiricism false alternative.

This rationalistic approach can again be seen in other articles, where Binswanger, as well as other libertarians, conflate intranational borders with international borders in the context of economic arguments.   With respect to immigration, many libertarian's cite the effect of a growing population on the division of labor, believing that a kind of anarchistic open borders immigration policy squares with their concept of "liberty" while relying on the utilitarian argument that such a policy will benefit all economically.  In this regard, Binswanger tells us that "America is a vastly underpopulated country."  By what standard does he make such a claim? He writes, "our population density is less than one-third of France's," which, by implication, he regards as some universal standard. But he goes on:  
You say that hordes of immigrants would come to overcrowd America? Okay, take a really extreme scenario. Imagine that half of the people on the planet moved here. That would mean an unthinkable eleven-fold increase in our population—from 300 million to 3.3 billion people. The result? America would be a bit less densely populated than England. England has 384 people/; vs. 360 people/sq. km. if our population multiplied 11-fold.
To those who question the value of having our nation increase in population by 11-fold, he argues: 
Contrary to widespread belief, high population density is a value not a disvalue. High population density intensifies the division of labor, which makes possible a wider variety of jobs and specialized consumer products. For instance, in Manhattan, there is a "doll hospital"—a store specializing in the repair of children's dolls. Such a specialized, niche business requires a high population density in order to have a market. Try finding a doll hospital in Poughkeepsie. In Manhattan, one can find a job as a "Secret Shopper" (a job actually listed on Craig's List). Not so in Paducah.
So here Binswanger relies on a kind of utilitarian argument that a growing population will benefit all because it will lead to a greater division of labor which leads to a greater variety of products such as "doll hospitals" and "secret shopper" jobs.  Okay, but why is this kind of "economic optima" necessarily the good?  People are not robots.  What about those who wish to live in rural towns near to family and to those who speak the same language and share the same values?  If we are now to base our policy not on individual rights, but rather utilitarianism, why couldn't the small towners just as easily make the argument that their lives will suffer as a result of increased density (despite having more doll hospitals)?  

He seems to then try and answer this by claiming that all people want to live near a lot of people, because real estate prices.  He writes: 
People want to live near other people, in cities. One-seventh of England's population lives in London. If population density is a bad thing, why are Manhattan real-estate prices so high? People are willing to pay a premium in order to live in a densely populated area. And even within that area, the more "crowded" the more in demand: compare prices for apartments in mid-town Manhattan with prices for apartments on the less crowded northern tip of the island.
Putting aside the fallacy of his argument allegedly proving that "people want to live near other people" (houses on the ocean in Long Island and Malibu and in places with mountain views also sell for tens of millions), all of these claims are secondary considerations.  That is absolutely not the primary context or facts to consider in immigration policy.  

Obviously, two immigrants in a nation of 300 million people could have very little effect on the host country, but what if 50 or 100 million immigrants from India or China sought to land in America?  Numbers or size do matter, and, unlike virtually any other foreign policy consideration, the act of allowing mass numbers of foreign nationals into a country of private property owners can irrevocably change the very institutions of government.  As Ralph Raico wrote: "Free immigration would appear to be in a different category from other policy decisions, in that its consequences permanently and radically alter the very composition of the democratic political body that makes those decisions." The numbers are a primary factor in determining the difference between immigration and invasion.

Not only are large groups of immigrants more likely to form their own community rather than assimilate due to cultural and language factors, they are an electoral (and physical) threat to overthrow existing institutions.  Imagine if millions of immigrants from a hostile country essentially took over a city, state, or region with the intention of changing the form of government or affecting national policy or attacking the current residents?  Who would stop them under Binswanger's open immigration plan? 

We can observe that third world refugees, like those from Somalia or the Middle East, who seek any escape from death defying conditions, may not all understand nor appreciate western customs of law, individualism, and free markets (which, in reality, takes time, education, and experience).  They are not likely to assimilate quickly and they often bring cultural values hostile to western civilization, such as the espousal of Sharia law - the very cultural values that have created the conditions leading to their desire to escape.  Again, would a handful of these immigrants be an enormous problem? No, but thousands or tens of thousands or millions immediately put into a region would, and this is just the kind of practical consideration that a proper foreign policy or immigration policy should consider, and it's precisely the context dropped by Binswanger when he quotes population density statistics without taking into consideration the actual facts.           

But, perhaps, the most egregious claim in his writings is the following:   
In the absence of specific evidence against him, nothing can justify subjecting an immigrant to coercive interference.  
I'm very afraid that the actual reason for limiting immigration is xenophobia, which is simply a polite word for racial bigotry. 
The denial of rights to non-citizens is despicable, an affront to moral principles as such. We have erected a vicious and hypocritical double standard: we locals grant ourselves a right to violate the rights of outsiders.
First, if its true that we cannot deny rights to non-citizens, should we grant those same rights to foreign nationals before launching an attack on an enemy country?  Would we interview each foreign national and grant them a jury trial and the various constitutional protections specified by the Bill of Rights before the attack?  If you say, "war is different" then you are supporting my argument - foreign policy and the relationship of our nation to foreign nations is a different legal context.  As I wrote in my post: "Individuals possess certain inalienable rights or "natural rights," but these are distinct from civil rights defined by the Constitution which are applicable only to citizens of the United States.  There is no obligation under the Constitution to protect the civil rights of non-citizens.  The policies by which our country deals with foreign nationals is and should be reasonable and a matter of law (not fiat), but distinguishing natural rights from the civil rights of citizens is an important legal distinction." 

But, more importantly, in yet another instance of rationalism, Binswanger appears to not even contemplate, for a second, that one could validly criticize his application of principles.  Consequently, he concludes, the only possible objection would be on the basis of a kind of mental disorder - xenophobia.  

Now, the concept of "phobia" connotes an irrational fear.  But, the fear of being consumed by a society of superstitious, witch burning fascists is not an irrational fear - which should not come as a shock to any objectivist.  Such societies have existed and exist today. History is filled with tales of lost civilizations, and mass migration today in Europe should be an ominous warning.  Objectively upholding the values of reason, individualism, and political freedom and acting to protect oneself against those who advocate superstition, collectivism, and dictatorship is neither an instance of racism nor xenophobia - it is their antidote.  Protecting the rights of the owners of our country from objective threats is the function of our government. 

More significantly, by equating dissent with irrationality, Binswanger is implicitly shutting down his opposition by smearing opponents as bigots.  "Disagree? Well then, you are irrational."  Such an approach by a leading intellectual could only fuel vitriolic attacks on dissenters and serve to shut down debate over a complex political and legal application of Objectivism.  This has actually happened.    

Interestingly, while Binswanger accuses his opponents of racial bigotry, i.e., generalizing about the characteristics of foreigners, he feels perfectly open to engage in his own form of positive bigotry when he writes: 
Immigrants are the kind of people who refresh the American spirit. They are ambitious, courageous, and value freedom. They come here, often with no money and not even speaking the language, to seek a better life for themselves and their children.
Really, is this true of all immigrants? It certainly is not.  Now, in my post, I argue for making generalizations with respect to immigration policy, given the constraint of time and resources and the differing legal context with respect to making foreign policy judgments.  I argue that we should not grant a presumption of innocence, but rather the onus falls on the immigrant and/or his sponsors to abide by an objective vetting policy.  In other words, we should not make broad generalizations, either positive or negative, about immigrants per se as Binswanger does here, e.g., "all immigrants are bad or good."  In the absence of evidence regarding an individual, there can be legitimate bases for generalizations, as I outline in my post.      

In conclusion, I should note that my goal in this article was not to perform a line by line critique of Dr. Binswanger's ideas - nor is it to put forth my own view, which I did at length in my linked post - a post that can be argued and debated.  My point is that his fundamental approach is flawed, with predictable and contradictory results,  that even a cursory analysis and comparison to much better authors on immigration clearly exposes.  The body of work put forward by Binswanger and other fellow travelers is hardly the grounds for his supporters to launch sanctimonious attacks and level "racism" smears towards dissenters.  

Objectivists disagree on immigration because their intellectual leaders have left them with a false alternative, between rationalism and empiricism, that fails to properly address the core facts and questions surrounding this important and complex issue.  I hope by shedding light on even a portion of these flaws, it can lead to a more informed and civil debate and lead to better scholarship in this area and others.   


Anonymous said...

This is really good. It would be nice to get a response from Harry or Yaron but they never will respond.

-Steve Jackson

The Rat Cap said...

Steve, thanks. You are exactly right on probability of a response:)

Anonymous said...

How can objectivists be so rationalistic on this complex topic? Is it really an unrealistic expectation that a sovereign nation should know who is entering the county (and who has entered the country)? Worse, is this racist? That accusation was really weird, because it is totally rational to be suspicious of people with really bad ideas and practices showing up. This has nothing to do with race. I the end, I think the big question is the concept of nations - can/should they be formed by individuals and can a nation be a vehicle for individuals to properly protect/secure their rights? I fear Binswanger's argument is anarchistic at its core.

Anonymous said...

An excellent piece, addressing the most-essential flaws of Harry's position and methods of reasoning on the issue of immigration.

Objectivists certainly are not unified on this issue, and it is despicable and unforgivable for the pro-open-borders advocates (with HB's and YB's blessing) to continue to dismiss dissenters as bigots/xenophobes.

-- Tony Palmeri

Peter Smith said...

Hey Rat Cap, interesting post as always.

For my part, my position on immigration used to be pretty much the same as yours but over time it's changed to be in line with complete open borders and I'll explain why.

I think we can all agree the only legitimate function of government is to protect individual rights.
I also think we can all agree that "individual rights" are the freedom to think and act in a social context.
As such, the act of "immigration" is a perfectly legitimate right and as it doesn't violate anyone's rights, there's no role for the state to play in the normal day-to-day context.
All the stuff about immigrants "refreshing the American spirit" or whether a growing population is a benefit or not or whether immigrants assimilate or not, is interesting to discuss in and of itself but it just has no bearing on the political question because no rights are violated.

In short, I think the only objective immigration policy is not to have one and the term "illegal immigrant" is nonsensical and basically a category error.

I think the issue arises when people try to use "immigration policy" in place of "foreign policy", which is what the Conservative movement has done since 9/11, because they cannot name and therefore cannot formulate the proper policy to defeat the enemy attacking the West. So instead they pretend that being tough on immigrants is the same as being tough on terror but that's just a fraud.

If you're concern is terrorism then the solution is military action that decisively destroys state sponsors of terror. As part of that you might restrict immigration from a specific region of the world for the duration of the conflict and that would be perfectly legitimate.

But no one even recognizes that there is a war on and there is not even an inkling of a foreign policy forthcoming and while that is frustrating it doesn't mean we need to play along with Conservative delusions of blaming immigrants.

Anonymous said...

Peter Smith wrote:

"Individual rights are the freedom to think and act in a social context."


"As such, the act of immigration [in all contexts] is a perfectly legitimate right..."

That's his contradiction right there.

Anonymous said...

Peter Smith basically says "interesting article, let me disregard your entire post and regurgitate the argument you were refuting" . I don't get it.

Peter Smith said...

"Peter Smith basically says "interesting article, let me disregard your entire post and regurgitate the argument you were refuting" . I don't get it."

Well yea pretty much. My point is I get where he's coming from but if you support a rights protecting government it doesn't just stop on the issue of immigration, nor can immigration be used to fight terrorism, which seems to be the biggest justification many Conservative/Objectivists seem to have for rights violating government policies on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Peter Smith, but how can anyone take any of your comments seriously, so long as you don't address any of the essentials that were covered in the article? You're just repeating the same-old, same-old standard open-borders-Objectivist dogma. There *are* several novel points made in the article, digging deeper than the typical shallow discussion.

Tony Palmeri

Peter Smith said...

Sorry Tony, I'm not sure what the novel arguments are, maybe you can point one or two out for me to talk about directly?
The way it reads is the usual anti-immigrant position, often confusing immigration with refugee or foreign policy issues and raising lots of points around integration, culture, learning, etc that while interesting have nothing to do with the political question, because no rights are being violated.

My point is that irrespective of all these points, the act of immigration in and of itself is not a rights violation so there's no grounds for any government regulation. It's really that simple IMO.

Everything else is either irrelevant, non-rights violating, or a matter for military/foreign policy NOT immigration policy.

An enormous amount of mental energy seems to be going into attempting to create exemptions of rights violating regulations in the case of immigration and still reconcile it with Objectivism, but it can't be done.

Sam Axton said...

Hello, Doug is it?
You said; "Second, eschewing principles in favor of brute empiricism is an example of the rationalism vs empiricism false alternative. He seems to almost lament being limited to facts, where he is "deprived of the guidance of principles." But, we should never start with principles and then abandon them once they don't fit the factual situation. Rather, we derive principles from observable facts."

You completely reverse Binswanger's point. He is not abandoning or eschewing principles as you infer. He is making the argument that it is the "closed border" advocates, citing job protection(ism), over-population, and against the value of immigrants to support their position, who are abandoning the principles of human rights because they don't think they are politically realistic right now.

It is incumbent on those advocating for closed borders to make the case as to why the freedom to travel across borders, which is derived from the principles of individual rights which apply to all men, should be denied to those who are free of disease, innocent of a criminal past, not a potential terrorist all of which Binswanger has listed as limitations to immigration.

Frankly, I'm not quite sure what your beef is with Binswanger. It seems to me you are on the same page in principle and may only disagree on implementation. He is a philosopher, not a policy wonk, but I have not seen him closed to any rational arguments. He does say that his arguments are in defense of phasing in open immigration with the restrictions he lists and after our military crushes those fomenting and sponsoring terrorism, making immigrants sign away their rights to government loot and not allowing them to vote. He admits, as you must, that those in political power would not implement any of these pre-open border policies.

Without tying him to straw man arguments of, all immigrants are good none are bad or "Welcome to America" (borderless without restrictions) or removing all restrictions after crushing our enemies, has he argued against any of your principles of restriction? If so, I've not heard or read them. His arguments, to me, read that we must use the principles of individual rights to arrive at a rational immigration policy. Period.

Your arguments read as though you summarily dismiss his 50 - 60 years of writing about, teaching and advocating Objectivism and take his arguments from scratch in the most biased direction toward disagreement. That isn't objective.

Sam Axton

The Rat Cap said...

Sam, thanks for your comment.

1. Re your claim that I reversed his point. I linked to HB's article and you can read for yourself. He writes:

[Begin quote] Look at what this means: given that our government is not going to do the right things, what should it do? But there’s no way to answer that question. If it’s not going to do the right thing, then, by definition, whatever it does will be the wrong thing. Can we pick the best, or least bad, among the wrong things? Yes, to a certain extent, but not in a principled way.

It is a contradiction in terms to ask: “On what principle should we act if we are not going to act on the principle by which we should act?”

Deprived of the guidance of principles, the issue then becomes one of concrete facts...

People can certainly differ on these factual issues, and raw, statistical (!) facts are all we have left when we can’t appeal to principles, because the principled path is not “politically realistic.” [end quote]

Again, here he presumes that the principled course is his view of "open immigration" and that "we all agree." On that basis, he concludes that since this path is unrealistic, given current condition, the argument becomes one of "raw" facts. First, I disagree vehemently with his premise that his "open immigration" plan is the principled course. Second, I disagree with the thinking method implied by this distinction between principle and reality, as I detailed.

2. Re your statement that it's "incumbent on make the case..." etc.

First, I did the make the case, and I linked to a detailed and lengthy post on my blog, (here it is again: in which I begin to make that case, or my case anyway.

Second, your premise that I claim that "Individual rights" should be denied etc. relies on an equivocation that I exposed in this post as well as my longer post. Again, the idea of individual possessing rights (natural rights) is a separate claim from the legal argument as to how a particular government, "owned and operated" as it were, by the property owners and citizens of a sovereign nation, should or must deal with foreign nationals outside our country (before they are granted residency or citizenship) that are seeking to enter "our property," or the property of an individual within our country, over which the national government has been granted the authority to protect from threats or unfair impositions on others.

Again, for example, if its true that we must protect the rights of foreign nationals outside the country, should we grant those same rights to foreign nationals before launching an attack on an enemy country? Would we interview each foreign national and grant them a jury trial and the various constitutional protections specified by the Bill of Rights before the attack? If you say, "war is different" then you are supporting my argument - foreign policy and the relationship of our nation to foreign nations is a different legal context. The policies by which our country deals with foreign nationals is and should be reasonable and a matter of law (not fiat), but distinguishing natural rights from the civil rights of citizens is an important legal distinction."

In my post, I make the case that the onus of proof falls on the immigrant or visitor to prove they are not a threat or will not impose obligations on others, so to speak. If that criteria is met, and there must be a criteria, then it is reasonable for someone to immigrate.

The Rat Cap said...

3. What's my beef? read my article again. I quote him at length and link to his writings. He literally advocates, at one point, for completely open borders with nothing but a welcome sign. I point out that he contradicts himself later by implying there needs to be a screening process. What is his position then? That's part of my point.

You say he is a "philosopher and not a policy wonk." Don't you see that is exactly an instance of the rationalism vs empiricism dichotomy that is a main theme of the post! Immigration is a complex application within political philosophy. One cannot rationalistically cite abstract principles like "individual rights" and then proceed to deduce the appropriate political plan independent of a great detail of context and experience. For him to opine from the mountaintop as a Philosopher King and then say "well he's not a policy wonk" is negligent and an awful form of malpractice. To add insult, after making these highly rationalistic claims related to a complex application, with which many can and should disagree, he accuses his opponents of bigotry - a smear of the highest order.

As to the substance of my beef with him, read my article. For example, I do not see a right for immigrants to enter the country, outside the context of the property owners that are already here and whose sovereign government they created and fund. Again, read my article and see for yourself. The government protects our rights from foreigners and that policy of defense must be applied to those overseas and those seeking to enter. His claim that we can "crush our enemies" and thus relieve us of threats is something I address in my post. That is ridiculous, since there are always bad guys. Many more.

I do not tie him to a straw man. I quote his own arguments and link to his articles! Where do I create an HB straw man?

I do not accept your "50-60 years" argument since it is an argument from authority. I do not personally attack him, nor do I make any claims outside of his arguments related to immigration. The real "bias" if there is any stems from those who accept rationalistic arguments from authorities without considering the full context or implications and then accuse thoughtful dissenters from those views to be "evil, xenophobic, racist" etc. which I have experienced.

The fact that this issue has been hotly debated supports my argument that this is a complex application without a simple answer. It is incumbent on thought "leaders" to qualify their claims, put them in the proper context, and offer excellent scholarship - very little of which has emanated from the "open borders" crowd.

The Rat Cap said...

One other quick comment, I will probably do a post but here:

One claim that arises continuously with respect to the immigration debate is that immigrants have a right to immigrate into a country. This claim takes different forms such as "a border is just a line" or "everyone has the same rights, how can you deny them the same rights you have?" etc.

While individuals possess natural rights, by virtue of being human, individuals must make specific provisions to protect those rights. Rights are not respected out of thin air. There needs to be an actual vehicle by which we try to protect, as best as possible, the natural rights to which we are entitled.

When a group of property owners and citizens agree to form a government to protect each other's rights and provide for the common defense, they create a sovereign "nation" by virtue of that agreement. That government, like a homeowner's association, is granted certain enumerated powers, and that particular government, in effect, is created by and for those particular people. That particular government can take many different forms but, in essence, it is the vehicle by which those people choose to protect their natural rights.

Those people and their government are a sovereign nation. They grant power to the government to represent them in dealing with foreign nations or foreign nationals. The reason they do this is to protect themselves from foreign threats or the threat of an invasion. The threat represented by foreigners takes different forms and a foreign policy must be defined, and laws implemented to fairly and objectively deal with foreigners while respecting the rights of the people of that nation.

NOTE THE FLOW HERE. It starts with property owners and citizens seeking to protect their rights and forming a government within their lands. The people, through their government, then looks out at the world and says "how do we deal with the rest of the world in a beneficial way while protecting all of our persons and property?"

It does not start with "everyone has rights, therefore, anyone at anytime can come into any sovereign nation irrespective of the laws and policies of that nation."

Sam Axton said...

Let's keep it simple for my sake if you don't mind. There is a disagreement here and I'd like to isolate it. If you repeat what you've said before I won't understand it any better. My crow floweth over.

Let's start with the term "open immigration". What do you think HB means by this? He makes it fairly specific in the opening of his "Why do Objectivists disagree on immigration?". This seems to be the crux of your disagreement which I'm trying to understand.

Sam Axton said...

Of course, you don't have to do this but I'd appreciate it. I see a lot of hostility between ARI's spokespeople and others for which I'm trying to understand the cause. It seems to me that they are talking past each other. Plus, we don't have to agree on everything, that would be odd, but it would be good to stay allied with like minds if not policy and hash out the differences rationally.

The Rat Cap said...


I appreciate your sentiment.

My post is pretty clear in quoting him over the years, and I point out the fact that I'm not even sure what his position is, which goes for ARI spokespeople as well. HB initially wrote in favor of completely open borders with nothing but a welcome sign, but then in another article implies need for some screening. His confusion is particularly appalling since he accuses his opponents (opponents of what?) of xenophobia.

In any case, I think it's fair to say he appears to believe in "Mostly open" borders where, essentially, everyone has a right to go anywhere, with the state limited to a cursory type inspection.

I just published another post:

where I make my position even more clear and it can be clearly distinguished from this "mostly open borders" position.

Apart from the politics of this position, I have a major problem with the method implied by HB and ARI. I believe they are engaging in a very rationalistic methodology, where they start with a broad principle, out of context, and then deduce conclusions that do not follow. This new post brings that out some.

It's in that vain that frustration mounts, when in light of these honest criticisms and thoughtful counter point, their supporters accuse dissenters of xenophobia, racism, etc.

Anonymous said...

Ed Mazlish writes:

Sam Axton:

You correctly note that Harry Binswanger is not eschewing principles and that Doug has that point backwards. I agree with you - but that's exactly Harry's mistake. He's not eschewing principles - he is elevating principles above facts and context, and eschewing facts and context instead.

You write that the freedom to travel across borders is derived from the principles of individual rights that apply to all men. That's an unsupported assertion. But more importantly, it's an assertion which looks only to principles - individual rights that apply to all men, and then the principles implied by that - without ever looking at context or facts.

This violates the Objectivist method as I understand it. My understanding of the Objectivist method is that the starting point is not principles, but facts. Further - I contend that the attempt to universalize principles to all persons in all places at all times, is a serious error in application of the Objectivist method. It's a sanction of universal context dropping.

It is true that Harry Binswanger (and many others) appear to support screening of those who might carry disease, those who are criminals, and those who are potential terrorists. But it is precisely because Harry Binswanger and other open borders advocates dismiss context and facts that they are unable to identify any actual screenings that would pass muster with them. Screenings are necessarily context specific and fact specific - a different level of screening is warranted for a person with a long beard, turban, AK-47 and ISIS flag than for an elderly grandmother in a wheelchair. But universalized principles allow no breach for different contexts.

The reference to such screenings by open borders advocates are themselves only reference to principles as well - in principle, they support such screening. But in fact, they don't. And principles always trump facts for the open borders advocates. They only support screenings "in principle" because they don't want to be responsible for the consequences of what unscreened immigration has to lead to. It's obvious what will happen if billions of cultural collectivists mix with millions of individuals who respect individual rights: those who suspect rights will be drowned and destroyed in a sea of statism.

Now if each side pointed to facts rather than principles, the debate would be a lot clearer. It would also be clear that disagreements and heterodoxy implied no moral failings. Some people would point to the geniuses coming from foreign lands. Some people would point to the benefits of greater division of labor. Some people would point to the writings of jihadists that immigration is a tool in their weapons of war. Some people would point to the inability to persuade irrational people. Some people would point to people who did reform themselves from bad cultures such as Bosch Fawstin or Ayan Hirsi Ali. Etc.

Different people would weigh different facts differently. And that would be ok. What's not ok is this relentless drive to dismiss - eschew - facts and context, and instead seek universal principles that are to be imposed on everyone.

The people who believe they are in possession of universal truths that must be imposed on everyone else are the true statists in this debate. They are the true rights violators, because their basic principle is that they will force your mind, period.