Friday, June 22, 2012

Immigration. National Culture Matters.

Immigration has always been a hot topic in this country.  From the colonial days when Americans, including the illustrious and abolitionist Benjamin Franklin, feared that the recent German immigrants would never assimilate, to the discrimination that Irish Immigrants faced during the mid-19th century, and of course the kerfuffle we have now.  Taking a broad, and in depth look, at American history and it is hard to take claims about a tolerant American golden age, which some immigration advocates bring up, seriously.  At the same time it should temper fears about cultural balkanization.

But it doesn't Americans are more divided than ever on illegal immigration.  We, in the national sense, want our government to enforce our laws but we also willing to bend the rules for certain individuals and select situations. While many wouldn't believe it, the political right on the American spectrum, is deeply divided on the issue. 

On the one side you have conservatives, both cultural and neo, who argue about the dangers of illegal immigration.  Jobs are frequently mentioned, but the argument gaining most traction today is the fear of balkanization.  Many of these individuals fear that by allowing the immigrants that we run the risk of denaturing our cultural homogeneity.  These individuals distrust multiculturalism, or rather the kind of multiculturalism that is promoted by the left and academia.  They point to nations like Yugoslavia as an example of what can happen in the worst case scenario. But for even stronger comparisons they liken the events today to what happened to the Romans. Where their empire and civilization was taken under by a wave of hording barbarians.

On the other side you have libertarians, though not all libertarians are in agreement on this issue, that argue the opposite.  That the history of the United States has shown that every 'feared' balkinization and cultural denaturing that would come from these new immigrants never materialized.  That these immigrants create new economic opportunities and that in time they too will assimilate like those who came before the.

My take on the issue? They are wrong and they are right.  I say that because as a conservatively inclined libertarian I understand both sides of the issue and where they come from.  Conservatives are not motivated by racism, despite the claims of many leftists, but by real concerns from observation of real world events.  Looking at what is happening in southern California, particularly Los Angeles, and one cannot help but be a bit apprehensive.  How can I not feel a little threatened when we have individuals protester for their civil rights, but waving the standard of another nation? However, their comparisons to Yugoslavia or Rome or wrong.

Yugoslavia is an obvious example.  It was never a homogeneous nation, it started out as a kingdom right after WWI.  The strongest ethnic group in the region manged to take regions that breaking away from the dying Austro-Hungarian empire and create their own kingdom.  It was a supranational nation, meaning a nation created from many separate nations.  The obvious analogues today to this would be the now defunct Soviet Union, and the European Union in the eurocrates ever get their way.  Conservatives are right to argue that supranational entities are inherently unstable and prone to break up.  Their mistake is arguing that the US had become such an entity through excess immigration, specifically of the illegal sort.

This brings me to the Roman analogy.  The Romans are an interesting example as they created a supranation of sorts that managed to last for almost a 1000 years, starting this point after they began to expand out of Italy.  However, the mistake many make is assuming it was the barbarian hordes were what did the empire in.  Firstly, despite modern renditions of the cartographic boundaries of the Roman empire depicting it as a momentous entity, it was more of a patchwork of allied nations, puppet kings, and colonies for most of its existence. The argument also ignores the fact that barbarians had always resided in the empire.

The Helvetii, the Gaullic tribe that Caesar first used as an excuse to begin his campaigns in Gaul, had resided in territory that bordered Roman territory, and Roman territory itself.  Furthermore while Rome did have cities throughout the empire, these were essentially a string of colonies.  There were other numerous settlements throughout the empire that never were 'Roman'.  People need to remember that the number of 'citizens' throughout the empire, prior to the edict that made citizenship universal, never exceeded 2%.  The vast majority of the inhabitants of Rome were not Romans, moreover Germanic tribes constantly moved through Roman territories, sometimes peacefully sometimes not, throughout the empires existence.

If the Roman empire stood for almost a millenia with a vast population of peregni (or foreign subjects) then the claims that having tens of millions of Spanish speaking immigrants toppling the US seem a bit, hyperbolic, to an extent.  Foreigners residing in a land alone do not bring ruination upon a nation. However, the conservatives do bring up a salient point, one that libertarians often miss.

This is the cultural aspect.  Individuals who immigrate to a nation will not assimilate unless it is in their best interest to do so.  Furthermore, it is in a nations best interest to maintain some sort of cultural cohesion.  What ultimately did the empire in was a bureaucracy that had removed any real incentive for the peregni, who were now nominally but not culturally Romans, to actually assimilate into Roman culture, and fight for it when need be.

As a quick aside, what many do not realize is that in the waining days of the empire it wasn't the Romans versus the barbarians. Rather, it was other barbarians fighting other barbarians.  I have already covered this in a previous post, but Rome had long since lost the ability to field armies that were loyal to Rome itself, rather than fighting for Rome because of money.  Moreover, there were many 'barbarians' who fought valiantly for Rome, like Stilicho.  But their ability was never rewarded, rather they were regarded with suspicion because they weren't true Romans.  What would have happened to the Roman empire if Stilicho had not been executed but rather had become an emperor himself?  The empire might have continued, but I digress.

This is where the conservatives are absolutely right to be concerned with immigration as it stands today.  Because ultimately it is culture that matters. If we do not encourage cultural assimilation, by expecting certain standards of conduct and opening the halls of power to newcomers, then we remove any reason for individuals to trying become invested in the American experiment.  The US is an incredibly dynamic culture that can handle a degree of instability that would break down other societies.  But there are points where even the most flexible metal will break.  I am all for more immigrants coming into this country, I personally don't care if the America of the future is white or not because, once again, its culture that is paramount.

This means we have to ask hard questions, such as:

Does offering ballots in other languages actually decrease the likelihood of assimilation? Yes. It does.

Does turning a blind eye to illegal immigration hurt national culture? Yes, we can see the civil strife it is causing right now.

Do our current immigration laws contribute to this problem? Yes, they are far too byzantine and expensive; having the unintended consequence of alienating potential productive citizens. Both because it may force those who wish to come to America to come illegal, but then hide in fear of deportation which assures they will have difficulty assimilating. And further alienating those who did come here legally when they see our inaction towards enforcing our laws.  How can a person feel loyalty towards a nation that extracted tens of thousands of dollars from them, along with years of their life, but not expect the same of others?

The list goes on. But the social strife being created extends past Hispanic and and on Hispanic lines. Just look at the animosity that some northern states hold for the southwestern states that are taking matters into their own hands because the Federal government fails to address the issue.


  1. Outstanding analysis. As an immigrant I heartily second your assessment that failing to enforce immigration laws alienates the legal and generates a sub-class of illegals.

  2. Thanks differ. I have always thought our immigration laws needed to be reformed. Too many Americans are unawares how byzantine they are, and how it is nearly impossible to come to this country legally. We are losing a lot of talent because of it.


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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.