Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Arizona Litmus Test

There is a wide range of people associated with what is broadly called "The Right" nowadays, especially given the political wreckage of the last presidential election. There are Compassionate Conservatives, the Religious Right (often the same thing), libertarians, mere fiscal conservatives with no firm principles of liberty, Objectivists like me, and others.

The Tea Party movement, often derided by the left, which chooses only to show protest signs with poor spelling and protestors shouting racial slurs, is a similarly broad coalition with little cohesion other than a general appeal to limited government and freedom. Republicans are jockeying to gain support of tea partiers, while others like Objectivists are trying to spread principled notions of freedom, to counteract the unprincipled semi-fog that now pervades this well-intentioned movement.

One thing that seems to sort out those who have a principled approach to freedom and apply it consistently, is the issue of Arizona's recent immigration law.

On the face of it, this law may seem like an appeal to law and order, and to some extent it is. The web site plays into this theme and has an imposing law enforcement officer on its home page, indicating a tough and unflinching stance. It suggests that if we oppose their plans, we are weak and put Arizona and the United States at risk.

Yet this appeal is an illusion. What if federal law said we had to execute every left-handed person? Would it then be a patriotic defense of law and order to support it?

What about security?

Advocates of tight borders talk about violent criminals and drug dealers. I would claim that those things have more to do with the utterly disastrous "war on drugs" than anything else. Nations always have the right to keep out those who are dangerous, but in this case, it is the nations that are creating the violent drug lords, by outlawing the sale and use of drugs. Check the history of Prohibition and the salutary effect it had on the careers of gangsters like Al Capone. If it's border violence you are worried about, then fight the drug laws.

Are illegals taking our tax money in the form of welfare? Public schools? Housing? Food stamps? If so, then end those programs, since they are wrong anyway.

Are illegals "taking" our jobs? Well, what of it? If they are willing to do the same job for less than Americans, they should get the job. This situation also shows the absurdity of wage laws and the fact that no matter how much Congress tries to legislate low labor prices out of existence, something always flows in to restore balance. Just because we have outlawed cheap labor does not mean it isn't useful and needed. Employers should be allowed to pay any wage someone will accept, and do it on American soil. To prevent it violates the rights of both employer and employee.

Being "tough" on immigration has a certain superficial appeal. However, I claim that to support bad and restrictive immigration laws, simply because they are laws and are seen as a limited solution to certain state problems (such as crime caused by drug trafficking), is a very short-sighted and misguided position.

Further, I claim that this results from not applying the principle of individual rights consistently, and being distracted by lesser issues at the cost of a real solution.

I think this is where the weakness of the conservative position (I'm not a conservative, I'm a laissez-faire capitalist) comes through clearly, precisely because the issue of immigration is colored by all sorts of inflammatory side issues such as race, law enforcement, drugs and so on. Only a principled approach will allow us to identify the correct solution to this complex issue, and the mixed bag of standard conservatism is simply unable to deal with this issue effectively.

For this reason, the Arizona law, as well as the complex issue of immigration in general, can be seen as a litmus test for principled support of individual rights.

Conservatism is typically a strange brew of Christianity, limited government, fiscal conservatism, welfare statism and corporate welfare. The religious element does not like so-called "vices", and so it cannot support legalizing drugs. The "compassionate conservative" element cannot relinquish social programs, even if it pays for them with vouchers. The fiscal conservative element clashes with compassionate conservatives' desire to be seen as their brother's keeper, and so conservatives keep voting for increases in government power in spite of claiming to generally support free markets. It is a mix that cannot arrive at a consistent solution, and I claim this conflicted nature is one reason why Republicans have been losing elections recently in spite of the fact that some of their platform points are correct and practically superior to the dismal progressive platform.

With regard to the immigration issue specifically, this means that conservatives must accept drug violence (because drugs are morally wrong), they cannot do away with the welfare programs that attract freeloaders, they cannot support free enterprise because they want to penalize employers hiring illegals, and they cannot support freedom with regard to immigration because they place law and order over the rights of peaceful individuals to travel freely. It's a complex catch-22 that has no solution, and is sending conservatives and some tea partiers down the wrong path.

If you are an advocate of freedom looking for the answers, there is one article that is very clear in its explanation of the proper stance on immigration for those who support freedom, and that is Immigration and Individual Rights at the Objective Standard. I was distressed to discover that the Tea Party Patriots support the Stand with Arizona initiative, and I hope that anyone involved in the Tea Party movement who supports freedom and limited government will read this article*.

I can understand if someone who advocates freedom currently thinks the Arizona law is a good thing; the issue is complicated, and we hear very little principled discussion of politics these days. We all make mistakes. But that's precisely what such articles are for: to expand our knowledge and hone our proper application of values and principles. I hope that tea partiers will seriously consider this essay and, if necessary, reshape their position on immigration.

Without principled and consistent positions, the Tea Party movement is in danger of being co-opted by those who do not understand freedom, but simply oppose something, and a vague something at that. America needs more; we need movements that truly stand for freedom, by defending individual rights.

*Note: I have seen a criticism of this article saying it advocates absolutely unlimited admittance into the country. That is incorrect; open immigration does not mean national suicide. Anyone who is an objective security threat is a candidate to be barred entry to the country. Exactly who that is remains to be determined based on the objective security requirements of a given nation. The point being made is that common arguments for limiting immigration are often merely thinly disguised protectionism or racism and violate the rights of peaceful individuals. Or they are a fallback position made necessary by bad foreign policy.


  1. A great article, especially the section on the various contradictory factions of the conservatives, and the only solution is the principle of individual rights, which is what the arizona law violates.

    David McBride

  2. It's a shame that people so often confuse 'open immigration' with 'open borders'. You can allow people to migrate freely (provided they meet certain criteria) and still control your border from threats.

    I don't object to the idea that as a potential new immigrant, the onus should be on you to demontrate you're not going to be a threat - but once you've done that, you're free to enter.

    The welfare state also confuses the issue. The perception (rightly or wrongly) is that new immigrants will go onto welfare and be a drain on the tax payer. On that basis I'd have no objection to the idea that a potential new immigrant must undertake they will be self supporting, and not use the welfare system.

    Remove these two objections, and I think the majority of those on the "Right" (excepting the small minority who may be bigots) would be more liberal on this issue.

  3. mtnrunner2,

    I linked to your blog post on another Objectivist blog from an Objectivist who approaches immigration very differently than you do.

    Here is the link to his reaction to this post:

    The reason I bring Grant's objection up here because it is a very popular one and one you did not address. Grant raises the problems of demographic and culture. The argument is that non-European immigrants present a special danger of non-assimilation and therefore cultural destruction even in a fully free society. This type of argument is all over the Conservative blogosphere. I don't have an answer for it so I am uncertain on open immigration.

  4. madmax,

    Grant seems to be making assumptions that are not a necessary part of an open immigration policy.

    His concern is addressed in general form by Mark's comment above, as well as by Ari Armstrong and my comments starting here at My response there was:

    "Open immigration does not mean national suicide.

    Anyone who is an *objective security risk* is a candidate to be barred entry to the country. Who that is remains to be determined based on the objective security requirements of a given nation, whether it's Israel or the US.

    However, common arguments for limiting immigration are often thinly disguised protectionism or racism and violate the rights of peaceful individuals. Or they are a fallback position made in response to the failures of bad foreign policy."

    Nobody is advocating letting anyone through without regard to security. Nobody is saying don't catch criminals wreaking havoc in Arizona. The point is you don't fight violations of rights by enforcing laws that violate rights. Instead, you fight those things that are causing the real underlying trouble, such as the misguided drug war or welfare programs.

    I'm not going to get into the fray on Grant's site, but thanks for the linkage; perhaps other readers will find my viewpoint more to their liking.

  5. Mark,

    >You can allow people to migrate freely (provided they meet certain criteria) and still control your border from threats.


    I do think some people have problems abstracting out the current state of things from the real underlying causes, and that largely accounts for our conservatives' position. We need to be asking what things would be like if we removed other causes that are aggravating the situation, like the awful drug war.

    However, there's another dimension to the Arizona issue in particular, and I don't know quite how to describe it, other than to say there's a very "with us or against us" type of mentality that frankly I find scary. Perhaps it's just the level of frustration in that state, and people are just not thinking any more, they just want action, regardless. That's never a good thing.

  6. I believe the Arizona law is about checking ID. My initial reaction is that it violates the presumption of innocence. It also requires an action (putting your ID in your pocket) on the part of the citizenry, which is also wrong.

    On the broader issue of immigration/naturalization (path to citizenship etc.), I think assimilation is a very important issue. Europe, especially France, is finding this out now with regard to its LEGAL muslim immigrants, who have no intention of westernizing, are having kids at many multiples of the native French and will soon be a majority in that democratic country. Allah Akbar.

    Noone has a right to become a citizen of the US. We should set the terms to be to our benefit. Those terms should include the intention to be productive, rational, individualist, fully westernized Americans. Right now the bar is incredibly low and is being pushed lower.

  7. Shane said:
    >I believe the Arizona law is about checking ID


    That understates it.

    Here is the bill: I don't have time to review it now, but among other things it adds fines and assigns felony status for businesses hiring a certain number of illegals.

    Since under the premises of my viewpoint, such illegal status is caused by an overly restrictive admittance process, this penalizes business and illegals for our bad laws. It also makes what is a normal peaceful business activity illegal. I see no justification for this, even if the person is in the country illegally.

    As far as lack of assimilation goes, that per se doesn't violate anyone's rights. Again, anything that is a *real threat* should be open to restriction. However there should be a clear intent to commit violent acts, such as if the Islamic fundamentalists had a Trojan Horse strategy of coming to countries to take them over, or to apply religious law by force.

    But, part of the problem with immigrants in Europe is those countries seem to have no clue what free speech or freedom of religion means, and I would be willing to bet that their policy makers worship at the altar of multiculturalism, which warps policy decisions. As evidence of confusion over how to deal with immigrants, witness the fact that France outlawed Muslim head scarves in schools, which is a clear violation of rights. I don’t trust Europe as a test bed for immigration policy. I’m sure they are shooting themselves in the foot left and right when it comes to immigrants.

    I also can’t comment on citizenship because I have not put much thought into it yet. But again, my inclination would be just to make sure it is not being used as an opportunity to do things that don't protect our individual rights.