How do genuine liberals (as correctly defined) view the world? As a collection of individuals.
How do conservatives view it? As a collection (clash?) of cultural communities.
Socialists? Economic communities (or blocks).
Fascists? Tribes, nations or races.
This way of looking at the spectrum might help you to explain “left” and “right” to a child, should you ever need to. (More about the historical and arbitrary origins of “left” and “right” in a subsequent post.)
If you view the spectrum not as a matrix or a line but as a loop or circle, things become clearer. Liberalism then reveals itself to be not the “place in the middle,” the “split-the-difference” no-man’s-land of compromise and moderation, but the extreme and radical opposite of collectivism, which includes everything from Nazism to Communism.
Yes, Liberals care most about freedom, whereas collectivists tend to care more about “equality” (insofar as it pertains to the group of interest to the respective collectivist — ie, the class or the tribe.)
But the debate is not merely about the desired outcomes — freedom vs equality — of policy. It goes deeper. It is a debate about the unit of analysis. What — or rather whom — do we care about? What matters?
As a liberal, I instinctively choose individuals. People matter.
Now, it’s easy to lampoon this instinct. The caricature usually involves a quote from Margaret Thatcher, when she allegedly said:
There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals.
Individuals do form families and other groups, and liberals do care about those. But those are groups that individuals volunteer to form. (By contrast, I never volunteered to be American, German or middle class. Most of the time, I’m not even sure what those group memberships are supposed to mean.)
Let’s talk about Arizona
Enough prologue. Let’s talk about the new Arizona law against illegal immigration.
In my article in the new issue of The Economist, I try to analyze how the law and the backlash against it might affect American politics. My editor wrote a “leader” (ie, opinion editorial) to go along with it. And both of those pieces follow a short piece I whipped up the other day, when the law was first signed.
Now, it may not surprise you to learn that, in addition to the hundreds of, shall we say, passionate comments on our website, I have also been getting reader letters.
I have already regaled you with you my cavalier amusement at the tone of the American reader letters I get. But I must say, the mail bag of late has taken another turn for the worse. I leave it to your imagination.
So let’s step back and try to understand why I, and The Economist, would instinctively be
- for more open borders,
- for more liberal migration laws,
- for freer movement of people.
Is it because I love Latinos, as some of my reader letters suggest (albeit in a different vocabulary)?
Well, yes it is. I do love them. Though no more so than I love Eskimos, Wasps and Tibetans. I love them all, but only as individuals.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when only diplomats carried passports. Other people moved freely where they wanted to go. Just read Casanova’s memoirs. 😉
This sounds like an ideal world: Free individuals and families moving wherever they want to go, with a minimum of hassle (besides the natural stress of moving).
I admit that this was before some countries had welfare states which might attract poor migrants and thus be overwhelmed. This issue — whose taxes pay for whose benefits in a given land — must be addressed.
And I also admit that this was before terrorists (who already existed) had access to weapons of mass destruction. So this issue — how do we keep murderous migrants out — also must be addressed.
On the other hand, I do not admit that immigrants in general, whether legal or illegal, are more likely than natives to commit crimes, because research proves this not to be true.
Garden of Earthly Delights
So what would a liberal Utopia look like?
All individuals anywhere would be free to move to and live where they please, within basic and minimal parameters to address the two issues above.
Americans, for example, would be allowed to go to Latin America or Europe to pursue careers, loves and dreams. Latin Americans and Europeans would be just as free to come to America to do the same.
This would apply to the “high-skilled” migrants, such as Indian graduates from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), probably the best university system in the entire world today. And it would apply equally to “low-skilled” migrants, because they, too, have contributions to make and dreams to pursue.
Is this realistic? Probably not.
But is it desirable?
That depends whether you view the world largely as tribes, classes or, as I do, individuals.