Adam Smith against nativist immigration policy

by Chris Bertram on January 21, 2018

Paul Sagar has a very nice piece at Aeon about Adam Smith, his legacy, and his contemporary relevance. Towards the end of his essay, he quotes a famous passage from Smith’s Theory of the Moral Sentiments:

[The man of system] seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chessboard have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chessboard of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

An arresting passage when considered against the background of the nativist immigration policies of countries like the United Kingdom and the United States and one that underlines the utopian (in a bad way) nature of natonalist projects. At present our governments are conducting a war against migrants. In the UK, “foreign criminals” (who may or may not have been convicted of actual crimes) are deported to countries they may be utterly unfamiliar with, landlords and employers are threatened with fines if they house or employ people without the right of residency (and deprive many others of opportunities because they look or sound as if they might be “foreign”), asylum seekers are deported to war zones like Afghanistan (a “safe country”) and thousands of people are separated from partners or children because they don’t earn enough for a spousal visa. Brexit Britain has now cast this shroud of insecurity over EU nationals too. In the United States, Trump is still going on about his wall, thousands of young people who are functionally Americans can’t rest secure because politicians can’t agree how to regularize their status, whilst others who came as children are ripped from their families and deported.

And yet we will win. The “game” is going on “miserably” and human beings who have principles of motion of their own, altogether different from those that polticians seek to impress on them, will carry on moving, fleeing, working, associating, trading with, and loving those of nationalities other than their own, because human beings always have and always will. When we talk of freer movement, of more open borders, of a global order that works for everyone and isn’t just in hock to nativist anxieties in wealthy countries, the conventional wisdom is that this is unrealistic and utopian. Yet the true unrealism and utopianism is the project of keeping human beings in self-contained political orders with others “like them”.

My book, Does the State Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants, comes out with Polity on May 25th.

{ 109 comments }

1

Matt 01.21.18 at 11:08 am

First, let me say that I’m looking forward to reading the book, and am sympathetic to the impulse behind it. But…

I’m disappointed to see this invocation of Smith, given that I’m almost certain (unless you’ve changed almost all of your published views) that you otherwise reject Smith’s view here, and with good reasons – it’s incompatible with any sort of affirmative action programs, or with more substantial attempts to ensure fair equality of opportunity. It’s incompatible with significant attempts to engage in egalitarian redistribution (let alone “predistribution”). It’s probably incompatible with much environmental and financial and other regulation that all sane people today realize is necessary. And so on. Why think it’s right in the case you’re interested in, but only that one, and not all the ones where you’d reject it? This, like making common cause with libertarians who favor open borders (_Because_ they think it will make the welfare state, let alone anything more just, impossible) seems to me to be a serious error. I’d like to hear why you think Smith is right _in this one case_ but can be safely rejected in all of the cases where your own published views strongly imply he can be rejected.

And of course, note that rejecting Smith’s view here is completely compatible with accepting that current immigration policy in the US and (perhaps especially) the UK, is very bad, and should be made better. The idea that we have either the libertarian “utopia” of open borders or else the Trump/Tory view is itself obviously false, so that can’t support the invocation here, either.

2

nastywoman 01.21.18 at 11:48 am

And yet we will win!!

3

Chris Bertram 01.21.18 at 1:07 pm

@Matt, I find it hard to see the basis for your reaction to the quoted passage. Smith is not saying that all regulation is impossible or undesirable but rather that if it neglects the desires, aspirations and agency of those subject to it and treats them as if they were mere “pieces on a chessboard”, that regulation will fail or misfire. In Sagar’s article, to which I linked, he offers some useful commentary on the passage and rejects a reading of it which reduces it to “a modern Right-wing injunction against socialist-style state planning”.

4

Chris Bertram 01.21.18 at 1:20 pm

And further point @Matt: you and Smith in TMS agree that among the motivations of those human beings is a sense of justice and a desire to act morally, aspects of their “principles of motion” that regulation can work with.

5

Brandon Watson 01.21.18 at 2:52 pm

Matt seems to have a point here.

It’s worth considering that the example Smith originally gives of the man of system is this: motivated by public spirit and a love of humanity, he sees the real distress and inconveniency faced by others; on the basis of this he advocates a system of reformation that he claims will solve the problem, a plan that requires significant modification of what other people are used to, in ways that get resistance; the party gets intoxicated by the imagined beauty of how much better this plan will make things; under such intoxication, they refuse to accommodate their opponents; as a result, they often just make things worse. This is contrasted with the case where public spirit is not mingled with love of system:

“He will accommodate, as well as he can, his public arrangements to the confirmed habits and prejudices of the people; and will remedy as well as he can, the inconveniencies which may flow from the want of those regulations which the people are averse to submit to. When he cannot establish the right, he will not disdain to ameliorate the wrong; but like Solon, when he cannot establish the best system of laws, he will endeavour to establish the best that the people can bear. “

At this point in the TMS, Smith is speaking quite generally — the whole idea is that it does not matter how good, or wise, or benevolent, or just the content of your system (a word he takes to cover any general account putting forward goals for government) may be; the problem Smith identifies is failing to aim at what people will accept in the pursuit of what you think ought to be the case. He explicitly castigates the arrogance of someone thinking that they know better than their fellow-citizens how society should work, especially when it involves trying to push through policies that the interests and prejudices of their fellow citizens lead them to oppose; the less partisan road is the more public-spirited road. It’s an argument that the best road is generally practical compromise, taking small steps that are in what you think is the right direction but which accommodate the prejudices of your fellow citizens, and that this is so no matter how right your side may be. (This fits with a theme found throughout TMS in various forms, namely, that human beings and human lives are very flawed and inconsistent, but that our muddling through often works much better than trying to stamp out the flaws and inconsistencies.) It’s true that nativists and nationalists would be among those who would often be censured by Smith’s argument; but so would a lot of people with strong and definite political views or schemes for reformation, regardless of the content of those views.

6

Cranky Observer 01.21.18 at 5:22 pm

= = = the problem Smith identifies is failing to aim at what people will accept in the pursuit of what you think ought to be the case. He explicitly castigates the arrogance of someone thinking that they know better than their fellow-citizens how society should work, especially when it involves trying to push through policies that the interests and prejudices of their fellow citizens lead them to oppose; = = =

I’m partial to the concept of human political economy being closer to ecology than Newtonian physics myself, but this approach runs headlong into several modern counterexamples: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and the CAFE regulations on automobile fuel economy.

All of these were/are examples where experts and activists convinced legislators to impose a theory-based scheme on a populace with less than 100% support (and in all three cases possibly less than majority support in the wider society), all were vigorously and loudly opposed by conservative [1] factions within US society [2], in part as being unwarranted attempts by starry-eyed intellectuals to impose impractical theories on systems which were working just fine thank you, and all three proved… wildly successful. In the case of CAFE it turned out that the organically-grown conservative parties at the auto and fuel suppliers were not only wrong but they knew they were wrong and lied about it over a long period of time. I don’t know how many counterexamples it takes to prove a story-based political economic discussion wrong but that’s three major Russian super-torpedoes right there.

[1] in the traditional sense of ‘people who want to conserve what we have’, not today’s hard Radical Right “conservatives”

[2] CAFE was also vehemently opposed by German automakers, right up until the Green party started winning elections

7

Stephen 01.21.18 at 7:27 pm

“our governments are conducting a war against migrants”

Hyperbole, anybody? Wars tend to involve shooting, shelling, bombing the other side: see Sri Lanka or Syria for so-far successful recent examples of a government conducting a war against its own citizens. In the US, against immigrants? In the UK?

Obviously I haven’t read CB’s book “Does the state have the right to exclude immigrants?” What odds would you give me that the answer is “No”? Or that the odds against getting the majority to agree with that are extremely long?

8

Donald A. Coffin 01.21.18 at 7:42 pm

I was thinking this morning, after having read about 5 or 6 newspaper articles and blog posts about US immigration policy…

I’m an economist. One of the fundamental pieces of economic theory is the theory of comparative advantage, the theory that explains how and why people benefit from interacting with other people (specifically, by trading with other people, but I think the principle is more broadly applicable).

If all economies are exactly alike–same skills, same aptitudes, same interests, same resources, same technologies–then trade between nations does not benefit any nation. If all firms are exactly alike, no firm would ever outsource anything. If all people were exactly alike, how would we benefit from interacting with other people?

The principle of comparative advantage says, quite explicitly, that we benefit most by trading with (interacting with) countries and firms (and people) who are more, rather than less different from ourselves. The corollary of this is that most of us–including myself here–spend way too much time with people way too much like ourselves. We would benefit more by interacting more with people who are *less* like ourselves. It might be less comfortable, but the benefits would be there.

That, at any rate, is what the economic theory of comparative advantage tells me…

9

steven t johnson 01.21.18 at 7:54 pm

In the immediate context, Smith’s “every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it…” is most easily read as saying that men of system ignore human nature and this makes things go badly. But if they ignore system and conform to human nature, things go well. The certainty about what human nature is, is typical Enlightenment I think.

As to the potentially reactionary implications, it seems to me that this is not a misreading but a historical fact. There’s a reason most conservatives have cited Adam Smith against Marx (instead of acknowledging their economics as a repudiation of political economy.) This sort of thing looks to me to be the reason. You can try to turn this into support for open borders, but, but, but, if every chess piece has its own principle of motion, then every nationality has its own character…and its own country.

But there is a great mystery in this extract. Namely, what “men of system” could Smith be talking about? What historical catastrophes caused by “men of system” violating human nature gave Smith the confidence to condemn their folly? I suppose one might think of Diocletian or Wang Mang but I don’t think Smith looked back so far. Or possibly one might think Peter the Great or, even more likely, John Calvin, if one could be sure Adam Smith considered these men to be failures.

At first glance, it appears that Smith’s “men of system” are very much like Burke’s ideologues whose utopian schemes inevitably led to the horrors of the Great French Revolution as they were foisted on humanity. That is to say, they never were anything but nightmare fancies conjured from prejudices, bugaboos to scare readers away from unwelcome conclusions.

Unless of course, Smith really did mean to speak of rulers enforcing religious conformity?

10

F. Foundling 01.21.18 at 10:26 pm

Yep, it’s the usual tendency – becoming more and more libertarian for the sake of immigration.

Different human beings have ‘principles of motion’ that contradict each other. Politics and justice are about dealing with that fact and determining which ‘principle of motion’ should be supported in every given the case; *any* system will contradict, at one point or another, *somebody’s* ‘principle of motion’, and systems are generally justified precisely by people’s ‘principles of motion’. Libertarian-style calls for ‘no system’, ‘no politics’, ‘no justice’, ‘no interference with anybody’s “principle of motion”‘ are calls to establish the law of the jungle: there will still be mutual interference, but without any thought of order, justice and the common good. A call for no politics is a refusal to engage other humans as humans.

I keep encountering this line about ‘loving people of nationalities other than their own’. I don’t think anything or anyone prevents people from doing that in general (it’s an interesting coincidence that loving people of *races* other than their own was just touched upon in the other thread). There were such relationships long before the UK joined the EU and there will be such relationships after it leaves it. Still, as an aside, I would note that in this case, just as in the case of international labour market mobility and in many other situations, the context of economic disparity between groups can be rather important and affect things quite a bit, whether one likes it or not.

11

Whirrlaway 01.22.18 at 3:39 am

@Cranky
I would have thought “men of system” referred directly to “the legislature”, vide Smith’s opposition the Poor Laws. Analogizing contemporary America, that would be Clinton and Obama and their supporters, who produced the social engineering of EPA, OSHA, and CAFE, which has engendered the largely irrational pushback we are suffering through, just as the OP. The present GOP is not conservative, but reactionary. ( … they also seem to have no theory of mind.)

12

Matt 01.22.18 at 4:37 am

Thanks, Chris – I’ve read ToMS, and have taught it (including this exact part) several times, to Penn PPE students and Wharton business ethics students, so I’m pretty familiar with it and what Smith is up to. It’s the “classical liberal” position put quite nicely – Anderson, Sen, Satz, and others have done a nice job showing that Smith isn’t a libertarian nor as anti-government as, say, Milton Friedman, but his view still pretty clearly rules out all of the type of regulation and control I noted above. So, I don’t think you can latch on to this _in relation to immigration_ but then turn around and say that, for example, you think government intervention for promoting fair equality of opportunity (as opposed to “careers open to talents”), or for significant financial regulation (as opposed to mere rules preventing fraud or collusion), or significant environmental regulation, or rules giving significant rights to workers (like the Fair Work Act in Australia, where I live now), or significant re-distribution or attempts to implement anything like “Property owning democracy” (let alone anything approaching socialism) is compatible with his view. But, if you think he’s right _in this one area_, it will take a lot of work to show why he’s not right in all of these other ones. I’m obviously repeating myself now, but the more important point I want to make is that there’s no reason to adopt the classical liberal view on things, let alone the libertarian one, in support of humane and reasonable immigration policies, and not just because I don’t think the classical liberal (let alone libertarian options) will result in those. So, this seems like a dead in at best, and certainly a false move.

13

UserGoogol 01.22.18 at 6:23 am

I don’t feel especially equipped to make claims about the actual opinions of the historical Adam Smith, but the quote on its own seems to me quite compatible with liberalism instead of libertarianism. In order for legislation to have any effect at all it has to make some people do things they would not otherwise do. And to talk about legislatures and the general population acting in harmony assumes that the legislatures have reason to exist in the first place. So people’s principles of motion has to mean something a bit more flexible than just people doing whatever they want to do without any external constraint.

The better way to look at it would be about how people react to the constraints of laws without being tightly pushed one way or another. If a regulation leads people to adjust their behavior in a way which brings into effect the desired policy result, that’s better than if a regulation leads to resistance and/or if people act in perversely counterproductive ways. The difference between, say, if people react to a carbon tax by switching to more energy-efficient technologies versus if people react to a carbon tax by finding ways to evade the tax. In that case the issue is not to be a libertarian who just dogmatically opposes things like carbon taxes as a general thing, (a priori, it might work and it might not) but to be pragmatic and see if policies are working or not and adjust them accordingly.

And from that perspective the problem is not merely that people would like to move to certain countries and can’t, but that people try really hard to migrate despite this and there’s a constant struggle of the state cracking down on them, and that it’s this broader conflict which suggests a deeper problem with immigration restriction. Everything is going to have some resistance, so no particular level of conflict definitively rules out a policy, but the more we have to deal with, the more problematic the policy is.

14

PD 01.22.18 at 6:30 am

The TMS has other passages of contemporary relevance, such as this one:

There is an affinity between vanity and the love of true glory, as both these passions aim at acquiring esteem and approbation. But they are different in this, that the one is a just, reasonable and equitable passion, while the other is unjust, absurd and ridiculous. The man who desires esteem for what is really estimable, desires nothing but what he is justly entitled to, and what cannot be refused him without some sort of injury. He, on the contrary, who desires it upon any other terms, demands what he has no just claim to. The first is easily satisfied, is not apt to be jealous or suspicious that we do not esteem him enough, and is seldom solicitous about receiving many external marks of our regard. The other, on the contrary, is never to be satisfied, is full of jealousy and suspicion that we do not esteem him so much as he desires, because he has some secret consciousness that he desires more than he deserves. The least neglect of ceremony, he considers, as a mortal affront and as an expression of the most determined contempt. He is restless and impatient and perpetually afraid that we have lost all respect for him, and is upon this account always anxious to obtain new expressions of esteem, and cannot be kept in temper but by continual attendance and adulation.

15

John Quiggin 01.22.18 at 7:27 am

To the extent that its meaningful to assign Smith to a modern political category, I’d say he was a liberaltarian. That is, generally sceptical about the efficacy of government action (as in the quote above) but particularly hostile to interventions that aid the rich and harm the poor.

Support for liberal immigration policies would be consistent with this. Worth pointing out, also, that free movement was the default until the 20th centurY.

More precisely, the big difficulty was in leaving your home country (where you might be subject to some variety of serfdom/indenture/impressment), not in getting in to another.

16

Matt 01.22.18 at 8:34 am

Worth pointing out, also, that free movement was the default until the 20th century.

This is over-put, but even to the extent that it’s true, I think it’s of almost no relevance to current discussions of immigration. Countries at the time often wanted to “import” people – to settle “unsettled” land, for workers, for false merchantist reasons, etc. When these reasons dried up or changed, then policy changed. To draw conclusions about what we should or could do today, when different situations apply, from what happened in the 17th or 18th century, is a non sequitur. (This is especially so when we recall how social services and the like were vastly different then, and that the physical ability to move – due to technology – was much less.)

The counter-point to the quoted bit would be to note that much of human history consists of wars being fought to try to keep different people from moving into a territory. I’d think that this is also not especially relevant for thinking about what current immigration policy should be, but noting this would be no more cherry picking than saying that we should draw morals from the 18th century.

17

Thomas Beale 01.22.18 at 10:00 am

I would suggest that the ‘immigration policy’ of the UK is more of a state of affairs than a ‘policy’. The Home Office hardly know how many illegals (in the objective sense) are in the country let alone being able to manage numbers.

But the main thing is that the structure of the EU super-imposed on the realities of the vastly different wage levels from west to east in Europe (UK is about 3x Slovenia, Slovakia, and I guess 4x Bulgaria, Romania etc, for the same kind of work), plus perceived value of being English speaking (if younger people from any other country speak any other language, it will be English, and they want to get better).

The result of this situation is a gravitational attraction of the UK in the last 15+ years to countries in central/eastern Europe, with the EU laws enabling a fairly free and ultimately uncontrolled flow (it’s not quite as simple as that, but let’s not quibble on the details).

This in effect makes any immigration ‘policy’ almost impossible, because the latter can only apply to what you can control, which is immigrants from non-EU countries (people like myself in fact), who come in all categories: ‘highly skilled migrant’; refugee, key worker (healthcare, physics teacher etc); asylum seeker and so on.

So although one can excoriate the Home Office for its hopeless management of things (and it has been pretty hopeless, particularly under one Theresa May), the groundswell of reaction against uncontrolled immigration (i.e. Brexit) isn’t reflective of policy, but of lack of control.

If we believe in nation-states, we by definition believe in borders, and thus immigration control of some kind. Further questions abound, related to Adam Smith: to what extent can any country save or help endless numbers of immigrants from war-zones, economic crises (of both the African and Greek varieties) and generalised mayhem in the world? It must have some limits on numbers, otherwise you put your own country in danger. To what extent can a country absorb immigrants with an incompatible value system? Is open-door immigration even the right way to help countries at war or in economic stress or dictatorship? Saying so is equivalent to saying that vast swathes of the world can just be written off as a total loss – unfit for human habitation with dignity. That thinking is likely to generate its own premise.

The sane alternative is that all countries have to accept responsibility for providing a reasonable existence for their citizens, including asking for help if needed. Countries that manage to do this need to consider carefully what to do about others run by dictatorships and/or engaged in ideological wars, since the symptoms of both do not respect borders.

I would suggest that the real problem here is to develop clearer political (and maybe even moral) principles that say why people should be rescued from boats or beaches in the immediate present, but that far more serious longer term strategies need to be created that operate in home countries that reduce the streams of immigrants who would not leave if not for failing economy, war or totalitarianism, or even objectively absurd constructions like the EU / Euro.

18

John Quiggin 01.22.18 at 10:02 am

@16 I wasn’t drawing any of the conclusions you impute.

The idea I had in mind was that it would be anachronistic to expect to find an explicit defence of free movement in Adam Smith.

19

Chris Bertram 01.22.18 at 11:20 am

@Matt I have no pretensions to be an Adam Smith scholar, though I’ve read TMS and I’ve written a conference paper on Smith and Rousseau. When one come across a nice quotation from a classic author and recycles it as a peg to hand something on, it seems to me obtuse (to put it mildly) for a reader to object that this amounts to a full-scale endorsement of the totality of some wider project that the classic author was “up to”.

Taking the quotation as it stands, the idea that policy should take account of the fact that those subject to it have their own wants, desires, goals etc seems, if anything, truistic. But Smith expresses it quite nicely. The only bit to which I think you could reasonably object is the rather hyperbolic final sentence and the phrase “the *highest* degree of disorder”.

The idea that taking account of the wants and desires of individuals in making policy renders any environmental or welfare policy impossible is obviously rather silly. As for my “published views”, you’ll presumably have noticed my oft-expressed enthusiasm for the writings of James C. Scott and his scepticism towards high-modernist projects.

20

Chris Bertram 01.22.18 at 11:23 am

@Foundling “I keep encountering this line about ‘loving people of nationalities other than their own’. I don’t think anything or anyone prevents people from doing that in general “

Then I suggest you inform yourself about the effects on families of the UK’s spousal migration laws on families or those families torn apart by Trump’s deportation of long-term US residents.

21

Chris Bertram 01.22.18 at 11:35 am

(And a small addendum to my last comment in reply to Matt: One of the things about Brexit and it’s leftist cousin Lexit (a view mainly propounded by “men of system” resident in the United States) is that it rather sensitizes you to the fact that people with big utopian projects neglect the fact that individuals have principles of motion of their own, and indeed many other facts to do with the complexity of human co-operation and interdependence. But those individuals can and do vote with their feet when legislators worsen their options).

22

Layman 01.22.18 at 11:45 am

F Foundling: “I keep encountering this line about ‘loving people of nationalities other than their own’. I don’t think anything or anyone prevents people from doing that in general…”

Well, nothing other than the current immigration policies of states like the US. If you’re a lawful resident or citizen of the US and you want to bring your spouse into the country, it will take 6 months or more for your application to be processed. If it is approved, and you’re a citizen, it will take another 6 months for a green card to be issued. If you’re not a citizen, but rather a lawful resident, your spouse will spend at least 2 more years on a waiting list, after which it takes another 6 months or more for the visa to actually be issued. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that these wait times are totally unnecessary, and exist solely to discourage anyone from making the effort in the first place.

23

engels 01.22.18 at 12:34 pm

‘Life is a game of chess where each piece makes its own moves’ is fine and dandy if you’re a rook, not so much fun if you’re a pawn. Then you might find it expedient to coordinate your moves with other pawns, perhaps even in a dreaded system. And think about changing the game.

24

nastywoman 01.22.18 at 12:35 pm

And if I may add for @Foundling –
another ”thing” which seems to really prevent – especially UK and US immigration administrations from ”doing that in general…” -(‘loving people of nationalities other than their own’) is –
Tatataaa!!

TEH DOUGH!

As – Foundling probably won’t believe how much UK and US immigration official love – absolutely LOVE!! anybody who shows up with a lot of dough! -(besides if one shows up with blue eyes and blond hair and on top of it with a Norwegian passport)

And that’s what always irritated me the most on the Brexit, or the attitude of my fellow Americans – that they loved my blond and blue eyed relatives so much better than my browner ones BUT if the ”browner ones” showed up with a s…load of money they even loved ”the browner ones” more than the poorer blonds.

And to firstly let everybody in with money and the to close the boarder when their poorer relatives show up – now that is definitely NOT LOVE!!

Right?

25

steven t johnson 01.22.18 at 1:36 pm

Whirlaway@11 suggests Smith’s “men of system” were the legislature that devised the Poor Laws. This seems highly unlikely, as the Poor Law didn’t ignore the poor, it targeted them. But maybe I misunderstand?

Matt@12 to my eyes implies Smith’s “men of system” did indeed include any legislators so foolish as to impose regulation and control of the market. I’m unfamiliar with the people who demonstrated how this isn’t libertarian.

If these are correct, then Chris Bertram @18 is incorrect: The quote will not serve as a peg to hang anything, because it’s slanted the wrong way. I suppose he could go the full Humpty Dumpty and say that “men of system” means what he wants, not what Adam Smith wants. I don’t know how he would impose this meaning on the obtuse readers who see “men of system” and try to picture these horrid creatures.

PD@14 stirs the pot by throwing in another Smith quotation from Theory. I’ve seen the claim that the book is a best seller among the right people in China, which is disturbing. The notion that people who really value esteem for the properly philosophic reasons will of course never be prey to irrational fears that prompt solicitude for their dignity strikes me as an excellent example of ignoring the principles of motion in the pieces on the grand chessboard of life.

The notion that insatiability for honors is due to a guilty conscience, salve for an awareness that the bad person doesn’t really deserve them, also strikes me as rather schematic. A person may well want endless re-affirmation of their dignity, not because it is a temporary sop to their vanity, but because of the social utility of being superior to others. If you are doing something so trivial as arguing about public policy, insisting on due respect for your intellectual accomplishments as duly certified, can be helpful. In discussing public policy, having a reputation as a serious and accomplished person, as proven by your accumulation of vast wealth, may well even be profitable in a monetary sense.

This extract gives the distinct impression that Smith was rather reductive in his moral/psychological analysis. Perhaps it was Adam Smith who was the “man of system,” inadvertently confessing because of his guilty conscience. The doyens of the Scottish Enlightenment were far too safely conservative to insulted as “philosophes.” But perhaps they should have been?

26

novakant 01.22.18 at 5:35 pm

Worth pointing out, also, that free movement was the default until the 20th century.

This is over-put, but even to the extent that it’s true, I think it’s of almost no relevance to current discussions of immigration.

Actually, I think it is of immense relevance. The rhetoric around immigration and more generally “the other” today almost exclusively suggests that it is at least problem if not a danger that needs to be managed or kept at bay. Migration is viewed as an aberrance that is contrasted and opposed with the rights of an ill-defined in-group. This attitude is both harmful and factually wrong (e.g. Germany needs 400.000 migrants a year) and a bit of historical perspective might help to expose how baseless it is.

cf.: https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/07/daily-chart-6

27

bruce wilder 01.22.18 at 6:59 pm

A remarkably thoughtful thread. I especially liked Thomas Beale @ 17.

The historical Adam Smith is railing against the degenerate corporate state that survived into the early modern period, with its chartered monopolies and artisan and merchant guilds and panoply of feudal aristocracy, ornamented but useless. In context, I imagine Colbert would be the epitome of his man of systems.

The aggressive null pose that F. Foundling identifies as the characteristic rhetorical device of latter-day libertarians may be foreshadowed by negligence and omission in Smith’s work. He is the welcome apologist for a new class and we should not forget his love of the improving landlord.

28

UserGoogol 01.22.18 at 9:41 pm

engels: What you are describing is still people following their principles of motion. A group of individuals working together is still individualistic, because it ascribes agency to individual human beings instead of the system as a whole.

29

F. Foundling 01.22.18 at 9:44 pm

@Chris Bertram 01.22.18 at 11:23 am
>Then I suggest you inform yourself about the effects on families of the UK’s spousal migration laws on families or those families torn apart by Trump’s deportation of long-term US residents.

I did say ‘I don’t think anything or anyone prevents people from doing that *in general*’. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t cases when there will be obstacles for other reasons. There is no ban on marrying people of other nationalities as such, there are requirements for the immigrant, together with his/her native partner, to be able to support themselves without assistance from the state (in the UK) and for residents, married or not, to be citizens and not illegal immigrants (in the US). This doesn’t strike me as unreasonable. One can’t expect all other considerations to be ignored and an indefinite amount of public money to be spent for the sole purpose of accommodating a relationship; at most, you can argue about the exact size of the minimum income required.

@Layman 01.22.18 at 11:45 am

>If you’re a lawful resident or citizen of the US and you want to bring your spouse into the country … it will take 6 months or more for your application to be processed … If you’re not a citizen, but rather a lawful resident, your spouse will spend at least 2 more years on a waiting list

This applies if the spouse’s only justification for being in the country is being a spouse (and immigrant visas in general can take years, from what I’m hearing). In the meantime, s/he can still get a US visa with many other justifications, such as work, and then the waiting time is far shorter, AFAIU (the gov website also recommends a separate Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) while the application for a permanent resident visa is being processed). If you’re not a citizen, we are probably not talking about ‘loving nationalities other than one’s own’, but of successive immigration of a couple of the same nationality. Anyway, in general, the same response as the above applies. Such ‘international’ relationships coupled with immigration are quite commonplace, there have been many such cases in the circles and communities that I belong to for quite a few decades, talking as if the scary totalitarian states with their borders (now branded ‘utopian’, too?!) make this an impossibility, some sort of Romeo-and-Juliet-style tragedy of impossible love, seems just … odd.

30

Jeffrey Rubard 01.22.18 at 9:44 pm

This is a toxic dream. Here in America “We the People” doesn’t come with a skin color, *and it never really did*, but it needs to be something on pain of not having a functioning government at all: a country has *some* people and *some* structure, and and although an enlightened flexibility is de rigueur why would it be the case that estadounidenses needed to be to the left of the PRD on the issue of immigration?

31

F. Foundling 01.22.18 at 10:38 pm

@nastywoman 01.22.18 at 12:35 pm

>TEH DOUGH!

For once I agree, people love dough, and it’s not just immigration officials. But I couldn’t possibly agree with the notion that this ‘prevents’ love. As a matter of fact, I’d say that dough very frequently deserves some credit as a major ingredient & contributing factor that kindles & stirs up the sweet fire of passion and romance. Even internationally, believe it or not. International mobility can also be a form of social mobility. For me, for instance, even arguing on the internet with a real American like you is a bit like rising above my station. :)

>novakant 01.22.18 at 5:35 pm

I don’t think that immigration is a satisfactory solution to decreasing birth-rates, even setting aside the various undesirable side-effects that excessive or uncontrolled immigration can have under given circumstances. In the long run, rich and advanced countries shouldn’t rely indefinitely on other countries’ poverty, crises or cultural backwardness producing an excess population; after all, the goal should be for the latter countries to become rich and advanced themselves. The ability to sustain itself biologically is the least thing one can expect of a functioning society.

32

Matt 01.23.18 at 12:11 am

Thanks, Chris – I agree that much more care should be put into designing policies, including special care into how they will impact people. That goes well beyond what Smith is saying, though. We can agree without reservation that Brexit was a complete screw-up organized by fools who had no plans and no idea what they were doing, and that this made/makes them morally culpable to a high degree without this implying anything deeper, I think. (To say that the Trump administration has “plans” related to immigration beyond just making life unpleasant for people he and his followers and stooges don’t like would probably be too generous.)

To respond a bit more to John, I’m sorry if I’d misunderstood your point about historical references. Because immigration is one of my main areas of research, I see such references brought up a lot to support normative claims that they frankly are not relevant to. As for Smith, I tend to think the distinction between Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism is a real and important one, with the later most often depending on an (implausible) view of natural rights. They lead to different places in many cases. As you note, Smith was attacking, in many cases, instances of entrenched power, and thought (sometimes rightly) that this would lead to better circumstances for the less powerful. But, what we’re interested in is not his desires or goals, but his arguments, and his arguments are very much for highly limited government, only low levels of regulation, and so on, and not just for short term practical purposes, but purporting to show that this path will almost always lead to the best possible outcome. That seems pretty clearly wrong, even if it did lead to some short-term improvements. (engels gets at some of this in his typically pithy way.) I think it would be pretty clearly wrong to apply his approach to immigration, too, for similar reasons. But, it would take more than can be done in a blog comment to show this, of course. I try to do some of the careful, often tedious, work in some of my published work on immigration.

To Novakant, I’m not sure how much disagreement we have. My point is that historical claims about migration (which are almost always cherry-picked and not general) can’t provide general support for normative claims. They can obviously provide evidence for claims about how different policies might be implemented, though doing so responsibly requires more detail and care than most people who invoke them provide. I am very happy with the claim that most countries should have more liberal immigration policies – often very much more liberal – and that nationalist claims are nearly always mistaken, but the truth of these claims is completely independent of the historical matters.

33

steven t johnson 01.23.18 at 12:31 am

Bruce Wilder@27 suggests Colbert as a likely referent for Smith’s “men of system.” The thought has occurred to me too, though, which is likely a disrecommendation. Worse, Colbert as Satan to me suggests libertarians are in Smith’s camp. Or vice versa.

F. Foundling@31 “The ability to sustain itself biologically is the least thing one can expect of a functioning society.” No, it is not. Or at least not by people who favor capitalism, whether the illusory social democratic version or the real thing. The demographic transition is generally regarded in most favorable terms, and is never regarded as a sign of difficulty in reproducing the working class. (Well, Marvin Harris thought this, but Harris is universally despised these days.)

The ability of a given state to inculturate new immigrants i closely related to its ability to give workers a better life. Or, failing that, indoctrinating their kids in a functional public school system. A failing polity that can’t deliver the goods (literally and metaphorically) tends to rely on the favorite tools of all decadent societies, such as provocation of ethnics rivalries to divide and rule, an oppressive public religiosity that strangles public discourse, mercenary armies and a police state. High-minded fears about incompatible values are more a confession of not having such attractive “values” to offer in practice, I fear.

34

Faustusnotes 01.23.18 at 1:16 am

Wow foundlings comments on immigration for couples show a breathless ignorance of some basic facts. Still, it’s important for those who supported Trump from the left to find ways to handwave away these kinds of issues. Good work!

35

nastywoman 01.23.18 at 3:32 am

@31
”As a matter of fact, I’d say that dough very frequently deserves some credit as a major ingredient & contributing factor that kindles & stirs up the sweet fire of passion and romance.”

Agreed too – as the lack of dough very frequently deserves some credit as a major ingredient & contributing factor which prevents ”some sweet fire of passion and romance.” – especially in immigration officials – or in other words:
What’s this whole conversation worth – we have here – if you can buy ”visas” the way you can buy them in the US and the UK – while mysteriously INTO some other ”very advanced modern and democratic countries” which originally weren’t ”immigration countries” at all the entrance is free – and novokant –
NO! –
Germany doesn’t ”NEED” 400.000 migrants a year.
A lot of Anglo-American economists who believe in ”unlimited economical growth” might believe that any country, where the population is ”not growing” will be ”not a winner” anymore – but believe me – a lot of Germans don’t believe that – and considering them the acceptance of so many ”fureigners” is an even more impressive ”act of love” –
(if I may call it like that)

And if we are just a little bit more… ”patient”? – the whole deal is anywhoo sealed – especially in London – where the LOVE between all kind of races and nationalities is so wonderful… intense – that it now even has reached ”the monarchy” – and so in the coming years – while one by one the ”racistic F…faces” will be… let’s call it ”pass away” – WE the future generation will LOVINGLY ”mix” to the degree that one ”beautiful day” we ALL will be as ”multiracial” and ”multinational” -(as most of my family already is)

And yet we will win – for sure!

36

James 01.23.18 at 4:07 am

I must say that What you are describing is still people following their principles of motion. And Furthermore , A group of individuals working together is still individualistic.

37

Chris Bertram 01.23.18 at 8:50 am

@jeffreyrubard “This is a toxic dream. Here in America “We the People” doesn’t come with a skin color, *and it never really did*”

I’m afraid a history of US immigration and citizenship policy does not support this.

38

Chris Bertram 01.23.18 at 8:58 am

@Matt “My point is that historical claims about migration (which are almost always cherry-picked and not general) can’t provide general support for normative claims.”

I have no quarrel with you on metaethical grounds here. However, in real world arguments, the folk assumption that the nation state system has existed since time immemorial plays a big role in what people consider natural and normal and therefore normative. Sadly, Rawlsian treatments of global justice tend to reinforce these folk assumptions. So I think debunking then, as a matter of historical fact, is rather important.

39

Z 01.23.18 at 9:37 am

Adam Smith is telling us, with a choice of metaphor typical of his time, that complex systems are not well managed by a single authority than believes itself separated in nature and function from what it purports to manipulate. That’s a crucially important insight, but like Matt, I believe it is of methodological or liminal nature at best when the particular problem considered here is discussed and F.Foundling is right to write “*any* system will contradict, at one point or another, *somebody’s* ‘principle of motion’, and systems are generally justified precisely by people’s ‘principles of motion’. […] A call for no politics is a refusal to engage other humans as humans.”

I happen to be strongly in favor of freedom of movement and settlement myself, and a genuine one by the way (because, after all, no man of systems is preventing me to move to and settle in Paris seventh arrondissement, and if I were to move to Pacific Heights or Ginza, immigration policies would be the lowest bar I would have to clear), but a general methodological point does little in way of arguing for or against a specific proposal, even those as repulsive as May’s, Trump’s or Macron’s (don’t forget to mention him when discussing sharp and brutal turn for the worse in immigration policies).

40

Thomas Beale 01.23.18 at 9:42 am

@38 Chris Bertram

Right – but our reality is here and now, and is to do with the modern conception of the nation state and therefore borders, and therefore some formal concept of immigration. So while wrong folk assumptions should be debunked in a conversation about history, how we (= normal voters, governments, the latter not known to be full of philosophers, historians, or even good abstract reasoners) think about immigration surely has to be a politics (and underpinning moral or philosophical principles) pretty much reverse-engineered from the real world – of course designed to improve it.

The current situation in the UK, Germany, the EU as a whole (think external borders) and the US is incoherent at best, so there is a lot of room for improvement.

Nastywoman @35 – correct – Germany doesn’t need 400k immigrants per year. This fallacious thinking is based on the idea that today’s population of any country is somehow a normative ideal target. There is no such things, but even if there was, it would be a moving one, and the realities of automation replacing manual and semi-manual jobs just on its own would be driving down over time. The idea that 100s of thousands of immigrants will come to take care of rich ageing Germans (British, French, … Moldovans…) is also nonsense for too many reasons to go into here.

41

Chris Bertram 01.23.18 at 10:24 am

@Thomas Beale even here I think there’s a lot to challenge. Voters might thing of their nation state as a pristine little moral universe only recently facing an issue of immigration, but that is often a very false picture. Take France, for example, imagined as constituted as a modern state through the revolution with a “people” going back forever, but actually (a) with a common identity that’s the result of nineteenth-century state-building and (b) where there was massive immigration in the inter-war years from other European states (Poland, Spain, Portugal, Italy etc) at rates exceeding those for self-imagined “country of immigration” the USA in the same period. The Front National’s imagined “Français de souche” simply don’t exist. And then there’s the fact of the integration of this supposedly self-contained universe in the global economy.

42

novakant 01.23.18 at 10:48 am

Germany doesn’t ”NEED” 400.000 migrants a year.

A lot of Anglo-American economists who believe in ”unlimited economical growth” might believe that any country, where the population is ”not growing” will be ”not a winner” anymore – but believe me – a lot of Germans don’t believe that – and considering them the acceptance of so many ”fureigners” is an even more impressive ”act of love” –

This doesn’t have anything to do with Anglo-American economists, the 400.000 number is from an official German study (IAB). I am fully aware that many Germans don’t believe that, but they are wrong. And the thought that “the West” is doing everybody else a big favour is equally wrong but seems to be endemic, even on CT.

43

Layman 01.23.18 at 12:29 pm

F. Foundling: “This applies if the spouse’s only justification for being in the country is being a spouse (and immigrant visas in general can take years, from what I’m hearing). In the meantime, s/he can still get a US visa with many other justifications, such as work, and then the waiting time is far shorter…”

Put another way, it’s easier and faster for the person to get into the country if they can find an employer to sponsor them, than it is for them to do so by being the spouse of a citizen. If that doesn’t strike you as a strange and hard-to-justify barrier to ‘loving people of nationalities other than their own’, then maybe you’re not really looking for evidence of the problem.

44

Layman 01.23.18 at 12:38 pm

Jeffrey Rubard: “Here in America “We the People” doesn’t come with a skin color, *and it never really did*…”

I find it hard to believe someone could write those words with any good faith at all. If we’re going to quote the document, let’s quote the relevant bits:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

Who were those not free persons counted as three fifths of a person for the purposes of apportioning representatives?

45

Thomas Beale 01.23.18 at 12:41 pm

Chris Bertram @41
“Voters might thing of their nation state as a pristine little moral universe only recently facing an issue of immigration, but that is often a very false picture.”

I don’t know how many voters think that, but my impression in the UK, US, France and the other Euro states, also Brazil, where I travel frequently, is that those living in states heavily built on immigration (UK, US, France, Brazil) – the same places where this open doors v pull-up-the-drawbridge debate plays in the media – that voters are pretty aware of the immigrant past and current situation. Les francais de souche probably do exist a little bit (I’ve met some) but en gros, you’re probably right.

My observation is that immigration systems are far less ideologically driven than some think, and far less in control than everyone thinks. Secondly, there are at least three conversations normal voters want to have but can’t in the current public space for various reasons.

1. concern about Islamic immigration bringing Islamic ideology and values to Europe / the West etc, plus a ‘re-awakening’ of ideological Islam among current generations of earlier Muslim migrations.
2. concern about the economics of low-paid workers taking jobs (UK Brexit…)
3. concern about ‘my culture’ disappearing.

Immigration systems in the countries I mentioned currently address 2 somewhat (but 2 may or may not be real), and refuse to talk about 1 and 3, which is why UKIP, FN, AfD and to some extent Trump win votes.

NB: I’m not offering opinions above, but there is no doubt at all that all 3 of these items demand open and thoughtful conversation – the kind that is blocked by the usual automatic tic of screaming ‘racist’ and ‘islamophobe’ when anyone mentions them.

My main point I suppose is that until such things can actually be talked about, immigration policy is formulated on a chaotic, mostly unstated set of ideas that do not cohere at all, and I think it’s a real stretch to show they are based on heavily ideological notions such as ‘othering’ – these are pretty far from the minds of the most ardent Merkel supporter and the most typical AfD/FN/UKIP voter.

Sorry to stray from the OP…

46

engels 01.23.18 at 1:35 pm

Er ok organising in a group and possibly sacrificing yourself for it is ‘individualistic’, thanks for the ‘splaining

47

nastywoman 01.23.18 at 1:53 pm

@42
– you might want to talk to @40 about it? –
as sadly – you are right – and it is not only… let’s call them – ”Conservative” Anglo-American economists who tend to reinforce the believe in ”never ending economical growth” – and thusly somehow in the need of ”severe ending population growth”.

So I think debunking them, as a matter of a Swiss fact, is rather important.

48

Lee A. Arnold 01.23.18 at 2:20 pm

The phrase “man of system” might have been instantly recognized by Smith’s contemporary British readers as a reference to Hutcheson, in particular his System of Moral Philosophy. So it is possible that Smith’s phrase “man of system” may refer to ALL of the Enlightenment moral philosophers who attempted to apply principles of reason to moral philosophy, including Smith himself. Sometimes they go too far, they “seem to imagine”. Smith is delivering a caution.

Hutcheson distinguished between “alienable” and “inalienable” rights. He said a person’s labor and goods are alienable, and rightfully may be alienated for the public’s benefit. Smith would not have had trouble accepting that, but he may have been taking issue with those moral philosophers who might “seem to imagine” that Hutcheson’s suggestion could become a hard and fast law of governance. (The Theory of Moral Sentiments is rather Aristotelian insofar as it discusses many possible views of an issue.)

Familiarity with that long discussion of what is truly hard and fast might have prompted Jefferson to substitute “pursuit of happiness” for “property” in the list of the truly inalienable. I wonder if there is a good book on the persistence of this moral terminology throughout the 18th Century.

There was much recent discussion on the libertarian internets that “man of system” refers to planners as opposed to the “spontaneous order” (which anyway gives rise to hierarchies of power that control people’s lives). I think that Smith would have dismissed this sort of thing as more “man of system” thinking that is wrong.

Smith’s “invisible hand” is a metaphor for part of the economic process, not a hard and fast rule to be followed in all instances. In Theory of Moral Sentiments he “seems to imagine” that hierarchy leads to a distribution that would have occurred in any case, but of course in Wealth of Nations he greatly changes his judgment.

49

steven t johnson 01.23.18 at 3:11 pm

Lee A. Arnold@48 does sound plausible. A philosopher taking a dig at another philosopher is not unimaginable.

Overall, I’m afraid I still think the whole passage is kind of hard to make sense of without any notion of what “men of system” are.

50

Z 01.23.18 at 3:39 pm

[T]he folk assumption that the nation state system has existed since time immemorial plays a big role in what people consider natural and normal and therefore normative.

What you write is undoubtedly true, but I think you are too harsh in your judgment. Many people discuss politics and, insofar as they do, reason about policies within the confine of their own nation and that of the nation-state system because that is the only system which ever historically existed within which such discussion ever occurred for ordinary people. So abstractly, you are absolutely right that many other systems existed throughout history, some of them with a much more relaxed attitude towards movement of population. None of which, however, had mechanisms for ordinary people to frame policies, so I don’t think anyone should be blamed too severely for conducting policy framing within the one system that ever existed which allowed it.

Besides, leaving philosophy for the real world for a minute, the contemporary trend of national divergence is strong, directly felt through common experience and thus very well understood. In that context, I believe there is little concrete point in asking anyone to reason outside of the national community, and I fear that those who believe they do so should really double-check if they are not projecting their own nationally shaped preconceptions.

Finally, I think it would be a serious mistake to conflate the general properties of policy construction, which I take to be the object of Smith’s quote (and which under the current and very specific circumstances of the world might required thinking in terms of national communities*, though of course not as a matter of logical or normative requirement) with the actual outcome of such policy construction (for instance, nationalistic/nativist immigration policies or on the contrary internationalist/free movement immigration policies). Not only would this lead us to false prediction about the real world, because the epitome of internationalist thinking is probably currently represented by Macron yet his immigration policy is atrocious (just compare la circulaire Collomb with anything the Trump administration purports to do), but it would also, it seems to me, be playing the Nativist game: they say they don’t hate foreigners, they just want people to be able to chose; I don’t think we should accept their false dichotomy and answer that no, people should not be able to chose.

*Of course defined as the set of people permanently residing in a given place, whatever their nationality or lack thereof.

51

nastywoman 01.23.18 at 3:51 pm

– and I really don’t understand – if somebody comes up with a ”fitting” quote –
why the need to counter with other quotes who are supposedly contradicting the ”very well fitting quote”.

BE-cause it’s from the same… dude? –
So what – or as one time a very famous American Philosopher said:

Really?
That’s what you guys think I said – when I said it?
Really?
I never thought about it – but it sounds ”GREAT”!

52

Chris Bertram 01.23.18 at 4:26 pm

@Z “I believe there is little concrete point in asking anyone to reason outside of the national community,…”

I fear I must be misunderstanding you here, because you surely can’t mean that we can’t reason about climate change, human rights, the problems of refugees and many other global problems purely from within a national community. Nor can you possibly mean that when we address the situation of stateless people, EU nationals residing in Brexiting UK, dual nationals etc, the only forum for discussion is a national one. So what do you mean?

53

Jeffrey Rubard 01.23.18 at 6:14 pm

@Chris Bertram Let me say that fellow Gouverneur Morris did not put “We the better sort of white people” in the Preamble, though he was not opposed to the “better sort of white people”. I do understand the sordid story of race in America, but it really and truly has never been an “ethnostate” at the top level. As for Adam Smith, he is not an acceptable substitute for constitutional government.

54

engels 01.23.18 at 6:53 pm

I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s

[engels: your contributions at CT have degenerated to nearly contentless snark, and you violate our commenting policy by hiding behind a fake email address. You’ve been commenting a long time, so I’m reluctant to kick you out, but please improve or I will.]

55

J-D 01.23.18 at 6:56 pm

Thomas Beale

Secondly, there are at least three conversations normal voters want to have but can’t in the current public space for various reasons.

1. concern about Islamic immigration bringing Islamic ideology and values to Europe / the West etc, plus a ‘re-awakening’ of ideological Islam among current generations of earlier Muslim migrations.
2. concern about the economics of low-paid workers taking jobs (UK Brexit…)
3. concern about ‘my culture’ disappearing.

It is not true that people cannot talk about these things. People frequently do. Sometimes they get responses they don’t like, but those responses are also contributions to the conversation.

NB: I’m not offering opinions above, but there is no doubt at all that all 3 of these items demand open and thoughtful conversation – the kind that is blocked by the usual automatic tic of screaming ‘racist’ and ‘islamophobe’ when anyone mentions them.

You have not explained why you think these topics in particular demand open and thoughtful conversation; you have also not explained what leads you to think that the necessary open and thoughtful conversation has not been taking place. As I mentioned, people do talk about these things. Also, the use of the words ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobe’ is not an automatic tic; the words are not usually screamed; and they aren’t always used when your topics are mentioned. Look! You mentioned those concerns here just now, and nobody blocked you, did they?

56

Chris Bertram 01.23.18 at 8:22 pm

@JeffreyRubard, the Naturalization Act of 1790 would be the starting point of my case to the contrary.

57

Jeffrey Rubard 01.23.18 at 8:33 pm

@Chris Bertram, I would direct you to the rather more important statement that the values of capitalist economics are *not* the values of the United States Government and really ought not to be “overlaid” on our government for whatever misguided if seemingly “progressive” reason. The book of America is not *The Wealth of Nations* but Montesquieu’s *The Spirit of the Laws*; you are exhibiting all too common a confusion. Let our multi-ethnic polity figure it out.

58

Ralph Musgrave 01.23.18 at 8:56 pm

f Brtn bnfts frm bng trnd nt smthng rsmblng th slmc prt f Ngr, why dn’t y mgrt t th “nrvn” tht s th slmc prt f Ngr? Rsn s tht y knw prfctly wll tht bng frcnzd nd slmzd s dsstr.

59

Chris Bertram 01.23.18 at 9:25 pm

The previous commenter, Ralph Musgrave, stood as a candidate for the racist British National Party. Needless to say, he’s not welcome here. Go away.

60

J-D 01.23.18 at 11:41 pm

Jeffrey Rubard

I would direct you to the rather more important statement that the values of capitalist economics are *not* the values of the United States Government

Whose statement is that and what leads you to think it is (a)important and (b)true?

During the hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the nomination of Charles Erwin Wilson to the position of Secretary of Defence, the nominee said ‘I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa‘. His nomination was confirmed by a Senate vote of 77 to 6.

In 1925, addressing the Society of American Newspaper Editors, President Calvin Coolidge said ‘After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life.’

You can look up the context of those quotes for yourself and make your own decision about their importance.

The book of America is not *The Wealth of Nations* but Montesquieu’s *The Spirit of the Laws*

I would hazard a guess that the book most widely and frequently consulted in America is neither of those.

61

steven t johnson 01.24.18 at 2:05 am

The book of America is the Bible.

There have been distant seconds, at times. Before the Revolution, perhaps Cato’s Letters and Blackstone’s Commentary? After the Revolution, The Federalist Papers?

62

Jeffrey Rubard 01.24.18 at 3:24 am

@ “J-D” The actual meaning of the quote you have taken out of context was that Mr. Wilson no longer believed that. He was saying the opposite of what you were having him say. As for Coolidge’s famous quote, which of course I am familiar with, for-profit enterprise is legal in the United States, but it is not the business legislators and civil servants are in. This matters. *The Spirit of the Laws*, and not Smith or Locke or St. Paul or anything else, was the source of the ideas incarnated in the Constitution by the Constitutional Convention; this isn’t a radical thing to say, really.

63

engels 01.24.18 at 3:39 am

Chris, I’m not ‘hiding behind a fake email address,’ I’m using a bona fide email address, just not my main personal or work email: I thought that was allowed.

[As you’ll recall, when we attempted to contact you on said address, communication failed because you had forgotten the password and you told us you would supply an email address which would work]

I can’t see why you would my first two comments objectionable but apologies if posting a Blake quote without explanation or context seemed disruptive or rude: you’re welcome to delete it.

Afaics I’ve only commented on one of your posts in the last six months: the photography one from yesterday, in which I was entirely non-polemical. Prior to that I did disagree in a perhaps overly combative vein with your posts on Macron and Jane Jacobs. I plead guilty there and elsewhere to sometimes being ‘snarky’ but not to being ‘content-free’. And my estimation of Macron, Jane Jacobs and Adam Smith has remained rather constant over the years so I disagree there has been any ‘degeneration’ on my part.

But happy to take another break and sorry for any offence the tone of any of my comments may have unintentionally caused.

64

engels 01.24.18 at 6:41 am

The book of America is the Bible

The Art of the Deal

65

J-D 01.24.18 at 7:50 am

Jeffrey Rubard
I began my commenting by asking you a question which you haven’t answered, so here it is again:

I would direct you to the rather more important statement that the values of capitalist economics are *not* the values of the United States Government

Whose statement is that and what leads you to think it is (a)important and (b)true?

Here is a more extended version of the quote from Engine Charlie Wilson:

For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country. Our contribution to the nation is considerable.

I don’t get how the more extended version supports a contrary interpretation. How do you get to that conclusion, or are you relying on a different extended version?

As for Coolidge’s famous quote, which of course I am familiar with, for-profit enterprise is legal in the United States, but it is not the business legislators and civil servants are in.

Perhaps not; at least, not legally so; but the observation that legislators and civil servants are not in the business of for-profit enterprise is not equivalent to your earlier stated conclusion that their values are not the values of capitalist economics.

*The Spirit of the Laws*, and not Smith or Locke or St. Paul or anything else, was the source of the ideas incarnated in the Constitution by the Constitutional Convention

If you are suggesting that the Constitutional Convention drew some of their ideas from Montesquieu, I don’t dispute it (although they didn’t draw all their ideas from that source), but what of it? I can’t figure how that might be considered creditable to Montesquieu, or the Convention, or the Constitution; but, more importantly, the country is not simply an embodiment of the Constitution and the Constitution tells us only a little about the country.

66

Thomas Beale 01.24.18 at 11:20 am

J-D @55
“It is not true that people cannot talk about these things. People frequently do. Sometimes they get responses they don’t like, but those responses are also contributions to the conversation.”

They certainly do in the pub, home and on certain online sites, ranging from places like this one, to radical left and right sites. But not much in the public arena, which is mainly visible in mainstream papers, news sources and public broadcaster TV programmes / channels. Any cursory examination of CNN, NYT, WaPo, Guardian, the Times (UK), and panel/audience programmes such as Question Time (UK), and their equivalents in other nations will demonstrate this.

The visible problem is to do with a radical left stance that simply will not admit conversation about religion, culture, race that examines empirical evidence of real differences and problems; this appears to come from an underlying postmodernist position connected with a strong identity politics bent. This kind of thinking has been ingrained into many in the younger middle class so that they do indeed instantly react to attempts to discuss immigration in real terms, with ‘racist’, ‘islamophobe’ etc. This happens routinely. Hence the by-now well-known situation of snowflake politics in many US (and some UK and other) universities derailing normal academic process.

“You have not explained why you think these topics in particular demand open and thoughtful conversation;”

Because it is quite clear from more in-depth documentaries, other news sources (even ones we may regard as reprehensible, such as Fox, Breitbart etc) that people do want to talk about these things. Also completely routine. Just have a cursory look.

“you have also not explained what leads you to think that the necessary open and thoughtful conversation has not been taking place. As I mentioned, people do talk about these things. Also, the use of the words ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobe’ is not an automatic tic; the words are not usually screamed; and they aren’t always used when your topics are mentioned. Look! You mentioned those concerns here just now, and nobody blocked you, did they?”

See above.

There is a deeper problem underlying the inability to have proper public discourse. Most journalists, most politicians, and the majority of the public do not know any of the following, and therefore are unable to converse properly about them:

* the difference between universals and particulars;
* what a reference and a referent are;
* types of reasoning – deductive, inductive, abductive;
* the difference between objective and subjective modes of thinking, as understood in science, law and medicine;
* the difference between epistemic and ontological categories of knowledge;

and a great deal of other basic stuff. They certainly don’t know who Rawls or Nozick are, what the Sokal Hoax is about, and have great difficulty distinguishing ‘Muslim’ from ‘Islam’. This is coupled with a contemporary kind of politics of outrage, fake news and other emotional / subjective modes of thinking that absolutely cripple most public discussions/examinations of any important topic, of which immigration is just one. There are always exceptions of course, but to get a proper treatment, you have to go somewhere like The Atlantic – publications that minimally understand some of the above.

Sorry to go off-topic, but the connector is that (in my view), most real policy around immigration emerges from a shambles of poor quality discourse mixed with a bit of prevailing party ideology and mostly politics-as-survival, and is consequently incoherent. It is therefore hard to prove that it reflects concerted ‘nativist’, folk-imagined golden pasts, or other well-thought-out (and arguably bad) modes of thinking.

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Z 01.24.18 at 12:57 pm

Chris Bertram you surely can’t mean that we can’t [I think you meant can here but I may have lost track of the negations ] reason about climate change, human rights, the problems of refugees and many other global problems purely from within a national community [or that] the only forum for discussion is a national one. So what do you mean?

I think I do roughly mean what you say I can’t possibly mean but it all depends on what you understand by we, reason and forum for discussion. If you intend to develop a philosophical understanding of the topics you mention, then of course you’ll find many interlocutors ready to philosophically investigate with you independently of any national community. Reasoning in this way is fine, informative and important, but concerns only a very specific we engaged in a very specific discussion.

In addition to such an intellectual discussion, social change requires social and political engagement and that normally (in the statistical, not normative sense) entails concrete social mobilization of a we representing a significant chunk of the population around the issue. Usually, such mobilizations (through associations, unions, political parties…) requires that individuals engaged in them have some degree of common understanding of the issues at stake (in order to conduct the discussion, if you wish). Living in the same area is typically more than sufficient to achieve this degree of common understanding. I certainly don’t claim it is conversely necessary, but in the absence of co-residence, something else has to obtain.

But let us be concrete. Is it desirable, perhaps necessary, that there be a meaningful coordinated social mobilization of citizens in France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy (to take a continuous chunk of Europe) around the question of migrations? Sure. Can there be one considering how far these four countries have moved from each other in the last three decades? I doubt it. Perhaps you think it self-evident that there can be one, but I would be curious to know why. Can we agree, as a preliminary, that there is none, as in literally zero, at the moment? How many people can even name the person in charge of that question in each of these four countries or outline even very broadly what is the current shape of their respective immigration policies and general attitude towards migrants and refugees?

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Chris Bertram 01.24.18 at 3:06 pm

@Thomas Beale “This kind of thinking has been ingrained into many in the younger middle class so that they do indeed instantly react to attempts to discuss immigration in real terms, with ‘racist’, ‘islamophobe’ etc. This happens routinely. Hence the by-now well-known situation of snowflake politics in many US (and some UK and other) universities derailing normal academic process.”

I’m afraid this is just StevenPinkerTM talking point stuff. It isn’t my experience in talking to real world (“younger middle class”) students about real world problems.

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Thomas Beale 01.24.18 at 3:28 pm

CB @67
Based on the sheer volume of reports coming from across (mainly US social sciences) academia in the last 3 years, and some direct evidence from Oxford, UCL, City here in the UK, Green Parties across Europe etc, I don’t think it is. Admittedly ‘younger middle class’ isn’t a good term, but what I was trying to get at was the category of students who haven’t seen much hardship personally and are younger generation. I don’t doubt that there are perfectly normal/good students in the humanities, probably a majority. All I am saying is that the phenomenon I mention is perfectly visible, and has been reported by all mainstream news outlets by now, and that this species of thinking appears in numerous places to be making normal debate on tricky topics problematic, including by policy-makers.

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engels 01.24.18 at 4:52 pm

Chris, that was a year or two ago I think. I’ve been been using a new address since then to which I do have access (as I proposed at the time).

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harry b 01.24.18 at 5:27 pm

“This kind of thinking has been ingrained into many in the younger middle class so that they do indeed instantly react to attempts to discuss immigration in real terms, with ‘racist’, ‘islamophobe’ etc. This happens routinely. Hence the by-now well-known situation of snowflake politics in many US (and some UK and other) universities derailing normal academic process.”

From a different place than CB — Madison, Wisconsin — this is just about completely unrecognisable. My students are open, thoughtful, un-ideological. Even those of them that are left wing, and even those that are right wing. Out of 28,000-ish undegrads, maybe 150 or so snowflakes? Far too many, in fact, who are unduly deferential (see this story: http://crookedtimber.org/2016/12/20/racist-incidents-on-campus/)

Here’s a conjecture. Haidt etc spend a lot of time around extremely privileged young people who are unused to being challenged on their views and attitudes. When they are challenged, they don’t like it. But they represent a miniscule proportion of students. And this is nothing new!

Have you spent much time among older very privileged people who are unused to being challenged? They react exactly the same way. Have dinner with very wealthy right-wingers and see how well they react to careful, serious, thoughtful, challenges of their ill-thought out opinions. A lot of people who use the ‘snowflake’ rhetoric seem, if you listen to them, to be exemplars of the phenomenon they deplore. (Not accusing Haidt of that, btw).

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Chris Bertram 01.24.18 at 5:44 pm

@engels fair enough. Apologies for getting that wrong.

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engels 01.24.18 at 6:10 pm

No worries; apologies again if my tone came across as more dismissive than I intended

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Jeffrey Rubard 01.24.18 at 6:43 pm

@ J-D

I began my commenting by asking you a question which you haven’t answered, so here it is again:

I would direct you to the rather more important statement that the values of capitalist economics are *not* the values of the United States Government

Whose statement is that and what leads you to think it is (a)important and (b)true?

That is a “Rubard doctrine”, but it’s really far from controversial to say that; it simply is the truth of the way our government operates. Citizens of the US and people visiting it are perfectly welcome to try their hand at financial gain in the private sector, but that is not the business of our government; it’s not their job to pat you on the head for “enlightened self-interest” in any way.

Here is a more extended version of the quote from Engine Charlie Wilson:

For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country. Our contribution to the nation is considerable.

Here’s the context, according to Wikipedia:

‘During the hearings, when asked if he could make a decision as Secretary of Defense that would be adverse to the interests of General Motors, Wilson answered affirmatively. But he added that he could not conceive of such a situation “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa”.’

I don’t get how the more extended version supports a contrary interpretation. How do you get to that conclusion, or are you relying on a different extended version?

What’s not to understand about the English locution “for years”? It implies a cessation of something, in this case the view that the interests of GM and the US are identical.

As for Coolidge’s famous quote, which of course I am familiar with, for-profit enterprise is legal in the United States, but it is not the business legislators and civil servants are in.

Perhaps not; at least, not legally so; but the observation that legislators and civil servants are not in the business of for-profit enterprise is not equivalent to your earlier stated conclusion that their values are not the values of capitalist economics.

Actually, it is, that’s exactly what I was saying; they’re not in it for the money, they’re not permitted to be.

*The Spirit of the Laws*, and not Smith or Locke or St. Paul or anything else, was the source of the ideas incarnated in the Constitution by the Constitutional Convention

If you are suggesting that the Constitutional Convention drew some of their ideas from Montesquieu, I don’t dispute it (although they didn’t draw all their ideas from that source), but what of it? I can’t figure how that might be considered creditable to Montesquieu, or the Convention, or the Constitution; but, more importantly, the country is not simply an embodiment of the Constitution and the Constitution tells us only a little about the country.

I didn’t say that they simply copied out Montesquieu word for word, but what you have granted is far from irrelevant. If you think the US is a good thing, and the ideas are at least partially from Montesquieu, wouldn’t that be “creditable” to Montesquieu? Obviously Federal law is not the only thing going down in America Town but really your protestations about my pointing out that it has a different character than “He who has the gold, makes the rules” are paltry.

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djw 01.24.18 at 7:02 pm

Congrats on the book! Looking forward to reading it.

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djw 01.24.18 at 7:08 pm

As for my “published views”, you’ll presumably have noticed my oft-expressed enthusiasm for the writings of James C. Scott and his scepticism towards high-modernist projects.

I’ve often thought there’s a smart paper to be written about wealthy countries’ approach to immigration policy as a kind of authoritarian high modernist project in the Scottian sense.

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Thomas Beale 01.24.18 at 8:22 pm

harry b@71
that is good to know. I of course have no statistical or other aggregate view of ‘snowflake-ism’, and I probably should not have mentioned it, as it is not important to my point. My point was to do with the poor quality of public discourse and how it is hard to see, with the combination of a lack of basic critical reasoning faculties and the blocking of discussion on topics that relate to ethnic culture, religion, immigration etc via accusations of ‘islamophobia’, ‘transphobia’, ‘racism’ etc, in any typical political interview, panel programme, and mainstream news, how the issues of immigration can even be articulated let alone coherent policy be formed.

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Jeffrey Rubard 01.24.18 at 10:42 pm

[A copy of *Theory of Moral Sentiments* is on my coffee table, and James C. Scott is a moron.]

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Faustusnotes 01.25.18 at 1:07 am

Thomas Beale (and anyone else who thinks we can’t “talk about” immigration) should be forced to spend a week reading only the daily mail and the sun, or listening to hate radio in the us or Australia.

Such arrant bullshit to say this stuff isn’t discussed. Either disingenuous or a sign that you aren’t reading what the majority of ordinary people are reading. Yet I bet in the next breath you’ll go on to talk about academics in their ivory towers. Boring!

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Thomas Beale 01.25.18 at 8:35 am

Faustusnnotes @ 79
You didn’t carefully read what I said, and I didn’t write it carefully enough. I didn’t say it wasn’t discussed, as in words did not flow, I said it was not discussed in any coherent way. So to be more precise:

1. it is obvious in the public discourse in countries like the UK, Australia, US etc that there is a generalised and severe lack of critical thinking faculties. That’s why we have endless nonsensical ranting based around the word ‘Islamophobia’ (to take just one example) as if its referent was ‘Muslims’ rather than a particular religious ideology. That’s why we have endless hand-waving about how ‘immigrants are a net gain to the economy’ v ‘immigrants come to take jobs and use health services’ (the total aggregate is not a useful determiner, the break-down over geography, profession, reason for immigration are what matters). And so on for almost any other aspect you can think of. The same applies to most other topics of import. (Some other countries do better. France has a show called On n’est pas couché which is significantly better than what is found in the anglo world.)

2. there are different ways that the ‘conversation’ that does occur fails. In the left wing press, e.g. Guardian, NYT, etc, you have significant ideology and political correctness. Hence headlines like ‘The West’s Wealth is based on slavery. Reparations must be repaid’ and the completely absurd ‘gender pay gap’ debate currently occurring (90% of the talk is based on the difference between the aggregate average or median – that’s actually moronic thinking). It would be better to publish white space. In the Daily Mail, Sun, hate radio (why do you think we should consume such things, by the way?), you just have different kinds of ideology and bigotry, coupled with the same inability to do the most basic reasoning.

Anyone can buy any newspaper or watch even the supposedly better panel shows, and pull them to shreds in real time. There are careful, sensible debates of course, but they don’t appear in any media source consumed by the majority.

If you think that coherent thinking about immigration leading to coherent policy has emerged from the likes of the Daily Mail or Sun, I’d love to see the analysis.

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Chris Bertram 01.25.18 at 9:14 am

@thomas beale “endless nonsensical ranting”, “endless hand-waving” “the completely absurd ‘gender pay gap’ debate” “moronic thinking”

The Crooked Timber comments aren’t a place where you have a licence to “endlessly” recycle the latest Pinker/Harris/Peterson/whoever talking points.

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Thomas Beale 01.25.18 at 9:26 am

CB @81
I’ll be quiet now, but I’m not interested in Pinker et al. I’m worried about the poor quality of public discourse and incoherent consequent policy, and I gave a few examples of the former.

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Collin Street 01.25.18 at 1:37 pm

I’m worried about the poor quality of public discourse and incoherent consequent policy

“coherent” -> “ways you understand” -> “ways you agree with”. Essentially you’ve equated disagreement with gibberish, which is… not useful for us.

You need to stop projecting your inside-your-skull experience [“this makes no sense to me”] onto external reality as a property of same [“this is incoherent”].

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J-D 01.25.18 at 10:56 pm

Thomas Beale

They certainly do in the pub, home and on certain online sites, ranging from places like this one, to radical left and right sites. But not much in the public arena, which is mainly visible in mainstream papers, news sources and public broadcaster TV programmes / channels. Any cursory examination of CNN, NYT, WaPo, Guardian, the Times (UK), and panel/audience programmes such as Question Time (UK), and their equivalents in other nations will demonstrate this.

If somebody has done a systematic content analysis of major mass media outlets, that might be interesting. Obviously you haven’t. Your list there is not even close to being representative of major mass media outlets. If you made a list of the television networks with the largest audiences and the newspapers with the largest readerships, it would be strikingly different.

On the other hand, if you want to discuss the problems manifest in one specific case, independently of its possible representativeness, that might be illuminating. But you haven’t done that either.

All that’s left are your cursory impressions, and I am unimpressed by your cursory impressions.

Because it is quite clear from more in-depth documentaries, other news sources (even ones we may regard as reprehensible, such as Fox, Breitbart etc) that people do want to talk about these things. Also completely routine. Just have a cursory look.

I am still unimpressed by your cursory impressions, which here appear not even to be internally consistent, since you appear to be suggesting that there are major mass media outlets where the issues you are concerned with are being discussed.

There is a deeper problem underlying the inability to have proper public discourse.

If your description of the deeper problem is accurate, it’s topic-independent. Once again, your analysis seems to be internally inconsistent. If it’s correct to say (as you seem to be suggesting) that we can’t have serious public discussion because of a general lack of the necessary intellectual equipment, then it’s wrong to say that serious public discussion of some particular topics is being selectively stifled.

You falsely conflate those issues again in this comment, where you also refer again to

the blocking of discussion on topics that relate to ethnic culture, religion, immigration etc via accusations of ‘islamophobia’, ‘transphobia’, ‘racism’ etc,

I don’t get how describing somebody’s opinions or attitudes as Islamophobic, transphobic, or racist counts as a blocking of discussion rather than a contribution to it. For one thing, it may be true that a person’s opinions and attitudes are Islamophobic, or transphobic, or racist. However, even if it isn’t, I don’t get how you expect to exclude statements that are wrong from discussion without having a blocking effect on it.

Then in this comment you write

You didn’t carefully read what I said, and I didn’t write it carefully enough.

but it seems to me that you are still aren’t writing carefully enough. For example, when you write

That’s why we have endless nonsensical ranting based around the word ‘Islamophobia’ (to take just one example) as if its referent was ‘Muslims’ rather than a particular religious ideology.

it isn’t clear whether you are decrying all use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ (in which case it isn’t clear why) or decrying only some uses while accepting others (in which case it isn’t clear how you’re distinguishing; or why). I don’t like nonsensical ranting, either, but how do we determine what counts as nonsensical ranting? The use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ is not a useful test.

In another example, you write

2. there are different ways that the ‘conversation’ that does occur fails. In the left wing press, e.g. Guardian, NYT, etc, you have significant ideology and political correctness.

In my experience, ‘political correctness’ is a discourteous person’s name for courtesy; if you mean something different, it’s not clear to me what. Also, you write about having significant ideology in a way that suggests a negative evaluation, but it’s not clear what you think is wrong with having significant ideology.

Hence headlines like ‘The West’s Wealth is based on slavery. Reparations must be repaid’

You write that without explaining your objection to that headline, as if you can assume that everybody reading will know and share the objection, but that’s an incorrect assumption of the kind that often leads to unclarity in writing. In general, you write as if your primary purpose is not to explain your meaning to people who may not already be familiar with it but rather to affirm and/or signal your alignment. I suppose, if that is in fact your primary purpose, you have largely succeeded.

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J-D 01.26.18 at 1:59 am

Jeffrey Rubard

On the first and third points of our exchange, it’s not as clear as you suggest that legislators and civil servants are not in it for the money. They are paid, and at the higher levels paid highly, and for many of them (at least at the higher levels) a government career becomes an important part of the foundation for a subsequent lucrative career in the for-profit sector. This is not enough to demonstrate conclusively that they are in it solely for the money, or even that they are in it primarily for the money, but at the least it makes it hard to believe that they are indifferent to the money. Also, the idea that they are not in it for the money themselves is still fully compatible with the idea that they are imbued with a value system that tells them that their job, in government, is to make it easier for people to make money, or that, to use your own later expression, those who have the gold make the rules.

On the second point, if somebody begins a sentence ‘I long thought that X …’ I am set up for a continuation in which the idea X is repudiated; on the other hand, if somebody begins a sentence ‘I have long thought that X …’ I am set up for a continuation in which the idea X is reaffirmed. In either case, however, the expectation created can be disappointed subsequently, because people are not all equally careful in their choice of words, including verb tenses. In the longer version of the quote, Wilson’s choice of verb tenses is confused, switching without explanation from the past ‘did’ to the present ‘is’, ‘goes’, ‘is’. There’s no unambiguous repudiation of the earlier idea.

On the fourth point, you write:

If you think the US is a good thing, and the ideas are at least partially from Montesquieu, wouldn’t that be “creditable” to Montesquieu? Obviously Federal law is not the only thing going down in America Town but really your protestations about my pointing out that it has a different character than “He who has the gold, makes the rules” are paltry.

Firstly, you must be aware that some people don’t hold to the view that the US is a good thing, and that’s one of the things that would need to be established in order to establish that the US is to Montesquieu’s creidt. Secondly, even if it’s true that the Constitution derived in large part from Montesquieu’s ideas, the US did not derive from the Constitution; rather the Constitution derived from the US, which came first. Some people who thought that the US was a good thing thought that the Constitution was a bad thing. Thirdly, in a situation where those who have the gold make the rules, there’s no reason to expect that to be explicitly written into the rules, because if you do in fact control the rules you don’t need a rule that announces this fact; it could be actively unhelpful to you, because secrecy can be an advantage for controllers. So the absence of a rule that states that those who have the gold make the rules is no evidence that it’s not true.

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Thomas Beale 01.26.18 at 12:00 pm

J-D @84
I was not going to reply in deference to the OP, but it seems reasonable to point out in response to the above that it appears to be widely accepted that there is a generalised lack of critical thinking capabilities among college and university intakes (where numerous studies have been done), and in society in general. A cursory inspection of references thrown up by google confirms it. The site http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/the-state-of-critical-thinking-today/523 has good resources.

Secondly, any brief inspection by anyone who does understand the basics of logic, ontology, epistemology and a few other things (eminently represented here), of public conversations in social media, news article comment sections, and news articles themselves, reveals a constant flow of basic errors. Books like Stuart Sutherland’s Irrationality, David Kelley’s The Art of Reasoning, Ben Goldacre’s books and numerous others in the same vein exist for a reason.

I would have thought it was clear that the lack of critical thinking is not the only phenomenon that takes public discourse and journalism off the rails – ideology plays its part for example. This cannot possibly be controversial, and has been discussed in the literature for decades. I produced an obvious example related to the OP topic from one variety of thinking – the term ‘Islamophobe’ that is used in public as if its referent is something different from what it obviously should be. There is no ‘false conflation’ in analysis; there is real conflation of different modes of bad thinking.

Collin Street @83
I certainly won’t respond to cheap attempts to psychologise, pathologise, or otherwise insult.

Apologies to the site if this is a post too many, but it seemed reasonable, in the circumstances.

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nastywoman 01.26.18 at 1:29 pm

@86
”but it seems reasonable to point out in response to the above that it appears to be widely accepted that there is a generalised lack of critical thinking capabilities among college and university intakes”

Absolutely – that’s why everybody always thinks that he -(or even she) is always the only one with ”the critical thinking capabilities” – while actually I (ME! – and perhaps you?) –
are the only ones with them ”critical thinking capabilities”!

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Layman 01.26.18 at 5:06 pm

Something a lot of people seem to be missing about the immigration proposal Trump has floated is that it is basically a plan to constrain or eliminate _legal_ immigration. Of his four points, two of them (the wall and DACA) are getting all the attention; but the other two are to end the practice of permitting family member immigration and effectively limiting all immigration to a merit basis by eliminating the lottery system. Coupled with what he has said about immigration all along, it seems obvious that the motivation is racism.

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J-D 01.26.18 at 9:00 pm

Thomas BThe part of your comments about there being a general lack of critical thinking skills is not the part that I disputed, although I did not explicitly affirm it; the reasons for that are, or at least I hope so, an example of my own efforts to apply critical thinking skills. It seemed plausible to me that there is a widespread lack of such skills; on the other hand, I asked myself how I could know it’s true, and couldn’t answer. I do appreciate the link you provided; it was interesting to read that there has been a systematic study of faculty at California universities which found that a majority (by a wide margin) agreed that it was important to teach critical thinking, but only a minority (again by a wide margin) could give an explicit explanation of what critical thinking skills are. That’s a solid basis for concluding that there’s a serious lack of a particular kind of intellectual equipment among faculty at California universities. Strictly speaking there’s still a question about whether that generalises to any larger population, such as faculty at all US universities, or the whole US population, or the worldwide academic community; but it is at the very least a plausible suggestion.

It’s the other parts of what you’ve written that I’m still dubious about. Try applying critical thinking skills to what you’ve offered as a basis for your conclusions in this latest comment. ‘I would have thought it was clear that …’; ‘This cannot possibly be controversial …’; ‘… has been discussed in the literature for decades’–that last one seems slightly less flimsy, but wait a minute–which literature? I ask myself that question and find that, if you mean the literature of some scientific or academic discipline you have given no indication I can find which discipline it is, and so I can’t tell what you mean.

You say you produced one example, and I acknowledge that you have, but when I try to apply my critical thinking skills to it I find problems. In an earlier comment you wrote ‘That’s why we have endless nonsensical ranting based around the word “Islamophobia” (to take just one example) as if its referent was ‘Muslims’ rather than a particular religious ideology.’ I responded ‘it isn’t clear whether you are decrying all use of the word “Islamophobia” (in which case it isn’t clear why) or decrying only some uses while accepting others (in which case it isn’t clear how you’re distinguishing; or why). I don’t like nonsensical ranting, either, but how do we determine what counts as nonsensical ranting? The use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ is not a useful test.’ In this most recent comment you didn’t deal with my response, but reiterated ‘the term “Islamophobe” that is used in public as if its referent is something different from what it obviously should be’. As I understand it, the word ‘referent’ means ‘what a term is used to refer to’, not ‘what a term should be used to refer to’, and the referents of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘Islamophobe’ are therefore whatever people use those terms to refer to. In my experience, when people use the word ‘Islamophobia’, they mean ‘bigotry against Muslims’. Here is just one example, from my own country, the website of the Islamophobia Register Australia, which includes this text:

We will seek to categorise Islamophobia incidents in the following groups:
Assaults or attacks on persons of Muslim Background
Attacks on Muslim Property or institutions
Verbal abuse and hate speech/social media abuse
Any form of discrimination in a public or private environment

All the things they list are manifestations of bigotry against Muslims, which tends to confirm that I have understood correctly. If you have some reason for thinking that people should not be using the term in this way, or that it is an example (as you suggest) of a mode of bad thinking, you have not explained it (in stating your position you used the word ‘obviously’, but it’s not obvious to me).

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Jeffrey Rubard 01.26.18 at 11:27 pm

@ J-D

On the first and third points of our exchange, it’s not as clear as you suggest that legislators and civil servants are not in it for the money. They are paid, and at the higher levels paid highly, and for many of them (at least at the higher levels) a government career becomes an important part of the foundation for a subsequent lucrative career in the for-profit sector. This is not enough to demonstrate conclusively that they are in it solely for the money, or even that they are in it primarily for the money, but at the least it makes it hard to believe that they are indifferent to the money. Also, the idea that they are not in it for the money themselves is still fully compatible with the idea that they are imbued with a value system that tells them that their job, in government, is to make it easier for people to make money, or that, to use your own later expression, those who have the gold make the rules.

Let me start by saying I am seriously unimpressed by your reaction to what I am writing. I have made four very precise statements (and a loose-fitting caftan), permitting precise and determinate negation, and you are responding with poli-sci boilerplate that might almost somehow be true. I think it’s not very true at all. To address the statements of this paragraph: beginning at the top, the President is given $400,000 a year today, which is nothing in the grand scheme of things. As we all hear, the Constitution explicitly forbids his profiting from the office. Let us say it is no different for lesser figures in the government: the money is not as good as the private sector and they have very strict rules about interacting with the private sector. Government workers are of course permitted to hold a variety of political viewpoints, including very pro-free-market ones, but if you think this means “nothing is true, everything is permitted” I think you need to make a visit to a psychiatrist.

On the second point, if somebody begins a sentence ‘I long thought that X …’ I am set up for a continuation in which the idea X is repudiated; on the other hand, if somebody begins a sentence ‘I have long thought that X …’ I am set up for a continuation in which the idea X is reaffirmed. In either case, however, the expectation created can be disappointed subsequently, because people are not all equally careful in their choice of words, including verb tenses. In the longer version of the quote, Wilson’s choice of verb tenses is confused, switching without explanation from the past ‘did’ to the present ‘is’, ‘goes’, ‘is’. There’s no unambiguous repudiation of the earlier idea.

The statement by the man you *insist* on calling “Engine Charlie Wilson” is not difficult to parse (even if one would rather be talking about Walter Reuther). He is establishing that he believes in a *notional* distinction between the interests of large corporate concerns like GM and the government. He is not really ruing his connection to GM, or saying it will make him a bad Secretary of Defense, but neither is GM a “signifier” for all that will be right with what he is doing. If one can read correctly and write it up correctly it’s not difficult at all, even for a “far leftist”.

On the fourth point, you write:

If you think the US is a good thing, and the ideas are at least partially from Montesquieu, wouldn’t that be “creditable” to Montesquieu? Obviously Federal law is not the only thing going down in America Town but really your protestations about my pointing out that it has a different character than “He who has the gold, makes the rules” are paltry.

Firstly, you must be aware that some people don’t hold to the view that the US is a good thing, and that’s one of the things that would need to be established in order to establish that the US is to Montesquieu’s creidt. Secondly, even if it’s true that the Constitution derived in large part from Montesquieu’s ideas, the US did not derive from the Constitution; rather the Constitution derived from the US, which came first. Some people who thought that the US was a good thing thought that the Constitution was a bad thing. Thirdly, in a situation where those who have the gold make the rules, there’s no reason to expect that to be explicitly written into the rules, because if you do in fact control the rules you don’t need a rule that announces this fact; it could be actively unhelpful to you, because secrecy can be an advantage for controllers. So the absence of a rule that states that those who have the gold make the rules is no evidence that it’s not true.

Well, if you don’t think the US is a good thing I’m not sure why Americans would want to include you in policy discussions. Secondly, the US is categorically defined by the “basic law” of the Constitution; of course there was the period of the Articles of Confederation, but that is “deprecated”, and beyond that the reality of the Americas, but that is not a system of laws. (Your objection is really a non-starter.) Thirdly, I think anyone with some rationality can see that money and power make it easier to have influence, but again “nothing is true, everything is permitted” is the dumbest sort of *Staatslehre* possible and anyone intelligent can see that. We in the US have been historically oriented to an open-texture system of democratic, republican government that involves a *serious, searching* effort to publically interpret laws and regulations in a way such that everyone can “play” by them. That’s not the dumbest sort of *Staatslehre* possible.

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Matt 01.27.18 at 1:26 am

Layman – the Trump proposal, which can be found here, https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=4360033-White-House-Framework-on-Immigration is not, unsurprisingly, all that clear, but as far as I can understand it, it would make the US’s prospective immigration policies much closer to those found in other “western” countries. It would limit family-based immigration to minor children and spouses, which is what most countries provide. It would eliminate benefits for parents (now considered “immediate relatives” of citizens, the most favored group), adult and/or married children, and siblings of citizens. (Those are the only other family members currently benefited in the US, despite the dishonest and misleading rhetoric of many anti-immigration people.) I think this would be bad – I think that the larger amount of family immigration available in the US is good over-all – but this particular change would be bringing the US into closer alignment with most other countries. (It’s not clear if numerical caps would be placed on immediate relatives of US citizens. Currently there are none. If such caps were put in place, it would be a very major and very negative change.)

The Diversity Visa – the so-called “green-card lottery” would also be eliminated. I favor this visa and think it’s good for a number of reasons. (One of them – I think it’s a benefit for an immigration system to offer means for people from a wide number of countries and cultures to come, and by design, this is what the diversity visa does.) I think it has very few negative aspects. But, I’ll note that a very large percentage of “progressive” immigration law professors and practitioners on a immigration law list serve I am on had been calling for the elimination of this visa for a long time, on the grounds that it “discriminates” against people from high-immigration countries (Mexico, India, etc.) who are not eligible for it. This has always seemed misguided to me, but the opposition to the visa has come from many sides, making it an easy target. I hope it won’t be eliminated, but it’s probably going to be. The over-all effect will be to reduce the amount of legal immigration (unless employment based immigration is stepped up radically), but mostly to make immigration policy in the US more like that in most “Western” countries, and to that extent, worse. (There are also lots and lots of possible details, most of them probably bad, that are not included here, and as of yet unknown.)

I don’t doubt at all that the motivation for this is largely, perhaps completely, racism. But, this can perhaps best be seen in a number of the bullet points in the proposal, many of which are, from a legal perspective, exceedingly unclear or just nonsense, but rhetorically charged and not encouraging. (Expanded use of “expedited removal” is particularly bad, for example, as it is pretty typically inconsistent with the rule of law.)

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F. Foundling 01.27.18 at 1:53 am

@ Layman 01.23.18 at 12:29 pm

>Put another way, it’s easier and faster for the person to get into the country if they can find an employer to sponsor them, than it is for them to do so by being the spouse of a citizen. If that doesn’t strike you as a strange and hard-to-justify barrier to ‘loving people of nationalities other than their own’…

AFAIU, the difference here is not between marrying and not marrying, but between immigrant and non-immigrant visas. In the case of employment, the issue is getting into the country temporarily; in the case of a spouse, it’s about getting into the country permanently, so apparently they scrutinise it more or something. I don’t know why the processing of immigrant visas has to take so long and I’m not particularly interested in defending every single detail in the procedures of US bureaucracy, but it still doesn’t look to me as if couples specifically are targeted.

@ nastywoman 01.26.18 at 1:29 pm

WOW – that remark – was actually – QUITE – wise!!! And I mean it.

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J-D 01.27.18 at 3:16 am

Jeffrey Rubard

… the President is given $400,000 a year today, which is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

In the context of the US federal budget, $400,000 a year is a tiny sum. In the context of the statistical distribution of individual income, it’s a huge sum. If somebody seeks and takes a job that pays a salary of $400,000 a year, it’s reasonable to suspect that the money was one significant motivating factor.

Let us say it is no different for lesser figures in the government: the money is not as good as the private sector and they have very strict rules about interacting with the private sector.

The President of the United States receives a salary higher than some in the private sector and lower than others. The same is true of the Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or the Attorney-General, or of the holder of any other position in the public sector you care to name, senior or junior. It’s not clear what it means to say that the money in the public sector is not as good as the money in the private sector. It’s not possible to make a general comparison between similar jobs because there are many public-sector jobs for which there are no comparable jobs in the private sector. It might be possible to investigate whether people who leave the private sector to take public-sector jobs are generally getting a higher salary or a lower salary by doing so, but I don’t think it would be easy; I’m not inclined to accept assertions about what the results would be without evidence.

In any case, tracking back our exchange, I return to the point where you asserted that the values of the US government are not the values of capitalist economics. Please note that I never met your assertion with a denial; what I did was ask you what made you think that assertion was true. Even if turned out to be the case that people who take jobs in the public sector are usually accepting a pay cut to do so, or that it is true in some other sense that the money is better in the private sector than it is in the public sector, that would not be sufficient evidence to establish the truth of your assertion, and my response would still be ‘Well, that may be so, but it hasn’t been clearly established’.

Government workers are of course permitted to hold a variety of political viewpoints, including very pro-free-market ones, but if you think this means “nothing is true, everything is permitted” I think you need to make a visit to a psychiatrist.

I’ll ask a psychiatrist about that the next time I’m talking to one, if I remember; but in any case I do not think that ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’. I am curious to know what it is that I wrote that made you think I did.

The statement by the man you *insist* on calling “Engine Charlie Wilson” is not difficult to parse (even if one would rather be talking about Walter Reuther).

I referred to him once as ‘Charles Erwin Wilson’, once as ‘Engine Charlie Wilson’, and once just as ‘Wilson’. If my lapse into frivolity vexed you, I regret it. I don’t know why you’d rather be talking about Walter Reuther.

He is establishing that he believes in a *notional* distinction between the interests of large corporate concerns like GM and the government.

I agree that he’s acknowledging a notional distinction. What is not clear to me is whether he accepts that the distinction is more than notional. If it is in fact the case (and the words leave the possibility open, as far as I can figure) that you have a Cabinet member, confirmed by the Senate, who takes the view that the distinction between the interests of the country and the interests of its large corporations is only a notional one, I think that’s a piece of evidence relevant to this discussion.

Well, if you don’t think the US is a good thing I’m not sure why Americans would want to include you in policy discussions.

The relevance of this remark is not clear to me; Americans are not including me in policy discussions. If you don’t want to engage in discussion with me unless I first affirm that the US is a good thing, you needn’t (surely you must realise that?). I’m not requesting that you engage in discussion with me.

Secondly, the US is categorically defined by the “basic law” of the Constitution; of course there was the period of the Articles of Confederation, but that is “deprecated”, and beyond that the reality of the Americas, but that is not a system of laws.

The US really existed not only before the Constitution did, but even before the Articles of Confederation did. The US existed before the US system of laws did, and brought that system of laws into being. That’s the normal sequence: a country, already existing, creates a system of laws for itself.

We in the US have been historically oriented to an open-texture system of democratic, republican government that involves a *serious, searching* effort to publically interpret laws and regulations in a way such that everyone can “play” by them.

I am unable to figure out what this sentence means, and therefore I am unable to figure out how it’s relevant to this discussion.

If somebody asserted that the United States has historically been a more openly and democratically governed country than many others, I would be inclined to agree that is so, and further that it is a good thing; but then I’d still be unsure how Montesquieu deserves the major credit for this. I think I’d be inclined to credit it more to situational factors than to individual geniuses.

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Thomas Beale 01.27.18 at 9:12 am

J-D @ 89
Briefly:

On the terms ‘Islamophobe’ and ‘Islamophobia’, I have never seen it used correctly in a mainstream published article or site, other than by people criticising its misuse.

Here’s a typical example from the Guardian decrying abuse of Muslims in Britain (which of course is reprehensible and should be reported) that misuses the word Islamophobia. Note well the top comment (highest upvotes). I can supply 100 links like this across all news outlets. Your quoted ‘Islamophobia register of Australia’ is another perfect example of misuse.

The word is now useless, but if it were to have found use with its proper meaning ‘fear of Islam’ or even ‘unreasoned fear of Islam’ (the definitional referent), many discussions would have not been derailed. Now think again about that top comment on the Guardian article above. Note: I’m still talking mainstream; it’s not as if there aren’t people who know how to talk and think, it’s that they don’t usually appear in MSM.

On phrases like: ‘I would have thought that’ etc: this is a blog with a high academic level. One has to be able to assume some things to avoid writing a 10-page fully referenced paper in each response. Anything is always up for debate of course. If you want literature on ideology and its deformations of discourse … Hannah Arendt, Solzhenitsyn, Raymond Aron, any history of Nazism…

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Layman 01.27.18 at 10:53 am

F. Foundling: “I don’t know why the processing of immigrant visas has to take so long and I’m not particularly interested in defending every single detail in the procedures of US bureaucracy, but it still doesn’t look to me as if couples specifically are targeted.”

I think you’d have to actually be interested to find what you’re looking for. What kinds of people actually succeed in entering the US? By and large, it’s workers and family members (including spouses). It’s harder for the latter to come than the former, and it takes longer. This may not convince you that couples are targetted, but that wasn’t the original claim. The original claim was (quoting you):

“I keep encountering this line about ‘loving people of nationalities other than their own’. I don’t think anything or anyone prevents people from doing that in general…”

Here is a thing that makes it harder! Is it deliberate? Maybe, maybe not, but so what? If the regime makes it harder, then it prevents some people, and you will hear that line you keep hearing and don’t believe. Yet they’re right, and you’re wrong. Maybe you should be more interested in the problem, or less interested in disputing it. Being interested enough to dispute it while lacking any interest in understanding it is, well, perverse.

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Layman 01.27.18 at 11:01 am

“We in the US have been historically oriented to an open-texture system of democratic, republican government that involves a *serious, searching* effort to publically interpret laws and regulations in a way such that everyone can “play” by them.”

I think it takes a profound ignorance of US history to actually believe this. If you could speak with a black man in Mississippi in 1830, you might better understand the flaws in this construction. But alas, you can’t! If only there were some other way you could know of his plight. Sigh.

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J-D 01.27.18 at 7:41 pm

Thomas Beale
The author of that comment you cite is making the same mistake you’re making. The meaning of words is not controlled by etymology. By etymology, ‘nice’ would mean ‘ignorant’; but ‘nice’ does not mean ‘ignorant’. By etymology, ‘shirt’ and ‘skirt’ would have the same meaning; but ‘shirt’ and ‘skirt’ do not have the same meaning. The meaning of ‘racism’ is not controlled by the meaning of ‘race’; the meaning of ‘Islamophobia’ is not controlled by the meaning of ‘phobia’. The meaning of words evolves; what controls it is how the words are used. It is not a misuse of a word to use it in a way which deviates from its etymological origins; it’s a routine linguistic phenomenon.

As I mentioned earlier, the meaning of ‘referent’ is not ‘what a word should be used to refer to’ but ‘what a word is used to refer to’. If the word ‘Islamophobia’ is generally used to refer to ‘bigotry against Muslims’, then that is the referent of the word and its meaning, regardless of etymological considerations.

Bigotry against Muslims is a real phenomenon, and it’s useful to have a word to apply to it; but it’s the same real phenomenon whether it’s referred to with the word ‘Islamophobia’, or with some other newly coined word, or by a compound description like ‘bigotry against Muslims’. In cases like these, objections to the way a particular word is coined or used can be an obfuscatory technique, obstructing discussion of the phenomenon. It’s handy for people who don’t want bigotry against Muslims to be discussed to be able to object, instead, ‘but that’s not what Islamophobia means’.

The objection that things are sometimes referred to as instances of bigotry when they are not in fact instances of bigotry is a different one, and overwhelmingly likely to be true because misidentification is a common phenomenon; but occasional misidentifications don’t demonstrate non-existence. It may well be the case — it probably is the case — that some accusations of bigotry against Muslims (or Islamophobia) are incorrect, but bigotry against Muslims is still a real phenomenon. You affirm that abuse of Muslims in Britain is reprehensible and should be reported; are you pleased that the four most highly rated comments on a Guardian article about it are from people who want to derail the discussion to another topic? (Number one: how we should use words. Number two: Muslim reactions to ISIS. Number three: the practice of face covering. Number four: the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and another incident I was unaware of, apparently involving a Kalashnikov on a train.)

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Layman 01.27.18 at 8:58 pm

Jeffrey Rubard: “…including people fantasizing about others being placed in subjection.”

Not guilty. I meant that maybe you could read a book or something.

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F. Foundling 01.27.18 at 9:26 pm

@ Layman 01.27.18 at 10:53 am

>Here is a thing that makes it harder! Is it deliberate? Maybe, maybe not, but so what?

‘Making something harder’ is not the same thing as ‘preventing’ it ‘in general’. I said: ‘I don’t think anything or anyone prevents people from doing that *in general*’. Did I mean that there aren’t *any* circumstances, including human-related circumstances, that have the effect of causing *some* difficulties to mixed-nationality couples? Of course I didn’t, such a claim couldn’t possibly be true in our universe, and every human activity is made *somewhat* harder than it otherwise would have been by certain circumstances – natural ones, since it takes place in nature, as well as social ones, since it takes place among other humans, i.e. in a society (libertarians keep refusing to accept that last part). To me, the phrase *in general*, as well as the word *prevent*, does imply that mixed-nationality couples are *consistently* and *efficiently* prevented from, well, being couples, which would normally be the result of their being targeted *as such*. And I find it hard to take seriously any love relationship that could actually be *prevented* by trivial nuisances such as visa waiting times. If anyone was seriously making an effort to prevent such a thing, things would have looked different, since there are far better ways to do it than what is actually observed.

The OP states defiantly that, in spite of the politicians’ efforts to ‘impress on’ people ‘principles of motion’ that are alien to them, and to ‘keep human beings … with others like them’, people will always love those of nationalities other than their own. To me, this sounds very much as if politicians are either deliberately seeking to prevent mixed-nationality relationships, or imposing systems that are, mostly if not wholly, incompatible with such relationships. I just don’t think that either of these things is the case. Are there certain difficulties under certain circumstances? Yes. Is it generally a big problem? No. It is very, very common, and has coexisted with these ‘unnatural’ systems for ages.

The issue of the ‘unnaturalness’ of the systems leads me to the claim that ‘free movement was the default until the 20th century’ (@15) and on restrictions by states not being ‘normal and therefore normative’ (@38). ‘Free movement’ may have obtained in some sense as a de facto *practice*, but not as a *right*, in the way it is conceived now. These were regimes that generally gave less, not more positive and negative rights to their subjects and to aliens than what is normal today, and would certainly never give up the right to prevent people from entering their territory, or to force them to leave it – or, in most cases, even to prevent them from leaving it for that matter – when they saw fit, even if they didn’t use those rights all the time on each and every individual. I doubt that *any* human polity – a state, a tribe or anything in-between – in ages past has willingly renounced the *right* to decide who enters or resides in what it considers to be its territory. On a related note: in the past, the more positive and negative rights citizenship has meant, the more restrictive it has been and the more jealously it has been guarded, and vice versa – compare classical Athens and the Hellenistic monarchies, or the Gracchi’s Rome with Caracalla’s Rome. While a true expansion would, of course, be great, it is important to make sure that a relaxation doesn’t form part of the same developmental ‘journey’ as those polities went through instead. The issue of social services has already been touched upon by Matt 01.22.18 at 8:34 am (@16), and of democracy by Z 01.23.18 at 3:39 pm (@50).

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Layman 01.27.18 at 10:12 pm

F. Foundling: “Making something harder’ is not the same thing as ‘preventing’ it ‘in general’.”

In fact, every form of ‘preventing’ something consists basically in making it harder to do. You can’t explain why the foreign spouses of citizens or lawful residents can’t simply show up and be admitted. I can: The people who make the rules don’t want that to happen. If you want to know what a system is designed to do, look closely at what it actually does.

Consider another example: Voter ID laws, narrow windows for actual voting, reduction in the number of polling stations, etc. Taking my side of the argument, I say that those efforts are intended to prevent poor minorities from voting by making it harder to vote. Your side of the argument would be that this is not so, because making it harder isn’t preventing it, and if the powers that be really wanted to prevent it, they’d just go ahead and prevent it. Is that where you want to hang your hat?

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Collin Street 01.27.18 at 11:15 pm

The word is now useless, but if it were to have found use with its proper meaning ‘fear of Islam’ or even ‘unreasoned fear of Islam’ (the definitional referent), many discussions would have not been derailed.

Do you know what else would stop derailment of arguments? if people stopped making specious arguments about linguistics. Words mean what they’re used to mean, and good language is language that communicates well.

I mean, suppose I call you a pigfucker. “Pigfucker” wears its etymology like a condom, an agent of pigfucking, sex acts involving swine. But you wouldn’t respond, “I’ve never fucked a pig in my life, not even a cute one”, because you’d understand that the word wasn’t being used in the sense its etymological origins suggest.

Why the difficulty with “islamophobe”, then?

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F. Foundling 01.28.18 at 1:24 am

@Layman 01.27.18 at 10:12 pm

>In fact, every form of ‘preventing’ something consists basically in making it harder to do.

But not every form of ‘making something harder to do’ is ‘prevention’. After all, even gravitation is making it harder for me to stand upright than what otherwise could have been the case, and likewise the resisance of air and water are making it harder for me to walk and swim than what otherwise could have been the case. The question is *how* hard it is made. It’s not made hard enough in this case to justify the word ‘prevention’, IMO.

>You can’t explain why the foreign spouses of citizens or lawful residents can’t simply show up and be admitted.

Well, I can’t explain why they *should* simply show up and be admitted either. Whatever the reason why immigrant visa processing and green card application processing has to take so long, I don’t see why spouses should be exempt from it. And in fact, googling again, I see that immediate relatives, including spouses, are actually *privileged* compared to employer-sponsored immigrants in that there is no yearly limit for such visas and they need not wait for a visa number; they only have the actual processing time to deal with. Looks mostly like side-effect to me. Waiting for a year or two – while there are other ways to stay in the country in the meantime such as tourist visas, work visas etc. – doesn’t seem like such a big deal. It does appear that getting a green card sometimes takes ridiculously long time for some other categories of applicants; perhaps the purpose is to make people who, for reasons that are beyond me, desperately want to live in your country of all places, more dependent on their employers while waiting to be approved.

>Consider another example: Voter ID laws, narrow windows for actual voting, reduction in the number of polling stations, etc.

I can imagine people giving up voting because of such hurdles. I can’t imagine people not marrying whomever they love because of such hurdles. Maybe I’m being too romantic. :) Also, the problems you’ve just mentioned affect voters specifically and can be seen as the result of actions intended specifically to hinder voters from voting; the problems mentioned before appear to concern immigration in general, mixed-nationality couples less so than others; at most, one could argue that immigration in general is hindered deliberately, if no convincing justifications are presented. Again, the hindrances, as far as mixed-nationality couples are concerned, don’t seem all that impressive to me. Whatever, I think that we have once again reached the point where we are going in circles and I’m basically led to re-state the same points again and again and again, so I’ll just stop here.

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Collin Street 01.28.18 at 6:42 am

Well, I can’t explain why they *should* simply show up and be admitted either.

You don’t have to: the basis of the “liberal” framework is that people can as far as possible act as they please. If someone wants to prohibit or restrict something, the rhetorical burden lies on them to justify that.

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Collin Street 01.28.18 at 8:28 am

Just to point out: the word “emergency” in “emergency services” has only been used with that meaning since after WWII, so it’s younger in its current use than old stand-bys of language degredation like “gay” or “queer” and probably about the same age as “-phobia”.

And… it’s plainly not in accord with its etymology, which is closer to “contingency”.

But it’s only the words that the left use that are being used unacceptably wrongly. And this strikes me as interesting.

[there’s no such thing as “just saying”: everything is said for a reason. The way linguistic implication works is that by my making a statement A I am indicating — “implying” — the existence of circumstances that make statement A reasonable and non-non-sequitur. But if I don’t say the reason then mentally it’s your discovery rather than something you were told, which means you’ll defend it harder. [and why am I telling you all this if it makes my efforts to manipulate you harder?]]

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Thomas Beale 01.28.18 at 10:06 am

Collin Street @ 101
Er… that’s basic. Your chosen example epithet is a metaphorical one, and since it’s in the category of insult terms, can be used to point to almost anything/anyone in the real world. The term not used at all in its literal sense. The intensional definition of ‘Islamophobe’ is quite clear: phobia of Islam, but it’s used in the real world to refer to Muslims, not Islam. A category error…

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Thomas Beale 01.28.18 at 10:08 am

Collin Street: did you really just post 101 and 104?!

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Chris Bertram 01.28.18 at 10:58 am

Thomas Beale and his interlocutors: these exchanges are getting tired and predictable.

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steven t johnson 01.28.18 at 1:29 pm

F. Foundling@102 “>You can’t explain why the foreign spouses of citizens or lawful residents can’t simply show up and be admitted.

Well, I can’t explain why they *should* simply show up and be admitted either.”

1.If their spouses are with them, they are more committed to being a part of this country. Nothing like Americanizing as putting your family here. Keeping family in another country keeps foreign loyalties strong. By the way, this is why dropping siblings and grand-parents is a bad idea especially if you have worries about acculturation.

2. And even if you are bigoted and hated inferior foreigners, then you should be even more committed to the goal of having immigrants and guest workers have as many hostages to fortune as they can.

3. But if you have odd feeling that foreigners are people too, dividing families unnecessarily isn’t very nice.

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Layman 01.28.18 at 3:50 pm

F. Foundling: “Well, I can’t explain why they *should* simply show up and be admitted either.”

Mayve to avoid the charge that immigration policies are designed to / have the effect of preventing ‘loving people of nationalities other than their own’. Isn’t that the charge you were disputing?

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