Calling Paul Rahe, Or, What’s So Great About Our Fellow Citizens, Anyway?

 

shutterstock_163755116Below, a bigthink question for that finest of bigthinkers, Ricochet’s own Paul Rahe. First, though, a couple of words of background.

In his post below, Paul Rahe notices something peculiar—but, I think, terribly important: All the arguments against restricting travel to the United States from countries such as Nigeria and Liberia, where Ebola is already rampant, note that such restrictions would interfere with treating the disease in Africa. Those making these arguments thus display the same implicit assumption, placing all humans on the same moral plane. They ignore or treat as irrelevant the distinction between their fellow Americans and everyone else.

A lot of those in favor of immigration reform, I’ve noticed, make the same implicit assumption. When I interviewed Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles for Uncommon Knowledge, for instance, I asked if he could name a single reason for excluding Mexicans from this country that he would consider legitimate. Refusing to do so—from the look on his face, I could see that that good man found the very question itself perplexing—the Archbishop argued that “we’re all God’s children.”  We have no good reason, he seemed to be saying, to distinguish between Americans and Mexicans.  If the poor of Mexico want to come here, what right have we to exclude them?

Which brings me to my bigthink question for Paul—and for anyone else here at Ricochet who’d like to take a crack at it:

What, exactly, is the philosophical case—the moral case—for distinguishing between our fellow citizens and everyone else?

If forced to choose between the two, why should we prefer protecting our fellow Americans from Ebola to protecting citizens of Nigeria or Liberia from the disease?  f the poor of Mexico do indeed want to come to this country, what right do we have to exclude them?

Previous generations took it for granted that their countrymen had a claim on them that the citizens of no other country could make. They were right to do so—we all sense that, don’t we? But why?

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  1. Black Prince Member
    Black Prince
    @BlackPrince

    Peter Robinson:Previous generations took it for granted that their countrymen had a claim on them that the citizens of no other country could make. They were right to do so—we all sense that, don’t we? But why?

    Survival. Sadly, we no longer posses the intellectual or moral wherewithal to make decisions in the interest of defending ourselves, our families, our communities or our country. The Ebola situation is just a symptom of a much greater problem.

    • #1
  2. Casey Member
    Casey
    @Casey

    Since I’m anyone else, I’ll take a crack.

    We aren’t distinguishing between our fellow citizens and everyone else. We are protecting our way. Our thing. Our health.

    Come on in. Fine. But we need to make sure you won’t sink the ship first.

    • #2
  3. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Practical limits, inescapable in a fallen world. We acknowledge those limits. They don’t.

    It’s as simple as that.

    • #3
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Your neighborhood is hit by a natural disaster. You have room enough in your vehicle to save your family and only your family. Do you:

    A) Take the wife and children and run?

    B) Take your neighbor’s wife and kids because she’s hotter and your kid got you a lousy Father’s Day present?

    C) Do nothing because it wouldn’t be “fair” if your family survived and the neighbors didn’t?

    Yes. We’re all human. BUT, America is my FAMILY. And I’m not going to apologize for that.

    • #4
  5. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    EJHill:Your neighborhood is hit by a natural disaster. You have room enough in your vehicle to save your family and only your family. Do you:

    A) Take the wife and children and run?

    B) Take your neighbor’s wife and kids because she’s hotter and your kid got you a lousy father’s day present?

    C) Do nothing because it wouldn’t be “fair” if your family survived and the neighbors didn’t?

    Yes. We’re all human. BUT, America is my FAMILY. And I’m not going to apologize for that.

    That’s exactly how I see it. And exactly how my family would see my actions too. It’s a very simple calculation to me.

    • #5
  6. Rackut Member
    Rackut
    @Ion

    Catholics, like Americans, define themselves by the ideals they hold to and the traditions they practice. The practice of those traditions and the pursuit of their ideals is done in a certain space and time; both philosophical and physical boundaries define the contours of what it means to be Catholic or, for that matter, American. That the practice of being an American requires and intimate link between freedom and private property only increases the importance of physical boundaries separating those who are and are not American. But, to address the Cardinal’s question in terms more concrete:

    Why does the Catholic church not allow, say, an imam or a rabbi to conduct his service in the same building and at the same time as a priest saying his mass? Are they not also God’s children? Why should we prefer that Catholics who built and paid for a church be allowed to use it in some exclusive way? Why should they get to have mass without it being encroached upon by others’ religious services or, for that matter, by atheists protesting?

    To believe in something requires boundaries to be drawn that separate the faithful from the non-believers. In religious terms, this distinction manifests in both philosophical and physical boundaries that separate the holy from that which is secular. For Americans, this distinction is made by defining a physical space in which the practice of certain ideas is done: our tradition, just like that of the Church, is defined in terms of ideas, space and time.

    • #6
  7. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    Ion:To believe in something requires boundaries to be drawn that separate the faithful from the non-believers….For Americans, this distinction is made by defining a physical space in which the practice of certain ideas is done: our tradition, just like that of the Church, is defined in terms of ideas, space and time.

    Wow.  I step away for half an hour, and I come back to find that a handful of compelling posts have already been put up.  And this, Ion?  Beautiful–and powerful.

    • #7
  8. wmartin Member
    wmartin
    @

    Peter, imo Steve Sailer made the best case years ago in The American Conservative.

    John Rawls actually made a case for immigration restriction, although not from a real patriotic basis- he thought that, by using immigration as a kind of safety valve, other countries were putting off needed reforms. We have also seen something similar happen in Liberia in the Ebola epidemic; the West, with its absurdly generous immigration polices,  has drained that nation of its talented doctors. The West does not need Liberian doctors, but Liberia does.

    • #8
  9. user_989419 Member
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Submarines are compartmentalized (at least in the movies) so that if one compartment springs a leak, the intervening doors can be shut and the people in the other compartments can be saved.  Therefore, commercial flights should be halted between the United States and infected countries.  Aid can be rendered via specially chartered flights, with strictly enforced quarantines (no bowling for 21 days!).

    Re: immigration, what moral right do I have to exclude my neighbors from moving into my house and living in it?  And what moral right do they have to exclude me from going into their house whenever I feel like it?  Citizens of Mexico have a country — it’s called Mexico.  I respect the fact that I cannot go to Mexico without their permission and without following their rules.  I ask that they reciprocate.  I am hard pressed to grasp the immorality here.

    • #9
  10. Rackut Member
    Rackut
    @Ion

    Why does the Catholic church restrict its administration of the sacraments to the faithful? Are not all men God’s children? Did not Christ say, “Ask and ye shall receive?” So, why should agnostics, Muslims or Protestants not be able to claim a priest’s attention and be married, treated to the Eucharist or otherwise ministered to?

    It is something of a stretch, but the point is that the benefits of a tradition or culture or country are intended for the members, those who are prepared to receive and properly use what is bestowed. If this is not the case, then what is given is wasted because the point of the gift is to bind the recipient more closely to the bestowing institution and to help him grow in its tradition.

    This is why the Church does not marry gays, give the Eucharist to Protestants or lend moral support to jihadis. Similarly, our nation should have no obligation to direct its resources to those who are not citizens, i.e., the equivalent to the Church’s faithful.

    • #10
  11. Howellis Member
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    There are philosophical approaches to this question, and there is also the pragmatic issue of which rules (e.g., national sovereignty, property rights) are most conducive to human flourishing.

    As an empirical question, it is obvious that the archbishop’s approach to this issue—unfettered open immigration—if implemented, would lead to a diminishment of human flourishing, not only because of the spread of disease, but also because the flood of immigration he countenances would devastate American communities and overwhelm our institutions.

    It appears that the archbishop is one of those (liberals) who can see the benefits to some—the immigrants—but cannot see the costs to others—those already here. He seems not to be troubled by the reduction in wages that Mexican immigrants might cause for unskilled black workers, or the crimes Mexican gang members might commit, or the increase in wait times at emergency rooms. He only sees that the Mexicans want to come here because they would have a chance at a better life. What happens to the current citizens’ lives is not his concern.

    Mexicans and other would-be immigrants cannot justify a claim on the United States simply because we have something they want. The world has never worked that way, and could not work that way.

    • #11
  12. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    Personally, I don’t really get all philosophical about this issue. I just figure, let’s stop it the best way possible. What is that way? Ask an expert, not me. And probably not most people at rico. Not that I’ve read a lot but experts seem to be saying the important thing is to stop it at its source, which makes sense to me. They also say that prohibiting entry can be counter productive since it might induce more evasion and lying. That argument seems a bit more problematic, but I would certainly tend to defer to REAL experts on that, too.

    Getting philosophical about things is the Rico way, as it should be. And for smart educated people (who have spent their entire lives being smarter than those around them) it’s natural to hold strong opinions even if you don’t know much. That’s just another way of saying I would tend to defer to expert opinion on this.

    • #12
  13. wmartin Member
    wmartin
    @

    Part of the problem is inherent in being a so-called “proposition nation,” if that is in fact what we are. Ethno-states like China and Israel don’t have to construct these tortured rationales for caring more about their own citizens than about people in far-off countries.

    John O’Sullivan said in The Claremont Review that a “nation of immigrants” is not really a nation at all. Harsh, but probably true.

    • #13
  14. user_428379 Thatcher
    user_428379
    @AlSparks

    Man With the Axe:

    It appears that the archbishop is one of those (liberals) who can see the benefits to some—the immigrants—but cannot see the costs to others—those already here. He seems not to be troubled by the reduction in wages that Mexican immigrants might cause for unskilled black workers, or the crimes Mexican gang members might commit, or the increase in wait times at emergency rooms. He only sees that the Mexicans want to come here because they would have a chance at a better life. What happens to the current citizens lives is not his concern.

    I suspect that the archbishop sees the United States as too rich anyway.  It’s not in the first world, including the United States and Canada, that Catholicism thrives today, and John Paul II was ambivalent towards the United States ‘s culture, despite its role in defeating the Soviet Union.

    From a self-interest perspective, I’ll also point out that most of the archbishop’s parishioners are Hispanic, and a significant percentage illegal.  He’s not going to speak against his congregation’s interests.

    • #14
  15. user_428379 Thatcher
    user_428379
    @AlSparks

    Matty Van:Personally, I don’t really get all philosophical about this issue. I just figure, let’s stop it the best way possible. What is that way? Ask an expert, not me. And probably not most people at rico. Not that I’ve read a lot but experts seem to be saying the important thing is to stop it at its source, which makes sense to me. They also say that prohibiting entry can be counter productive since it might induce more evasion and lying. That argument seems a bit more problematic, but I would certainly tend to defer to REAL experts on that, too.

    Getting philosophical about things is the Rico way, as it should be. And for smart educated people (who have spent their entire lives being smarter than those around them) it’s natural to hold strong opinions even if you don’t know much. That’s just another way of saying I would tend to defer to expert opinion on this.

    You wrote two paragraphs not only saying you’re not qualified to have an opinion, but that there are others that are more qualified to speak on this issue.  And maybe you were trying to imply that at least some of these others should shut up?

    Anyway, whenever I run into a topic where I think that I’ve nothing intelligent to say, I simply don’t post on it.

    • #15
  16. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    “when I run into a topic where I think I’ve nothing intelligent to say, I simply don’t post on it.”

    I’m with ya Al. Me, too. Absolutely. Thing is, there IS a rather important point to comment 12. In fact, I just got back from another ebola thread and see AIG is making a similar point but much more effectively. That being, in a nutshell…

    Government, and its bureacracies, is not a very good problem solver. This should be a natural understanding for conservatives. It is certainly one for libertarians. Anyway, my point, whether I’m right or wrong, justifies posting. It’s actually two points: 1) conservatives seem to be politicizing this problem. No surprise since liberals and conservatives politicize every issue they can. And that 2) really smart conservatives, just like really smart liberals, are fooled by their own smartness into believing they are good problem solvers.

    It’s Hayak’s “fatal conceit” and “pretense of knowledge,” and Socrates’s “pretense of wisdom.”

    • #16
  17. bowmanhome11@verizon.net Member
    bowmanhome11@verizon.net
    @JoelB

    On an airplane, aren’t adults accompanying children instructed that in a loss of cabin pressure emergency, they should first affix their own oxygen mask  and then attend to the children? We may all be equal before God in a sense, but if we are rendered helpless, will the others be able, let alone willing to help us? In order to act with compassion, we must first have or preserve the resources to act compassionately.

    • #17
  18. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    About that moral case for distinguishing between foreigners and citizens- I still recall being moved to incandescent rage by an editorial published in the WSJ arguing that the US government had no moral right to favor American steelworkers over South Koreans, at a time when I worked for a steel company. I’ll spare everyone further details, but I will note that I remember that exact phrase.

    It seemed to me then and still today fifteen years later that if the US government does not favor US citizens over foreigners then it has no moral right to collect taxes, or send Americans to die in foreign wars, or indeed any reason or right to exist at all.

    The Constitution begins “We the people of the United States.”

    We.

    I have to wonder, when I read of such people as Archbishop Gomez, or recall that editorial writer from the last century, just who exactly their we encompasses.

    It seems rather obvious to me that their we is different from that of most Americans, a fact which they work hard to disguise. They have to, because otherwise they have no hope at all of winning elections. It also seems rather obvious and important that regimes that fail to put the interests of their own people over those of foreigners are doomed, sooner or later, one way or another.

    Since we still have elections the globalists can lose, we still have hope.

    • #18
  19. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Matty Van:

    Government, and its bureacracies, is not a very good problem solver.

    Excuse me, but preventing a deadly plague infecting another continent from entering your country is perhaps the single most important thing a government can do- and also one of the easiest. It’s like screwing up instant mashed potatoes.

    Did I mention it was infecting an entirely different continent? Across an ocean?

    This sort of thing is a prime reason why governments exist.

    Pretending that it is really hard and just too complicated for non experts to grasp is just silly.

    • #19
  20. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    “…and one of the easiest.”

    Is it that easy? Being a non expert I can’t really say, and admittedly I haven’t read much of the experts on this. But I have read a little bit. And they seem to think it’s not so easy, and make a good case for it. And they make a case there are better ways to attack the problem than simply barring entry. Personally, I’m not “pretending that it is really hard and too complicated for non experts to grasp.” I’m just admitting that experts have a better chance of being right than I do. Of course, we have to separate actual experts from political partisans.

    • #20
  21. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    I agree with everyone here who has said that we have a moral right, indeed a moral obligation, to favor our family, our community, our tribe, our country, because it works.  Because refusing to rally behind those who are closest to us is a recipe for disaster.  Because we cannot build something unless we can protect what we have built, and we cannot protect what we have built if every human being on the planet has a moral claim to waltz in and take a piece of it for himself.

    Many here have expressed that sentiment in one way or another.  What is missing is the word philosophers use for that moral philosophy:  Utilitarianism.  Utilitarianism focuses on what works, on what is practical; and it stands in stark contrast to the muzzy-minded purveyors of cliches like “We are all God’s children.”

    It is good to see that so many Ricochetti are Utilitarians, whether they use that word or not.

    • #21
  22. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Matty Van: Ask an expert, not me. And probably not most people at rico.

    And exactly who are these “experts”? The same one that said you get give the Ebola virus on a bus but not get it there?

    With all due respect, this is the result of your liberal education, that all political policy decisions are best removed from the common sense hands of the people and placed in the hands of a technocratic elite.

    The question here is not how to treat Ebola, that is to be left at the hands of doctors. This is how to stop its spread on American soil. That’s policy, not medicine. And right now, the policy seems flawed.

    Sealing the inflow of infection will not harm the outflow of aid to Africa, just like a biological hazmat suit is supposed to protect the doctor while he treats.

    • #22
  23. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Matty Van:

    Is it that easy?

    Yes. It was blindingly obvious months ago what needed to be done. The American people are often tarred as “isolationist” because we don’t want to spend every last nickel doing nice things for foreigners, but I have absolutely no doubt the idiots in DC could have won widespread approval early on to spend many billions eradicating ebola before it became an impending catastrophe.

    And yes, money to be spent in Africa, thus being the perennially unpopular “foreign aid”, but also saving myriad lives there and perhaps myriad lives here as well.

    But no, because the government is run by fools, essentially nothing was done.

    Wait, I mean the government is run by “experts.”

    How has that turned out? And not just in this example?

    • #23
  24. user_517406 Member
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    When I encounter questions like this I always think of Mrs. Jellyby from Dickens’ Bleak House.  She was deeply involved with foreign charity and yet neglected her own children.  Was she a charitable person then? I would say no.  We’re humans.  Our compassion starts at home and radiates out from there.  Hence, our first duty is to care for those closest to us.  If we don’t do that, we are not moral people.  Should we care about the larger world?  Yes.  Americans pitch in to help when there is a disaster somewhere in the world.  But we cannot mitigate or comprehend all the problems of the world, while it is often possible to do something about the problems closest to us.  If we create a model of good government and problem solving for the world, we can be  that city on a hill that inspires the rest of the world and by example helps them solve their own problems as people have to do.  If we open our doors to the world willy-nilly, we cease to be what we are, as Europe has learned to its sorrow.

    • #24
  25. user_836033 Member
    user_836033
    @WBob

    Maybe because a country that does not control its borders is not a country. So questioning the right of a country to do so and thereby give its citizens priority is questioning the very concept of having countries at all. Does the archbishop you spoke with really question that concept? If not, then it seems he’s holding the United States to a special standard that others aren’t held to. In which case, he’s the one who should be asked “Why?”

    • #25
  26. EstoniaKat Member
    EstoniaKat
    @ScottAbel

    Larry3435: Many here have expressed that sentiment in one way or another.  What is missing is the word philosophers use for that moral philosophy:  Utilitarianism.  Utilitarianism focuses on what works, on what is practical; and it stands in stark contrast to the muzzy-minded purveyors of cliches like “We are all God’s children.”

    A utilitarian ethos demands the maximizing of the total benefit and reducing the negative consequences of the act of creating the best utility in a situation.

    Isn’t the utilitarian argument in this case bent towards the other choice?

    One could argue to keep the borders open and Doctors Without Borders unfettered access to the infection sites. After all, its a human health problem and Ebola doesn’t respect citizenship.

    It seems to me that the argument for closing the borders is arguing for the utility of the few – American citizens.

    • #26
  27. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Scott Abel:

    One could argue to keep the borders open and Doctors Without Borders unfettered access to the infection sites. After all, its a human health problem and Ebola doesn’t respect citizenship.

    It seems to me that the argument for closing the borders is arguing for the utility of the few – American citizens.

    No one is arguing against allowing doctors into the epidemic zone to treat the sick.  No one!  When these doctors come back, they should be subject to temporary quarantine, which will be the least of their hardships.  That is very different from allowing infected non-citizens to enter the United States and spread the infection here.  C’mon, let’s be serious.

    • #27
  28. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    I am actually VERY sympathetic to the argument for Open Borders – the notion that since everyone is made in G-d’s image, all should be treated as having enormous potential for good.

    So the solution, for me, is quite simple: Everyone who agrees to follow the rules particular to our country should be let in. Rules includes: Sufficient command of English, knowledge of (and agreement with) the Constitution , no beliefs that are inimical to our founding principles, no recourse to public funds.

    In this way, we would not punish people for accidents of birth.

    BTW, I would (and have) made similar offers for those who want to move in with my family: if you agree to follow all the rules, we are OK with it in principle.

    • #28
  29. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    EJ and Xennady, I am stunned! Left speechless!

    Result of my liberal education? I want to turn policy over to a technocratic elite? I’m concerned with preserving the “outflow” of governmental aid to Africa? I’m defending the decisions of governmental experts?

    Where on earth did all that come from?

    • #29
  30. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Matty Van: Where on earth did all that come from?

    Just your comments about deferring to “experts.” And quite frankly, when we encounter new problems, I’m not sure who qualifies for that label.

    • #30

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