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Some issues make for uncomfortable alliances. As a supporter of across-the-board drug legalization, I have often felt the desire to throw my hands up in despair at the inanities of unserious stoner activists and of the hipster libertarians who have raised the narrow issue of cannabis to the position of a sine qua non in order to excuse themselves from voting for conservative candidates who violate their cultural expectations. Many in the latter group are classical liberals for whom I have a great deal of respect, even if disagree with them on this specific issue, who libertarians should want to work with.
Increasingly, I feel much the same way about conservatives and immigration. While I continue to maintain that lower rates of immigration from Latin America will be necessary to reverse the balkanizing trends causing so much dysfunction in America’s political system, this is a position that I am forced to hold with no small degree of reluctance and circumspection. This apprehension does not have to do solely with the nature of the ideological company I am forced to keep — company which ranges from well-intentioned fellow conservatives who persist in making the worst arguments for an otherwise defensible position — down to unapologetic Trump supporters, and even genuine racists on the Alt-Right and PaleoCon fringes.
In truth, my reluctance goes much deeper than this, as the restrictionist position forces me to overcome some basic libertarian instincts. I continue to believe that the only borders with any moral significance are those between my property and my neighbors’ and that private property owners are the only agents capable of restricting the free movement of individuals while claiming any justification under natural law. Being something less than a purist, however, I also acknowledge that — to the degree individual rights are respected in this place and time — it is because they are protected by small-r republican institutions built into our constitutional framework. Moreover, these institutions require a certain degree of cultural cohesion to function properly and are endangered by the breakdown of the process of assimilation. I am not so dogmatic as to deny that, in the struggle for freedom, it may be necessary to take a step back in order to take two steps forward.
Nevertheless, acknowledging the necessity of immigration restrictions to restore our constitutional order should not prevent us from recognizing that such restrictions represent a significant step backward for personal freedom in the short term. As such, we should expect conservative classical liberals to offer measured responses to the matter that acknowledge this unpleasant (but very real) tension. I fully admit that many conservatives do not share in a number of my priors and am I one to demand ideological purity. But as Jay Nordlinger often points out, every conservative has a streak of libertarianism. Unfortunately, the level of bombast and reductionism present in our current immigration debate leads me to question whether this is truly the case, as do most of the positive arguments made by my fellow immigration hawks.
As the immigration debate on the Right grows ever more polarized I feel the need to get some of these reservations of my chest. So, over the next week I hope to put up a series of posts outlining my major qualms with the current nature of the argument coming from the Right on this issue that will, hopefully, generate discussion with a bit less of the Us vs. Them dynamic that has characterized too many of our recent discussions on the subject.Published in