Monday, June 20, 2016

Persons, Nations, Princes, Moving People

Well met indeed! 'Twas an excellent entmoot gathered the other night (June 16, 2016) -- a good showing of faces familiar and new to our circle; conversation flowed and bourbon added to the flavor and wit. I came away feeling we had only just begun -- and with that feeling in mind, I write here to reflect on some of the points that have stuck with me.

I came into the night having read the addresses of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and thinking that they had laid out rather clearly some basic boundaries to allow Christians to discuss the topic of immigration fruitfully* -- namely, that Christians and bishops in particular have a duty of charity towards immigrants, meeting their physical needs and assisting their coming into conformity with the laws of the receiving country. Thus, for a serious Christian investigation of the parameters of immigration policies, it is possible to dispense immediately with approaches that do not meet these minimal requirements.

* Although, as Dom pointed out early on, it is significant that the first of these talks was given before 9/11, which has arguably changed the global migration game.

At the end of the night, I still largely agreed with this view, and had not necessarily gained very much illumination -- nothing, at least, like a practical policy that we had agreed upon -- but it was substantially informed by several points that I will try and remember.

I. Several people emphasized this, but Jason was helpfully insistent on the practical reality of the persons in need. Rather than a simple minimum moral requirement as I had it, the real, immediate need of immigrants as people already here and already in desperate conditions is an ongoing priority existing even while policy-makers (and bourbon-sharing philosophers) search for principles. As Jason and others pointed out, there is at least the possibility -- and perhaps, for Christians, a prejudice toward this position -- that the response charity to these immediate needs requires risking great harm be suffered by the receiving nation. (On this last question of harm, significant questions arise that we did not cover -- if I don't get to them in this post, someone should in the comments).

II. Having the conversation when we did, the question of Muslim immigration in particular came in and out of our discussion. Pete made an important point on this that may not have gotten its due consideration as some of us on one end of the table did not comprehend immediately -- but I'll try and remember his words anyway: any category of persons is bound to raise problems when it is used as a basis for decisions on how to act toward members of the category. I.e., it's never actually practical to treat another person based on the broad category, not only because each of us is a member of many categories at once (the "bearer of multiple traditions" as MacIntyre would have it) but also because what determines our treatment of others is their nature as human persons before it is any other fact about them. (Did I get this sort of right, Pete?)

III. Anthony and Jason called attention to the ugly underbelly of the motivations driving some of the talk about keeping out the dangerous Other. Anthony's students have made subtle and sophisticated defenses of Candidate Trump. I think Matt's report on Utah's reapplication of the firing squad technique is relevant here as well. This is perhaps a redirection again toward practical rather than theoretical aspects, or a recognition that theory can be a distraction from people's true motivations.

To this in part John responded with historical examples from U.S. history in which the melting pot / march-of-progress tale passes perhaps too quickly over the ways in which the fears of the "xenophobic" nativists were realized (e.g. Boss Tweed, the composition of the Supreme Court today).


I think I will close this post by simply suggesting a way of talking about immigration law. Whatever their theories of legitimacy, nearly all inhabited territories and particularly the destination areas today are organized in cooperative forms of governance in which certain individuals hold their powers for promoting the common good. Whilst the inhabitants of the receiving countries meet the needs of refugees and immigrants, those holding powers of government have an obligation to provide laws regulating the receipt of persons from foreign lands. (Even lack of regulation -- completely open borders -- is a policy)

So far so good?

Next -- I would think that the question of who is included in the common good is necessary to answer. One of the most basic responsibilities -- tied to the most basic powers of governance -- is that of protecting the people. Is it a failure of this responsibility for those holding that power to choose to allow people from outside the territory to enter when some among those outsiders intend harm to the native people?

On the other hand, is it in keeping with the demands of reason and of charity to let the "common good" of the people of one territory be pursued in an exclusive fashion, while outsiders who are also full members included in the common good of humanity? (I think this question, or this kind of question, is what led so many thinkers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (including Herder, Kant, and Hegel, and to some extent Smith, Marx, and Bentham [though not of course Burke, Tocqueville, or Acton]) to expect and welcome the development of a world-wide government (Look! See Progress March!).