Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jus Soli

Blog to blog to blog. I am finding the endlessly collated internet can, in turns, lead me down inane paths leaving me drained and a bit loopy or provide intellectual manna. This is related to the current format of the internet which suffers from what I have decided to call 'egalitarianism ad nauseum'. Though latin speakers may cringe at my construction, it seems clear to this observer that the internet is a wall at which one throws everything and it all sticks. It now occurs to me (and, not a moment too soon for the reader) that this is fodder for another post.

I came across a libertarian blog post. I want to say that I am ambivalent about libertarians but I can't bring myself to a final judgment on this question. In short, they are often very smart educated individuals with thoughtful nuanced ideas who regularly fail to see the forest for the trees in some crucial areas (notably safety net and compassion issues). With that dubious introduction, I would like to quote a few paragraphs from Mr. Will Wilkinson of the Cato institute (an unabashed libertarian think tank). Quoted as follows:

Liberalism and Birthright Citizenship

by Will Wilkinson on August 9, 2010

My argument that ending birthright citizenship could, over the medium-to-long term, help facilitate the sensible integration of North American labor markets has not gone over well with my friends on the left. Part of it, I’m afraid, is just knee-jerk opposition to policies their political enemies favor. Of course, the fact that bad people with bad motives support a policy does not mean it is therefore bad policy. There is often a large gap between the intended and actual effects of policy. I believe the international evidence supports the idea that ending pure jus soli softens opposition to immigration. Even if nativists and xenophobes shift to another argument with undiminished energy, the evidence suggests that worries about the fairness and distributive consequences of birthright citizenship harbored by more moderate voters would weaken, shifting the position of the median voter toward greater openness to immigration. Some progs seem committed to the argument that only racist xenophobes have any worries about the fairness or distributive consequences of birthright citizenship, but I think that’s pretty clearly false.

I should say, my argument was intended to suggest to border-sealers that they wouldn’t get what they wanted by ending birthright citizenship. No doubt it is too rhetorically tricky to demoralize the most passionate proponents of an idea while simultaneously communicating that it’s a good idea for other reasons, but that’s what I was going for.

I think a good deal of resistance to even entertaining the idea of ending pure jus soli flows from the fact that birthright citizenship is codified in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and the 14th Amendment was an enormous step toward guaranteeing the equal freedom of former slaves. The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment is therefore not simply a now-outdated policy put in place to help guarantee that freed slaves receive the same privileges and legal protections as do other citizens. It has become a sort of jurisprudential monument to the value American culture sets on the ideal of equal freedom. To remove the citizenship clause from the Constitution would thus amount to an act of symbolic violence against hard-won American ideals of equality. The usually unstated implication is that such a development would indicate a collapse of political will to defend equal freedom generally, and that other gains in equality might therefore unravel. Though I understand why this kind of argument moves people, I find it no more compelling when liberals argue this way than when conservatives argue that, say, gay marriage is (a) a symbolic assault against a sacred institution and (b) a practical threat to the integrity of family, which is the foundation of civilization. **End quote.

At one point I thought that ultra-conservatives were the folks that seemed unable to wield nuanced ideas. They seem to exhibit a primal lust for a good ol' black and white argument. Pun intended. What mattered to them was that in the end they are on one side of the fence (presumably the 'right' side. wink) and everyone else is on the other. Now, a new idea has occurred to me. A dangerous idea. Perhaps progressives are not significantly better at this.

Just a thought...

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