Socialist writer Angela Nagle’s recent essay, “The Left Case against Open Borders” for American Affairs (Winter 2018), and her subsequent appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight, and the enormous fallout this has caused, is a valuable teaching moment about tension within the Left. This tension is worth understanding for two reasons: 1) It’s important to have a robust understanding of one’s enemies. 2) It’s good news.
Patriots often view the Left as a monolithic and increasingly hegemonic force. This is a demoralizing perspective—and an incorrect one. Understanding the serious internal problems the Left inflicts on itself helps keep us from falling into the unproductive trap of permanently pessimistic or even fatalistic outlooks.
While I have already documented much of the anti-Nagle posturing happening on Twitter, plenty of which was done by former Nagle boosters, the sheer number of full articles rebuking Nagle’s most recent essay is even more impressive:
All but two or three of the above publications are widely-read and influential.
To get a sense of the significance of this blowback, try and imagine an analogous situation on the Right. While there are plenty of contours and personality conflicts, there is essentially nothing a right-wing intellectual can author that would inspire over half a dozen articles condemning them. While there are certainly contentious arguments between various camps (e.g. pro-Trumpers vs. #NeverTrumpers, conservatives vs. libertarians), these back-and-forths come in ones and twos, never dozens, and rarely ensnare more than two or three publications (e.g. The Weekly Standard vs. AmGreatness). What Nagle is currently facing is a complete dogpile of the kind that not even controversial right-wing figures like Victor Davis Hanson or Ben Shapiro face.
This is because, quite simply, the Left’s devotion to its “anti-racism,” “anti-homophobia,” “anti-transphobia,” “anti-xenophobia,” and “anti-sexism” is fanatically unbending and cult-like. Any and all even modest deviations from these very amorphous moral axioms must be stamped out completely and immediately.
Nagle has sinned against this. Though she made no race-based argument for immigration control (and explicitly rejected the legitimacy of that line of reasoning), she did make the case for some level of immigration control, which is, by definition, discriminatory. Absolutely nothing can justify that in the eyes of the Left, not even the fact that all her arguments for border control were supposedly “Left-friendly”—protecting wages, weakening large corporations, protecting the global south from brain-drains, etc.
This kind of Manichean reasoning is why the Left, by and large, simply has no position on immigration—aside from the small minority that is explicitly and seriously for completely Open Borders. Most any reasonable person will agree that to some extent immigrants must be screened for the sake of protecting the country from disease, terrorism, and crime—and because it is essentially impossible to argue in good faith that there would be no negative consequences of letting in literally billions of people. But nobody on the Left ever spells out exactly what their ideal level of immigration restriction would be, because to do so would be to admit that you find some level of discrimination permissible/necessary. That is not something that can be conceded in print without incurring massive blowback—which is precisely what happened to poor Angela Nagle.
Which is why Leftist writing on immigration is almost invariably “reactionary”—they simply condemn what the Right is doing, or wants to do. They whine about the meanness of using tear gas at the border, about the inhumanity of enforcing a travel ban, about the fear and terror that ICE supposedly inspires in poor and honest immigrants, etc. But ask them to spell out what their ideal immigration policy would be—and how they would enforce it, and you will get no response. Responding (again, aside from a small cadre who genuinely believe there should be no borders) would necessitate admitting that some people, for whatever reason, would be turned away. And presumably, if you are turning away some people, and they try and come anyway, some kind of law enforcement agency would have to utilize some kind of physical force in keeping them out.
If you posit that diseased people should be kept out of the country, you will be met with condemnations for harboring negative feelings towards the ill, and informed that the sick deserve empathy and medical service—not rejection.
If you posit that terrorists should be kept out, you will be informed that terrorism is actually a minor problem, and that fear of terrorism inspires various “phobias”—especially “Islamophobia”—and that those phobias are greater social ills than terrorist attacks.
If you posit that criminals should be kept out, you will be told that crime rates have been on a (mostly) downward trend for decades, and that criminals should not be mistreated, but “fixed” through managerial programs such as free education and job training.
If you posit that unskilled laborers should be kept out to protect domestic wages, you will be told (as Nagle has been) that the solution to that problem is to simply unionize all workers and force companies to pay everybody a high wage.
There is not a single restrictionist argument that cannot be twisted to label it discriminatory (the absolute evil) and dismissed by prescribing some utopic Leftist social and/or economic policy.
The result: the Left’s nearly uniform “Know Nothing” position on immigration. They hate what the Right proposes, but because their obsessive moralism conflicts with the most basic common sense, they are by their own doing incapable of articulating any kind of firm position on the matter.
For those of us who want to see mass restrictions to immigration, this is great news. We have logical and compelling arguments for our beliefs, and our Leftist detractors can do little but accuse us of “racism” and then propose no vision of their own. As shown by the 2016 election in America, and the rise of immigration patriot politicians across the globe, our line of reasoning on immigration is more convincing in the eyes of average (or even apolitical) citizens than the Left’s—since they don’t really have one.
The handful of Leftists, like Nagle, who in a moment of bravery concede that some level of immigration restriction is necessary—or who deviate from other related Leftist shibboleths and concede that perhaps some discrimination against whites exists, or some rape accusations are false, or that the Social Justice Warriors on college campuses are sometimes heavy-handed and silly—are immediately defenestrated en masse by their own side. This social media-driven peer pressure keeps the Left from articulating mature and thoughtful positions on a number of issues, and it keeps them from conceding that there is any truth to the others side’s arguments—and both of those phenomena keep them from appealing to enormous swathes of average voters. Which for immigration patriots, again, this is excellent.
Angela Nagle is the most recent and most apparent example of this, but she is far from the only case of it. Here are a few other Leftists who have sinned as she did and subsequently suffered:
(This meme is very popular on Left Twitter.)
Henry Kissinger famously commented on the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), “It's a pity both sides can't lose.” My feelings about these intra-Left fights are largely the same—except that in this case, both sides can lose. The debates over class vs. race and cannibalization of Leftists who violate certain sacred cows consumes a great deal of time and energy within the Left and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The more they fight each other, the more they insist on taking no reasonable position on a number of important issues, and the more they expel interesting and/or unique thinkers from their ranks, the easier it is for the Right to appeal to average people, win hearts and minds, and ultimately, elections.
To some extent this is already happening. Hillary Clinton’s inability to hold onto all the “Berniecrats” in her party in the 2016 election cost her the Midwestern states she needed to win. In Brazil’s last election, the Leftist vote was split across three different major parties, which if combined would have bested Jair Bolsonaro in the first round.
Angela Nagle is just the latest victim of the Left’s insistence on eating its own—an act that only benefits America. So three cheers for Leftist cannibals—and on to victory!