Lockean Libertarians vs. Hume-an Nature
September 07, 2001, 05:00 AM
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Having elicited numerous responses to my latest comments on this website, and particularly from self-described libertarians, it may be appropriate to list the main objections and then, to address them.

There was only one passage in my remarks dealing with Third World immigration. But respondents criticized my views on this subject—which they associate with Peter Brimelow's. My libertarian respondents are high on immigration. They favor a more selective process for deciding who should come here, but they are generally pleased with the present mix of immigrants, made up preponderantly of Latinos. None of my critics is bothered by the swarming presence of illegals, providing they can find employment. Moreover, one respondent would be happy to receive "one billion immigrants" into this country, which, he explained, is far less heavily populated than many European countries. Such a population boost, I was assured, would add greatly to our material productivity.

The respondents are agreed that immigration should not be determined by governments but should be viewed as a series of "interpersonal acts," embracing jobseekers and those willing to offer employment. It is not the fault of immigrants, in any case, that welfare states shower them with public money or earmark them for favors. Immigrants, I was further assured, are concerned with selling their labor on the market, which they would do, or try to do, with or without a welfare state.

One libertarian critic of mine (and more explicitly of Peter Brimelow) maintains that national and cultural identities are concepts thought up by governments in order to control the movements and actions of individuals. To whatever extent real societies do exist, they involve individuals pursuing their interest, across such artificial barriers as borders.

Asking pointed questions may be the best way of treating these responses:

Although it may be possible to pack into the U.S. billions of people, like college students in the fifties who squeezed into telephone booths, how would this affect the quality of life for those living here? Do we want ever more crowding and the attendant ecological and social costs?

(Note there is no reason to assume that the additional immigrants will choose to reside in the Nevada desert or in other sparsely populated areas. Far more likely they will continue to flow into those densely settled parts of the country where others from their ancestral lands had come before.)

And does it make sense to consider this development without looking at the likely actions of the bureaucratic state as a "facilitator" of intergroup relations? Why should we think that future immigration would take place, without affirmative action, bilingual education, and various "remedies" for past discrimination that both major parties are now pushing?

And is it realistic to conceive of this demographic movement going forth without transfer payments and the distribution of social services?

While it is certainly true that Latino immigrants do pay taxes, they also contribute disproportionately to both crime and welfare costs; a fact heavily documented by among others Steven Sailer, Edward Luttwak, Peter Brimelow, and Roy Beck.

Sooner or later, barring unforeseen events, the newly arrived immigrants will also vote, and, like the ones already here, throw their weight behind politicians who endorse Hispanic exceptionalism and increased social services, particularly those directed disproportionately at the Latino population.

I see no reason to believe otherwise, even if Republican politicians can gain more of the Latino vote by promising more government programs. Needless to say, President Bush is not weaning minorities from big government by offering them more government goodies at the expense of non-Hispanic white Americans.

Most importantly, does dreaming about a world full of self-actualizing individuals, preoccupied with free market exchanges, mean such a world already exists?

Admittedly a capitalist economy brings a greater degree of material prosperity, everything being equal, than a collectivist one. I for one am delighted to view different nations trading with each other rather than engaging in wars. It is also preferable, though no longer ideologically permissible, that we treat American citizens as individuals with the same legal rights rather than as members of victim or victimizing groups.

But having pointed out the obvious, it is a bit of a stretch to insist that people do not come with collective identities or that they are only individuals who have to define what they are. Group identities predate the libertarian reformulation of human associations, which arose somewhere on the fringes of a late bourgeois, partly secularized Christian culture that had been influenced by the Enlightenment. Those who wish to speak in this relatively recent mode, as autonomous, self-constructed individuals, should be free to do so - as long as they do not mistake their posturing for the way people actually live and think in most places.

Ethnic and national identities remain strong outside the Western world. The Latino populations in the Southwest who support La Raza, Aztlan, and other groups that appeal to Latino racial nationalism are not likely to view themselves in the same manner as those who belong to the Illinois Libertarian Party, to name one overriding shared association among my critics.

Like Marxists, libertarians devise a theory of "false consciousness" to explain why everyone outside of their group approaches human relations differently. Presumably if the rest of the world were properly enlightened, which they have not been until now, they would recognize that biological, ethnic, and social loyalties should count less in life than something thought to be more valuable, having self-conscious individuals who calculate their material interest.

But, as David Hume pointed out in response to John Locke's claim that civil society emerges out of a state of nature on the basis of individual consent, one can never quite find a reality to fit the theory. In the libertarian case, as with Marxist workers who marched off as Germans and Frenchmen to shoot each other in 1914, despite the rhetoric of working class solidarity, the theory cannot keep pace with the theorists.

Having encountered droves of Jewish libertarians, and more recently Palestinian ones, I find both indistinguishable from other tribal nationalists, fiercely nationalistic and fixated on the pervasiveness of Western Christian bigotry directed at their group.

It is indeed amusing that one Zionist wannabe libertarian David Brooks manufactures a Lockean identity for the present state of Israel in (where else?) the Weekly Standard, to show that the U.S., supposedly another Lockean society, must support the Israeli hardliners to preserve a Lockean world against "Palestinian organic nationalists." The question here is not Brooks's incredibly ignorant treatment of Locke, who is made to stand for whatever Brooks fancies, or his tendentious reconstructions of Middle Eastern societies. Nor is my beef with the present militant response of Sharon to escalating Palestinian terror within Israel. He may in fact be doing what is necessary to minimize even greater violence against his country in the future. I wish only to call attention to the lengths to which libertarians will go to reconcile a counterintuitive theory of human interaction with their own nationalist loyalties.

Group loyalties and identities are real. Any attempt to ignore their operation is like pretending that the welfare state does not exist. Latino solidarity is a political reality - even if libertarians have persuaded themselves that Latinos and the country they are crossing borders illegally to enter are mere random collections of service-exchanging individuals.

A Latino majority in the U.S., which may come along in about a century if present immigration trends continue, will behave in all probability quite differently from our present WASP majority – which has been made to feel ashamed of its ancestors.

Not that Latinos are bad people. But they have a strong group identity - not only different from the bleached-out identity of the Anglos but partly sustained by dislike of the host culture.

The managerial state, which I and the libertarians both detest, is nurturing this dislike. And, buoyed by Latino support, it will go on doing so.

For libertarians to create a different world in their imaginations will change none of this. Instead, the real world will one day change them – and the nation-state that, unacknowledged, sustains them.

Paul Gottfried  is Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism and Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory.

September 07, 2001