Derb Is Right: "Comprehensive? Pfui!"
April 21, 2013, 04:11 PM
Print Friendly and PDF

In his recent piece at VDARE's main page (Six Things That Should Be Done Instead Of The Gang Of 8's Nation-Breaking Amnesty/Immigration Surge, April 19, 2013), John Derbyshire writes about the 844-page Schumer, Rubio,et al. horror:

The Gang has dropped the word "comprehensive" from their bill, but its spirit is still there in the title; and it is exactly that "comprehensive" spirit that makes this legislation so monstrously, malevolently, wrong.  [That's Derb's emphasis, and it's right on.]

The "comprehensivist" urge is probably widespread on Capitol Hill, judging from the recent spate of representatives and senators blithely voting on enormous bills (e.g. Dodd-Frank and, of course, Wonderboycare) that few, if any, of them have actually read before the votes. 

I encountered the comprehensivist phenomenon several years ago upon visiting the DC office of Congressman Rush Holt [D-NJ], a college classmate [Carleton, 1970] and fellow physics major, to urge his openness to immigration sanity (not a term I employed with him!).  Virtually the first thing out of Rush's mouth on the subject was that, whatever we wound up doing on immigration, it should be "comprehensive."  Given the implicit power relations in the encounter (he has a vote in the House, and I don't), I suppressed my urge to ask him, "Well ... why??"

To flesh out Derb's point, first here's an arresting remark by the Hoover Institution's Peter Robinson in his October 27, 2008 interview of Thomas Sowell, centering on the revised edition of Sowell's masterpiece-among-masterpieces, A Conflict Of Visions:

What comes to mind is Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies.  There is a famous chapter in there in which he contrasts Plato, whom he views as a radical—the man who wants rule by the philosopher kings—with Aristotle, whom he views as a kind of piecemeal reformer.  What you get in Plato is the impulse to start anew, and what you get in Aristotle is the impulse to accept the givenness of things and make one change, see how it works out, another change, see how it works out ...

[The interview's video and transcript are available here.  There could hardly be a better use of 38 minutes than to watch this video.  The quoted passage begins about five minutes in; I've corrected the transcript at a couple of points in that passage.]

Thus Derb is an Aristotelian with respect to immigration policy: Let's try fixing things  incrementally and see how each step works out before addressing some other aspect of the current insanity.  (The equivalent with health-care reform would have been—instead of enacting the "comprehensive" Wonderboycare—tackling, say, the $40-billion-plus annual fraud and waste in Medicare.)

Then another arresting remark, this one by Mark Steyn in Just reading Obamacare cruel and unusual punishment(Orange County Register, March 30, 2012), places Derb's specific recommendation within a larger political philosophy:

A 2,700-page law is not a “law” by any civilized understanding of the term. Law rests on the principle of equality before it. When a bill is 2,700 pages, there’s no equality: Instead, there’s a hierarchy of privilege micro-regulated by an unelected, unaccountable, unconstrained, unknown, and unnumbered bureaucracy. It’s not just that the legislators who legislate it don’t know what’s in it, nor that the citizens on the receiving end can never hope to understand it, but that even the nation’s most eminent judges acknowledge that it is beyond individual human comprehension. A 2,700-page law is, by definition, an affront to self-government.

Steyn's insight surely applies fully to an 844-page bill, too.