An examination of the ethics of illegal immigration and states
Congress is considering a bill which grants legal status to high school graduates who came to the country before they turn sixteen and have lived here for at least five years.
Why is it appropriate to make an exception for students alone? The truth is that the answer may tell us something about the value of citizenship, as well as why states have the right to confer citizenship upon some persons while denying it for others. Read more
The perfectionism-neutrality debate
Last week I wrote about government’s use of taxes, tax credits, fees and regulations, and legal punishment to incentivize and disincentivize personal behavior, such as the homebuyers tax credit, taxes on alcohol, parking meter fees and speeding tickets. As I noted, one of the key public philosophical questions that arises is “to what ends may government incentivize/disincentivize behavior?”. This question gets at the core of a philosophical debate over whether the state should promote certain conceptions of the good life (“goods”). One side of the debate – perfectionism – claims that the state can and should promote goods. Neutrality, on the other hand, argues that the state can and must refrain from promoting the good and instead promote only “the right.”
NYU Law Professor and sometimes public philosopher, Ronald Dworkin, posits that this debate ultimately sets liberalism, which Dworkin believes is grounded in neutrality, apart from other political theories. Other liberal theorists, such as Rice University philosopher George Sher, believe perfectionism can be compatible with liberalism. In this post I want to elaborate on this debate, though within the space limitations of a blog I will just get to skim the surface. Read more
Bernard-Henri Lévy has an interesting post bemoaning the debate over “national identity” in France.
…the word “identity” applies to subjects, not to communities; it can be used in the plural, never in the singular. To forget that, to reduce a nation either to this collection of things in common or to this ossified catalogue of traits that are the two possible names of its supposed identity is to impoverish it, to kill it, all the while pretending to give it faith in its future.
Here Lévy uses the best liberal defense against both nationalism and relativism / multiculturalism, ironically. The easy riposte to the overeager nationalist is to say “We are a nation of many communities, ideologies, and faiths.” But the multiculturalist merely replaces one homogeneous culture with many. No one group can claim a monopoly on “identity” – the buck doesn’t stop anywhere.
So shouldn’t we just leave identity (whether religious, political, or cultural) up to individuals? I can hear Michael Sandel and the communitarians squirming already! Of course it’s not that simple; we aren’t born with fully-fledged self-concepts and we don’t just reason our way to them in a vacuum. We can, however, take care not to rigidify identity within groups, especially at the behest of their leaders. If there’s any common value worth having, it’s internal debate!
Angela Merkel no longer talks about freedom. What does that mean about her outlook for Germany?
An interesting piece in the New York Times today points out that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stopped using the word “freedom,” and now emphasizes “solidarity, justice and security.” As the article goes on to suggest, the change in rhetoric has been accompanied by a free hand given to conservatives in her own party.
In one sense, this seems like a rehash of the classic tension between what some would call individualism versus communitarianism. The former organizes political societies around the individual, the latter, around the community. Read more
In those John Ford movies where a Western town organized itself, they would point out that there was no U.S. government employee handing out spools of red tape, telling them they how to do it; it was individuals freely choosing come together harmoniously.
This is not uniformly true. In the 1962 John Ford classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, civic order and community arrive in the form of a young lawyer from the East named Ransom Stoddard (and played by Jimmy Stewart). Stoddard despises the way rugged individualism has left the town lawless and violent, and the children uneducated. He works for the newspaper, opens a school, and helps organize the towns people.
The fundamental political conflict has to do with whether the territory in which the town is located should seek statehood. On the one side are the small farmers and entrepreneurs who have much to gain from statehood and, on the other, are the ranchers and big landowners who wish the land to remain part of the “open range.” The landowners hire Liberty Valence (an outlaw) to terrorize the townspeople in order to dissuade them from advocating for statehood. Stoddard is elected to represent the town at the territorial convention and, from there, is elected a delegate to Washington (he later becomes a senator representing the state).
In this case, community did not come about as the organic result of unfettered individualism. It was, in fact, government agents, studious bureaucrats, and the rule of law that were the only hope to curtail the rugged individualism and unbounded liberty (“Liberty Valence” is not a coincidental name for the outlaw) that were tearing apart the bonds of community and civic order.
Jake might be right about the Republican theory of community, but he’s not correct about John Ford Westerns.