Philip Carl Salzman
The idea of “open borders” is to open one’s heart and arms to everyone in the world, open one’s country to all comers, to encourage everyone to come. “Open borders” is an increasingly popular idea in the West. Mainstream politicians of the European Union and of the largest countries of the Union have thrown open their borders and admitted all comers. So too in North America. Canada has welcomed anyone who infiltrates the partially unguarded border, as well as returning Islamic State terrorists. In the U.S., the Democrat Party increasingly opposes enforcing border protection and removing “illegal aliens” (to use the official government term), called “dreamers” by Democrats as they chant “abolish ICE” (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
Why Open Borders?
The new enthusiasm for open borders is a result of the confluences of three lines of political thought, each one ill advised: multiculturalism, utopianism, and “social justice.”
In the past, people in Western countries wished to protect and preserve their ways of life, their cultures. It was therefore common for immigration policy to encourage those from similar backgrounds and to limit those from different backgrounds. But in recent decades Western countries have shifted from “nationalism” to “multiculturalism.” The multicultural view, as the current prime minister of Canada has said, is that there is no mainstream culture in Canada, that Canada is a “post-national” state. The “progressive” elites of other Western countries, especially in western Europe, accept the multicultural perspective and have opened their doors to floods of Middle Easterners — most of whom bear cultures incompatible with traditional Western culture.
Western political and educational elites see multiculturalism as authorizing people of every culture around the world to come to Canada, the U.S., and Europe, and continue to live in their language and culture. Cultural relativism, the view that all cultures are equally good and valuable, is assumed and defended. So there is no reason to defend borders, or even to have them, because it would be fine to have unregulated flows of people from anywhere and everywhere. In fact, the “progressive” view is that the more people from many cultures that come, the better, because “diversity” is somehow “enriching.
All of these arguments in favor of multiculturalism are false. First, different cultures — different languages, beliefs, values, rewards, and punishments — are incompatible and cannot exist in the same society. You cannot drive both on the left and on the right; you cannot have both male supremacism and gender equality. Some immigrants are actively hostile to European, Canadian, and American culture, and some have acted and others will act against their adopted society.
Second, immigrants in North America cannot live in the languages and cultures from their countries of origin. Canadian law and practice are based on European culture. The official languages are English and French. Every Canadian must speak one or the other, preferably both, to function effectively in Canadian society. Canadian law is based on British common law and French civil law. Furthermore, Quebec officially rejects multiculturalism in favor of “interculturalism,” which guarantees primacy of French culture.
Third, some 68% of Canadians expect immigrants to conform to mainstream Canadian culture. Canada and the United States are successful countries because their many immigrants, early and recent, have largely assimilated to mainstream Canadian and American culture.
Fourth and finally, all cultures are not equally good and valuable, if considered by Western criteria of practical success and human rights. Are not immigrants leaving their home regions in favor of Western countries voting with their feet about which countries are better and which worse?
Fifth, exactly how “diversity” is enriching is rarely specified, and never demonstrated in any systematic or definite fashion. Was the Tower of Babel “enriching”? Nor do the champions of “diversity” ever advocate diversity of opinion — quite the contrary. Western universities no longer allow diversity of opinion, and have hired “diversity and inclusion” officers to suppress all but politically correct views. What the Western elites mean by “diversity” is a population of all colors, sexualities, and ethnicities, all saying exactly the same “progressive” things.
The “progressive” left takes a utopian view of society and politics. Its exclusive policy objective is to advance “equality,” even at the expense of all other values, such as freedom, prosperity, justice, beauty, etc. Not satisfied with equality before the law, or with equality of opportunity, “progressives” insist on equality of results, with everyone having the same status, income, and assets.
The demand for absolute equality is utopian because people individually and collectively vary in many characteristics, interests, and capabilities. To the degree that there is any freedom, the results of people’s activities will also vary, and thus not be “equal.” The “progressive” strategy is to restrict people’s freedom to act in ways that forbid inequality of result. The favorite tool of advancing equality is government control of all important activities: economic, political, cultural. It is no accident that in the societies most devoted to equality — the USSR, Mao’s China, Cuba, North Korea — the government monopolized control of all societal assets and citizens. In other words, they were and are totalitarian societies.
From the “progressive” point of view, if all people should be equal in all respects, why make a distinction between citizens and non-citizens, or between legal immigrants and illegal aliens (to use the technical U.S. government term)? Leftist “sanctuary” states, cities, and universities refuse to distinguish between citizens, legal immigrants, and illegal aliens, thus equalizing people in all three categories. “Progressive” Leftism thus, in the name of the “higher” ideal of equality of everyone in the world, dismisses the legitimacy and value of borders.
Conservatives have contrary concerns: primarily the protection of tradition. We see this in orthodox Jews shaping their lives according to the Torah, in devout Muslims looking back to the Seventh Century as their ideal model of life and behavior, and in Quebec nationalists defending their culture against their English co-citizens and against Muslim immigrants. Liberals, for their part, emphasize individual freedom, democracy, and equality in legal due process. Neither conservatives nor liberals favor equality above all other values, and they regard control of borders and incomers as necessary for achieving their objectives.
Unlike classical liberals, who see the individual as the holder of rights, e.g. in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, progressives see census categories of individuals as the holders of rights. Members of racial categories (such as whites, blacks, Asians, American Indians, and Canadian First Nations), of gender categories (such as males and females and transsexuals), of sexuality categories (such as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual), of ethno-religious categories (such as Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu), and of economic classes (such as wealthy, middle class, poor) are deemed to have rights as members of those categories, rights which trump other considerations. No individual characteristics or achievements are considered relevant.
In “social justice” theory, “justice” means equal statistical representation in each and every institution, organization, and group. So if Sikhs are 3% of the population, society is only just if Sikhs are 3% everywhere: Parliament, the cabinet, the police, universities, basketball players, doctors, lawyers, hockey players, dentists, fishermen, forest rangers, models, lumberjacks, programmers, jockeys, curling sweepers, etc., etc. The same with females, bisexuals, Asians, proletarians, etc. Aptitude and achievement for particular roles are not important for “social justice,” only category representation. Recruitment and hiring must be based on the applicant’s gender, race, sexuality, and ethnicity.
“Social justice” will have been achieved when each category is presented according to its percentage of the general population. If any category is not represented according to its percentage of the general population, it is, so the “social justice” theory goes, because bigotry and discrimination against them is excluding them. Each category is “due,” is owed, equal representation. This is what is meant when “diversity” and “inclusion” are invoked.
“Social justice” as equal representation according to population is an approach contrary to the classical liberal understanding that justice is awarding each person his due, according to the criteria relevant to the task or position being considered. The classical liberal position that capability and achievement in the relevant fields are the basis of just decisions, is dismissed by “social justice” advocates as white male supremacism. “Merit” and “excellence” are deemed by “social justice” advocates to be hate speech, and a “color blind” approach is labeled “racist.” Blocking members of categories who are statistically “overrepresented,” and replacing them with members of statistically “underrepresented” categories, is the preferred strategy of “social justice” advocates.
“Social justice” advocates commonly support open borders. The reasoning is clear: North America has a majority of whites, while the wider world consists of people of color. Obviously people of color are not equally represented in North America on the basis of their population in the wide world. For there to be “social justice,” whites should be a minority, with the majority people of color. That is why borders should be open, so that people of color could enter North America and become the majority. Objections to inviting all people of color to enter are expressions of white bigotry and discrimination, of white racism. Anti-white sentiments are regarded by “social justice” advocates as righteous.
Are there any problems with the “social justice” approach?
First, it is ludicrous to reduce complex human individuals to nothing more than census categories. This “essentialism” and “reductionism” have been rejected by anthropologists and any other thoughtful person. Treating people according to their category is racism, sexism, or bigotry.
Second, the obsession with equality of results to the exclusion of every other value — potential, creativity, achievement, freedom, prosperity, democracy, etc. — is unbalanced and one-sided. How attractive is the prospect of a society in which every category is equally represented, but no individuals are free to seek their destinies, and no votes on policy are allowed because “social justice” is not open to debate, and in which prosperity declines and poverty increases because people are no longer assigned to jobs according to functional suitability?
Third, favoring and benefiting individuals belonging to categories alleged to be “underrepresented” means, in practice, blocking and punishing those individuals belonging to those categories alleged to be overrepresented. In short, this illiberal “social justice” regime is “inclusive” in relations of people of some categories, while exclusive and excluding in regard to people from other categories. “Social justice” strategy alleges that it is helping victims, but its strategy victimizes members of other categories.
Fourth, the argument that categories of peoples are “underrepresented” or “overrepresented” due to bigotry and discrimination is dubious at best. One alternative explanation is that people in some categories prefer some things, while people in other categories prefer other things. For example, there is a great hue and cry by feminists that females are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, and an assumption that this is due to discrimination against females in those fields. But in fact there is discrimination in favor of females in those fields. Why are females “underrepresented”? The reality is that females systematically avoid STEM in order massively to specialize in the social sciences and humanities. Females are underrepresented because they prefer other fields. Females prefer words and human issues, rather than mathematical formula and material things. There is no injustice here, merely freedom of choice.
Another explanation of “underrepresentation” and “overrepresentation” is differences in community and family cultures. Individuals in some categories may be subject to a culture that values and encourages education, while individuals in some other categories share a culture that does not stress education. Thus members of different categories may be differentially present in education, government, and industry due to different degrees of investment in education, which is the feeder to academia, government, and industry.
Fifth, the “social justice” explanation that “underrepresentation” and “overrepresentation” are due to bigotry and discrimination clearly is false when considering minorities who have suffered discrimination, yet are overrepresented in their fields of choice. Blacks are massively overrepresented in professional sports, and yet who would seriously claim it is because whites have been discriminated against? Socially marginal Asians and Jews are highly overrepresented in academia and the professions, but not because those of European background and Christians were discriminated against. Are we to believe that females dominate in the social sciences because males were discriminated against? No, these members of “overrepresented” minorities did not benefit from favorable preferences; they earned their positions. So the “social justice” global explanation for differing degrees of representation is clearly false, and to what degree bigotry and discrimination ever plays a role in differential representation generally is open to question and evidence.
Those who seek justice would be well advised to seek it for individuals, rather than for superficial census categories of people. And rather than force collective results that they imagine would indicate justice, which disregards how many individuals were unfairly treated, those seeking justice would better focus on equality of opportunity, rather than equality of result. Equality of opportunity has the advantage of offering freedom of choice to individuals, and of not victimizing individuals who belong to the “wrong” categories. Activists should not worry; there is plenty to do and plenty to reform to improve equality of opportunity.
Open borders is a policy advanced by three flawed lines of thought: multiculturalism, utopianism, and “social justice” theory. Together, these mistaken lines of thought have produced the counterproductive and even suicidal policy of open borders.
Philip Carl Salzman is a professor of anthropology at McGill University and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.