01 February 2018

Historical hypocrisy?

The current New Yorker has a "Talk of the Town" piece about a genealogical researcher who's gained a large Twitter following for exposing the apparent hypocrisy of many modern immigration restrictionists. Using census records, she shows not only the obvious fact that most of these people are descended from immigrants, but also that many of their ancestors would not have met the criteria the restrictionists insist on today. In some cases, their ancestors arrived jobless, without skills or prospects. In others, they were very slow to learn English. The implicit question is: what's different now? There are two possible answers. The answer from the left is that immigrants today are more likely to be non-white, and the standards restrictionists seek to impose on them are discriminatory in the worst way as well as hypocritical in historic context. The answer from the restrictionist side -- which is not the right as a whole -- is that the nation's economic condition has changed in a way that requires us to be more discriminating in a non-racist way. There 's bad faith on both sides of this argument, in both the left's claim that all restrictionists are racist and the restrictionists' defense that none of them are.  But even if all restrictionists were racist, that wouldn't make them hypocrites in the common sense of the word. A hypocrite is someone who insists on a general rule of conduct here and now while breaking that rule himself, or someone who is deliberately inconsistent in applying or enforcing standards here and now. An immigration restrictionist is not hypocritical (though he may still be racist) if he argues that there was no reason 150 years ago for the restrictionist policies he recommends today. This may not impress someone who believes that the right to migrate in search of a better life, and the right to be welcomed wherever you go, are unconditional absolutes independent of historical circumstances, but exploring that position further would take us in another direction for a longer journey. It's enough to note here that American politicians, and politicized Americans, like nothing better than to call each other hypocrites, but as far as the immigration question is concerned, as in many other cases, that course only leads to a dead end.

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