A Plea for Patriotic Cosmopolitanism: On Immigration and the Limitlessness of Christian Charity

1. No state can separate parents from children without incurring the kind of divine judgment second in severity only to that earned by sanctioning the execution of children. (An interlocutor indicated that I should add the obvious qualifier: unless the parent has committed a serious crime. Violating immigration procedure doesn't even come close to being a serious crime. If one were confused on the point, brief advertence to the exigencies of subsidiarity and the raw trauma involved when families are broken apart should be enough to put things into perspective.) 

2. Animus against immigrants is supremely unAmerican. The United States is the cosmopolitan nation, composed of all the nations of the world. 

3. Pretending as if only one of the major parties is holding immigrant lives hostage is perverse, making it impossible to gain a democratic consensus for immigration policies infused with Christian charity. (Both Democrats and Republicans play chicken with real people, and do so for electoral advantage, balkanizing through demagogic mystifications. We should refuse to be tools of our oligarchic political class, which alone benefits when we demonize fellow Americans for having different partisan allegiances. Turning us into little pharisees and demagogues, our oligarchs live their protected lives untouched by any threat of a revolution in the souls of the people. That said, it is one thing for the Democratic Party, which is officially committed to the disposal of inconvenient lives, to play this game. It is quite another for the Republican Party, supposedly pro-life, to not only play the same game, but to spread hateful lies calumniating whole populations of good but desperate people and to refuse to see the plain-as-day Christian imperative of charity that must drive us as we discuss the complexities of balancing national integrity and the universalist demands of our shared humanity, demands infinitely heightened by a God Who seeks to unite all the nations in one community of love.)

4. A revolution of soul must happen. What I argue for is a patriotic cosmopolitanism, that is, a recognition of the necessity of national integrity, but an integrity cosmopolitan in impulse and intent, hospitable to the dispossessed of the earth. I hold to the former on the grounds of political philosophy; I hold to the latter as a Christian.

A Plague on Both Their Houses

If we are in earnest about the Christian imperative to welcome the stranger and the human imperative to make a preferential option for the poor, we will abhor both major political parties when it comes to immigration.

To make partisan hay for the Democratic Party out of most Republicans’ indefensible (from the viewpoint of Christian charity) anti-immigrant policies, is to mark one out as a tool of the oligarchy—and compromises any chance actually to secure more hospitable treatment of those seeking a new life in America. Do we want to convince fellow Americans of the moral urgency of humane and Christian treatment of immigrants, or do we want to indulge the pleasures of self-righteousness and condemnation?

What are we to make of the spectacle of fulmination only now, though President Obama still holds the record for deporting more people than any other President? He talked a good immigration game while refusing to prioritize comprehensive immigration reform when the Democrats dominated the elected branches of government. (And, no, his 2014 executive actions cannot substitute for Congressional action. That’s not how our system works. His late-in-the-game orders may embody the right policy, but they lacked durability because they avoided the democratic work of going through the legislative branch—and thereby also lacked constitutionality.) Talk about the cynical manipulation of a pro-life issue: Democrats talk and talk and talk about immigration because they think the electoral politics of the thing works for them—but when they had a chance to deliver, they did not. And they never will.

Neither party leadership will do right by either the American people or immigrants because they belong to what Peggy Noonan has called the protected class. All the rest of us are their pawns. They live in a world untouched by economic dislocation. They can play their games while undocumented workers clean their houses, mow their golf courses, and meet their foodie appetites. So, the Democratic elite will toothlessly demagogue immigration reform in a bid to harness for themselves America’s future demographics. And the Republican elite will viciously whip up class resentment. (The former saying the right things about immigrants, the latter drawing on the reality that the burden of assimilating new populations falls disproportionately on the working poor—indeed, any serious and just attempt to reform immigration must seek to mitigate that latter fact by finding ways to shift that burden to the protected class.)

Do we want to create an American consensus on immigration reform? Then we must not pretend as if the only villains in this story are Republicans. Once we all acknowledge how horribly both parties, our oligarchic overlords, have acted on this issue, the partisan temperature lowers, opening the possibility for American citizens to step back and think about this issue from the ground up.

The Return of Know-Nothing Immigrant Scapegoating

Now we have this anti-immigrant President whose xenophobic rhetoric should make every American’s blood run cold, and which should nauseate every Christian. Trump rhetorically normalizes the grossest Know-Nothing racism (indeed, these are overwhelmingly Catholics being scapegoated). One may have a more restrictive view of immigration than I have. Fine. But you don’t help your position by defending the indefensible.

The President executed a policy separating children from their parents—indeed a truly wicked choice by him and the Attorney General. Even if one thinks closed borders are compatible with reason and charity, no conservative can think it okay for the coercive power of any government on earth to violate the integrity of any family on earth. Do we only care about government intrusion into the domestic round when white babies are involved? Subsidiarity is not something any conservative should dismiss under any circumstance.

I happened to hear that miserly soul Michael Anton yesterday attempting to refute the necessity of an increasing population for this nation’s common good—as if Thanos wore glasses, or Malthus had come to dominate the Republican Party. No movement pro-lifer could find his stupid refusal to recognize the reality of the catastrophic effects of demographic winter anything but insane.

These are not pro-life positions. They are the other thing—the culture of death full throttle.

What we need is a serious discussion of principles. Can a nation that would claim any relation at all to a Christian heritage, which happens to be the richest nation on earth, think that the necessity of regulating national borders somehow incompatible with looking at the desperate people showing up on our doorstep as humans for which we are responsible?

The Nation-State and Cosmopolis

I believe in the necessity of the nation-state. I follow political philosopher Pierre Manent in thinking the modern nation-state the only viable expression of the political in the modern world, indeed in the world after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Manent’s argument takes seriously the power of the Catholic Church as a factum in geopolitics. Can the city-state adequately preserve political life in the face of such a cosmopolitan and universalizing authority? Or, to update the vocabulary for a time when Catholic anti-liberalism is on the rise: is it possible to scale back to sub-national political communities? Dante in De monarchia and The Divine Comedy shows us that Aristotelian-sized polities could not avoid constant warfare (internal and external), incapable as they were of being a second sun to the Catholic Church’s solar preeminence. (And without a temporal counterweight, the Church fell into grossest corruption.)

But then Dante mistakenly argues for a single world emperor to counterbalance the Pope. That effectively eliminates the political: the unitary ruler has all the governmental power, and there is no scope for common self-government. (This loss of the political is not mitigated when the international imperium is vested in a bureaucratic elite, rather than in a single ruler, à la the European Union.) Boosterism for world-empire also fails to foresee the problem presented by modern technological power/biopower, which makes supremely dangerous any vesting of ultimate authority in an international ruler or elite.

That is, Dante overshoots in thinking a world-empire necessary to counterbalance the Church. That is too much power to be concentrated in the hands of one or the few. The nation-state is the mean between the extremes of fissiparous communitarianism and the nightmare of an imperial world order.

So, with Manent, I believe that politics must be sited in a place in-between the local and the global. That place is the nation-state, full of dangers of its own, but the only political form capable of channeling modern power, while balancing (and, yes, this is still a question) the universalism of the Catholic Church. As a Madisonian, I believe in the fragmentation of power, but with Madison, I believe that a continental polity is not an oxymoron.

Beyond my commitment to the nation-state as such, I am committed to this nation. I am a proud American. If one wants completely unregulated borders, that means siding with the forces of bureaucratic internationalism, with the global oligarchic elite, against patriotic devotion to some region of the earth.

And yet, I love America not least because it is the cosmopolitan nation, formed of all the nations, united by the universalist principles of natural law and equal human dignity. And I love America because I do indeed believe Christianity has a special claim on this nation, and Christianity is the cosmopolitan religion, bending all the powers of this world towards the New City, that Jerusalem from above intended by the good Lord to embrace every person on earth and in history. Charity does not stop at national borders. Universal reconciliation (making what was two, one) is the Christian mandate. To be sure, universality can only be achieved through particularity, but it must never be forgotten: universal community must be the secret impulse of our every action. The horizon of legal justice in the soul is always the common good—articulated in terms of family, voluntary associations, and nation, yes, but always also a good common to the single body of humanity.

So, let’s talk as Americans, in good faith (not as patsies of the protected class) about what it will take, prudentially, practically, to care for the stranger who has made the perilous pilgrimage to this land provisioned with nothing but a desperate hope that this our shining city on a hill will make a little place for them, as this great nation has done for every single one of us whose family origins lie in a foreign country. And those of us who are Christians, let us remind ourselves that the demands of charity are limitless.

[Addendum: I was asked why violation of immigration procedure is not a serious crime. To which I answered that regulation of borders isn't even a tertiary derivative of the natural law. Asked for further elucidation, I responded:

The first precept of law is that good is to be done and pursued, and evil avoided, ramifies into a few other fundamental natural-law inclinations: towards preservation of one's life, towards reproduction of the species, towards life in society, towards the pursuit of truth and the worship of God. To live out these inclinations we have the secondary precepts of natural law to be found in the Ten Commandments, the violation of which usually constituting a serious crime.

Life in society could lead, much further downstream, to a need for maintaining national integrity, but a lot of work has to be done before you get there. Some of that work I myself have provided above via an explication of Dante and Manent. But there is nothing natural, as such, about the nation-state. It is the supreme artifice of modernity. It is one I happen to think necessary, but the nation-state is not written in the stars.

Besides that fact, there is also the fact that national integrity does not mean one can simply seal one's borders. The right of free movement is a natural human right, rooted in the most primal facts of bodily autonomy. You know these basic facts every time you take a step uncompelled. Here the fact that the earth is meant for all (which grounds the universal destination of goods as a fundamental principle of social justice) must also be adverted to.

So, given the artificial reality of nations, there is a need to REGULATE borders, but there is no absolute right of a people to seal off a realm. (The question of granting citizenship is a distinct question.) The regulations, therefore, cannot have any absolute force. They certainly cannot justify a foreign state coming in and breaking a family apart. Not even close.]