Immigration as reparations


Of the people who can broadly speaking be described as being on the right, libertarians are the ones who are passionately in favour of (more) immigration, believing that any problems that (more) open borders might cause are in the end always outweighed by the benefits. Like the invisible hand of the markets, the invisible leg of migrations ensures we are all eventually better off because of it: the migrants, the natives, the source countries and the destination countries – primarily from an economic point of view but also from the social externalities of cross-border movements. The other sections of the right tend to be more circumspect; while some can be quite isolationist, the mainstream right position has traditionally been that immigration can indeed be a net positive for one’s country but it has to be orderly, sensible and in the national interest (not least so as to retain the broad public support for it).

While parts of the left also subscribe to such attitudes (particularly the more mainstream sections, which likewise need to maintain the appeal for the voters), the competing philosophy – which I think is increasingly prominent – runs along the lines of “ask not what you can do for your new country but what your new country can do for you”. Such approach flows directly from the politic of intersectionality writ large over the global stage. Take, for example, this “New York Times” op-ed by Suketu Mehta:

There is a lot of debate these days about whether the United States owes its African-American citizens reparations for slavery. It does. But there is a far bigger bill that the United States and Europe have run up: what they owe to other countries for their colonial adventures, for the wars they imposed on them, for the inequality they have built into the world order, for the excess carbon they have dumped into the atmosphere.

The creditor countries aren’t seriously suggesting that the West send sacks of gold bullion every year to India or Nigeria. Their people are asking for fairness: for the borders of the rich countries to be opened to goods and people, to Indian textiles as well as Nigerian doctors. In seeking to move, they are asking for immigration as reparations…

Before you ask them to respect our borders, ask yourself: Has the West ever respected anyone’s borders?

A vast majority of migrants move from a poor to a less poor country, not a rich one. Immigration quotas should be based on how much the host country has ruined other countries. Britain should have quotas for Indians and Nigerians; France for Malians and Tunisians; Belgium for very large numbers of Congolese.

And when they come, they should be allowed to bring their families and stay — unlike the “guest workers” who were enticed to build up the postwar labor force of the colonizers and then asked to leave when their masters were done exploiting them.

No trace here, needless to say, of the libertarian belief that immigration economically benefits the host country or the more mainstream right concern that it should. Instead, the new left position is built on very different pillars:

  • Immigration is an aspect of social justice – but it’s not simply about redressing contemporary imbalances of wealth and power but about righting historical wrongs: punishing the West today for the crimes of its previous generations and compensating the Rest for the suffering that might have occurred hundreds of years ago.
  • It is built on the cultivation of guilt and shame within the developed world about its history, it’s culture and its values; or, better still, self-loathing. If you believe that “whiteness” or the Western civilisation or capitalism or Christianity (or all of them) have been negative and destructive forces for the rest of the world, not only is the obligation to atone for past sins so much greater but there’s no doubt really that the interests of “the other” far outweigh any other considerations, including the “selfish” self-interests of your own society.
  • Since the domestic proletariat has over the past century or so disappointed the radicals – it stubbornly clings to outmoded social conservatism and primitive patriotism and it allowed itself to be bought by the capital – the class struggle between the haves and the have-nots has to be shifted from the domestic onto the global scene, with the West assuming the role of the oppressor (certainly including large portions of its unenlightened working classes who vote Trump, Brexit and populism, but excluding the wokeing class revolutionary vanguard) with the Rest being cast in the role of the oppressed masses, “the wretched of the Earth”.

For the activists (though not necessarily the mass of supporter followers) the same approach applies to all other groups deemed oppressed or marginalised, not just the immigrants from or more broadly the people of the developing world. It’s not really about simple equality but ultimately about reversing the power dynamics: to quote the Gospels, those who are last shall be first and vice versa. It’s about revenge and settling scores for the past, it’s about destroying the evil old and replacing it with the better other.

This, in general terms, does not sound like a winning approach to pursue in democratic politics, to assume that the majority of voters are masochists longing to be punished for the transgressions (real, imagined, exaggerated, decontextualised, misinterpreted) of their ancestors and their current privileged position (real, imagined, exaggerated, decontextualised, misinterpreted). But after decades of the left dominating the commanding heights of the cultural production, new generations have grown up indoctrinated from preschool education to post school entertainment about their secular original sin and so arguments like Mehta’s, once a province of the few, are now heard more and more in the open.