Why cosmopolitanism is utopian but useful nonetheless

On the topic of Swiss immigration restrictions, Bryan Caplan has an interesting (but I think quite wrong) recent post about the recent immigration vote in Switzerland.  He writes:

The main hurdle to further immigration is insufficient immigration.  If countries could just get over the hump of status quo bias, anti-immigration attitudes would become as socially unacceptable as domestic racism.  Instead of coddling nativism with gradualism, we can, should, and must peacefully destroy nativism with abolitionism.

In other words, we should keep on letting more people in until nativist bias dwindles away into the dustbin of history.  I say backlash will set in first, as  I have never met a truly cosmopolitan Volk, the cosmopolitanites least of all.  I would say Bryan has the moral high ground but not a practicable proposal.  Nonetheless we can and should favor less nativism and more immigration at the margin.

Steve Sailer of course is far more skeptical about immigration and he serves up — repeatedly I might add — general strictures in favor of a particularist approach to policy and to immigration in particular.  Try this bit from his discussion of Switzerland:

The Swiss, in contrast, put much value on what I call Citizenism. A Swiss Italian is expected to value the welfare of his fellow Swiss citizens more highly than his fellow Italian co-ethnics. And they do.

He expresses related ideas in other posts as well.

My perspective is a synthetic one.  Citizenries will in fact always be Citizenist (surprise) and to some extent this is needed to encourage the production of public goods.  Caplanian proposals to make citizens otherwise are doomed to fail and probably also to backfire in destructive ways.

Now enter the intellectuals, whom I call The False Cosmopolitanites.  The intellectuals, for all of their failings, nonetheless see many of the defects and costs of Citizenism as we find it in the world.  The intellectuals therefore should push for marginal moves toward a stronger cosmopolitanism, even though in a deconstructionist sense their inflated sense of superiority and smugness, while doing so, is its own form of non-cosmopolitanism.  Sailer’s failing is to think or imply that the costs of The False Cosmopolitanites are higher, or more worthy of scorn, than the costs of Citizenism, and also the costs of other particularist doctrines, some of which are less savory than Citizenism by some degree.  The comparison of where the major injustices are generated is not even close.

Both the Caplan memes and the Sailer memes can generate an unending supply of entertaining and indeed edifying blog posts.  Caplan can point to the fallacies of the Citizenists, which are numerous, extreme, and which create high humanitarian costs, including through war and unnecessary immigration restrictions.  Sailer can skewer The False Cosmopolitanites, who serve up a highly elastic and never-ending supply of objectionable, fact-denying, self-righteous nonsense.  Blog post by blog post, either approach will appear to “work” in its own terms.  And blog post by blog post, either approach will be susceptible to attack by outsiders who insist on the opposing perspective.

It is only the synthetic and marginalist cosmopolitan approach which sees its way through this thicket.

Embedded in all of this, Caplan is more particularistic than he lets on, embodying and glorifying a form of upper-middle class U.S. suburban culture of which I am personally quite fond.  Sailer is de facto less on his actual professed side than his own writings will admit, and in fact a group of ardent Citizenists, if they were informed enough to apply their doctrines consistently, might cut him down some notches as a non-conformist and smart aleck who plays at the status games of The False Cosmopolitanites.  Sailer insists on relativizing and deconstructing The False Cosmopolitanites, which is fine by me, but at the same time he overestimates their power and influence and thus he falsely imagines a need to take up common cause with the Citizenists, a group it seems he enjoys more from a distance.

You will find related ideas in my book Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World’s Cultures.  And here are by the way are my previous posts on horse nationalism.


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