This article belongs to the debate » Cultural Majority Rights
24 February 2016

The immigration flow’s liability

There is little doubt that the contemporary rise of populist forms of politics, especially those of the right, have targeted immigration as a key issue – and, more generally, political parties of left and right have responded to, and often stoked, perceived public concerns (however ill-founded) concerning immigration through efforts designed to highlight and demarcate the privileges of citizenship. In his timely response to this phenomenon, Liav Orgad aims to offer an account of majority rights that is, he thinks, missing from contemporary political theory and that can differentiate justifiable and unjustifiable ways in which the majority culture can defend its dominant standing and, hence, the rights it should (and should not) possess.

But why should the ‘majority culture’ have any such rights? To explain this point, it is important to note that Orgad is not offering a nationalist argument but rather proposes a narrow defense of majority culture, where this ‘majority’ is specified in terms of its legal acceptance of a constitutional identity. His focus is, he tells us, on constitutional essentials; it is ‘only on core constitutional principles, the basic structure, and, exclusively, on those principles that are essential for citizenship in a given state’ and, further, ‘the majority culture must be just, in light of the state’s circumstances; not every element of it is to be defended.’ By ‘majority rights’, he means ‘that the cultural interests of the majority [those characterized by legal acceptance of the constitutional essentials] should be protected by law – that is, recognizing that some aspects of the cultural interests of majorities, in some cases and subject to some limitations, are a sufficient reason for granting privileges to the majority and imposing duties on others in order to secure those interests’. As a general thesis, this strikes me as rather worrying. Consider, for example, settler-colonial states such as Canada and Australia in which indigenous peoples reject the sovereignty of the state and regard its constitution as an instrument of domination. Are we to take it that the majority culture has a right to ignore such voices? Orgad can respond that such a right would only follow if the constitution was just qua indigenous peoples and point to an account such as Kymlicka’s liberal defense of national minority rights of self-rule within the state. But disagreement about justice is at the heart of this dispute – and, as indigenous scholars point out, the conventions of state justice and international law were established within the framework of European imperial projects and, they charge, liberal theories such as Kymlicka’s remain within this framework. The question of the justice of a constitution is no small issue here.

Having flagged this point though, we should note that Orgad’s main interest in proposing this thesis concerns immigration and naturalization. Thus he comments: ‘Majority „rights,“ in this context, means a plea to consider its needs and circumstances when determining its immigration absorption capacity, either as a justification for a certain policy or as an excuse for a deviation from a general legal norm – a form of mitigating circumstances.’

What exactly is being protected by these rights? There are two different kinds of questions:

  1. Is the immigration flow liable to bring about a more or less just society?
  2. Is the immigration flow liable to bring about a differently just society?

The history of previous immigration flows, including the very large scale movements of the late 19th and mid-20th century, do not suggest that, given appropriate state integration policies, there is a credible basis for the belief that immigration flows generally support the undermining of just constitutional essentials. On the contrary, although often characterized by serious difficulties, the medium-term effects of incorporating immigrants may generally be conceived as producing moral learning effects and societies more attuned to just forms of citizenship. What if this supportive historical story does not play out with contemporary migration though? Would that legitimate varying immigration or naturalization policies? Only if we have reason to believe that there are not just and reasonable policies that would support successful integration. It would not, for example, be enough to point to failures of existing policies alone.

Following immigration flows, it may be the case that a differently just society may emerge, for example, one characterized by constitutional essentials that incorporate an acknowledgement of their multicultural composition. One way of thinking about Orgad’s proposal then is to ask whether, say, the majority culture of Canada would have been justified in adopting a more restrictive or more selective immigration policy in order to avoid acquiring the civic composition that entailed the acknowledgment of polyethnic rights? There are two points here. The first is that it is only though the immigration of culturally diverse groups that Canada has acquired the moral and political knowledge that led it to the idea that just citizenship laws require the provision of polyethnic rights. The second is that, even had Canada in the 1960s already possessed this knowledge, it is hard to see why that would serve as a justification for a selective or restrictive immigration regime. Orgad suggests that in determining the scope of majority rights, one factor is ‘the severity of the threat posed to the majority culture, the probability of it occurring, and its consequences’ but this cannot typically be specified in advance. What, if any, threat to the majority culture qua constitutional essentials occurs is highly dependent on the attitudes and policies adopted by the majority culture to the immigrant population.

But let us step back to consider the issue of ‘majority rights’ as a plea to consider a state’s needs and circumstances against the background of Orgad’s four paradigmatic cases of diminishing majorities, regional-minority majorities, minoritized majorities and victimized majorities. All of these circumstances generate prudential reasons for varying the immigration regime but do any of them generate a moral basis for a restrictive or selective immigration regime? I think that a case can be made for both regional-minority majorities and victimized majorities but only for these two cases. In the former, the moral case hangs on the historical relation and future threat. Thus, for example, Russian policy in the Ukraine provides a compelling basis for a moral case for Baltic states to be allowed to limit Russian immigration, although not to deny citizenship to their existing Russian minority. In the latter, the moral case hangs on the history and continuing fact of victimization. If a state is victimized by other states, then it can reasonably restrict immigration from these states where it has reason to believe that the migrants hold the victimizing attitudes. By contrast, the fact that an historic majority culture is diminishing or that a minoritized majority feels threatened clearly provide prudential grounds for considering their obligations to, for example, refugee flows to Europe but neither, it seems to me, offer a moral basis for varying these obligations. The relevant moral interest here appears to be that of migrants not to be subject to victimizing actions by the majority culture.

Orgad’s work is to be welcomed and he has, I think, raised an important theoretical issue and draws attention to the importance of reflecting on the effects of immigration and naturalization on the majority culture in the constitutional sense. However, his argument is one that I take to have limited practical scope – at least currently – in dealing with the demographic challenges raised by contemporary migration.


SUGGESTED CITATION  Owen, David: The immigration flow’s liability, VerfBlog, 2016/2/24, https://verfassungsblog.de/the-immigration-flows-liability/, DOI: 10.17176/20160225-094608.

2 Comments

  1. Frans Alexander Fri 25 Mar 2016 at 19:44 - Reply

    David Owen, like the two previous authors I examined, Dumbrava and Abraham, recognizes that “Orgad is not offering a nationalist argument but rather proposes a narrow defense of majority culture…specified in terms of its legal acceptance of a constitutional identity.”

    I keep bringing this point about Orgad’s constitutional definition just so to bring out my view that a true majority culture can only be properly identified, and defended, as long as one recognizes certain bio-ethnic markers and deep historical attributes. But Western political theory in academia is dominated by a liberalism that supposes that Western nations can only be defined as civic nations, which is untrue, and goes against the actual ethno-nationalist origins of Western liberal nations.

    The widespread claim that Western nations are based on constitutional ideas which any other culture can assimilate was anointed with intellectual authority by Eric Hobsbawm in Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (1989), and by the liberals Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983) and Ernest Gellner in Nations and Nationalism (1983).These authors exerted an enormous influence in academia, erroneously arguing that the nation states that emerged in nineteenth century Europe were not created by a people sharing a common history, a sense of territorial belonging and habitation, similar dialects, folkways and physical appearances; no, the nation-states of Europe were “socially constructed” entities, “invented traditions,” “imagined” by people perceiving themselves as part of a “mythological” group in an unknown past.

    Thus was born our current non-ethnic conception of national membership: the “civic” or “propositional” nationalism Western elites across the ideological spectrum now endorse. The difference between Orgad and the standard multicultural preoccupation with minority rights is that Orgad now realizes that in the face of relentless mass immigration, even this civic Western conception is threatened, and so he wishes to emphasize this civic-constitutional identity among the majority Europeans, but this emphasis is bound to fail for the reasons I adduced in the above comments.

    The liberalism Owen defends is further to the left, in cultural terms, than the authors/replies I have evaluated so far. He asks: “why should the ‘majority culture’ have any such rights?”

    Then he goes on to say that “granting privileges to the majority and imposing duties on others in order to secure those interests’…strikes me as rather worrying.”

    He questions why should natives in settler nations like Canada and Australia be obliged to accept the liberal constitutional definition of the majority White inhabitants. Even “Kymlicka’s liberal defense of national minority rights of self-rule within the state”, he writes, remains within the framework of a liberalism constructed by Europeans, rather than by natives.

    Yet, the same Owen who is willing to conceive full national rights of self-determination for natives, even outside the framework of liberalism, thinks that the natives of Britain, and Europe generally, have a moral obligation to keep their borders open and not protect their national cultures. How about opening the borders of the self-governing territories of natives in Canada to masses of immigrants? This is not even a thought in Owen, whose sole preoccupation is with the supposed blessings of diversification of European lands, regardless of the dissolving effects immigration is having on the identity of the original inhabitants of Britain, the millennial peoples of this land, and other European lands. (I will leave aside the fact that Europeans were the ones who created the *nation-states* of Canada and Australia).

    He says that “the history of previous immigration flows…of the late 19th and mid-20th century, do not suggest that, given appropriate state integration policies, there is a credible basis for the belief that immigration flows generally support the undermining of just constitutional essentials.”

    This is a major mistake since the peoples who created Australia, America, Canada, were almost entirely European in ethnicity. As of 1971, when multiculturalism was first officially announced in Canada, the ethnic make-up of the nation was 96 percent European. The entire culture of the nation was created first by English speakers, Quebecois, and then European migrants, and European born inhabitants.

    We are now talking about a very different immigration-reality, in more ways than one; not only about peoples with vastly different cultures, but immigrants who are immediately celebrated for their diversity and supported by massive welfare expenditures, in the context of a political culture dominated by elites who think like Owen and have no loyalty or affectation for their own people but are always playing up the needs of other cultures.

    He says indeed that only a “a state victimized by other states…can reasonably restrict immigration from states where it has reason to believe that the migrants hold the victimizing attitudes.”

    Presumably, he thinks that autonomous native territories in Canada have a right to restrict immigration because natives were victimized by Europeans; but do they have a right to restrict immigration by Muslims who never victimized them?

    What is most striking is his view that a majority culture has no right to restrict immigration even if such immigration reduces the majority culture to a minority. He says there is “no moral basis” to any policies which restrict immigration on the grounds that such immigration is or will eventually reduced the original inhabitants of the nation to a minority.

    I find it quite revealing that Owen never ponders why it is that only European nations, and only they, are caught up in this trance believing that it is moral for them to allow Europeans to be marginalized in their own homelands. Why not ask how come Japan, a liberal democratic culture, does not feel any moral obligation to open its borders to mass immigration despite low fertility rates? Or South Korea.

    In fact, there is no precedent in human history for a nation simply allowing migrants with different ethnicities and cultures to replace the original inhabitants. And there is no precedent in history in which the ruling elites, from both the corporate right and the left, welcome masses of immigrants, celebrate them, even as some Muslims commit terrorism, rape white girls, as they did in Owen’s England by the thousands for years on end.

    Here are some links on the epidemic of rapes across England, and Sweden and Germany:

    http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/5386/british-girls-raped-oxford

    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-28939089

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/the-unspeakable-truth-about-rotherham/article20335529/

    http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/7557/germany-rape-migrants-crisis

    http://dailycaller.com/2015/10/23/sweden-opened-its-doors-to-muslim-immigration-today-its-the-rape-capital-of-the-west-japan-didnt/

  2. Frans Alexander Sat 26 Mar 2016 at 11:41 - Reply

    David Owen, like the two previous authors I examined, Dumbrava and Abraham, recognizes that “Orgad is not offering a nationalist argument but rather proposes a narrow defense of majority culture…specified in terms of its legal acceptance of a constitutional identity.”

    I keep bringing this point about Orgad’s constitutional definition just so to bring out my view that a true majority culture can only be properly identified, and defended, as long as one recognizes certain bio-ethnic markers and deep historical attributes.

    The science is out there showing that ethnocentrism is a strong disposition among humans, though less so among Europeans, particularly Nordic Europeans. It is all the more paradoxical that diversity promoters think it is necessary to bring immigrants with strong collectivist cultures into Europe in order to weaken the ethnocentricism of Europeans, when the evidence is already showing that in-group/out-group tensions are getting worse every year due to arrival of different ethnic groups.

    But Western political theory in academia is dominated by a liberalism that supposes that Western nations can only be defined as civic nations, which is untrue, and goes against the actual ethno-nationalist origins of Western liberal nations.

    The widespread claim that Western nations were founded on narrow constitutional ideas, which any other culture can assimilate, was anointed with intellectual authority by Eric Hobsbawm in Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (1989), and by the liberals Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983) and Ernest Gellner in Nations and Nationalism (1983).These authors exerted an enormous influence in academia, erroneously arguing that the nation states that emerged in nineteenth century Europe were not created by a people sharing a common history, a sense of territorial belonging and habitation, similar dialects, folkways and physical appearances; no, the nation-states of Europe were “socially constructed” entities, “invented traditions,” “imagined” by people perceiving themselves as part of a “mythological” group in an unknown past.

    Thus was born our current non-ethnic conception of national membership: the “civic” or “propositional” nationalism Western elites acro