Brief Thoughts on Immigration and Patriotism

I’ve become very interested in the ethics of immigration and nationalism–that is, whether and how closed borders, putting the interests of one’s countrymen ahead of the interests of foreigners, etc. can be morally justified. I’m currently finishing up a book on the Christian Just War Tradition and when I’m done I’m going to start reading a book that I just checked out from the library on the ethics of the nation state.

Purely economic arguments aside, I’m inclined to think that restrictions on immigration and modest patriotism¬†can be morally justified on both principled and pragmatic grounds (if suitably leavened by corresponding humanitarian impulses). One’s country can be the greatest country in the world in the same sense that one’s spouse is the most beautiful woman in the world (perhaps also in the same sense that one’s religion is the one true religion). The local communities, relationships, traditions, and practices in which we are embedded are deeply important and deserve our loyalty–within limits, of course. And as Ross Douthat points out (, even if open borders cosmopolitanism really is the morally superior way, the persistence of local and particular attachments should caution the globalists against overplaying their hand. Future efforts to instantiate their cosmopolitan ideal must be prudent and incremental. They should avoid publicly conflating the reasonable immigration skeptics with the racists, conspiracy theorists, and kooks. Otherwise they risk further fanning the flames of populism that are sweeping the United States and Europe (and no, that is not in any way an endorsement of Trump).


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