Morally Bogus Debates

Daniel Larison writes:

Wilkinson would prefer instead morally bogus debates about whether caring for the poor means abolishing borders and swamping our country with millions of immigrants.  For my part, I get really tired of Wilkinson’s lectures about things and people he identifies as ”nationalist,” when he has made it quite clear over the years that he makes no distinction between nationalism and patriotism, lauds others who fail to make this distinction and in any case doesn’t understand what patriotism is.

It’s amusing how the defense of the human right to travel and associate freely is so often and so desperately cast as “abolishing borders.” But I don’t think I’ve ever defended “abolishing” borders. When Kerry I move to Iowa next month, we will cross the borders of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and I have no problem whatsoever with any of them. Jurisdictions need to be bounded. I’m for borders. What I defend is making national borders more like state borders — making it easier to legally cross and to gain legal residency. I defend this on the grounds that the severity of the restrictions placed on freedom, the extent of the violation of rights to movement and association, and the amount of harm to human welfare, cannot be justified on moral grounds by any imagined compensating benefits. If Larison thinks such restrictions can be morally justified, then I am more than happy to have that debate, because I think I will win. Of course, if he thinks the need to justify coercion and harm is “morally bogus,” then we may share too little normative vocabulary to understand each other. But I think we do understand each other.

If Larison is right that I don’t even understand what patriotism is, then I’m probably right that he doesn’t even understand what morality or justice is, which would explain why he seems not even to grasp that he bears the burden of defending his moral chauvinism. But it might also be that we understand all these things fairly well and just disagree about them at a pretty fundamental level.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center