I confess that I agree with the Drunken Priest/Steven Pinker here:
Will Wilkinson has raised a fair amount of sand with a post on immigration. Borrowing a page from George Lakoff, he attempts to recast the frame of reference: instead of nation states, now we will speak of clubs and membership. The rhetorical aim is that such a reframing will put a downward pressure on moral inclinations involving xenophobia, in-group out-group biases, and other forms of patriotic fervor. But as much I support Wilkinson’s moral views–I would prefer to abolish passports–I think Steven Pinker’s criticisms of Lakoff apply here as well. You see, clubs have membership fees; states have taxes. I can choose not to pay a membership fee. The club may fine me. They may even throw me out. But if I don’t pay my taxes, I am harassed, pilloried, fined, incarcerated. As Pinker said:
If you choose not to pay a membership fee, the organization will stop providing you with its services. But if you choose not to pay taxes, men with guns will put you in jail. And even if taxes were like membership fees, aren’t lower membership fees better than higher ones, all else being equal? Why should anyone feel the need to defend the very idea of an income tax? Other than the Ayn-Randian fringe, has anyone recently proposed abolishing it?
It had even occurred to me that I was taking a page from Lakoff. Horrors. Anyway, I agree that the big difference between a country and a club is, as Pinker observes, the coervice nature of the “public finance” of distinctively political communities. Unlike Lakoff, I obviously disapprove of the “country as club.” Like Lakoff, I suppose, I'm urging that we pause to note the very close schematic similarities in actual political discourse and theorizing between (here using the convention of mentioning concepts by capitalizing the words that express them in English) COUNTRY and CLUB, CITIZEN and CLUB MEMBER, LEGAL RESIDENT ALIEN and GUEST OF THE CLUB, etc. Leftwingers like Lakoff want to draw attention to commonalities in these shema so that we confuse state coercion — the fact that creates problem of political legitimacy, the foundational problem of political philosophy — with the fair reciprocity of paying dues for services. He wants to use the similarities to efface the essential difference, which I guess seems pretty slimy.
My intention is to draw attention to the fact that people do tend to confuse the COUNTRY and CLUB schemata in order to challenge the terms of ordinary and theoretical political discourse. I want people to think of COUNTRY[GEOGRAPHIC] as LARGE PUBLIC GOODS JURISDICTION and COUNTRY[POLITICAL] as LARGE PUBLIC GOODS PROVIDER. When we see countries or nation states as public goods providers covering big jurisdictions, we open the possibility of seeing the United States of America as a very big version of Iowa that can itself be embedded within, or overlap with, other public goods jurisdictions. Jurisdictions need boundaries, but they can be a lot more porous than national boundaries tied up with club-like notions of national identity and sovereignty.
Certain kinds of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians all take the idea that a country is a big piece of real estate jointly “owned” by its citizens way too far. My complaint is that none of them say much at all about the justification of the principles that determine who becomes a citizen — becomes a legitimate part “owner” of the huge plot from which others may be excluded — and who does not.