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The Conservative Mind (Sin Fronteras edition)

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 18 years ago, in 2006, on the World Wide Web.

There’s no real way to reply seriously to the kind of deliberate political sadism suggested by nativist creeps like those commenting on Wizbang’s latest on the Evil Alien Invasion. So, instead, I’ll limit myself to a couple questions and a remark. Here’s Linoge, suggesting massive new layers of government regulation in order to make undocumented immigrants suffer as much as it’s feasible to make them:

The word illegal sums it up entirely… I would not go so far as to say they should be arrested on sight (though I am close), but their presence illegally in another nation should be heavily discouraged. That means, no health care, no driver’s licenses, no jobs, no nothing. At all. Ever. —Linoge

Well, at least you’re not going so far as to say they should be arrested on sight. That’s mighty white of you.

Now, here’s the question for the day. How would immigration cops looking to make an arrest determine somebody’s immigration status on sight in the first place?

Meanwhile, here’s a small-government conservative who’s a fan of the East Berlin immigration policy:

At any rate, I don’t see why the States don’t take matters into their own hands. Why do we have to wait for the feds to take action? Is there some reason that Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California can’t start building walls and fences along their borders with Mexico? What prevents the States from using their state police forces to find, arrest and detain for later deportation illegal aliens? I’m not suggesting roadblocks, house-to-house searches, or Ihre Papiere, bitte, but I don’t see why a state trooper who stops a Hispanic driver can’t do a quick computer check to see if the person is in the country legally.

— docjim505

Here’s the second question for the day: what is the difference, if any, between (1) a cop stopping you and — solely on the basis of your race, by the way — demanding your ID for a check of your immigration status, and (2) a uniformed goon demanding Ihre Papiere, bitte? Because he, what … demands your papers in English rather than in German?

SJBill, for his part, didn’t feel threatened by undocumented Mexican immigrants until they scared him by … exercised freedom of speech and assembly:

Before these protests, I was pretty ambivalent on the issue — meaning I wasn’t directly threatened by illegal Mexicans. I see them all the time at local Home Depots, etc., but they are looking for work and trying to grind out a living. So, with the protests, the lights in the kitchen came on and we see millions of Mexicans (presuming most have other than legal status) marching in our cities and streets — all of a sudden I’m not quite so comfy. It’s pretty scary.

… I see a credible threat to our nation’s security, and we should do what we can to send these folks back home if they cannot abide the law of our land. That’s not being a xenophobe.

— SJBill

Maybe not. But suggesting that people be threatened, beaten, restrained, arrested, detained, imprisoned, exiled, etc. simply on the basis of their nationality, for having done nothing more than tried to work for a living for a willing employer, is.

13 replies to The Conservative Mind (Sin Fronteras edition) Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Dain

    The comments about states taking the initiative to stop “them illegals” is exactly the kind of thing that frightens well meaning liberals, in regard to any talk about secession/decentralization. I suppose one argument for states’ rights in the SERVICE of immigrants is that without the federal government’s subsidies, these rural border guard a-holes would be up the creek. Try building a state of the art fence/wall when you have to raise taxes on your own citizens to do it. In addition, the increasingly obvious negative results of outlawing labor, small business and other wealth generating activities of immigrants might prompt some kind of liberalization, especially when other states decide to open their arms wide to take advantage of said wealth. And of course the Minutemen are parasitic upon the border guards, not exactly a potent force without them. It’s always easier to be a bigot when the other guy pays for it.

  2. Lady Aster

    I don’t know, Dain- I’ve long been skeptical about decentralisation; what I fear is that societies with premodern, bigoted cultural values will impose their local prejudices ruthlessly without a check from a larger, more cosmopolitan society. I’m very glad for Lawrence vs. Texas, and terrified by South Dakota, and while I would support reduction or elimination of the state power I also believe state power is less destructive when it precisely isn’t in the hands of local, traditional social authorities. Historically, tolerance has been a value nurtured by education, liesure, and urbanity and made politically neccesary wherever a polity comprises a variety of constituent cultures. My experience leads me to believe that the rights of minorites, including immigrants (undocumented or otherwise) would not be better protected under decentralisation.

    I used to live in Virginia, and I’m glad the national courts have rammed a very moderate degree of tolerance and liberalism down the throats of the bigoted legislatures (and the society which elected them). Hunting gay men in cruising stings was a favourite sport of the Roanoke police department until Lawrence vs. Texas forced them to stop. Similarly, a lack of respect for states’ right or local self-determination was the only thing which kept abortion legal in the South and much of the Midwest these last thirty years.

    True, there are cases where the local society would pass better laws than the centralised state (such as marijuana and prostitution policy here in San Francisco). And I don’t trust either side- and certainly belive that central authority and urban authority can be vicious in a different, imperialistic way. But even so, my reading of history is that the general tendency is for cultural tolerance to flourish in urban centers. With this being the case, localism seems an idea with which I can have some anarchistic sympathy but which seems in practice a deadly threat to minorites, dissidents, and nonconformists of all types. Empires may carry out atrocities for cynical policy, but they usually lack the deeply ingrained conservatism and rooted suspicion of anyone over the next hill on virulent display in the quotations cited above.

  3. Lady Aster

    Oh, needless to say, I completely support the rights of undocumented immigrants to be treated exactly like anyone else- I believe in free movement and open borders everywhere, and consider racist policies like the profiling endorsed above appalling*. No one should need a piece of paper from the state to seek a better life where they might choose.

    And, on a cultural level, I immensely support the breaking down of all cultural monoliths in general and the hegemony of American Protestantism in particular. Spanish is a beautiful language, and we would all be immensely enriched by coming to appreciate the textures of the many traditions of living which human history has developed. I mention this especially to libertarians who have the tendency to judge the value of entire cultures entirely by their approximation of formal libertarian political justice. To my view this is an excellent framework for life, which has perhaps been most developed by Anglo-American societies (tho’ this is also very debatable), but I strongly believe that as regards other aspects of human flourishing Americans especially are much in need of outside exposure and a broad education. Libertarians often take sides on culture wars thinking about formal politics alone, and so end up siding with conservatives in championing a hagiographically Anglocentric view of history and civilisation. I would very much like to see this stop (and my thanks to RadGeek for helping to change this).

    I mention this because I easily forget that immigrants’ rights and the cosmopolitan spirit are sadly controversial within the libertarian movement. No thanks to John Hospers, Charles Murray, VMI, and “H.H.” Hoppe for introducing this venom into the market liberal bloodstream.

    • Speaking personally as one recently harassed and selectively ticketed by suburban police for the crime of ‘walking at night while wearing miniskirt’. One effect of anti-prostitution laws is that they effectively profile any even moderately explicit woman as guilty-until-proven-innocent and a fair target for harassment. The same ‘not in our town’ attitudes which run over immigrants’ individual rights to preserve the precious cultural sterility of the small-minded bourgeois also act to oppress sex workers or any woman sexually daring enough to be labelled as such.
  4. Roderick T. Long

    I share your worries about the down side of decentralisation. And certainly so long as we have a system in which localities are integrated into a centralist system, I do support Roe v. Wade, Lawrence v. Texas, and other such decisions that impose non-aggression from the center.

    But on the other hand, one problem with such centralist solutions is that they drive local reactionaries into nationwide politics, since reactionaries then see taking over the central government as their only solution. And once reactionaries win at the national level, then they’re in a position to impose their agenda on everybody. At least with decentralisation there’s somewhere to escape to.

    So it’s a rather dangerous strategy for us to rely on the central power to protect our rights. What’s really needed is decentralisation plus active grassroots local movements to resist local tyranny, push the decentralisation still further, and internalise the costs of aggression. (Easier said than done, of course.)

  5. Dain

    Well, I’ve been waiting all day to get back to Aster’s response (couldn’t do anything about it at work), but Roderick pretty much said it.

    I’m going to pick up on Aster’s implied support of empire.

    There are a slough of books recently claiming empire to be beneficial to human rights. Thus, the American presence in Iraq can be justified on humanitarian grounds, strangely enough, by this reasoning. After all, Americans bring a relatively more cosmopolitan view of life than what the locals are used to. But at what price? Is French imperialism to be congratulated, even after what the Algerians, Lebanese and Egyptians have gone through? And to justify massive coercion because a majority of people in a given society are reactionary seems rather collectivist.

    If one applies the same understanding of the coercion in Iraq to coercion domestically, de-centralization is pretty much imperative. After all, consent to the federal government is as illusory WITHIN the borders of the US as it is WITHOUT. I simply can’t defend empire, and many liberals inside of societies even more reactionary than ours (Nawal El Sadawi of Egypt for instance) would also take umbrage with the idea of American hegemony (not that you don’t Aster). And to the extent that they support the UN instead, the organization is still nothing more than a proxy of the political and financial interests that dominate it, mostly those of the wealthiest countries of course. And you can bet that cynicism and realpolitk reign supreme, not abstract notions of human rights. Poltics corrupts.

    To equate empire with protection of dissidents seems rather odd as well.

    Empires also prove to not be sustainable, and their lifespans have increasingly grown shorter.

    I agree with Aster that urbanity breeds tolerance. (And of course to this need be added commerce.) The city states of Europe that grew to be cosmopolitan sources of wealth and leisure also arose precisely because of de-centralization. Places that refuse to recognize the benefical traits of tolerance (or in economic jargon ‘division of labor’) also tend to be poorer. What’s ironic is that the growth of Empires are fueled by the wealth creation that tolerance breeds, but then overextend themselves, and collapse.

    So, if Arizona were to secede and embark upon a reactionary program of discrimation against gays, Mexicans, blacks, and whomever else, they would surely become irrelavant, as places like San Francisco grow stronger through commerce and a more cosmpolitan attitude. And contrary to popular perception, it’s the blue states that, on net, keep the red states afloat through redistribution, and not the other way around.

    Rad Geek’s support of direct action and creative methods of circumventing bigoted local goverments is, well, pretty rad.

  6. Rad Geek


    The comments about states taking the initiative to stop “them illegals” is exactly the kind of thing that frightens well meaning liberals, in regard to any talk about secession/decentralization.

    It may be that this is one dialectical situation where it’s important for us to stress that the kind of decentralization and secession that we’re interested in isn’t limited to states’ rights or disunionism. In the current cultural and political climate, it’d be relatively easy for nativist bullies in an independent Republic of California or Republic of Arizona to shove through all kinds of appalling anti-immigrant legislation, but much harder to sustain a meaningful anti-immigrant regime when you have to convince every county, city, or individual rancher to voluntarily go along with your asinine anti-immigrant policies. Let cities build their own little barbed-wire fences or internal passports or whatever, and let ranchers invite armed goons onto their own property, as long as they don’t have the power to impose their policies or their patrols on ranchers who are happy to provide a safe passway, or border towns that welcome visitors. Given that lots of cities and lots of individuals would welcome peaceful immigrants, the nativist bullies would end up with a sieve rather than a wall. But that kind of thinking is going to be a non-starter, and the dangers of decentralization are going to look a lot worse, if decentralization is seen as just synonymous with states’ rights and not with any smaller or more decentralized entities.

    Lady Aster:

    Historically, tolerance has been a value nurtured by education, liesure, and urbanity and made politically neccesary wherever a polity comprises a variety of constituent cultures.

    Well, urbanity at its best tends to help certain kinds of tolerance and pro-freedom thought flourish; but I think agrarianism at its best tends to help other kinds flourish. The best parts of the American Revolution (radical, anti-statist, directly democratic, anti-mercantilist, etc.), for example generally came out of the Massachusetts hinterland, for example, with most of the mercantilist jobbery and Law and Order conservatism coming out of the urban centers in Boston, New York, etc. What I’m inclined to say is that each form of life nurtures both its own characteristic virtues and its own characteristic vices. The agrarian tradition at its best cultivates populist skepticism towards self-appointed elites, individualist skepticism towards the arbitrary demands of others, an ethic of self-reliance, a willingness to live and let live in matters of private property, a skepticism of utopian central planning, etc. At its worst it tends to encourage parochialism, anti-intellectualism, hidebound traditionalism, I got mine indifference, conventional bigotry, a failure of skepticism towards traditional and supposedly natural authority, etc. Conversely the tradition of urbanity at its best tends to cultivate cross-cultural tolerance, respect for intellect and education, solidarity with others, intense skepticism towards traditional centers of authority, etc. But at its worst it has also cultivated predatory mercantilism, soul-killing mass politics (typically in the name of democracy), utopian central planning, imperial arrogance (both towards the Provinces and towards the underclass of the city itself), etc. I don’t want to slip into empty waffling here, but I do think that what we need to look towards is dialectical engagement with the best in each, in an effort to encourage, synthesize, and adapt.

    All that said, though, I’m also not sure how much this actually lines up with the question of centralization vs. decentralization. I mean, one kind of decentralist politics that you might endorse would be to advocate the secession of urban centers from the surrounding states and a decentralist order that’s partly based on people forming a network of poleis around these urban centers. Certainly there are a number of cities (New York, San Fransisco, Detroit, Austin, Atlanta …) where enough people are disgusted enough with their state governments that this kind of idea might have some real traction. After all, the power of suburban and exurban and rural counties to lord it over cities through majoritarian control of the state government is, or at least ought to be, just as much a concern for decentralists as the reverse.


    I’m going to pick up on Aster’s implied support of empire.

    I don’t think this is a fair reading of her remarks.

    It’s true that both what she’s suggesting and what the neo-imperialists are suggesting involve appeals to centralist methods of spreading more liberal policy over the objections of existing elites in the periphery. But the distinctive feature of the neo-imperialist stuff is that they’re willing to sign off on just about any means of spreading the liberal sphere of influence, no matter how illiberal or inhumane. The idea is supposed to be that no matter how merciless and deadly the wars for imperial command-and-control were, and no matter how humiliating and violent the colonial regime left standing after the wars were, it’s supposedly justified by the triumph of liberal policies over coercive traditional order.

    But I don’t see anything Aster’s said that would lead you to believe that she accepts this kind of any-means-necessary liberal imperialism. It’s not like favoring the enforcement of Lawrence in Texas[1], over the objections of the state government, requires you to sign on for something like the U.S. war in the Philippines or the French war in Algeria or British colonialism in southern Africa. In the current political climate there is effectively zero collateral damage for enforcing Supreme Court decisions over the objections of the states, so there’s a lot more reason to think that exertions of central authority can be forces for good than there is to think that militarized imperial projects could.

    [1] Actually, I favor enforcing Lawrence in Texas, too. If states don’t like pro-liberty rulings from the Supremes, then they should grin and bear it until they’re willing to buck up and secede over it. If they were to secede, I’ll oppose any attempt to hold them under federal authority at bayonet-point. But I’ll also actively urge gay people and straight allies to secede from Texas, and will go to the barricades defending their right not to be held in political bondage to the Texas state government and its arbitrary sexual diktats. I think that it’s perfectly legitimate to enforce pro-liberty rulings from the center (because it’s a form of defensive force on behalf of innocent third parties); I just think that that doesn’t justify the inevitable costs of government war, and I think it’s imprudent, as a matter of strategy, to rely solely or even primarily on influence over elite central authorities.

  7. Dain

    Geek, points taken. In hindsight, my response to Aster seems a bit single-minded.

  8. Doug Hainline

    Your comparison of the (proposed) wall along the American/Mexican border, and the Wall which separated East Germany from West Germany, is completely wrong.

    The first wall would keep out non-Americans seeking to reach the better life of the capitalist United States.

    The Communist wall was to keep in German workers who were fleeing the joys of socialism, and trying to reach free German territory.

    Your analogy would be apposite in the following case: suppose the Left took power in one state, say, California, seceeded from the Union, and proceded to implement full-blooded socialism.

    Then in a few years you could count on there being millions of would-be refugees trying to escape the place and get back to the capitalist states.

    And the socialist authorities would have to build a Wall to keep them in.


  9. Otto Kerner

    Doug’s right. Walls aren’t the problem; good fences make good neighbors. The problem is the state imposing itself and building walls where people don’t want them, along with the other assorted trappings of immigration control.

  10. Sergio Méndez


    When you use the word “socialist”, what do you have in mind? Voluntary socialism, socialdemocracy (like the ones that exist in western europe) or marxian leninism? Cause I do not see people fleeing western european countries as if they were in a prison or starving, nor I can imagine people being forced to anything under a voluntary socialist society…do you?

  11. Roderick T. Long

    Doug thinks the two walls are disanalogous because the Berlin Wall was trying to keep people in while the American wall would be keeping people out.

    This claim of disanalogy has a superficial plausibility because it encourages us to think of the sitation on the model of a fence around my house. If I have prisoners in my house and I’m building the fence to keep them in, that’s wrong; if I’m just protecting my property by building a fence to keep intruders out, that’s fine.

    But in fact this analogy would make sense only if the U.S. government were the legitimate owner of all the land within its territory. But it isn’t — it’s a third-party intervener. If people south of the border want to come enter into voluntary economic relationships with property owners north of the border, and the property owners north of the border are willing (as plainly millions are), and some government comes along and forbids the Mexicans to cross the border, why does it matter whether it’s the U.S. government, the Mexican government, or the government of Ruritania that’s doing the interfering? Either way, a violent third-party intervener is preventing peaceful people from entering into mutually benefical cooperative relationships. I don’t have the right to build a fence to kepe people out of your yard if it’s your property and you don’t want the fence there.

  12. Rad Geek


    You’re right that there are differences between the proposed walls / razor wire fences / whatever on the U.S.-Mexico border, and the old Berlin Wall. Here are some of them:

    1. East Germany was a worse place to live than Mexico

    2. The Berlin Wall was constructed by the regime in the worse place to pen their own subjects in; the U.S. Mexico wall would be constructed by the regime in the better place to lock the other country’s subjects out.

    3. The Berlin Wall stopped immigration of people into a country where the majority the same ethnicity as them. The U.S.-Mexico Wall would stop immigration of people into a country where the majority have a different ethnicity from them.

    It’s true that these are all real differences. Now the question for you, Doug, is which if any of these you take to be the morally relevant difference that makes the comparison inappropriate. (All analogies, remember, involve comparing things that are in some respect unlike; in good analogies the differences aren’t relevant differences, and in bad analogies they are relevant differences.)

    Roderick and Otto have already given good replies on point 2. Point 1 makes only for a difference of degree, not of kind; while a totalitarian police state with endemic poverty is worse than an inconsistently repressive state with endemic poverty, neither is a place that anybody should be stuck in against their will when they can make a better life for themselves in freer and more prosperous places. It’s true that the Berlin Wall is worse, in that respect, than the proposed U.S.-Mexico wall would be, but I didn’t claim that it’d be just as bad. The analogy only indicates that they’d both be objectionable for much the same reasons.

    That leaves only point 3, the difference of ethnicity. Just to give you a heads-up, I don’t think there is any non-bigoted reason whatsoever to treat (3) as a morally relevant difference. If you do, or if you think that bigotry in immigration policy is O.K., then you’re going to have to make a pretty strong case to justify explicit government discrimination on the basis of nationality or ethnicity.

— 2008 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-02-10 – The Conservative Mind (second Sin Fronteras edition):

    […] GT 2006-03-27: The Conservative Mind (Sin Fronteras edition) […]

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