Monday, July 19, 2010

Both Sides are Wrong

One benefit of being an Objectivist is that both Leftists and conservatives provide an endless stream of material for blogging. One example is Arizona's immigration law. The Chronicle recently ran a piece summarizing the arguments on both sides of the law, and not surprisingly, both sides are lacking.

Let us first consider a few of the arguments in favor of the law.
Arizona must take measures to protect its citizens, their lives and their property.
Since government's only proper purpose is the protection of individual rights this argument is plausible. However, an individual's right can only be violated by the initiation of force--by being compelled to act contrary to one's own judgment (the use of force is proper and just when used in retaliation against those who initiate force). But the fact that an individual is in this country illegally does not violate anyone's rights--his presence is not an initiation of force.

Of course, if he is sending his children to public schools, collecting welfare, or using public health care his actions do involve force. But he is hardly alone in that regard. The solution is not in declaring his existence illegal, but to abolish welfare and other programs that redistribute wealth.
No society can function effectively without a fundamental respect for the law.
This argument is also plausible. But an immoral law--one that initiates force--hardly fosters respect for the law. The law once declared that escaped slaves must be returned to their owners. In Nazi Germany it was illegal to harbor Jews. Only a monster would argue that these laws should have been respected.
Illegal immigrants are responsible for a wave of violent crime.
This is a sweeping generalization. Certainly some "illegals" commit violent crimes, but so do many American citizens. This argument treats all members of a particular group the same, regardless of their actions as individuals. Individuals who commit violent crimes should be severely punished, no matter where they were born.
With so many Americans out of work, immigrants illegally living in Arizona are costing citizens' jobs.
Every individual has a moral right to engage in free and voluntary trade. Nobody has a right to a job. The labor market, like all free markets, is subject to supply and demand. If an immigrant is willing to work for less money than an American, that is his right. It is also the right of the employer to hire whomever he chooses, for whatever terms he and the employee find mutually acceptable.
Until somebody comes up with a better idea, this will do.
This is perhaps the worst argument of all. It acknowledges shortcomings in the law, but accepts them.  Doing "something", it implies, is better than doing nothing, even if that "something" is flawed. 

The arguments in favor of the law are based on flawed premises: We should respect all laws, regardless of their nature; individuals should not be judged on the basis of their own actions, but by those of the group to which they belong; Americans have a right to welfare, but immigrants do not. Most of the arguments against the law are equally flawed.
The law will force local police to focus on immigration, rather than on violence or other crimes.
The police are asked to enforce many other laws that do not violate anyone's rights: Prostitution, drugs, and gambling are but a few. But opponents of Arizona's law do not oppose other laws that do not involve an initiation of force. Why?
Most law enforcement organizations consider the law a bad idea.
The implication of this argument is that truth is determined by a vote. At its core, this is an appeal to majority rule, and whatever the majority determines to be just, proper, or true is just, proper, or true by that fact. 

The number of people who support or oppose a particular law (or idea) has no relevance to the appropriateness of the law. For example, a majority favored putting Socrates to death for spreading unpopular ideas and a majority in the South wanted to retain slavery.

Neither side of this controversy is defending individual rights, for that concept is foreign to both Leftists and conservatives. Both demand that the individual sacrifice his values for some higher authority--society or God. Both treat the individual as a mere pawn, whose life may be disposed of as that authority decrees.


AMAI said...

"Leftists and conservatives... demand that the individual sacrifice his values for some higher authority--society or God. Both treat the individual as a mere pawn, whose life may be disposed of as that authority decrees."

This is indeed the central struggle of our times - to awaken people to the actual meaning of the moral code they've been taught and in most cases passively accepted without questioning.

Good blog.

Brian Phillips said...

From our earliest days we are taught to consider others first. We are told to share our toys, that there is no "I" in team, that we must place the "common good" above our own interests. So it is not surprising that most accept this without question.