Immigration and Self-government:
The American challenge

By Alan Keyes
April 5, 2006

The current immigration debate is finally revealing the deep fissures in the base of support that has twice elected Bush to the presidency. The conservative core of that base is deeply committed to the Constitution that mandates a republican form of government for the United States. However, much of the enormous treasure chest that financed the Bush campaigns' electoral juggernaut comes from a corporate base whose only allegiance is to the money that constitutes its power.

Today's corporate culture is intrinsically hostile to anything that interferes with its profit imperative. Long ago, its intellectual gurus declared the nation state obsolete, and began promoting a new international order that would supersede the power and functions of national governments, much as liberals want the federal government to supersede the power of the states in the United States.

President G.W. Bush's approach to immigration policy reflects this corporate mentality. Though the conservative core of his base gives first priority to maintaining the integrity of our national borders, the representatives of the NIO want nothing to interfere with the free flow of goods and services, particularly the flow of impoverished Mexican workers that will force down the price of labor in the United States.

They are happy to join the gaggle of leftist internationalists whose Marxist antecedents foster contempt for "bourgeois" and "reactionary" nationalism. Thus, despite what some leftwing commentators have decried as the go-it-alone nationalism of G.W. Bush's foreign policy, his immigration policy and the rhetoric he uses to defend it place him solidly in the internationalist camp. This puts his administration on a collision course with the strong nationalist sentiment that prevails among rank and file Republicans in the House of Representatives, sentiment that reflects the inclinations of much of the party's conservative voter base.

The collision could be averted if President G.W. Bush understood and would articulate the special nature of American nationalism. Only the most ignorant among us deny the fact that the American people are mostly composed of immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, from all over the world. But though immigration has determined the composition of the American people, it does not define the characteristics of our national identity.

The characteristics that usually define a nation (in the Greek ethnos, from which we get ethnic and ethnicity) have to do with ethnic traits such as language, common religious beliefs, customs and even physical appearance. But in those terms, we are ethnically as diverse as humanity itself. What we have in common is nothing so tangible as race or even language. It is our freedom, and our common allegiance to the principles and institutions that make us a free people.

Though they were first devised in a particular historical context, the principles apply to all human beings, and the institutions are open to all who are willing to live with respect for the principles. In this sense, we are a universal people, representing all humanity in its quest for a way of life that will respect the common dignity of all.

Yet though we are universal in this respect, we are nonetheless one people among many in the world, deriving our particular identity from the fact that the principles and institutions through which we realize the quest for liberty impose upon us a special discipline of mind and heart. The key to understanding this discipline is the concept of self-government – what Lincoln described as government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Unlike those who live with other forms of government, the people of the United States are not the subjects of government, they are the source of its legitimate authority and the constituents of it powers. The laws are made and executed through representatives they select. Both the content and administration of the law are supposed to be based upon their consent and respectful of their rights, property and privileges. This means that as individuals we enjoy a sense of rights and dignity that was once reserved to kings, princes and aristocrats.

But we also bear a responsibility for the common good that was once the exclusive burden of rulers or magistrates. As a people, we select those who make and carry out the law, but we are also called upon to judge and remove them from power when they neglect or abuse their office.

The freedom that we enjoy opens paths of material opportunity that were once closed to the many, or at best regulated by the selfish interest of the few. With hard work, ingenuity, talent and some good fortune, any American can aspire to a life of achievement, wealth, fame and power, and most can expect a life of moderate well being. We can lead our lives, if we choose, in pursuit of selfish comfort and satisfaction.

But our freedom also entails the responsibilities of citizenship, which have to do with the privilege of being part of the body politic, the sovereign people of the United States. As members of the sovereign body of the people, we are called upon to care for the common good of our country, just as good kings of old cared for more than their own power, wealth and pleasure. We are also called upon to respect in our own conduct the principles that support our claim to self-government – to exercise our personal freedom in a way that respects the ideas and ideals that make possible our freedom as a people.

This is the point at which self-government and self-discipline intersect. Some of the thorniest issues of our day arise at this point – issues like abortion or the legitimacy of homosexual marriage. Though some want to treat them as issues of purely personal freedom, they actually challenge us to apply to our personal conduct the principles that justify our claim to freedom.

If all men are created equal, on what grounds can we deny to those in the womb the respect for life and dignity that we demand for ourselves? If liberty means the right of the people to govern themselves, how can we allow unelected judges, bending to the will of a small minority, to force upon the whole people an understanding of family that violates their conscience and religious beliefs? Just as the good kings of old had to subordinate their personal passions and predilections to the requirements of their regal position, we are challenged to discipline personal indulgence out of respect for the requirements of our republican principles.

Of course, there are other examples of this discipline. Our attachment to constitutional self-government may require that we quell passionate attachment to religious, familial or ethnic connections that have incited and still incite people to go to war rather than accept political results that contradict them. Because we value the constitutional processes that make self-government practicable, we keep such feelings within the boundaries they prescribe.

At the same time, the strong expectation of self-determination and individual choice characteristic of our free society can weaken these traditional sources of support for our identity, forcing us to walk a path of lonely self-reliance without the comfort they would otherwise provide. This ability to go-it-alone contributes to entrepreneurship, innovation and scientific exploration, even as it makes organic social relations more difficult.

Thus, though in composition we are a universal people, the culture of constitutional self-government calls for special qualities of understanding, heart and mind that are not common to all humanity. Education, and in particular civic education, develops these qualities and prepares new generations for the challenge of life in freedom. This preparation includes things that can't be taught in any classroom, and that don't become a part of our makeup by any merely intellectual process. In this sense, free citizens are made, not born, even though the opportunity for freedom is the birthright of all. What will become of our liberty if and when a majority of our people no longer possesses the qualities good citizenship requires?

If we mean to maintain democratic self-government in the United States we must take this question seriously. Because the development of new citizens takes time and care, immigration policy cannot simply be a matter of dollars and cents. It cannot be decided in light of the economic interests of people in search of work, or employers in search of cheap labor. Its impact on the overall character of the body politic has to be taken into account. Given that the first responsibility of our legislative representatives and public officials is to preserve our form of government (that is, to uphold the Constitution that requires democratic self-government), this should be their first concern.

Will unregulated immigration strengthen or weaken the body politic? What structure of immigration controls best strengthens the American people's capacity for self-government? How can our immigration policies be true to the universal appeal of our principles of justice, while preserving the people's understanding of and allegiance to them?

Whatever answers we agree upon, one thing is certain: We cannot meet our responsibility for constitutional self-government unless we can control the numbers of people admitted to the United States for residence, and the terms on which they are permitted to reside here. Faced with a large, uncontrolled flow of immigrants, we must either irresponsibly dilute the process of preparing newcomers for citizenship, or allow the development of large enclaves of disenfranchised foreign residents in our midst. Either result shows no respect for our national principles of justice and self-government. Clearly then, the security and control of our national borders is the necessary prerequisite for any responsible immigration policy.

Until it is a reality, all the other elements of immigration policy are mere fictions, intended to delude the American people and distract them from the aggressive erosion of our character and sovereignty as a people. The legislators who insist on the implementation of comprehensive measures to seal the border against illegal entry are right. Those who are willing to neglect such measures, or proceed with them in a piecemeal and half-hearted way, are treacherously mistaken. Their position may serve the special interests of corporations or particular ethnic groups, but it betrays our common interest as a free people.

Visit for more by Alan Keyes

Related stories:
Please pass the salsa by Craig Smith, 4-1-06
Are Illegals Ignoring the U.S. Constitution?" --4-4-06 -- Craig Smith on Fox News/Neil Cavuto -WATCH IT-
Immigration Reform Act of '05: A Great Start! -Craig Smith, 7-05
Why I support the ILLEGAL ALIEN SWEEPS -Lupita Gutierrez, 7/05
Immigration and Economic Terrorism -J. Thomas Lowry, 10-04

DISCLAIMER: All of the provided information is believed to be accurate, however errors are possible. The opinions in the Commentary section do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Swiss America. Past performance of any investment is no guarantee of future performance. All investments have risk.

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