Our Rights versus Government "Rights"
By David Henderson
In a post earlier this morning, in which I responded to Kurt Schlichter, I quoted the following from Schlichter:
Number One: We Americans have an absolute right to decide who does and doesn’t come into our country and the conditions under which they may do so.
Immigrants have no right to be here. None. They may be granted that privilege, if we choose to grant it. And we may take it away, too.
I then challenged him by asking what he means by “We Americans.” I stated “I know that, as a U.S. citizen, I’ve never had the power to decide who does or doesn’t come to this country.” I ended by saying “He’s saying that the government has the right. At least I think he’s saying that.”
Various commenters challenged me by claiming that I just have not accepted the nation state. I’ll quote from one, Robert Schadler:
I expected far more from the intelligent libertarian economist that David Henderson is. Perhaps his personal experience as an immigrant that was, briefly and innocently, violating immigration law colored his thinking. More likely, as another commentator also suggested, it was that libertarians have still not yet figured out how to deal with the geographical nation-state. Preferring another system is fine, but practical policy proposals need to be in the real world.
By the way, before I start to disagree with Mr. Schadler, I thank him for his generous adjective to describe me.
I can see how my post led him to think this. I also think that in some contexts, this criticism of me could be legitimate. But I don’t think it’s legitimate in this context.
Why? Because my point was more subtle than Mr. Schadler and other commenters gave me credit for–too subtle, it turns out–and that is probably my fault, not theirs.
Here’s why I even raised the issue of what Schlichter means by “We Americans.” It wasn’t to claim that I should have the right to decide who comes to this country. That’s too heavy a lift, especially for a blog post. It’s to make a point about Schlichter’s use of rhetoric to mislead.
Schlichter is a good rhetorician. What adds power to his rhetoric is his invocation of “We Americans.” It can cause the reader to imagine powerful Americans standing up and claiming their rights. What it doesn’t do is communicate accurately that all Schlichter means by “We Americans” is “the U.S. government.” So it was important for me to point out that “We Americans” doesn’t literally mean “We Americans.” It means simply “the U.S. government,” no matter who is in charge of the U.S. government.
If you doubt the rhetorical effectiveness of Schlichter’s use of language, try the following replacement for his bolded statement above:
Number One: The U.S. government, even when run by President Obama, has an absolute right to decide who does and doesn’t come into our country and the conditions under which they may do so.
See the difference?