Krikorian's Craziest Belief
By Bryan Caplan
During our Soho Forum debate, Mark Krikorian claimed that the Democratic Party and the “corporate” wing of the Republican Party were the “Mensheviks to my Bolsheviks.” While I forthrightly advocate immediate open borders, both Democrats and Republicans are furtively and gradually working for the same goal. Though near-zero mainstream politicians ever say “I favor open borders,” that’s what they ultimately want. When I characterized this as a “conspiracy theory,” Mark denied the existence of any conspiracy. It’s just a “hive” all working for the same aim without central direction.
Since I try to sell open borders to anyone who will listen, I’ve got to say that Mark’s claim is totally crazy. When I talk to Democrats or immigration-friendly Republicans, they virtually never favor anything close to open borders – even in the longest of long-runs. When our conversation is absolutely private and off-the-record, the vast majority of Democrats and immigration-friendly Republicans continue to repeat a bunch of Center for Immigration Studies talking points: unemployment, low-skilled wages, terrorism, cultural harm, crime, etc. Many seem angrier about the evils of immigration than Mark himself! Given human nature, you would expect people to avoid conflict by privately feigning agreement with me. Even so, only a tiny handful of people with mainstream political views express sympathy for my position when we’re alone. I’ve barely even heard a conciliatory, “In an ideal world, I’d agree with you.”
Mark lives and breathes the American immigration debate. What would lead him to have such bizarre beliefs about what his fellow American think about immigration? Here are the top possibilities.
1. He’s lying or trolling to get attention. I can’t read minds, but I really doubt it. I’ve now talked to Mark about ten times. He seems at least as sincere as my dad, who is definitely on Mark’s side of this debate.
2. He thinks his opponents are much more logical than they really are. Many Democrats sympathize with welcoming immigrants in every specific story. Some “corporate” Republicans sympathize with allowing immigrants to work in every specific situation. If these Democrats and Republicans were logically consistent, they would therefore favor open borders. If Mark were prone to overestimate people’s commitment to logic, he could mistakenly identify them my “Mensheviks.” The problem with this story: This is an extremely naive error, and Mark has repeatedly displayed a properly jaundiced view of human beings’ intellectual standards.
3. He’s an extreme believer in the slippery slope. Since Mark knows about Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, he might be familiar with another arcane Marxist distinction. Marxists often distinguish between people’s “subjective” goals and their “objective” goals. Their subjective goals are what they are consciously trying to do; their objective goals are what they are ultimately working to accomplish. During the heyday of Stalinism, for example, sophisticated Stalinists might say, “Subjectively, Trotsky is a Marxist, but objectively he is an agent of Hitler.” Mark, similarly, might think that the slippery slope of politics is so steep that anyone who subjectively wants “more immigration” is objectively paving the way for open borders. Isn’t this a naive error for Mark to make? No, I’d say it’s actually an error with great appeal to sophisticated intellectuals.
4. He’s yielding to hyperbole. Politics is full of over-the-top, hyperbolic claims. Sometimes people are self-aware of their own hyperbole. But hyperbole feels so good that even smart people often start taking their own hyperbole literally. Indeed, controlling political hyperbole requires puritanical effort – and Mark doesn’t strike me as a puritan.
5. All the music he dislikes sounds the same to him. If you like reggae, you readily identify many different qualities and genres of reggae. If you don’t like reggae, it all sounds about equally terrible. Similarly, if you favor immigration liberalization, you readily identify many different degrees and perspectives on liberalization. If you don’t like liberalization, however, it all sounds about equally terrible. Maybe that’s going on here. Again, while this sounds naive, this error is so tempting that you’re likely to lapse into it unless you puritanically strive not to.
6. He thinks there’s a massive gap between party elites and their rank-and-file members. The most charitable story is that Mark thinks that only Democratic and corporate Republican elites are secret believers in open borders. Rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans agree with Mark; they’ve just been deceived by their globalist leaders. There’s a kernel of truth in this story – elites are less opposed to immigration. Still, it’s crazy. Almost all of the Democrats and Republicans I’ve talked to about immigration are at least moderately elite. And I repeat: Almost all of them strongly disagree with me, even in the longest of long-runs, and even when our conversations are totally private.
Closing question: Does it really matter why one person has one crazy belief? It does to me. Understanding why smart, sincere people persistently disagree is one of the great puzzles of the universe, and I yearn to get a better handle on it.