The mass assault attacks by immigrants in Cologne Germany on New Year’s Eve (among other german cities) made a news splash this week. Thousands of young men, mostly of Arab and North African descent, used the revelry as an opportunity to get drunk and hang out in large crowds around German transit stations, groping and harassing women. Mostly young white European women. A number of sexual assaults and at least one rape were reported as well. Later reports confirmed the attackers were mostly immigrants, including many asylum seekers from places like Syria. Moreover, there were similar mass assaults in other German cities, such as Hamburg, on the same evening. Four Syrians gang-raped two German teenage girls in southern Germany as well. Apparently it was some sort of coordinated attack.
Does that sound a little racist to you? Does to me.
Of course, you may have barely heard about this, because until the story was broke by Breitbart and others, it was mostly ignored by the media at large. Not to mention the feminist/progressive/SJW camps that would normally be up in arms. Why?
Cause it didn’t fit the cultural narrative. You know, the one about evil white men. This, my friends, is Identity Politics. Right and wrong, good and evil, depend not on what you do, but merely on who you are. Or more precisely, the group to whom you belong.
The whole assault story is problematic for the Progressive camp. They have been arguing about how we need to be more open to immigrants for months now. Cause otherwise you are racist. They also of course like to complain about female oppression and misogyny, which certainly mass sexual assault fits into. The problem with the mass assaults in Cologne is that they are sexual assaults on women perpetrated by “underprivileged” people of color. And that is where identity politics falls apart … how do we pick one group over another?
But the real crux of the issue goes deeper. The looming question for Europe, and potentially the United States, is whether granting asylum for all these migrants is the right thing to do. Progressives would argue that the “liberal” thing to do is the nice thing. The moral thing. The problem is that is completely illiberal. Let me explain …
The core principle behind Liberalism is that of rational self-interest. We do not do things because they “feel good” … we do them because there is some enlightened self-interest that benefits us. Free markets benefits us by providing greater economic opportunity. Free speech benefits us by being allowed to voice opinions without fear of reprisal. Due process benefits us by diminishing the chance we will be the victims of witch hunts. The idea is a basic premise of human psychology – that we do things in exchange for some perceived benefit, either now or in the future. It is the basis of the idea of individualism – that creating the correct incentives for the individual can result in the greater good. This is also the principle behind John Locke’s social contract theory.
Liberalism is all about such rational self-interest. It has nothing to do with being nice. If you equate Liberalism with “being nice” (averse to those conservative meanies), then you have a poor understanding of the term. Nor is Liberalism about being moral. Morality is often vague, and changes with the times. Ephemeral. Subject to moral panics, outrage, feelings. And something that shifts every time the wind blows is no basis for a political philosophy.
Homosexuality? I think it should be legal, because even though I am not one, it doesn’t hurt me directly, and the reality is that providing greater freedoms to other individuals without little to no cost to me may spur them to create productive things for society. And I might at some point benefit from those things.
Abortion? I think it should be legal, because there are already way too many people on the planet. And besides, who will pay to feed them, look after them, pay for their medical care. Not having to deal with that burden is a benefit to me.
What about a trickier one, like gun control? Well, I think gun rights should be preserved. Certainly, I think people shouldn’t be able to run around doing whatever they want with guns, and for god sakes no on “needs” an Uzi. But the reality is that when government controls the only means of violence, then the tendency is for the emergence of totalitarian and/or authoritarian regimes. It is in my self-interest of individualism and individual rights to argue for some balance in gun control, even if it puts me at some risk. It is a calculated risk.
None of this has anything to do with being nice, rather it is all about rational self-interest. That is Liberalism in a nutshell.
Because if it provides no benefit, then it is not a Liberal position. It is simply a feel-good position. Such feel-good positions are favorites of illiberal progressives …
So what potential benefits could there be? Perhaps the most tangible argument is for some sort of economic benefits from more low-skilled labor? You need nannies and housekeepers and gardeners to enable the high-skilled workers to do their thing after all. And perhaps, if these migrants pull their weight, that would broaden the tax base. The problem is, they may or may not do so … and as such they might end up being more a burden on the social support system. In short, the economic benefits are unclear at best.
So if the reality is that those immigrants are also causing problems – e.g. decreasing the safety of native-born citizens in their own land, and threatening the sanctity of women there to boot – then it is not clear it is in our self-interest to open our doors. The point is that it must be a rational decision, one based on an accounting of the trade-offs. A true classical liberal would look at such trade-offs, evaluate their self-interest, and use that to take a position on the issue. Yet nowhere is such a calculation being debated. It is either right-wingers or Progressives dominating the discussion.
When we reach a point where we no longer equate Liberalism with rational self-interest, then it ceases to be liberalism. It simply becomes irrational. And that, my friends, is a very real danger from progressives. The freedoms we hold dear must be protected by rationalism, not feel-good ideas.
Ironically, it is the ones who benefit most from freedom who are often the worst defenders of it.