Addendum: What About Citizenship?

When I showed a rough draft of this series to a few people, they were confused.  They wanted to know why, if I cared so much about rights, I didn’t insist that immigrants get political rights – i.e. citizenship and the vote.  The reason is that political rights are not part of my conception of objective moral rights.

One may believe that fundamental justice is either a specific set of principles or a specific procedural system.  You cannot, I think, reasonably believe both.  I subscribe to a certain set of beliefs about freedom and personal autonomy.  I believe laws are legitimate if they respect these things.  They are illegitimate if they do not, whether or not they are democratically enacted.  The holocaust is not legitimate if people vote for it.

If you believe that legitimacy comes solely from democracy, then you are a democratic fundamentalist.  If people can legitimately vote for whatever laws they want, then they can legitimately vote for the holocaust.  If you believe that there is a limit to what people can vote for, then there is a principle of legitimacy that is stronger than democracy.  I believe that principle is freedom.

The ability to vote is neither necessary nor sufficient for freedom.  Denying citizenship does not itself infringe on freedom.  Because I believe that legitimacy comes from respecting freedom, freedom-respecting laws would be legitimate even if not everyone were able to vote for them.

Historically, some classical liberals have gone so far as to recommend restriction of the franchise.  See, for example, Bastiat.  I think Hayek or Milton Friedman may also have questioned the wisdom of allowing those who pay no taxes to vote for redistribution, but I can’t find the quote.

I don’t necessarily agree with Bastiat that it is useful to restrict the franchise.  I tentatively agree with the Churchillian view that democracy is the “least bad” form of government.  But it does not follow from my moral argument for immigration that immigrants must have citizenship.  It would be an unnecessarily controversial argument to make, as I suspect every conservative worries (and every progressive hopes) that a legion of potential Democratic voters is camped outside of the country’s borders.


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