Monday, February 07, 2005

Liberals & the nation: Who will be left?

Pamela Bone is a left-liberal columnist for The Age newspaper.

Usually, you expect left-liberal Australian journalists to support easier entry for illegal immigrants into Australia. It's something of a cause for the left here in Australia.

Recently, though, Pamela Bone wrote an article for the Age in which she made several arguments against an open borders policy for asylum seekers (The Age 22/11/03).

One of her arguments is that the immigration policies of Western nations are creating a brain drain in poorer countries. She quotes an aid worker in Malawi who told her bitterly that "There are more Malawi doctors working in Manchester than there are in Malawi."

She notes also that at a graduation ceremony for migrant women here in Victoria,

One young woman told me she came here as a refugee from Sudan four years ago. She'd worked in a hotel and sent money back to support her mother and brother and sisters, who had escaped Sudan and gone to Egypt. She's since managed to sponsor all of them to come to Australia─all except their father, who had stayed in Sudan to help "get the peace".

'He says if everyone leaves, who will get the peace?' the young woman said. Who indeed?

The father, in asking who will be left to reform his own country, is giving voice to a sentiment which I expect has crossed the minds of many Western conservatives: that the problems in many third world countries need to be tackled over the longer term by their inhabitants, rather than by shifting large populations to the West.

The question still remains, though, of why a left-liberal like Pamela Bone would be making such arguments against mass immigration. Is she going against her liberal principles?

The answer is no. The basic liberal principle is that we should be radically autonomous, in the sense of having no impediments to our individual reason and will.

Liberals apply this principle to different spheres of life and sometimes there are conflicting results. For instance, because liberals want to be self-created by their individual will and reason, they are usually unsympathetic to a traditional national identity, which is something we are born into rather than choosing for ourselves.

That's why so many liberals are comfortable with a policy of mass immigration which effectively breaks down the traditional national identity.

However, one effect of such mass immigration is to bring large Muslim populations into Western countries. This potentially threatens liberalism as it is applied to gender and the family.

Liberals, wanting individuals to be self-created by individual will and reason, stress the feminist ideals of female independence and autonomy and of a gender blind society. Such feminist views are not strongly supported within fundamentalist Islamic cultures.

Pamela Bone is willing to recognise that an open borders immigration policy, by creating a large Muslim population in the West, potentially threatens the feminist aims of liberals like herself. She chooses to keep the feminism, rather than the open borders policy, even though both are products of liberal first principles.

That's why she can write:

The second argument [against mass immigration] is about whether Western countries are entitled to preserve their own cultures. Three quarters of those seeking asylum in Europe are from Islamic countries. There are now Muslim majorities in parts of England, and in France there are more Muslims than practising Catholics.

... the threat of fundamentalism can't be ignored ... Women, in particular, had better hope the peculiar attitudes held by some Muslims towards women can be changed before those holding them become a majority.

The point to be drawn is that it's not necessarily illogical for a liberal like Pamela Bone to make arguments against mass immigration. She does so not out of a conservative defence of traditional nationalism, but because of the possible harm to other liberal projects, such as feminism.

The pity is that the opposition to mass immigration has to come from within liberalism itself. Pamela Bone is most likely to remain an isolated voice within her own camp. A conservative opposition would at least be in a position to take a more unified stand against current immigration policies.

(First published at Conservative Central 01/01/2004)

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