4.0 New Strategies for a Paradigm Shift (1850 - 1900) - Economising Justice and the Machinery of Legitimation
In a free society, attempts at spurring innovation of the political infrastructure are an important part of the discovery process supported by politics and the state. A formative outcome of political innovation specific to an open-access society is the shift in the relative weight of decisions or policies designated as “just” compared to those categorised as “legitimate.” In traditional, culturally uniform societies with little value diversity, the minutest details of life may be regulated in terms of being “just” or “unjust.” In a complex and populous society that grants considerable personal autonomy, there is a need to economise on absolute judgements. Justice as an absolute value becomes reserved to authenticate fundamental requirements of coexistence, the constitutive rules of the game. Many other contentious issues are processed by the political infrastructure to classify them as “legitimate” or “not legitimate.” Once a policy proposal has passed the various tests of legitimacy it may still not be regarded as “just” by sizeable numbers of players, but it will be tolerated as “legitimate,” i.e. legitimately arrived at. For instance, legislation concerning abortion may be countenanced as “legitimate” by the same people who view it as “unjust.” The political construct of legitimacy provides a peaceable diversion around a deadly battlefield where absolute concepts of justice collide unforgivingly. Again, we encounter a case of repeated games helping to transcend rational impasses by showing promise to improve the odds for mutually advantageous long-term conditions of coexistence. It is for this reason that the machinery of legitimation figures as a prime target for political innovation in a free society.
When by the mid-1800s restrictionist interest groups found themselves cut off from effective political support by the dominant parties, and emerging third parties congenial to their cause foundered, they poured energy into developing innovative ways to influence the machinery of legitimation. By (1) aligning themselves with trendy intellectual developments favourable to their cause and (2) pioneering extra-party and non-electoral forms of political influence they came close to bringing about a shift of paradigm in the public outlook on immigration.
As for intellectual developments, one needs to bear in mind that for many people it used to be second nature to think of certain other humans in racial, quasi-racial or otherwise discriminatory terms. The inviting attitude in regard to immigration was largely a form of favourable racial discrimination confined to males hailing from the Northwest of Europe. At the time, the Darwinian revolution was acquiring new guises in the social sciences, some influential variants of which would lend the dignity of science to blatantly racist taxonomies. Eugenics, founded by Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, was beginning to gain popular credibility and scientific respect.
“In an outpouring of scholarly articles published during the 1890s, several of the countries most respected intellectuals fundamentally recast the American immigration debate.” (p.77) The new paradigm spawned a multi-variant arsenal of reasons for excluding aliens, such as differentiating between old immigrants, needful at the time and of hardy stock, and new immigrants, depraved, effeminate and unneeded in the face of an allegedly lessened demand of unskilled labour.
The movement was spearheaded by the Immigration Restriction league (IRL), an organisation founded by Harvard alumni fearing for their political and economic clout, and drawing support “from the ranks of upper-class academics, businessmen, politicians, and various professionals who saw themselves as the last line of defence for Anglo-Saxon traditions.” (p.76)
Taking skilfully advantage of (1) the newly acquired scientific semblance of discriminatory theories, and (2) frustration with corruption in politics, the IRL also pioneered new ways to benefit from (3) the growth of the federal state and the increased bureaucratic complexity of government.
Aware of the expansion of congressional administrative tasks and tools, protagonists of the IRL realised that the new standing congressional committees resembled what Woodrow Wilson was to designate as “little legislatures” and “the most essential machinery of our government system.” (p.76)
They set out to advocate Progressive notions of “scientific government” and “direct democracy,” capturing the bureaucracies’ natural need for and susceptibility to direct input by those successfully presenting themselves as experts. Given the intellectual climate and their direct connection with policy makers, restrictionists had the edge over expansionists, especially over the new targets of anti-immigration initiatives: politically unorganised newcomers from eastern and southern Europe. IRL activists became integral part of a national immigration policy network, supplying the pertinent House and Senate committees with a welcome stream of statistical material, research papers, and expert witnesses. In this way, the IRL was able to seize the initiative in shaping policies and providing rationalisations that reform-minded lawmakers were happy to ponder or even adopt.
The lynch-pin of the envisioned shift in the national policy paradigm was a bill requiring a mandatory literacy test for all immigrants.
In 1898, the bill won passage in the Senate, its success owing “much to the endorsement of the immigration committee, prominent support from social scientists, and the relative absence of interest group opposition.” (p.82) But when House and Senate conferees met to discuss the bill, increasingly organised interests, pro-immigrant business and ethnic groups, began to build a formidable front of resistance. The bill’s fate showcases how under political freedom different interests compete over the right to change the social contract. In the face of mounting opposition, the IRL ultimately failed to rally significant additional support for the bill, notably from organised labour, while key ethnic constituencies of the Democratic party exerted pressure on president Grover Cleveland to veto the literacy test bill. The president complied. However, the bill’s sponsors were confident that a large Republican majority in Congress would override the presidential veto. But the oppositional forces from business groups, German organisations, Jewish, Italian and Catholic leaders, the Chamber of Commerce and other organisations were relentless, demonstrating a cautious Congress the determination and prowess of a whole phalanx of pro-immigration interests. At the end of the day, Congress elected not to overturn the presidential decision. Also, the near success of the bill alerted oppositional forces to the political innovation that the anti-immigrant movement had been able to exploit to its advantage.
Political competition always affects and is affected by intellectual currents vying for epistemic hegemony in the public discourse. Both in a dependent position as well as a driving force, the political discovery process is enmeshed in the evolution of intellectual and scientific trends. A vast subject in its own right, we can only touch on the fact that politics is exposed to episodes of intellectual history whose soundness may be revealed, if ever, only by some considerable delay. Add to it that the subjects of political discourse may not be amenable to objective assessment, and that politics is faced with rational ignorance and substantive ignorance on a massive scale. Cognitive separation, i.e. completely different and irreconcilable perceptions, among the contestants in the political race is substantial, normal, and inevitable. It must be admitted and peaceably managed in a free society.
Discovery through political competition is not without risks, and it cannot guarantee the absence of severe error, but it is still the best way (1) to incorporate knowledge generated in civil society, (2) to keep politically dominant views exposed to ongoing corroboration and (3) to include the largest possible number of interest groups in the permanent sequel of repeated games that produce effective trust in society, thus bringing about the dynamic equilibrium of dissension and pacification which defines feasible freedom.
5.1 Lessons for Freedom
Classical liberalism tends to misunderstand or ignore the political logic of freedom, owing to a monadic conception of the rights underlying personal freedom. In theory, these rights are absolute, immutable, and monadic, i.e. attached to and owned by the individual in inalienable form. Under feasible freedom, however, people, in exercising their liberty, negotiate and renegotiate these rights, both in politics and in private transactions. Free citizens constantly renegotiate new permutations of feasible freedom, thereby constantly rewriting the social contract.
We detect an unexpected and rather incongruous similarity of deficiency in socialist ambitions for central planning and liberal calls for a depoliticised society. Both desiderata are based on incomprehension of a vital spontaneous order which concerns the economy in the case of socialism and politics and the state in the case of liberalism. Both political camps underrate or misconstrue the need and the logic of the indispensable discovery procedures required for strong economic performance and, respectively, the feasibility of civil society at large.
As there is no single person or group of persons capable of registering all inputs needed to calculate an efficient allocative distribution, Hayek suggests inclusion of all citizens in a free economy to approximate far better the needed range and quality of information. Analogously, no single person or group of persons is capable of registering the inputs needed to take better political decisions than are available from a regime that guarantees the possibility for all citizens to make their contribution to political decision making. Incongruously, liberalisms akin to Hayek’s insinuate the equivalent of an impersonal central planer by suggesting that observance of certain rules activate automatisms in a free society, notably the market mechanism and the rule of law, that reduce the need of politics to such an extent as to portray freedom as a state of affairs distinguished by the absence of significant levels of politicisation - a visionary predilection that amounts to the disenfranchisement of the public.
A free society, this is the claim of the present paper, is akin to a free economy, in so far as only the mobilisation of dispersed knowledge lodged in decentralised units (citizens and their organisations) can bring about a discovery process capable of sustaining human relations that make freedom is feasible.
Liberalism cannot fulfil its role in a free society unless it acknowledges that its leadership in matters of constitutional integrity does not carry over into the area of legitimate political discretion. And liberalism must recognise that within the boundaries of constitutional integrity there is substantial leeway for political discretion by players of quite distinct emphases of vision. Freedom remains an open-ended project.
In order to establish her meaning and detailed shape, liberty depends on a political infrastructure that engages contestants in a competitive discovery process that is likely to result in eclectic policy outcomes deviating from puristic ideological positions. Adaptability is a survival requirement for any agent participating in the political discovery process. Puristic ideologies fail to stay in touch with the diversity of interests and views that push toward concrete policies. Feasible freedom may be conceived of as a dynamic equilibrium balancing dissension and peaceableness. Approximating the balance requires that the competing agents continuously search for new information about the prospects of their agendas, swiftly adjusting the latter to sustain support and the power to exercise influence. Precise and consistent accounts of freedom such as endeavoured by classical liberalism play an important role in clarifying the rules of the discovery game and the inalienable contours of freedom, but they are too abstract and too general to be able to prejudge the differing aims that people ought to be free to pursue within the competitive political framework of an open access society. Ideologies lend impetus to freedom’s sine qua non: discovery by political competition, but they do so fruitfully only when being capable of changing and renewing themselves in response to the findings elicited by the search.
The success of politics under feasible freedom is to be judged by the ability to balance dissension and peaceableness under the auxiliary conditions of high levels of personal autonomy, productivity, and wealth. We may register good performance and even progress along these lines in the very presence of state of affairs that appear insufferable from a classical liberal point of view. But it should not be forgotten that classical liberalism is just a set of hypotheses, some of which are rejected by freedom. Freedom is not identical with liberalism. Freedom is not identical with liberalism‘s account or expectations of her.
Summary of Milestones of US Immigration Policies