Studying politics and the state from an angle that reveals them as an emergent order may be instrumental in overcoming the liberal’s or indeed anybody’s sweepingly hostile presumption against them. A change of perspective of this kind may enable us to discern among the tangle and turmoil of politics moves as if by an invisible hand, bringing to the fore the benign effects of practices habitually dismissed as corrupt or underhanded. Consider political opportunism.
2.1 The Indeterminacy of Freedom and Heuristic Opportunism
What lends the system of political freedom an often sordid and even corrupt quality, namely the opportunism of shifting and duplicitous positions, makes it also more flexible and representative. After all, in an adaptable political order, there is a need for trial, error, and error elimination, demanding a kind of responsiveness that leaves behind patterns both of apparent and real opportunism. Introducing erratic and unpredictable conduct into politics and thus dividing contestants, such patterns of opportunism may eventually mark a path that brings foes together or at least allows for pacific competition. There is a fine line between genuine opportunism, on one hand, and political learning and experimentation, on the other. In large measure, politics is about reconciling the irreconcilable. Indeed, politics is the art of finding compromises and forms of power sharing suitable to sustain repeated games that, in turn, produce a durable atmosphere of effective trust.
2.2 Opportunism, Political Learning and Effective Trust
Effective trust is attained when people act as if they trusted one another, without entering into relationships of personal trust. Entrusting one’s political enemy with a high political office is a case in point. Effective trust is brought about not by personal encounters and the subsequent discovery of mutual congeniality but rather by virtue of the constraining effects of institutions that ensure fairness and prevent vicious and costly retribution. Office and person become separable. The political and the private personae are assigned distinct spheres. People cooperate peacefully and productively in one sphere - say as employer and employee - while being fundamentally at odds with each other in a different sphere where they act as political partisans.
The classical liberal expectation that social order may be derived from observing firm principles and certain generally applicable rules of just conduct represents a necessary, yet not a sufficient condition for citizenship in civil society. The classical liberal’s overly pronounced confidence in static rules is unrealistic because patterns of apparent and real opportunism play a key role in balancing (1) the right to disagree with one another in a free society against (2) the need to establish effective trust and peaceable conditions. Political reality is subtle. Behaviour that gives the appearance of opportunism and duplicity may be beneficial in helping to feel one’s way in unchartered terrain, sound out the popular consensus and its tolerance for innovation and nonconformity, forge alliances on issues of lesser weight to gain support on questions deemed more significant, withdraw from or reduce the impact of infelicitous political experiments etc. Political manoeuvring is not exhaustively captured when viewed solely under the aspects of mischief and bad faith. Moreover, a measure of deviousness on the part of the politically active may be inevitable and even required to effect the benefit of living in a society that supports (1) high levels of rivalry alongside (2) a condition of robust pacification.
3.0 Path Dependent Consolidation (1800 - 1900) – Establishing Effective Trust, the Invisible Hand of Politics, and Feasible Freedom
From a divisive plurality of views on immigration emerges in the 18th century a range of conditions ensuring a preponderance and continuity of policies that favour immigration in the U.S. While ineffective in terms of asserting their preferred policies in that period, as becomes clear with hindsight, nativist and other restrictionist forces always maintained a significant presence in the political process and never ceased to search for opportunities to gain the upper hand. Before we look at the factors supporting the path dependent unfolding of a pro-immigration consensus in early U.S. policy regimes, three fundamental starting conditions merit attention.
While the Constitution (1) outlines the framework for political competition and the political discovery process in the new republic, it is (2) parsimonious in regard to specific substantive issues, avoiding preconceptions on controversial subjects like immigration. Add to this that (3) the Constitution has been prepared, ratified and actualised in a manner highly democratic by historical comparison and, in that way, inclusive of the main interests and protagonists invested in immigration. As a result, political competition and discovery were made credible as fair processes. creating an environment for trust-building repeated games and credible commitment, which, in turn, encourage loyalty to the political order not only by the winners but also by the losers in a given episode of political decision making. By reinforcing trust in the rules of the new political game, it was possible to meet the defining conditions of feasible freedom: namely the ability of strike a balance between the two pans of the scales of liberty: maximal dissension, on the one side, and, on the other, peaceableness during competition and later in the face of policy enforcement. This is a result that is as subtle as it is important and powerful: it reflects the transrational mechanisms of politics in a free society – an aspect that falls in the category of “moves by the invisible hand of politics and the state.” Having reached an insurmountable impasse on the rational level, with neither of the parties willing to give up on their views concerning immigration (abortion, capital punishment etc.), irreconcilability and emotional tension are reduced by converting them into effective trust in a repeated game that may yield disappointing outcomes on individual issues but promises a net gain in terms of long-term overall coexistence.
While Jeffersonians steadfastly continued to translate “pro-immigrant polices into foreign-born votes” (p. 55), the Federalists, later the Whigs and still later the Republicans grappled with a legacy of nativism and other anti-immigrant positions. It proved an inheritance hard to shed, partly for reasons of conviction, partly for reasons of credibility, and partly for reasons of electoral calculation.
Until its total demise in the 1820s, the Federalist Party was split on the immigration issue, with its leader Alexander Hamilton urging the need to accommodate immigrant voters by advocating open immigration policies, a position resonating strongly with Federalists in the urban centres where immigrant voting blocs were substantial.
Dissension among the Federalists is indicative of the discovery and learning process that political agents are subjected to by changing circumstances and competing proposals of adapting to them. With unprecedented mass immigration setting in, there were opportunities to profit from xenophobic propaganda, notably during the 1837 depression. Especially Catholics and the Irish were subjected to venomous attacks. But the long-term trend in favour of the newcomers could not be reversed. During the 1844 presidential campaign, the Whigs ran for the last time on an anti-immigrant platform, only to conclude eventually that their narrow defeat had been due to a lack of immigrant support. From then on, the Whigs dissociated themselves from nativist currents. With that, the party system closed itself off from anti-immigrant constituencies. From 1820 to 1860, immigrants as a proportion of the total population had grown from 4.4% to 31.5 %.
Path dependent patterns of generous immigration conditions were boosted when the expansion of U.S. territory thanks to the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Mexican-American War (1846/47) significantly increased demand for settlers and labourers. Receptivity for immigrants was further strengthened with the spread of industrialisation in the New World. Indubitably, the most basic and weighty factor, however, helping to turn the first hundred years of the U.S. into an era of accommodating immigration policies is to be found in the “extraordinary shift in American government from … “a regime of notables” to the world’s first mass-based democracy in which universal white male suffrage, party organizations, and competitive elections predominated.” (p.59)
Continued at Immigration and Freedom (10/10).