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two notes on conservatism and cosmopolitanism

Some comments in regards to Charles Johnson's recent piece on conservative hostility to undocumented immigrants (, and a resply by Dain ( Incidentally, only the footnote has any relation to escorting, but my interest in intellectual and political matters has not ceased because I've come to make my living on a bed.

* * *

I've long been skeptical about decentralisation; what I fear is that societies with premodern, traditional cultural values will impose their local prejudices ruthlessly without a check from a larger, more cosmopolitan society. I'm very glad for Lawrence vs. Texas, and terrified by South Dakota, and while I would support reduction or elimination of the state power I also believe state power is less destructive when it precisely isn't in the hands of local, traditional social authorities. Historically, tolerance has been a value nurtured by education, liesure, and urbanity and made politically neccesary wherever a polity comprises a variety of constituent cultures. My experience leads me to believe that the rights of minorites, including immigrants (undocumented or otherwise) would not be better protected under decentralisation.

I used to live in Virginia, and I'm *glad* the national courts have rammed a very moderate degree of tolerance and liberalism down the throats of the bigoted legislators (and the society which elected them). Hunting gay men in cruising stings was a favourite sport of the Roanoke police department until Lawrence vs. Texas forced them to stop. Similarly, a lack of respect for states' right or local self-determination was the only thing which kept abortion legal in the South and much of the Midwest these last thirty years.

True, there are cases where the local society would pass better laws than the centralised state (such as marijuana and prostitution policy here in San Francisco). And I don't trust either side- and certainly believe that central authority and urban authority can be vicious in a different, imperialistic way. But even so, my reading of history is that the general tendency is for cultural tolerance to flourish in urban centers. With this being the case, localism seems an idea with which I can have some anarchistic sympathy but which seems in practice a deadly threat to minorites, dissidents, and nonconformists of all types. Empires may carry out atrocities for cynical policy, but they usually lack the deeply ingrained conservatism and rooted suspicion of anyone over the next hill on virulent display in the quotations cited above.


Oh, needless to say, I completely support the rights of undocumented immigrants to be treated exactly like anyone else- I believe in free movement and open borders everywhere, and consider racist policies like the profiling endorsed above appalling*. No one should need a piece of paper from the state to seek a better life where they might choose.

And, on a cultural level, I immensely support the breaking down of all cultural monoliths in general and the hegemony of American Protestantism in particular. Spanish is a beautiful language, and we would all be immensely enriched by coming to appreciate the textures of the many traditions of living which human history has developed. I mention this especially to libertarians who have the tendency to judge the value of entire cultures entirely by their approximation of formal libertarian political justice. To my view this is an excellent framework for life, which has perhaps been most developed by Anglo-American societies (tho' this is also very debatable), but I strongly believe that as regards other aspects of human flourishing Americans especially are much in need of outside exposure and a broad education. Libertarians often take sides on culture wars thinking about formal politics alone, and so end up siding with conservatives in championing a hagiographically Anglocentric view of history and civilisation. I would very much like to see this stop (and my thanks to RadGeek for helping to change this).

I mention this because I easily forget that immigrants' rights and the cosmopolitan spirit are sadly controversial within the libertarian movement. No thanks to John Hospers, Charles Murray, VMI, and "H.H." Hoppe for introducing this venom into the market liberal bloodstream.

* Speaking personally as one recently harassed and selectively ticketed by suburban police for the crime of `walking at night while wearing miniskirt' (when I was not in fact working outside). One effect of anti-prostitution laws is that they effectively profile any even moderately explicit woman as guilty-until-proven-innocent and a fair target for harassment. The same `not in our town' attitudes which run over immigrants' individual rights to preserve the precious cultural sterility of the small-minded bourgeois also act to oppress sex workers or any woman sexually daring enough to be labelled as such.


Blog posted 03/28/2006 @ 06:56 am  |  Leave a Comment


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