Hazony has written a much-acclaimed book defending nationalist politics. He wonders why nationalists should not simply be respectfully described as “conservative.”
Others have objected to the imputation that liberals won’t defend borders, pointing to the costly border-security measures approved by Democrats in the current Congress and earlier.
To this double-barreled criticism, I offer two answers. First, It’s not helpful or accurate to apply the same label to Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and Donald Trump as was once applied to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl. The nationalist political formations of the 2010s make different appeals to voters than the conservative parties of the 1980s did. They win support from different voters.
The rise of these nationalist parties is forcing a rearrangement of the political grammar of the developed world. The conservative parties of the 1980s defended markets and were skeptical of economic redistribution. The nationalist movements of the 2010s are skeptical of markets and defend economic redistribution, provided that the redistribution benefits people of the correct ethnic stock and cultural outlook.
The old conservatism and the new nationalism may share some ideological DNA, but to describe them as the same thing is salesmanship, not political analysis.
Second, the reaction to my article should confirm, I believe, that for many highly politically engaged people on the left, the enforcement of borders is indeed an inherently racist and fascist project. One Democratic candidate for president, Beto O’Rourke, has called for dismantling all physical barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border—explicitly because barriers make it too difficult for would-be border-crossers to enter the United States. The Democratic leadership in Congress has been more responsible, but if you think my language describes an imaginary state of affairs, just scroll through my Twitter timeline for proof of how real it is.
- Many critics have singled out one passage in the article for special scorn. I wrote:
Heavy immigration has enabled the powerful—and the policy makers who disproportionately heed the powerful—to pay less attention to the disarray in so many segments of the U.S. population. Because the country imports so many workers, employers do not miss the labor of the millions of men consigned to long-term incarceration. Without the immigrant workers less prone to abuse drugs than the native-born, American elites might have noticed the opioid epidemic before it killed more Americans than died in the Vietnam, Korean, and Iraq Wars and the 9/11 attacks combined. The demand for universal health coverage might gain political force if so many of the uninsured were not noncitizens and nonvoters. None of this is immigrants’ fault, obviously. It is more true that America’s tendency to plutocracy explains immigration policies than that immigration policies explain the tendency to plutocracy. Managing immigration better is only one element of restoring equity to American life. But it is an essential element, without which it is hard to imagine how any other element can be achieved.
Critics have interpreted this passage as blaming immigrants for the opioid epidemic and other U.S. social problems. If on reading that passage in full, you think I’ve done this—well, then I’ve certainly failed to write clearly enough. One of the major goals of the article was precisely to avoid the language of blame in favor of a language of consequences.