Secure the Borders for the Birthday Boy



Richard Clancy is a double major in Philosophy and Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He just returned from an internship with Sen. Richard Burr during the spring semester.

In light of his bicentennial birthday, let us afford to Mr. Mill the opportunity to express his views regarding the debate over border security and illegal immigration. Unfortunately, Mill has very little to say on the subject of immigration, legal or not. During his time, the fluctuations in the English population (those not due to natural birth and death) were mainly from the practice of emigration and colonization- England is a dreary place and people wanted to leave. He did, however, make clear his position on national character and national security.

For Mill, the bounded nation-state was essential for a free, liberal society to flourish. Underlying this was an assumption of the necessity of a shared political culture. In his Considerations on Representative Government he said:

Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they speak different languages, the united public opinion necessary to the working of representative government cannot exist.

While we accept legal immigrants of many different nationalities, we do expect that they assimilate themselves into their new culture and identify with their new nation. (It is our own fault that we have not declared English as our official language.) And in all but a few dual-citizenship situations, we even demand that immigrants renounce their foreign citizenship to be recognized as a citizen of this country. If a country doesn’t have the right to decide with whom it shares its people, then it has no rights at all. Illegal immigration not only denies the right of our country to decide with whom we share our people, our culture, our way of life, and our freedoms, it is a direct threat to them.

One might expect, from his Utilitarian viewpoint, that Mill would be little concerned with borders when it came to how one should act towards his fellow man. In fact his mentor, Jeremy Bentham, espoused a view of universalism. But Mill criticized Bentham’s universalism claiming that it was superseded by national character. He says:

That which alone causes any material interests to exist, which alone enables any body of human beings to exist as a society, is national character: that it is, which causes one nation to succeed in what it attempts, another to fail; one nation to understand and aspire to elevated things, another to grovel in mean ones; which makes the greatness of one nation lasting, and dooms another to early and rapid decay… A philosophy of laws and institutions, not founded on a philosophy of national character, is an absurdity. (“Bentham”)

Our laws and our liberties define our national character. And those who ignore the one and seek to reap the other pose a threat to both. Along with the threat posed by illegal immigration, we must also consider the threat of terrorism, which incidentally threatens the very same things as illegal immigration. Securing our borders from these threats is essential, not only for our national character, but for our national security as well. Mill consistently states throughout all of his writings that the primary role of government is to protect its people and their property. To Mill, “Security is the most vital of all interests. On it we depend for all our immunity from evil, and every good, beyond the passing moment.” (Considerations on Representative Government)

Perhaps Mill’s greatest reason for controlling the flow of immigration is the economic state of the country. While Mill does not speak specifically of the effects of immigration, he does compare capital to population. Mill’s ultimate goal is to reach a “stationary state” where the wealth and the population have reached a level where utility is maximized. Population growth in the United States has slowed continuously, while our national wealth has continuously advanced. Disregarding arguments about the justice or injustice of the distribution of said wealth, with steadily increasing wealth and a steadily declining population growth, the U.S. was moving, slowly but surely, towards that “stationary state.” With an influx of illegal immigrants, who are now demanding the same standard of living as citizens, the rise in population is slowing the growth of per capita national wealth.

From his Principles of Political Economy, Mill writes:

…let us suppose capital advancing and population stationary; the facilities of production…[remaining] unaltered. The real wages of labour, instead of falling, will now rise…[and] this rise of wages implies an equivalent increase of the cost of labour, and a diminution of profits. (Until a stationary state is reached.)

So, for Mr. Mill’s bicentennial celebration, let us give him what he seems to want for his birthday. For the economic well being of our country: secure our borders and control immigration. For the security of our people and our property: secure our borders and control immigration. And for the preservation of our national character: secure our borders and control immigration. Happy Birthday John Stuart Mill.


Return to Mill-Fest: The Bicentennial Edition

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