What gets lost in the immigration debate is the importance of tradition and custom. Conservatives can clearly articulate pragmatic reasons why we need stronger controls on immigration, but we often neglect the more nuanced, and perhaps more important, reasons for protecting our borders.
A core value for conservatives is a belief in an enduring moral order that is revealed to us through custom, convention and continuity. Without an adherence to tradition and custom, societies must rely exclusively on laws, which means, they must look to the government rather than institutions such as family and church for guidance. Immigration threatens to undermine tradition and custom in the U.S. Unless immigrants are asked to assimilate, we will lose what binds us as a people and relegates the government to the background. Without a common understanding and history, the government is pushed to the foreground, unhinged from anything of meaning or lasting value.
If we continue to be a nation that welcomes immigrants but does not ask them to take our norms, customs and history as their own, then we are left with no choice but to have a government define for us who we are as a people. Furthermore, in a government that is increasingly being pushed toward radical democracy, there is a risk that the laws promulgated will be without ethical merit.
Liberty under God and law, as Tocqueville formulated it, is distinct from the liberty argued for by those who favor radical democracy. As we move closer toward a radically democratic regime, we also move toward a system in which the will of the individual is glorified and fewer restraints are placed around human desires. Liberty is sacrificed when pure democracy is pursued because pure democracy does not recognize an enduring moral order or convention; it only recognizes the will of the majority. Without natural limits, democratic government is nothing more than a relativistic anarchy cloaked in the misappropriated rhetoric of liberty and equality.
Progressives encourage a "radical emancipation from natural limits and moral restraints and from a transcendent order above the will of men." However, if man dislodges himself from what he needs, from what is natural, he will fail to achieve fulfillment, happiness and dignity.
I agree with Tocqueville's assessment that collectivism originates in radical individualism. Because men need limits, and radical individualism rejects all natural limits and thereby destroys human connections, the end result of radical individualism — and thus radical democracy — is a dependence upon an impersonal "schoolmaster." Radical individualism will destroy traditional values and in turn force people to turn toward the government for fulfillment, safety and guidance. The process from radical individualism to collectivism will enervate the human soul and destroy the capacity for individual initiative and moral and civic judgment. Obedience to an enduring moral order, adherence to custom, convention, and continuity, and belief in things established through immemorial usage is required for liberty and self government.
Our political climate rarely leaves time or space for sincere reflection. Grandstanding has been substituted for statesmanship, and talking points have taken the place of principle. If we are to create a politics which can rise above the gutter, we must take the first step of identifying core principles and why we adhere to them. Conservatism recognizes man has limits and must reconcile himself to those natural limits. From this fundamental truth springs conservatism and the policies which are consistent with conservative ideals. If we do not take this as the fundamental reason for securing our borders, we will lose the moral high ground and eventually lose the political battle.
Kyle Scott is a professor of political science at University of Houston and a trustee of the Lone Star College System.