April 20, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

So Much Depends on Intellectual Dishonesty

If sanctuary cities were breaking the law, there'd be reason for rage. They aren't. Plus: ‘social cohesion’ and more on tyranny.

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A rural Illinois county decided to “flip the script” to make a “sanctuary county for gun owners.” That script flip, according to Effingham County’s state’s attorney, is making “this a sanctuary county like they would for undocumented immigrants.”

The presumption here is this: if liberals can break federal immigration law to protect “illegals,” then conservatives can break federal firearms laws that “unconstitutionally restrict the Second Amendment.”

Well, thing is, sanctuary cities don’t break the law. When federal agents produce a judicial warrant, local police comply immediately. What cops in sanctuary cities don’t do is just hand people over to ICE, or even ask detainees about their legal status. In Connecticut, these practices are codified into state law.

This is, indeed, dancing around the edges of federal law, and such dancing annoys some people, but it is not breaking it. So “flipping the script” here is meaningless except for one thing: The Effingham County Board voted 8-1 Monday to officially break federal law. No wonder the local sheriff said the vote changes nothing.

Such people won’t ever stop as long as they are told over and over, even by the US Attorney General himself, that sanctuary cities are literally breaking the law. If that were true, there’d be a whole lot of reason for all the rage. It’s false, though. That’s why so much about conservatism depends on intellectual dishonesty.

The other kind of ‘social cohesion’
In researching my Wednesday newsletter about open borders, I came across this canard in a Fortune article that otherwise argues in favor of open borders:

Opening our borders is not something we can do overnight, of course—nor should we. Unchecked migration would certainly corrode social cohesion. But we do need to remember one thing: In a world of insane inequality, migration is the most powerful tool around for fighting poverty (my italics).

I’m guessing Rutger Bregman was trying to qualify (rightly and properly) his argument in order to make room for counterargument, but in doing so he tripped over an old talking point worth seizing on. If you look at US history, you’ll struggle to find a moment in which “social cohesion” was recognizable. I doubt it existed. At least not in the way good-faith people generally mean.

It usually means something about culture, the center cannot hold, individuals these days can’t draw on a pool of “shared knowledge,” as they once did. Bregman doesn’t do this, but others talk about social cohesion in the context of Western civilization’s decline and decay. Read any column by David Brooks for a case in point. Or Jonah Goldberg. He wrote a whole book about it.

Again, if you look at US history, there probably never existed a time that social cohesion’s champions pine for. We are just too diverse a country for that, and we will always be too diverse for that. In this way, a lack of “social cohesion” has long been baked into the cake.

But we do have social cohesion of another sort, one that does not rely on a “shared culture” or “shared knowledge” or whatever it was that inspired Allan Bloom to write The Closing of the American Mind ages ago.

We have laws and rules and regulations and norms—a legal, ethical and institutional apparatus that does not prevent conflict (nor should it) but instead mitigates it, so that culture, race and other forms of difference need not be impediments to getting on.

I don’t know but I’m guessing that if we ever had “unchecked immigration” that people and communities would find ways to get along well enough to raise families, praise God, do business, and otherwise coexist—if they are left alone to solve their problems.

Republicans say it. Why not Democrats?
In writing Thursday’s newsletter about the tyranny and evil of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I ended with this note about political communication.

Liberals don’t like to use the word “tyranny,” I suspect because that’s what the Republicans did to Obama. But let’s name this evil for what it is.

Liberals tend to focus on forms of bigotry. That’s as it should be, but I don’t often hear bigotry rendered as political theory. Again, that’s fine, but I prefer an expansive liberalism, one that aims for positive liberty, not just negative liberty, one that takes the country forward, not finds fault (however much fault is currently in abundance!). Liberals should take a page from conservatives.

And conveniently we have this from the Washington Post: “Republican judges warn of ‘tyranny’ as they block Trump on ‘sanctuary cities’.” The administration can’t cut off funding to places that irritate Trump. That would be counter to everything the founders stood for. The unanimous all-Republican panel went on to say:

“The founders of our country well understood that the concentration of power threatens individual liberty and established a bulwark against such tyranny by creating a separation of powers among the branches of government. If the Executive Branch can determine policy, and then use the power of the purse to mandate compliance with that policy by the state and local governments, all without the authorization or even acquiescence of elected legislators, that check against tyranny is forsaken.”

True, tyranny is what conservatives said when they fought Obamacare tooth and nail. But their success was in part due to how much easier it is to make the case for negative liberty rather than positive liberty. Negative liberty is “getting government out of your life.” Positive liberty is getting government to do something good for everyone in order to maximize individual liberty.

It’s possible to make such a case, obviously. After all, Obamacare became instantly more popular (well, within weeks) as soon as its African-American namesake was out of power. The point is liberals should use tools available to them. Anyway, liberal arguments against the tyranny of fascist agency like ICE have the benefit of being true.

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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