The European migration crisis has exposed the profound contradictions in the European Union. Faced with unprecedented numbers of illegal immigrants, the Europeans have responded by lurching from declaring open arms to erecting internal walls to keep the riff-raff out.
Europe's tribalism and collectivism have crashed against its ideal of liberal universalism, and tribalism is winning.
Anarchy and opportunity cause migration
Illegal immigration to Europe, from Africa and the Middle East, began to surge over a year ago. Anarchy was the cause.
First, anarchy in North Africa opened the way for economic migrants from Ghana and other West African countries to try a perilous journey to the promised land. War and anarchy in Iraq and Syria had meanwhile driven hundreds of thousands to flee those countries in fear of their lives; they've mainly ended up in camps in Turkey. This summer, as news got back to Afghanistan, Syria, and similar places that the Balkan borders of Europe were porous, law-light zones, tens of thousands began to make the journey any way they could. Hence the pathetic scenes of people camped out in Hungarian train stations. Hence the sad stories of people drowned on a Turkish strand after trying to take a dinghy cross-sea to Greece.
Europe's concrete-bound altruism
No European country has a standing open border policy; the “Schengen borderless zone” within Europe was meant to allow citizens of the member countries to move freely but was not meant to allow non-Europeans free access. No European county espouses an easy path to citizenship for foreigners. All are conceived as nation-states: each tied to a particular language and culture.
Yet over the last month, when faced with hordes of refugees on their door step, many European governments, led by Germany, declared their immigration laws suspended and prepared to welcome, without conditions, those who could make it to their border. Just recently we saw Germany declare itself open and we saw Germans turn out to welcome refugees with open arms. This past week Croatia declared itself open, and then declared itself closed, within the space of two days. Austria rejects the refugees except when it accepts them.
This was an expression of European universalism, which is allied in European thought to socialism. It is rooted in an expression of emotional empathy. It is a gut-reaction. It could ignore the refugees when they were safely in Turkish camps or dying in Syria. But it couldn't ignore them when they huddled on European borders. The refugee mob required a response, and many Europeans responded without thought, offering aid and declaring all welcome.
Nationalism and socialism vs. liberty and dignity
And so the refugees have kept coming. Of course, the open-door policy couldn't last. Universalism holds that all people are fundamentally similar. It is basically opposed to nationalism and tribalism. But the European countries are defined by nationalism and ethno-linguistic tribalism. Accepting large numbers of immigrants challenges their political and cultural identity at the root. It challenges their teetering, collectivist welfare-states as well.
What is needed is a pro-liberty universalism, based in the dignity of each individual.
The United States, by contrast, understands itself as a nation of immigrants. There are over ten million illegal immigrants in America. Given that large number, it is striking how well these immigrants are received in the U.S. Donald Trump notwithstanding, a substantial political movement would like to grant them all amnesty and permanent immigrant status—such has been, in effect, the response to similar situations in the past.
The European advocates of universalism are mostly egalitarians. They think human equality implies that everyone must be equal in condition. The whole world, in principle, deserves a free lunch, free school, and infinite aid. But this is an ideal impossible to practice, turning every achiever into a sinner and applauding every moocher. This contradiction means that the Europeans' acceptance of refugees is economically damaging. So now that longer-term thought has started to engage the politicians of Europe, we see internal borders of the EU being reinforced and its single economy torn apart by cuts in transport services and the end of free travel between many European countries.
What is needed is a pro-liberty universalism, based in the dignity of each individual. People are equal in the basic freedoms they deserve, in being conceptual creatures, and in being able to live by production and trade. Freedom to travel is key and good. Countries should be open to law-abiding people who can support themselves. Too many of the current refugees are tantalized by the prospect of an easy life and free welfare-state goodies: that's why they are aiming for Germany and Scandinavia.
The refugees are fleeing insecurity, unjust government, and poverty. They deserve, as much as anyone, the freedom to live as individuals, secure in their persons and property. That's what the free world can offer to them. But the free world will not do that unless it comes to understand that ensuring those freedoms is the purpose of government, and that people are not basically defined by their group, their language, or their economic condition. Instead people are defined by their moral characters and what they make of themselves, whatever their situation in life.
To this end, we also should call on the US to be a country of immigrants again: to offer the world liberty, and not a hand-out.