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60Reclaim Human Rightshttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/08/reclaim-human-rights
Mon, 01 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400Longtime readers of
may recall that the April 1998 issue featured a nuanced statement “
On Human Rights
” by the Ramsey Colloquium, a diverse group of Christian and Jewish scholars led by Richard John Neuhaus. The group’s aim was to provide the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) with “a more secure grounding in religious, philosophical, and moral reason” at a moment when that document was under attack from several directions. While acknowledging that rights discourse is often misused, the Ramsey group noted its roots “in our shared history” and affirmed its value as “the most available discourse for cross-cultural deliberation about the dignity of the human person.” They affirmed that it “makes possible a truly universal dialogue about our common human future.”
The Bearable Lightness of Dignityhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/05/the-bearable-lightness-of-dignity
Sun, 15 May 2011 00:00:00 -0400 It’s hard to imagine a decent politics that doesn’t depend on the notion of the dignity of the human person. It’s unfortunately also hard to specify how to anchor that notion in something beyond our earnest moral intuitions. As the bioethicist Adam Schulman poses the question: “Is dignity a useful concept, or is it a mere slogan that camouflages unconvincing arguments and unarticulated biases?” The question has implications far beyond the field of bioethics. Indeed, it has haunted the entire modern human rights project ever since the drafters of the UN Charter chose to begin that historic document with a profession of the member nations’ “faith” in “freedom and human rights” and in “the dignity and worth of the human person.” That act of faith in the wake of a war marked by unprecedented atrocities struck political realists of the day as astonishingly naive. Nevertheless, the concept of human dignity was made central to the scores of new constitutions and rights declarations that were adopted in the late twentieth century.
]]>God and Mrs. Roosevelthttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/05/god-and-mrs-roosevelt
Sat, 01 May 2010 00:00:00 -0400 In her 1958 autobiography, Eleanor Roosevelt described an occasion in the early days of the U.N. Human Rights Commission when she invited three key players to her Washington Square apartment for tea. The guests that afternoon were the commissions two leading intellectuals, Charles Malik of Lebanon and Chinas Peng-chun Chang, along with John Humphrey, the Canadian director of the U.N.s Human Rights Division.
As we settled down over the teacups, the former First Lady recalled, one of them made a remark with philosophical implications, and a heated discussion ensued.
By Roosevelts account, Dr. Chang was a pluralist and held forth in charming fashion on the proposition that there is more than one kind of ultimate reality. Malik responded to the remark by an extended reference to the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. The conversation became, as Roosevelt recalled, so lofty that she couldnt even follow along.
So I simply filled the teacups again, Roosevelt wrote, and sat back to be entertained by the talk of these learned gentlemen.
None of the guests on that occasion would have taken this archly modest account at face value. They were already familiar with her style of chairmanship, in which she did, indeed, sit back and let everyone have his or her say”all the while studying how to steer the discussion toward her desired outcome.
In this way Eleanor Roosevelt herself contributed to the odd tendency of some political historians to underestimate her importance. She had been raised in an ethos where women were schooled to be self-effacing. Later, shrewd political actor that she was, she was not above feigning naivete when it suited her purposes.
Perhaps this is why, in the early 1990s, when I began researching Eleanor Roosevelts role as chair of the U.N.s first Human Rights Commission, I found that key aspects of Roosevelts life and work had been ignored or underrated by historians and biographers. Although Roosevelt herself regarded her work on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as her single greatest public achievement, diplomatic historians and writers on foreign policy had given short shrift to her role. Even her biographers had not treated her U.N. work in any detail. In fact, most biographies left off with her departure from the White House after the death of her husband in the spring of 1945.
It also struck me as curious that most contributors to the voluminous Roosevelt literature had overlooked the connection between Eleanor Roosevelts achievements and the high-minded Protestant Christianity that was so much a part of her public and private persona. One notable exception was Jean Bethke Elshtains 1986 essay on Eleanor Roosevelt as Activist and Thinker, in which Elshtain pondered why that dimension of Roosevelts life had been so frequently ignored”and why feminist thinkers had shown little interest in the ideas of a woman who undeniably had wielded great political influence.
The truth is that few American women have been so admired at home and abroad as Eleanor Roosevelt, and few have left behind such a distinguished record of public service. Her political activities, her zeal for social reform, her empathy for the disadvantaged, her family relationships and friendships have been detailed in scores of books and articles and dramatized on stage and on film. At her death in 1962, the
New York Times
described her as more involved in the minds and hearts and aspirations of people than any other First Lady in history and as one of the most esteemed women in the world.
It is in that strange dichotomy”between the public, confident heroine and the shy, retiring observer”that Roosevelt reveals herself at her most mysterious, and most powerful.
Roosevelt regularly hosted small social gatherings for colleagues, believing that personal connections could help to reduce professional tensions. She had brought Chang and Malik together in the hope, as she put it, that our work might be advanced by an informal atmosphere.
What she did not mention in her autobiography, but what the U.N. record shows, is that bickering between Chang and Malik, who had emerged as intellectual leaders on the commission, was threatening to become a problem. In such cases it was not her style to take people to the woodshed; instead, she invited them to tea. Although the arguments between the two never completely ceased, Roosevelt did succeed in getting them to work together effectively on the all-important drafting committee.
By the time she assumed the chair of the Human Rights Commission in 1947, Roosevelt had perfected her own, very effective mode of leadership. In so doing, as Elshtain insightfully pointed out, she had subtly transformed the social definition of a lady.
For Roosevelt, Elshtain wrote, being a lady and being tough was no contradiction in terms”none at all”and her explicit fusing of the two turned older understandings inside out. Roosevelts close friend and biographer Joseph Lash reported that she was particularly fond of a passage from a poem by Stephen Vincent Benét in which he described the mistress of a plantation as a woman who was able
Fri, 01 Jan 2010 00:00:00 -0500 More rare than athletes who have played both baseball and football in the major leagues are individuals who have achieved great distinction in both politics and philosophy, the vocations that Aristotle deemed most choiceworthy. Marcus Tullius Cicero, however, would hold a place of honor on any list of political and philosophical superstars. If he had never risen to eminence as a Roman orator, senator, and consul, he still would be remembered for his contributions to the great Greco-Roman synthesis at the base of Western civilization. And if he had never written on philosophy, he still would be honored for his courageous efforts to preserve the rule of law in the last years of the Roman Republic.
Cicero shared Aristotles view that statesmanship and the pursuit of knowledge were the highest callings for those who have the talent to pursue them. But he parted company with the author of the
on which was the superior choice. A true Roman, he never lost his desire for public honor and never relinquished his conviction that a life of public service was the course that has always been followed by the best men.
No philosophical discourse is so fine, he maintained, that it deserves to be set above the public law and customs of a well-ordered state. Following Aristotle, he held that moral excellence is a matter of practice, but it seemed evident to him that its most important field of practice was in the government of the state. Philosophers, he said, spin theories about justice, decency, restraint, and fortitude, but statesmen are the ones who must actually set the conditions to foster the virtues that are necessary to a well-functioning polity. There can be no doubt, he maintained, that the statesmans life is more admirable and more illustrious, even though some people think that a life passed quietly in the study of the highest arts is happier.
Ciceros ideal statesman was the man whose actions are illuminated by philosophy, by which he meant mainly ethics and political theory. The best statesman of all, at least for Rome, would be someone steeped in the citys history, someone who combined civilized values with intimate knowledge of Roman institutions and traditions and the theoretical knowledge for which we are indebted to the Greeks. In other words, someone like Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Although philosophy, as he told his son, was indispensable to everyone who proposes to have a good career, it was always, for Cicero, a handmaiden to politics. Even philosophers, he said, have an obligation to concern themselves with public affairs, not only out of civic duty, but also for the sake of philosophy itself, which requires certain conditions to flourish.
In times when he was excluded from political life or overcome with personal sorrow, Cicero plunged into his philosophical studies with prodigious energy. On those occasions, he could not help casting a glance down the path not taken. Now that power has passed to three uncontrolled individuals, he wrote to his friend Atticus during the Triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, I am eager to devote all my attention to philosophy. I only wish I had done it from the outset. And in his dialogue
, the main protagonist muses, Of what value, pray, is your human glory, which can barely last for a tiny part of a single year? If you wish to look higher . . . you will not put yourself at the mercy of the masses gossip nor measure your long-term destiny by the rewards you get from men. Goodness herself must draw you on by her own enticements to true glory . . . . In no case does a persons reputation last for ever; it fades with the death of the speakers, and vanishes as posterity forgets.
For an ambitious young man whose birth did not guarantee him entry into the circles of power, and who was not inclined toward a military career, the path to eminence lay through law and oratory. And the law courts were a proving ground. Cicero was the precocious firstborn son of a prosperous landowner in the country town of Arpinum, some seventy miles southeast of Rome. The family belonged to the class of
, well-to-do farmers and merchants who increasingly aspired to political influence in the capital. According to Plutarch, young Marcus Tullius acquired a reputation for cleverness as soon as he began to have lessons”so much so that the fathers of other boys visited the school to hear him recite. When he was old enough to pursue higher studies, his father had sufficient wealth and connections to place the gifted boy with the best teachers in Rome.
There Cicero studied rhetoric, philosophy, and law. Rome was a bustling city of about four hundred thousand inhabitants and was full of distractions for a young man. But Ciceros poor digestion discouraged excesses of food and drink, and, although he exercised for the sake of his health, he took no interest in games and sports. As for the company of courtesans, he wrote to a friend in later years that, as you know, even in my youth, I was not attracted by this sort of thing. What did excite his imagination was the idea of a life filled with honors. He took his motto from a line in the
in which Glaucus recalls his fathers urging, Always to be the best and far to excel all others. By all accounts, however, young Cicero could not be called a nerd. He had a gift for friendship and was, according to Plutarch, by natural temper very much disposed to mirth and pleasantry.
Like many a law student today, he complained about the long hours he had to spend on material that often was less than interesting. What he preferred was visiting the law courts, where crowds flocked to see performances by the great orators of the day. He embarked on his own career as a lawyer in his mid-twenties. He enjoyed considerable success despite severe attacks of stage fright and a pedantic tendency that earned him the nicknames of the Greek and the scholar. Around this time”the date is uncertain”he married Terentia, a wealthy Roman woman whose dowry and family connections greatly aided his efforts to break into politics. Just when he seemed well advanced on his chosen path, however, his health broke down under the stress he had imposed on himself. As he later recounted:
]]>The Greatest Grassroots Movement of Our Timeshttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2009/10/the-greatest-grassroots-movement-of-our-times
Tue, 13 Oct 2009 03:46:00 -0400 When I received a letter from Dr. Wanda Franz telling me about the Proudly Pro-Life Award, I was, quite simply, overcome with emotion. There is no honor or award that could mean more to me than one from my fellow members of what my friend the late Richard John Neuhaus always called the greatest grassroots movement of our times. At the same time, I cant help but be humbled at the thought of the great men and women to whom you have given this honor in the past.
And so I know you will understand when I say that I would like to accept this award not just for whatever I have been able to contribute to our common cause, but in memory of the many persons who have sustained me on what would otherwise have been at times a lonely journey.
Evenings like tonight evoke so many memories”of friends here and departed, of struggles won and lost. Evenings like this remind us that we are blessed to be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.
After more than three decades of involvement in pro-life activities, I wish I could say that I thought the threats to respect for human life were diminishing. But one lesson weve learned is: Do not underestimate the power of the culture of death. Weve learned that what was unimaginable one day can become reality the next. Today, pressures for euthanasia are building; developments in biomedicine are occurring with such speed that they have outpaced reflection on their moral implications; experiments on human embryos are fostering a mentality that treats the lives of the weak as means to the ends of the strong; and the freedoms of religion and conscience are coming under increasing threat.
Thirty years ago, who could have imagined such a thing as partial-birth abortion! When I ask myself why so many people have been slow to realize how easily todays atrocity can become tomorrows routine, one answer I come up with is that it was due in part to a failure to realize something very important about choice, namely that choices last.
Each time we make policy on abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic experimentation, we are changing the moral ecology of our country. We are either helping to build the culture of life or cooperating with the culture of death. It hasnt helped that the elite media, the powerful foundations, the sex industry, and the vast profit-making abortion industry have done their best to disguise the truth of what was happening.
But what makes the pro-life movement the greatest grassroots movement of our times is that it has steadily marched forward without support from the wealthy and powerful. It has moved ahead thanks to dedicated women and men”from all walks of life”who have never ceased to witness to the truth, day in and day out.
The recent Pew Foundation report that support for abortion is declining is one of many signs that our efforts are bearing fruit. We are winning the battle for hearts and minds”not as quickly as we would have wished”but we are winning. We will never give up, and we will prevail.
One of the main reasons for our slow but steady progress, I believe, is the success of the pro-life movement in demonstrating by word and deed that our position on protection of the unborn is inseparable from our dedication to compassion and assistance for women who are so often the second victims of abortion.
Unlike the movement that calls itself pro-choice, the prolife movement has thought deeply about choice. We know that choices last: We know that individual choices make us into a certain of person; and we know that collective choices make us into a certain kind of society.
Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University, delivered this address upon receiving the 2009 Proudly Pro-Life Award from the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund on October 6, 2009 in New York.
]]>Declining Notre Dame: A Letter from Mary Ann Glendonhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/04/declining-notre-dame-a-letter-from-mary-ann-glendon
Mon, 27 Apr 2009 09:32:44 -0400 April 27, 2009
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
University of Notre Dame
]]>Declining Notre Dame: A Letter from Mary Ann Glendonhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2009/04/declining-notre-dame-a-letter
Mon, 27 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0400April 27, 2009
]]>Plato as Statesmanhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/11/002-plato-as-statesman
Thu, 01 Nov 2007 00:00:00 -0400 As Max Weber observed in
Politics as a Vocation
Science as a Vocation—
and as borne out by his own unsuccessful forays into political life—the qualities that make a first-rate political or social theorist are not the same as those required for success as a statesman. For every Cicero or Edmund Burke, there are many more like Weber, Tocqueville, and Plato, whose longings for influence in public affairs were largely unfulfilled.
]]>Looking for “Persons” in the Lawhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2006/12/looking-forpersonsin-the-law
Fri, 01 Dec 2006 00:00:00 -0500 Given the close relation between a country’s law and its culture, it is only to be expected that there will be considerable variation in the way legal systems conceptualize human personhood. Like a nation’s art, literature, songs, and poetry, law both reflects and helps to shape the stories we tell ourselves and our children about who we are as a people, where we came from, and what we aspire to be. In some countries, law’s role in these narratives is relatively minor. But there is no place where law has played a more prominent role in a nation’s conception of itself than in the United States.
Thu, 01 Jun 2006 00:00:00 -0400 Not for the first time, the world finds itself in an age of great movements of peoples. And once again, the United States is confronted with the challenge of absorbing large numbers of newcomers. There are approximately 200 million migrants and refugees worldwide, triple the number estimated by the UN only seventeen years ago. In the United States alone, about a million new immigrants have entered every year since 1990, bringing the total immigrant population to more than 35 million, the largest number in the nation’s history. Though Americans take justifiable pride in our history as a nation of immigrants, the challenges are more complex than those the nation previously surmounted. For sending and receiving countries alike, this is a time of exceptional stress”and yet, a moment that offers opportunities as well.
All too often, these challenges and opportunities are discussed in narrowly economic terms, but an adequate understanding of today’s migration patterns would also have to include their relation to the approaching demographic winter in the affluent societies of Europe and North America. Despite what population-control advocates had predicted in the 1960s and 1970s, the chief demographic problem facing most countries today is not overpopulation but its opposite. All over the world, even in developing countries, populations are aging. In the wealthier nations, where the process is most advanced, declining birth rates and increased longevity mean that our populations now include a much smaller proportion of children and a much larger proportion of disabled and elderly persons than ever before.
The combination of low birth rates and greater longevity is already bringing the health-care and social-security programs of welfare states into crisis. Social-welfare systems were constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on the basis of a proportion of nine, or in some cases, seven active workers for every pensioner. Now Europe is approaching three workers per retiree, and those retirees are living much longer. (When those who created the first social-security systems chose sixty-five as the age of eligibility, they were counting on the fact that relatively few people would live beyond that age to become burdens on the state.) With increased longevity has also come increased need for medical care, which has become vastly more expensive than anyone dreamed when public health-care systems were first established.
Although Europe will experience the crunch first, the United States will not be far behind. Our 78.2 million baby boomers are fast approaching retirement age. Over the next twenty-five years, the age structure of the whole country will come to resemble that of retirement states like Florida, where a fifth of the population is already over sixty-five. President Bush stressed the urgency of the situation in his 2006 State of the Union Address, warning that the retirement of the baby-boom generation will put unprecedented strains on the federal government. By 2030, spending for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone will be almost 60 percent of the entire federal budget. And that will present future Congresses with impossible choices”staggering tax increases, immense deficits, or deep cuts in every category of spending.
Although awareness of this impending demographic storm is beginning to sink in, policymakers in Europe and the United States tend to frame it only as a welfare crisis. The falling birth rates that are fueling the welfare crisis, however, are symptomatic of a deeper crisis in beliefs and attitudes”a crisis involving changes in the meanings and values that people attribute to aging and mortality, sex and procreation, marriage, gender, parenthood, relations among the generations, and life itself. That deeper crisis is part of the fallout from what Francis Fukuyama called The Great Disruption, the revolution in behavior and ideas that came on us so suddenly in the late twentieth century that it was unforeseen by any demographer. Beginning in the mid-1960s, and over a mere twenty years, major demographic indicators in the United States and northern Europe rose or fell by a magnitude of 50 percent or more. Birth rates and marriage rates tumbled, while divorce rates, cohabitation rates, and births outside marriage climbed sharply.
Those same years, to be sure, saw impressive advances for many women and members of minority groups. But not all the innovations represented progress. Some tended to undermine the cultural foundations on which free, just, and egalitarian societies depend. For example, the notion gained wide acceptance that behavior in the highly personal areas of sex and marriage is of no concern to anyone other than the consenting adults involved. With the passage of time, however, it has become obvious that the actions of private individuals in the aggregate exert a profound influence on other individuals and on society as a whole. In fact, when enough individuals behave primarily with regard to their own self-fulfillment, the entire culture is transformed. Affluent Western nations have been engaged in a massive social experiment”an experiment that brought new opportunities and liberties to many adults but that has put mothers, children, and dependents generally at considerable risk.
The family breakdown has had ripple effects on all the social structures that traditionally depended on families for their support and that in turn served as resources for families in times of stress from schools, neighborhoods, and religious groups to local governments and workplace associations. The law has changed rapidly too, becoming less an element of stability and more of an arena for struggles among competing ideas about individual liberty, equality between men and women, human sexuality, marriage, and family life.
Now that the dependent population in affluent countries includes a much smaller proportion of children than ever before, increased pressure on social resources is already provoking generational conflict in the ambitious welfare states of northern Europe. If political deliberation about the impending welfare crisis remains within a framework based primarily on the idea of competition for scarce resources, the outlook for the most vulnerable members of society is grim”as witness the growing normalization of the extermination of persons who become inconvenient and burdensome to maintain at life’s frail beginnings and endings.
Opinion leaders in the aging societies of Europe and the United States have generally avoided mentioning the relation between the birth dearth and the need for immigration. Consequently, there has been little discussion of what should be obvious: An affluent society that, for whatever reason, does not welcome babies is going to have to learn to welcome immigrants if it hopes to maintain its economic vigor and its commitments to the health and welfare of its population. The issue is not who will do jobs that Americans don’t want. The issue is who will fill the ranks of a labor force that the retiring generation failed to replenish.
Meeting the challenge of the declining ratio between active workers and retirees will require many sorts of adaptations, but replacement migration will have to play a part in crafting effective responses. The good news is that America enjoys several advantages over Europe. To begin with, the United States has a fertility rate of 2.08 babies per woman, while in the European Union the estimated 2005 fertility rate was 1.47, well below the replacement figure of 2.1. More, the United States has a long history of successful experience in absorbing large numbers of new citizens from many parts of the world. (While the absolute number of new immigrants is currently the highest in United States history, it is proportionately less than in previous eras of large-scale immigration.)
A third advantage worth mentioning is that, while there is enormous diversity among the inhabitants of the American hemisphere, most migrants to the United States share certain important beliefs with most of the country’s present inhabitants. Not least of these, in the case of Latin America, are religious in nature. According to a 2005 poll of the United States and nine of its closest allies where people were asked how important a role religion plays in their lives, Mexico and the United States came out on top, with 86 percent of Mexican and 84 percent of American respondents saying religion was important to them. European countries, by contrast, are understandably anxious about what will happen to the functioning of their democracies if sizeable groups of immigrants do not come to embrace the core concepts in which those regimes are grounded.
So why isn’t the United States glad about Latin American immigration? Part of the answer is the economic cost of large-scale immigration. American wage earners often fear that migrants will drive down wages and take the jobs that remain. This fear is sometimes exaggerated, but it is not unfounded: The consensus among labor economists is that immigration has somewhat reduced the earnings of less-educated, low-wage workers. Many Americans are also concerned about the costs that illegal immigration imposes on taxpayers, with its strain on schools and social services, particularly in the border states. The desire to protect the national security of the United States, especially after the trauma of September 11, has played a role as well.
There are also some in the United States who want to close the door to newcomers simply because they are outsiders. Over the course of the twentieth century, that attitude seemed to be fading away, but in recent years sleeping nativist sentiments have been irresponsibly inflamed by anti-immigration groups. A few years ago, I wrote of the financial and ideological connections among extremist anti-immigration groups, radical environmentalists, and aggressive population controllers. What unites that loose coalition in what I called an iron triangle of exclusion is their common conviction that border controls and abortion are major defenses against an expanding, threatening, welfare-consuming, and nonwhite underclass. (I never suspected when I wrote those lines that they would cost me a half-year’s salary. But on the basis of a promised grant from a foundation whose causes included environmental protection, I had taken an unpaid leave from Harvard. Shortly after my article was published, the foundation reneged on its promise. It turned out that their idea of protecting the environment included keeping out immigrants and keeping poor people from having children.)
Good-faith anxieties about large-scale immigration are sometimes expressed in terms of social costs, such as a feared deleterious effect on the nation’s cultural cohesion or the stability of local communities. One would like to take comfort from the fact that similar concerns were expressed at the time of the great migrations of a century ago. Though marked by conflict and competition, the story of those earlier immigrants is, to a great extent, a story of successful integration.
But American culture in those days was characterized by a broader set of common understandings. The picture is more complicated today, with large-scale immigration taking place at a time when it is harder to specify, and therefore harder for a newcomer to discern, a widely shared view of what it means to be American.
To make matters worse, the community structures and religious groups that once played crucial roles in integrating immigrants have themselves been weakened. The old Democratic-party political machines that once brought new citizens into the political process at the local level have vanished. In their place, a new immigrant today encounters political institutions that were developed in response to the black civil-rights movement of the 1960s. The newcomer from Mexico, Brazil, or El Salvador becomes a generic Latino in preparation for initiation into the game of divisive racial minority politics.
Overshadowing all other concerns is alarm over the fact that there are 11 or 12 million immigrants in the United States who have entered or remained in the country illegally. To comprehend the depth of feeling attached to that issue, one has to keep in mind that there is no country on Earth where legal values play a more prominent role in the nation’s conception of itself than the United States. That was one of the first things Tocqueville noticed in his travels here in the early 1830s, and, as the country has grown larger and more diverse, its reliance on legal values has become ever more salient. In the culture struggles of the late twentieth century, Americans had to rely more heavily than ever on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the rule of law to serve as unifying forces. Persons who come from societies bound together by shared history, stories, songs, and images can easily overlook or underrate the importance of this aspect of United States culture. Persons who come from societies where formal law is associated with colonialism may well find the United States’ emphasis on legality rather strange. But no solution to the challenges of immigration is likely to succeed without taking it into account.
If the United States is to develop realistic, wise, and humane immigration policies, it will need a much fuller and better-informed public discussion. At present, the public debate is too often dominated by immigration alarmists who tend to ignore both our need for replacement migration and the human situations of the men and women who seek opportunities in the United States. Meanwhile, pro-immigration advocates show insufficient attentiveness to the legitimate concerns of citizens, while some others seem to want the economic benefits of migrant labor while turning a blind eye to the toll that the present situation takes on migrants and their families.
In the current atmosphere, it is extremely difficult to sort out the legitimate concerns from the sinister ones. There is thus an urgent need to increase public awareness both of the case for migration and of the likely social costs (both to migrants and the host country) when large-scale migration is not accompanied by well-thought-out strategies for integrating migrant families into the life of the communities where they settle.
To devise effective strategies, it will be necessary to forthrightly confront the issue of legality. As political scientist Peter Skerry has pointed out, The debate over immigration has been locked into a compelling but misleading framework that distinguishes sharply between legal and illegal immigration. It has been all but impossible to resist the prevailing paradigm which assigns all negative outcomes associated with immigration to illegal immigrants, and all benign or positive outcomes to legal immigrants. But the social-order effects of immigration do not easily fit into this neat legal-illegal paradigm.
Nevertheless, given the importance of the rule of law to most Americans, solutions will have to be found that avoid the appearance of rewarding law-breakers, yet shift the focus in individual cases to how the immigrants have comported themselves while in residence here. Proposals that draw on the time-honored concept of rehabilitation after paying one’s debt to society seem to point toward a path between amnesty and punitiveness.
We will need to focus especially on the education of immigrant children, for schools are the first sustained point of contact with a new culture. Yet, that path is filled with pitfalls, for, as any parent can testify, integration into contemporary youth culture can pose problems of its own. If the United States is to rise to all these challenges, governments at all levels will have to rely heavily on local communities and organizations, including the faith-based organizations that have played such important roles in easing the transition of migrants in the past, even though these institutions are weaker today than they were in former times.
With migration inevitable, the only question worth asking seems to be: How can the process be influenced so as to maximize the potential advantages and minimize the disadvantages for all concerned? With so much at stake for the United States and Latin America, conditions ought to be favorable for intergovernmental negotiations of the sort begun by the Mexican and U.S. governments in 2001. Those negotiations received a severe setback with the attacks of September 11, 2001. But the difficulties should not be permitted to obscure the many opportunities for cooperation based on the principle of shared responsibility for a shared problem. An honest and complete discussion of the legitimate concerns and objectives of the nations involved could highlight areas where our interests coincide, clarify areas of conflict, and lead to improved understanding of the options each country can reasonably be expected to consider.
The five principles set forth in the 2003 Joint Pastoral Letter issued by the Mexican and U.S. bishops,
Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope
, might be helpful in setting the stage for new approaches that could expand the pie for both sending and receiving countries. The letter asserts that (1) persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland; (2) when opportunities are not available at home, persons have the right to migrate to find work to support themselves and their families; (3) sovereign nations have the right to control their boundaries, but economically stronger nations have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows; (4) refugees and asylum seekers fleeing wars and persecutions should be protected; and (5) the human dignity and rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
To those five principles, a sixth should be added: a principle recognizing the need for a highly diverse, rule-of-law society to be careful about the messages it sends to persons who wish to become part of that society. And the bishops might have done well to note, as Pope John Paul II did in
Solicitudo Rei Socialis
, that solidarity imposes duties on the disadvantaged as well as the advantaged: Those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess. Those who are weaker, for their part, in the same spirit of solidarity should not adopt a purely passive attitude, or one that is destructive of the social fabric, but, while claiming their legitimate rights, should do what they can for the good of all.
Evidently, those general principles are in tension with each other in certain ways. To move from the level of principle to specific programs and policies will require enormous dedication, intelligence, creativity, and goodwill on the part of all concerned. It will require realistic discussion of the human and economic costs and benefits. But one thing seems certain: Given America’s relative advantages in this age of great migrations, it would be a tragedy if the sending and receiving countries of our hemisphere did not join forces to explore how these advantages can be maximized in ways that are beneficial to all concerned. Whether we now live in countries of out-migration or in-migration, the choices we make now will determine what kind of societies we bring into being for those Americans, both of North and South, who come after us.