[For an interesting window into Belgian politics, see the following note that was posted [in Dutch, English translation mine] to the Facebook feed of Bart De Wever, mayor of Antwerp and chair of the center-right N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) party.
Had his name been Burt Weaver, it could almost be an article in National Review or another conservative magazine in the Anglosphere. Milton Friedman would surely nod in recognition at the title. — Nitay Arbel]
The Left must choose: open borders or a welfare state
Bart De Wever is the chair of [the] N-VA [party] and mayor of Antwerp
The migration crisis has confronted Europe with its own moral nihilism. Citizens that form a human chain around the [Brussels-]North [railway] station, or put up transient migrants for the night, touch a soft spot in all of us. Suddenly we are wrestling with the age-old question: what does it mean to be a good person? What are we bidden to do? And by whom? And to whom? The Christian heritage that we still nurse from after the twilight of G-d, dictates to us that we should treat our neighbor as we would treat ourselves. But how near must our neighbor be?
In this moral confusion, an industry of leftist lawyers, NGOs, and activists has found a meal ticket. The present government, they claim, follows a policy that is inhuman, egotistic, and heartless. This is a subtle form of moral blackmail. For whoever does not agree with them, cannot be a good person. And who wants to be a bad person? Out of sincere moral compassion, we are all inclined to go along with this leftist discourse.
But, though the migration industry seems motivated by the will to do only good, rather ideological motivations hide behind this moral facade. I cannot dispel the impression that the left is cynically exploiting the migration crisis in order to, through judicial warfare [lawfare] and moral blackmail, make the concept of ‘borders’ so porous as to hollow out the nation-state. For some cosmopolitans, this is wish fulfillment. But the consequences are enormous, and there is room for doubt whether they are equally advantageous for all citizens.
A healthy res publica [body politic]
Borders do not just delineate our democracy and citizenship, but also our implied solidarity. Today we know who can make use of our social security system and why. A healthy body politic creates an ethical community where every citizen shoulders responsibility for the collective, but also knows (s)he can count on the community if needed. In this context, net taxpayers do not object to contributing, even as they do not personally know the fellow citizens who benefit. The social security system we have built on this bases is among the most open and generous ones in the world.
But if we [start] say[ing] that there are no more borders and anyone should be able to count on our solidarity, we enter a situation in which there are no more fellow citizens with whom we can show solidarity, but only fellow humans who live here today, elsewhere tomorrow. Human rights are, however, not [the same as] civil rights. Everybody is born with the inalienable right to life — that is [an example of] a universal human right. But you don’t get born in Sudan with the universal and inalienable right to access to a Western European social system. That is a civil right, which you have when you happen to be born in that Western European nation-state, but which can also be acquired if you follow certain procedures [for naturalization] and fulfill the requirements.
If we start universalizing every civil right, we need to accept the consequences and accept that our current standard of living becomes unsustainable, simply because we won’t be able to afford it anymore. Then you get a denuded social system for paupers, which has no more carrying capacity—for it is difficult to remain in solidarity with people who enjoy the fruits of the social systems, but never have contributed to it and in many cases never will contribute. The strongest will withdraw into gated communities where their children will attend private schools, and the denizens will pay themselves for their own private pension and healthcare. Such a system is perfect if you manage to turn your life into a success. If you don’t, tough luck.
North American model
Europe will then evolve toward a more North American societal model, albeit it with even less of a social safety net. For the US has the geographic advantage that they are surrounded by two oceans, and, to the North, by a rich country with a very high standard of living. Only on the southern border are their migration streams that are difficult to contain, and they have been trying to seal that border hermetically since long before the coming of Trump. Europe, on the other hand, is but a peninsula of the enormous Eurasian landmass and separated from Africa only by an inland sea. Without enforced borders, people can simply walk into Europe. Allowing this, or not doing so, is a choice.
And our federal government has made that choice. Transit migration is not a European problem but a Franco-Belgian problem. We are the only countries with a passable border to the UK. Through the dismantling of the tent camps in Calais, the problem has shifted entirely to our country. Our government policy is to prevent [the emergence of] a second Calais at all costs. But a second Calais is emerging out of sight. Through the collaboration between left-wing NGOs and ditto mayor, and through various acts to morally blacken government policy and to suspend it[s enforcement], the left is now de facto itself organizing the transit migration, even though it is de sure prohibited. At the same time, the moderate left keeps claiming they are not advocating open borders — at least the extreme left is upfront about this.
Don’t we have the duty to help people in need? Of course. But those who can help themselves are not in need. Anyone who can travel thousands of kilometers from East Africa to end up in a Western European welfare state — not with the intention to request asylum there but to travel to another country — may be in dire poverty, but is not in an acute emergency. An emergency is a threat to life, not the desire to lead a pleasant life, however understandable be that wish. There are 37 million Sudanese, each of whom undoubtedly wants a better life. Do we have the moral obligation to take in all 37 million? And what about the rest of Africa?
The left must dare to speak things through: what do they really want? Do we have to take care of everyone, and does that need to happen via immigration? Fine by me, but then we won’t be able to maintain our social system at the current level any longer. If we choose that path, there are two options left for us: a closed social security system only accessible to people who contribute, or its collapse. Our left-wing “gutmensch” [German loanword, idiomatically equivalent to “bleeding heart liberal”] will in its absolute goodness achieve just the opposite of what he claims to want: the total demolition of the welfare state.
I stand for a different policy. A policy with European efforts to absorb refugees in their own region, and with closed borders. A policy with strict controls on legal migration, where, if necessary, those we allow in are emancipated/acculturated in the Enlightenment values, and put to work as quickly as possible in order that they are able to contribute to our prosperity, and thus to our social security. In this way, we can absorb newcomers and enjoy their talent. In this way, our social security can remain open, freely accessible and generous for everyone. But then we must first dare to make difficult choices and dare to implement the chosen policy. Politicians must let the common interest prevail over their personal conscience, however hard it may be.
Hannah Arendt concluded the second part of her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism” with a chapter that is controversial on the left until now: ‘The Decline of the Nation of the Netherlands and the End of the Rights of Man’. In it she argues that we need the nation-state and borders. It is not only the demarcation of our democracy, the outline of the rule of law, and the basis on which we organize our solidarity; it is also the only working mechanism that can enforce human rights. The nation-state is literally vital. Let us be careful that the dream of the “gutmenschen” does not end in a nightmare for us all.