A group 7,000 strong marches northward toward our southern border. I confess to mixed feelings. We should give asylum-seekers a fair shot, since our compassion toward those in tough spots is a bedrock American value. However, we should reject the idea of inclusivity at all costs. That’s not just about national security, it’s also about culture.
Exclusivity is necessary for meaning, identity, and accountability. A constant refrain during the 2016 election cycle, and again with the caravan, is some iteration of the following: without borders, we don’t have a nation. Despite the flawed vessel, this obviously resonated, and it’s fair to say that while simple, the concept is profound.
Perhaps this resonated precisely because we’re in a time where basic questions about immigration and nationhood are in question. Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee deputy chairman was seen wearing a shirt that said “I don’t believe in borders” in Spanish. Taking it at face value, it would appear that he doesn’t get the possibility that exclusivity and borders could actually give meaning and hold some cultural benefits.
The principle of exclusivity is critical to properly understanding relationships and institutions, and it is what allows for meaning, community, accountability, and some sense of identity. These are the things that allow a culture to form and flourish. Relationships or communities of real meaning require commonality. It can be commonality of interests, beliefs, values, covenant, or even simply time. This is true for institutions — marriages, families, friend groups, and nations.
Marriages are perhaps the most obvious example. With exclusion, the marriage works. It flourishes. It facilitates depth, vulnerability, accountability, and reliance. It allows for healthy sex and child rearing. Without exclusion, it is broken. It loses its essence and its unique character that provides reliability for the community. For families, and to a lesser extent friend groups, their power is in their exclusivity.
The idea that a nation should be exclusive is currently being challenged in the public mind and square. Why would a nation need to be based, as least in part, on a principle of exclusivity? It is because nations, not unlike families, need to have some sense of identity, even purpose. When a group of people is defined as everyone and anyone, that actually means that it is no one. If everyone comes and goes as he pleases, there is a void of identity, collective belonging, commitment, responsibility, and accountability. Citizenship is a commitment.
What I speak of is not a mean-spirited exclusivity. It’s not excluding others for the sake of one’s own self aggrandizement or benefit. And exclusivity need not be in opposition to an open and welcoming posture. Two critical things need to be clear.
First, the kind of exclusivity I’m talking about does not mean that everything is completely static, or that no one immigrates or emigrates. Exclusivity is not opposed to welcoming others, it’s simply discerning. Second, the basis on which to exclude must be legitimate — not arbitrary — and it must not be tied to race or ethnicity. Instead, it must be about values and culture.
If the value of openness or inclusivity (which are virtuous if limited) takes on the ultimate importance, it spells the death of any distinctive culture. In his book “Why Liberalism Failed,” Patrick Deneen makes the point that nature, time, and place are the “three cornerstones of human experience” that “form the basis of culture.” I would further contend that without some continuity of place, people, and relationships, there is no culture.
But today’s left embraces inclusion as ultimate, which leads to absurdity. An example brilliantly displaying the mistake of holding inclusion as an ultimate value are the “nondiscrimination” policies on college campuses that were big news several years ago. The policies held that campus groups could not fully participate in campus life if they insisted on requiring their leaders to hold certain beliefs.
It’s hard to conceive of a clearer portrait of how embracing a vague idea of inclusivity ironically destroys all meaning. When an atheist leads a Christian group, or an ardent pro-lifer leads a pro-choice group, the organization is rendered farcical. Without exclusion, a community becomes vague beyond all recognition.
Regarding immigration, recognizing the principle of exclusivity shouldn’t be held up to trump ideas of love, care, compassion, hospitality, or the welcoming of and blessing the sojourner, refugee, or any immigrant. Certainly not. And we should condemn the spirit of nativism.
But it does mean that, as a baseline, a nation should have an identity. Exclusivity is a principle of existence, but shouldn’t be so much an attitude. This means that nations and borders really do, and should, mean something.
We should consider this caravan with a compassionate heart, but accompanied by a stout mind. Limitless inclusivity isn’t the way forward. Limits, and exclusion, are necessary for the flourishing of culture, institutions, relationships, and nations.