Have you heard a familiar ring to the arguments for accepting mass immigration or massive waves of refugees?
First there is the plea to do the moral thing. Pope Francis provided one such plea this week. "Hers is the plea of thousands of people who weep as they flee horrific wars, persecutions, and human rights violations, or political or social instability, which often make it impossible for them to live in their native lands." The message is almost flattering, in the way it says, "It's terrible out there."
In the speech where she made Germany into Europe's leading destination for refugees and migrants last year, Angela Merkel said, "If Europe fails in this refugee crisis, it betrays its founding principles." Notably, the nations that neighbor Syria are not addressed in this solemnly moral way. We'll get to that in a moment.
On the other hand, immigration is just too good for us to pass up. It helps the middle class! It raises GDP. On integrating refugees into Europe, Angela Merkel adverted: "If we do it well, it will have more advantages than disadvantages." The Economist is even more blunt, "Europe can and should do better (at welcoming refugees). And not just for moral reasons but for selfish ones, too."
You see, humanitarianism doesn't require the mortification of our desires or laying aside our own self-interest. Call this impulse to welcome "selfish humanitarianism," if you like. But the reality is that these arguments are just the funhouse images of justifications for European and American imperialism. Mass immigration is now the White Man's Burden.
The old colonialism sent "the white man" all over the the world looking for raw materials that could be brought to European cities to be "finished" into manufactured goods and sold to the benefit of everyone. Even stealing these resources was justified if they were not being efficiently exploited by their native owners. If distasteful foreign customs could be squashed — like banning the practice of "widow burning" in India — so much the better.
The new form of colonialism tells us on the one hand that we can increase global welfare by accepting more immigrants, but it talks about them in the same language of underdeveloped resources that were used to justify imperial exploitation. "Immigration is the quintessential supply-side policy," The Economist informs us. Just as we are told that accepting mass immigration is necessary for recognizing the immigrants' humanity, that very humanity is displaced as immigrants are reclassified as "human capital" that the West can cream from the Third World. And the West does: One of every nine Africans with a tertiary diploma is currently living in an OECD nation. Does The Economist ever ask whether this extraction of human capital is good for the nations that the immigrants depart? The assumption is that this human capital is more efficiently used elsewhere, for our benefit.
And of course, the new form of reverse colonialism puts the West in the position of teacher and instructor. In an editorial trying to contain the damage from the wave of sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, on New Year's Eve, The Economist said Europe must covert the heathen, not just for the cause of Christianity but for the general peace of Christendom. Just kidding. Instead they said that to ensure security Europe must "insist [migrants] respect values such as tolerance and sexual equality." The imperial emphasis on teaching good behavior is still there. A smartphone app promoted to refugees and migrants got a little tweak last week. According to Quartz, "an article on gender equality was added after a mass assault against women in Cologne." We'll egalitarianize them!
The Economist reminds one of President William McKinley agonizing over the accident of America becoming the imperial guardian of the Philippines. He told General James Rusling, "there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died." Never mind that the Jesuits had baptized Filipinos centuries earlier. Of course, all this uplift and civilizing led to one of America's most dishonorable wars.
Even Pope Francis admits that there are other factors to consider when letting in immigrants. "Equally significant are fears about security, further exacerbated by the growing threat of international terrorism." If you don't like the increased crime and disorder that results from selfish humanitarianism, The Economist has a suggestion: "Security cameras in public places would make it easier to convict those who hide in crowds — Germans should overcome their queasiness about such surveillance." Just get over your fears about the surveillance state!
That's another funny similarity. Arguments for colonialism and for mass immigration can both act as arguments for further subsidies to the military and domestic spy agencies respectively. The mission civilisatrice of colonialism required gunships and land armies. Occasionally the new one requires a massive surveillance state at home, first to catch the occasional new arrival who is a scofflaw, but just as importantly, to prevent the natives from saying what they are thinking about it all on social media.
The old colonialism eventually died under violence from revolting colonies, and exposure at home as a policy that benefited incumbent interests, not the entire nation. Perhaps the same will happen again. It's not hard to imagine that rising nations like Nigeria will one day start to fight to keep the citizens they spend the most money educating from emigrating, and thereby subsidizing the older, dying, resource-hungry West.