Cults are the norm

Trump is not a particularly interesting person.  The Trump cult, however, is very interesting.  I’ve been following American politics pretty closely since 1968, and I’ve never seen anything remotely like this.  (Although obviously this sort of political cult is common in other countries.)

What differentiates a cult from a normal religion?  It’s not really about the theology.  Cult beliefs may seem bizarre, but even ordinary religions hold beliefs that seem strange to an outsider.  Rather it’s about the behavior of the cult members, the blind adherence to the cult leader, the willingness to do or say or believe anything they are told.  Nothing less than 100% devotion is acceptable.

A congresswoman from Alabama named Martha Roby has been a strong supporter of Trump’s policies since he was elected in 2016.  And yet she faces a stiff primary challenge from a Trumpista candidate (and will face a runoff election).  Her sin was strongly criticizing Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” remark during the 2016 campaign.  In the Trump cult, there is simply no place for a conservative pro-life Christian woman who doesn’t believe that rich and powerful alpha males should be allowed sexually harass women.

In South Carolina, Mark Sanford’s sins were far worse.  He actually stood up for traditional GOP small government ideas, and was soundly rejected in a recent primary.  He seems confused by what’s happening:

“We’re at an interesting inflection point in American politics,” he said in an interview. “If somehow dissent from your own party becomes viewed as a bad thing, then we’re not really vetting and challenging ideas in the way the founding fathers intended.”

Broadening his argument, Mr. Sanford said America was meant to be “a nation of laws, not men” and that “we weren’t a cult of personality.”

Yes, “we weren’t”.  And this:

The stalled efforts to rein in a protectionist president have led to cries of frustration from Republican free traders bemused by what they see as a growing fealty in the party to Mr Trump at the cost of longstanding party ideals.  “We are in a strange place . . . It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican behind the effort to impose congressional oversight on Mr Trump’s national security tariffs, told reporters after his measure failed.

There’s that word again.  Paul Ryan and a bunch of his colleagues (including Corker) saw the writing on the wall and decided to exit politics.

From an American perspective, this does all seem quite bewildering.  But remember, this is the norm throughout most of the world, throughout most of human history.  Cults are normal; classical liberalism and the enlightenment are unusual.  It’s the period before 2016 in advanced countries that is the outlier.

Trump’s cult is now so securely established that he is increasingly emboldened to push the envelope.  He can now joke about the fact that he lies all the time, without budging the unshakable conviction of his supporters

“Honestly, I think he’s going to do these things. I may be wrong; I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong,’” he said during a press conference, adding, “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”

 [I fantasize about an episode of Fox News where Trump says “Let’s face it Sean, I lie all the time”, and Hannity replies “No you don’t, Mr. President”]

Interestingly, there was one Fox News contributor who did escape from the cult.  Ralph Peters is a war hero who was much loved by conservatives as long as his fire was directed at Obama.  But after resigning from Fox he sent this letter:

Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to “support and defend the Constitution,” and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts–who have never served our country in any capacity–dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller–all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations– I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

As a Russia analyst for many years, it also has appalled me that hosts who made their reputations as super-patriots and who, justifiably, savaged President Obama for his duplicitous folly with Putin, now advance Putin’s agenda by making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign.

I would have expected conservative intellectuals to be immune to this sort of cult, but just the opposite is true.  Hardly a week goes by when I don’t receive an envelope from some conservative think tank saying something to the effect; “Please help us support our great President, who is being unfairly attacked by the biased liberal media.”  That’s funny, when I watch CNN or read the NYT I mostly see a media that is correctly pointing out that Trump is a pathological liar. (Obviously with an occasional inaccuracy.)

It would be interesting to do a google search of all the cases of “increasingly cult-like behavior” and then find the correlation with “ends well”.  I’d guess a Venn diagram of those two concepts does not show a lot of overlap, but heh, there’s always a first time.

PS.  I hope it’s clear that when I talk about the Trump cult, I’m not talking about Trump voters.  There are plenty of Trump voters who admit that Trump is a highly flawed individual, but hold their nose and vote for someone who will deliver corporate tax cuts and conservative Supreme Court members.  I’m talking about the people who believe that Republicans who are not blindly obedient to Trump must be excommunicated from the party.  Even many alt-right people are not in the Trump cult, as they actually care about certain issues.

PPS.  And please don’t engage in “whataboutism”.  I’m fully aware that even normal politics has some cult-like tendencies, just as even normal religions do.  Thus the GOP tends to kick out pro-choice people and the Dem’s kick out pro-life people.  That’s normal politics, as long as its based on issues.  As with almost everything of interest in the social sciences it’s a matter of degree.  What pushes the Trump cult into new territory is the almost cavalier disregard for Trump’s actual policy positions.  Tough on Iran, appeasement for North Korea, massive spending increases, tax cuts, and whatever else he decides on a given day—it doesn’t even matter to the Trump cult. All that matters is whether you are with Trump or against him.  Like any totally random individual, Trump will guess right on some issues and wrong on others.  If you think this is about the issues, you are completely missing the point.  As Sam Harris pointed out in a recent interview (see below) we shouldn’t support Trump in 2020 even if his first term ends with nothing but one brilliant success after another.

PPPS.  Speaking of Trump, I stumbled across a long interview with Sam Harris (by Dave Rubin), someone I’d heard a lot about but have not actually got around to reading.  I found it pretty interesting.  The first (least interesting) part involved Harris bashing the liberal media for excessive political correctness.  The second part involved Harris bashing Trump.  By that point I realized his views weren’t too far from mine; against excessive liberal PCism, against dishonesty among intellectuals, fed up with Twitter shaming, and strongly against Trump, although I also sensed that there are probably some areas where I would disagree. In the third part Harris discussed consciousness from a Buddhist perspective, which makes sense to me.  And in the fourth part he discussed atheism and his views on Jordan Peterson.  He mentioned that he will soon have several long conversations with Peterson (someone else I’ve heard a lot about but haven’t gotten around to reading) so I’ll have to try to catch that.  These two seem to have just the right amount of overlap and differences to make the conversation interesting.  Harris reminds me a bit of Peterson in the sense that both have a certain charisma in the way they speak, which you’d miss if you just read the transcript.



36 Responses to “Cults are the norm”

  1. Gravatar of Matthew Moore Matthew Moore
    16. June 2018 at 12:28

    The Presidency has always seemed somewhat cultish to me, and the Trump administration, while (so far) uniquely bad, is merely the continuation of a long trend.

    I used to struggle to reconcile my instinctive libertarianism with my instinctive (consitutional) monarchism. Now, I just point at Trump and argue that the Queen’s powerless monopoly on national pride makes it pretty much impossible for any government figure to assume an imperialist mantle.

  2. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    16. June 2018 at 14:14

    Sanford was a genuinely good congressman, and it’s sad that he lost, but to claim he represents “traditional GOP” is nonsense, because the Republican Party hasn’t been fiscally conservative since Eisenhower.

    “Ralph Peters is a war hero who was much loved by conservatives as long as his fire was directed at Obama.”
    Peters is scum. Nobody should defend him or his behavior. He is a lot more cultish than any “Trump cultist”.

    There certainly is a “Trump cult”, Sumner, but I don’t think it’s very large. Maybe a third of the GOP, at most. How much did Trump’s endorsement of Luther Strange matter?

    “As Sam Harris pointed out in a recent interview (see below) we shouldn’t support Trump in 2020 even if his first term ends with nothing but one brilliant success after another.”

    That’s stupid. Cats’ color theory, etc. It’s a lot more cultish view than any member of the “Trump cult”. The reason we should not support Trump in 2020 is because he has been a dismal failure in most respects.

    “Tough on Iran, appeasement for North Korea, massive spending increases, tax cuts”
    All of these are part of a coherent policy framework, even if you disagree with it.

    “Cults are normal; classical liberalism and the enlightenment are unusual.”
    True. And I see self-awareness clearly is not your forte.

  3. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    16. June 2018 at 14:36

    My first exposure to Trump was more than a decade ago during the first season of the reality TV show, “The Apprentice”. It was pretty clear back then that he was a guy who liked to be surrounded by ‘Yes Men’, and as such I lost all further interest in the show and him.

    One of the good things about Australia is that I think we are one of the people least-prone to cults. I put this down partly to our irreligiosity, but it goes beyond that. We’re also one of the least festive people in the world. Apart maybe from the local football codes, people don’t really care or make an effort about anything. We don’t dress up for work or play, we don’t festoon our houses with lights at Christmas (or anything else), we keep our extended families at arms-length, and we want our kids to be happy and not have to work too hard. It’s hard to see how a cult could find a toe-hold in Australian life. Having spent some time here, I would be interested in your thoughts on this.

  4. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    16. June 2018 at 14:46

    Interesting issue , but basically, Trump and Trumpism can hardly be even associated with cult and cultism. You have written only at the end ( and randomly it seems ) the most essential feature , which is : ” Charisma” . I don’t think that too many people , can associate even , Trump with charisma. He is too clumsy for being considered so . Lacking coherency. Lacking the right tones and exciting emotional impact on audience and followers . He is capable of delivering a message somehow , but , very narrow , very strict , very concrete , lacking the ability to magnetize and hypnotize the audience. That is why , Twitter , is his favorite media in fact .

    So , one could claim , that if someone is even somehow related to a leader of a cult , surly some frantic followers are to be found around. But you claim , that not necessarily the voters , but either his immediate entourage . Steve Bannon considered him so ?? Tillerson ?? Where are they now at first place ?? And this is a partial list of course .

    He does represent certain phenomenon , but not a cult or alike . But we won’t stay young here …..


  5. Gravatar of El roam El roam
    16. June 2018 at 15:19

    One may read here some , about that powerful feature of charisma in such personality of a cult leader and alike :


  6. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    16. June 2018 at 17:02

    Matthew Moore: Orwell’s argument for monarchy — it separates the power and the glory.

    El roam: nice piece.

    Scott: The Obama-messiah stuff was so obviously about the colour of his skin more than Obama himself. That Obama is intelligent, articulate and good-looking are pretty normal bases for popularity. So, I agree, the Trump cult is a different thing than the US has been used to.

    Trump was actually not a particularly electorally successful candidate — if he had got the same vote as the GOP did in the House of Representatives, he’d have won the popular vote as well. Instead, he underperformed, 46% (Trump) to 49% (GOP Congress).

    Trump understands media in a way no President has since Reagan. But he is performer-as-huckster not performer-as-politician.

    The combination of feeling economically left behind, socially disoriented and systematically disrespected that clearly exists in large parts of the US electorate gave him his “in”. As well as being blessed in his opponent: if the Dems had wanted to push all the wrong buttons in a candidate it is hard to see how they would have done more so than Hillary — who comes across as as distillation of every annoying professional person that folk have ever had to deal with.

    On the sociology, I recommended this piece by law professor Joan C Williams in the Harvard Business Review.

  7. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    16. June 2018 at 19:31

    If you’re interested in Harris and Peterson, you should listen to the two podcasts on Harris’ podcast site (Waking Up) where the two have lengthy discussions on a variety of issues. The first is quite acrimonious. The second is quite cordial.

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. June 2018 at 19:53

    Rajat, Yes, I agree about Australia—Canada too.

    Lorenzo, Trump’s support doesn’t come primarily from the poor. It’s a mix of poor and rich, just like Hillary. I live in an affluent town that voted strongly for Trump.

    Thanks dtoh.

  9. Gravatar of Kgaard Kgaard
    17. June 2018 at 02:32

    Trump won because the grass roots knows immigration is an existential threat to the American way of life. Nearly all the other Republican candidates were effectively pro-open borders because they were in the pockets of capital — for which open borders are an existential NECESSITY.

    Same dynamic in Italy. All the “polite” politicians end up pro-open borders because capital defines polite as pro-open borders (via its media handmaidens). So when the voters determine immigration to be an existential threat, they elect by definition an “impolite” candidate.

  10. Gravatar of John Samples John Samples
    17. June 2018 at 04:06

    At what point does a difference in degree become a difference in kind? Recall the spring and summer of 2008, Obama certainly felt like the head of a cult. Remember that mass rally in Berlin? He continually promised to fundamentally transform the nation and the deep faith in his person was evident in his supporters, even those who were loosely affiliated. A new age was upon us etc. Now I think we want to admit that Obama fostered warm and mild feelings over time in many people but not much of a cult. How then did he differ from Trump? Max Weber distinguished three kinds of authority: charismatic, legal-rational, and traditional. For political and personal reasons Obama ultimately exercised all three kind of authority; yes, he failed to respect the rule of law or tradition at times, but he did not seek to rule solely on the basis of charisma. Trump does. He is the avowed enemy of law and tradition. So we can predict that whenever law or tradition constrains “the special one,” law and tradition will lose, at least with the leader and his followers. Our charismatic leader is now struggling with the legal-rational aspects for our society. The traditional parts are on his side more or less. Perhaps Trump will fail ultimately – if he does – by fostering a coalition of the legal-rational and the traditional against him. Needless to say, a polity founded mostly on charismatic authority is unlikely to be very liberal over even the medium term.

  11. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. June 2018 at 07:21

    Per ‘cultism’; Trump is more sinned against, than sinning. I.e., Robert DeNiro and his fans at whatever awards ceremony he was speaking at. Now, there’s a bunch to write about.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. June 2018 at 09:01

    Kgaard, Immigration at 0.3% per year is an existential threat to a country that itself is a nation of immigrants? Do you have any idea how silly that sounds?

    Immigration to Australia is far higher—they must really be in trouble!

    My wife is an immigrant from China–maybe she’s a mole of the Chinese government, aiming to subvert our constitution.

    Or is it our “traditional American culture” that is at risk? Our indigenous culture is threatened by the immigration of doctors from India and computer scientists from China? Yes, the immigrants from Asia are culturally quite different from American Indians in South Dakota, blacks in Detroit, whites in West Virginia and Hispanics in south Texas who have been here since the beginning of America. The horror!

    John, Obama, Reagan and Kennedy all had great personal popularity. But that’s different from the Trump cult. Their supporters did not blindly follow everything they said. They didn’t excommunicate people from the party because they disagreed with the “Great Leader”. Politics was still somewhat rational under those leaders. Obama had a traditional liberal ideology. With Trump there is no ideology other than his personality. When he briefly supported DACA, over 80% of his supporters dutifully fell right in line.

    When Kennedy died, LBJ carried on his policies. Does anyone think Pence would carry on Trump’s policies if Trump died?

    I’m not saying there is no cult-like behavior with the others, just that Trump has clearly ramped it up to a much higher level.

    Patrick, Funny you didn’t make that argument when Obama was president.

  13. Gravatar of rtd rtd
    17. June 2018 at 10:38

    The Harris – Peterson podcasts and dialogue were pretty much a disaster. Speaking past one another with Peterson being the primary culprit.

    On the topic of cults (definitions may vary), Harris has a lot of great discussions on religion in general and Christianity/Islam in particular. Remember, those who are viewed as bing in a cult do not see themselves as being in a cult moreso than not.

    Did you see Summers recently advocating for NGDP targeting?

  14. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. June 2018 at 14:58

    What argument, Scott? that Hollywood was an anti-Obama cult? Gee, wonder how I missed that.

    Btw, how many people have fainted at Trump rallies?

  15. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. June 2018 at 15:23

    Only ten years ago, was it bliss to be alive!

    ‘The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment – this was the time – when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.’

    And that was only when he got the Dem. nomination. The Nobel Peace Prize hadn’t been awarded to him for merely being elected.

  16. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. June 2018 at 15:31

    Even the Jib Jab folks couldn’t ignore the cultish behavior;

  17. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. June 2018 at 15:38

    Not to slight Jamie Foxx;

  18. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. June 2018 at 15:45

    At the end of the street, on the side of the handsome Mission-style Union Depot building, hung a huge portrait of Obama, seemingly gazing over the town to the blue haze of the Rocky Mountains far beyond, emblazoned with a single word – Hope. Even by the habitually feverish standards of American politics, there is something extraordinary and, to British sensibilities, a little unsettling about the messianic fervour that has carried Barack Obama to the brink of the presidency.

    On the pavement a group of young people – college students, they said, first-time voters, the kind of people that Obama has targeted – were gathering, armed with flyers to hand to the crowd. What, I wondered, did they see in Barack Obama? “He’s passionate. Inspiring. Liberating,” one girl said, then paused. “I would take a bullet for him.”

  19. Gravatar of Robbie Robbie
    18. June 2018 at 02:09

    Seeing as how the Dems talk openly about how they need to ensure that “demography is destiny” (translation – “make sure whitey is in the minority”), I’m guessing they find immigration essential for an irreversible change in the ethnic character of the First World.

    I mean, we’ve gone from the USA being 90% white in 1950, to having less than 50% white births in 2016.

    But naw, it’s all gonna be A-OK.
    Professor Sumner says to, so it must be true.

  20. Gravatar of Student Student
    18. June 2018 at 11:40

    It is a sight to behold.

    @Robbie, and 20-30 years before 1950 they didn’t classify Italians and Jews and stuff white so that 90% is a fictitious number anyway scaredy-cat.

  21. Gravatar of DonG DonG
    18. June 2018 at 17:38

    Hillary still has fans and she is failure and criminal. That is cult-like! I think Trump has very thin support. If he came out with some open borders stance, he’d be done. The passion is behind MAGA and Trump is just the vehicle.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    18. June 2018 at 21:15

    rtd, Yes, lots of people now favor NGDP targeting.

    Robbie, So you have something against non-whites? Fine, but don’t expect me to care.
    My wife is a non-white; I really don’t see the problem. America has always had lots of blacks, Hispanics, and Indians, from day one. The country does fine with diversity. Our most non-white states are places like California and Texas, which, in case you haven’t noticed, are doing pretty well economically.

    I live in Orange County, which is less than 50% white, and its doing great.

  23. Gravatar of Robbie Robbie
    19. June 2018 at 00:55

    Diversity is A-OK as long as it’s foisted upon the hoi polloi.

    Otherwise you’d be moving to Detroit.
    Or, even better, Ghana.

    Let me know when you get on a plane.

  24. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    19. June 2018 at 21:56


    “Kgaard, Immigration at 0.3% per year is an existential threat to a country that [calls] itself is a nation of immigrants?”

    You are being glib. The “nation of immigrants” is a political slogan introduced by JFK. The preamble to the US constitution declares the US for “ourselves and our posterity [offspring]” which is quite the opposite of a nation of immigrants. The founding documents all described the US as a nation of self-governance, not a nation of immigrants. I said this before and you dismiss it.

    Next, I don’t think people are being unreasonable about immigration. California is radically politically altered due to immigration. Large levels of immigration is like being conquered; that’s a big deal.

    Politics is obviously tribal. Tribal is the more appropriate word than cultish. Humans are tribal and have loyalty to their tribe. If I feel tribally affiliated with any tribe on Earth, it’s the Trump tribe. And when Trump’s term or two terms are eventually over, I doubt I will ever have this type of strong passionate tribal affiliation with another US president ever again.

    “Nothing less than 100% devotion is acceptable.”

    You are mocking this, but this is very normal tribal politics. Naked partisanship is necessary to compete. Consider the long standing GOP loyalty pledge; the whole purpose is to compel 100% devotion and support of the party nominee. That’s not new at all. It’s naked partisanship over policy preferences.

  25. Gravatar of Student Student
    20. June 2018 at 06:35

    This “invasion” has been going on since well before the founding documents to great affect. The hodgepodge of ideas, dynamism, tolerance, and free flow of information and people all willingly united to the ideals of private property, inclusive balanced institutions, individual liberty, and hard work=success are the reasons the US is the most innovative economy the world has ever seen. And a place people want to live.

    Scott is right, this is extremely rare in world history and we are so fortunate to have had several key critical junctures that lucked us into this very fortunate state. Thank god the fearful types have lost the day thus far.

    Can anyone name a single period or group of “invaders” in our history that haven’t been a boon to our society? This time is different? Naw… it’s just fear.

  26. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    20. June 2018 at 09:48


    You are using “fear” in an emotive fashion to denigrate your opponents. You can frame any political policy preference as a fear of the opposite policy position. For example, you say that immigration restrictionists are fearful of immigration expansion. You can trivially reverse and say that immigration expansionists are fearful of immigration restriction.

    You claim thankfulness that immigration restrictionists have lost the day thus far. In some cases, this is definitely true. In other cases, there is a rise in nationalism and ethnic nationalism and immigration restriction sentiment around the globe. Not just in US and Europe where I see immigration activists focusing attention and PR, but across Asia, in India, in Mexico, in Canada, in Singapore, in Japan, in Israel, in the Gulf States, in South Africa, etc.

    Next, you claim the success and desirability of the US is due to immigration. That isn’t entirely apparent. Obviously, there are stronger immigration pressures to the successful countries and institutions and there is less immigration pressures on the failed impoverished problematic nations. Some of the more aggressively restrictionist countries on Earth are also successful and desirable.

  27. Gravatar of Student Student
    20. June 2018 at 11:10


    There has never in world history been a technologically leading, innovative, dynamic superpower that was closed in on itself. Tolerance, openness, broad inclusive institutions, well enforced property rights and sucking up the world best human capital is the source of innovation and technical change.

    The only reason people could possibly oppose that is fear of losing their “majority” or “control” of such a society or pure racism.

    There is simply no other reason to shutdown greatness by acting stupidly. And closing the border would be incredibly stupid. The beginning of the end of our run at hegemony.

  28. Gravatar of Student Student
    20. June 2018 at 11:16


  29. Gravatar of Student Student
    20. June 2018 at 11:21

    I am again off topic to the original point which was that trumpism is cultish… what matters is whatever is spewed out of the mouth of the great leader even if it is pure rubbish. However alt-right protectionism must be opposed because it is just so dumb. It’s immora, unjust, irrational… an all around terrible world view.

  30. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    20. June 2018 at 12:33


    “Tolerance, openness, broad inclusive institutions, well enforced property rights and sucking up the world best human capital is the source of innovation and technical change.”

    No it isn’t. You said this before, you repeated it again. That doesn’t make it true. In general, people want to move to the most dynamic successful nations and societies. People don’t want to move to the most backwards and destitute societies. There is undisputed causation in that direction. You are arguing causation in the reverse direction which is much less convincing. Next, there are counter examples like Japan, Israel, or even China that have been very exclusive regarding their ethno-religious identity and restricting or discouraging immigration accordingly that have been successful. I might even add Singapore to that list.

    “The only reason people could possibly oppose that is fear of losing their “majority” or “control” of such a society…”

    That’s a pretty good reason. I oppose giving access to my bank account to strangers for fear of losing control of the funds inside. That’s a good fear to have.

    People shouldn’t want to lose control of their society. Whether we like it or not, it’s a reality that humans are tribal and they strongly identify with ethnic/religious/linguistic groups, and vote accordingly. Why would people of one ethnic/religious/linguistic group want to give voting ownership to other groups?

    A generation ago, right-wing residents of California feared large volumes of immigration would permanently shift the politics of the state far to the left. California, was Ronald Reagan’s home state. California is also the home to Trumpism; almost every intellectual supporting Trump’s policies is from California. That fear was completely justified. In hindsight, it was a completely rational fear.

    Next, a big message from the Democrats is that they don’t have to compromise, they don’t have to develop better policy, they can immigrate demographics that will likely remain loyal to the left for generations and they can crush and humiliate the political right and safely ignore any electoral consequences to doing so. That is something quite reasonable to fear and oppose.

    A semi-consensus on both sides of the argument is that in terms of markets with both willing-buyer and willing-seller, like labor markets and housing markets, freedom of movement is a huge win-win, all restrictions to freedom of movement should be reduced as much as possible. But in terms of nations based on mostly majority rule voting, freedom of movement is an unreasonable and unfair expectation on the host people. Many of the open borders advocates actually agree, and they are advocating anarcho-capitalism as an alternative to democracy. I agree with most of their arguments and reasons. I really can see a world where we throw away nation states and voting and switch to an anarcho-capitalism utopia and it’s a far better system. But, on the flip side, it could be a complete disaster. Some immigration in the recent past seems to have had negative impact on host populations.

    “[immigration restriction] must be opposed because it is just so dumb. It’s immora, unjust, irrational… an all around terrible world view”

    No it’s not. I hope I’ve articulated some strong arguments against this. I suspect you’ve made up your mind and will just tune out any restrictionist arguments without serious consideration.

  31. Gravatar of Robbie Robbie
    21. June 2018 at 00:36

    Student’s just being a good little cultie.

    Do you get paid for this ?

  32. Gravatar of Student Student
    21. June 2018 at 05:39

    Your arguments are not consistent with the literature on economic development/innovation systems.

    About the specific cases: Japan’s demographic crisis has been dragging them down for decades. Stay tuned there. Israel is a very unique case with heavy reliance on US aid. Further, the folks there almost all migrated from Europe… unless you want to suggest they aren’t migrants because it was their homeland prior to being expelled by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. And China is still in the catch-up growth phase which is based primarily on attracting foreign investment and importing technologies from abroad to taking advantage of lower costs.

    Generally (and always with respect to super powers), societies on the technological frontier must innovate (create new ideas and products) to continue to grow. Immigrants tend to have different perspectives, are attracted to tolerant societies (that are open to both new people and new ideas where schumpeterian creative destruction can occur more easily). They are also engage in entrepreneurship at high rates. Given the demographic issues we have due falling birth rates, we also need net inflows of people. CA’s change began in WWII era. This isn’t about immigration. It was about creative destruction, Stanford/innovation, weather, the interstate highway system, Hollywood, hippies, and migration of the young. To suggest that immigrants are always and everywhere Liberals is nonsense.

    Your arguments about losing control are exactly the problem. They are a hindrance to innovation because maintaining the status quo doesn’t get the job done. In fact it’s a real hinderance to innovation.

    Plus you sidestep universal truth… shutting out those in need is unjust and immoral from the judeochristian perspective (which alt righters tend to say they seek to defend tho that’s BS IMO).

    The arguments you make are not new. They were made about the Jews, the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Chinese, the Mexicans, etc… this was always the argument. They are taking over, taking our jobs, etc. Yet they have always assimilated. They have always been good for our society. Which isn’t surprising to me because doing the right thing is always good in the long run.

    Secure the borders. That’s our right… but look as well at our immigration laws. They are unjust and dumb. Secure the borders and let in way more immigrants. It’s good for everyone and it’s the right thing to do.

  33. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    21. June 2018 at 19:51


    “Your arguments are not consistent with the literature on economic development/innovation systems.”

    That’s simply not true. There are respected economists and economic literature on both sides of this issue. Garett Jones for example, is prominent in this econ blogging circle and represents my view pretty well. He’s written economic literature that also represents my view.

    Also, as I’ve said, I actually agree with most of the arguments made by Bryan Caplan and this libertarian open border crowd: in terms of strictly free markets, open borders is a clear win-win. I agree. In terms of nation and particularly universal suffrage, and majoritarian rule, it doesn’t. I believe Caplan hopes to explode and replace our current form of government and democracy and majoritarian rule, but isn’t quite so blunt as to frighten people away. I can see some nation-free anarcho-capitalist utopia being far better than the nation states of today, but I can also imagine that won’t work at all.

    “Further, the folks [in Israel] almost all migrated from Europe…”

    The Israeli Jews are almost entirely recent immigrants, not just from Europe, but from the Americas, the Middle East, and Africa. They are immigrants, but apparently very successful immigrants. Israel obviously invites Jewish immigrants and stops non-Jewish immigrants, so it’s nakedly discriminatory in an ethno-religious sense.

    Singapore has high levels of immigration too. But it’s immigration of the same ethnic/linguistic/civilization/cultural tribe… That’s like England getting large immigration from Wales. Sure China/Singapore and England/Wales are separate nations, but the tribe of the people is the same. You can also look at intra-nation migration rates too.

    “Plus you sidestep universal truth… shutting out those in need is unjust and immoral from the judeochristian perspective”

    No, it really isn’t. Judeochristians preach kindness and helping strangers. But there are limits, there is expectation of reciprocity, and there is respect for the rules of the nation as famously captured in the quote, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Israel doesn’t welcome foreigners into Israel, and they are the leading Jewish authority. And while Israel has a strong case against blocking Palestinians that quite openly profess tribal hatred, Israel also blocks larger numbers of Africans that bear no such tribal hostility.

    “To suggest that immigrants are always and everywhere Liberals is nonsense.”

    Well, no one ever seriously implied that absolutely every immigrant is a straight ticket liberal. But people do tend to vote for ethnic/linguistic group interests, which works against the interest of other groups.

    “Secure the borders and let in way more immigrants. It’s good for everyone and it’s the right thing to do.”

    If it really is good for everyone, and the issue is so clear and well understood, then we should see voters all over the world overwhelmingly voting to attract larger levels of immigrants, not to help others, but to selfishly reap the enormous benefits that you claim that they have been receiving. Instead, we see the opposite. We see citizens around the globe passionate about reducing immigration, rating this as a top political concern. Why? The most obvious and direct Occam’s Razor explanation is that immigration is not a win-win but a win-lose. It obviously benefits those who want to migrate and want to vote with their feet and it hurts those that tell you it’s hurting them.

    The clearest, most convincing and passionate argument for increasing immigration is to help foreigners. Much of the science is motivated by emotional passion to help foreigners and a lack of concern about the interests of existing citizens and steers its conclusions and recommendations accordingly.

    Science is about objectivity. But it’s quite expected for emotional and passionate humans to want to claim the authority of objectivity without actually being objective.

  34. Gravatar of Student Student
    22. June 2018 at 10:07

    “There are respected economists and economic literature on both sides of this issue”

    You could reasonably state that there is debate about whether low skilled immigrants depress low skill resident’s earnings… but that’s it. In regards to innovation and the rest, however, to suggest there is literature on both sides of the issue is like suggesting there is literature on both sides of the debate about whether the earth is flat or 5,000 years old. You can always site a kook, but that doesn’t mean there is reasonable debate on the issues.

    ”We see citizens around the globe passionate about reducing immigration, rating this as a top political concern. Why? The most obvious and direct Occam’s Razor explanation is that immigration is not a win-win but a win-lose.”

    If you were right, don’t you think the people being the most passionate critics would be those most impacted by their presence? The fact is, those most passionate about this are overwhelmingly from places that have little to no immigrants. How can it be that those people living in communities with lots of immigrants tend to be those in favor of their presence while those having essentially no interaction, experience with, or impacts from immigrants tend to want to reduce their number? In the face of these stylized facts, the simplest answer is fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Racism in many cases, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt and leave it at cowardice.

    I am going to leave this at that, and turn attention to the stuff that is less intelligently discussed by people who thoughtfully consider that which they are referencing.

    “Judeochristians preach kindness and helping strangers.”

    Yes, unequivocally.

    “But there are limits”

    Yes. I am not suggesting otherwise. Paul speaks of this specifically when he congratulates and encourages the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians: -Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves.-

    I am saying, however, that we could accept way more immigrants than we are. In fact, the proposals being thrown around are actually to reduce the number that we accept. That is being covetous.

    As Basil of Cesarea puts it:

    -Who is the covetous man? One for whom plenty is not enough. Who is the defrauder? One who takes away what belongs to everyone. And are you not covetous, are you not a defrauder, when you keep for private use what you were given for distribution? When someone strips a man of his clothes we call him a theif. And one who might clothe the naked and does not, should not he be given the same name? … All you might help on do not, to all these you are doing wrong.-

    “there is expectation of reciprocity”

    No. At least not in our time here. Eternally, there will be reciprocity but the expectation of reciprocity in this life as a condition for giving is wrong.

    -When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.- Lk14

    And finally, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” First, like Jeff Sessions, lets throw in Romans 13 as well: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities”

    Books could be written about this one (and very many have been). To keep this brief, I will say… Of course with conditions.

    I will leave you with Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo rather than giving you my own thoughts because these are part of the foundation on which we moderns have built upon.

    – First, a commandment emanating from the authority might be contrary to the very end in view of which authority is instituted, i.e., to be an educator to, and a preserver of, virtue. Should therefore the authority command an act of sin contrary to virtue, we not only are not obliged to obey but we are also obliged not to obey, according to the example of the holy martyrs who preferred death to obeying those ungodly tyrants.- from his Commentary on the sentences of Peter Lombard.

    – Are we puffing you up with pride or telling you to be despisers of well-ordered authority? We do not say this. . . . The Apostle himself tells us: ‘Let every soul be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power but from God.’ But what if he commands what you ought not to do? Here certainly despise the power, fearing the power. Note the hierarchy of human affairs. If the prefect commands, is it not to be done? But if he commands against the will of the proconsul, you do not despise the power, but you choose to obey the higher. Again, if the proconsul commands one thing, and the Emperor another, can you doubt that the proconsul must be despised and the Emperor obeyed? Therefore if the Emperor [commands] one thing and God another, what is your judgment? Pay your tribute; do your obeisance to me.’ ‘Right; but not before an idol. He forbids it in the temple.’ ‘Who forbids?’ ‘The higher authority. Pardon me; you threaten prison, He threatens Hell.’ from Sermo 62

  35. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    22. June 2018 at 18:58


    “to suggest there is literature on both sides of the issue is like suggesting there is literature on both sides of the debate about whether the earth is flat or 5,000 years old. You can always site [sic] a kook”

    I cited Garett Jones. Are you suggesting that Jones is a kook? I’m not citing completely absurd stuff like arguing that the earth is flat. Jones works in a very pro-open-border community, and is even respected by many of the open borders types. Your argument is unreasonable here.

    “The fact is, those most passionate about this are overwhelmingly from places that have little to no immigrants. How can it be that those people living in communities with lots of immigrants tend to be those in favor of their presence while those having essentially no interaction, experience with, or impacts from immigrants tend to want to reduce their number?”

    This simply isn’t true. To quote Ross Douthat (who is citing others):

    “Trumpism-the-ideology is very much a made-in-California affair. Not many members of the right-wing intelligentsia backed Trump, but the writers and thinkers who did — from mainstream conservatives to the alt-right fringe — were heavily Californian: the Claremont Institute’s West Coast Straussians, Michael “Flight 93 Election” Anton, Mickey Kaus, Victor Davis Hanson, Ron Unz, Steve Sailer, Scott Adams, Curtis “Mencius Moldbug” Yarvin … and of course the one and only Peter Thiel.”

    Regarding Christianity, Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo are arguing that god’s morality supersedes legal morality. Law is the government’s institutionalized morality system. And we change the legal system to match our morality. I will also note that in the lifespan of Christianity, Christianity has not until very recently opposed the basis of the nation state or the tribe of preferring members over outsiders. Christianity has always supported the ultimate human tribal structure, the family. Which is the ultimate institution of privileging members over outsiders.

  36. Gravatar of J Mann J Mann
    27. June 2018 at 11:07

    One of the best takes I’ve heard on Peterson is that he takes a Rorty-style pragmatic view of truth. My rough translation is that ideas are true if they are useful, not if they are accurate.

    Scott, IIRC you’re more familiar with Rorty’s work than I am – I’d be interested in your thoughts on Peterson once you have a chance to look into his stuff.

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