The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter 18

Principles of External Policy

§3. The question of free immigration has occupied a much smaller place in modern political discussion than the question of free trade: still, freedom of immigration is a recognised feature of the ideal which orthodox political economists have commonly formed of international relations. And it seems to be often implicitly assumed in the economic arguments for free trade; since, as I have pointed out, in order that the advantages of complete freedom of exchange among nations may be fully realised, it is necessary that labour should move with perfect ease from country to country to meet the changes that are continually likely to occur in the industrial demand for it. On the other hand, we have seen that the system of international rights, framed in the earlier period of modern European history on the principle of mutual non-interference, allows each State complete freedom in determining the positive relations into which it will enter with States and individuals outside it; and though theoretically I cannot concede to a State possessing large tracts of unoccupied land an absolute right of excluding alien elements, I have not proposed any limitation of this right in the case of civilised countries generally. The truth is, that when we consider how far the exercise of this right of exclusion is conducive to the real interest of the State exercising it, or of humanity at large, we come upon the most striking phase of the general conflict between the cosmopolitan and the national ideals of political organisation, which has more than once attracted our notice. According to the national ideal, the right and duty of each government is to promote the interests of a determinate group of human beings, bound together by the tie of a common nationality---with due regard to the rules restraining it from attacking or encroaching on other States---and to consider the expediency of admitting foreigners and their products solely from this point of view. According to the cosmopolitan ideal, its business is to maintain order over the particular territory that historical causes have appropriated to it, but not in any way to determine who is to inhabit this territory, or to restrict the enjoyment of its natural advantages to any particular portion of the human race.

The latter is perhaps the ideal of the future; but it allows too little for the national and patriotic sentiments which have in any case to be reckoned with as an actually powerful political force, and which, appear to be at present indispensable to social wellbeing. We cannot yet hope to substitute for these sentiments, in sufficient diffusion and intensity, the wider sentiment connected with the conception of our common humanity; so that the casual aggregates that might result from perfectly unrestrained immigration would lack internal cohesion. Again, the governmental function of promoting moral and intellectual culture might be rendered hopelessly difficult by the continual inflowing streams of alien immigrants, with diverse moral habits and religious traditions. Similarly, the efficient working of the political institutions of different States presupposes certain characteristics in the human beings to whom they are applied; and a large intermixture of immigrants brought up under different institutions might inevitably introduce corruption and disorder into a previously well-ordered State.

I think, therefore, that it would not be really in the interest of humanity at large, to impose upon civilised States generally, as an absolute international duty, the free admission of immigrants: and that it would be a proper policy for any such State to place restrictions on immigration, if ever it should threaten to take such dimensions as to interfere materially with the internal cohesion of a nation, or with the efforts of its government to maintain an adequately high quality of civilised life among the members of the community generally. Apart from these mischievous consequences, the free admission of aliens will generally be advantageous to the country admitting them; partly for reasons similar to those that render free trade generally expedient, as the recipient State is thus enabled to share the advantage of the special faculties and empirical arts in which other countries excel; partly as tending to the diffusion of mutual knowledge and sympathy among nations. Further, as I shall presently point out, over a large part of the earth's surface the union of diverse races under a common government seems to be an almost indispensable condition of economic progress and the spread of civilisation; in spite of the political and social difficulties and drawbacks that this combination entails.

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