When does leaving your own country make sense?
When I mention leaving the U.S. due to the election, many people react that I am simply spewing forth hyperbole, or that I am being unreasonable. As is my habit, I do examine my own thinking and try and tear it apart—and sometimes change my mind. Unlike many, I think changing your mind based on thoughtful examination and facts is a good thing, not a flip-flop.
As always, my thinking is biased due to my personal history and education. I am the son of an immigrant, who fled her country (Czechoslovakia) as a teen. My education includes Public Policy, Foreign Affairs, and International Studies. These biases are not “normal” for many Americans, so I put them out there immediately.
As I think about this, I think about some of the fundamentals of political science philosophy. What justifies a nation state? What are just wars and unjust wars? These come into play as one discusses leaving a country.
Nationalism is a strong thread in many countries, but particularly in the U.S. and with some irony countries like Russia, China, and many conflict zones. It is in no small degree that nationalism causes people to say “why in the world would you leave the U.S.?” The implication is that the U.S. is the greatest. That it is disloyal to leave. Unpatriotic.
Nationalism is like tribalism. We defend the tribe no matter what. There is no doubt that I have my share of nationalism, but compared to many, I would say mine is more subdued. I have seen and studied how destructive nationalism can be. I believe that Kennedy got it partially wrong when he said “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” The speech (http://www.ushistory.org/documents/ask-not.htm) was very nationalistic. But, implicit in the speech were some good ideas. First, the part that is wrong is that you owe your country. Countries, nation states, exist as part of a social contract. Thomas Hobbes, in his work Leviathan (published in 1651), captures some of this. The authority of the state (its very existence) is part of a social contract. The state must provide certain things for a citizen, or its existence is illegitimate. In my mind one could and should ask “what can the state (nation state) do for me, for me to pledge my allegiance, free will, and effort to the state.” Now, Kennedy, in his speech does go on to discuss freedom and such. He basically outlines some of the social contract the U.S. has with its citizens, so that aspect is fine.
The concept of just and unjust wars to my mind also comes into play. I studied a book by the same name, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations by Michael Walzer (professor emeritus at Princeton). I had the good fortune to attend a lecture of his when I was at Johns Hopkins and ask him a few questions. He explores some of the secular reasons that war might be justified. While I don’t agree with all that he said, there are some interesting points. One is that when the tyranny of the majority upon the minority takes place. The other is when the institutions do not provide a method of redress (and protection), and another concept is when the group is willing to fight (and lose lives) to redress the situation. Then, it may be just for another country to interfere, or for the civil war to be called “just” at one level This is a gross simplification and I apologize ahead of time to Walzer on this simplification and interpretation. The interpretation and metaphor I am going to use is my own, not his.
What the recent election showed me is that the rhetoric of the tyranny of the majority (ignoring for the moment popular vote, electoral college, and plurality vs majority) has in the U.S. become acceptable. The rhetoric included expelling, for instance, all Muslims. It included a number of racist and misogynistic comments. It included threats of lawsuits to newspapers to prevent freedom of the press and the public—a significant portion—accepted it enough to vote for that candidate.
Now, as the new year and new administration takes office, we can watch with vigilance to see if the continued actions of the country, its institutions, continue to create a tyranny of the “majority” over the minority and if those actions violate the social contract between a nation and some of its citizens.
If the institutions cannot hold the tyranny of the majority (no matter how thin) at bay, then one of the criteria of a just war is met. Let me be clear. This is not a call to arms! Rather, in today’s world and today’s international system, the ability to leave the country is one of the last institutions available to demonstrate that such a tyranny is occurring (thus the largest percentage of citizens ever in the world living as refugees, or expatriates).
Built into the U.S. set of institutions is freedom of moment between states. Additionally, built into the system, the institution of the nation (the constitution) is also significant power granted to the states. Thus, the first resort of those effected by the potential discrimination and inability to change (due to being a minority) is to flee to a state that more closely resembles your contract. This, indeed, is already what is happening. The West Coast and much of the Northeast Coast are “liberal” bastions where the tyranny of the majority is not considered acceptable. Note, that simply being in the majority does not make a group a tyranny. So, just because California is strongly “liberal” or democratic, does not mean they automatically are a tyranny against conservatives. This could be a whole separate discussion. Suffice to say, that if the group feels it to be true, then there is the freedom to move to another state. If you are not willing to move, it is not meeting even the mildest of definitions of a “just” war.
This self-segregation is happening and generally, I am worried about it—I think it becomes a positive feedback loop. However, it is one of the emergency release valves available to citizens of the U.S. and an important stabilizer.
Thus, the penultimate resort of a citizen might be not to leave the country, but to leave the state.
The concern is when the federal government in a sense closes that escape valve. If the national law is to expel Muslims, even naturalized citizens, then there is no escape valve. Then, the social contract has been violated. The example of expelling Muslims is just that, an example of rhetoric that has occurred. The action has not. Those who are not Muslim, such as an atheist as myself, are still violated by the broken social contract. Thus, it is just for me to use the last escape valve there is: immigration. By immigrating, one then accepts the social contract of the country one moves to. If that country lives up to the social contract, then I as a new citizen, or permanent resident also have to live up to my end, which includes a certain patriotism and loyalty to that country.
So, when I consider moving out of the country, which I currently am considering, it is because I feel that the U.S. is close to violating its social contract with me. I already live in a tolerant state, California. I have lived in other “liberal” states most of my life. This is not just about hating a candidate or a president, which I do. It is about the country itself. The institutions. I see the potential and the path toward where my social contract with the country will be violated. Additionally, with an 11 year old daughter, I see her social contract both in jeopardy in the short term and a potential downward spiral. This situation is not about the candidate, but the fact that the U.S. itself embraced this thinking. The thinking that is a NEW social contract. Trump is merely a reprehensible symbol of the broken contract.
Strangely, most Americans don’t see leaving the U.S. to work in another country as unpatriotic. This is, in part, that “religion” of capitalism. The U.S. social contract of pursuit of happiness, in the form of the almighty dollar. Well, cousin to this, in my mind is the recognition by all industrialized countries EXCEPT the U.S. that healthcare is a right and part of the social contract. As the new administration and both branches of congress take over, this will be part of the social contract I view.
Time will tell. I will watch carefully. My allegiance is to the original social contract of the U.S. If that is violated, I don’t blindly owe the U.S. anything, but until the full violation does occur, then I will do what I can to help the country fulfill the contract with me. This, perhaps, is the better way of rephrasing Kennedy. I ask that the country live up to its promise and I will do what I can to help it, but once all options are closed and it has broken that contract, I am free to pursue a country whose contract is one I can live with. One that my daughter can live with.