Arizona’s recent immigration law has made the state both a beacon of states’ rights or a cesspool of racism, depending on your perspective. This has been the theme of many conversations and I think both sides have failed: Progressives have lost the ideological principals necessary for believing in a strong national border and immigration standards and conservatives have failed to clearly defend those principles as moral.
Since the inception of this great nation there has been an ideological battle between those who believe we need a stronger national government and those who believe in a weaker national government whose powers are limited in deference to the states, namely an idea called Federalism. This division has been fierce and was embodied through the disagreements between John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. And while the most obvious division during our nation’s only civil war, and which President Lincoln so beautiful articulated, was a moral division, between fulfilling or denying the promise of the Declaration of Independence for all Americans, there was a strong undercurrent of that old Federalism feud between the North and the South. However, Americans shared belief in basic values which transcended those old political rivalries and healed wounds from a civil war, which formed the basis for the American experiment, and are values which can provide the foundation for a lasting and true multiculturalism. We should consider some of the foundational values of this country, that have been the foundation for our melting pot and which immigrants have historically adopted, as common ground for us today.
As human beings we all have certain common aspects that distinguish us from other types beings, one of which is rational freedom. I believe that it’s essential for us to recognize that freedom is different from liberty, which is the political or public exercise of our natural freedom. America has offered a level of liberty which is unparalleled in human history and I think we’ve taken for granted just how blessed we are with the level of liberty we’ve inherited. Consider Martin Luther King Jr., who I believe lived and died holding onto the distinction between liberty and freedom. He understood that we are all naturally as free as we want to be and that nothing can enslave that natural freedom except for our own ignorance and fear - not a Russian gulag, nor a high level security prison nor the outward circumstance - we are always free to think, if we want to. Martin Luther King fought to bring liberty to a people that were oppressed. He saw that even though they were free human beings with the right to express that freedom through liberty they were both bound by others and themselves. Why does this distinction matter? If we don’t see this difference we will be fooled into believing that we’re simply tools of mass corporations or servants to a consumerist culture or slaves to those more wealthy and we’ll blame others as we remain in our confinement. Though our liberties can be taken by others, our freedom is only bound by ourselves.
Third is a value found in The Declaration and inherent in the very idea that our founding political community held some things to be self-evident: objectively clear truth. Our founding fathers believed that some things are clear to reason and these things can therefore be known by all people in all places and at all times (“all men are created equal…”). Whether these beliefs are actually self-evident, is another topic for another time, but we can say that by their statements our founders clearly believed in objective truth. It’s that idea of objective truth that supports a commitment to the rule of law and order in our American tradition by starting with what is clear to all men in order to hold all men accountable – if there is no clarity then there is no objective basis for accountability and obligation. Immigrants see the fruit of these basic beliefs, the liberty and hope, even if they aren’t aware of the beliefs themselves. America is a land of opportunity but to maintain this opportunity we need to understand what our constitutional society offers and why.
These ideas are not genetic traits or racial characteristics and they have been embraced and assimilated by people of all types of racial backgrounds through America’s great history. Quite simply, ideas and natural rights transcend race and these American ideals provide a foundation for individual liberty to flourish, by creating a common ground which can support true ethnic, culture and racial diversity. What is more common than our shared humanity and objective truth? This vision is what makes America unique and produces the beauty of America, which draws the rest of the world to us. It is blatantly clear that some cultures are better than others, when judged on liberty and human equality, blind justice, and the pursuit of the Good, which are the basic rights due all human beings. Working from the founding fathers’ assumptions that some things are self-evidently clear – that truth exists and we can know it – must be the foundation to the debates surrounding our culture, American identity, and immigration and assimilation.
America has been and can be a unity of diversity.