Jewish World Review April 27, 2012/ 5 Iyar, 5772
My papers? No thank you
By Jonah Goldberg
If there were one thing I could impress upon people about the nature of the state, it's that governments by their very nature want to make their citizens "legible."
I borrow that word from
But as Scott examined "sedentarization" (making mobile people settle down), he realized this practice was simply part of a more fundamental drive of the state: to make the whole population legible to the state. The premodern state was "blind" to its subjects. But the modern state was determined first to see them, and then organize them. This is why so many rulers pushed for the universal usage of last names starting around 1600 (aristocrats had been using family or clan names for centuries already). The same goes with the push for more accurate addresses, the standardization of weights and measures, and of course the use of censuses and surveys. It's much easier to collect taxes, conscript soldiers, fight crime and put down rebellions if you know who people are and where they live.
Perhaps the most obvious means of making the populace legible is the identity card or internal passport. The history of the identity card is a fascinating and shockingly complex one. For instance, did you know that identity cards were seen as a war on bigamy in many countries?
Opponents of the
A system of reliable ID was necessary for conscription and internal security -- government's top concerns -- but it was also necessary to properly allocate the benefits and jobs the state doled out in order to buy popular support, and to enforce school attendance.
And this brings me to our current debate over
But what I wish liberal opponents would understand is that in a society where the government "gives" so much to its citizens, it's inevitable that the state will pursue ways to more clearly demarcate the lines between the citizen and the non-citizen.
Most (but by no means all) conservatives I know would have few problems with large-scale immigration if we didn't have a welfare state that bequeaths so many benefits on citizens and non-citizens alike. I myself am a huge fan of legal immigration. But if you try to see things like a state for a second, it's simply unsustainable to have a libertarian immigration policy and a liberal welfare state. Ultimately, if you don't want cops asking for your papers, you need to get rid of one or the other.
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