Postscript to BBC Documentary

By Jerry Kammer on January 17, 2014

This week we have published two items about the provocative new BBC documentary "The Truth About Immigration". Since the documentary reports on the attitudes and sensibilities of people on opposite sides of the immigration debate in Britain, it may be appropriate to cite a work about two historic political thinkers whose world views, as American author Yuval Levin writes, "still describe two broad and fundamental dispositions toward political life and political change in our liberal age."

Here is an excerpt, relevant to the immigration debate in Britain and in the United States, from Levin's highly praised book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left:

The tension between those two dispositions comes down to some very basic questions: Should our society be made to answer to the demands of stark and abstract commitments to ideals like social equality or to the patterns of its own concrete political traditions and foundations? Should the citizen's relationship to his society be defined above all by the individual's right of free choice or by a web of obligations and conventions not entirely of our own choosing? Are great public problems best addressed through institutions designed to apply the explicit technical knowledge of experts or by those designed to channel the implicit social knowledge of the community? Should we see each of our society's failings as one large problem to be solved by comprehensive transformation or as a set of discrete imperfections to be addressed by building on what works tolerably well to address what does not? What authority should the character of the given world exercise over our sense of what we would like it to be?