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Conference Proceeding

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Immigrants -- Attitudes, Immigrants -- Social conditions, Immigrants -- Cultural assimilation, Social integrations -- Effect of political beliefs on


The purpose of this essay is to explore correlations between political attitudes and the reception immigrants are likely to receive in their host state. We take up this topic in order to explore empirically what there is to be said for the view, common among political theorists, that there is a tension between universalist liberal values and the nationalist convictions of citizens. As Margaret Canovan has stressed, “The universalist terms in which liberal political philosophies have often been framed imply obligations to humanity in general that are hard to reconcile with borders of any kind, let alone with the ethnic selection of potential citizens.”1 Anthony Birch has supplied some support for this view in his study of national integration and concludes that, “A government that diversifies its society by authorizing immigration that will have that effect is necessarily creating a potential social problem.”

Underlying these concerns is the belief that national identities matter for citizens and that they just may matter enough to offset more liberal sympathies in the citizenry of even the most liberal states that might incline citizens to be more tolerant of immigrants. In the case of the US, some support for this can be found in John Higham’s monumental study of nativism in America and Rogers Smith’s equally monumental study of American immigration laws. Smith finds, for example, that liberal sentiments in the US, which would encourage tolerance of immigrants, have been offset historically by a tradition of ascriptive Americanism that tends to define what it means to be an American in familiar WASPish terms.


Paper prepared for presentation at the 2008 Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association in Boston, MA, August 28-31, 2008.

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