Racist Democracies: Ethnic Selection in the Immigration Laws of the Americas
The relationship between ideologies of racial difference and of rule by the people has been extremely complex. In its classical liberal guise, social analysts from Alexis de Tocqueville to Frances Fukuyama have considered democracy as incompatible with racism. From this perspective, racism and discriminatory practices are foreign elements to be worked out of the liberal body politic. Scholars have argued that the incompatibility between liberal democracy and racism extends to the selection of immigrants. U.S. based critical race theorists counter that democracy in its liberal variant, and racism are inherently connected in political philosophy and the practice of democracies. A third perspective shows that democracy and racism are distinct, co-existing traditions, but does not specify the conditions under which a particular tradition is more consequential. In its populist variant, democracy has also been difficult to explain. What, then, is the relationship between relationship of rule by the many and racism? Drawing on a study of immigration laws in 22 countries of the Americas from 1790 to 2010, this paper argues there is a historically persistent, but contingent relationship between racial selection of immigrants and political systems based on liberal-democracy or populism. While a return to legal ethnic selectivity is possible under circumstances that we identify, it is unlikely because of governments’ embeddedness in an international system of sovereign nation-states that seek to avoid the humiliation of co-ethnics on a world stage.