Roper’s February polling of Americans reveals a clear consensus against high levels of immigration. Eighty-three percent favor a lower level of immigration than the current average of over a million a year, and some 70 percent support a level of immigration below 300.000 per year. This view is held by 52 percent of Hispanics, 73 percent of blacks, 72 percent of conservatives, 71 percent of moderates, 66 percent of liberals, 72 percent of Democrats, and 70 percent of Republicans. A majority supports even larger cuts, with 54 percent saying that annual immigration should be less than 100,000. Twenty percent want no more immigration at all. Concerning illegal immigration, the poll conducted for Negative Population Growth reveals strong support for tough measures: self-styled moderates (78 percent), the strongly religious (76 percent), whites (77 percent), Protestants (82 percent), and Midwesterners (85 percent). Sixty percent of English-speaking Hispanics want illegal immigration halted, as do 68 percent of blacks and 69 percent of Catholics. The results confirm what several decades of polling on the subject have consistently shown: that a majority of the public has never supported the sort of immigration policies instituted by Congress and the Executive Branch.

On a related matter, a bemused writer for the Wall Street Journal reported in early March that a majority of registered Republican voters express support for environmental safeguards. That there are “greenies” among Republicans came as something of a surprise to the business journalist. But this merely shows how out of touch the GOP’s “leadership” is. After all, “the environment” is where people live. And most Americans would like to breathe clean air, drink safe water, and enjoy the outdoors.

Perhaps the most fearless and original thinker on the interrelated topics of population and our environment is Garrett Hardin, professor emeritus of human ecology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Now in his 81st year, he continues to write craftily argued articles—with another book on the way—debunking the optimistic Alfred E. Neuman school of thought so favored by the editors of the Wall Street Journal, the Cato Institute, Julian Simon and Ben Wattenberg, and the Republican congressional leadership, especially Majority Leader Dick Armey. In Living Within Limits, Hardin takes the fundamentally conservative position that on matters relating to the economy, our environment, and future prospects, we should always hedge our bets and not, like Mr. McCawber, simply assume that “something will turn up.” As we near the end of the 20th century, mankind confronts a situation earlier generations did not have to consider. “The time-honored practice of pollute and move on is no longer acceptable,” Hardin points out. The globe is filled. There are no empty continents. Humans have nowhere else to go.

Hardin likens our world to a lifeboat: only a limited number of people can ride in it before it sinks. And not everyone is going to be saved. The old Enlightenment idea of “progress,” predicated on the assumption of perpetual growth, is irrelevant in a world which has a finite carry ing capacity. Sentimentality must not be permitted to cloud our ability to take measures to preserve resources, not only for ourselves, but for future generations. Thus far, countries whose populations have grown beyond their capacity to care for them have managed to share the costs by appealing to foreign aid. This option no longer pertains. Hardin insists that there is no global problem of population and resources; each country will have to take care of itself. Thus, he makes a powerful case for closed borders and the end of immigration from poor countries to richer ones: “The production of human beings is the result of very localized actions; corrective actions must be local. . . . Globalizing the ‘population problem’ would only ensure that it would never be solved.”

Our resolve to deal with immigration and related issues has been undermined not only by the spirit of unwarranted optimism, but by the effort to instill a sense of guilt for the level of prosperity and the type of society that Westerners have managed to create. As he remarks, “Anyone who tries to comprehend the spirit of our times is soon impressed with the popularity of guilt-mongering. . . . In the first half of the 20th century, anthropologists taught people to be ashamed of ethnocentrism. So successful were they that some guilt-mongers have now gone to the extreme of becoming ethno-fugalists: they see virtue only in people other than their own kind. Often the greater the otherness, the greater the asserted virtue and beauty.”

A consequence of this “flight from the ethnic center of their own upbringing” is the promotion of what is euphemistically called “diversity” (i.e., non- and anti-Western people and cultures). “Those who promote limitless diversity,” he writes, “seem not to have noticed the disorder and violence associated with massive diversity in Africa and the Balkans. The faster the rate of immigration and the more diverse the reluctantly conjoined cultures, the greater is the threat of balkanization. And balkanized territories, under whatever name, are not noted for their devotion to political equality.”

The United States’ particular population problem is immigration. By the early 1970’s, on their own and without government coercion, the American people made the decision to limit their fertility rate, which should have stabilized our population. But while American citizens voluntarily chose to limit their future population growth. Congress opened the country’s doors to massive waves of immigration from the Third World. This is a topic that Professor Hardin has long wrestled with. Some of his best writings have recently been collected and appear in The Immigration Dilemma. In his now classic paper, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published here as Chapter Three, he argues that, like the commons pastures in Medieval Europe, natural resources can be misused, overexploited, and eventually exhausted when they are unmanaged and available to everyone without restrictions.

Hardin has extended this argument specifically to the immigration debate. If the United States is, in effect, a sort of global commons that everyone has the right to move into, then how can we hope to prevent the spoliation of our country and insure that it will exist as a secure and decent place for our children? He relates continuing high levels of immigration to other problems, such as unemployment and pollution, which persists because immigration-fueled population growth has undercut many of the benefits that were supposed to accrue from environmental restraints. More fundamental is the loss of the genuine sense of community once shared by Americans when they were less “diverse.” “Indiscriminating altruism”—the universalist impulse—threatens our future as a people. True compassion, Hardin reminds us, can be given only to those who are close to vou. He cites Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s observation, “If everyone is my brother, I have no brothers.”

Only four countries—the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—welcome large numbers of legal immigrants. Professor Hardin advises that the time has come when we should, as a practical matter, “reduce immigration to zero.” Ideas, after all, are patentable and travel electronically around the globe. People can always visit! But there is no need for them physically to move here.

In his concluding essay, which first appeared in Chronicles in 1993, he writes, “The bottom line is this: the days are over when immigration could be defended as a solution to any national problem. Japan has known this all along. . . . To become rational about immigration Americans need to disown the appalling advice of Emma Lazarus.” Garrett Hardin urges us to think longer range, and to remember that the first concern of public policy should be to ensure our own survival.


[Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos, by Garrett Hardin (New York: Oxford University Press) 352 pp., $30.00]

[The Immigration Dilemma: Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin (Washington, D.C.: Federation for American Immigration Reform) 140 pp., $5.00]