What should U.S. immigration policy be, given that half a million immigrants enter the U.S. illegally each year and the total number of undocumented residents in the country is about 11 million? For the far right, the answer is obvious: close the borders. This view is regularly touted on Fox News, where commentators decry the porousness of U.S. borders, argue for stepped-up policing—perhaps even a fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border—and for a crackdown on those who employ or aid undocumented migrants. They imply that illegal immigrants must be sent home. Read the CENTURY editorial.
When a spiritual revival broke out at an evangelical college a few years ago, one faculty member was reported as saying that it would be wise to wait 25 years before assessing whether anything significant had happened. Such reservations are appropriate regarding the current fervor for political reform in Washington.
It's easy enough to say that torture is bad (though it took President Bush a while to do so). But how does one address this classic ethical dilemma: a nuclear bomb is ticking somewhere in an urban area. The bomb-setter has been captured but refuses to divulge the bomb's location. Does one honor the rule against torture, or use whatever methods it takes, including torture, to get information that will save millions of lives? Even in this case, there's no guarantee that torture will produce accurate information. But the argument remains—an undeniable good might be done for innumerable innocents at the expense of evil performed on a single evil one.
Yes, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. And yes, the rise of a stable, democratic Iraq would be a force for reform in the Middle East. But such benefits do not constitute a moral case for war. In the just war tradition, war is justifiable only as an emergency response undertaken in self-defense and as a last resort. Respect for the sovereignty of other states is a basic component of the international order. In other words, war is not an ordinary instrument for improving the world.
The food movement has called attention to the abuse of animals that are raised and killed on factory farms. But even farmers who raise animals in humane ways, in small-scale operations, intend for the animals to be slaughtered. Bob Comis, a professional pig farmer, asks how can he ethically raise pigs knowing that his ultimate aim is to kill and market them for consumption. “As a pig farmer, I lead an unethical life,” Comis confesses. “I am a slaveholder and a murderer” (American Scholar, Spring).