In an email exchange with Salon.com last week Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach loosened the strangulating hold of his tie from his white collar and vented. Kobach, apparently, is livid that he’s being called a racist due to his connections to John Tanton, the architect of the anti-immigrant movement.
The flustered lawyer claimed that he’s “not familiar with [Tanton’s] writings or his views” and that he has “not done any legal work for any organization that expresses or supports racial discrimination, nor will I ever do so in the future.”
Kobach, of course, works for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which was founded by Tanton who is, in fact, a white nationalist. But, Kobach also claims that he works on behalf of all American people—that his project cannot be informed by white nationalism because not all Americans are white.
And, to be fair, Kobach’s own ideological commitments are obviously difficult to nail down; he’s already been labeled everything on the political spectrum, and his peculiar collaborations have further muddled his Republican identity.
If you ever decide to visit IRLI’s website, there’s a little epigraph crammed into the left-hand margin of the page, talking about “custodians” and “corrective feedbacks” and how we should seek to “legitimate the[ir] needed authority.” That’s from Garrett Hardin, a Malthusian ecologist who argued that overpopulation will catalyze environmental catastrophe, and that political measures are required to stem impending doom.
The quote on IRLI’s homepage comes from his seminal text, The Tragedy of the Commons, wherein he argues that commonly held resources are threatened by the rapidly growing number of self-interested humans, requiring a “custodian” to overlook the “corrective feedback” that returns us to sustainability. These custodians are generally cast as free industry in an attempt to rationalize the privatization of resources, though they have been conversely interpreted as any form of authority—that is, as long as the commons are abolished and resources aren’t freely accessible.
And that’s the zenith of Hardin’s career, arguing for some autocratic political body to decide who does and does not eat.
Hardin’s ideas about the commons are part and parcel of a larger history of controversy, like in 1994 when he signed onto an editorial purporting the legitimacy of The Bell Curve, which summarily claimed that whites and Asians are inherently more intelligent than other groups—namely, African Americans. In short, Hardin helps us realize that science is often just as much an ideological enterprise as it is a rational one. Most criticism of his work originates in the claim that his own social conservatism actually informed his projects and, to accept them at face value would be a mistake.
But that’s exactly what happened. As a close associate of John Tanton, Hardin began providing the anti-immigrant movement with some scientific culpability. Hardin sat on the board of Tanton’s flagship, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), for a number of years. He also contributed to Tanton’s journal The Social Contract, offering the far-right publication a veneer of empirical legitimacy. Tanton and Hardin even personally corresponded on issues of eugenics and other unsavory matter, including one letter in which Tanton thought Hardin would be sardonically amused by the concept of “food as a human right.”
It’s through such instances that Tanton and Hardin are cited for their oligarchic white nationalism, and the entirety of Tanton’s movement, including IRLI, has helped to advance this ideology. So while Kobach pleads ignorance on “his ideas,” one only need ask him why a radical ecologist is quoted on the website for a law firm. If he’s truly in the dark, and if he truly shares his talents only by ethical means, then perhaps he’ll dissociate himself from his own employer.