The Meaning of Multiculturalism
If someone had told me as a boy: One day you will see your nation vanish from the world, I would have considered it nonsense, something I couldn't possibly imagine. A man knows he is mortal, but he takes it for granted that his nation possesses a kind of eternal life.
The Book of Laughter
In the quest to become a true world nation . . . the United States must break away from its European roots and begin treating Asian history and culture equally with those of the West.
||Kotkin and Kishimoto,
The Third Century
They will take the city and the characters of men, as they might a tablet, and first wipe it clean—no easy task.
The Republic, Book VI
We have seen that the legislators who passed the 1965 reform had no intention of changing the “ethnic, political or economic make-up of the U.S.” When Hyram Fong asserted that under the new law “the cultural pattern of the U.S. will never be changed,” no one challenged him and said that the U.S. must become a multicultural country. Clearly, there was an expectation that the new immigrants would only augment the cosmopolitan mix of minorities in our predominantly white society; clearly, there was a consensus that the United States had the intention, as well as the right, to preserve its “cultural pattern.” Yet today both liberals and conservatives speak the language of cultural diversity, and they seem to look forward with complacency, even eagerness, to the prospect of the U.S. becoming a white-minority country during the coming century. Today, it is unimaginable that any politician, unless he were planning instant retirement, would speak about “preserving the ethnic make-up of the U.S.” What happened to bring about such a reversal in our national consensus since 1965?
In one sense, this revolution can be seen as but the latest stage in the triumph of the philosophical and cultural relativism that has characterized modern thought. “In twentieth-century social science,” Allan Bloom writes in The Closing of the American Mind, “the common good disappears and along with it the negative view of minorities. The very idea of majority—now understood to be selfish interest—is done away with in order to protect the minorities . . . and the protection of them emerges as the central function of government.”(24) Certainly, this evolving attitude toward minorities has served as a rationale for the large-scale immigration of previously excluded groups; but I would add that the evolving attitude toward minorities is also, in its present, radical form, a product of the post-1965 immigration.
The 1965 Act had revolutionary implications that no one, except for a handful of conservative critics like Sam Ervin, understood at the time. The legislators did not see that by extending the principles of equal rights and family reunification—with its unanticipated effect of chain migration—to every country on earth, and by failing to assert any balancing principle of the common good or national self-interest (and reasonable discrimination based on that national interest, as exercised by every other country on earth), they were opening the door to mass Third-World immigration. As a result, when the nation unexpectedly found itself by the mid to late 1970s experiencing unprecedented diversity, it had no remaining legitimate principle—having abandoned traditional notions of self-interest—except for universal equality and humanitarianism; it therefore had no choice but to turn around and endorse diversity as an end in itself. Faced with the seemingly irreversible fact of multiracial change, we gave ourselves a new national myth of diversity to accommodate ourselves to that fact.
Almost overnight, without debate or public awareness of what was happening, mainstream opinion adopted a radical new credo. “We must respect all cultures equally,” “All cultures are equally enriching,” “America’s strength lies in its diversity”—these slogans have become articles of our national faith, without anyone’s thinking too clearly about what they really mean. There is an enormous difference between accommodating ourselves to diversity by saying that the diversity exists, that it presents certain challenges to a liberal order, but that we must deal with it as best we can, and saying that diversity is the highest good, to be pursued as an end in itself. The former position leads to a realistic response to the actual circumstances in which we find ourselves; the latter to a search for utopia. Unfortunately, it is the utopian way of thinking that has become dominant. Thus we keep hearing the strange idea that our nation can become “strong” in the pursuit of unlimited diversity. Two thousand years ago, the historian Polybius voiced the traditional wisdom, that “every state relies for its preservation on two fundamental qualities, namely bravery in the face of the enemy, and harmony among its citizens.”(25) By contrast, today’s progressives seem to believe that the state relies for its preservation on unconditional accommodation to foreigners and maximum diversity among its citizens. They seem to think that since a moderate degree of ethnic diversity (mainly among European peoples along with a black minority) has been by and large a good thing for America, therefore, an unlimited amount of diversity (among all the peoples of the earth) must be even better—which is like saying that since a few glasses of water a day will keep you healthy, a hundred gallons a day will make you a superman.
The myth of unlimited diversity tells us that the mass influx from Latin America and Asia represents, not a departure from our history, but its fulfillment. “Nor is this [demographic and cultural] transformation contrary to American tradition,” write Joel Kotkin and Yoriko Kishimoto. “Throughout our history, America’s racial and cultural identity has been in constant flux, reacting to each new wave of immigration. Today’s immigration, primarily from Asia and Latin America, continues that pattern. . . . From its earliest days, the U.S. has always been something of a ‘world nation.’”(26) In the same vein, James Fallows of the Atlantic assures us: “The glory of American society is its melding of many peoples.”(27) What is neatly obscured by these soothing clichés is the fact that until only two decades ago that “world nation,” those “many peoples,” were almost exclusively European. A revolutionary mass immigration from every race and nation on earth is thus portrayed (and sanctified) as a mere continuance of an established tradition.
The question needs to be asked: Is America’s entire three hundred and fifty year history up to 1965, during which it drew its people and its civilizational roots predominantly from England and Europe, totally irrelevant to a definition of our national character? The multiculturalists say yes. In the words of former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso: “America is a political union—not a cultural, linguistic, religious or racial union.” Now, while there is some truth in this statement, can it not be carried to extremes? Mr. Reynoso seems to be saying that the United States is nothing but a blank slate—a sort of political abstraction lacking any cultural identity that has a right to be preserved. Since, for example, we are not a “linguistic” union, the English language has no special status; we could turn into a Japanese or Spanish-speaking society tomorrow and, according to Mr. Reynoso, this would in no way change America’s essential character, since, in his view, America has no essential character.
The New Cultural Revolution
Among its many sinister potentialities, the myth of a totally open, undefined America provides a sanction for the widening attack on Western culture in our schools. I have written elsewhere about the most recent manifestation of this movement, a “multicultural” curriculum plan proposed by the New York State Commissioner of Education. The report, entitled “A Curriculum of Inclusion,” opens with the declaration that “African Americans, Asian Americans, Puerto Ricans/Latinos, and Native Americans have all been the victims of an intellectual and educational oppression that has characterized the culture and institutions of the United States and the European American world for centuries.”(28) This oppression consists in the fact that a “systematic bias toward European culture and its derivatives” has “a terribly damaging effect on the psyche of young people of African, Asian, Latino, and Native American descent.” The proposed solution is a totally restructured curriculum for the state’s public schools, in which the “history, achievements, aspirations and concerns of people of all cultures [shall be] made an integral part of all curricula.” What the report’s authors have in mind is not merely greater treatment of the historical experiences of America’s ethnic minorities, since such inclusion, no matter how extensive, “cannot counteract deeply rooted racist traditions in American culture . . . [nor] reverse long established and entrenched policies and practices of that dominant culture.” Rather, children will be taught that all cultures are to be “equally valued”; that the contributions of the American Indian, African, Hispanic (and even Asian!) cultures are as important to our civilization’s heritage as the Anglo-Saxon and European contribution. What this “equality” really means is that whites and the West must be consistently vilified. Thus the report recommends that the Age of Exploration shall be portrayed with a view to “negative values and policies that produced aggressive individuals and nations that were ready to ‘discover, invade and conquer’ foreign land because of greed, racism and national egoism.” Meanwhile, the history of African Americans must be presented “so that the heroic struggle for equity waged by African Americans can be an inspiration to all.” Similarly, blacks during the American Revolution were fighting “strictly for freedom,” while whites were only fighting to “protect their economic interests.” My article continues:
But not to worry. To this proposal to divide up the entire student population, every school subject and every idea into official “cultural” designations—with each culture striving for its own piece of the curricular pie—the report has added a reassuring caveat: “Aspects of cooperation and amicability among all cultures should be stressed over conflict and violence.”
But one searches in vain for any sign of amicability in a document that is based on a race-oppression model of intellectual life. “The curriculum in the education systems reflects . . . deep-seated pathologies of racial hatred. . . . Because of the depth of the problem and the tenacity of its hold on the mind, only the most stringent measures can have significant impact.” Doesn’t sound very amicable to me. But how could it be otherwise? Since “European American” culture is by definition exclusive and oppressive, it obviously cannot co-exist with the oppressed cultures that seek equality with it until it has been stripped of its hypocritical pretensions to universality and legitimacy—i.e., until, as a national culture, it has ceased to exist.
At this point, two questions may have arisen in the reader’s mind: how can the ravings of an extremist clique in New York State represent a threat to civilization, and what, if anything, does this cultural radicalism have to do with immigration? Both questions need to be addressed.
First of all, it is understandable that people should not want to take declarations like “A Curriculum of Inclusion” seriously. As philosophy professor Thomas Short of Kenyon College has written, this is a typical response to the cultural diversity movement.
It is a remarkable symptom of the present extraordinary situation in higher education that one segment of the academic community regards such views, so far as they are acquainted with them at all, as sheerest nonsense, and refuses to believe that anyone, least of all any of their colleagues, could take that nonsense seriously, or that it will be taken seriously long enough or by enough people to pose a real threat, while another rapidly growing segment is busily elaborating these ideas and teaching them to their students.(29)
Far from being a mere fringe movement, the diversity agenda, as education historian Diane Ravitch has written, is spreading like wildfire through the education system. State educational departments, university faculties, elected officials, minority groups and mainstream media have all jumped on the diversity bandwagon, while its opponents within the academy are a besieged and intimidated minority.
On the arts front, the multicultural agenda has been adopted by the chief sources of arts funding in the U.S.: the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. According to Samuel Lipman writing in the May 1990 Commentary, these establishment organizations intend to “downgrade and even eliminate support for art based on traditional European sources, and instead will encourage activity by certain approved minorities in the United States and abroad”—the approval being based, of course, on the minorities’ oppressed history and status.
A clue to the deeper implications of the cultural diversity movement can be found in a recent essay by communications professor Neil Postman of New York University. Postman speaks of the “stories, narratives, tales, theories” that serve as moral and intellectual frameworks for individuals and societies.
Human beings require stories to give meaning to the facts of their existence. I am not talking here about those specialized stories that we call novels, plays, and epic poems. I am talking about the more profound stories that people, nations, religions, and disciplines unfold in order to make sense out of the world. For example, ever since we can remember, all of us have been telling ourselves stories about ourselves, composing life-giving autobiographies of which we are the heroes and heroines. . . .
Nations, as well as people, require stories and may die for lack of a believable one. In America we have told ourselves for two hundred years that our experiment in government is part of God’s own plan. That has been a marvelous story, and it accounts for much of the success America has had.(30)
Over a century ago, the French historian Ernest Renan touched on the same idea. Nationhood, Renan tells us, is not a matter of ethnicity (what he calls “race”), nor of religion, nor of the physical and psychological effects of geography and soil.
A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things . . . constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is the common possession of a rich legacy of memories; the other is the present consensus, the desire to live together, the will to continue to value the heritage that has been received undivided. . . . To have shared glories in the past, a common will in the present, to have done great things together, to want to do them still, these are the essential conditions of a people.(31)
In other words, it is the story shared, from generation to generation, and the will to continue sharing it, that makes a people. It is not the ethnic tie in itself that matters, but the will to go on sharing the national idea—an insight that makes Renan’s thought particularly relevant to Americans. The Columbia History of the World speaks eloquently of the importance of such a common heritage:
“History” means the conscious and intentional remembrance of things past, in a living tradition transmitted from one generation to another. For this there must be some continuous organization, be it the family of the chieftain in the beginning, or the school today, which has reason to care for the Past of the group and has the capacity for transmitting the historical tradition to future generations. History exists only in a persisting society which needs history to persist.(32)
Here we have a key to the fateful significance of the diversity movement. The American people have had a “story” which, despite gradual modifications over the past two centuries, has provided them with a coherent sense of who they are and what their place in history is. Multiculturalism should be understood as an attempt, undertaken in our own schools, to tear down, discredit and destroy the shared story that has made us a people and impose on us a different story which tells us our civilization and past history are essentially evil. The goal, to put it brutally, is the creation of compliant citizens of a new social order, whose feelings toward the pre-1965 America and its heroes (to the extent they know anything about them at all) will be contempt, guilt or indifference.
As for the other problem mentioned above, the connection be-tween multiculturalism and immigration, it is important to understand that the cultural reformers openly describe their movement as a response to the nation’s changing ethnic make-up. In a speech given in October 1989, the godfather of “A Curriculum of Inclusion,” New York State Education Commissioner Thomas Sobol, had this to say:
We are becoming a different people. Our country is becoming more ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse. By the year 2000, one out of every three New Yorkers will be an ethnic minority. By the year 2020, one of every two New Yorkers will be an ethnic minority. In New York City today, one child in every four is the offspring of a non-English speaking parent.
Unfortunately, we are not dealing well with this diversity. . . . The old idea was that it didn’t matter where you came from, that what mattered was being an American. Decent people didn’t talk about race. This was to be truly a new world. The purpose of the schools was the promotion of assimilation, implanting in children the Anglo-Saxon conceptions of righteousness, law, order and popular government, and awakening in them a reverence for our institutions. This prevented the U.S. from becoming an ethnically Balkanized nation. The assimilationist ideal worked for ethnic peoples who were white but is not working nearly as well for ethnic peoples of color. Replacing the old, assimilationist view is a competing ethic—cultural pluralism. Today we must accommodate not only a diversity of origins but a diversity of views. [Emphases added.](33)
In making this remarkable admission, that it is the race and ethnicity of the new immigrants, in combination with their numbers, that is forcing us to abandon the assimilationist ideal, Mr. Sobol seems unaware that he is calling for the very Balkanization which, he acknowledges, the old assimilationism prevented. The diversity of views that the American people are now called upon to accommodate really means a diversity of cultural identities, stories and value systems which are self-defined as being adversarial to America’s historic culture. The irony is that while the multiculturalists fully acknowledge the importance of rapid ethnic change in legitimizing this revolution, those who would defend Western culture have been loath to make that connection, out of fear of being called racist or of admitting that liberal progressivism—including open immigration—must have rational limits.
The absence of rationality, even the contemptuous dismissal
of it as a Western bias, is characteristic of the multiculturalist agenda. In a proposal for a huge expansion of bilingual education, the New York State Regents approvingly quote this messianic passage by writer Vincent Harding:
Now, some of us who have been here for thousands of years, as well as some of us who came from Europe and from Asia, from Mexico and India, from Puerto Rico and the wide ranges of Latin America, may join with those children of Africa in the United States . . . together we may stand in the river, transformed and transforming, listening to its laughter and burning with its tears, recognizing in that ancient flow the indelible marks of human blood, yet grounded and buoyed by hope, courage and unfathomable, amazing grace. Keeping the faith, creating new faith, we may enter the terrible and magnificent struggle for the re-creation of America.(34)
Note how in this fantasy all cultures (including the European, which is now just one minority culture among others) are thrown violently together, mystically transformed. One would hardly know that the United States had ever had a distinct polity and society related to Western civilization. All that is now to be cast aside in a Dionysian trance.
Does American Culture Have a Core?
That establishment institutions could approve these visions of cultural suicide shows how profoundly the rhetoric of diversity has already altered our understanding of ourselves as a nation. Indeed, the exclusive emphasis on our diversity in recent years seems to have blinded us to the principles of our commonality. To help restore a more balanced perspective, we turn to sociologist Milton M. Gordon’s Assimilation in American Life. A liberal mainstream view of assimilation written on the very eve of the 1965 immigration reforms, Gordon’s study provides a much-needed counterpoise to the Orwellian myth of diversity that has arisen in the years since those reforms.
Gordon examines the three main theories of assimilation—Anglo conformity, the Melting Pot and cultural pluralism—and he concludes that cultural assimilation along Anglo-conformity lines is the most important thread in the historic pattern of assimilation. But cultural assimilation is only one part of the picture; the other is what Gordon calls “structural” assimilation. Cultural assimilation, in an Anglo-conformity context, is the adoption by an ethnic group of the habits, mores, behavior models and values of the “core” white Protestant culture and the partial or complete abandonment of the ethnic group’s old cultural identity; structural assimilation is a social blending at the level of primary associations such as family, church, community, clubs and so on.
Of course, today’s pluralists, both radical and mainstream, dismiss the very idea of a core culture into which immigrants assimilate; the reputed core, they say, is nothing but the product of successive immigrations. Much depends on how we understand this issue. Does America have a more-or-less persisting historical identity, or is it, as the pluralists insist, a blank slate—to be wiped off and written over afresh by each new generation? What Gordon has to say on this matter is illuminating:
In suggesting the answer to this question, I must once again point to the distinction between the impact of the members of minority groups as individuals making their various contributions to agriculture, industry, the arts, and science in the context of the Anglo-Saxon version (as modified by peculiarly American factors) of the combination of Hebraic, Christian, and Classical influences which constitutes Western civilization, and the specific impact on the American culture of the minority cultures themselves. The impact of individuals has been so considerable that it is impossible to conceive of what American society or American life would have been like without it. The impact of minority group culture has been of modest dimensions, I would argue, in most areas, and significantly extensive in only one—the area of institutional religion. From a nation overwhelmingly and characteristically Protestant in the late eighteenth century, America has become a national entity of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. . . . For the rest, there have been minor modifications in cuisine, recreational patterns, place names, speech, residential architecture, sources of artistic inspiration, and perhaps a few other areas—all of which add flavor and piquancy to the totality of the American culture configuration but have scarcely obscured its essential English outlines and content.
Over the generations, then, the triumph of acculturation in America has been, if not complete, at least numerically and functionally overwhelming. It is with regard to [structural assimilation] that the assimilation process has refused to take the path which the Anglo-conformists, at least by implication, laid out for it. . . . [The picture is of] an American society in which each racial and religious (and to a lesser extent, national origins) group has its own network of cliques, clubs, organizations, and institutions which tend to confine the primary group contacts of its members within the ethnic enclave, while interethnic contacts take place in considerable part only at the secondary group level of employment and the political and civic processes. . . . To understand, then, that acculturation without massive structural intermingling at primary group levels has been the dominant motif in the American experience of creating and developing a nation out of diverse peoples is to comprehend the most essential sociological fact of that experience. [Emphases added.](35)
The key idea, which I cannot stress too strongly, is Gordon’s distinction between structural pluralism and cultural pluralism—a distinction that Americans quite understandably have failed to grasp, since the historic diversity of ethnicity and community in America can be easily confused with the altogether different concept of cultural diversity.
In his analysis of the second model of assimilation, the Melting Pot, Gordon continues to stress the importance of Anglo-conformity. In its fullest articulation, the Melting Pot signified an amalgamation of all the European groups through intermarriage, and a consequent blending of all their cultural forms into a completely new form. This, says Gordon, has not occurred; “what has actually taken place has been more of transforming of the later immigrants’ specific cultural contributions into the Anglo-Saxon mould.”(36) Gordon quotes theologian Will Herberg:
The enthusiasts of the ‘melting pot’ . . . were wrong . . . in regard to the cultural aspect of the assimilative process. They looked forward to a genuine blending of cultures, to which every ethnic strain would make its own contribution and out of which would emerge a new cultural synthesis, no more English than German or Italian and yet in some sense transcending and embracing them all. In certain respects, this has indeed become the case: our American cuisine includes antipasto and spaghetti, frankfurters and pumpernickel, filet mignon and french fried potatoes, borsch, sour cream, and gefullte fish, on a perfect equality with fried chicken, ham and eggs, and pork and beans. But it would be a mistake to infer from this that the American’s image of himself—and that means the ethnic group member’s image of himself as he becomes American—is a composite or synthesis of the ethnic elements that have gone into the making of the American. It is nothing of the kind: The American’s image of himself is still the Anglo-American ideal it was at the beginning of our independent existence. The “national type” as ideal has always been, and remains, pretty well fixed. It is the Mayflower, John Smith, Davy Crockett, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln that define the American’s self-image, and this is true whether the American in question is a descendant of the Pilgrims or the grandson of an immigrant from southeastern Europe.(37)
If this last remark sounds quaint today, that only proves the extent to which we have lost, in the space of a few decades, the myths (and the political and moral principles those myths represent) that helped make us a nation. Anyone whose personal memory extends back before 1970 or 1960 will acknowledge the truth of Herberg’s observation.
Finally, returning to Gordon’s analysis, there is cultural pluralism, the vision of a society in which each ethnic group fully maintains its cultural as well as its structural identity. Horace Kallen compared the pluralistic society to an orchestra, in which “the different instruments, each with its own characteristic timbre and theme, contribute distinct and recognizable parts to the composition. . . .” The various groups would have the same relation that “the Constitution establishes between the States of the Union.”(38) Despite these attractive sentiments, says Gordon, Kallen failed to show “the specific nature of the communication and interaction which is to exist between the various ethnic communities and between the individuals who compose them in the ‘ideal’ cultural pluralistic society. . . .”(39) (We might add that this incoherency still marks the pluralistic slogans of the 1980s.) Gordon concludes that cultural pluralism is only a rhetorical ideal and not a description of, nor serious proposal for, the organization of society. The historical actuality has been “the maintenance of the structurally separate subsocieties of the three major religious and the racial and quasi racial groups, and even vestiges of the nationality groupings, along with a massive trend toward acculturation of all groups—particularly their native-born—to American culture patterns. In our view, then, a more accurate term for the American situation is structural pluralism rather than cultural pluralism, although some of the latter also remains.”(40)
Two conclusions emerge from Gordon’s analysis that will seem heretical in today’s climate. The first is that the United States has always been an Anglo-Saxon civilization; the successive waves of immigrants became Americans in the very act of adopting that civilization (even after people of Anglo-Saxon descent had started to become a minority). The second conclusion, a corollary of the first, is that the cultural diversity myth is historically and conceptually vacuous. As currently used, stock phrases like “This country was built by diversity” and “All cultures are of equal value to our society” imply that America has been primarily built, not by individuals from various backgrounds making their contributions as individuals to an existing if gradually modified American culture, but by minority cultures as such, all joining together in some kind of “equal” mix. As Gordon has shown, this opinion is mistaken. Yet the entire rhetoric of pluralism is based on it. The same goes for the current notion that throughout our history there has been a “constant flux” in America’s cultural identity. “The Ministry of Truth says that American culture was always in flux, which is true,” comments writer John Ney, “but the Ministry does not add that the flux was contained within a general form.”(41) [emphasis added]. We should remember, when we hear conservatives as well as liberals saying that diversity is the very essence of this country, that they are embracing a dangerously one-sided view of our history; by disregarding the central importance in the American experience of assimilation to Anglo-American cultural forms, they are, whether they realize it or not, sanctioning any and all demands made in the name of diversity.
A key to this confusion can be found in Thomas Sobol’s comment, quoted earlier, that “Today we must accommodate not only a diversity of origins but a diversity of views.” As we have said, there is little awareness of the fact that “diversity” has these two quite distinct meanings. When most Americans say, “We must respect diversity,” they are really thinking of a diversity of people, i.e., the assimilation of people of different national and ethnic backgrounds into a shared American culture. But what the cultural radicals and their mainstream apologists mean by diversity is a diversity of “views.” What this signifies is not simply the historical experiences and contributions of various ethnic groups in this country (an interesting area of study which, as we have seen, the radicals reject because it leaves America’s national culture in place), nor simply an appreciation of the variety of ethnic manners, tastes and talents; it means the legitimization and official sponsorship of entirely different, even incommensurable concepts of cultural identity, civilizational norms and history.* In other words, it is no longer through knowledge and love of a common heritage that we come to enjoy a viable unity as a people, but rather, as Thomas Sobol has declared (after giving lip service to the importance of Western culture), it is “only through understanding our diverse roots and branches . . . only by accommodating our differences . . . only by exploring our human variations” that we can “become one society.”(42) [emphases added]. To paraphrase the 1920s critic Irving Babbitt, the difference between the two doctrines described above is of a primary nature and so not subject to mediation. Between the view that unity is achieved by a primary emphasis on our diversity and the view that unity is achieved through a primary emphasis on our cultural commonality, the opposition is one of first principles.(43) In any case, the present discussion ought to warn us against these careless testimonials to diversity; we should realize that by prefacing every comment on this subject with obligatory phrases like “We must respect different cultures,” etc., we have already granted the cultural radicals their major premise. Perhaps more than any other factor, it is this imprecision of thought and speech, by liberals and conservatives alike, that has made an ideological time bomb like “A Curriculum of Inclusion” possible.
Beyond these considerations, Gordon’s and Herberg’s insights begin to fill the void in our self-knowledge that has been created by the propaganda and bad education of recent years; they help restore an almost vanished memory of the cultural roots we as Americans share in common—whatever our ancestry may be. In the words of Hungarian-born historian John Lukacs:
This writer, an historian, has no Anglo-Saxon blood in his veins, and he professes no blind admiration for some mythical virtues of the Anglo-Saxon race and its peoples. He must, however, insist on the obvious matter . . . that the English-speaking character of the United States must not be taken for granted. . . . The still extant freedoms of Americans—of all Americans—are inseparable from their English-speaking roots. . . . the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution—and the consequent prosperity and relative stability of the country flowing therefrom—were not abstract liberties but English liberties, dependent on practical as well as sentimental attachments and habits of English laws.(44)
To avoid being too abstract ourselves, it might be useful to try to specify these Anglo-American liberties and traditions to which Lukacs refers. A few examples come to mind:
• The remarkable degree of freedom from external controls—made possible by the Protestant ideal of moral autonomy and self-restraint. Even Michael Novak, a Catholic critic of the WASP “monoculture,” acknowledges the supreme importance of this value in American life. “America is a Protestant country,” he writes. “Its lack of external restraints is one of the blessings for which Catholics are genuinely grateful.”(45)
• The habits of self-reliance and local government, which, as Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming writes, “are largely absent from Eastern Europe, as they have been largely absent from Western European countries, including Sweden.”(46)
• The belief in natural rights, deriving from the classic liberalism of Locke and the Declaration of Independence. The traditional view, says Allan Bloom, is that it is the belief in natural rights that makes one an American:
The old view was that, by recognizing and accepting man’s natural rights, men found a fundamental basis of unity and sameness. Class, race, religion, national origin or culture all disappear or become dim when bathed in the light of natural rights, which give men common interests and make them truly brothers. The immigrant had to put behind him the claims of the Old World in favor of a new and easily acquired education. This did not necessarily mean abandoning old daily habits or religions, but it did mean subordinating them to new principles.(47)
By contrast, the current view, that cultural diversity (and therefore group rights) is the very essence of America, undermines the shared faith in individual rights that historically has been the basis of assimilation and common citizenship.
• The common law tradition and due process of law.
• The principle against self-incrimination. It is no coincidence that the U.S. and Canada are virtually the only countries in the Americas with clean records on judicial torture.
• The tradition of the loyal opposition and the right to dissent, which stands in such sharp contrast to the power-group warfare that obtains in African, Asian and Arab societies. Lawrence Harrison, a close observer of Latin America, has pointed out that Latin Americans have no apt word for the idea of dissent; disagreement with the powers that be is seen as treason or heresy.(48)
• Freedom of speech and the appeal to reason in public
discourse. Even the emerging capitalist nations of Asia, such as Singapore, have little understanding of freedom of speech.
• The traditions of honesty and fair dealing. The sense of fair play.
• The high degree of trust and social cooperation made possible by the above, especially as compared with the expectation of dishonesty—and the mistrust of those beyond the family circle—that obtains in Latin American societies.(49)
• And finally, as the result of high moral standards, cooperativeness, trust and freedom—America’s extraordinarily rich tradition of voluntary associations and institutions, ranging from pioneer communities to churches to business enterprises to philanthropies to political and scientific societies, operating within the law but otherwise free of the state. In particular, the liberal university that embodies the ideal of the pursuit of truth. (Ironically, veritas—truth—is the motto of Harvard University, where professors and students are now being pressured to avoid discussing any idea that may be construed to offend specially designated ethnic groups—a further indication that the official pursuit of cultural diversity is incompatible with a liberal social order.)
As I hope these few examples may suggest, the facts of our Anglo-American common heritage should have a far deeper resonance in the American mind than the bromides of cultural pluralism that now fill the air. Yes, there have been modest alterations in the national culture due to minority group influence, as Milton Gordon acknowledges; but that does not alter the main insight that this country has a persisting, historically defined culture into which its immigrants and ethnic minorities—notwithstanding their enduring structural affiliations—have traditionally assimilated† And here we come to the most significant fact of our recent cultural/ethnic history: It is only since the 1960s, with the great increase in the numbers of people from non-European backgrounds, that the battle cry of cultural relativism has become ideologically dominant. In demanding that non-European cultures, as cultures, be given the same importance as the European-American national culture, the multiculturalists are declaring that the non-European groups are unable or unwilling to assimilate as European immigrants have in the past, and that for the sake of these non-assimilating groups American society must be radically transformed. This ethnically and racially based rejection of the common American culture should lead thoughtful Americans to re-evaluate some contemporary assumptions about ethnicity and assimilation.
The Problem of Cultural Identity
The history of assimilation has not been, as our mythology now tells us, a simple, glorious progress. Each wave of immigrants, especially the “new” immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, brought dislocation and conflict as well as new vitality; loss as well as gain. But the important thing was that the “new” immigrants still had much in common with the earlier Americans; the fact that they were of European descent and came from related cultures within Western civilization made it relatively easy for them to assimilate into the common sphere of civic habits and cultural identity that Milton Gordon has described. Americans thus remained a people—though obviously not (because of persisting ethnic distinctions) in the same sense that the Japanese, the English or even the French are a people, The relative degree of similarity helped make it possible to stretch America’s cultural fabric without ripping it. For example, it was eastern and southern European immigrants— men like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Frederick Loewe, Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Frank Capra, Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Michael Curtiz, Ben Hecht—who gave us many of the songs, plays and movies that are our twentieth century popular classics; who, in fact, created Hollywood. There was no insurmountable obstacle preventing these individuals from identifying with, and giving artistic expression to, the Anglo-American archetypes of our common culture; they so deeply identified with the American ideal that they created new and powerful forms of that ideal.
But it is not immediately apparent that people from radically diverse backgrounds and cultural identities—a Central American indio, a Cambodian peasant, a Shi’ite Muslim—can feel the same sort of ready identification with American myths and ideal figures. David M. Hwang, author of the racial morality play “M. Butterfly,” pinpoints the psychological dimension of this problem: “Growing up as a person of color, you’re always ambivalent to a certain degree about your own ethnicity. You think it’s great, but there is necessarily a certain amount of self-hatred or confusion at least, which results from the fact that there’s a role model in this society which is basically a Caucasian man, and you don’t measure up to that.”(50)
To the extent that David Hwang’s views on the wounded self-image of racial minorities in predominantly white America are representative (and such views have indeed become commonplace), he may have pointed out a human dilemma that the ideal of cultural assimilation can no longer fully obscure. Generally speaking, human beings most readily identify and feel comfortable with people (and cultural figures) similar to themselves, a fact that explains the successful assimilation of European immigrants into Anglo-American culture. It follows that if the new Americans from Asia and the Third World are to feel truly comfortable as Americans (and if white Americans are to be cured of their own race-consciousness and not experience the massively increasing numbers of Asians and other minorities as a disturbingly alien presence in this society), then America’s role model, its ideal figures and unifying myths, must change, diversify, embrace all the races, ethnic types and cultures on earth. This implies a metamorphosis in our art, our drama, our popular entertainment, our literature, our teaching of history—a mutation of our very identity as a people. And the force that creates the irresistible demand for this cultural change is—it must be emphasized again—the sea-change in America’s ethnic and racial character. In David Hwang’s words: “Sophisticated American whites realize their group is in the process of changing from an outright majority to just a plurality in the U.S., and are beginning to be ready to hear what the rest of us think”—i.e., admit Asian values, images and cultural idiom into the heart of American culture.(51) Paradoxically, while he admits that “M. Butterfly” is anti-Western, Hwang insists: “But it’s very pro-American, too.” Translation: Hwang is “pro” a future, multicultural America—an America that has become “good” by surrendering its historic identity.
Ironically, even as the new pluralism is transforming America’s cultural landscape, there has been a sort of sentimental persistence of the old assimilationist ideal, updated to include all the peoples of the world and not just those of Europe, which continues to deny that ethnic and racial pluralism poses any kind of problem. According to this “post-1965 assimilationism,”—subscribed to by progressive conservatives as well as liberals—it is not just that ethnicity and race are of little importance to a person’s cultural self-identification; they are absolutely irrelevant;‡ hence America’s capacity for the cultural assimilation of peoples of widely diverse races and cultures must be infinite; somehow (this wildly hopeful vision tells us), the U.S. population will become ethnically Asian and Latin American indio, but America will go on being the same Western society it has always been. To doubt the likelihood of this scenario is not to argue that “race determines culture,” nor is it to deny that cultural adaptation has occurred in a myriad of individual cases, thus demonstrating a certain permeability in ethnic/cultural identities; but surely it is unrealistic to expect such adaptation to continue when (1) the U.S. is receiving a never-ending mass immigration of non-Western peoples, leading inexorably to white-minority status in the coming decades; (2) a race-based cultural diversity movement is attacking, with almost effortless success, the legitimacy of our Western culture; and (3) American society has lost its intellectual moorings, is no longer passing its cultural tradition and historical memory on to its children, let alone to immigrants, and as a practical matter has given up on the assimilationist ideal.
This last point should make it clear that uncontrolled immigration is not the only factor in the suicidal trend I have been describing. Even if there were no immigration at all, America would still be experiencing what can only be called a terrifying social and moral decline. Concerns over mediocrity are hardly a new thing in this country, but surely the attack on the intellect, the decay of family and individual character that have occurred over the past 25 years are phenomena of an entirely different order, posing a very real threat to the freedoms and the high level of civilization this country has enjoyed. The combination of both factors—progressive degeneracy and divisiveness of the existing society on one hand and perpetual mass immigration on the other—must be fatal. History offers many examples of nations that have recovered from overwhelming catastrophe; Ancient Israel recovered more than once from spiritual decadence and conquest; Europe recovered from the death of a third of its population in the Black Plague; the French recovered from the ravages of the French Revolution. Renewal was possible in such cases not least because the national identity of those peoples, and the spiritual spark of their civilizations, remained intact. But if America continues “the slide into apathy, hedonism and moral chaos,” as Christopher Lasch has called it,(52) and at the same time its present population is replaced by a chaotic mix of peoples from radically diverse, non-European cultures, then there will be no basis for continuation or renewal. Like ancient Greece after the classical Hellenes had dwindled away and the land was repopulated by Slavonic and Turkic peoples, America will have become literally a different country. There will be no American Renaissance—except perhaps as some faceless subdivision of the global shopping mall.
The decisive factor, ignored by almost everyone in our sentimental land, is the sheer force of numbers. The United States has shown that it has the capacity to absorb a certain number of ethnic minorities into its existing cultural forms. The minorities, so long as there remains a majority culture that believes in itself, have powerful incentives to accept the legitimacy of the prevailing culture even as they add their own variety to it. But as they continue to grow in numbers relative to the whole population, a point of critical mass is reached. The new groups begin to assert an independent peoplehood, and the existing society comes to be seen as illegitimate and oppressive; what was once (granting its flaws) applauded as the most beneficent society in the history of the world, is suddenly, as though by a magician’s curse, transformed into an evil racist power. That the point has already been reached can be seen from the following comment which appeared, not in some organ of the far left, but in the New York Times:
How can teachers blindly continue to preach the virtues of “our” cultural tradition in classrooms where, in regions such as California, most students are now African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, whose families’ main experience of Western civilization has been victimization?(53)
If it is the sheer number of non-Europeans in places like California that obligates us to abandon “our” cultural tradition, is it not an inescapable conclusion that the white majority in this country, if it wishes to preserve that tradition, must place a rational limit on the number of immigrants?
Black Separatism as a Warning
The potential for the breakdown of cultural assimilation can be seen in the increasing ambivalence of black Americans toward the majority culture. It is one of the saddest ironies of recent history that many black people, rather than drawing closer to the mainstream culture now that the legal obstacles to participation in American life have been removed, are increasingly defining themselves in opposition to it. Blacks are among the most vocal members of the multicultural movement. Many have adopted the fantastic racial myth that Greco-Roman and Western culture were really descended from black Africa, that such figures as Socrates, Hannibal and Cleopatra were really black, and that there has been a conspiracy by white historians to cover up these facts. Ironically, far from whetting the interest of blacks in Western culture as a putative close relative of ancient African civilization, these notions merely serve as a pretext for dismissing Western civilization as illegitimate and oppressive. Black educators speak of the psychological harm done to black children when they are taught Western culture. Never mind that the greatest black leaders have been shining products of that culture. In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois wrote of his education in white, northern schools that “changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect.”(54) But today, Jesse Jackson leads the mindless chant, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture has got to go,” while Louis Farrakhan urges his followers to find their true identity by rejecting white people and overturning their “evil” society.§ A recent television documentary on the 1960s civil rights movement showed a young black man speaking at a rally. “We love this country,” he said, “and we want to be part of it.” But today, in their values and political ideology, even in the names they give their children, more and more black people seem like inhabitants of some new Third World nation. The adoption of the title “African-American” clearly denotes a withdrawal from membership in this society. As one black writer has commented: “‘African-American’ announces a global context for black identity, no longer confined to simply ‘minority’ status in the United States. Most important, this different world view places African heritage at the center rather than at the margin of experience.”(55) [emphasis added]. Now if a significant number of black Americans, who have been (albeit oppressed) members of this Christian, Western society for hundreds of years—who are part of the historical soul of this country—now feel compelled to reject America’s common culture and assert a separate racial/cultural identity with a Third World perspective, is it not reasonable to fear the same thing in the case of many Third World immigrants who have no cultural links with Western civilization? Thomas Fleming has remarked:
As a nation, we have barely survived the existence of two separate populations, black and white, and we have a long way to go in working out better relations between those two groups. What shall we do when the whole of America
becomes a multiracial Alexandria?(56)
As suggested earlier, pro-immigration conservatives and liberals deal with the looming threat to national cohesion by imagining that it doesn’t exist; America, they believe, has an infinite capacity for the assimilation of diverse peoples. This astounding conceit can be made credible only at a great cost—that is, by flattening our idea of American society to the most superficial image of consumerism and pop culture. American culture is thus made equally accessible to all—and equally meaningless. “The process of assimilation is inexorable,” writes Time. “As these students become Americanized, they want to eat hot dogs and hamburgers and pizza. . . . They want designer jeans and bicycles and calculators and digital watches.”(57) By reducing American culture to the idea of its material accoutrements, Time makes the acquisition of that culture seem as quick and easy as an over-the-counter purchase. Similarly, Wall Street “conservatives” and free-market economists reduce America’s essence to the pursuit of maximum activity in the global marketplace. From this point of view it makes no difference whether a person can participate in the culture of this country or even if he speaks English; holding a job and paying taxes become the sole criterion of being a good and useful citizen. The strictures of contemporary debate force even cultural conservatives into the materialist fallacy; thus the lobbying group U.S. English bases its defense of our common language on utilitarian grounds, rather than on the ground of the survival of a distinctive American civilization. What all these reductionisms have in common is that they disregard the intangible and affective dimensions of human society. Participation in commerce or science only requires the appropriate human activity and talents, which are, modern thought tells us, equal among all the peoples of the earth. But participation in a particular culture requires a degree of identification with that culture, the potential or desire for which is manifestly not equal among all men and nations. “It is the easiest thing in the world,” wrote Arnold Toynbee in a slightly different context, “for commerce to export a new Western technique. It is infinitely harder for a Western poet or saint to kindle in a non-Western soul the spiritual flame that is alight in his own.”(58) If America is to survive its present decline, it needs to rediscover, and learn to articulate, this spiritual flame of which Toynbee speaks. The answers to our current problems lie within the still-living but neglected roots of our own civilization—not in giving up that civilization for the sake of some utopian global order.
This brings us to yet another kind of reductionism we ought to beware of: the tendency to see our society as a mere abstraction of freedom and human rights. Yes, America stands for, and is based on, certain universal principles; but we must insist that America also happens to be a country. Surely the Founding Fathers saw no contradiction between being devoted as philosophers to universal principles of republicanism and the rights of man, and as patriots to a particular nation, a particular people. To ignore our national individuality—in an effort to make America seem instantly accessible to every person and culture on the planet—is to turn our country into the blank slate of which we spoke earlier, on which the social engineers and all the migrating masses of the world can write whatever they please. In other words, America needs to revive the original name and meaning of the Statue of Liberty (now quite forgotten): “Liberty Enlightening the World”—a shining example for other nations to achieve in their own lands and in their own ways what we have achieved here, not a simply a mindless invitation for the whole world to move here.
The argument presented in these pages is that the combined forces of open immigration and multiculturalism constitute a mortal threat to American civilization. At a time when unprecedented ethnic diversity makes the affirmation of a common American culture more important than ever, we are, under the pressure of that diversity, abandoning the very idea of a common culture. “We are asking America to open its linguistic frontiers,” one multiculturalist spokesman has said, “and to accept an expanded idea of what it means to be an American”—a standard that, in terms of immigration and language policies, seem to include everyone in the universe.(59) Whether we consider America’s porous borders; or the disappearing standards for naturalization; or the growth of official multilingualism; or the new “diversity” curricula aimed at destroying the basis of common citizenship; or the extension of virtually all the rights and protections of citizenship to legal and illegal aliens; or the automatic granting of citizenship to children of illegals; the tendency is clear: we have in effect redefined the nation to the point where there is no remaining criterion of American identity other than the physical fact of one’s being here. It is, to quote Alexander Hamilton, “an attempt to break down every pale which has been erected for the preservation of a national spirit and a national character.”(60)
The irony is that most Americans support immigration as “liberal” policy. That is, they want America to remain open and to help people, and they also expect that the new immigrants will assimilate into our existing society. It was on this basis that the opening of America’s doors to every country on earth was approved in 1965 and continues to enjoy unassailable political support. But we are beginning to see, simply as a practical, human matter, that the successful assimilation of such huge numbers of widely diverse peoples into a single people and viable polity is a pipe dream. It is at this point that multiculturalism comes along and says: “That’s not a problem. We don’t want to assimilate into this oppressive, Eurocentered mold. We want to reconstruct America as a multicultural society.” And this radical pluralist view gains acceptance by retaining the moral legitimacy, the patina of humanitarianism, that properly belonged to the older liberalism which it has supplanted. We have thus observed the progress, largely unperceived by the American people, from the liberal assimilationist view, which endorses open immigration because it naively believes that our civilization can survive unlimited diversity, to radical multiculturalism, which endorses open immigration because it wants our civilization to end.
What has been said so far will doubtless offend those who see unlimited diversity not as a threat to our society, but as a glorious enhancement of it. I do not deny that there are many apparently positive things associated with our expanding demographic character: the stimulus of the boundless human variety in our big cities; the satisfaction of welcoming people from every country in the world and seeing them do well here; the heady sense that we are moving into a New Age in which all barriers between people will disappear and humanity will truly be one. But the question must be asked: is all this excitement about a New Age, this fascination with the incredible changes occurring before our eyes, a sound basis for determining our national destiny? Is all this idealism without its dark side? Is it not to be feared—if the lessons of history are any guide—that the “terrible and magnificent struggle” to recreate America is leading us, not to the post-imperialist age of peace and love the cultural pluralists dream of, but to a new and more terrible age of ethnic imperialism?
Americans are being told that to redeem themselves from their past sins, they must give way to, and even merge with, the cultures they have oppressed or excluded in the past. But for a culture to deny its own “false” legitimacy, as America is now called upon to do, does not create a society free of false legitimacy; it simply means creating a vacuum of legitimacy—and thus a vacuum of power—into which other cultures, replete with their own “imperialistic lies,” will move. Training Hispanic and other immigrant children in American public schools to have their primary loyalty to their native cultures is not to create a new kind of bicultural, cosmopolitan citizenry; it is to systematically downgrade our national culture while raising the status and power of other cultures. As James Burnham has shown in The Machiavellians, we need to see the real meaning (a concern with power) that is concealed behind the formal meaning of various idealistic slogans. The formal meaning of “diversity,” “cultural equity,” “gorgeous mosaic” and so on is a society in which many different cultures will live together in perfect equality and peace (i.e., a society that has never existed and never will exist); the real meaning of these slogans is that the power of the existing mainstream society to determine its own destiny shall be drastically reduced while the power of other groups, formerly marginal or external to that society, will be increased. In other words the U.S. must, in the name of diversity, abandon its particularity while the very groups making that demand shall hold on to theirs.
Thus understood, cultural pluralism is not the innocent expansion of our human sympathies it pretends to be, but a kind of inverse colonialism. Time, in a special issue put together by its Hispanic staff writers, speaks buoyantly of the coming “convergence” of American and Hispanic cultures, a convergence that Americans should welcome “unconditionally” as an enrichment of their own society and as an opening up of their “restricted” identity. “We come bearing gifts,” Time says on behalf of the growing Hispanic presence in the United States.(61) But, stripped of its sentimentality, isn’t this what colonial powers have always said? The only difference is that, in the Age of Imperialism, it was the strong powers that took over the weak; in today’s Age of Diversity, it is the weak who are taking over the strong, with the strong’s invitation and blessing.
An additional irony is that the call for cultural pluralism is often accompanied by a call for globalism—which would obviously tend to weaken national diversity. If diversity has a true and positive meaning (as distinguished from its Burnhamite meaning), it is that each nation maintains its own identity. If different societies blend together, or if one of them, through mass migration or cultural imperialism, imposes its identity on another, the result is a loss of national identity and therefore a loss of diversity. As John Ney has observed: “In any objective study of cultural dynamics, is not cultural co-existence a myth? Does not one culture or the other triumph, or merge in a synthesis in which neither (or none) survives intact?”(62) If it is diversity we really want, we should preserve our own and each other’s distinct national identities. But if the relationship we desire between foreign cultures and our own is “convergence” (Time’s upbeat motto for the Latin American invasion), then we should recognize that this means the end of American civilization as we know it.||
The Loss of Cultural Identity
To picture the spiritual impact that the multicultural revolution will have on our society would require an act of historical imagination that is frankly beyond the power of this writer. Indeed, it is this inability to “imagine” our own cultural heritage and what its loss would mean to us—largely a result of several generations of relativist education and the triumph of pop culture—that makes it hard for us to articulate or defend that heritage. As John Lukacs has written: “It is a problem of existing cultural essences and assets that cannot be quantified or computerized. . . . What is threatened is not just our nation’s body, but its soul.”(63) Perhaps I can illustrate what I mean through the example of art. When we look at an ancient Greek sculpture, or a Renaissance painting showing a group of people gathered around the Christ child, or, for that matter, a Hollywood classic from the thirties, we are seeing profoundly resonant images of our own civilization and culture, images that have made us what we are. Looking at the Renaissance painting or the Greek sculpture, we realize that we are partakers of the same Classical, Judeo-Christian, Western heritage, actors in the same drama. This vital communication of one generation, one age with another is the soul of civilization. From it we derive the sense of being part of a continuum which stretches back to the ancient past and forward to the future. From that vital intercourse with the past each generation renews itself.
But now this continuum, which is the body of our civilization extending through time, is about to be broken forever. Under the pressure of multiculturalism, Americans will be denied their own heritage and prevented from handing it on to succeeding generations. Because that entire cultural heritage, which (before the opening up of massive Third-World immigration) was taken for granted as “our” heritage, is now considered to be merely an exclusive, “white” heritage and therefore illegitimate. Deprived of its good conscience, American/Western culture will lose the ability to defend itself and will be progressively downgraded to accommodate a bewildering array of other cultures.¶ “In its Third Century,” Kotkin and Kishimoto write, “American culture may no longer be based predominantly on European themes. Its motifs may be as much Latin or Asian as traditional Anglo-American.”(64) As the image of our civilization, as expressed in the arts and literature, changes to a multiracial, multicultural image, what kind of art will result? Movies and plays, instead of portraying the relationships of individuals within a community or family, as drama has done time out of mind, must focus self-consciously on race relations. Established literary works that have formed a living bridge between one generation of Americans and the next will fall into oblivion, to be replaced by works on minority, Hispanic and Asian issues. The religious paintings of the multiculturalist society, instead of portraying a group of individuals chosen from the artists’ imagination, would follow a statistical formula; the figures gathered around the Christ child would have to be x percent brown, x percent black, yellow, white and so on, all chosen on the basis of racial balance rather than their individual character. Diversity would so overwhelm unity that the idea of diversity within unity would be lost. If you think this is an absurd prediction about the future of art and of society, just look at any television show or advertisement. The formulaic racial balance imposes itself everywhere, even to the point of inventing multiracial families on television that don’t exist in the real world. It is the new image of America, popularized by Time covers and ABC News graphics—a brown, mixed people, painted in a heroic, proletarian style that might be called Multiracialist Realism.
The Political Consequences
(1) Homogeneity and Assimilation
Apart from the spiritual dislocation—the catastrophe—implied in such profound changes in art, literature and drama, we have barely begun to think about the effects that a radically diverse population will have on our political institutions. The first of these is a loss of that social cohesion, that practicable homogeneity without which, history teaches us, a free society based on individual rights cannot survive. The Founding Fathers understood this danger very well. Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1802:
The safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of the citizens from foreign bias, and prejudice; and on that love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education, and family.
The opinion . . . is correct, that foreigners will generally be apt to bring with them attachments to the persons they have left behind; to the country of their nativity, and to its particular customs and manners. . . . The influx of foreigners must, therefore, tend to produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities.(65)
Thomas Jefferson also worried about the impact of non-assimilable immigrants:
In proportion to their numbers, they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its directions, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass. . . . Suppose 20 millions of republican Americans thrown all of a sudden into France, what would be the condition of that kingdom? If it would be more turbulent, less happy, less strong, we believe that the addition of half a million foreigners to our present numbers would produce a similar effect here.(66)
During the anti-immigration movement in the early twentieth century, the president of Harvard University, A. Lawrence Lowell, wrote:
It is, indeed, largely a perception of the need of homogeneity, as a basis for popular government and the public opinion on which it rests, that justifies democracies in resisting the influx of great numbers of a widely different race.(67)
Of course, it is commonly believed today that the anti-immigration sentiment in the past, particularly in the post-World War I years, discredits similar concerns in the present; that is, just as the earlier fears of an unassimilable mass of immigrants proved to be unwarranted, so will the present fears. But this argument ignores the fact that the great wave of the “new” immigration was brought to a halt in 1922. This reduction in immigration vastly eased the assimilation process in the following decades and led to a dramatic decrease in the nativist fears that had been the prime motive for the 1920s legislation. “Somewhere, in the mid-1930’s,” writes immigration historian Oscar Handlin, “there was a turn. Americans ceased to believe in race, the hate movements [against the European immigrants] began to disintegrate, and discrimination increasingly took on the aspect of an anachronistic survival from the past, rather than a pattern valid for the future. . . . In the face of those changes, it might well have been asked: ‘What happened to race?’”(68) It is revealing that, among the explanations Handlin offers for this sudden and welcome drop in the nativist fever, he says nothing about the most obvious cause: the fact that immigration had been drastically lowered by the 1920s legislation (and later completely stopped by the Depression); such acknowledgement would undercut Handlin’s own moralistic criticism of the restrictive 1920s laws. Whatever we may think of those restrictions from a humanitarian point of view, their importance in advancing the assimilation of white ethnics in the mid-twentieth century cannot be denied. Certainly, the United States would not have been nearly so strong and united a society as it was from the beginning of the Second World War until the 1960s if the country had received, as had been feared, two million immigrants per year during the 1920s and beyond.
It ought also to be mentioned, in light of the present habit of blaming everything on racism, that the Founders were concerned about the divisive effect of white Europeans from monarchical societies, who they feared would resist American republican principles. Similarly, the anti-Irish feeling in the mid-nineteenth century had nothing to do with race.(69) It was only with the rise of the new immigration from southern and eastern Europe in the 1880s, along with the Chinese and Japanese immigrations, that the fear of unassimilability began to focus on race. The concern common to all the historical stages of anti-immigrant sentiment was not race as such but the need for a harmonious citizenry holding to the same values and political principles and having something of the same spirit. Now, certainly, our experience with cultural assimilation in the twentieth century has widened our sense of the ethnic parameters of a viable polity far beyond what either the Founding Fathers or the 20th century nativists thought possible; but the question we forget at our peril is, how far can those parameters be expanded while still maintaining a viable cultural and political homogeneity? The importance of harmony, of a “radius of identification and trust,” is still paramount for a free society.(70)
(2) Unlimited Diversity—A Threat to Equality
As diversity continues to expand beyond the point where genuine assimilation is possible, the ideal of equality will also recede. “Iceland’s population of 240,000 is a notably homogeneous society,” writes the New York Times. “Like these other well-off homogeneous nations [i.e., Scandinavia and Japan] Iceland’s wealth is evenly distributed and its society is remarkably egalitarian.”(71)
Even liberals seem to recognize the cor
relation between homogeneity and equality—for every country that is, except the United States, where we have conceived the fantastic notion that we can achieve equality and unlimited diversity at the same time. A far more likely result is a devolution of society into permanent class divisions based on ethnicity, a weakening of the sense of common citizenship, and a growing disparity between islands of private wealth and oceans of public squalor. America’s effort to create a society that is both multicultural and equal may end by destroying forever the age-old hope of equality.
(3) Unlimited Diversity—A Threat to Liberty
Finally, unlimited diversity threatens liberty itself. The inequality, the absence of common norms and loyalties, and the social conflict stemming from increased diversity require a growing state apparatus to mediate the conflict. The disappearance of voluntary social harmony requires that harmony be imposed by force. As historian Robert Nisbet has argued, the demand in this century for ever more innovative forms of equality has already resulted in a vast enlargement of the state.(72)
Radical pluralism raises to a new level this threat to our liberty, since now the state will be called upon to overcome, not just the inequality of individuals, but the inequality of cultures. The inherent vastness and endlessness of such an enterprise matches the intrusiveness of the state power that must be exercised to achieve it. The signs of this new despotism are all around us:
• the de jure and de facto repression of speech dealing with racially sensitive subjects;(73)
• the official classification and extension of privileges to people according to ethnic affiliation;
• the expansion of judicial and bureaucratic power to enforce racial quotas in more and more areas of society;
• the subjection of the American people to an unceasing barrage of propaganda telling us we are all brothers, that we must “respect all cultures,” etc., even while government policies are unleashing a wave of cultural diversity and ethnic chauvinism that is making spontaneous brotherly feeling a receding dream. In other words, the “family” that Governor Mario Cuomo keeps telling us we all belong to is really—the state.
The End of American Civilization
I have been attempting in these pages to suggest a few of the myriad potential effects of mass immigration and multiculturalism on this country’s future. There are darker scenarios I have not explored—the spread of Third-World conditions in parts of our country; the collapse of civic order (nightmarishly portrayed in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities), or the disintegration of the United States along regional and ethnic lines. Whatever the future America may look like, it will not be a country that we—or our forebears whose legacy we are so carelessly throwing away—would be able to recognize.
In the years and decades to come, as the present American people and their descendants begin to understand what is happening to their country; as they see their civilization disappearing piece by piece, city by city, state by state, from before their eyes, and that nothing can be done to stop it, they will suffer the same collapse of spirit that occurs to any people when its way of life, its historical identity, is taken away from it. Beneath all the hopeful names they will try to find for these changes—diversity, world-nation, global oneness—there will be the repressed knowledge that America is becoming an utterly different country from what it has been, and that this means the end of their world. But the pain will not last for long. As the clerics of diversity indoctrinate new generations into the Orwellian official history, even the memory of what America once was will be lost.
Finally, if we want to consider “cultural equity,” there seems to
be an extraordinary kind of inequity in the proposition that the United States must lose its identity, must become the “speechless, meaningless country” that Allan Bloom has foreseen, while the countries that the new immigrants are coming from are free to preserve their identities. In a hundred years, the United States will have become in large part an Hispanic nation, while Latin America will still be what it has always been; Mexico has strict immigration laws even against other Latin Americans. China, Korea, the Philippines and India will still have their historic cultures intact after having exported millions of their people to America, while America’s historic culture will have vanished. If the situation were reversed and North Americans were colonizing Latin America and Asia, it would be denounced as racist imperialism. Why, then, does every other country in the world have the right to preserve its identity but the United States has not? The answer, as I’ve tried to show, is that the end of multiculturalism is not some utopian, “equal” society, but simply the end of American civilization.
So much for America; if other Western nations continue their openness to Third World immigration, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of Western civilization as a whole. And this defeat of the West will have been accomplished, not by the superior strength or civilization of the newcomers, not by the “forces of history,” but simply by the feckless generosity and moral cowardice of the West itself. In the prophetic words of social psychologist William McDougall:
As I watch the American nation speeding gaily, with invincible optimism down the road to destruction, I seem to be contemplating the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind.(74)
* From this perspective, there would be no apparent reason why the U.S. should not, for example, welcome millions of Iranian Shi’ites as immigrants, since “diversity of views” is a positive good in itself—the more, the better!
† The truth of this statement can be verified in the life of every one of us who has experienced friendship—or simply a sense of common citizenship—with people of different ethnic backgrounds from our own. It is our common ethos and identity as Americans (appreciating but leaving in the background the differences of ethnicity) that make us feel we are one people—not, as Thomas Sobol absurdly imagines, a primary emphasis on our differences that makes us one.
‡ Today, there are both liberals (e.g., paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould) and conservatives (e.g., columnist P.J. O’Rourke) who categorically deny that there is even such a thing as race.
§ We might also note the support of black political leaders for open immigration. It would seem that their main objective is not their own people’s advancement, which has been manifestly hurt by immigration, but simply the end of the white majority and its cultural dominance.
|| “Americans are precisely what we are not, and what we don’t want to be,” Canadian novelist Robertson Davies recently declared in Harper’s. I think most Americans would sympathize with Mr. Davies’ concerns about American dominance of Canada. But if we recognize Canada’s right to preserve its own culture against American intrusion (in the form of the mass exportation of culture), doesn’t America have the same right vis-à-vis intrusion from Latin America and Asia (in the form of the mass exportation of people)?
¶ According to the May 2, 1989, New York Times, the University of California at Berkeley now requires students to take ethnic studies courses on four American ethnic groups, with European-Americans added to the list at the last moment. The trend is not hard to guess: eventually, the entire Western heritage will be reduced to European-American “ethnic studies.”
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