(A)re we assuming something in perpetuity that will not go the way of the Civil War–era “German vote” or the turn-of-the-century “Irish vote”
As someone has written elsewhere, the primary difference between immigration now and 100 years ago is: us. We are a different nation, no longer expecting immigrants to assimilate as they did a century ago. I lived here 12 years on a green card before earning citizenship.
Victor Davis Hanson in Western Cultural Suicide.
Romance for a culture in the abstract that one has rejected in the concrete makes little sense. Multiculturalists talk grandly of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, usually in contrast to the core values of the United States and Europe. Certainly, in terms of food, fashion, music, art, and architecture, the Western paradigm is enriched from other cultures. But the reason that millions cross the Mediterranean to Europe or the Rio Grande to the United States is for something more that transcends the periphery and involves fundamental values — consensual government, free-market capitalism, the freedom of the individual, religious tolerance, equality between the sexes, rights of dissent, and a society governed by rationalism divorced from religious stricture. Somehow that obvious message has now been abandoned, as Western hosts lost confidence in the very society that gives us the wealth and leisure to ignore or caricature its foundations. The result is that millions of immigrants flock to the West, enjoy its material security, and yet feel little need to bond with their adopted culture, given that their hosts themselves are ambiguous about what others desperately seek out.
The hip metrosexual cultures of the urban West strain to find fault in their inheritance, and seem to appreciate those who do that in the most cool fashion — but always with the expectation that there will be some poor blokes who, in terms of clean water, medical care, free speech, and dependable electricity, ensure that London is not Lagos, that Stockholm is not Damascus, and that Los Angeles is not Nuevo Laredo.
That paradox is the most disturbing — and ignored — aspect of the immigration debate: the contradictory impulse to fault the United States for a litany of sins (exploitation, racism, xenophobia, nativism) without commensurate attention to why any newcomer would wish to reside in a place that is so clearly culpable. Has anyone ever heard an immigration activist, as part of his argument for amnesty, explain why so many Mexicans do not like living in Mexico and must leave their homeland, or, alternatively, why the United States is such an attractive alternative that it demands such existential risks to reach it? How strange that most of the elites who resent ideas like the melting pot and assimilation are often those who most successfully have abandoned the protocols of the way life is lived in Mexico.
America was born as an immigrant nation. It went through many periods of nearly unlimited immigration, coupled with xenophobic backlashes when particular groups — Germans, Jews, Irish, Mexicans, or Poles — came in such numbers and so abruptly that the traditional powers of assimilation were for a time overwhelmed. But the eras of ethnic ghettoes and tribal separatism were usually brief, given the inclusive popular culture and official government efforts to overwhelm identification with the home country. Yet now, when we talk grandly of the “Latino vote,” are we assuming something in perpetuity that will not go the way of the Civil War–era “German vote” or the turn-of-the-century “Irish vote” — because the United States will no longer insist on full assimilation, or because immigration from Latin America will continue to be massive and in contradiction of federal immigration law?
What happened to create such fissures among America’s diverse tribes? At no time in our history have so many Americans been foreign born. Never have so many foreign nationals resided in America, and never have so many done so illegally. Yet at just such a critical time, in our universities and bureaucracies, the pressures to assimilate in melting-pot fashion have been replaced by salad-bowl separatism — as if the individual can pick and choose which elements of his adopted culture he will embrace, which he will reject, as one might croutons or tomatoes. But ultimately he can do that because he senses that the American government, people, press, and culture reward such opportunism and have no desire, need, or ability to defend the very inherited culture that has given them the leeway to ignore it and so attracted others from otherwise antithetical paradigms.
That is a prescription for cultural suicide, if not by beheading or by a pressure cooker full of ball bearings, at least by making the West into something that no one would find very different from his homeland.