Friday, May 31, 2002
Very interesting review by John O'Sullivan of Pat Buchanan's book, The Death of the West. I haven't read Buchanan's book, but I think I'm pretty familiar with his arguments, which I fundamentally reject, for many of the same reasons that are advanced by Ben Wattenberg, whom I admire greatly. But his arguments need to be engaged. As O'Sullivan points out, it is interesting that Pat's biggest critics, lately, have been conservatives. But I don't think it is surprising, because it is conservatives who are most threatened by Buchanan, as his arguments, if adopted by them, would be disastrous.
Buchanan is right about the demography; no one really disagrees with him. Western nations are declining in absolute terms and as a percentage of world population. Western nations are also graying, and are increasingly importing people to make up for their own falling birth rates. Southern Europe and Russia are in particularly parlous states, with fertility rates far below replacement. And, increasingly, immigrant populations are failing to assimilate to their host countries, raising the spectre of serious social conflict down the road.
And yet, here in the United States, we have seen this movie before. At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States was flooded with immigrants from regions not considered western at the time: Ireland, Italy, Poland, etc. These largely Catholic immigrants were seen as fundamentally hostile to the American institutions of ordered liberty. They lived in ethnic enclaves and frequently did not learn English. They maintained close ties with their home countries, with many migrating back and forth in the manner of Caribbean or Mexican immigrants today. How did America assimilate these people to the point where, now, they are the kinds of people most likely to read a book by Pat Buchanan with sympathy?
O'Sullivan takes Buchanan to task for saying that America may be either a creedal or a "blood and soil" nation of the traditional variety, asserting that there is a middle-ground called "culture." But in America, creed is culture. Back in the early 20th century, Raldolphe Bourne argued for what we would today call multi-culturalism; he called it "Transnational America." He advocated immigrants keeping their traditional cultures, and America becoming a kind of superstructure that would contain these various ethnic groups and thereby serve as a model for a future world government. He feared that the alternative was the assimilation of the immigrants to the emerging mass culture that he, as many conservatives today, saw as debased morally and aesthetically. Nativists, meanwhile, favored an end to immigration or the aggressive assimilation to a WASP model of the American (Henry Ford was the exemplar of this approach). But what actually happened? The immigrants assimilated to American culture largely by assimilating to American institutions, in particular to democratic politics. A vigorous and confident public education system brought up their children to think of themselves as Americans. And what finally completed this process was the mass-mobilization of World War II. Along the way, American attitudes toward the Catholic church changed, American food changed, the American language itself changed - and America emerged all the stronger for the cultural synthesis that developed under the aegis of the institutions that are themselves the concrete expression of the American creed.
O'Sullivan worries along with Buchanan about the Mexicanization of the American West. But I suspect that the demographic picture is little different from that of the 19th century if the Irish were substituted for the Mexicans. We did not, ultimately, assimilate the Irish by making them Protestant, though American culture was inescapably Protestant at the time of the greatest Irish immigration. We assimilated them by making them American. Bi-lingualism is a political program that Mexican-Americans themselves do not endorse, whatever their purported champions in the academy may claim, and is currently suffering a series of spectacular and lopsided defeats thanks to the lonely efforts of Ron Unz of English for the Children.
Moreover, America is now exporting Americanism. O'Sullivan and Buchanan have a fairly expansive view of what constitutes the West. O'Sullivan even seems willing to include Russia under the umbrella, though it is far from certain that Russia is any closer to being a solidly Western country than Mexico. But in 1914, Germany was not clearly part of the West; this was so much the case that racial theories explaining the innate difference between Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic races were popular in both America and Britain. And it would be a rare individual who would have considered Italy or Ireland to be comparable bastions of Western "values" to Britain or America. And today, the "new class" bureaucrats and academics who are behind the European "project" like to distinguish their civilization from the vulgar Anglo-Saxon model. And yet this model is getting more and more adherents around the world, from Chile to Uganda. Mexico in particular has changed dramatically, from being dominated by an anti-American outlook to developing a strong consensus that America is the model to emulate. This bodes very well for America's ability to assimilate its Mexican immigrants, if that is what it wishes to do.
What are the boundaries of the West? The heritage of Athens? In medieval days, that belonged to Islam, not the Christendom. Of Rome? This would include northern Africa and exclude Sweden. Anglo-Saxon institutions? That includes India and arguably excludes France. A Christian majority? That includes all of Latin America and an increasing proportion of Africa, but excludes more "westernized" nations such as Israel, Turkey and Taiwan. Political democracy? Such a definition would have excluded much of continental Europe for various parts of the 20th century, and today would include Japan but perhaps exclude Russia. The only definition that maps to the part of the world O'Sullivan wants to protect is not cultural but racial: the part of the world dominated by white people. But even the definition of "white" is subject to change. Many Afghans and Iranians are light skinned and even blue eyed, and northern Europeans used to say that Africa starts at the Pyrenees. Once you throw out race as the criterion, the question becomes not of defending the West as a geographic region but defending and extending the West as a set of values and institutions that express them, and the latter is mostly a matter of cultural confidence, something that America, at least, still has in abundance.
So, I'm an optimist on America. I believe we will abandon the destructive and dangerous doctrine of multiculturalism and embrace again the assimilationist ethic of the past. I believe that the bulk of our immigrant population will embrace this ethic as well, and will integrate effectively into the American system. I believe that the primary reason that this will be so successful is that the American creed is the core of American culture; both the strength of that creed and the flexibility of the other aspects of our culture will continue to make it easier for the American nation to grow and thrive on immigration than is the case for other nations. But others - such as France - have had their own success with assimilationist projects in the past, and there is no reason to think that they could not in the future.
Except for one factor. Muslim immigrants to non-Muslim lands have been extraordinarily resistant to assimilation. Christians inherit a tradition that separates the kingdoms of the earth from the Kingdom of Heaven, and have had frequent historical experience of persecution at the hands of a pagan or non-Christian majority. Jews have 2000 years of history in learning how to be members of a polity without giving up their unique identity, and have rarely in their history been a majority in the lands in which they lived. Sikhs have a similar experience, as do Mormons, as do the Chinese with their extensive Asian diaspora. Hinduism and Buddhism have their own strategies for adapting to varying political and social circumstances, and have been quite successful at doing so. The nations of the Western Hemisphere are new societies, racially and culturally mixed themselves, and so their emigrants should have little difficulty blending in with any larger polity they join, if properly incentivised to do so.
Islam is different. Islam strongly discourages Muslims from living among or under the rule of non-Muslims. Islam does not recognize a natural division between sacred and secular, and does not defer the reconciliation of worldly and heavenly authority until some ultimate future, but expects them to be united now as they were in the early days of Islam. There is considerable diversity among Muslims, and many if not most are eager to be good citizens of the societies that they have joined. But as a rule the Islamic faith and Muslim cultures have not developed the strategies necessary to maintain a peaceful and civil diaspora. And the trend lines on this question have all been going in the wrong direction.
That's why Europe has a demographic problem that it may not be able to solve while I am confident of America's ability to solve its problem. America is importing people primarily from Mexico, secondarily from elsewhere in Latin America, the Caribbean, East and South Asia, and Africa. The only stand-out element in the mix is Mexican, and Mexico is getting more Americanized as time goes on at least as much as America is getting more Mexicanized. The rest of the mix is eclectic, and should be easily assimilable. Europe, by contrast, is importing people primarily from the Muslim world, particularly the Arab world, and secondarily from Africa and East Asia. These immigrants will be coming to cultures with less experience with or inclination to assimilate immigrants - but more important, the immigrants themselves will be far more resistant to assimilation because of the nature of their cultures of origin.