As ululating headline after ululating headline blares forth Wall Street’s apocalypse; as Obamamaniacs promise race riots to break whitey’s collective spirit once and for all; as concepts like Peak Oil move from the fringes to the mainstream of media discourse; as America is forced to apprehend, in Fay Weldon’s droll aphorism, that “the fin has come early this siècle”—a line from Chesterton’s short story “The Arrow of Heaven” takes on ever-greater significance for us outside Americophiles.  That line is this: “He [Father Brown] realized that he was among foreigners, even if he was among friends.”

Never has America appeared more incomprehensible in other lands than she has in the last month.  We who are routinely published in America, who read for preference American books and magazines, who live and sleep and breathe and indeed dream America, who above all treasure our American friendships, are as baffled by what to expect as if we were contemplating Nagorno-Karabakh.  All we can predict is that the mass culture will increasingly bear the same relation to a genuine culture that the Soviet-era Lake Baikal bore to a viable ecosystem.  Now that this long-operating development has been quickened and sharpened by economic crisis of the most visible kind, we find ourselves wondering: For American paleoconservatives, has American residence now passed the point of tolerability?  Will entire intellectual classes, rather than mere ornery individuals, start emigrating?

Some years ago Joseph Sobran decided, with characteristic élan and verve, that he would give President Bush’s empire the two-fingered salute by moving to Haiti.  After all, as he argued, illegal immigration is not a problem that Haitian regimes have ever had to cope with before, and there is no reason to suppose that they have acquired any efficiency at suppressing it now.  His plan for an expatriate city upon a hill at Port-au-Prince seems to have been frustrated by events; but others will take the notions of international (instead of merely intra-urban) white flight very seriously.

We all—American and non-American readers alike—have become so accustomed to the chauvinistic honking of David Frum and his wretched kind as to have forgotten a straightforward historical truth: There have been times when exile has seemed like the natural condition of Homo americanus’ authorial contingent.  For proof of the truth, we need not even look at Melville’s Polynesian preoccupations, or the Mediterranean obsessions of Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller.  Simply imagine literature between the wars without its American exiles: Hemingway, Eliot, Pound, Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Kay Boyle, and the rest.  It just cannot be done.  We saw a similar, though much smaller, self-imposed American migration during the Vietnam War, afflicting such artists as Robert Lowell, useless to any draft board by virtue of age.  There is no reason why a similar trend could not happen afresh, especially when intercontinental travel is easier to arrange via the internet (and no more expensive) than it has ever been.

Among traditional Catholic online discussion groups—the same thing could well be true of online discussion groups for traditional Lutherans and Orthodox—the question of where the remnant should emigrate, to escape a totally rather than merely nominally post-Christian America, has become a topic of almost feverish, and uniformly dyslexic, discussion.  Malta and Poland recur as possibilities.  A few benighted souls imagine that they might find a welcoming home in Australia, being presumably unaware that on the present (or any future) Australian government’s immigration wish list, white skilled Trinitarian English-speakers rank well below the tempest-tossed products of teeming Third World shores.  New Zealand is a marginally more plausible refuge, her devotion to proportional parliamentary representation having had the unintended consequence of giving legislative power to individuals with sane immigration policies.  Even now, the demographic difference between New Zealand and eastern Australia resembles the demographic difference between Hartford and South Central Los Angeles.

The old hard-hat slogan ran: “America: Love it or leave it.”  Burke adopted a more intelligent credo: “For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”  If not lovely, then at least bearable.  What happens when a country has ceased to be bearable, so that no further accommodations with the Zeitgeist can be made, no further rationalizations exhibited, without destroying precisely that cognitive power which made the intellectual an intellectual in the first place?  We foreigners should not presume to tell Americans where their tipping point is.  Yet Americans themselves should.  Perhaps Chronicles could contemplate organizing a symposium on the subject of whether expatriation should be deprecated, ignored, or roundly encouraged.  A working title could be adapted from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “Silence, Exile, or Cunning?”