“A steady Patriot of the World alone, The friend of every country — but his own.”

          -George Canning


 John Crewdson: The Tarnished Door: The New Immigrants and the Transformation of America; Times Books; New York.


Victor Ripp: Moscow to Main Street: Among the Russian Emigres; Little, Brown; Boston.


Lewis A. Coser: Refugee Scholars in America: Their Impact and Their Experiences; Yale University Press; New Haven and London.


In 1629, during the crossing of the Atlantic, the prospective settlers of Massachusetts Bay heard a lay sermon from their chosen governor, John Winthrop. They had, he said, entered into a covenant with God.  Provided the settlers kept their covenant of godliness, the colony they would found in the New World would become “as a City upon a Hill,” a blessing to its inhabitants and a beacon to all mankind.



Winthrop’s allusion has been a favorite reference in President Reagan’s speeches, aimed at shoring up Ameri­ can morale and idealism.  That America is a beacon to mankind and possesses a unique relation to divine  favor  is an idea of great comfort  and  appeal, and one for which there is a not­ insignificant case from historical evidence. Yet there is a vast gap between what the “City upon a Hill” signified to Winthrop and the ideal invoked by Reagan. The difference, if I may ex­ press it musically, is approximately equivalent to  the  difference  between “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and a rock music video. Within the gap lies most of American history.


Piety and exclusiveness were the heart of Winthrop’s enterprise. Massachusetts was the retreat of that tiny minority of the elect called to godliness. Through a complicated historical process that included the destruction in the Civil War of an older and rather different Virginian ideal, this vision came to define America. Reagan’s city is essentially secular. Not only is it secularized, but it is universalized in a way that would have been incomprehensible to Winthrop. As invoked by Reagan, the beacon upon the hill incorporates the 20th-century image of America as the successful melting pot of all races, nations, and faiths, in the cauldron of common ideals. By contrast, the Puritans were not only proudly Anglo-Saxon, they did not even like non-Puritan Englishmen. For almost three centuries their descendants considered themselves the elite of the elite and the benighted Anglo-Saxons from Pennsylvania southward as hardly within the pale of humanity, much less the rest of man­ kind. Their beacon was for the world to be guided by, not guided to.


What would Winthrop have made of a city upon a hill which beckoned as a cornucopia of worldly opportunity rather than as a strenuous struggle for a purified commonwealth? What would he have made of a utopia whose chief glory was in melting down all distinctions, in which any Hindu or Rastafarian could become a full member simply for the easy price of a vague allegiance to an undefined concept of democracy? (Of course, it would please the President if they would also believe in and practice “free enterprise.”)


I do not mean to criticize the President, who is the most sincere, decent, and sensible we have had in many a day. He is, like the rest of us, caught up in a history of which we must make the best. There is nothing in Winthrop’s city which necessarily leads us to the modem America of melting pot and high living standards. Yet, it is here. Reagan’s formula, even if not historically sound in its use of Winthrop (historical allusions on the hustings never are), is a well-intentioned recognition of reality. America has had an astounding success, to this point, in incorporating a great variety of races, religions, and nationalities into a presumably workable society and one which has set the gauge for the world in living standards for its masses.


To an originally British (and African) base were added in the middle of the 19th century the Germans and Irish, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the eastern and southern Europeans, all now proudly and patriotically American. Catholicism and Judaism have become full partners in what began as a thoroughly and consciously Protestant exercise. We have gloried in the strength of variety and weathered every crisis and strain.


The last third of the 20th century has brought the New Immigration — new presumably because it draws from parts of the world not before largely represented in the American population (Latin America and Asia), because its numbers surpass previous experience, and because a great deal of it is illegal and unassessed. Indeed, one of the characteristics of the New Immigration is that, while all sense that it is large and portentous, nobody really knows its dimensions. As Crewdson shows, no one knows or can possibly know how many foreigners have broken, are breaking, and will continue to break our laws by entering or overstaying. We have not lost control of our borders. Rather, in a sense we have lost control of our land. Responsible projections suggest that the dimensions of the New Immigration are such that within a few decades, by early in the next century, America will have a Latin American and Asian plurality and that the descendants of present U.S. citizens will be a minority.


It would seem reasonable to pose a question at this point in our history. Is the success of the melting pot something that is infinitely repeatable and expansible? One answer to this, seemingly the President’s, is that of course it is. There have always been nay-sayers and prophets of doom, who have always been proved wrong. The creative, absorptive, and progressive power of American ideals and opportunities is unlimited. America will ab­ sorb the New Immigration and, as in the past, emerge the stronger.


There are many other answers that might be given. My own might go like this: We have been extremely lucky but there is no reason to gamble that the luck will hold forever. The economic, political, military, and moral problems we face are not like those of the  past and  will not be any easier  to solve in a society even less stable and coherent in its values than that of today. It is true that America is in one sense an idea, an idea of universal appeal and inspiration and opportunity. But it is also true that America for many of us constitutes not an idea but a quite tangible land and tradition which we like to consider not every­ body’s and anybody’s, but ours; and to which we relate not as an abstraction but as a link with our forebears and our posterity. I do not believe that this proclivity of some of us makes us fascists and racists. I think it stamps us indelibly as normal human beings and as quite in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. Granted that  all men and women are equal before God and before the law, it does not necessarily follow that all human societies are abstractions in which people are infinitely interchangeable. Human cultures are in some ways quite sensitive organisms, subject to disruption and debilitation in a variety of ways, many of them not well understood. Considering the changes that we face, would it not be simple prudence to pause and take thought of the morrow?


The two answers that I have suggested to the New Immigration by no means exhaust the possible range of responses. However, we are not, as a society, even posing the _question, and our response is essentially that of fatalistic paralysis. The three books under consideration, for instance, take up different aspects of immigration. The authors do so ably but somewhat in the manner of the blind men examining the elephant. To none does it occur that there is anything to be done about the, beast except to describe him and then to accept whatever bellows and kicks he chooses to give us. The democratic process may decide economic or military matters, but the future composition of the American population is something, apparently, which present citizens have no right to control, or even examine.


The stand of liberals seems to be that immigration is a moral question and one to which there is only one conceivable response. All morality (and also the entire meaning of democracy, the Constitution, ethics, and religion) is summed up for them by egalitarianism and compassion. It is unthinkable that a citizen might have rights which an illegal interloper (as opposed to an invited guest) could not also fully claim: it is unthinkable that, on prudential grounds, there might be some human beings who should not be welcomed and some who should even be expelled for the welfare of the commonwealth. Nor does it come within the realm of morals for present generations of Americans to consider whether they might be bequeathing to their descendants a society intolerably lacking in moral, religious, political, and cultural cohesion. Prior to about the year 1960, consideration of the welfare of one’s posterity would have been the height of moral endeavor in the opinion of nearly all of mankind, but posterity has slipped from the consciousness of our present-centered society.


The approach of “conservatives,” so far as one can tell, is like their approach to everything else: aside from an occasional verbal bone tossed out to quiet the moral concerns of yapping fundamentalists, it is all a matter of economics. The more people, the more prosperity. There is undoubtedly some connection between population growth and prosperity. But the bald proposition, without qualifying variables, though it seems to be enjoying a vogue, is too absurd to be taken seriously. Were it literally true, we would have to expect India to be all the more prosperous than Japan.


True, a high birthrate and a rising prosperity are historically connected. But does this apply to a welfare state or to a population increasing by immigration while the birthrate of citizens is actually declining? Conservatives are supposed to believe in tradition and community, but they appear to have given no thought to the impact of massive immigration on traditional and consensual values. Conservatives are popularly supposed to favor free enterprise, but appear not to have considered whether free enterprise might rest upon culturally determined habits rather than upon universally applicable abstractions. Conservatives, it is thought, believe in a strong defense and a vigorous foreign policy, but appear not to have reflected that the first requirement for these is morale, an effective domestic unity in which differences stop at the water’s edge.


The works in hand are varied, each with a different approach and dealing with a different aspect of the immigration question. The Tarnished Door is contemporary reportage. Refugee Scholars in America is historical. Moscow to Main Street is sensitive cultural portrayal. Each work has the virtue of its genre. The Tarnished Door, which deals chiefly with the illegal flow across our southern borders, is the only one of the books centered on the New Immigration. Ripp’s book is about the most recent wave from the Soviet Union (100,000 in the decade ending in 1981). There is nothing new about immigrants from Eastern Europe, unless one considers the newness to consist of the fact that these refugees are people who have lived their entire previous existence inside the Soviet system and have known no other.


The Soviet system, as the author shows, leaves its marks, and the encounter with America is for many far more ambivalent than Americans would like to believe. But then, Americans are the only people naive enough to expect newcomers to be completely satisfied and at home. In a series of well-drawn portraits of the experiences of Soviet refugees, Ripp, whose own background gives him a certain insider status among them, makes the ambivalence clear. One does not alter overnight a lifetime habit of suspicion and resistance painfully formed in a totalitarian society. Freedom itself is ambiguous and not self-limiting. It must be defined by other values, sometimes hard-won. Rejection of communism is not necessarily perfectly equivalent to allegiance to the United States. And present-day America, with its crime and formless hedonism, is not exactly the same country which once drew the abler spirits of Europe yearning for new opportunities and horizons. The escape to America, nevertheless, one feels, must be in some sense a gain for the Soviet refugees, or at least for their children. In what sense it is a gain for America is somewhat harder to fathom and must be reckoned up in intangibles if at all.


Coser’s book is a detailed and illuminating study of scholarly and literary refugees from fascist Europe between 1933 and 1945. The hard sciences are not covered, though the psychological fields, history, economics, political science, sociology, classics, philosophy, and theology are examined thoroughly, with some attention to creative literature.


It is clear, in retrospect, that the transfer of a substantial portion of European scholarship to this country was a revolutionary event for America. The Continent was the heartland of scholarly prestige while America was still, in most fields, the provinces. In Europe the modern disciplines were already hardened in the direction of their thrust, while in America they were still plastic. The impact of this vast transfer was varied and is not easy to characterize. However, it is perhaps fair to say that the refugees, not with­ out a great deal of native help, were decisive, among other effects, in institutionalizing Marxism and Freudianism and in pointing the “social sciences,” with the possible exception of history, in a positivist rather than a humanist direction.


Coser’s conventional research is thorough and able and is supplemented by personal acquaintance and interviews with many of the figures he treats or their associates. One of his merits is that he pays attention to those figures whose impact may be said to have been rightward — Voegelin, Strauss, Arendt, Von Mises, Wittfogel, Schumpeter, Nabokov — as  well as to the much greater number of “leftists.” His approach, if anything, is a bit too chummy and evenhanded. I am not convinced that Herbert Marcuse had a “winning personality,” nor that his combination of nihilism and zealous pursuit of the stock market was merely an amusing foible.


Again, one is struck by the ambivalence for both sides of the encounter, in the final accounting. Are Voegelin and Von Mises sufficient to offset the permanent damage done by psychoanalysis, Marcuse, Adorno, Fromm, Lazarsfeld (and many others), and those writers who for a time turned a good deal of Hollywood into a Soviet propaganda mill? Such a question is impractical to ask about a revolution that is already over, and, at any rate, the answer can only depend upon one’s scale of values-there are no scientific findings in history. It is clear, however, that in regard to American scholarship, the nature of the  beast was changed forever. Considering that before the transfer the pinnacle of the American mind was regarded by many to be occupied by John Dewey, one may not regret the outcome. But what might have been the native developments had not the hardened categories of European thought impinged upon the New World in that way at that time? It would be interesting, also, to lay beside this account of the experiences and impact of the refugees from fascist Europe a comparison with those from post-1945 Communist Europe, but that lies outside Coser’s scope.


Crewdson has investigated firsthand the day-to-day reality of the New Immigration. Much of his story has to do with the Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It is largely a story of incompetence, fraud, corruption, and brutality, leavened by only occasional flashes of integrity and patriotism. But what else is to be expected when undertrained, underpaid, outnumbered young men are sent to do an impossible job under the demoralizing leadership of greedy, hypocritical, and irresponsible liberal appointees of the type with which we all became too familiar in the dreary years from Kennedy to Carter?


Crewdson, if I read him rightly, believes that the New Immigrants are changing America and that the situation we are in is a political and moral scandal, harmful to us and the immigrants. He also believes that given the present and prospective realities of Mexico, there is nothing short of a police state that we can do about it. He favors, then, a mildly optimistic resig­ nation to the inevitable. He sees the New Immigrants as, on balance, a plus. They pay income and social security taxes and engage in productive labor that otherwise would go undone, despite chronic citizen unemployment in some sectors.


If it is indeed inevitable and even mutually beneficial that a good portion of the population of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean take up residence in the United States, there are yet many creative responses that we could make. There is no historical or Constitutional reason, for instance, for the universalization of all the rights and benefits of American citizenship, which has led to a cheapening of the value of that citizenship more severe than that inflicted upon our  currency  before 1981. Such a universalization is an authentic American tradition only if one believes that American history began in 1962. Further, President Carter’s refusal to enforce our laws during the Mariel boatlift and Congress’s proposal to amnesty and reward those who have flouted them in the past would immediately have been recognized by the  Founding Fathers as  evidence  of  a  deplorable fall from republican virtue and as far more impeachable offenses than poor Nixon’s pathetic and absurd  intriguings.  What  about  the   equally   or more deserving immigrant who lost his place because he obeyed our laws? Nor is there any reason  to  make  citizens out of  students,  because  of  marriage or  procreation  on  American   soil, when the skills they ostensibly came to acquire  are  desperately  needed   in their own countries. What would we think of Americans who abandoned       their    country    for   comfort if the situation were reversed? Are these the kinds of citizens we want in the next crisis?


Our present manner of universalizing citizenship, though regarded by nearly everyone as eternal and sacrosanct, is nothing of the kind. Citizenship, until very recently, has always been understood in historic and inherited terms. If not, there would have been no necessity for the 14th Amendment to formalize the admission of Black Americans into the body of citizens. Until the late 19th century, citizenship was in effect granted by the community. In a land where the work to be done far exceeded the available hands to do  it,  worthy  immigrants were welcomed by their prospective ”neighbors.   In  many  states  they voted before rece1vmg Federal naturalization, which was merely a kind of afterthought ratification of the fact that the immigrant had been accepted as a member in good standing of the com­ munity. Citizens of a democracy, in other words, were not interchangeable nonentities manufactured by the government, but grown and nourished by the people. Today hundreds of thousands are made citizens   each   year by government fiat who have given no sufficient evidence of a will to be­ come members of an American com­ munity in good standing. Citizenship which is not earned, cherished, and tied to obligations is not the real thing.



Democracy requires civility and tolerance. It also requires honest deliberation of real issues and citizens with a full stake in their country. In  some way or other, in the words of one of Crewdson’s chapter titles, “We Are Going to Have to Say No.” We do not serve democracy by evading realities, invoking taboos, and wallowing in sentimentality. Of all our modern qualities none would have been more foreign to John Winthrop than a supine yielding to the fates without responsibility for decision and action. Predestinarian or not, were he here today he would tell us straight out about the deadly sin of sloth, the peril of those who fecklessly stumble on into disaster.             cc