country. He waxed eloquent over the family values of thenMexicans and the high intelligence of the Orientals. Finally,nI asked him: suppose we could set off neutron bombs all overnthe United States, wipe out the current citizen populationnand replace them with brilliant and hardworking Chinese.nFrom his perspective, wouldn’t that be a plus? I’m stillnwaiting for an answer.nThe trouble began with treating the nation as an abstraction:nthe land of the free and the home of the brave wasnturned into the land of opportunity for what the Statue ofnLiberty’s plaque so quaintly calls “the wretched refuse” ofnthe world. A real country, with its own history, its ownnparticular set of virtues and vices, its own special institutionsnwas reduced to cheap slogans and loyalty oaths. (I don’tnknow which is worse: requiring children to mouth thenPledge of Allegiance or, once we have instituted such a formnof petty fascism, refusing to require it. What an election.)n”The truth is, we have to confine our discussion tonabstractions, including that abstraction that serves as anmetaphor for an entire way of life — money, because whatnsome Americans worry about cannot be spoken to thennetwork reporters doing on-the-street interviews for thenevening news. Despite the risks, some people are incautiousnenough to sign letters to the editor or call in to the radio talknshows that are increasingly the only form for free expression.nWhat these simple folk are saying is that they do not carenhow smart the Chinese are or how religious the Mexicansnare. If they’re so smart, virtuous, and diligent, how come thencountries they are leaving are in such a god-awful mess?nThe old question, “If you so smart, why ain’t you rich?”napplies to nations as well as individuals.nIn his essay “Immigration and Liberal Taboos” (in OnenLife at a Time, Please), Edward Abbey sums up thensituation with his customary restraint and discretion: “Theyncome to stay and they stay to multiply. What of it? say thendocumented liberals; ours is a rich and generous nation, wenhave room for all, let them come. And let them stay, say thenconservatives; a large, cheap, frightened, docile, surplusnlabor force is exactly what the economy needs. Put somenfear into the unions: tighten discipline, spur productivity,nwhip up the competition for jobs. The conservatives loventheir cheap labor; the liberals love their cheap cause.”nAbbey concludes by asking, “How many of us, truthfully,nwould prefer to be submerged in the Caribbean-Latinnversion of civilization?” Stripped of its anger. Abbey’snquestion is worth asking. If we can judge from his novels.nAbbey actually likes Mexico and its people. But for better ornworse, he likes his own country more, and not necessarilynbecause it is better (although he obviously thinks, as I do,nthat it is). But a nation, as the word implies (from nascor, benborn) is a fictional extended family. Like members of anfamily, the citizens of a nation prefer each other’s companynand will sacrifice for the common good, not because theynthink their family or nation is superior to every other, butnsimply because it is theirs. The Germans may have betternmusic, the English a clearer prose, the Russians a deepernspirituality, but Americans have, on occasion, been willingnto shoot any of them in the defense or even the interest ofnthe United States. And, it goes without saying, that all ofnthese European people have displayed a marked capacity fornbecoming Americans.nThere’s the rub. Do Abbey’s liberals and conservativesnbelieve that there is anything particular about thenAmerican identity? After all, most of us don’t blame thenFrench for wanting to be French, and we all profess tonsympathize with the desire of black Africans to rule theirnown countries and develop their own traditions withoutninterference from white Europeans. Why is it only Americanthat is denied an identity?nCultural pluralism is not the mostnattractive legacy we can leave to ournchildren. As a nation, we have barelynsurvived the existence of two separatenpopulations, black and white, and we havena long way to go in working out betternrelations between those two groups. Whatnshall we do when the whole of Americanbecomes a multiracial Alexandria?nThere is, after all, an American story that is primarily ansaga of enterprising men and women who came here fromnEurope. The language and culture, as well as the legal andnpolitical systems, were derived from Britain. This way of lifenof ours is not the result of any general principle; it is thenlegacy of our forebears and a civilization that goes back tonGreece and Rome. It is vastly creative and has shown annenormous capacity for transforming immigrants from somewhatndiffering cultures. This capacity is not infinite, and anUnited States dominated by Third World immigrants will bena very different nation in its cultural and its economic life.nPart of the problem is a question of numbers. Talentednimmigrants are, for the most part, highly assimilable, butnmass migrations are disruptive and threaten social cohesion.nBetween 1976 and 1986, the number of immigrants fromnAfrica doubled, while the numbers from Asia, Mexico, andnHaiti all quadrupled. (Haiti, by the way, was on the low sidenfor the Caribbean: Jamaica was up 700 percent). The bignwinner, however, was India, whose stock rose an impresssiven2,000 percent.nLike most Americans since, Thomas Jefferson firmlynbelieved that this country should provide a haven forntalented and freedom-loving people. He was also aware ofnthe risks. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jeffersonnpointed out that the American form of government wasnderived from “the freest principles of the English Constitution.”nIt was diametrically opposed to the absolutisms thatnruled over most of Europe. Emigrants from such countries,nhe warned, “will bring with them the principles of thengovernments they leave … or, if able to throw them off, itnwill be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness,npassing, as is usual, from one extreme to another.”nWhat would have especially aroused Jefferson’s fears isnthe current reigning assumption that special arrangementsnhave to be made for “refugees” from political oppression.nConservatives want to open the door to Cubans andnNicaraguans, while leftists give shelter to Salvadorans andnnnMARCH 1989/9n