“If anyone wish to migrate to another village, and if one or more who live in that village do notwish to receive him, if there he only one who objects he shall not move there.”
—The Salic Law, c. 490
In this commentary on the American experiment, Michael Barone declares that the United States has been evolving into a multicultural society for a century or more. The mass immigration of Hispanics and of other Third World populations that is now taking place is a reenactment of the tidal wave that reached us from Ireland and Eastern and Southern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While latter-day immigrants and our visible minorities are confronted by elites that have come “to doubt the fundamental goodness and decency of the society they nonetheless felt entitled to lead,” Barone is optimistic about the prospects for integrating the “new Americans” into some kind of national mainstream. From his perspective, “striking parallels” exist between today’s hyphenated Americans and some of the older settlers. Blacks are following the paths trod by the Irish-Americans several generations ago: going into politics, the police force, and civil service as a way of raising themselves socioeconomically. Asians are behaving like European Jewish immigrants by practicing entrepreneurship and competing for academic and professional success. Meanwhile, Mexican-Americans are following the example of the earlier immigrants from Southern Italy by maintaining close familial and communal ties and using them as assets to advance individually.
To be fair, Barone does perceive problems with the reenactment scenario he offers. Some of the behavioral patterns developing among immigrants are not entirely to his liking; and, like Thomas Sowell in Ethnic America, he complains about the shared attitude he observes among the Irish in the past and the blacks of today who depend on expanding government to better themselves socially. Even urban jews, Barone’s favorite American success story, come across in this book as being deeply alienated from the surrounding Christian society. Barone portrays (perhaps in order to guard his left flank) an antediluvian WASP America that reeked with prejudice; this unpleasant society, which limped along until the 1960’s, helped “set Jews apart” by practicing discrimination against them. Still, Barone credits the WASP elite with Inning responded to immigration by calling for Americanization and eschewing the nativist bigotry that might have led to immigration restriction. Citing immigration advocate John Miller, Barone praises the wisdom of early 20th-century “elite” presidents who refused to restrict immigration. “Americanization, they felt, was the appropriate solution, and they saw the process as a mutually beneficial one.”
There are problems with these arguments. If WASP America, in Barone’s account, was a place where “ferocious bigotry was unleashed on immigrants and where European Jews “found a country where their faith carried civic disabilities but where it made them objects of prejudice and discrimination,” why did the same country hesitate to restrict immigration? In fact, it did restrict immigration several times in the 1920’s, acts that might be viewed from Barone’s perspective as aberrations caused by nativist outbursts—though the restrictions were supported by recent immigrants and Samuel Gompers’ American Federation of Labor. And despite his complaints against WASP bigotry, Barone repeatedly insists that “we’ve been here before” and that we are “forgetting our history” when we imagine that “America suddenly and for the first time has become a multicultural nation.”
Part of the reason for Barone’s insistence that the ancien régime created a multicultural society is that he confuses “multicultural” with “multiethnic.” Multiethnic regimes have existed in the past but have usually begun as, or turned into, empires. Republics, by contrast, have required a higher degree of cohesion to allow for effective self-rule. In such politics, people must command themselves as an extended community rather than take orders from an emperor or from public administrators. While a sophisticated awareness of the distinction may have eluded WASP elites, they did consider the newcomers as culturally and even morally alien to the American people. Only when the WASP establishment became thoroughly decrepit did it move on, with the help of immigrant populations, to espouse present-day “multiculturalism.” An ideology described by Barone himself as a prescription for Western suicide, it is clearly not the multiculturalism he identifies with. But what Barone looks back to is more of an ideal than a reality.
That world is no longer realizable: Accelerating multi-ethnicity, guilt-ridden or opportunistic politicians, and demographic trends have moved us politically and socially beyond the situation that Barone would like to see prevail. Contrary to his stated hope, there is no evidence that present American elites are changing their views about “the basic goodness and decency of American institutions,” if that means traditional attitudes regarding limited government. It is one thing to value institutions, as Hitler did the Weimar constitution, as window dressing for a sociopolitical revolution. It is another thing entirely to appreciate them as checks upon human appetites and an overreaching central state. Why, in any case, should Central American immigrants arriving here legally or illegally (legal status being presently a distinction without a difference) request, or even accept, an Americanizing education? Their perception of who developed that education is exactly Barone’s: It was the work of a prejudiced elite that we have (fortunately) jettisoned. Besides, the “new Americans” are entering a truly multicultural society in which even Republican presidents hasten to shower quotas and set-asides on “Hispanics.” Why should these beneficiaries of ethnic favors surrender their privileged position, particularly when they hold the electoral balance in major states?
Other questions arise from reading Barone’s brief on behalf of the “new Americans.” (Presenting blacks under this rubric is so ludicrous that it is best to ignore the semantic issue.) Was the prejudice besetting American society before the Great Enlightenment in the 60’s mostly or entirely the fault of Anglo-Saxon Protestants? Having (like Barone) grown up in a Northern industrial city in the 1950’s, I do not recall a single ethnic clash or incident of ethnic name-calling that involved a WASP. The first time that I encountered large numbers of Protestants of Northern European extraction was as a student at Yale. Although these classmates had white-bread personalities and were far less animated than those who attended Bridgeport high schools, they were also more civil. The same is true of all the WASP populations I have sojourned among since then.
Barone has foolish things to say in trying to make the “new Americans” look like the older ones. His comparison of Latinos and Italian-Americans understates the behavioral differences between them. While Italian immigrants and their progeny did not have children out of wedlock, avoided welfare like the plague, and never treated the United States as part of Italia irredenta, Latinos offer a vastly different group profile. Barone would do well to read the articles of Steve Sailer on the prettification of Latino immigrants undertaken by pro-immigration advocates. While he may choose to place some of the blame for both the seamy side of Latino barrio life and the current anti-white Latino nationalism on American political enablers, that does not change the objective situation: Latinos are behaviorally different from the Southern Italians who settled in American cities in the early part of the last century. Perhaps these earlier immigrants would have behaved more like present-day Latinos had political elites and WASP presidents slobbered over them a century ago. But that is not the way it happened, and the difference in political climate must be taken into account in considering America’s ability to absorb Third World immigrants.
By the end of his text, Barone is falling over himself to prove that “we’ve been here before.” Indeed, “there is no greater biological difference between the minority groups and other Americans of today than there was between the immigrant groups and other Americans of a hundred years ago.” The real difference between the two eras comes down to this: “There is far less overt bigotry and discrimination in the early twenty-first century than in the early twentieth.” Obviously, the noisy, incessant outbursts directed by minority spokespeople against the rest of us do not constitute “overt bigotry.” Furthermore, it is absurd to declare that a society in which whites are becoming a minority is racially the same as it was a hundred years ago. For all of Barone’s talk about WASPs carrying non-Caucasoid blood, there is a telling difference between being an Oklahoman with a Cherokee grandmother and being a Mexican of Aztec descent in California.
Barone’s empty assertions remind me of a book, published in 1998 by Le Monde. which claimed to contextualize the cataclysmic immigration of North African Muslims into France. Although the foreign-born in France, predominantly non-Europeans, amounted in that year to about eight percent of the total population, the author, Philippe Bernard, warned against excessive concern. A similar figure can be found for the 1930’s, when Eastern and Central Europeans were fleeing from the Nazi and Soviet empires and from the lands in between. What Bernard and Le Monde do not remark is even more pertinent. The emigres of the 30’s were European and mostly Christian. But Eastern European Jews who fled to France and who were mostly on the political left did suffer from antisemitic attitudes. More importantly, however, none of these emigres demanded that France transform itself into a multicultural society and discipline those Frenchmen who did not show sufficient reverence for non-Western minorities. In the 30’s, the French government did not jail Frenchmen for publishing unfriendly articles about immigration or about Muslim attitudes toward constitutional government. Moreover, violent crime, except for the riots unleashed by political extremists, was not a social problem in France. By now, the banlieues of large French cities have become grim replicas of Bedford-Sty. An insufferably smarmy piece in the New York Post (August 22) announced that French crime, which is up almost ten percent this year, has surpassed the American rate. The Post blames this fact on French inattentiveness to the American way of fighting crime: “a combination of better and smarter policing, incarceration, decreased public and official tolerance of nuisance crimes and more efficient courts.” Would anyone care to suggest in this instance the “something that is missing”?
[The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again, by Michael Barone (Washington, D.C: Regnery) 338 pp., $27.95]