The novelist F. Reid Buckley once told a story about a Mexican woman who worked for his family as a maid or nanny during the 1930’s. The woman knew that Buckley’s father, William F. Buckley, Sr., was a strong opponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential campaign. When she learned that Roosevelt had actually won the election, she burst into tears: She assumed that the FDR victory meant that Mr. Buckley would now be shot.
Given the resemblances between Roosevelt and the European dictators of the same era, the woman may have been closer to the truth than most people realize, and if on one level the story illustrates how constitutional government may not be able to survive mass immigration from countries where constitutionalism and its presuppositions are virtually unknown, it also suggests that Americans were perfectly capable of destroying their own constitutional tradition without the help of any immigrants—from the Third World, anyway.
Constitutional government depends upon shared, unwritten, and largely unconscious assumptions drawn from the civilizational ocean on which a paper constitution floats. Any given constitution—the British, the American, or even what those in Europe like to call their “constitutions”—derives from a larger political culture, a body of norms that govern the pursuit and uses of power far more intimately than any set of written laws, court decisions, and constitutional texts can. This is especially true of the U.S. Constitution, which, obviously enough to all but those who imagine it to be the product of universal “natural rights,” reflects the long history of British political experience.
By the 18th century it was an assumption of both British and colonial political practice that those who lost elections were not to be executed. The concept of a “loyal opposition,” central to constitutional government, is not easily explained to those to whom it is alien, and it is even more difficult to institutionalize as an unspoken part of a political culture. It is a concept that was entirely foreign to the Mexican maid of the Buckley family, and it is becoming more and more elusive in American politics today; anyone who dissents from the hegemonic ideology of the regime is denounced and exposed as an “extremist,” someone who “has been linked to” a “hate group” (and similar labels that place you outside the boundaries of political discussion and participation. That constriction of political expression and action is not due so much to immigration as it is to the dominance of those who, despite their native origins as Americans, are nevertheless more alien to the norms of our historic political culture than most Third Worlders—and who, for that very reason, see nothing unsettling about the mass immigration they have allowed and even encouraged.
The assumption that political losers and other dissidents should not be shot is only one of the preconditions of constitutional government that mass immigration from non-Western societies may help to erode. In Alien Nation, Peter Brimelow writes about the concept of the “metamarket” in economics—the idea that “the free market necessarily exists within a societal framework. And it can function only if the institutions in that framework are appropriate. For example, a defined system of private property rights is now widely agreed to be one of the essential preconditions.” In other words, because “some degree of ethnic and cultural coherence may be among these preconditions,” mass immigration that introduces ethnic and cultural incoherence may make market economics unworkable.
An analogous framework of preconditions pertains to the functioning of political freedom, although serious universalists on the right would probably deny it. They would inform us that the “free market,” like political freedom, is based on “natural rights” that arc universal and self-evident; all that is needed for markets and liberal democracies to flourish indefinitely is that people know and assent to these rights and that no power interfere with them. There are people who call themselves “conservatives” today who really believe such things.
It is impossible to enumerate each and every “precondition” on which a market economy or a constitutional order (or even nationality) rests; the preconditions become apparent over the course of history; as their occasional malfunctioning makes them visible by creating economic or political chaos, in the same way that the parts of a car become apparent to most only when they stop working. But it is easy enough to imagine or deduce some of them, which is what John Jay did in a well-known passage of Federalist 2:
Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country, to one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established their general Liberty and Independence.
The preconditions that Jay specifics—common ancestors, a common language, a common religion, a common political consensus, common manners and customs (a culture or set of shared norms), and a common experience or history—are precisely what mass immigration renders impossible. As California, for example, ceases to be part of American culture—even as it remains legally part of the country—and becomes the Latin culture that its largest ethnic fragment is making it, it will be the state’s Hispanics who will share Jay’s set of preconditions, not the dwindling number of Americans. They, not we, will be able to form a consensual political order in California—insofar as a consensual political order (an order not based largely on coercion) is possible in Latin American culture.
The survival of constitutional government (especially under the real U.S. Constitution) is doubtful enough in the United States today; with the infusion of masses of unassimilated and often hostile aliens from a culture in which both the political participation and respect for the rule of law that are essential for free government are largely absent, it is virtually inconceivable that it will endure at all. Nearly two thirds of adult Mexican immigrants have not completed high school, and Mexican immigrants account for nearly 22 percent of all high-school dropouts. Will Mexican-Americans command even the elementary literacy that permits intelligent political participation in representative government? Will they import into our political culture the kind of peasant-like passivity that is the antithesis of republican government and the foundation of authoritarian rule? Will they import the customary corruption of Mexican politics, ranging from the low-level crookedness of the street cop and minor functionary to the grand scale of billion-dollar drug trafficking and assassination that the Salinas government displayed? Will they replicate the political ideologies of Latin America, which run from outright fascism to mere caudillismo to revolutionary socialism? Will they settle political differences with the death squads of El Salvador, the torture chambers of Castro and Trujillo, or the transnational murders of the Sandinistas?
Some of those questions and others closely related to the survival of our form of government should have been asked by Americans well before they decided to permit the mass invasion from Latin America that has taken place over the last three decades. Unfortunately, no one asked them. Today, whatever the answers are, they have already been given.