Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of Americans want stricter controls on immigration. Yet it should be clear that our ruling class is not going to impose stricter controls or even enforce its own laws. What does this mean? The first thing to note is that immigrants, as such, are not the problem. A healthy society can absorb fairly large numbers of immigrants (within limits) if it has control of the institutions that transmit its culture. The Constitution guarantees to each state “a republican form of government,” which means that each state has legal protection for its distinct way of life—a form of corporate liberty that is further protected by the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. But this corporate liberty of state and local communities has been usurped, and the rules rigged to favor a rootless form of individualism managed by a centralized American state.

Americans have acquiesced in this usurpation, disarmed by the dominant ideology that America is not rooted in culture or tradition like other countries, but is grounded in an abstract idea of individual rights that transcends the particularities of all cultures. Since these rights are the same for all individuals everywhere in the world, the United States is said to be the first universalist nation in history. A “universalist nation” is, of course, an oxymoron, as is its leftist counterpart, the “muilticultural nation.” Yet this is what America has come to mean.

A “conservative” political scientist told me in the late 1980’s that the United States and the Soviet Union were the only nations grounded in abstract ideas, not culture. She thought the Soviet ideas wrong and the American ideas right. To be an American was simply to subscribe to a set of principles favoring individual rights. She had no idea how “Soviet” her view was, nor how nihilistic. If it were true, then anyone in the would subscribing to the proper abstract principles would be, in all essentials, an “American.” This opens the door to American imperialism. Since people all over the world believe in “our way of life,” there are virtual “Americans” all over the world who need our protection. This opens the door to unlimited immigration, both legal and illegal. For what force can mere particularistic legal tradition have in opposition to universalist principle? (Hence Sen. John McCain’s recent remark that to deny amnesty to our current crop of illegal immigrants is to repudiate “American principles.”) What effect this amnesty would have on the good of traditional society is not asked. To raise the question, as Pat Buchanan discovered, is to invite charges of xenophobia and racism.

The sort of “Americanism” that informs our riding class is deeply hostile toward traditional American society. It has been used to eliminate the Christian cultural inheritance from public schools and from public life. It is embarrassed by its European heritage and scandalized by the remnants of strong regional cultures (such as the South), where society and place are viewed as providential and ideology as corrupting.

In the inverted world of American liberalism, the immigrant is more authentically American than those whose ancestors cleared the forests over 200 years ago and built the institutions of the country. The latter are encumbered with memories of historic struggles and with loyalties to institutions, regions, peoples, and traditions. For the immigrant, America is naturally an abstraction, and he is encouraged by liberalism to think of it as reducible to a set of abstract principles—like a college student who thinks he has a good understanding of Shakespeare from reading Cliff’s Notes. At the turn of the century, around 40 percent of immigrants returned home. Here in the states, they encountered substantial moral communities; there was no welfare to speak of. Some were willing to trade their culture for material prosperity, but many were not.

Our ruling class favors rapid mobility of capital and labor on a global scale, however destructive it might be to local communities. Substantial moral communities have been hollowed out and flattened out to ease the centralization of power. Empires have often used immigration policy for the purpose of centralization. The Soviets sought to eradicate the independence of the Baltic peoples through massive immigration; Tito followed the same policy in Kosovo, as China is currently in Tibet.

It is time to acknowledge that we live in an empire, not a republic. Classical republican government protects a public space for the enjoyment of a valuable way of life, which is lived out on a human scale. It is not rule by a managerial elite. Not one American state has what could be called a republican form of government. And the United States is no more a republic than President Clinton’s “town meetings” —conducted on a continental scale ia satellite—were town meetings. Nor is the United States a representative democracy. There are 435 representatives in the House, 100 senators, and one president. That amounts to 536 people ruling over 285 million and spending around 285 trillion dollars per year. There is one representative in the House for every 655,000 citizens—a ratio that renders representation meaningless. To make matters worse, major social policy for these 285 million souls is determined by nine unelected Supreme Court justices. Under these conditions polities, in anything approaching the republican sense, is quite impossible. The project, urged by Pat Buchanan, of “taking our country back” through nationalist polities is now hopeless. We should, therefore, stop thinking of ourselves in terms of republican politics. It serves only to legitimate further acts of hollowing out, and hides from us our true condition.

We live in an empire, and must begin speaking and thinking accordingly. This means returning to primordial questions. Who am I? Who are my people? To what traditions must I be loyal? What kind of American am I? And we must try to live out the answers to these questions on a human scale. Where the communities and institutions for this project survive, they should be revived and cultivated. Where they do not, new communities, institutions, and associations should be formed. Secession from larger jurisdictions (including even a state from the Union) can no longer be rejected out of hand. Secession from a republic seems unpatriotic, but an empire is a different matter. Christians in the Roman empire lost interest in propping up the imperium and turned their energy, loyalty, and imagination to forming their own communities. In time, the rules lived out in these communities took on the form of jurisdictions, then polities, and eventually became Christendom.

If we harbor any resentment for winding up in this condition, we have only ourselves to blame. Except for the violent consolidation of the Civil War, centralization has been incremental. Americans have either acted as accomplices or refused to see the matter as important enough to call forth resistance. We certainly cannot blame the immigrants. They are simply using the empire to improve their condition and to establish a new way of life. Instead of lamenting the loss of our country, we should begin building the institutions for a new one. St. Augustine and St. Benedict should be our models, rather than Cato and Cicero.