The modern temper shows a fatal tendency to break large moral and historical questions into smaller technocratic ones and to tinker with each of these as a separated “policy problem.” Unfortunately for advocates of this approach, the immigration debate presents us with what is essentially a moral problem, requiring the use of the moral—even of the prophetic—imagination to put the parts together and, viewing them whole, to recognize that the subject is part of another whole that is larger still.
Many of the proponents of continuing immigration into the United States at current or increased levels insist that immigrants are good for our economy, since their numbers help to make up for a declining birthrate among the native population and because the more highly educated of them bring skills that are no longer being developed in sufficient quantity in this country. This is the kind of talk that got the Morrison bill passed by Congress last year—insofar, that is, as talk and ideas had anything to do with its passage at all. (Ben Wattenberg actually suggested that federal taxes paid by would-be immigrants could by themselves liquidate the federal deficit!) Advocates of liberal immigration policies remind us that we are “a nation of immigrants” and that it is therefore un-American—by which they mean “immoral”—to cut off, or even drastically to reduce, the flow of foreigners to this country. We are, and have been for two centuries, they say, the opportunity and hope of the world, and so we should deny ourselves to nobody. (Hollywood is, and has been for decades, full of beautiful women who have thought the same way.) Five billion people, they imply, have a natural and God-given right to share in the benefits of American citizenship (even if, having moved here, they decide not to avail themselves of it): “California or bust!” is an old slogan with new life in it. Not just millions but billions of people can reside comfortably with us, Julian Simon insists. And, since we are already a nation of well-assimilated strangers (we all wear Reebok shoes, eat at Burger King, and listen to Bon Jovi on Sony Walkmans) we obviously can assimilate the entire world, if need be. We have become Homo economicus and all of us, including the rawest newcomers to these shores, understand the morality, as well as the practical desirability, of playing the game on a level table. Finally, the pro-immigrationists say, we are living today in what George Bush (who stated that he looked forward “eagerly” to signing the Morrison legislation into law) calls the New World Order, which I imagine as a kind of universal extension of Columbia University’s International House on Morningside Heights in New York City.
One reason to distrust these arguments is that they are usually formulated and delivered by a variety of special-interest groups—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, truck gardeners and fruit growers in California and Florida, refugee welfare associations, ethnic organizations, human rights activists, and every sodality of professional ideologue—that have no interest in the larger reality lying behind their own narrow and parochial concerns. The more important reason, though, is that even if correct they are incidental to the much larger and more critical concerns raised by our existing immigration policies. Having read at least a portion of the pertinent material, I am, for example, persuaded by my opinion (as St. Paul said) that immigrants do take jobs from native-born Americans; that a great many of them do not pay taxes or anyway their fair share of them; and that—particularly in cities like Los Angeles—they are a tremendous tax burden on the already oversubscribed natives. The work of Donald Huddle, professor of economics at Rice University, seems to me to substantiate conclusively these statements.
Nevertheless, if Professor Huddle’s findings were discredited tomorrow, and the writings of Julian Simon bathed simultaneously in a bright transforming light, I would, while conceding a point, remain opposed to a liberal American immigration policy on the grounds that all economic arguments are extraneous to the larger questions. You could “prove” to me that, without the immediate transference of the entire population of Hong Kong to the state of California, the United States would be in a major economic depression by the middle of next year, and I would still be against transferring it there. Or you could “prove” to me that yes, the United States can support comfortably all of the earth’s five-billion-plus people, and my response would be a) what does “comfortably” mean? and b) who wants to live with five billion people where formerly there were a quarter billion? If we really do require all these immigrants from many lands to goose our economy and to strengthen our anemic blood with their robust red corpuscles, their breeding habits that are better suited to laboratory mice than to human beings, and their rejuvenating cultural “diversity,” then indeed it is later than I think. When we arrive at the point where the United States must rely upon massive transfusions of human as well as of financial capital from abroad to restore us to what we were in 1789—an energetic, canny, thrifty, resourceful, interesting, brave, and above all confident civilization—then quite frankly there no longer is a United States of America in any save the legalistic sense, and I for one don’t give a hang what becomes of the formalist (though alas not empty) shell that remains.
We ought, I propose, to forget about economic considerations and the economy (which seems to get along on its own anyhow) when we think about immigration, and divert our attention instead to what Herbert Croly called “the promise of American life” and that today is known in more general terms as “the quality of life,” even if all too few people who use the phrase have any fair idea of what it is they are talking about. Although Bill McKibben assures us that mankind has arrived at the point where it must choose the “humble” path over the “defiant” one in making its future way through the natural world, contemporary environmental argument is for the most part restricted to gaudy and generalized crises like the greenhouse effect and the global population explosion. The fragmentization of contemporary “thought” causes such mega-subjects to be detached from more restrictive and subordinate topics and problems, set apart from them and elevated into towering abstractions that become the objects of a peculiar sort of counter-idolatry. As a result, a variety of “opinion-makers” in the United States today are running around yelling their heads off that the sky is going to fall tomorrow because the population of China reached one billion yesterday, while hardly one of them (with a few brave exceptions like Georgie Anne Geyer) dares—or perhaps even thinks—to say that the American land is going to be overrun and despoiled in fifty or a hundred years because of the folly, greed, and dishonesty with which Congress has responded to the immigrant invasion during the past twenty-five years.
It is considered “humanitarian” to fret about population growth and its effects on the natural environment at the global (which is to say, at the abstract) level; but “racist,” “xenophobic,” “uncompassionate,” and “un-American” to worry about the population crisis as it immediately affects the United States, the only place in the world where we are in a position to be able to do anything about it. A few years ago, the late Edward Abbey agreed to write an article on the subject of immigration, legal and otherwise, for the New York Times‘ op-ed page, at the invitation of its editor. The editor held the piece for two months before requesting that the author, who had written to specification, reduce it by about 50 percent. This Abbey proceeded to do. Another month passed before a different editor wrote to say that the article could not be printed owing to a lack of space. The Times never paid Abbey a kill fee or even bothered to return the manuscript to him; later he published it as “Immigration and Liberal Taboos” in a collection of his essays. One of its sentences asks: “How many of us, truthfully, would prefer to be submerged in the Caribbean-Latin version of civilization?” The Times editors weren’t telling, but stories about the hazards of nuclear-waste disposal, the horrors of air pollution and strip-mined hills, and the destruction of the Brazilian rain forests continued to make it into the Sunday editions of the paper, as did reports of famine in Chad and Ethiopia and almost monthly head counts of the population of China.
The few “conservative” writers (I suppose we are conservatives; it’s getting hard to distinguish between the players these days) who outspokenly oppose substantial immigration into the United States have long known better than to play the environmental card when making their bid to their fellow “conservatives,” all too many of whom equate conservatism with unrestrained capitalism, although five or six centuries of industrial capitalism have probably done more to destroy traditional and humane ways of life than a century and a half of militant Marxist-Leninism. On this subject, however, the time has arrived for plain speaking: the environmentalist argument, plus the cultural one, provides the essential overriding case against the waves of immigrants now cresting along the borders of the continental United States. Contrary to “conservative” opinion, America is not “underpopulated” (whatever that might mean). Advocates of immigration at present or elevated levels repeat ad nauseam that immigration is “an American tradition.” Well, so are spacious skies, amber waves of grain, wide-open spaces, the open range, and the wilderness of mountain, desert, and plain. Can anyone really imagine America without them? (Pause for reflection.) Can anyone really imagine America without another thirty million Mexicans, six million more Iranians, ten million additional people from the Caribbean, and three or four million future refugees from the Soviet Union? (I thought so.) As for the environmentalists themselves, they need a little—much more than a little—of Abbey’s courage and forthrightness if they are going to hold their own and argue their cause successfully in the New America of diversity and multiculturalism that is surely coming if the government in Washington does not catch up in a hurry with the opinion of a public that is already resentful—and has been for years—of the huddled masses arriving daily in this country. Does anyone believe for one minute that a United States in which European-Americans are a minority and Third World peoples a plurality will leave in place, let alone add to, the rather vast body of statutory law relating to environmental protection? The most polluted region of the United States lies along the 2,700-mile border it shares with Mexico. And Mexico itself, where everything from tamale-wrappers to heavy industrial equipment, when finished with, is dispensed directly, immediately, and thoughtlessly into “the environment” so beloved of American preservationists, is incomparably worse. (The train lines and highways I have traveled in Mexico are cordona pas-sanitaires of garbage, detritus, and junk.)
Another form of environmental degradation produced by soaring population growth is likely to be a precipitous decline in traditional, accepted, and even cherished standards of social and political life in America. It is astounding that the same “conservatives” who are always yapping about the need for deregulation, freedom of enterprise and of action, “personal freedom,” “property rights,” the tyranny of laws, “over-regulation,” and so on and so forth, have failed to make a connection between the tendencies they deplore and the increasing density and size of the U.S. population. The state of Wyoming, of which I am a proud and thankful resident, though comprising 97,203 square miles, is home to only about 450,000 people, which makes it the least populous of all of the 50 states. It has, even by Western standards, generous laws and provisions regarding the taking of game animals of all sizes and of fish, cheap licenses, ready access to those enormous tracts of federally owned land that “conservatives” are always griping about, and so much space that, even at this late date, you can hunt all day without coming across another hunter. Of course, Wyoming’s small population and the liberality of the laws—all of its laws!—are not coincidentally related. Take by comparison California, the most populous state in the nation, whose 28 million residents are cobwebbed with regulations stipulating such matters as what kind of car they may drive and what type of engine propels it, how much water they may put on their lawns, and whether they may burn a steak over charcoal in their backyards. In the modern age, big populations mean big regulation, and big regulation means big government, increasingly centralized to the exclusion of subsidiary powers and authorities and the jurisdiction of community government. In addition to which, you have to drive at twelve miles an hour, bumper to bumper, in eight-lane traffic for four hours a day, spend your lunch hour in line at the bank, put up with snippy, arrogant, and often illiterate bureaucrats, and write account numbers the length of a Ford serial number at the bottom of your checks. O Brave New World—O New World Order!
I will not write that the threat to the environment posed by massive immigration from predominantly Third World countries pales by comparison to the threat to historical American culture, since the two strike me as being about equal in importance. Here again, the obviating oracles of optimism point to what they describe as a long “tradition” of “assimilation” in America by which people-from-many-lands have been acculturated to the wisdom, habits, and tastes of Jefferson, Emerson, Lincoln, and Madonna. This is a heartwarming reading of American history, but like so many heartwarming things it is essentially a false one. Until after the Civil War, the United States was a country composed chiefly of North European peoples having a great deal more in common than they had differences between them. It is only in the latter part of our history that “multiculturalism” has either been important or has been seen to be important, and now positively beneficial, to the point of making a fetish of it. Assimilation, it should pain me to say, is not our tradition; rather homogeneity is, dissension having sprung along regional and geographic lines of demarcation.
If European-America were presently a strong and healthy culture, willing to tolerate a liberal immigration policy and to welcome people of non-European stocks and cultures in a spirit of confident generosity and manly self-esteem, there would be something genuinely heroic (though still wrongheaded) in its determination to do so. In fact, we are no longer a young, powerful, restless, and inexhaustibly optimistic society capable of surmounting great difficulties and eager to accept all challenges, in particular idealistic ones. Today we are a very different country from what we were in the 19th and early 20th centuries: middle-aged at least, perhaps prematurely old. We are no longer restless, we are bored and tentative; we are not optimistic but increasingly (and with good reason) the opposite; we have lost confidence in our heritage, our traditions, and above all perhaps our faith. This does not mean that we will necessarily adopt other traditions and other faiths; it does mean that we will have less and less of ourselves to offer peoples whom we would assimilate to the remnant of an indigenous culture. We know this. And so do the people who have recently appeared among us.
The stranger is within the gates, and he smells blood. I do not mean that he is bloodthirsty; he simply senses our weakness and is ready to exploit it as far as he can. He is taking advantage of us, and we cannot claim that we have not left ourselves open to, and even encouraged, him. “Multiculturalism” is a sign, maybe a proof, of this. As Lawrence Auster has written in a recently published book (The Path to National Suicide: An Essay on Immigration and Multiculturalism), the multiculturalist standard is the direct result of the Immigration Reform Act of 1965 which, by removing the national quotas provision of earlier immigration legislation, cleared the way for great numbers of immigrants from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and other non-European regions of the world. It is also notice served—by these immigrants and by others on their behalf—that “assimilation” is henceforth an outmoded concept, ethnocentric at best and racist at worst, and that this and future generations of newcomers will have no part in it, or of that Western civilization that is also under attack. And who, after all, is going to tell them differently? As the new immigrants arrive in their numbers in America, they will not only prove in plain fact unassimilable, they will be able, by the exercise of the suffrage, to alter American society to the extent that they will not need to assimilate to it; perhaps there will be nothing left of the original to assimilate to. Already this is seen to be the strategy of the leading Hispanic “rights” organizations, while there has been talk in the Mexican-American community for at least two decades of using their numbers and the vote to effect the secession of several of the southwestern states, which would either be incorporated by Mexico or form the new Nation of Aztlan. We have already experienced one episode of secession in our history; stranger things have occurred than that it should happen again. Just look at Canada.
There are further dangers inherent in multiculturalism beyond the foreseeable submergence of European-American culture and governance in the United States. The situation that is likely to evolve is not so simple a one as Us versus Them, White versus Brown, European versus Non- European. Jesse Jackson to the contrary, there will be no Rainbow Coalition—or if there is, it will be of very limited duration. Underlying the cant, the yes-saying, the cultural politics, and the silly celebrations of unity, profound resentments and antagonisms exist in multiethnic America that will surely grow stronger and deeper with time — and with continuing immigration from every part of the world. Nearly forty years after desegregation and a quarter-century after the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s, relations between whites and blacks in this country are arguably worse than they have been at any time in our history. It is an open secret that blacks (collectively) despise Hispanics (again collectively) and vice versa, and that both groups are resentful and suspicious of Asians, who seem happy to return the compliment. Georgie Anne Geyer, the newspaper columnist, invites her readers to witness the disintegration of the Soviet Union and to learn from it: the day of what she euphemistically terms the “socially complicated state” is over, she warns, or at least the writing is on the wall. Events throughout the world today have one great thing to tell us: namely, that everywhere blood is thicker than water. Modern nations that not only refuse to recognize this truth but deliberately fly in the face of it will do so at their peril.
In the light of America’s immigration problem, James Burnham’s “suicide of the West” takes on a newer meaning. From the time when the Puritans landed in Massachusetts, Americans have tended to think of themselves as members of a church whose reality has a secular dimension beyond the religious one. As the religious sensibility has waned in American society, the assurance of a quasi-religious mission has increased to the point where the United States at the end of the 20th century seems to regard itself as a collective Christ figure, redeeming the world by example and by purity of intention. But if we do succeed in crucifying ourselves, after our crucifixion we shall not rise again, and there will be no inheritors and apostles of our peculiar faith. The Third World—its cultures, its peoples—will remain emphatically in place, but we ourselves will have perished forever, having accomplished by our suicide no good for anyone save a relative handful of the world’s refugees—and even those only in the short run.
Because we will have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. The Third World is its people, not its sinister, corrupt, greedy, and incompetent governments; where the people are, there the Third World is, and will be. We have no magic alchemical atmosphere capable of imbuing Third World peoples with the ability to maintain the First World culture that created and continues to create the economic and technical fruits for which they hunger. In the collapse of European-America, nobody will be a winner except for the chronically and pathologically resentful (from our own ranks as well as from those of our supplanters), and even theirs will be a Pyrrhic victory. Then America will correspond, at last and in reality, with the description falsely applied to it in the 1960’s by Professor John Kenneth Galbraith of Harvard University, when he wrote that the United States was a land of private affluence surrounded by public squalor. It will, in other words, truly have become another Third World country.