Social Conservatism Isn’t Enough. Culture Matters, Too.

Every so often, I’m reminded that the American right is a broad coalition, one defined less by what it is for than what it is against. We agree that the left’s agenda is a wicked one and that it should be stopped. Beyond that, however, disagreement exists on a number of key issues.

Immigration is one such issue. While many conservatives oppose mass immigration, some erroneously believe that Third World immigrants have the potential to make America more conservative. This view is painfully incorrect—and dangerous. Social conservatism is important, but it cannot come at the expense of cultural issues.

Joel Berry, managing editor at The Babylon Bee, caused an uproar on Twitter when he voiced his support for illegal immigrants. “Unpopular take: mass immigration could save this country,” he wrote. “These are hard-working, mostly Christian/Catholic people coming in.” Berry received a torrent of critical replies, but his tweet also garnered thousands of likes, suggesting that his takes were not universally unpopular.

He continued: “It’s a fact that first-generation Americans are more hard-working, more appreciative of America’s blessings, and more likely to have traditional families.”

Such positions are nothing new. Paleoconservatives have rebutted these talking points for years, yet the assertions still persist on the right.

Berry was presumably comparing these immigrants to American citizens. He wasn’t the first to do so. Neoconservative and self-avowed “Never Trumper” Bill Kristol made similarly disparaging remarks at an American Enterprise Institute event in February 2017. “Look, to be totally honest, if things are so bad as you say with the white working class, don’t you want to get new Americans in?” asked Kristol. He went on to allege that native Americans have become “decadent, lazy, spoiled.”

Aligning with Bill Kristol on a major issue should give any sincere conservative pause. But Berry doubled down, characterizing his critics as “Nazis” and “racists.”

His perspective was best summarized in the following tweet: “These people coming in are culturally conservative. Who knows—they just might save our culture.” (The term “social conservatism,” which refers to traditional values, is more applicable to what Berry describes.)

I, for one, am fairly confident that immigrants—legal or illegal—will not save our culture. Even if the immigrants flooding our country were paragons of conservatism, their culture would still be alien to ours. How can we save our culture by replacing it with someone else’s? It’s a nonsensical proposal.

Many conservatives share my reservations. A national University of Massachusetts Amherst poll published last October found that one-half of Americans and two-thirds of Republicans “say the growth in the number of immigrants in the country means that America is in danger of losing its culture and identity.”

But what about making the country more conservative? As Tucker Carlson pointed out in April 2021, underlying the Democratic Party’s push for mass immigration is a desire to import a new voting bloc. “If you change the population, you dilute the political power of the people who live there,” he said. “So every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter.”

There are certainly great conservatives of all races. Still, 60 percent of Hispanics voted for the Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections. Until immigrants and their descendants begin overwhelmingly voting red, Berry’s argument is undermined. Further waves of immigration—including the massive influx of illegals crossing the border every day—are going to make America less, not more, conservative.

Electoral politics isn’t the only angle. Cultural factors must also be considered.

Political scientist Charles Murray highlights this dilemma in his review of Yascha Mounk’s book, The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure. Murray writes that although “democracies throughout the world are becoming more ethnically diverse, the only example of such a democracy that has sustained itself for a significant period of time is the United States—and American democracy itself is in trouble.”

Murray is correct about American democracy. In a February 2022 Gallup poll, only 28 percent of Americans reported being satisfied with race relations. Cities across America burned in 2020 after the death of George Floyd. Official U.S. policies include anti-white indoctrination in the form of critical race theory and discrimination against whites via affirmative action. We’re headed to a minority-majority. Does any of this bode well for the future?

History is filled with examples of multicultural societies torn asunder by ethnic strife and leftist ideology, like South Africa and Yugoslavia. On the other hand, examples of successful diverse societies are few and far between—particularly in democratic systems.

A meta-analysis, published in the Annual Review of Political Science and titled “Ethnic Diversity and Social Trust: A Narrative and Meta-Analytical Review,” tells the same story using the social sciences. The authors examined a whopping 87 studies on the subject. “We find a statistically significant negative relationship between ethnic diversity and social trust across all studies,” they wrote. “The relationship is stronger for trust in neighbors and when ethnic diversity is measured more locally.”

Liberals will conflate criticism of diversity as a societal model with racial animus, but one can recognize that the former comes at a cost without adopting the latter. And it isn’t as if such a recognition is limited to white people. Believe it or not, many non-white conservatives advocate for immigration restriction for similar reasons. 

Cultural issues clearly matter. Social conservatism alone cannot reverse American decline. But the two needn’t be viewed as mutually exclusive. If you’ll recall, there was a man who ran for president in 2016 on a campaign of border security, sane gender norms, immigration restriction, sanctity of life, Christianity, and law and order—and he won. Conservatives who believe immigrants can guide us back to traditional values would do well to disabuse themselves of such fantasies. No one’s coming to save us—certainly not illegal immigrants. It’s up to Americans to right the ship.

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