Vivek Ramaswamy and the Propositional Nation

Vivek Ramaswamy last week announced that he is throwing his hat in the ring for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. A self-described capitalist and entrepreneur, he claims to be a conservative determined to fight the woke agenda of the Democratic Party.

Recognizing that immigration tops the list of concerns for a vast number of Americans, especially in flyover America, Ramaswamy made that topic one of his early talking points. His approach to the issue reveals the problem with the way most politicians talk about American identity, as if it means merely subscribing to a set of ideals.   

“We’ve forgot all of the ways we are really just the same as Americans, bound by a common set of ideals that set this nation into motion 250 years ago.” Ramaswamy said on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

Ramaswamy’s bait and switch on immigration came in a typical way: he immediately shifted from analysis of our immigration dynamics to emphasizing that the real problem is with illegal immigration. As if the clash of civilizations within the Western world could be solved by simply legalizing the import of the non-Western world.

We should have more immigrants from India, like his parents, Ramaswamy said.  Taking aim against affirmative action policies, he argues that immigration should be based on merit. This policy would privilege Asian immigrants, who displace many native-born Americans from white-collar jobs, especially in the tech sector. “America’s strength is not our diversity but the ideals that unify us across our differences,” Ramaswamy tweeted following his appearance on Tucker.

The “unity of ideals” is the abstraction of America as a propositional nation, which is empty rhetoric. It leaves out the question of cultural compatibility and America’s cultural history: to what extent would these southeast Asians Ramaswamy favors find themselves sentimentally disposed to defend the honor and integrity of historically Anglo-American cultural norms?

In reality, the opposite of Ramaswamy’s claim is true: the doctrine of the propositional nation is one of the leading causes of the collapse of America. By refusing to see that America is a place constituted by its particular people—a people with a particular past, ethnicity, and culture—the American elite have been able to transform this country from an earlier way of life to the very thing that Ramaswamy represents: internationalism and rootless, interchangeable individuals.

Ramaswamy, as a “conservative,” is a different breed of liberal from the woke left, but they both agree on this: America’s predominantly British and Western European roots, norms, habits, styles, demeanors, customs, and priorities are not fundamental to her identity. America, in this view, is not constituted by her experience, by the struggles shared and the mountains of history climbed by her people. Instead, she is allegedly unified by a set of abstract ideals derived from her founding documents, the interpretation of which is subject to change as ulterior needs arise.

Is America just a geographical space that can be filled with any individual? Is America merely an outpost of economic activity where wealth-seeking individuals from around the globe can parachute in to fulfill their material dreams?

Authentic conservatism has always held that a nation must honor its past and transmit it to the future. A nation built merely on ideals produces a nation in perpetual turmoil, not only because it’s impossible to agree on the interpretation of these ideals, but also because it neglects the true bonds that tie a people together. The myth of propositional unity that Ramaswamy peddles will only fuel the cultural clash coming when the mutually exclusive ways of life held by Americans and immigrants come into conflict.

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