Skip to comments.Immigration and the Common Culture (Mexifornia: A State of Becoming)review
Posted on 01/28/2004 2:52:25 PM PST by Federalist 78
Mexifornia: A State of Becoming. By Victor Davis Hanson. Encounter. 150 pp. $21.95.
In his latest work, Mexifornia: A State of Becoming, Victor Davis Hanson offers a report from immigrations front lines. An unusual but appealing mix of argument and autobiography, Mexifornia provides a compellingand frighteningportrayal of the transformations that decades of mass immigration have wrought in the cultural and political fabric of California. Hansons anecdotal account of his own life therefrom attending grade school with mostly Mexican-American classmates and working alongside Mexican laborers on his generations-old family farm, to confronting Mexican trespassers stealing fruit or dumping garbage on his propertyproves a most effective vehicle for conveying the deep costs our current wave of immigration has brought to his state: crime, poverty, inferior education, ethnic separatism, the creation of a new racial underclass, and a vague but insidious atmosphere of lawlessness and fear.
Critics of immigration have, of course, worried about these consequences since at least the 1980s. Hansons book is more interesting for his spirited attack on a pair of unlikely allies who bear special responsibility for our current immigration mess: the corporate and libertarian right, and the multiculturalist left. Corporate America, eager for the quick profits of cheap labor but indifferent to the long-term costs for the country, has imported a class of diligent and cheap workers. Somewhere around age forty, however, these once-strong immigrant bodies give out, no longer able to sustain the physical grind of menial labor, leaving behind an ever-growing class of uneducated poor who are dependent for their survival on state assistance or crime and are permanently excluded from the prosperous world of middle-class America, with only their bitterness to bequeath their children. (Given the tendency to dismiss as racist all criticisms of immigration from the right, it is worth emphasizing the considerable empathy with which Hanson describes the plight of these Mexican immigrants.)
Hanson is even more critical, however, of the "race industry" on the multicultural left. Their program of bilingualism and ethnic separatism, combined with an unshakeable faith in the deep racism of mainstream America, divides the state into warring ethnic groups and denies to immigrants the opportunity for the only kind of educationin history and civics, literature and mathematicsthat could equip them for success in their new country. Noting persistent Mexican educational failure under the multiculturalist regime, Hanson pointedly writes, "[I]t is now legitimate to question the very motives of some in the . . . movement: do they wish the best for the children of aliens who are poor, or continued spoils for themselves who are affluent?" Indeed.
We should not imagine, though, that Hansons indictment applies only to agribusiness and multiculturalism. They may have most actively pursued the policies behind our current problems, but many more are complicit in the fiasco. Indeed, confronted by Hansons criticisms, we all stand in the dockall of us ordinary Americans who have made "the Devils bargain . . . to avoid cutting our own lawns, watching our own kids, picking our peaches, laying our tile, and cleaning our toilets." If we think that only others are to blame, we deceive ourselves.
If the decay runs this deep, what are we to do? Apart from maintaining the disastrous status quo, Hanson offers three alternatives. We could permit continued high levels of legal and illegal immigration, but embark on a serious new program of Americanization, replacing bilingualism and multiculturalism with an insistence on quick assimilation; we could forgo assimilation and make our peace with multiculturalism, but crack down on illegal immigration while also curtailing legal immigration; orHansons preferred approachwe could both restrict immigration and insist upon assimilation by those immigrants who do come.
Having surveyed these possibilities, Hanson ends on a note of guarded optimism: "To recover our state, our region, and ultimately our nation, we still need not do everything right." Yet his own arguments underline the difficulty of any of the three alternatives he proposes. This becomes clear from his discussion, in the books most interesting and provocative chapter, of American popular culture as an engine of assimilation. In spite of having abandoned traditional efforts to assimilate immigrants, we have been granted a reprieve from chaos, Hanson argues, only because American popular culture has proved extraordinarily powerful at incorporating people of all backgrounds into a single global culture that is accessible to all because it rests upon lowest-common-denominator appeals to basic human passions. "Globalization can now unite any two people from the most disparate backgrounds in taste, appearance, and manner of daily life." This has serious costs, because it substitutes "schlock" for real culture, "exchange[s] standards and taste for raw inclusiveness," and at best "gives America a few years of respite before we must deal with the catastrophe that we are not educating millions, not teaching them a common and elevated culture, and not addressing the dilemma of open borders."
At the same time, this popular culture is relentlessly and radically democratic and egalitarian, creating a historically unprecedented situation in which age-old barriers of race, class, and sex are destroyed among a mass of people who wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, watch the same television shows, and buy the same consumer goods. Without these homogenizing effects, Hanson suggests, we could not have gotten away even this long with our unwillingness to promote a more substantial common culture in the face of mass immigration.
Unfortunately, these effects of the popular culture raise deep questions about the possibility of Hansons various alternatives for righting the ship. Any approach that merely seeks to cut immigration levels without addressing the issue of assimilation seems bound to fail, for it would leave the task of Americanization to the popular culture. But, as Hanson notes, such "superficial immersion in American culture is no substitute for real civic education about American history, culture, and values." Sustaining a valuable culture does not happen automatically; it requires real work. As Hanson writes, "Our elites do not understand just how rare consensual government is in the history of civilization." If we wish it to endure, we must actively seek to maintain it.
So the only real alternatives are those that include genuine attention to the task of preserving a common culture capable of sustaining self-government. Yet Hansons discussion of popular culture leaves one deeply pessimistic about the possibility of launching a new program of assimilation. For as familiarity with the historic American culture vanishes behind "the high-decibel magnetism of popular entertainment and its ferocious dumbing-down to the level of easiest comprehension and acceptance," into what exactly do we propose to assimilate newcomers? And who, apart from Hanson and a few others, will know how to do the assimilating? Who will even want to?
Any proposal to give immigrants a "real civic education about American history, culture, and values" presupposes that significant numbers of Americans still know what those are. But Hansons discussion of the popular culture calls that assumption into question. Despite its optimistic close, Hansons entire book describes a country in serious moral declinefrom the lawless illegal immigrants themselves, to the "race hustlers" who preserve their own power by creating an ethnic clientele of unassimilated dependents; from the agribusiness corporations, chasing quick profits without regard for long-term public consequences, to the ordinary American citizens who, out of laziness or selfishness, insist on cheap gardeners and nannies while leaving their grandchildren to deal with the social effects of illegal immigration. If the possible solutions that Hanson proposes seem, on the evidence of his own arguments, unlikely, that is in part, at least, because he offers no indication of how such decline can be reversed.
In light of this moral decline, it is useful to consider what resources religion has to offer in building support for a renewed defense of a common American culture. Whether Hanson himself would agree with the following observations, I do not know, since he does not discuss religion. Nevertheless, his account of our immigration dilemma suggests three main obstacles (the enumeration is mine, not his) to a reassertion of Americas cultural and political identity. A culture informed by a Christian sensibility can potentially help counter all three.
The first obstacle is cultural relativism, with its denial that "some other cultures and nations have been not merely different, but often far worse at providing freedom and security for their people." Christian moral principles, by contrast, provide ethical standards for judging between governmental systems or ways of life that do better or worse jobs of permitting human beings to flourish. At the same time, because it emphasizes human fallibility and counsels humility, a Christian outlook guards against triumphalism. It permits us to affirm and defend what is good in our own tradition without insisting that all people everywhere adopt precisely the same tradition.
Hansons second obstacle to a renewed insistence on assimilation is the corrosive effect of the popular culture already described. By undermining standards of taste and discernment and appealing (through the drive for profit) to those basic human passions shared by the broadest possible audience, it gradually substitutes a culture that is cosmopolitan but low for one more distinctively American. A Christian ethics, by reasserting the importance of standards, can exercise a check on this downward slide and thus reopen a space for maintaining a richer culture, one that elevates us above our lowest instincts. In doing so, it can help us understand (in Burkes famous phrase) that "art is mans nature"that we become more fully human precisely through the cultural traditions that distinguish us from other peoples, with their own distinctive traditions.
Finally, there is the question of whether we are willing to defend our own way of life. Even if we recognize its value, after all, it need not follow that we think ourselves justified in maintaining it, particularly when doing so requiresas it does in the immigration contextsummoning the coercive power of the state (and a relatively privileged state, at that) against needy and vulnerable outsiders in search of a better life. The trend of much contemporary political thoughtespecially those versions of liberalism (they are not its only versions) that regard all political assertions of cultural norms as "impositions"is that we are not so justified. The Christian moral tradition, to be sure, regards the use of force against such people as requiring justification. Yet it also reminds us that in addition to our universal obligations to all human beings as humans, we also have, as creatures of time and space, special obligations towards those people with whom we stand in special relationshipsfamily, neighbors, countrymen. In so doing, it helps us see that the preservation of our common life can indeed be a justifiable political endeavor.
Insofar as Christianity remains a vital force in American society, then, it provides potential resources for defending Hansons proposed policiesand for justifying, at least sometimes, the defense of our common life. Whether that defense is justified in any particular case, of course, calls for careful political and ethical reflection. But if Victor Davis Hanson is right, we had better not reflect too long.
Peter C. Meilaender, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Houghton College in New York State, is the author of Toward a Theory of Immigration (Palgrave).
The Key Concepts of Transnational Progressivism
ANTI-ASSSIMILATION ON THE HOME FRONT
It is significant, but little noticed, that many of same NGOs (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International) and international law professors who have advocated transnational legal concepts at UN meetings and in international forums are active in U.S immigration and naturalization law. On this front the global progressives have pursued two objectives: (1) eliminating all distinctions between citizens and non-citizens and (2) vigorously opposing attempts to assimilate immigrants into the "dominate Anglo culture."
Thus, Louis Henkin, one of the most prominent scholars of international law when discussing immigration/assimilation issues attacks "archaic notions of sovereignty" and calls for largely eliminating "the difference between a citizen and a non-citizen permanent resident" in all federal laws. Columbia University international law professor Stephen Legomsky argues that dual nationals in influential positions (who are American citizens) should not be required to give "greater weight to U.S. interests, in the event of a conflict" between the United States and the other country, in which the American citizen is also a dual national.
Two leading law professors (Peter Spiro from Hofstra, who has written extensively in support of NGOs, and Peter Schuck from Yale) complain that "since 1795" immigrants seeking American citizenship are required "to renounce all allegiance and fidelity to their old nations." In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, they advocate dropping this "renunciation clause" from the Oath. They also reject the concept of the hyphenated American and prefer what they call the "ampersand" individual. Thus, instead of thinking of a traditional Mexican-American who is a loyal citizen, but proud of his ethnic roots, they prefer immigrants (or migrants) who are both "Mexican & American," who retain "loyalties" to their "original homeland" and vote in both countries, thus ignoring the solemn Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance.
University Professor Robert Bach was the author of a major Ford Foundation report on new and "established residents" (the word "citizen" was assiduously avoided) that advocated the "maintenance" of ethnic immigrant identities, supported "non-citizen voting," and attacked assimilation (suggesting that homogeneity not diversity "may" be the "problem in America.") Bach later left the Ford Foundation and became deputy director for policy at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in the Clinton Administration, where he joined forces with then INS general counsel T. Alexander Alienikoff, to promote a pro-multicultural, anti-assimilation federal policy. Alienikoff, a former (and current) immigration law professor, has characteristically declared, "we need to move beyond assimilation."
It has been well-documented (through Congressional hearings and investigative reporting) that the financial backing for this anti-assimilationist campaign has come primarily from the Ford Foundation, which in the 1970s made a conscious decision to fund a Latino rights movement based on advocacy-litigation and group rights rather than on civic assimilation. On this front, the global progressives have been aided if not always consciously, certainly in objective terms, by a "transnational right." It was a determined group of transnational conservative Senators and Congressmen that prevented the Immigration Reform legislation of 1996 from reducing unskilled immigration. The same group worked with progressives to block the implementation of a computerized plan to track the movement of foreign visitors in and out of the United States. Whatever their ideological, commercial, or political motives, the constant demand for "open borders" and "free movement" of people as well as goods by the Wall Street Journals editorial pages and by certain commentators, lobbyists, and activists on the transnational right has strengthened the anti-assimilationist agenda of the global progressives.
What are the prospects for containing or rolling back the multicultural theocracy?
Note I do not think these battles will solve long-term problems; unless Western peoples start having families again, the social unit and population base needed for a civilization will be lacking.
While societies can assimilate, there are three presuppositions that must obtain: a core population that carries a distinctive culture that it hopes to preserve; a minority that is accepted on the condition that it eagerly embraces that majority culture; and a sufficiently controlled immigration so that assimilation is possible.
In Los Angeles, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide (which total 1,200 to 1,500) target illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) are for illegal aliens.
Immigration politics have similarly harmed New York. Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani sued all the way up to the Supreme Court to defend the citys sanctuary policy against a 1996 federal law decreeing that cities could not prohibit their employees from cooperating with the INS. Oh yeah? said Giuliani; just watch me. The INS, he claimed, with what turned out to be grotesque irony, only aims to "terrorize people." Though he lost in court, he remained defiant to the end. On September 5, 2001, his handpicked charter-revision committee ruled that New York could still require that its employees keep immigration information confidential to preserve trust between immigrants and government. Six days later, several visa-overstayers participated in the most devastating attack on the city and the country in history.
But enforcing laws against illegal labor is among governments lowest priorities. In 2001, only 124 agents nationwide were trying to find and prosecute the hundreds of thousands of employers and millions of illegal aliens who violate the employment laws, the Associated Press reports.
Of the incalculable changes in American politics, demographics, and culture that the continuing surge of migrants is causing, one of the most profound is the breakdown of the distinction between legal and illegal entry. Everywhere, illegal aliens receive free public education and free medical care at taxpayer expense; 13 states offer them drivers licenses. States everywhere have been pushed to grant illegal aliens college scholarships and reduced in-state tuition. One hundred banks, over 800 law-enforcement agencies, and dozens of cities accept an identification card created by Mexico to credentialize illegal Mexican aliens in the U.S. The Bush administration has given its blessing to this matricula consular card, over the strong protest of the FBI, which warns that the gaping security loopholes that the card creates make it a boon to money launderers, immigrant smugglers, and terrorists. Border authorities have already caught an Iranian man sneaking across the border this year, Mexican matricula card in hand.
Illegal aliens and their advocates speak loudly about what they think the U.S. owes them, not vice versa
Despite the voices of those who naively believe that the influx of this estimated 9 to 13 million illegal aliens into the United States is a positive thing, the fact of the matter is that illegal immigration is having an extremely negative impact upon America at many levels. Unfortunately, the majority of illegal aliens who are here are engaged in criminal activity. Identity theft, use of fraudulent social security numbers and green cards, tax evasion, driving without licenses represent some of the crimes that are engaged in by the majority of illegal aliens on a daily basis merely to maintain and hide their illegal status. In addition, violent crime and drug distribution and possession is also prevalent among illegal aliens.
In summary, let me therefore state unequivocally that as a state prosecutor, I believe that this legislation is necessary. However, I caution you that the ultimate success of this goal will be based upon the political will of both political parties here in Washington. Quite frankly, I am not very optimistic. I believe that both the Republicans and the Democrats are to blame for the present lack of enthusiasm on the part of the government to enforce immigration laws. Business interests that often influence Republican Party politics clearly want cheap labor and often employ illegal aliens in menial jobs paid less than the minimum wage. On the other hand, the Democratic Party continuously at the national level panders to ethnic politics.
Is there any possible way to force our alleged leaders to follow the law?
There are elections & The Revolutionary Second Amendment.
I just don't know if that approach has enough teeth to force adherence to the Constitution.
Your comment about force is accurate. Boils down to the ballot, or bullet on this issue. The RNC/DNC is too heavily invested in illegal immigration for it to be settled in any other way. The RNC knows that conservatives will not vote independent and aren't capable of revolution. The ruling class has the working class exactly where they want them.
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