In debate, it is always possible to be right for the wrong reason. For instance, in supporting the proposition that cannibalism is immoral, I might argue that, historically, cannibalism encouraged the killing of human beings who might otherwise have been kidnapped by Arabs or rival African tribesmen and sold into slavery in the southern United States for a substantial profit. It is also possible to be wrong for a lesser reason, as, in the present case, I would be in pressing the immorality of consuming human flesh by suggesting that it further tempts conscientious vegetarians to eat meat at any time, or Roman Catholics to eat it on Fridays.
The first argument would strike most listeners as being grossly offensive for its utilitarian reference point applied to a fundamental humanitarian issue, while the second would offend by reason of its moral triviality in respect of an issue of capital morality. In the circumstances, being right about the immorality of cannibalism is nearly as wrong and inhuman as asserting the morality of this barbarous practice would be.
Another apparent instance of the potential for wrongness in being right is a personal one. For a quarter-century now, I have argued, frequently and consistently, against mass immigration to the United States and the countries of Western Europe; I have even gone so far as to write a book about it, and to edit another. For doing so, I and similarly minded colleagues have been vilified, ostracized, and had our means of support threatened by self-described conservatives who disagreed with us on the subject—at the time. In recent years they have come round more or less to agree with our position, without ever making apology for their previous campaign of intimidation and defamation, not to mention their wrongness on the issue. Why? I can only conclude that it is a case, on our part, of premature anti-immigrationism, which is to say, of having been right for the wrong reasons, which, in turn, translates as having been right about the dangers of immigration from the wrong motives, whatever “conservatives” suspect those motives may have been. It is only a metaphor to suggest, as I do, that our country, and the civilization of which it is both part and product, have, for the past half-century, been in the process of cannibalization by hordes of barbarians (some of them in the Greek sense of the term, others not) arriving from around the world to share in Americans’ overall standard of living, political stability, and public benefits. Only a metaphor—but the metaphor, said Aristotle, is supreme among the poetic figures of speech. Aristotle’s opinion, however, would be unappealing to the new restrictionists, whose objections to a new influx of Haitian refugees to this country are less likely to reflect a concern for the voodooization of Queens, New York, than for the threat Third World immigrants pose to the future of the Republican Party and to the health of taxpayers’ pocketbooks in the financial circumstances recently assured by the passage of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, and who, in any event, would be offended by the highly insensitive invocation of the practice of cannibalism, even as a figure of speech. (We are back to reasons and motives again.)
I am by no means insensitive, as I was careful to state 14 years ago in my book, to the economic aspects of the case for immigration, or against immigration. Economics is important, as it was with the case of the Arab and native traders in Africa for many centuries. Our trade imbalance with China is obviously important, as is the transfer of our manufacturing base abroad, as is the pegging of the yuan to the dollar, as is the outsourcing of American jobs overseas, as is our indebtedness to the government in Beijing, as is our surreal national debt, and in point of fact I argue, in print and in conversation, against these things every chance I get. It is simply that economics, and economic considerations, are hardly the highest considerations in human affairs—or, if they are, they shouldn’t be. Man does not live by numbers alone. (Here I must add that, for me, “economics” in the context means all quantifiable considerations, not those of cash and property only.) And so I, too, am “offended,” as everyone else seems to be today about one thing or another, by hearing the future and fate of my country debated in quantitative terms, whether these have to do with the cost benefit or loss per capita involving immigrants; the investment value of immigration taken on the same basis; the need for immigrants to do jobs Americans won’t do or, conversely, the need for unemployed Americans to be given access to the jobs Americans won’t do so long as they are held in prison lifting weights and watching television rather than getting sent out on chain gangs to pick cherries and artichokes; the effect, positive or negative, of immigration on national “productivity”; the issue of whether immigrants take more from the public purse than they put into it; the importance of accepting technically educated immigrants and immigrant scientists as a means to maintain America’s scientific edge in the world; the need American business has for population growth to produce more consumers to purchase more consumer goods; the net cost of educating immigrant children; and so forth. It is not that these considerations are insignificant, or that arguments regarding them are foolish and futile, nor is it that quantitative concerns regarding immigration (or anything else) are unworthy per se of the great national debate. Data, for example, concerning the destruction of agricultural land to make way for more highways and farther-sprawling cities; the depletion of natural resources by an exploding population caused by immigration; the destruction of what we call “wilderness,” natural habitat, and the fauna and flora that live there; and the spread of pollution are all of the essence of the immigration battle. But these things, though they can be expressed in quantitative terms, cannot be reduced to them; they are, by nature, not quantifiable, any more than a home is reducible to a house. The United States was the home of many generations of the American people, and it is still the home of many scores of millions of their descendants (including me). For decades, this home, and with it this house, have been in the process of invasion by scores more millions of invaders, coming illegally or legalized, as the case may be, by a series of treasonous governments well lodged in the deep pockets of the quantifiers and their masters and heavily influenced by the post-Marxist ideology called multiculturalism. Americans who do not find themselves offended by the situation are not Americans at all, no more than the “new Americans” like the Mexican girl invoked by John McCain during the campaign of 2008, who, having just sneaked across the southwest border with her family, is, to the eye of the former Republican candidate for president, as truly an American as the descendant of a passenger aboard the Mayflower.
The English writer A.N. Wilson, in his book Our Times, characterizes the reign of Queen Elizabeth II as the era when “Britain ceased being Britain.” Wilson does not have solely in mind, nor does he describe, the effects of mass Muslim immigration to the United Kingdom. He is thinking of the change by which Britons ceased being Britons, an even more tragic development. While visiting England last fall I was able to observe the results of both the demographic change and the psychological one. I could have counted the immigrants I saw, supposing I had an army of counters to assist me. But I could never have described the probable state of mind of the Londoner I saw by the Marble Arch: red-faced and weathered looking, a yachtsman perhaps, wearing a tailored gray suit and dark hat and carrying a briefcase and rolled brolly, ducking through the colored crowd at the top of Park Lane where it runs up to Oxford Street. An alien in his native land, he might have been an English civil servant stranded in the Calcutta mob of a century ago. Head down, looking neither left nor right, he made his way toward Oxford Street like a ghost, seeming to pass straight through the crowd. I felt a great pity for this man and an urge to smile at or salute him, but a stranger from America, not even a presentable one, doesn’t approach an Englishman such as he on a public street. He looked like a City man, and I could only hope that, in that capacity, he was not himself one of the quantifiers who had helped bring his country to such a pass, having made a fortune for himself and his firm. Could there be any quantitative advantage to justify such a scene? Visiting London for the first time after nearly a half-century, I felt more deeply the fate of Britain than I do that of my own country—perhaps because she is our mother, racially, culturally, and politically. Julian Simon, of course, would have found all this irrational, but he has gone to his reward, on which speculation is inappropriate.
The United States has no glorious culture, no history comparable with that of Great Britain and the great Western European nations. Rooted in the thin acidic topsoil of the Enlightenment, and at a deeper level in the even thinner and more acid subsoil of Puritanism; deprived of an hereditary aristocracy for which a more or less barbaric plutocracy has necessarily substituted; mentally and socially crippled by bumpkin preachers at the bottom of the religious structure and by otiose transcendentalist divines at its top; retarded by its frontier culture; corrupted by the worship of money, science, and technique and by the false religions of Progress and Democracy—high culture at the European level was never to be a part of America’s destiny. (The English, despite the self-inflicted and incurable wound of the Reformation, at least had the sense to kick the sectarians out at the beginning of the 17th century. Chesterton, on a lecture tour in the United States, quipped, to nobody’s amusement, that Great Britain, too, should have her own Thanksgiving Day, offering up her heartfelt thanks for the God-sent departure of the Puritans from England.) And yet American civilization, despite its undeniable shallowness by comparison with that of Europe, does represent the cultural and intellectual flowering of a unique, vigorous, and interesting people who succeeded for a time in creating a culture well suited to, and highly expressive of, its geographical and material circumstances, as Tocqueville understood. The trouble with America is that she never realized her great potential, and the chief reason that she failed to do so is the irresponsible profligacy of her immigration policy, driven almost entirely at the behest, indeed the demand, of the business and industrial elites who, from the beginning, showed no concern for the future of their country but merely for what they might realize from it in the short term. (How could it have been otherwise? They were wealthy men of business, not aristocrats, whose historical role has been to act as husbandmen for their countries.) Mass culture, together with mass democracy, by themselves ensured the destruction of the traditional American civilization (America’s colonial past, remember, is nearly as long as her history as the United States), but the racial and ethnic fragmentation of society produced by immigration ensured that the old civilization was not long for this world.
There is no more chance, of course, of restoring the old American Republic, either in political spirit or in general culture, than of restoring the Roman Republic. And so there would be no need or excuse for deploring its passage but for one thing: As the history of the West since 1789 shows, a bad situation, no matter how bad, can always be made worse. As socially fragmented as American society has become, and as much as its culture has been degraded by immigration, they will inevitably become more so if mass immigration from the Third World is not soon halted. There are, still, many valuable relicts that deserve to be preserved. But contemporary mainstream culture will not permit this truth to be spoken when the message is expressed in subjective historical, cultural, and moral terms. The demons of multiculturalism simply will not permit such a thing. Statistics are acceptable, though generally not welcome. Statistics are social science, after all, and social science is the study of man objectivized, depersonalized, and quantified. Statistics are thought to be cleansed of motives, and as such are tolerated in the endless, and endlessly self-renewing, immigration debate. Unfortunately, the only considerations relevant to the debate that are also of crucial significance are by nature unquantifiable and madly resist statistical expression.
When, a couple of decades or more ago, a colleague of mine introduced such vital concerns in respect of immigration at a policy meeting in Washington, he was taken aside privately and warned that he risked professional ostracism by departing from the conventional, and conventionalized, statistically based arguments against immigration. His answer was that, if he couldn’t discuss the issues that really mattered, he preferred not to have a part in the debate at all. Of course, this man continued to talk and write about immigration, and on his own terms, but all of us on our side, for a time, were the worse for it, thanks to the political intrigues of the “conservative” johnny-come-lately anti-immigrationists, who, even now, can scarcely bring themselves to address the cultural issue with regard to immigration and, so far as I know, have never once expressed the opinion that America was a better place before the great waves of immigration at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, or even the year 1965, when the surviving Kennedy brothers conspired to put through the Immigration Act that has subsequently all but wrecked the United States as a socially and politically coherent nation. Nevertheless, I wish them the satisfaction of mind and the purity of conscience that come with the achievement of arriving at correct conclusions by way of all the wrong and most irrelevant arguments. That, at least, is more than what the vast majority of American journalists, academics, and politicians have managed to do.
This article first appeared in the June 2010 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.
21 Responses »
- Chilton Williamson, Jr., on Immigration | Conservative Heritage Times
- Daily Reading | Conservative Heritage Times