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Round Table Discussion

Shoot the Losers

Immigration and the End of Constitutional Government

The novelist F. Reid Buckley once told a story about a Mexican woman who worked for his family as a maid or nanny during the 1930's. The woman knew that Buckley's father, William F. Buckley, Sr., was a strong opponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential campaign. When she learned that Roosevelt had actually won the election, she burst into tears: She assumed that the FDR victory meant that Mr. Buckley would now be shot.

Given the resemblances between Roosevelt and the European dictators of the same era, the woman may have been closer to the truth than most people realize, and if on one level the story illustrates how constitutional government may not be able to survive mass immigration from countries where constitutionalism and its presuppositions are virtually unknown, it also suggests that Americans were perfectly capable of destroying their own constitutional tradition without the help of any immigrants—from the Third World, anyway.

Constitutional government depends upon shared, unwritten, and largely unconscious assumptions drawn from the civilizational ocean on which a paper constitution floats. Any given constitution—the British, the American, or even what those in Europe like to call their "constitutions"—derives from a larger political culture, a body of norms that govern the pursuit and uses of power far more intimately than any set of written laws, court decisions,...

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