August 5, 2019
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
REALISM on Immigration and National Identity – Professor Amy Wax
Is Separation In Our Country’s Future?
Back on July 27 I offered a column in this series titled “Nationalism vs. Secession: Should America Break Up? It included references to and a reprint of an essay I had published at THE UNZ REVIEW (July 26), and then was picked up nationally by a number of other Web magazines, including LewRockwell (July 29) and The Abbeville Institute (August 2). The LewRockwell site gets literally tens of thousands of readers, so I think it safe to say that the column has by now been widely read.
For that MY CORNER essay “Nationalism vs. Secession,” I added a new introduction in which I briefly discussed a recent “National Conservatism Conference” held in Washington DC back on July 14-15, and I mentioned that convincing evidence exists that its organizers (e.g., Yoram Hazony, David Brog, etc.) had as their purpose to attempt to “corral” and in some way assert control over the increasingly restless nationalist and populist elements (and they are not necessarily the same) of the Right in America. In a sense those “dissident” elements had been unleashed and awakened and given respectability by the election of Donald Trump who was not by definition an Establishment Conservative, that is, not a card carrying member of “conservatism inc.”
I quoted some excellent pieces on this effort to control, in particular essays by Dr. Paul Gottfried and journalist Christopher DeGroot (editor of The Agonist). I refer you to these essays; and since then Christopher has authored a sequel.
Here is a segment from July 27 with citations to several of those critical articles that may enable us to understand the origin and the surreptitious and real purposes of that conference:
What was fascinating about the over-priced conference was its list of invitees, or rather the glaring absence of certain significant voices that should have been in attendance but, very pointedly, weren’t invited, including Professor Paul Gottfried, perhaps the world’s leading authority on the decline of democracy and the rise of nationalism and populism globally.
And there was certainly a very good reason for that. For Gottfried note and would have thrown a huge monkey wrench into Hazony’s effort to suborn the unruly nationalist and populist tendencies on the American Right. Gottfried clearly sees through the transparent efforts by figures such as the Zionist scholar and some other members of the establishment to reign in the restive “new Right” which no longer trusts or accepts the failed program of the nugatory and pallid “conservative movement,” what Gottfried has rightly called
In Christopher DeGroot’s essays he mentions that even though conference organizer David Brog announced at the outset that the conference would NOT consider anything concerning race or ethnicity—these topics were off limits to the (respectable) “conservatives” gathered there—at least one intrepid conference speaker, Dr. Amy Wax, Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, transgressed the taboo. And the reason is quite obvious: how can anyone discuss what is going on in America today…how can there be any talk of nationalism or so-called “national identity”…how can we hope to comprehend the rise of populism…how is it possible to understand the ideological narrative of the lunatic progressivist social justice warriors who completely dominate one political party and scare the hell out of the other…without examining the huge pink elephant in the room: race?
Professor Wax’s presentation was met by the academic and media establishment with horror and charges that she was—of course—a racist. But the facts speak for themselves. In her presentation she focused on race and ethnicity from a cultural perspective, that is, what the unlimited infusion of essentially “unmixable” Third World immigrants is doing to what is left of traditional American culture, and the effects it is having on our historic institutions.
Certainly, implicit in any such discussion, “race” must also be considered because a vast majority of immigrants, both illegal and legal, are non-white. And the simple fact is that race and racial homogeneity do make a critical difference in how our society responds and, critically, how it exists as a culture and a polity. Historical examples abound, and historical efforts to meet multi-ethnic situations can provide a roadmap.
Here we can cite several notable examples. There is, of course, the Roman Empire and its diverse system of subinfeudated kingdoms and satrapies. Then, of course, there is the British Empire and how it existed, and for a couple of centuries, thrived; or the multi-lingual and multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire: just several examples.
And in these cases, there were certain “keys,” certain essentials that basically kept those imperial states more or less in unity or confederation.
Certainly, in the more recent British and Habsburg cases there were revered monarchs whose influence and nearly sacral positions went well beyond ethnicity and local nationality. Those monarchs symbolized the authority which united in very special ways all the different peoples and divergent states. A Hungarian might dislike a Croatian and speak a different language, for instance, but both could revere the emperor in Vienna and the dynasty which reached back to the early Middle Ages as a symbol of continuity, history, and a quasi-religious and civilizational mission.
Then, both the Brits and Habsburg understood—in some cases, had to learn the hard way—that regionalism, local control, and autarky were essential if the empire was to stay together. Thus, the functioning British Raj in India and the series of “sub-monarchies” and states under the British crown. Thus, the Habsburg understanding in 1867 that Hungary must have its own local and national authority, but, of course, under the old Kaiser (and then King/Konig), Franz Josef. And Franz Josef’s heir, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand wanted to extend that regional autonomization under the Kaiser to Slavic regions of the empire as well. Indeed, that was one of the precise reasons he was assassinated in July 1914 by a Serb nationalist—to keep him from following through on that program (which might well have prevented the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire).
Interestingly, as a kind of an aside confirmation of this: the famous Czech composer Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884), whose Slavonic Dances and opera The Bartered Bride are world famous, was a fervent supporter of what could be called “Czech nationalism.” In a real sense he was the founder of modern Czech classical music. Yet, in 1853 he composed his “Triumphal Symphony” which combines the Habsburg national anthem, “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser” in an incredibly moving final musical apotheosis—celebrating the young Habsburg monarch in Vienna, with a hope expressed in music that the empire would recognize the regionalist and popular aspirations of the Czech peoples UNDER THE GERMAN-LANGUAGE HABSBURGS…perhaps like what later occurred with the Hungarians.
All of this is to say, in summary, that countries with divergent populations, with differing ethnicities and historical backgrounds may only successfully exist with a modicum of liberty if those differences are fully taken into account and acknowledged publicly and in law constitutionally…and if those differences do not reach a breaking point where conversation and commonality and adherence to certain central principles cease to exist.
What Professor Wax understands, and what the Establishment Conservative movement fails to understand, is that the creaky old American “nation,” certainly since the defeat of the forces of Constitutionalism on the battlefield in 1865, has become what the authors, the Kennedy brothers (Donald and Ronald) call the “Yankee Empire,” an administrative state where a concentrated and largely-untouchable and unelected managerial bureaucracy and political and academic class, essentially governs the rest of us as virtual retainers and enslaved subjects.
The Achilles’ Heel and undoing of this “empire”—and it is something Dr. Wax notices—is its glaring acquiescence to the continuing waves of non-white, non-assimilable immigrants, enthusiastically supported by open borders groups (progressivists in league with corporate business types). And what has occurred has been a heretofore uncontrolled influx and a resultant frenzied multiculturalism, enforced by an equally frenzied and rigid political correctness in both law and practice…and not just at the behest of the new immigrants.
For the open borders template is only part of a vision of America as a kind of “global nation” in which there is no nationality save “citizenship in the world” and in which regional character and historical traditions, ethnicity, religious belief and heritage, and shared common experience are all subsumed and, in effect, abolished in the name of an amorphous concept of “humanity,” to be guided by progressivist ideologies of race and gender, and zealous opposition to heritage and historic identity.
This globalism, let it be said, is not so much the opposite of American nationalism (which it attempts to harness and divert), as it is the inverse of a genuine and rooted American populism which has never been completely extirpated, despite the best efforts of the administrative state.
The result, then, of this process has been the de facto centrifugal “break up” of the “American empire,” into divided belief structures and uncommunicating divisions which are very probably not reparable. In other words, the genie is out of the lamp, and Humpty-Dumpty has fallen and shattered into a thousand pieces, and most likely very little can be done to put those pieces back into an American whole.
The Progressivists recognize this, and, in a way, it explains their relentless efforts to suppress any and all opposition to their plans and ideological template, including de-legitimating any discordant voices, enacting new “civil rights” laws, and now Internet censorship. In other words, the suppression and subjugation of one part of America by another part, with no limitations on methods, all to control a nation that in fact appears to be breaking up.
This was the message of my columns, and it is something that lurks as a underlying cautionary note in Professor Wax's address. No: she does not advocate secession or separation. But her well-thought-out observations and commentary offer a dire warning: our present policies of immigration and domestic favoritism of discordant Third World populations are pointedly against our native population which is—speaking the unspeakable—mostly white.
As a part of the swirling maelstrom and rapidly devolving, unbridgeable divisions in our society, this may well lead to a situation where at least one the three potential scenarios I wrote about in my essays will assuredly occur:
Either a continuation of the present course, with one group—the post-Marxist Progressivist—basically subjugating any opposition, and the disappearance of America as we have known it.
Or, there will be some climatic event, a mammoth depression or war that could cause people to come to their senses (but may well will not), followed most probably by a fierce dictatorship: political order abhors a vacuum.
Or, finally, and despite our hesitation to entertain it: a kind of separation or secession (and there are such movements even now in California and elsewhere), including progressive steps such as state interposition or nullification. Indeed, this is already occurring with states and cities basically ignoring the Federal government on sanctuary city status.
Thus, Dr. Wax is in her remarks attempting to raise (as Thomas Jefferson once wrote about the Missouri Compromise) “a fire bell in the night.” Our national policies that favor Third World immigration and an open door are destructive of what is left of the country’s unity. And, she adds, it may already be too late….And, then, what is left? Chaos, dictatorship, or separation?
And, with this, I again refer you to my earlier essay and the response to this very question. We do not have the good sense of the Habsburgs or the Brits; rather after 1865 we commenced a journey of frenetic empire-building, we continued to destroy the already gravely-wounded and impaired rights of the states and the citizens of those states. Our government elites erected what my late mentor (and founder of the Old Conservative movement) Dr. Russell Kirk called the “Pax Americana.”
I pass on a transcript of Professor Wax’s presentation. It isn’t long, but it is to the point. I follow that with some questions and responses. I hope you will read these and then think about what our future holds…and what it may hold for our children.
Here’s the transcript of what University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax said at the National Conservatism Conference on July 15, 2019.
By 26, 2019
Well, thank you very much for having me here. My task in these few minutes is to address the question of how American immigration should be structured to support a constructive American national identity—American greatness, as I put it in the title. My argument is that mainstream conservatives should take much more seriously the case for reducing and slowing our current levels of immigration. I will not address the economic reasons for curtailing immigration, although I myself believe they are, on balance, fairly compelling. Rather my focus will be on what I term the cultural case for restriction, a much thornier topic.
My position here is that conservatives need a realistic approach to immigration that best serves and preserves our country’s status and identity as a relatively high-functioning, at least for now, Western and First World nation. That status will not automatically maintain itself. It is fragile. It is precarious and vulnerable to erosion. We ought to worry more about its fragility than we do.
In a recent paper in a Georgetown Journal, I distinguished two versions of a cultural nationalist position on immigration policy. The first I termed creedal nationalism based on the belief that American identity and culture are mainly propositional. They depend on fealty to abstract ideals, concepts, and principles such as human rights, property rights, the rule of law, honest government, capitalism, et cetera.
Some creedal nationalists maintain that because it is open to anyone, at least in principle, to believe and support these ideas, there is no reason to favor immigrants from one background or another. I don’t think that conclusion necessarily follows. Many, indeed most, inhabitants of the Third World, don’t necessarily share our ideas and beliefs; others pay lip service, but don’t really comprehend them. There are exceptions of course, but most people are not exceptional. Thus, creedal nationalism could support a low and slow approach to immigration.
But the second type of nationalism is what I want to concentrate on. I term it cultural distance nationalism, and it goes further. It is based on the insight and understanding that people’s background culture can affect their ability to fit into a modern advanced society and to perform the roles needed to support and maintain it – civic, occupational, economic, technical, and the like.
According to this view, we are better off if our country is dominated numerically, demographically, politically, at least in fact if not formally, by people from the First World, from the West, than by people from countries that had failed to advance. The obstacles to making the case for this cultural distance nationalism are formidable. No surprise.
This position requires forthrightly acknowledging the stark differences between the First and the Third Worlds, their deep roots, and being honest about the homegrown conditions and failures that hold countries back—kleptocracy, corruption, lawlessness, weak institutions, and the inability or unwillingness of leaders to provide for their citizens’ basic needs, and also asking the very hard questions about why these conditions continue to persist. But these are toxic topics that lie outside the Overton window in polite society, as evidenced by the outraged reaction to Trump’s profane and grating question, “Why are we having all these people from sh-thole countries come here?” That needs to be regarded as a serious question and not just a rhetorical one.
There is currently tremendous resistance to thinking rigorously about the causes of persistently chaotic conditions in the Third World and to addressing the implications for immigration policy. Despite much ink spilled, the non-cultural explanations for chronic underdevelopment, and here it’s everything from colonialism, the all-purpose favorite, to geography, to lack of salt are routinely trotted out despite their evident implausibility, and their obvious foundation in PC strictures rather than facts.
And when it comes to immigration, few dare to challenge a pie-in-the-sky version of what the dissident right has called “the dogma of magic dirt.” People who come to the U.S., no matter from what cultural background, will quickly come to think, live, and act just like us. They will celebrate, embrace, and support our ways. They will function effectively to maintain them. Everyone is strictly equal in the potential to contribute to American life.
I admit that questioning the transformative power of “magic dirt” is hobbled by a lack of rigorous data and systematic study. But, in large part, that is because social scientists today don’t want to really confront the significance of cultural differences between the West and the rest, their stickiness, and their implications for immigration, yet these issues have commanded the attention of the rare, brave politician and a number of scholars.
Take Enoch Powell, a prophet without honor in the last century. He argued that a large influx of non-Anglo and non-Western immigrants would sow division in Britain and undermine its core Anglo-Protestant culture. He knew that numbers matter and that the way to maintain stability and dominating demography for the original peoples in a democratic society was through cautious immigration policy—a low and slow approach. As many of you may know, his name is mud today. He is an outcast, unjustly I think. He has a lot to teach us. Scholars such as Lawrence Harris and David Landis and Sam Huntington have expressed similar warnings about our own country.
Most recently, Larry Mead in his new book “The Burdens of Freedom” has argued that individualism, a key source of Western and American order, dynamism, and strength, is a distinctly First World attribute that is difficult to impart to outsiders and that it is key to maintaining our freedoms and prosperity. These insights are supported by the European experience with Muslim immigration as Dan Pipes recently spoke about and by the multi-generational trajectory of Hispanics in the United States.
The culturalist approach, the issues of cultural compatibility, were very much on the mind of the drafters of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act as the debates in Congress revealed, and of course, that is the legislation that is with us today. Yet these culturalist ideas and the scholarship of these individuals is mostly ignored and marginalized in academia.
This marginalization is largely political, but let’s face it, it’s also methodological. We must acknowledge that there’s a lot of unknowns when it comes to culture and how it operates. Our convener, Yoram Hazony, tells us we should attend to the ways in which traditions and nations are formed and what it takes to strengthen them and maintain them. But it is striking how little we understand about where distinctive habits and traditions come from, how they are transmitted down the generations, and the conditions that are needed to preserve and protect them.
There are a lot of possible explanations. One I favor is that cultural transmission is importantly shaped by the small-bore interactions within families, or mother-child, and that flies under the radar screen of the big-think theorists who tell us about cultural significance. And if you doubt that, just go to the South of France where I was recently, and you watch three-year-olds sitting for two hours at the table, their mothers prodding them every step of the way. Somebody ought to study that.
Perhaps the most important reason that the cultural case for limited immigration remains underexplored has to do with that bête noire – race. Let us be candid. Europe and the First World, to which the United States belongs, remain mostly white for now; and the Third World, although mixed, contains a lot of non-white people. Embracing cultural distance, cultural distance nationalism, means, in effect, taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites. Well, that is the result anyway. So even if our immigration philosophy is grounded firmly in cultural concerns, doesn’t rely on race at all, and no matter how many times we repeat the mantra that correlation is not causation, these racial dimensions are enough to spook conservatives.
As a result, today we have an immigration policy driven by fear—the fear of being accused of racism, white supremacy, xenophobia—which has cowed and paralyzed opinion leaders, policymakers, politicians across the spectrum and impeded their ability to think clearly. That fear leads conservatives to avoid talking about cultural distance or questioning the happy fantasy of “magic dirt” or discussing forthrightly the practical difficulties of importing large numbers of people from backwards states into successful ones. And as long as these taboos exist and respectable mainstream conservatives defer to them, it will be hard, maybe impossible, to change course.
Our country’s future trajectory, however, will not be determined by political correctness, but by reality and facts on whether cultural differences really matter, whether they are stubborn, and whether they have consequences. And by the time that becomes clear and that dynamic plays out, it may be too late to turn the ship, and it may well be too late already.
Our legacy [e.g, native white] population is demoralized, beleaguered, and disorganized. They may no longer be able to serve as a model for anyone to emulate, which brings me to another important development which undergirds hostility to cultural distance thinking but also strengthens the case for taking it seriously. And this is, the rise of multicultural identity politics—topic for this conference, a hot topic for discussion among conservatives, and an ideology increasingly championed by minority and newcomer elites.
Multiculturalist elites resist the assimilation of immigrants to a uniform American way of life or to any Western prototype. But here’s the key point. This resistance is fueled by resentment of the First World’s primacy and hostility towards European dominance, traditions, and achievements. Reihan Salam of the Manhattan Institute calls this punitive multiculturalism. I prefer [the term] revenge or adversary multiculturalism. And for the definitive expression of this, look no further than the writings of Indian-American NYU journalism professor, Suketu Mehta. In his book, “This Land Is Our Land,” the author depicts the West success as entirely illicit, built on violence, on exploitation, built on theft from Third World peoples.
Ingenuity, honest effort, well-functioning institutions have nothing to do with it. Because the West is to blame for all the Third World ills, unlimited and unregulated mass Third World migration to the West is mete recompense for the victims and just comeuppance for Western crimes.
According to Mehta, immigrants should not join the mainstream or try and preserve and protect what makes America great, but should just take over from the “white power structure.” And of course he pays no attention, he is heedless to the task of keeping the goose alive that lays the golden eggs. It’s not hard to fathom the appeal of this philosophy. Insisting that the West’s advantages are ill-gotten is a convenient, face-saving device that explains Third World failure and avoids the burdens of assimilation. And although it’s hard to know how many average newcomers embrace Mehta’s narrative, the increasing dominance of revenge multiculturalism among immigrants rights leadership classes should be cause for concern.
I believe the conservatives need to push back against the ungrateful habit of blaming the West by pointing repeatedly to the self-inflicted wounds of the Third World. Admittedly, this is not considered nice. We have learned that from the response to Trump’s disparagements, but the alternative is to give free play to anti-Western moralizing that is unfair and grounded in falsehoods and dangerous to our country’s future.
Now, I want to make one additional point about immigration, which conservatives also do not emphasize enough and which frequently gets neglected in the immigration debate. We are told repeatedly it is our duty to rescue the inhabitants of poor, unstable places by allowing them to move to our well-functioning country. The United States must continue to play this rescue role. But as David Miller in his book “Strangers in Our Midst” has noted, and others as well, this imperative amounts to a vain and short-sighted rescue fantasy that hurts most Third World peoples. We cannot possibly help more than a tiny fraction of the world’s denizens.
Lately, there has been talk of reforming the law to favor skilled immigrants, as do countries like Canada and Australia. Although unskilled immigration should be reduced, I believe, replacing the less educated with higher-skilled foreigners is not the answer either. By draining talent and energy from places that desperately need them, and especially people who are educated at public expense abroad, an overly generous immigration policy will inevitably damage the countries left behind.
Once again, I would ask, what important conservative voices are emphasizing this point? Who is willing to fault the short-term thinking and moral preening behind our immigration regime, which however generous, cannot lift up the Third World, but only a fraction of the people from it? Who will emphasize that failed countries must, they have no choice but to, improve themselves by reforming cultural practices that impede progress, that instead of moving here, their citizens should concentrate on emulating what makes us great? This should become a central conservative theme. Thank you.
Q & A:
Q….why doesn’t the President of the United States have the power the say, you know, we are overwhelmed. We can’t care for these people. There are limits in everything in life, as opposed to just congressional delegations flying down to say, “Isn’t it terrible? And we won’t change the law, we won’t do anything.” Where is the political will in this country to defend the country?
There isn’t any. Short answer. But this is…you know, the dominance of…I’m going to go back to the universities. I mean, I am a professor at, you know, an Ivy League university, and I see the ideology—the moralized, the highly moralized, globalist ideology that just pervades the place.
The president of my university, Amy Gutmann, I counted them, has issued over 25 ukases in the forms of emails to the entire university opposing every single aspect of Trump’s attempts to curtail and discipline the situation at the border. So the notion of neutrality, it’s just completely gone. And we’re influencing young minds. We’re propagating these ideas.
And many of the students at Penn and places like it, they are so far removed from the border. They are, they are protected from the wages of untrammeled diversity. In the summers, they go off to Stockbridge or the North Fork of Long Island or wherever the watering holes of the elites, and they write papers about the virtues of diversity. I mean that’s really what’s going on.
I would go back to this concept in my talk that numbers matter. The Hart–Celler drafters, you know, the legislative record is just full of assurances that the numbers would not be great, that the demographic profile of the United States would barely change, that the legacy groups that are here would still be demographically dominant, would still be numerically dominant, and I think you could attribute all sorts of dire motives to them saying that, but I think there is a core insight there, which is, in order to have assimilation, you need to have demographic dominance, numerical dominance of the group that forms the culture, and that to which you are going to assimilate.
Sam Huntington said as soon as you start getting these large influxes from particular places, particular societies and cultures, they will form these enclaves. They will start to associate with each other. They will not have any incentive or imperative to integrate, to make the brutal bargain, to change their ways towards a common identity that’s just, once again, a matter of the numbers. So the numbers that we have are a problem.
Q….Most of you, all of you, have been speaking of what you think should happen. I wonder if any of you would speak to what you think is likely to happen, and if that amounts to conservatives losing the immigration question, what is your plan B?
I think we are going to sink back significantly into Third Worldism. We are going to go Venezuela, and you can just see it happening. I mean one of my pet peeves, one of my obsessions, is litter, and I… If you go up to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, or Yankee territory, right? Or versus other places that are “more diverse,” you are going to see an enormous difference. I’m sorry to report. You know, generalizations are not very pleasant, but little things like that, which aren’t little, they really affect our environment, attitudes towards public space.
I think Adam Garfinkle did a piece in , where he talks about this—about noise levels, about the public space, about people’s deportment in public spaces, about respect for other people’s privacy, about things like heckling and, you know, sexual harassment. I mean all of this stuff sounds really silly, but when you add it up, these cultural habits, you know, make a difference to our environment.
And I think the celebration of diversity means that we lose some of these norms, these mores, that you know, make our life what it is. And I’m very concerned about it. Of course, it goes a lot deeper than that. Of course, it’s not just these superficial things, but I’m just mentioning that as emblematic of the way that I think we really are going, and nobody is willing to say anything about it, let alone try and stop it. I mean I guess I am, but…
I mean, there are a lot of obvious dystopian scenarios. Amy’s is similar to George Kennan’s, like the Third Worldization of America. There’s…Reihan Salam talks about whites and Asians in increasingly gated communities, and a sort of re-segregation of the society. And obviously, there’s various civil war type versions. There’s a novel by an Egyptian-American called “The American Civil War,” which takes place in, like, 2070, and I think culminates in use of biological, genocidal biological weapons. So you know, probably Amy’s Venezuela is the best case, if nothing…