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Barone: Backsliding into Bankruptcy
[Peter Brimelow writes: As Steve Sailer points out in this important review, neocon doyenne Michael Barone simply ignores contrary argument in his new book. This confirms that political establishment, left and right, is firmly back in Denial Mode on race and immigration, and marks an ignominious personal retreat for Barone since the mid-1990s, when he actually had some valuable things to say. But denial is hard to maintain in the age of the internet and talk radio. A correspondent reports that, confronted with my work recently on the Radio America Network's Schiffer Report, "Barone became indignant, describing you as "the guy who wants to restrict immigration because his son has blond hair and blue eyes," or words to that effect…" This of course is a reference to the celebrated single sentence in Alien Nation illustrating the paradox that immigrants can qualify for affirmative action preferences over native-born Americans who do not belong to the "protected classes," as Alexander manifestly does not. Barone's response is unimpressive, of course. But it usefully demonstrates that it is immigration enthusiasts, not immigration reformers, who are driven by unspoken ethnic animosity.]
Prominent neoconservative Michael Barone, a regular panelist on The
McLaughlin Group, has
been getting a lot of flattery from the
"conservative" establishment lately for his new book,
The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work
Again. George Will's
June 11th Newsweek
on it was nothing more than a fawning book report.
Compared to the typical liberal book on racial diversity, Barone's tome
is dramatically more down to earth, even worthwhile.
Yet, it also is a perfect illustration of the perverse
trends that are sapping the realism from conservative
intellectual discourse on immigration and race. So I'm
going to spend quite some time demonstrating what's
wrong with the book.
In a rave review in National Review,
Tamar Jacoby summed The New Americans
up like this:
For Barone, today's pessimism about immigration is as foolishly unfounded as yesterday's. The great, slow, mysterious absorptive alchemy that worked in the past can and will work again… Barone remains relentlessly—and on the whole persuasively-upbeat about the massive demographic change sweeping the United States, convinced that the new immigration, like earlier ones, will ultimately be a boon for all Americans.
certainly does his best to keep as
"mysterious" as possible the "absorptive
alchemy" that worked its magic on pre-1924
immigrants—he never mentions the crucial
assimilative role played by the immigration cutoff
of 1924 to 1965. And in general, the author dodges
facing the arguments of anyone who would challenge his
views. While Barone frequently quotes pro-mass
immigration conservatives like Jacoby, Gregory
Rodriguez, John J. Miller, Joel Kotkin and the like, he
can't bring himself to refer by name any immigration
skeptic more recent than Ben Franklin.
The New Americans
is in fact a disappointingly unoriginal and tendentious
rewrite of Thomas Sowell's deservedly famous Ethnic
America of 1981.
Unlike Sowell's encyclopedic work, which offered a
magisterial account of most of America's major racial
groups, Barone has a single Big Idea that he wants to
"The thesis of this book is that minority groups
of 2000 resemble in important ways immigrant groups of
1900. In many ways, blacks resemble Irish, Latinos
resemble Italians, Asians resemble Jews. … I began to
notice the resemblances between each of the three pairs
in the 1990s."
Considering that Sowell's book covered these comparisons back in 1981,
you have to wonder why it took Barone, the co-author of The
of American Politics,
so long to notice them. I mean, I could have given you a
summary of Barone's argument in 1982, when I read Ethnic
America. The fascinating
(but hardly complete) series of similarities between
Irish Americans and African Americans was the most
celebrated single aspect of Ethnic America.
Sowell wrote, "[B]lacks are about where the Irish
were one hundred years earlier" on the first page
of his chapters on blacks. Similarly, the first page of
Sowell's section on the Chinese mentions, "The
Chinese have often been called 'the Jews of Asia.'"
Finally, Sowell lists about five similarities between
Italians and Puerto Ricans or Mexicans, although the
great man seems to have found the Italian-Latino
comparison far less interesting or impressive than
Nor were these comparisons original with Sowell. Irving Kristol had made
the same argument in The New York Times Magazine way
back in 1966. Kristol also wrote, "Puerto Ricans
today resemble nothing so much as the Sicilian
immigrants of sixty years ago." (Barone, though,
seems to have largely given up on Puerto Ricans turning
into Italians, and is now mostly pinning his hopes on
These comparisons have become commonplaces over the years among
"cultural realist" writers. While definitely
interesting, I must point out that you shouldn't get too
carried away by them.
For example, 19th Century Irish and 20th Century blacks did share a lot.
Both were big, strong, manly, good at sports,
entertainment, and politics, lousy at business,
enthusiastic for corrupt Democratic mayors, and had high
rates of substance abuse and crime. We don't like to
talk about it today, but in the 19th Century, as Barone
makes clear, when Irish immigrants showed up in your
town, it was Bad News. They brought crime, alcoholism,
rioting, and sometimes even
On the other hand, the Irish and the blacks differ strikingly in sexual
restraint. The Irish have been the least lusty Europeans
for a long time. The Kennedy men made Americans forget
this central facet of the Irish Catholic character, but
the evidence is definitive. A couple of decades ago, the
average age of first marriages in the Republic of
Ireland was 26 for women and 31 for men. This is
remarkable because, although contraceptives were illegal
and difficult to obtain there until 1979, illegitimacy
Second, Irish religion was intensely institutional. Irishmen didn't
start churches to compete with the Roman Catholic faith;
they found slots in Rome's vast hierarchy. In contrast,
African American Christianity has been highly
entrepreneurial. Anybody could get "the call"
and start preaching and passing the hat at any time.
This is an important difference because, in Sowell's view, primarily
what eventually raised Irish-American behavior to
acceptable levels was the Catholic Church's pounding
guilt into them. In the black entrepreneurial religious
economy, though, there's not much of a market for guilt,
especially over sex.
The contrast between African American carnality and Irish guilt was
amusingly underlined at this year's Grammies. The nubile
young ladies of Destiny's Child repeatedly thanked God
for their success, while wearing what looked like
extra-small sandwich bags. But when the Best Song award
went to the great Irish band U2, lead singer Bono made
clear he thought it a little presumptuous to thank the
Almighty for, of all things, a Grammy: "I just have
this feeling, or picture in my head, of God looking down
on people like us at occasions like this and going, 'Oh,
don't thank me for that
song, there's no hook and the chorus is weak.'"
The resemblance between "Asians" (by which Barone primarily
means Chinese) and Jews basically comes down to both
groups tending to be above average in work ethic and IQ
(although Barone can't bring himself to mention those
two scarlet letters "I" and "Q").
But the differences are manifold. Jews, for instance, do
much better on the verbal parts of IQ tests, while
Northeast Asians do better on the visual subtests. (See
the "Of Jews and Japanese" chapter in Dan
Seligman's fine A
Question of Intelligence.)
That's why East Asians do not play a major role in those
many verbal-intensive fields such as entertainment or
journalism where Jews thrive. And while both groups are
immensely old, there are 1,000 times more Chinese than
Jews. This would suggest there must be some profound
differences between them.
Indeed, Barone's Jewish-Chinese comparison has become so hackneyed that
it's more fun to look for better comparisons. Barone
asserts, "[T]he South Asian or Middle Eastern
immigrants of today seem to have no parallels from a
century ago." In fact several of those groups tend
to be more similar to the Jews than the Chinese, and not
just in physical appearance. If you are looking for
groups that might have both the mathematical and
verbal smarts to rival Jews, keep an eye on the higher
caste Indian Hindus and the remarkable
Zoroastrian Parsis of Bombay. Another even better
all-around analog to Jews exists among modern
immigrants: who for centuries have been a religiously
distinct caste of merchants selling to surrounding
peasants, and who currently deftly use their impressive
influence on Congress to aid their homeland in its
struggles with its Muslim neighbors: the
That Barone never noticed any of these better comparisons
suggests—along with much else in his book—that he
really didn't give much thought to his Big Idea.
Finally, by comparing Latinos to Italians, Barone allows himself to
glide over the racial
issues that are so distinctive a feature of Latin
America. While a few all-white Latin American
nations like Argentina do resemble Italy, the
distinguishing feature of the Hispanic nations that send
many immigrants to the U.S. is
a system of white dominance over darker races that,
while more subtle than America's, is at least as
A key difference between Sowell's classic and Barone's effort is that
Barone has a specific political agenda. He wants to
reassure conservatives that, "We've been here
before." Barone tells us,
America in the future will be multiracial and multiethnic, but it will not—or should not—be multicultural in the sense of containing ethnic communities marked off from and adversarial to the larger society, any more than today's America consists of unassimilated and adversarial communities of Irish, Italians, or Jews. [Emphasis mine.]
Obviously, though, there is a huge difference between "will
not" and "should not." One's a
prediction, the other a prescription. The entire book is
infected with this slippery vagueness over what's
actually true and what Barone merely wishes were true.
For instance, Barone writes:
Mexican commentator Sergio Sarmiento argues that if Mexico can achieve the South Korea-style economic growth that seems possible over the next twenty years, it will vastly reduce its economic disparity with the United States and substantially reduce incentives to immigration…. It is possible also to imagine that in time Latinos will become interwoven into the American fabric.
Yes, the imagination certainly is a wonderful thing! But any reasonable
person would need a lot more evidence and logic than
Barone bothers to amass to accept this flight of fancy.
wanted Sowell to update his 1981 book, which relied
heavily on 1970 Census data. Barone's effort is not a
should have waited for the 2000 Census data to come out.
For example, Barone wrote,
But the 30 million "Hispanics" counted in the 2000 Census are not members of a single homogenous community.
the 2000 Census actually counted 35.3
million. Over the last couple of months, we've
learned that both the Hispanic population and the illegal
alien population have been growing much faster than
the government had been telling us back when Barone was
writing his book. These new facts obviously have
significant implications for the long-term impact of the
immigration policies that Barone lauds.
Barone's book simply lacks the moral seriousness of
Sowell's landmark tome. In Ethnic
America, there's a profound sense of an author
honestly confronting the facts and pushing himself to
discover from them new, and often unwelcome, general
truths. Barone, in contrast, steadfastly refuses to draw
conclusions displeasing to the "conservative"
establishment of 2001.
book does contain a lot of important details scattered
about. I've wondered why George W. Bush so overestimated
the GOP's appeal to Mexican-Americans in California.
Unintentionally, Barone sheds some light on why Bush
doesn't understand California's Latinos:
California's Mexicans may be more inclined to vote Democratic because of where they come from in Mexico …(such as) Michoacan…. the only state that Cuahtemoc Cardenas of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) carried in the 2000 presidential election. Cardenas ran a close second in Guerrero, another state from which many of California's Mexicans come. In contrast, most Texas Mexicans appear to have come from the northern states of Mexico, historically the heartland of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and carried by PAN candidate Vicente Fox in 2000.
words, Bush is deluded in thinking he can get
Mexican-Americans in California to vote Republican as
much as they do in Texas (43% in 2000). But, those are
my words, not Barone's, who doesn't seem to want to say
anything that would discomfit the Bush Administration.
Too often in
The New Americans,
though, one is simply led around by the nose on a tour
of all the news that fits. And if it doesn't fit, well,
Barone will knead it until it looks like it fits.
Barone spins the Latino crime and imprisonment rates.
First, he explains why the numbers ought
to be low:
But the Latin heritage of mistrust of institutions suggests that Latinos would not have a proclivity toward crime. The sensible thing is to keep your head down and work, avoiding any activity that might bring you to the attention of the often corrupt police.
Of course, an entrepreneurial young fellow might look at this situation
from an entirely different angle: as
an opportunity for organized crime. If nobody in
your neighborhood ever calls the cops, then why not
start a gang to run protection rackets and deal
controlled substances? That's exactly what happened in
Italian neighborhoods then and Latino neighborhoods now.
Undaunted, Barone wades on:
In point of fact, Latino immigrants and their descendents have not been much more likely than native-born Americans to commit crimes or be imprisoned.
Here are the
facts on Latino imprisonment, as reported in a valuable
new study called "Masking
the Divide: How Officially Reported Prison Statistics
Distort the Racial and Ethnic Realities of Prison Growth"
by the liberal National Center on Institutions and
Alternatives. According to the statistics in their
appendices, the per capita imprisonment rate for
Hispanics in 1997 was 3.7 times that of non-Hispanic
Now, a 3.7
times worse imprisonment rate might suggest to the
objective observer a bit of a relative "proclivity
toward crime." So I had to reread Barone's
paragraph a couple of times before I noticed his deft
phrasing. He's comparing Hispanics not to Anglo whites
but to "native-born Americans." This is clever
because plenty of Hispanics are "native-born
Americans," so they get double-counted, which
inflates the "native-born" imprisonment
figures. His big ploy, though, is that he's comparing
Hispanics primarily to African Americans, who outnumber
Anglo whites in prison by 30% in absolute numbers and by
a stunning 9.1 to 1 ratio per capita.
is not an isolated example. The
New Americans is full of statements ranging from the
sly to the dubious to the absurd.
To take one amusing example, Barone holds quite a grudge against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who died in 1558. Three separate times he blames Charles V for Italians and Latinos having too little faith in government. But Charles V also ruled much of Germany and Austria, where the locals eventually developed a tad too much faith in government.. There's only so much one Emperor can do. Some Latin American countries like Guatemala are so dysfunctional in so many ways that to screw them up that royally would have taken all the Holy Roman Emperors working together, plus Darth Vader and Lord Farquaad.
From an American perspective that considers a
government functional only if it provides order,
justice, and liberty, practically all countries in all
history were "politically dysfunctional." The
important question is not why Italy and Spain were
dysfunctional, but why England and its offshoots slowly
became functional in the modern sense.
major problem with The New Americans is that the school of thought that Barone's
sources Kristol and Sowell helped pioneer decades
ago—"cultural realism"— is finally running
into diminishing returns. One leading cultural realist
at Harvard told me that every time he writes an article
blaming the poverty of Haiti on its culture (e.g.,
Haitians' obsession with casting voodoo curses on each
other), he gets many letters from other academics
calling him a "racist" for doubting that Haiti
would be as rich as America if only America hadn't
gotten rich by plundering the oppressed proletariat of
Haiti. Not surprisingly, having his enemies slur him
with the potentially career-killing "R" word
has led him to make a dogma of the
"anti-racism" of his cultural realism: No,
Haitians would be as rich
as Minnesotans if only they had the same culture as
against saying anything interesting about race—as
prudent as it no doubt is in today's academic
climate—means that the cultural realists end up with
one hand tied behind their backs.
fascinating has been happening in America. Integration
has brought the different racial groups into closer
contact, allowing them to observe each other more
carefully. Private discussions about racial differences
have become more detailed and discerning—but almost
none of what is being said is appearing in the academic
press. Sowell remained carefully agnostic on biological
racial differences, but many of his conservative
followers are beginning to sound more Catholic than the
Pope on how understanding culture allowed you to ignore
event in cementing this "biophobic" orthodoxy
in place was the furious backlash against Charles
Murray's and Richard Herrnstein's The
Bell Curve in 1994.
Barone bravely backed Murray and Herrnstein. Here's what
Barone wrote in an essay entitled "Common
Knowledge" in a National Review symposium on
The Bell Curve just after its publication:
PERHAPS because I'm congenitally optimistic, I think The Bell Curve's message is already widely understood, by the American people if not by the elite. Ordinary citizens know that some people are in significant ways more intelligent than others, that only a relative few are extremely bright or extremely dull, and that intelligence bunches up at the center. They know that intelligence is not randomly distributed among members of different identifiable racial and ethnic groups. These are lessons that are taught in everyday life, and you have to undergo a pretty sophisticated indoctrination and enlist in a tightly disciplined ideological army to believe otherwise. … More specifically, by showing strong relationships between intelligence as measured by IQ tests and behaviors ranging from job performance to a propensity to commit crimes or bear children outside marriage, The Bell Curve makes a powerful case that the disproportionately low number of blacks in top positions and the disproportionately high number of blacks in prison (just under half our prisoners are black) do not result from racial discrimination.
But within a few months, it became apparent that continuing to publicly
back Murray could have career-threatening consequences.
The problem was not
that The Bell Curve had been disproved. Indeed, the problem was the opposite. The
Bell Curve provided so
much evidence that it had to be silenced.
Not surprisingly, in Barone's new book there is no mention of IQ.
Bell Curve was shouted down, race has become
America's intellectual anti-matter, a subject that
repels thought. Many who aspire to be Conservatives have
lost the most basic grasp of what race even is. They
have become more and more dependent on leftist theories
of the Race
Is Only Skin Deep or Race
Does Not Exist schools.
consideration of race questions is unavoidable in the
field of immigration policy. An intellectually coherent
definition is essential. Here it is:
Lacking this fundamental definition of race, Barone flounders. He sometimes sounds like he's relying on UNESCO Christmas cards for his insights into human nature:
Babies do not distinguish between people of African and European descent; they recognize only other human beings. They have to be taught to differentiate between blacks and whites.
that young children have to be taught to distinguish
races is simply not true. Often times, before they've
learned American names for racial categories, they'll
invent their own, such as "brown,"
"tan," and "pink." This subject has
been studied extensively in controlled experiments. In Race
in the Making, the liberal U. of Michigan
anthropology professor Lawrence A. Hirschfeld sums up
As comforting as this view may be, children, I will show in this book, are more than aware of diversity; they are driven by endogenous curiosity to uncover it. Children, I will also show, do not believe race to be a superficial quality of the world. Multicultural curricula aside, few people believe that race is only skin deep. Certainly few 3-year-olds do. They believe that race is an intrinsic, immutable, and essential aspect of a person's identity. Moreover, they seem to come to this conclusion on their own. They do not need to be taught that race is a deep property, they know it themselves already.
For example, if you show preschoolers drawings of people and ask them to match the children with their mommies, on average they will correctly tell you that the skinny white child belongs to the fat white mommy, while the fat black child belongs to the skinny black mommy (or vice-versa). They consider race a better predictor of family relationship than body shape.
is unaware of the accurate definition, Barone swallows
whole a lot of the glib sophistry of the pernicious
"whiteness studies" ideologues:
we must recall that the Irish immigrants of the
nineteenth century were widely considered to be of
another race, a fact reflected in the wry title of a
the Irish Became White.
You will of
course recall that dramatic scene in Gone
with the Wind when Scarlett O'Hara's Irish
surname is discovered, causing her to be immediately
sold into slavery.
Americans referred to the Irish as a "race"
for the simple reason that—under the fundamental
a race. Over time in America, the term "race"
has come to be used mostly for continental-scale racial
groups such as sub-Saharan Africans and East Asians. But
there is nothing written in stone that says those are
the only racial groups worth considering.
This kind of
conceptual confusion about race makes Barone prey for
racial snake-oil salesmen. Thus, for example, he unloads
this gem on us at the end of his book:
There is no greater biological difference between the minority groups and other Americans of today than there was between the immigrant groups and other Americans of a hundred years ago.
that what Barone is trying to say is that the genetic
distance between the immigrant Irish, Jews, and Italians
and the Anglo-German native majority in 1900 was no
greater than between the blacks, Latinos, and Asians and
the white majority in 2000. This statement is
balderdash. The relationship between racial groups has
been quantified in Stanford population geneticist L.L.
Cavalli-Sforza's monumental "History
and Geography of Human Genes." Cavalli-Sforza's
team compiled extraordinary tables depicting the
"genetic distances" separating 2,000 different
racial groups. For example, assume the genetic distance
between the English and the Danes is equal to 1.0. Then,
Cavalli-Sforza has found, the separation between the
English and the Irish would be 1.4 times as large as the
English-Danish difference. On this scale, the English
and Italians are about 2.5 more distant than the Danes
are from the English. The Iranians would be 9 times more
distant genetically, and the Japanese 59 times greater.
Finally, the gap between the English and the Bantus (the
main group of sub-Saharan blacks) is 109 times as large
as the distance between the English and the Danish. In
other words—for what it's worth—the "biological
difference" between America's post-1965 immigrants
and the host community could hardly be greater. (For my
further comments on Cavelli-Sforza, click here.)
conclude with an example of how race can add greatly to
our understanding of culture. The imprisonment data
shows that race, not culture, drives crime rates among
In the state
of Florida, where most Latinos have been white Cubans,
Hispanics are imprisoned at a rate only 1.2 times higher
than Anglo whites.
American West, where most of the Latinos are mestizo
Mexicans, the rates vary from only 1.5 in Nevada to 4.3
in Utah. These state-by-state differences are largely
driven by disparities in the behavior of the white
population. Nevada whites, not surprisingly, include a
fair number of bad guys. The Hispanic to white ratios in
Texas and California, where whites are also fairly badly
behaved, are 2.2 and 2.4 respectively. In Utah,
Colorado, and Washington, where the whites are more
law-abiding, the ratios are over 4 to 1.
Northeastern states, where Hispanics are generally
mulatto Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, the imprisonment
rates can range from 8 up to 12 to 1. (Keep in mind
though that Northeastern whites stay out of prison
better than Western whites.)
words, we see the same black-white differences in crime
rates among non-Hispanic Americans show up among
perhaps the justification for books like The
New Americans is that if the public were told the
truth about race, it would immediately launch a bloody
race war. I find this preposterous. Interestingly
enough, so did Barone seven years ago. What he said then
about the enemies of The
Bell Curve provides a fitting summary of my views
Of course, most of our university and media elite have signed up for those forces [of indoctrination on empirical questions about race]. They have done so, I think, because they believe that ordinary people would take the admission that there are differences in average intelligence among the races as a license for racial discrimination. They evidently believe that many or most Americans long to return to the system of legally enforced racial segregation that prevailed in the American South until the mid 1960s. But that is nonsense.
Sadly the brave Michael Barone of 1995 has become in 2001 at best a
pitiable bus-boy clearing tables for the new orthodoxy
on immigration. An orthodoxy which has the temerity to
claim to be "conservative."
June 22, 2001