Alien Nation Review: Culture Vulture, by Francis Fukuyama NR, May 1995
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May 01, 1995, 05:00 AM
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Culture Vulture

Alien Nation: Common Sense About America`s Immigration Disaster.

National Review, May 1, 1995 v47 n8 p77(2) Francis Fukuyama

© National Review Inc. 1995

Mr. Fukuyama, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation in Washington, D.C., has just completed a book on social capital and the global economy, which will be published this summer by Free Press. The views expressed here are his own.

PETER Brimelow deserves praise for going to the heart of the immigration issue, which is not about economics but about the nature of American nationality. There is a tendency among proponents of immigration to argue that America, unlike most other nations in the world, is built around a set of universalistic liberal ideas, and that it has no national identity beyond the Constitution and the system of law based on it. Brimelow argues, quite rightly, that no nation can be built in so abstract a manner. And the United States has not been the exception to this rule: it has always been a community with a common culture set by its dominant elites.

So far so good. But the question then becomes, What is the precise nature of that national identity and common culture? Here, it is possible to be much more precise than Mr. Brimelow. American culture comes from the Puritan sectarian religious heritage of the early Anglo-Saxon settlers, together with the Lockean-liberal ideology they had adopted by the eighteenth century. This alone explains America`s work ethic (traditionally and today much higher than that of England), its entrepreneurial and innovative character, its prudery and moralism, the high level of trust in its society, and in particular the strange and fortuitous coexistence of individualism and a powerful propensity for community (Tocqueville`s famous art of association``). Brimelow, however, picks a strange definition of what he means by America as a national community. At times he edges toward defining it as a Christian`` country, but backs away (perhaps because this would exclude his Jewish neo-conservative friends and include all those Mexican illegal aliens). In the end, he explains the content of American`` national identity in old-fashioned, blood- and-soil racial terms: it is the culture of white (i.e., European- origin) Americans.

But who are white`` Americans? The U.S. is the only country in the world that thinks there is a cultural group called whites.`` In Europe there are only Germans, Italians, Poles, Magyars, Croats, and the like. (There are also some limp-wristed Europeans,`` but I`m sure Mr. Brimelow doesn`t take them seriously.) The strange category of white`` exists in the U.S. only because the original Protestant Anglo-Saxon settlers of the country took in, successively, other Protestants from Central and Northern Europe, then a large group of Catholic Irish, and then, in the great immigration wave at the turn of the century, an extremely large group of Catholic and Jewish immigrants from southern Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, and elsewhere. Though this is not always apparent today, the degree of cultural and perceived racial distance between these groups was every bit as great at the time they arrived here as the distance between the median`` Anglo of today (named Pezzuli or Steinberg) and a recent Mexican immigrant. Hence, the common American culture that both Mr. Brimelow and I find so important is actually a sectarian Protestant Anglo-Saxon culture that was somehow detached from its ethnic roots, mixed with universalistic Lockean-liberal principles, and adopted by the non-Anglo-Saxon, non-Protestant immigrants from Europe who arrived subsequently, and who then intermarried to such an extent that it is no longer meaningful to try to determine what proportion of the country is descended from Italians, Swedes, and the like. And the rate of intermarriage between natives and recent non-European immigrants is so high that it makes as little sense to worry about the U.S. becoming a majority non-white`` country by the middle of the next century as it did to worry about it becoming majority non-Anglo-Saxon`` in the last. Yet Brimelow for some reason insists on describing in racial and ethnic terms a national identity that can only be properly characterized in cultural terms.

He does somewhat of the same thing when describing the post-1965 immigration as predominantly coming from the Third World.`` The Third World is a very big place, and, as it turns out, this immigration wave decomposes overwhelmingly into two significant groups: Latinos and Asians. Brimelow is very cagey about the Asians: while admitting that many Americans seem`` to think Asians have the right cultural values, he is not so sure and will reserve judgment. The fact is that there is a mountain of empirical evidence indicating not just that Asians may have the right Puritan, Anglo-Saxon`` virtues, but that they have them to a significantly higher degree than people actually of Protestant Anglo-Saxon descent (many of whom are today either ultra-liberals pushing the multiculturalist agenda, or else poorly educated, low- income workers in the rural South, whose families are fraying and whose politics are increasingly up for grabs as a result of their downward social mobility).

Missing from Alien Nation is any acknowledgment of the positive characteristics of immigrants, which in virtually all countries give them a higher level of drive and ambition than the natives. One consequence is that immigration has become critical to America`s global technological leadership. Far too few well- educated, native white Americans today want to become engineers, as opposed to lawyers, investment bankers, or journalists, and immigration has played a key role in bridging this labor gap for a couple of generations now. This impact may not be evident to people in non-technical fields, but it is borne out by the statistics: a third of the engineers in Silicon Valley are foreign-born, including some 12,000 ethnic Chinese. Brimelow argues that even if immigrants were responsible for the entire computer industry, this would only`` account for $120 billion of the American GDP — as if $120 billion a year were chump change, and as if the only significance of the high-tech sector to the U.S. economy were the direct earnings of its firms.

Far more important than economics, however, is culture. Brimelow legitimately worries that the "browning`` of America will lead to a loss of its culture and national identity. The rhetoric of the multiculturalists he cites is truly frightening: their hope is that the changing racial composition of America will in fact lead to its "Third Worldization.`` In taking this threat seriously, however, Brimelow makes the mistake of assuming that racial, cultural, and political boundaries will all coincide. That is, he assumes that all non-European minorities will support multiculturalist policies, and vote Democratic to boot, while whites as a group will support traditional values and resist this trend. Mr. Brimelow seems not to have noticed that multiculturalism would never have gotten anywhere but for the support of countless white school board members, schoolteachers and university professors. In fact, the two most powerful groups actively promoting the Balkanization of traditional American culture today have been feminists and gays, groups that are almost entirely controlled by middle-class whites. The one way that the Republican Party could lose its emerging majority-party status is by defining itself as white and anti-immigrant, thereby turning its back on middle-class Hispanics and Asians. Brimelow`s own book notes that Asians voted for George Bush in 1992 in proportions exceeded only by evangelical Christians.

Brimelow`s fundamental mistake, it seems to me, is his assumption that non-European immigrants will end up like African- Americans — hard to assimilate and therefore angry, resentful, and demanding of special entitlements and set-asides. The truth of the matter, however, is that of America`s different racial and ethnic minorities, blacks are the only group that has not assimilated successfully. All the others will succeed much like the Irish and Italians before them, provided they do not follow the post - civil-rights pattern of seeking socio-economic advancement primarily through political and legal action.

When it comes to concrete policy recommendations, I actually find myself in agreement with many of Brimelow`s suggestions. It is certainly possible to reform and streamline the Immigration and Naturalization Service; we can do a much better job of patrolling our borders; the 1965 Immigration Act can be amended to de- emphasize family reunification and to emphasize skills; welfare and other benefits to immigrants ought to be scaled back, not out of mean-spiritedness, but for the immigrants` own sake. The most important battle, however, is not over immigration per se, but over the preservation of a common American culture. This means rolling back multiculturalism, bilingualism, race-based preferences, and all the other divisive public-policy innovations of recent decades. For none of the problems of cultural incoherence that Brimelow cites would go away, or even diminish significantly, if all immigration, legal and illegal, ended tomorrow.