From Melting Pot To Potpourri
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May 21, 1995, 06:19 PM
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By Christopher Hitchens

Los Angeles Times

May 21, 1995

The first requirement of any person commenting on immigration is, it seems, that he or she say what is really on his or her mind. Peter Brimelow meets this requirement very early on in his book. Reviewing the case of the Pakistani who opened fire outside the CIA headquarters in Virginia, of the Muslim militants charged in the World Trade Center trial and of Colin Ferguson, loony of the Long Island Railroad, he says:

"The fact cannot be denied: if Ferguson and the others had not immigrated . . . 14 Americans would not have been killed."

This is like Thornton Wilder`s literary meditation on the fall of the bridge of San Luis Rey. You could equally say that since the Pakistani suspect in the CIA case was an applicant for political asylum, the United States ought to cease offering political asylum, or that since the World Trade Center gang were mostly rogue CIA elements brought to America as a consequence of the Afghan civil war, the answer would lie in the shutting-down of overseas covert operations. As for poor mad Ferguson, I can`t think of anything that can guard America against shooting-spree artists like him (most of them native-born, by the way, and several of them driven by hatred of immigrants). Perhaps he is an argument for gun control, though I must say I doubt it.

Like Peter Brimelow, I am an English-born immigrant with American children. We share Brit-immigration status with Brimelow`s friend at the National Review, John O`Sullivan, the editor who helped inaugurate this argument and who shares paternity with this book, by virtue of printing a much-discussed cover story in June, 1992. The National Review, which has been aligned with a certain strand of Catholic America, opposes the dilution of American "identity" in spite of the fact that previous anti-immigrant legislation was imposed precisely to exclude those of the Romish persuasion. Before O`Sullivan became an adviser to Margaret Thatcher and subsequently Ronald Reagan, his ancestors had to quit Ireland. This prompted my friend Professor Norman Birnbaum to say, of O`Sullivan and Brimelow and the other anti-immigration immigrants, that at least they proved how fast newcomers can assimilate. Or how else could they have acquired the chutzpah?

(Pursuing the historical ironies and contradictions, one might add that the Birnbaum ancestors came at a time when the United States had an appetite for cheap labor from Eastern Europe. But, when the flower of German Jewry needed a haven in the late 1930s, that door had been arbitrarily slammed.)

Brimelow is aware of these ironies, or at any rate of some of them, but he is impatient with the mental laziness of those who deploy them as arguments. And he maintains fiercely that the situation is now different. In the past, there were what he calls "waves" and "lulls" in the process of settlement. Periods of great influx punctuated long periods when newcomers were discouraged. But today, immigration is the permanent policy, with annual legal levels set very high and no serious provisions for preventing an illegal ballooning of this total.

Let`s agree that the situation is now different, or unprecedented. Immigrants now come principally from non-"white" countries, and retain more of the language and culture of their homelands than did those who, say, fled the Pale of Russia a century ago. According to Brimelow`s reading of the Bureau of the Census, an ethnic or ethnographic revolution is underway. By the year 2050, American whites will be 53% of the anticipated population, and on the verge of losing their majority status. In case you think of this as a mere appeal to racial paranoia, Brimelow points out what many people have started to notice-namely, that this process also means the end of the familiar "biracial" society. American blacks will soon be—in some cities already are—outnumbered by the other "minorities."

Brimelow`s deduction from this is that there will be increased sectionalism across the society with white and black flight from the cities and, within the cities, poor black and poor white resentment against new arrivals. Some at least of these developments have been visible in outline in recent California politics.

One cannot discuss immigration without layering it over the existing ethnic and Congressional turf-wars, according to Brimelow. Immigrants from eastern Europe have no lobby on the Hill; immigrants from Ireland have Teddy Kennedy writing them a generous quota; anyone from Cuba is fine. Perhaps a little self-pityingly, Brimelow points out that the quota for Brits has been cut back because there is no lobby for it. But this relatively small observation also cuts with the grain of his wider thesis about Anglo-Saxondom as an endangered majority. (His co-thinker John O`Sullivan has said explicitly that America is not a "melting pot" but a global extension of the WASP ideal.)

In some ways, this book reminds me of "The Bell Curve." It makes projections, many of them dire, that are based on graphs, charts and statistics. But its real attack comes from an appeal to the instinct rather than the reflective capacity. (I think that`s clear from the passage about famous "immigrant" atrocities that I cited earlier.) Brimelow`s work, which is more of a series of discrete essays, also sets out to prove that dreaded "government policy" has had diminishing returns.

Among the consequences, as he points out, is a large anti-immigrant emotional swell. Immigrants do not deserve to be blamed for that-Brimelow never suggests they should be-but immigration policy has had certain unintended consequences, or at least consequences unintended by those who profess Statue of Liberty values. It has also succeeded in splitting American conservatives, who have to wonder if their laissez-faire and anti-statist convictions will sit well with the regulatory assumption that must govern population control.

Speaking for myself, I didn`t come to America in order to join another Anglo-Saxon condominium. My rather odd neighborhood in Washington would be dull as rain, as well as economically unworkable, if it were not a multinational community. The stresses are there, and I must admit that I recognize some of them in Brimelow`s pages. But I`m willing to bet that some of the consequences of an ill-designed haphazard policy, no less unintended, will turn out to be an agreeable surprise.