How to Instill a Love of America

The Immigration & Naturalization Service
is asking for public advice on how to reform the
test given to applicants for citizenship.
Currently, permanent legal residents of the U.S.
who wish to become citizens must answer a few
items drawn from a published list of 100
questions and their answers. [You can read them
For Peter Brimelow`s experience, see].

The questions inquire about nice-to-know
Americana and basic Constitutional facts. For

Q: What are the colors of our flag?

Q: What are the three branches of the U.S.

Mixed in with these simple-minded but
patriotic queries is a more ominous one that
reflects the modern immigration-as-a-civil-right

Q: Name one benefit of being a citizen of the
United States.

(A: Obtain federal government jobs; travel
with a U.S. passport; petition for close
relatives to come to the U.S. to live.)

Charles Bahmueller of the Center for Civic
Education is proposing we augment the current
emphasis on rote memorization. He wants to use
the test to encourage applicants to gain a
better understanding of the underlying
principles of the Constitution. He`d add
questions like "And why are there separate
branches?" This would make clearer the
fundamental goals of the Constitution, such as
preventing despotism.

No doubt a fine improvement. But more
far-reaching reforms based on a realistic
understanding of human nature are needed.

First, the current citizenship test
reflects a schoolmarm`s bias toward
book-learning rather than what really motivates
love of country. Neoconservative intellectuals
constantly tell us that America is not a nation
based on blood, but on ideological
"propositions." Yet, these American
"propositions" are far less
exceptional today than when Abraham Lincoln
defined America as "dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created
equal." Why should anybody be more loyal to
America than to another country devoted to
similarly admirable propositions – such as New

In reality, of course, the average person`s
most visceral loyalties are not to words, but to
the other people, living and dead, in the group
to which he belongs. Soldiers sometimes enlist
to defend ideals. But when the bullets are
flying, they don`t charge machine guns to
preserve the separation of powers. They risk
their lives for the other guys in their platoon.

What best builds group-cohesion is working
together for a common goal. As Hollywood WWII
movies loved to show, sharing a foxhole forged
solidarity among mutually suspicious white
ethnics. If we don`t strenuously emphasize
loyalty and sacrifice toward one`s fellow
American citizens, human beings will naturally
gravitate toward promoting their racial group
and class.

You can get people to bond across racial and
class lines, but seldom by preaching at them.
For example, UC Berkeley students are constantly
exhorted about equality and interracial
solidarity. But the only place on campus where
black and whites students can be seen making
sacrifices for each other is on the football
field. Black and white college football players
are far more likely to eat lunch together or
listen to each other`s music than are their more
articulate and politically correct fellow
students simply because they have to play
together as a team in order to win.

Another basic law of human psychology is
this: You don`t get somebody to like you by
doing them a favor. That only tends to build
resentment over the fact that they are needy and
you are not. No, you ask them to do you a favor.

Thus, I believe one way to instill a love for
the American people in immigrants applying for
citizenship might be to require them to put in,
say, 100 hours of community service (which could
be performed in six weekends). We would have to
carefully control what kind of service.
Allowing, say, Chinese applicants to work in
Chinatown would accomplish nothing. Nor would
forcing them to work among the dregs of the
native-born. No, immigrant applicants must work
in organizations where at least half the
volunteers were American citizens and where the
people served are not primarily the immigrant`s
own ethnic group. Filling sandbags for the Red
Cross during a flood or hurricane might be the
perfect task.

Yet when I proposed requiring 100 hours of
service at the recent McCormick Conference on
Immigration and Citizenship [see Scott
McConnell`s Diary at`s_diary.htm],
the neoconservatives were aghast. One pundit
thought it far too onerous a burden. He proposed
that instead we should be talking more about
what America should be doing for immigrants.

Second, our community-building efforts
need to begin far earlier in the immigration
process. We cannot continue to wait passively
until an immigrant might choose to apply for

Today, many hundreds of millions of
foreigners want to move to America. We could
easily pick "the best of the best."
Then we could turn the granting of permanent
legal residence into a really moving ceremony.
An orator could tell successful applicants:
"You have been carefully selected from an
enormous number of applicants from all over the
world. Out of the 100 million or more who want
to move to America, we have determined that you
possess the highest potential to make this great
country even better. Do not let America

Instead, winning permanent legal residency
these days is a purely bureaucratic experience.
The applicant simply receives a letter from the
INS containing his Green Card (which isn`t even
green anymore — it`s pink). And it would be
hard to find anything morally inspiring to say
about why we are letting the typical immigrant
into the country. I mean, it wouldn`t be
terribly stirring to hear, "Out of all the
potential immigrants from all the countries in
the world, we had to pick you because, well,
you`re somebody`s relative."

Third, to instill pride in being part
of the American community, we must guard
jealously the scarcity value of living in
America. We must ask new Americans to show their
loyalty by making a sacrifice. The social
egalitarianism fundamental to our middle-class
republic has always been based upon high wages
and low land prices. Thus new immigrants must
not excessively dilute the advantages of America
by bringing in too many relatives.

It makes sense to reform the citizenship
test. But any such reform will remain an
exercise in barn-door-slamming until we decide
upon rational answers to the two basic
questions: How many immigrants? And which ones?

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
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August 3, 2000