In Memoriam: Ernest van den Haag

Peter Brimelow writes: Ernest van den Haag lived a long full life and, I am reliably informed, died a good Catholic death on Thursday, March 21, in his 88th year, adding a suitable MittelEuropa twist to the Sephardic heritage of which he was proud. But I grieve anyway. I first discovered him in the library of an English university in the late 1960s when, charged with writing on the ghetto riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, I found a powerful essay by van den Haag demonstrating – from observation in his own New York West Side neighborhood – that the demoralization of the authorities was actually to blame. This was exactly my own intuition. I felt a profound intellectual click, the first of many. (My tutor felt consternation.) My brother and I forced the library to resubscribe to the obscure, extremist American magazine that had carried his essay, which had been dropped for reasons of proto-political correctness. It was National Review.

It was a joy and an honor to get to know van den Haag, some fifteen years and many cities later, in the Manhattan of Ronald Reagan`s Decade of Greed.  I would say that the salient characteristic of his mind was extreme ruthlessness. It was always a forensic thrill to see him shoot across a seminar table, with the startling speed of an angry armadillo, and grip a just-concluded lecturer, sinking unwarily into his seat to entertain the usual supportive questions, with a crushing and crippling bite.

Van den Haag was of course an immigrant, and so not surprisingly he realized the disaster for America that the 1965 Immigration Act threatened to be. We reproduce here his remarkably prescient 1965 National Review critique, with comments.  As Enoch Powell said in his great speech on immigration about the same time, “the supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils.” It was not van den Haag`s fault that National Review subsequently fell into a Rip Van Winkle sleep on the subject of the evils of immigration for almost thirty years.

I believe that conversations between my brother and myself and van den Haag, a long-time Buckley confidante, led indirectly to Bill`s hiring John O`Sullivan to edit National Review – no doubt under various misapprehensions – and thus to National Review`s awakening to the immigration issue in 1992.  Almost the last conversation van den Haag and I had was in the wake of the abrupt firing of O`Sullivan by Buckley in 1997, in part apparently because our immigration coverage was threatening his social position, evidenced by his subsequent abandoning the issue and turning the magazine over to unthreatening Republican apparatchiks – a volte-face noted by authorities as diverse as the Wall Street Journal`s Bob Bartley and First Things` Richard Neuhaus.

Van den Haag was scathing, especially because Buckley (after God knows how many years of confidanteship) had lied to him about O`Sullivan`s eviction, alleging he had “resigned” to write a book. “Bill is not aging well,” van den Haag said, with a wicked glint. He also thought simple jealousy was a motive. Of course, after surviving Europe`s terrible twentieth century, he was not shocked (“I don`t shock easily,” he said in another context) and as far as I know he did nothing to protest the degeneration of the National into Goldberg Review. Nevertheless, in his unwavering opposition to America`s immigration disaster, he remained the truer patriot.


More Immigration?

By Ernest van den Haag

Originally published in

National Review
, September 21,

Original Introduction: Our immigration laws should indeed be changed,
says the author, but not as now proposed by the
Congress. Mr. van den Haag favors tighter control

[VDARE.COM`s 2002 comments in red]

Passage by the lower house of
Congress [Over the
non-opposition of Republican minority leader

Gerald Ford
.] of
a comprehensive new immigration bill was hailed as “a
triumph of justice” by the President and, with his
enthusiastic backing, it seems the bill has an excellent
chance of enactment. [When
Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law (the ceremony
was held in the shadow of the much-abused

Statue of Liberty
) he said, “This bill that we
will sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not
affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the
structure of our daily lives, or really add importantly
to either our wealth or our power.”
The only
part of that sentence that was true was the last clause:
mass immigration

add to the national wealth or power. Read
the whole Johnson speech

The present law can certainly stand
improvement. But the bill supported by the President is
clearly a move in the wrong direction, sure to make
matters worse.

The Quota System

The present immigration statute—the
McCarran-Walter Act of 1952—synthesized the numerous
regulations that had been passed

since 1789. A few of the most glaring
inequities and inconsistencies were removed: some Asian
immigrants previously ineligible became eligible for
citizenship: quotas were given to some nations that
previously had none. And discretion (vested largely in
the State Department) with regard to non-quota
immigrants was increased.

But the basic policy of the

Immigration Act of 1924
was retained. Each nation
was granted a quota of immigrants equal to 2 per cent of
its former nationals and their descendants in the
American population. The 1924 law was based on the
census of 1890. Modifications were enacted in 1929: the
1890 census figures were replaced with data derived from
the 1920 census; “national origins” (birth place) rather
than “nationality” (citizenship) became the basis for
the classification of immigrants; minimum quotas of 100
immigrants were established and a few changes were made.

The McCarran-Walter Act did not
substantially change the system as streamlined in 1929.
It retained quota-free immigration from the Western
Hemisphere and systematized quota-exempt immigration of
special categories of people, such as political refugees
and persons with needed skills. Although the immigration
ceiling is 158,000 per year, non-quota immigration has
nearly doubled that figure in the years since the law
was enacted.

The objections to the 1952 statute are largely based
on the allegation that the quota system originally
enacted in the twenties is “racist” and therefore wrong
and shameful. [For example,

A Promise To Keep,

a history of the

Anti-Defamation League,

the chapter on the passage of
the 1924 Immigration Act is entitled “Panic Among the
Quotas favor the English (65,361
immigrants permitted per year) the German (25,814) and
the Irish (17,756). They restrict immigration from other
nations rather severely. Thus only 5,666 persons of
Italian origin are allowed per year.

Yet, the

“racist” label
, though given credence by many

fanciful scholars,

does not fit. The quotas were never intended to be
proportionate to size of the nationalities of origin;
nor to reflect the inclination of the various
nationalities to come to the States. The quotas are
based on the ethnic proportions of the population in
1920 and this basis is hardly “racist.”

From a strictly “racist” viewpoint, an English quota
twice as large as a the German quota would not make
sense; nor does it make sense that quotas for the
Netherlands(3,136), Sweden (3,295), Denmark (1,175) should
be so much smaller than the quota for Poland (6,488), and
disproportionate to that of Czechoslovakia (3,859).
[Now two countries with two
The system is obviously not “racist” in
the Nazi sense; or in any intelligible sense. Many of
the arguments advanced for the quota system may have
been vaguely

in a pre-Nazi sense: and so, undoubtedly,
were some of the underlying motives. But the system
itself is not; one need not believe in racial
inferiority or superiority to justify it. If one does,
one cannot justify it.

The 1952 act codified a view shared quite generally
in the past: not to allow immigration to change the
national or ethnic composition of the American
population. To achieve this, the quota of immigrants
from each nation had to be made proportional to the
number of nationals in the American population.

I cannot see anything unfair or unreasonable in such
a decision. It may or may not be based on a feeling or
belief that some ethnic groups within the population are
more valuable than others. Practically all ethnic groups
think that much of themselves—although for obvious
reasons, minority groups express such feelings less
openly than majority groups.
[In 1965 this was true, but no longer. Today minority
groups are the only ones allowed to express themselves
in this fashion.]
But one need not believe that
one`s own ethnic group, or any ethnic group, is superior
to others (or more likely to make good citizens) in
order to wish one`s country to continue to be made up of
the same ethnic strains in the same proportions as

And, conversely, the wish not to see one`s country
overrun by groups one regards as alien need not be based
on feelings of superiority or “racism.”

Patriotism Is Not Racism.

[Repeat this ten times
until you have it memorized.]

The wish to preserve one`s identity and the identity
of one`s nation requires no justification—and no belief
in superiority—any more than the wish to have one`s own
children, and to continue one`s family through them need
be justified or rationalized by a belief that they are
superior to the children of others, or more fit, or
better in business. One identifies with one`s family,
because it is one`s family—not because they are better
people than others. For no other reason one identifies
with one`s national group more than with others. Else
there would be no nations.

The feeling needs no justification anymore than one`s
love and preference for oneself and one`s own does. That
the feeling has often been rationalized in rather
foolish terms is as true as it is irrelevant. Even if I
think silly your belief that your mother, or
girlfriend, is the greatest thing God ever made, I do
not condemn your feeling about them. It needs no

Now, does a nation have the moral right to select new
members—other than those born into it—according to its
feelings? I see no reason not to grant this right;
indeed, every nation has always exercised it. [Outside
the US, every nation is still exercising it. See
the Mexican

towards immigration, for example.]

What then could be more natural for the American people
than to use the method of selection embodied in the
quota system?

It may be argued that ethnic origin

  1. has little to do with ability, behavior, or
    achievement and


  1. that these, and only these, are what matter.

Perhaps the first part of the proposition is true.
But the second part is as arbitrary a value judgment as
the opposite contention would be. One does not love
one`s children or parents because of their behavior,
ability or achievement—but often despite them. One loves
them because one feels them to be part of oneself —more
than people to whom one is not related, however much
greater their achievement, however much better their

There is no merit then in the contention that the
quota system is “racist,” or somehow morally wrong.
Individuals, and groups no less, are entitled to have
preferences for other individuals or groups; these need
not be based on more than the feeling of preference
itself. To be sure, once people are admitted and become
residents of their new country, they should be treated
without irrelevant discrimination, in matters other than
personal or social relationships (when, by definition,
nothing is relevant but preference). But I can discover
no moral reason for preventing a nation from selecting
new residents according to preference.

But let that go. There are more important things in
practical terms. Compare the number of quota immigrants
the present law actually admits with the number the
proposed bill would admit. The McCarran-Walter Act had
the effect of reducing quota immigration below the
ceiling allowable of 158,000. The English, for instance,
did not utilize their large quota. Inasmuch as the quota
is not transferable to other nations, the result was
fewer immigrants. Indeed, despite all the hue and cry
about ethnic selection, the main effect of the present
quota system is to reduce total quota immigration below
its formal ceiling, The ethnic selection did not work,
because as a matter of fact no more Englishmen actually
immigrated than, say, Italians.

The bill backed by LBJ would open our doors to 20,000
immigrants from each nation. The effect would be to
increase total immigration greatly; its proponents say
to 350,000 per year. [They
were wrong. The

are in dispute, but there were an average of
a million legal immigrants a year in the Nineties. There
may be 8 million illegal immigrants living in the
United States today.]
(Total immigration in the
last few years has averaged less than 300,000 per year.)
This estimate is probably low because relatives of
citizens would not be counted in the 20,000 limit per
nation [This has had a
snowball effect. As Peter Brimelow pointed out, the U.S.
could never have admitted a million skilled immigrants
in a year. The unions would never have stood for it. But
everyone has many relatives.];

political refugees
are likely to be admitted—and for
good reason—apart from the 20,000 limit; and the bill
proposes in the next three years to allow the large
backlog of approved but not yet admitted quota
immigrants to enter the United States in addition to the
20,000 to be admitted yearly from each nation.

In short, the bill will greatly increase
immigration—far more than proponents tell us. Assume
that immigration increases only to 350,000 per annum, as
proponents of the bill tell us it will. Is that good?

I don`t think so. On the contrary, the time has come
for the United States to consider itself

settled territory
—just like Germany, or Italy or
Ireland [In 1965 Germany,
Italy and Ireland were almost entirely populated by
Germans, Italians, and Irishmen. All of them now host

guest workers,
refugees, and

Third World immigrants.
—and to stop
encouraging immigration altogether. I should still favor
allowing relatives of citizens to enter; or political
refugees, and people with needed skills, or, indeed,
occasionally people who for any reasonable reason want
to become Americans—just as some Americans become
naturalized French citizens. But I see no more reason
for us to encourage immigration or invite it than there
is for the Italians, the Irish, or the Germans to do so.

I would like to see the McCarran-Walter Act changed
so as to reduce all existing quotas by 75 per cent.

This would be the simplest way of reducing
immigration. Now, as mentioned before, I do not regard
our present immigration policy as “racist” nor can I see
any acceptable moral argument against our right to be
selective, ethnically or otherwise. However, I also see
no reason to exercise this right as we have. I like
Italians no less than Englishmen. [Van
den Haag was an immigrant himself. Like Peter Brimelow
and John O` Sullivan, he immigrated to something called
“America” and had a right to worry about people changing
the recipe unexpectedly.]
And most people today
no longer have the preferences that led to the
establishment of the original quotas. Further, if we
reduce total immigration as I propose to do, quota
equalization is not likely to affect the ethnic
composition of our population in any but the most
negligible way.

Thus I would not oppose a change in the law so as to
grant the same number of immigrants to each
nation—provided that the total of immigrants not exceed
40,000 per year, in addition to the special categories
mentioned before; future immigration should be limited
almost exclusively to these special categories.

Legislation Obsolescent

Let me explain why I think such a
policy correct.

In all its many aspects, our
traditional immigration policy was based on the simple
fact that this continent was underpopulated and would
use more people to advantage. This is no longer the
case. Not only has our population increased rapidly—in
great part as the result of our highly successful
immigration policies —but our present rate of natural
increase—the highest in any industrial nation—is such
that additional immigration is no longer needed and,
indeed, becoming disadvantageous.

If we continue to permit the immigration of relatives
of people with needed skills, of refugees, and, for
obvious reasons, of people who have already been
promised admittance, altogether an estimated 200,000
persons per year, we will have plenty. Occasional
residence and naturalization of other foreigners should
not be prohibited altogether. But neither should it be
invited. At present, residence is granted and even
citizenship, if (given the quota) there is no actual
disqualification such as a criminal record. I
should—with the exceptions noted above—make residence
and citizenship a privilege to be granted only upon
positive proof of the desirability of the new resident
or citizen in terms of the nation`s needs.


Linus Torvalds
, the inventor of Linux, recently had
immigrating to the U.S. There may be too many relatives
in line ahead of him. For a more detailed look at a
positive immigration policy, see

Blueprints for an Ideal Legal Immigration Policy

published by the Center for
Immigration Studies.]

What about the

countries? I do not feel it our duty
to solve their problems. But, whatever policy we pursue,
in practical terms it will not affect their problems
anyway. The Italian overpopulation problem is not solved
even if we permit 20,000 Italian immigrants (rather than
5,666) a year, as proposed in the bill before Congress.
It can be solved only if the Italians in Italy decide to
solve it. [Italians did solve
it. In fact, they have immigration problems now.
Italian leftist Ida Magli

that Italy is now far too crowded in spite
of a declining birth rate. The reason?


There are undoubtedly some
countries that can benefit from further immigration. To
name a few, Canada
[These are countries with
large open spaces. Canada is now at the 20% foreign born
mark. Of course, Canada still has a lot of empty –
albeit cold – space, but immigrants don`t go there.
Canada`s largest city, Toronto, is now 50% foreign-born],

Australia [Australia
is starting to feel
the strain. See

“Nice Guys Get Illegal Immigrants”
by John
Argentina and Brazil are in this

We are not; more specifically, we are no longer. Thus
we should pass legislation to decrease not to increase
immigration, and ultimately to reduce it to an
insignificant number.

Circumstances change. Legislation should take account
of them. I know of no economist who would regard this
country as underpopulated. Most economists fear that we
are rapidly becoming overpopulated
[or at least

even without immigration.

Under the circumstances, the legislation before
Congress is obsolete even before being enacted. It
should be replaced by legislation more in accordance
with our actual situation.

September 21, 1965 – Reprinted in VDARE.COM on March
22, 2002