Still “the forbidden topic” after all these years

Here is the latest in an occasional series of reprints of articles of mine that were published before the Age of the Internet. “The Forbidden Topic” was the first front-of-the-magazine article to appear in National Review that attacked immigration for its ethnocultural effects. My specific theme was that the racial changes in the U.S. population brought about by mass non-European immigration were the main driving force behind the multicultural movement. It took me about two years to get an anti-immigration article published in NR. I couldn’t seem to frame the issue in a way that NR would find acceptable. After killing a piece of mine that he had previously assigned (a debate between me and open-borders proponent Julian Simon, as I remember), NR’s then-editor John O’Sullivan, to make it up with me, invited me to lunch. At that lunch I mentioned three recent articles by leading neoconservatives in which they each blamed multiculturalism on a factor other than immigration, namely black educational deficits, and denied the multiculturalists’ assertion, being heard everywhere at that time, that the massive changes in America’s ethnic composition made multiculturalism necessary and inevitable. O’Sullivan saw my line of argument, in which I was going after the immigration issue by attacking the neocons’ denial of the role of changing ethnicity in the growth of multiculturalism, rather than by attacking immigration directly, as an approach to the subject that he could live with. The result was this article, which NR published a few weeks before Peter Brimelow’s landmark cover article on immigration.

Some conservatives don’t want to know about
the link between multiculturalism and immigration.
Lawrence Auster
National Review
April 27, 1992

ACROSS the country, America’s mainstream identity is being dismantled in the name of “inclusion.” Half of last summer’s New York City Shakespeare Festival was given over to Spanish and Portuguese translations of Shakespeare. Christmas has been replaced in many schools by a non-denominational Winterfest or by the new African-American holiday Kwanza, while schools in areas with large Hispanic populations celebrate Cinco de Mayo. The exemplary figures of American history have been excised from school textbooks, replaced by obscure minorities and women. Despite massive additions of material on non-Western societies, school texts are still being stridently attacked as “Eurocentric,” and much more radical changes are in the works.

Yet even as the multiculturalist revolution rolls through the land, there is still profound disagreement about its meaning, its aims, and most of all its origins. Mainstream media and educationists describe the diversity movement as, in part, an effort to be more inclusive of America’s historic minorities; in its larger dimensions, however, they see it as a response to the prodigious changes that are occurring in America’s ethnic composition. America is rapidly becoming multiracial and white-minority, and, these observers say, our national identity is changing in response. If that is true,—and it is stated or implied in almost every news story on the subject—then it is also true that massive Third World immigration, the source of America’s changing demographics, is the ultimate driving force behind multiculturalism.

Virtually alone in resisting these assumptions, which are shared by people on both the right and the left, is the conservative establishment, particularly the neoconservatives. There is thus a peculiar ideological arrangement in this debate. Liberals, who support both unrestricted immigration and multiculturalism, do not hesitate to point out a causal link between the two; indeed, they appeal to the inevitability of continued Third World immigration as an unanswerable argument for multiculturalism. Traditional conservatives like Pat Buchanan, who with equal consistency oppose both multiculturalism and Third World immigration, also have no difficulty in seeing the causal connection. Neoconservatives, by contrast, have dissociated these two issues, leading the fight against multiculturalism while passionately clinging to the ideal of unrestricted immigration. Their pro-immigration stand, based on a conviction of both its economic necessity and its political morality, compels them to ignore, or ritually dismiss, the mounting evidence that the sea-change in America’s ethnic identity is fueling the cultural-diversity movement. To keep immigration from coming under attack, they are forced to hunt for alternative explanations for multiculturalism.

This approach was brought into focus last summer in articles by Irving Kristol in the Wall Street Journal, by Nathan Glazer in The New Republic, and by Midge Decter in Commentary. Despite wide differences on the effects of multiculturalism (Kristol thinks it’s a threat to the West equal to Nazism and Stalinism; Glazer thinks it’s no big deal), they reached startlingly similar conclusions about its causes.

Multiculturalism, they argued, has essentially nothing to do with America’s increasing ethnic diversity; at bottom, it is a desperate, misguided attempt to overcome black educational deficiencies—an effort that radicals have opportunistically seized upon to advance their separatist and anti-West agenda. “Did these black students and their problems not exist, we would hear little of multiculturalism,” Irving Kristol declared. Assimilation, he believes, is proceeding apace: “Most Hispanics are behaving very much like the Italians of yesteryear; most Orientals, like the Jews of yesteryear.” Nathan Glazer agreed: “[I]t is not the new immigration that is driving the multicultural demands.”

Down with Eurocentrism

IRONICALLY, on the same day Irving Kristol was denying that Hispanics are pushing for multiculturalism, the New York Times ran this typical item: “Buoyed by a growing population and by a greater presence on local school boards, Hispanic Americans have begun pressing textbook publishers and state education officials to include more about Hispanic contributions in the curriculums of public schools,” as well as to correct “stereotypes”—a familiar code for the elimination of Eurocentrism.

A spate of letters to the Wall Street Journal protesting Kristol’s view offered a revealing glimpse into mainstream opinion on the subject. The chief factor in multiculturalism, wrote Martha Farnsworth Riche of the Population Reference Bureau, is that “racially and ethnically, America’s school-age population is increasingly unlike its past generations… . This ensures that the school-age population will become even less a product of what we call ‘Western civilization’ in the future.” Multiculturalism, said another correspondent, “is not an attempt to address the social problems of African-Americans. Latin Americans and Asian-Americans have been equally involved.” From the cultural Left, Gregory K. Tanaka said that as a result of the increasing proportion of non-whites in America, “it is becoming clear that our Western ‘common’ culture no longer works. What Mr. Kristol overlooks is that this decline of Westernism leaves us no surviving basis for social order.”

While it might be tempting to dismiss these views as multiculturalist propaganda, the clincher is that Nathan Glazer himself, after at first denying that the increase of non-European groups is propelling multiculturalism, turned around and admitted it: “I do not see how school systems with a majority of black and Latino students, with black or Latino leadership at the top … can stand firmly against the multiculturalist thrust … demographic and political pressures change the history that is to be taught.” (Italics added.) It was in this same article that Glazer, to the great consternation of his neoconservative allies, announced his reluctant support for Thomas Sobol’s radical curriculum reforms in New York state. That Glazer subscribed to the demographics-multiculturalism link in the very act of surrendering to the new curriculum supports my point that once multiculturalism is accepted, the key role of immigration and ethnic diversity in driving multiculturalism loses its stigma and can be freely acknowledged.

To this, conservatives reply Glazer is not admitting a forbidden truth but is simply adopting the multiculturalists’ fallacious “demographic inevitability” argument. In The New Criterion, Heather MacDonald agrees that demographic changes are “fueling” multiculturalism, but criticizes Glazer for “[mistaking] the actual for the inevitable.” In other words, neoconservatives will concede that multiculturalism has been adopted because of our society’s increasing diversity; but, they insist, this was not “logical.” Since immigration is only the “actual” cause and not the “logical” cause, we should leave immigration alone.

One can’t help being reminded of the people who say that the failures of Marxism do not prove its theoretical unsoundness. Just as one cannot persuade a devoted Marxist that Marxism must lead to tyranny and poverty, one cannot logically demonstrate to an open-borders conservative that precipitately changing a historically European-majority country into a multiracial, white-minority country must result in a breakdown of the common culture. Nevertheless, whether logical or not, that is what is happening.

Here neoconservatives fall back on the familiar argument that it is only the ethnic activists, not the great bulk of the immigrant groups, who are pushing for multiculturalism, a case advanced most recently by Linda Chavez in Out of the Barrio. But as Tamar Jacoby has pointed out, Miss Chavez’s own evidence suggests quite the opposite conclusion: that Hispanics of all classes are eagerly embracing the call to cultural separatism. According to one study cited by Miss Chavez, a large and rising percentage of Hispanics describe themselves as “Hispanic first/American second”—a preference made clear by the Hispanic majority in San Jose, California, who angrily protested, as a “symbol of conquest,” a statue commemorating the raising of the American flag in California during the Mexican War.

But even if it were true that most of the new ethnics didn’t “want” multiculturalism, it is undeniable that their swelling numbers empower the group-rights movement by adding to its clientele. Scott McConnell has pointed out in the New York Post that as soon as minority immigrants arrive in this country, they become grist for the affirmative-action mill, eligible for an elaborate web of preferences. To imagine that we can turn back the multiculturalist and group-rights ideology by persuasion alone, while continuing the large-scale immigration that feeds that ideology, is like pouring liquor down a man’s throat while “advising” him to stay sober.

Apart from ideology, it is important to understand that massive deculturation is occurring as a direct result of the demographic changes themselves. Commenting on the impact of the huge Hispanic presence in California, a Hispanic academic tells the New York Times: “What is threatened here is intellectual life, the arts, museums, symphonies. How can you talk about preserving open space and establishing museums with a large undereducated underclass?” The program director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music speaks matter-of-factly about the inevitable displacement of Western music as the Academy gears its programs to the cultural interests and traditions of Brooklyn’s intensely heterogeneous, Third World population.

Another consequence of this profound population shift is an intensification of white guilt. Since in our emerging multiracial society any all-white grouping is increasingly seen as non-representative (and presumptively “racist”), the same assumption gets insensibly projected onto the past. The resulting loss of sympathetic interest in Western historical figures, lore, and achievements creates a ready audience for the multiculturalist rewriting of history. When we can no longer employ traditional reference points such as “our Western heritage” because a critical number of us are no longer from the West; when we cannot speak of “our Founding Fathers” because the expression is considered racially exclusive; when more and more minorities complain that they can’t identify with American history because they “don’t see people who look like themselves” in that history, then the only practical way to preserve a simulacrum of common identity is to redefine America as a centerless, multicultural society.

Multiculturalism, in sum, is far more than a radical ideology or misconceived educational reform; it is a mainstream phenomenon, a systematic dismantling of America’s unitary national identity in response to unprecedented ethnic and racial transformation. Admittedly, immigration reform aimed at stabilizing the country’s ethnic composition is no panacea; the debunking of multiculturalism must also continue. But if immigration is not cut back, the multiculturalist thrust will be simply unstoppable.

What explains the conservatives’ refusal to face the demographic dimensions of multiculturalism? Martha Farnsworth Riche believes the reason is psychological: “The older white academics are facing a shift in power. They’re denying that reality by saying, in effect, that minorities ‘should’ assimilate; they don’t want to face the fact that their world is disappearing.” More to the point, they are evading the uncomfortable necessity of dealing with the racially charged immigration issue.

Indeed, the conservatives’ greatest reason for not allowing a fundamental debate on immigration is their understandable fear of opening up a forum for racist attitudes. But as last year’s election in Louisiana suggests, the establishment’s refusal to take seriously Middle America’s legitimate concerns about cultural displacement only makes it more likely that those concerns will be taken up by extremists. If opposition to racism is not to become a destructive ideological crusade, then racism must be defined according to a norm of racial justice that is rationally achievable in this world. Understood in a non-utopian sense, racial justice means that the majority in a country treats minorities fairly and equally; it does not mean that the majority is required to turn itself into a minority. If it does mean the latter, then nation-states, in effect, have no right to preserve their own existence, let alone to control their borders. The immigration restrictions of the early 1920s, discriminatory though they plainly were (and against the group to which this writer belongs), reduced ethnic hatreds, greatly eased the assimilation of white ethnics, and kept America a culturally unified nation through the mid twentieth century. The fall-off in cheap immigrant labor also encouraged capital-intensive investment and spurred the great middle-class economic expansion of the 1920s. It is ironic, therefore, that our open-borders advocates constantly appeal to the turn-of-the-century immigration as a model for us to follow today, since one of the key reasons the earlier immigration turned out, in retrospect, to be such a remarkable success was that it was halted. The same caveat applies even more strongly to our present, uncontrolled influx from the Third World.

NATIONAL REVIEW / April 27, 1992

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 09, 2005 12:52 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):