No more song of the open borders?

One day in 1992 I sat with about twenty people at a long luncheon table high up in the Pan Am Building in Midtown Manhattan, at a meeting of the New York Discussion Group hosted by former gubernatorial candidate Herbert London. The speaker that day was Peter Brimelow, whose landmark National Review cover article on immigration had recently been published, and who had invited me to come to the meeting (it was the first time we met). Further down the table was Peggy Noonan. She and everyone else at the table who spoke that day, with the exception of Brimelow and me,—and, later, London—were open borders proponents. Noonan did not speak much, but was dismissive of Brimelow’s message, laying out the optimistic idea that all the immigrants were becoming part of America and there were nothing to worry about. In the years following, I never heard anything from Noonan about immigration except her song of the open borders, and her neoconservative view of America as a universal idea, not a concrete country. As recently as three years ago, as discussed at VFR, she derided the idea of a national homeland as “mud.” “When you say you love America, you’re not saying our mud is better than the other guy’s mud.” No, you’re saying that your universal idea of freedom, equality and pluralism is better than any other idea or allegiance in the world. As Jim Kalb pointed out,

The more I think about the Noonan quote though the worse it seems:

-The notion that we’re such lovers of peace and justice because we believe in universally obligatory ideals—shades of the Dar-ul-Islam and the Dar-ul-Harb!

-Attacking the Europeans as a bunch of oafish proto-Nazi aggressors because they’re attached to their homes.

-The notion that America was “invented to advance” a political ideology. I can’t have a country to call my own in the way I have a home or a family, instead I have to believe in the Party.

-I’m usually not much for talking about Gnostic or Puritan or Calvinist denial of matter, but there does seem to be something of that in Miss Noonan’s view that particularity of people and place is “mud.” It’s really inhuman.

Well, as we all know, something’s been happening with Noonan over the last few years. First there was the increasing note of pessimism that entered her writings after 9/11. She was no longer the misty Irish lass singing her sweet sentimental song of America, no, she felt we were in trouble, something terrible had happened to us, and much worse things were coming. Then there was her stunning attack on President Bush’s inaugural address last January, which she saw, quite rightly, as a utopian call for ideological war against the whole world. Unfortunately, she failed to remark on the link between her own view of America as a universal ideology not a country, and Bush’s very similar view. Still, self-criticism for past mistakes is something one never expects from a neoconservative. It was enough that Noonan was becoming vocally uncomfortable with the neocon vision, as she saw it growing more and more extreme and detached from any bounded reality.

Today, in her column in Opinion Journal, Noonan has undergone yet another departure from her past ideological self. For the first time ever (at least to my knowledge), she is criticizing immigration, not legal immigration, true, but at least illegal immigration. She makes an eloquent case—it’s never been stated so well—about the human effect on a person when his first experience on entering his new country is to break the law, and his second experience is to see the elites of that country cynically accept his breaking of the law. How, she asks, can such a person ever be a loyal member of that country? This is the real problem that Americans have with illegal immigration, she continues, and it’s something of which our elites have no conception.

I will continue to watch with interest Noonan’s evolution. However, it would be nice—good for her soul, and helpful to all of us—if, just once, she admitted that she is now criticizing ideas that she has warmly embraced for the last twenty years.

[There is further discussion on the meaning of Noonan’s article here.]

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 08, 2005 06:15 PM | Send

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