The limitations of Huntington, and his admirers

(Note: In a later entry, Clark Coleman disagrees with Rod Dreher’s and my reading of Huntington.)

Rod Dreher has a well-written appreciation of Samuel Huntington, including this:

In fact, Huntington—all his life a New Deal Democrat—argued that liberals favor individualism because they take security for granted. Conservatives, including soldiers, understand that security is not in the natural order of things and that protecting our liberal order in a hostile world requires rejecting the standard liberal view of good, evil and human nature.

Huntington’s most important insight—which was hardly a new idea, it only seemed new in liberal/neocon America—was that the world consists not of a single humanity that believes what we believe and wants what we want, but of different and often incompatible civilizations. His passing is perhaps triggering greater recognition of this truth, as seen in neocon Fouad Ajami’s statement that Huntington was right.

However, one wonders if recognizing that truth is enough.

Dreher writes:

We are at a crossroads now, he contended, because the nation is being overwhelmed by an unprecedented level of Latin American immigration at precisely the moment when its ability to assimilate them to traditional Anglo-Protestant norms (as inculcated in U.S. Catholics, Jews and other non-Anglo, non-Protestants) is flagging because our elites no longer believe in them. Either we figure out how to revitalize our Anglo-Protestant culture—which is not the same thing as ethnicity—or we could see the fracturing of America along linguistic and cultural lines.

Dreher, following Huntington, makes two key mistakes. First, there is the implication that if America’s ability to assimilate immigrants into traditional Anglo-Protestant norms were intact, then being overwhelmed by Latin American immigration would not be a problem, because we could assimilate them all. In reality, even if our will and ability to assimilate immigrants were at their absolute peak, we could not assimilate tens of millions of nonwhite Latin Americans, because their racial and cultural differences from us, combined with their numbers, would make them unassimilable. In other words, if you took a culturally confident and unified America, and deluged it with nonwhite Third-World immigrants, the immigration would break down the confidence and the unity, and we would end up exactly where we are now—in a country with multitudes of unassimilable immigrants, a revamped, multicultural national identity to accommodate them, and a growing disenchantment from our historic nationhood because it no longer “fits” our racially transformed population.

I am not denying that the destructive alienation of the cultural elites is a terrible problem. I am saying that mass unassimilable immigration by itself, even in the absence of any pre-existing cultural alienation, would be enough to create such alienation.

A related mistake is seen in Huntington’s and Dreher’s notion that our Anglo-Protestant culture is not the same as ethnicity. True, culture is not the same as ethnicity, but it is closely entwined with it and cannot be entirely separated from it. Under optimal conditions Poles, Italians and Jews might be assimilated, more or less, into an Anglo-Protestant culture. Under no conditions can large numbers of Mestizos or Somalians or Laotians be assimilated into it. Ethnicity—of which race is a component—matters. The greater the cultural, ethnic, and racial differences between a host people and immigrants, and the greater the number of immigrants, the harder assimilation becomes, and the more the immigrants are going to change the host society. Not all differences are equal to all other differences. Huntington understood this truth when it came to civilizational differences. That he denied the same truth when it came to ethnic and racial differences, and, indeed, repeatedly declared that he would have no problem with America’s becoming a nonwhite country, rendered him unserious on the greatest threat facing the West.

- end of initial entry -

Terry Morris writes:

Well, there’s a fundamental flaw in Rod Dreher’s thinking. If America’s ability to assimilate immigrants into traditional Anglo-Protestant norms were intact, then we would not be overwhelmed by Latin American immigration in the first place because it would be understood from the outset that Latin American immigration, in large numbers, would be a problem.

LA replies:

Yes. If we were the culturally confident country—the country that believes in itself—that the assimilationists say we must be if we are to assimilate the immigrants, then we would never have admitted all those immigrants. The admission of the immigrants was an expression of the fact that we had stopped believing in ourselves as a distinct country and culture and had adopted a liberal universalist view of ourselves. And once you’ve become a liberal univesalist society, you’ve stopped being anything in particular for the immigrants to assimilate into.

Try to get any mainstream conservative to see this.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 05, 2009 12:57 PM | Send

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