Are Huntington’s ideas in keeping with a traditionalist view of immigration?

Clark Coleman writes:

Regarding your post on Rod Dreher and Samuel Huntington, I am not sure we should accept Dreher’s (or anyone else’s) summary of what Huntington said. I have only read one book by Samuel Huntington: Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. I don’t think there is anything in this work that contradicts a traditionalist view of immigration.

You wrote: “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.”

Let’s not ascribe anything of the sort to Huntington. In Chapter 9 (entitled “Mexican Immigration and Hispanization”) of Who Are We?, Huntington speaks very bluntly about SIX major differences between our current Hispanic wave and prior waves of immigration. He states clearly that these factors are characteristics of the Mexican immigration, on top of the internal problems in America that he has discussed in earlier chapters (multiculturalism, the failure of elites to believe in our country, lack of will to assimilate, etc.). The six differences he lists are (1) contiguity (Mexicans can come and go at will, whereas earlier immigrants had to make a huge decision to get on a boat and leave the homeland behind, so they were more committed to becoming Americans); (2) numbers (too many immigrants from one place leads inexorably to lack of assimilation, regardless of our will to assimilate them); (3) illegality (in higher percentages than immigration from any other country in the past, leading to solidarity between legal and illegal immigrants, underground economies, us vs. them mentality, lack of assimilation); (4) regional concentration (Mexicans group in the Southwest, Cubans in South Florida, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York City, etc., which makes a numbers problem that again resists assimilation); (5) persistence (previous waves from one country went on a few years and subsided when the conditions back home changed, but Mexican and Hispanic immigration has persisted for decades with no sign of easing, leading again to a numbers problem); and (6) historical presence (Mexicans think the land belongs to them and they are engaging in a reconquista).

Of these characteristics, numbers 2, 4, and 5 relate to numbers and the effects on lack of assimilation that numbers cause. The other three relate to unassimilability on the part of the immigrants for cultural and historical reasons, independent of our own cultural confidence and will.

Dreher’s summary used the word “level” as perhaps a hint at the numbers problem, but he does not come close to properly summarizing Huntington’s thesis on Latin American immigration, which involves numbers, culture, language, and history. I cannot find anywhere in this book where Huntington claims that cultural confidence and a will to assimilate immigrants on our part would solve the problems posed by Hispanic immigration. He pretty bluntly states the opposite. Why Dreher summarizes Huntington is such a weak way perhaps says more about Dreher than it does about Huntington.

LA replies:

Thanks for the correction. I may have misremembered what Huntington said, or rather falsely equated it with what Dreher said, because of the impression made on me by Huntington’s statements that he saw absolutely no problem in America’s becoming a nonwhite country. Huntington’s position was that it makes no difference how racially different immigrants are, and thus how racially different the future American population is, from the traditional white American majority, because people of all nonwhite races, in unlimited numbers culminating in the literal disappearance of white America, can be assimilated into the Anglo-Protestant culture.

Once you have said that race, the most perdurable human difference, represents absolutely no bar to assimilation, once you have said that the historic people of the United States can be replaced wholesale by people of different races and yet the culture of the United States will continue, how do you plausibly argue that cultural differences could pose a bar to assimilation? Even if it was not his intention, the practical effect of Huntington’s race-blind view of American culture is to remove any significant obstacles to immigration.

Clark Coleman replies:

If we follow up on all of Huntington’s concerns about immigration, we will enact policies that greatly restrict immigration. Thus, I do not think it is correct to say that Huntington’s denial of the significance of race would remove all obstacles to immigration, because his denials of the significance of race are not the totality of his writings on immigration. Rather, I think it would be correct to say that Huntington’s cultural concerns were highly correlated to race, and thus an immigration policy that addressed his concerns would have a racial impact, and Huntington’s apparent belief that the racial impact would be merely coincidental is incorrect. Race and culture are intertwined.

But you cannot remove all obstacles to immigration until you deny the cultural, historical, and numerical problems that Huntington emphasized. Open borders advocates do exactly that. They claim we have no culture other than a Proposition Nation culture. Huntington was diametrically opposed to that interpretation of America, whatever his blindness on race might have been.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 07, 2009 12:48 PM | Send

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