… an argument that probably comes too late
These days the anti-immigration argument in America seem to boil down to the claim that too many incoming immigrants are criminals or otherwise undesirables. Which is a shame, because that argument tends to defeat its own purpose.
Pro-immigrant progressives know that many, maybe most anti-immigrant organizations are overtly racist. Disparaging a particular country’s immigrants—say, Mexicans—has enough of a negative, ethnically targeted tone for progressives to declare it “racist” too, and to keep labeling all immigration-limit sentiment as “racist.”*
And thus many decent people continue to censor themselves on the subject, rather than risk being tarred with that brush.
And thus progressives “win” the argument, essentially by default.
Arguments that disparage immigrants don’t even get to the heart of the matter, which really has nothing to do with immigrants’ shortcomings. I know that because I have spent much of my adult life living as an immigrant, often in developing countries where I have been wealthier and better educated—and I think it’s fair to say less crime-prone—than the average native.
My host countries have been remarkably tolerant of expatriates like me. But these countries, along with most others outside North America and Europe, have always maintained clear distinctions in practice, and often in law, between their own ethnic natives and outsiders. We foreigners typically cannot obtain citizenship easily in such countries, and often cannot even own land.
That is not because we are criminals or welfare hogs, nor is it just because, having more money, we tend to sow envy and drive up prices. The problem, at the deepest level, is simply that we look foreign, talk foreign, act foreign—we represent a foreign culture—and there are natural limits to the human tolerance of such a cultural invasion.
Americans with their focus on individual rights and “diversity” seem to have lost sight of this reality, but cultures must have a general tendency to cohere and protect themselves, otherwise they wouldn’t have survived till now.
The best, most fundamental argument against liberal immigration policy, in America or anywhere else, is simply an extension of this own-culture-preserving instinct. It doesn’t mean hating foreign cultures. It just means loving one’s own culture enough to want to keep it—or at least keep it from changing too swiftly.
Progressives themselves use a similar logic every time they take up the cause of some tribe whose ancient way of life is threatened by the modern world. In fact, anthropologist Wade Davis, in a well known TED talk some years back, rhapsodized that “together the myriad cultures of the world make up a web of spiritual life and cultural life”—an ethnosphere—“that envelops the planet, and is as important to the well-being of the planet as indeed is the biological web of life that you know as a biosphere.”
Why don’t progressives view traditional American culture as a valid member of this ethnosphere?
Well, because the ethnosphere, as pretty as Davis makes it seem, is really an arena of struggle, frequently to the death. Indeed some cultures are principally concerned with establishing not just local but global dominance. Western culture—first driven by Catholicism, later by Protestantism, now more and more by progressivism—has certainly been the best at this form of warfare.
Western culture itself is a battleground where progressive elements lately have been exterminating traditional conservative elements. Every week, it seems, they win another victory. As many have noticed, relatively unrestricted immigration to America from non-European countries—a major departure from traditional immigration policy, which followed closely on the Civil Rights Act of 1964—has directly benefited progressives in this struggle. It has undeniably weakened the existing traditional culture of America—by its raw dilutive effect, by its erosion of social trust, and I think by broadly conveying to citizens whose families have long been in the country that America isn’t really “theirs” anymore.
Liberal immigration policy over the past five decades also has created a very large, maybe decisive voting bloc of Latinos (~60 million) who naturally tend to vote for the progressives that let them in.
And of course the same culturally corrosive processes, driven by the same progressive policy justifications, have been at work in Western Europe, which is now swamped by non-Europeans, many of them Muslims who—irony of ironies—despise the progressivism they find in their new homes.
The question progressives should be asking—but probably can’t, within the limits set by their tribal thinking—is whether, in trying to weaken their opponents’ control of Western culture by opening the immigration floodgates, they have ended up fragmenting that culture so badly that it is now effectively uncontrollable.
Originally published 12 July 2015
* The argument is really about culture, not race. Also, Mexicans do not have a well-defined race; their genomes are highly diverse and are generally a mix of old Spanish, Mesoamerican and African sources.