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The Mises Review

Edited and written by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of four books and thousands of essays.


Immigration and the American Identity: Selections From Chronicles, 1985-1995

Chronicles Magazine

1 1996
Volume 2, Number 1


The Right To Trespass?

Spring 1996

IMMIGRATION AND THE AMERICAN IDENTITY: SELECTIONS FROM CHRONICLES, 1985-1995
The Rockford Institute, 1995, 232 pp.

The twenty-three contributors to this anthology do not share a uniform point of view. Nevertheless, a distinctive Chronicles approach to immigration emerges from the volume.

Many opponents of immigration ardently champion a unified national culture; but, with some exceptions, the contributors to this book do not adopt this line. Rather, as the Editor of Chronicles, Tom Fleming, explains: "Cultural nationalism is an unmitigated evil, and I would not hesitate and call it fascism, if it were not unfair to the Duce. . . . The best hope for American culture today resides in the local, provincial, and ethnic remnants that are struggling to survive; they would be the first victims of cultural nationalism" (pp. 22-23).

It is hardly a surprise that for Chronicles the culture of the South is at least primus inter pares; and in "The Celtic Heritage of the Old South" Grady McWhiney describes the people of this region with insight and wit. "Neither Celts nor their Southern descendants regarded their ways as unusual or reprehensible. The laziness and lack of ambition that good Englishmen and Yankees considered deplorable were viewed differently by traditional Celts and antebellum Southerners. They delighted in their livestock culture and their comfortable customs" (p. 42).

But our contributors by no means equate culture with the South. Allan Carlson sensitively evokes the German-Swedish culture found in Minnesota and Wisconsin around 1900. Whatever the region described, though, a common theme stands out. Cultures are fragile organisms, not to be tampered with haphazardly. Without careful protection from invasion and infiltration, they stand in imminent danger of destruction.

Here an objection arises. America has been host to millions of immigrants, and yet the regional cultures that attract our authors have in large part survived. Perhaps further diversity would promote cultural growth, rather than stunt it.

The point has been very well handled by Clyde Wilson, in his brilliant essay, "As a City Upon a Hill." He asks: "Is the success of the melting pot something that is infinitely repeatable and expansible?" Granting there are many possible answers, he offers his: "We have been extremely lucky, but there is no reason to gamble that the luck will hold forever. The economic, political, military, and moral problems we face are not like those of the past and will not be any easier to solve in a society even less stable and coherent in its values than that of today" (p. 29).

The contributors to this book vividly portray the dangers of mass immigration. For them, the metaphor of an engulfing tide has come to life. The distinguished biologist Garrett Hardin fears that fast breeding immigrant populations will displace the cultures of their host countries. "At first, spokesmen for immigrants may demand nothing more than a tolerance of other ways of doing things, but as their numbers increase the immigrants may demand that anything that they forbid should be forbidden to all of society. . . . The fertile immigrants will put pressure on the diminishing proportion of the rich and less fertile to change their culture" (p. 169).

Some may contend that Hardin exaggerates the danger here. As immigrants prosper, their fertility will decrease. People reproduce most rapidly when they are poor: as they grow wealthy, the threat that Hardin conjures up will abate. As one might expect, Hardin views this counter with skepticism. "Studies of nonhuman animals consistently show that improvements in living conditions increase the fertility rate. Curiously, the opposite conclusion was asserted with respect to human beings early in this century" (p. 132). If Hardin is right, the suggested escape fades out and eludes us. Once more the prospect of being outbred by another culture, which Hardin does not hesitate to call genocide, demands a response.

One notable omission will not have escaped most readers. Many discussions of immigration stress economics, but I have so far said nothing about relative standards of living, jobs, economic growth, etc. As Keir Hardie famously asked in another connection, "What about the unemployed?"

Our authors by no means ignore the economy: their view emphasizes culture, but they are hardheaded realists as well. Donald Hubbles essay "The Cost of Immigration," discusses in detail the immense economic costs imposed by immigrants. Hubble, an economist at Rice University, estimates that "immigrants cost the American taxpayer more than $42.5 billion in 1992 alone" (p. 136). Hubbles calculations have aroused controversy, and I suspect that Julian Simon would provide a substantially lower estimate. I cannot even pretend to adjudicate the controversy between Hubble and his critics. But the vast sums spent on welfare for immigrants should give pause even to the most died-in-the-wool supporter of unrestricted immigration.

Many readers of The Mises Review will, I suspect, share with me a problem that most of the contributors to Immigration and the American Identity can with a clear conscience ignore. Libertarians, and other advocates of the free market, have often supported free immigration. If one thinks immigration a natural right but also finds persuasive the cultural considerations urged in this volume, what is one to do? Those who, like Tom Fleming, regard natural rights as "one with the gorgons and the harpies" can greet this predicament with a smile. But libertarians are not so fortunate.

In this connection, Hans Hoppes "Free Immigration or Forced Integration" is vital reading. Hoppe points out that in an anarcho-capitalist society, no public property at all exists. And if all property is private, no problem of immigration, as usually constituted, requires solution. Individuals are free to invite others onto their property as they wish, and no one may enter anothers property against his will.

But of course we do not live in an anarcho-capitalist society: of what relevance, then, are judgments about "what never was, on sea or land?" Contrary to first appearance, the point Hoppe makes is no idle Utopian speculation but precisely responds to the difficulty for libertarians previously raised. If, in a pure libertarian society, there is no unrestricted right of free immigration, why must libertarians support such a right in our own society? Hoppes penetrating analysis points the way toward a revolution in libertarian thought about immigration. Those who wish to take part in such a revolution can do no better than to begin by reading this essential book.

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