Mexifornia: A State of Becoming, by Victor Davis Hanson (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003, $21.95)
August 15, 2003
by John Fonte
When Victor Davis Hanson talks,
In his latest book, Mexifornia: A State Of Becoming, Hanson dissects
He bluntly lays out the problem:
"The really perilous course lies in preserving the status quo and institutionalizing our past failed policies: open borders, unlimited immigration, dependence on cheap and illegal labor, obsequious deference to
And he presents a clear solution:
If we are serious people, we will "adopt sweeping restrictions on immigration;" end "separatist ideology;" promote a "stronger mandate for assimilation;" (meaning real civic education in our schools, emphasizing American culture and values); and end "the two-tier legal system for illegal aliens." By this he means ending practices such as allowing illegal aliens in
As a leading military historian, Hanson is undoubtedly familiar with the crucial insight of Karl von Clausewitz, that the best way to defeat an adversary is to strike at what the great Prussian strategist called the opponent’s "center of gravity," a "hub of movement and power on which everything depends." This "center of gravity" could be an enemy’s main military forces, capital city, national morale, or alliance system. In any case, Clausewitz states, that if the enemy’s "center of gravity" collapses, the enemy will be defeated.
Hanson targets the "center of gravity" of the mass immigration/weak assimilation regime as the product of a de facto alliance of the Corporate/Libertarian Right and the Multicultural Left that protects and promotes this system. He states, "Both parties, after all, did their part to get us into this predicament and have so far escaped accountability for the harm they have done." Illegal immigration "continues on unabated" because "it unites the power and influence of employers with the rhetoric and threats of the race industry." Who, after all, "wants to be called an isolationist or a nativist by the corporate Right and a racist or bigot by the multicultural Left?"
But Hanson, a man with Mexican-American nieces, nephews, sisters-in-law, and prospective sons-in-law, who has labored in the fields alongside his workers, faced down illegal alien intruders on his property, and been the target of academic smear campaigns, is not a man to be intimidated. In Mexifornia he charges ahead and details the damage that the Right-Left open-borders coalition has wrought.
One of the major premises on which the pro-mass immigration Right’s worldview rests is the assertion that the assimilation of immigrants into the American mainstream is proceeding today successfully much as it has in the past. Thus, Michael Barone, a leading spokesman for this view, insists that "we have been here before." There is nothing to be concerned about because the history of American immigration will essentially repeat itself—
After the publication of his influential book The New Americans, in 2001, the affable and well-connected Barone, was everywhere in the pre-9/11 world of the establishment center-right: the K Street business luncheons, the think-tanks, the Republican side of the Hill, spreading the word—let mass immigration continue; throw in an amnesty for good measure; and it will all work out fine, just like in did in the past. Hanson never mentions Barone, but Mexifornia is a root and branch repudiation of the vision of The New Americans and of the entire business/libertarian pro-mass immigration worldview.
Hanson begins by explaining that Mexican immigration is different. In contrast to immigrants from "the
Also, Hanson notes, in the past, Italian, Jewish, and Polish immigrants knew that if they did not learn English they would be failures in
While American elites of the both the left and right tend to pander to the Mexican governing class, Hanson is highly critical of this group, "which both deliberately exports its unwanted and, once they safely reach American soil, suddenly becomes their champion and absent parent, as much out of resentment toward the United States, as in real concern for people whom they apparently are so gladly free of."
Massive immigration to and financial bailouts from their northern neighbor are, in fact, what allows the Mexican elite to avoid real reform. Hanson insists that "Market capitalism, constitutional democracy, the creation of a middle-class ethic . . .will never fully come to
Assimilation Then and Now
With empathy Hanson describes the world of the illegal alien. It is mostly a young man’s world that starts in hope, but soon turns to resignation and is pretty much over by age forty, as knees, backs, and shoulders give way. Although the illegal aliens earn much more than they ever could in
The world of the illegal alien contains the pathologies as well as the strengths of young men. As Hanson puts it, "in the history of civilization it is single transient young men who build bridges and roads, but also bring societies their crime and violence." Not surprisingly, almost a fourth of all inmates in
Hanson looks askance at upper- and middle-class Americans (both liberals and conservatives) who have winked at the development of a two-tiered peonage-style economic system based on cheap illegal labor that has created a new segregation in which the "helots" even live in their own towns that resemble, in many respects, some of the negative aspects of rural
In contrast to today’s failed immigration and assimilation policies, Mexican immigration to
Nor did they simply learn a one-sided "triumphalist" history as contemporary academics tell us. They learned about
The end result of this type of civic education was a
Race Industry vs. Pop Culture
The civic education of Hanson’s youth that achieved what may be called "patriotic assimilation" has been undermined for the past three decades by the other half of the Right-Left open-borders coalition, the Multicultural Left. If the Corporate/Libertarian Right marches under the banner of the Dollar, the Multicultural Left marches under the banner of Racial Separatism. In our colleges and universities there are separate admissions criteria, separate curricula, separate dorms, separate rules, and finally even separate graduation ceremonies for different races and ethnic groups.
In a chapter that examines the damage done both to Latinos in the
Mastery of the English language and of an academic curriculum that could help Latino students compete in
Hanson contemptuously denounces racial ideologists in the universities: "If there is truly a lingering racism in
Hanson points out that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have dismal high school and college graduation rates and are over-represented in "our jails, prisons, and welfare programs," yet the grip of the racial ideologues remains. He suggests, only partially tongue-in-cheek, that it is as if " a white supremacist and a crackpot racist got together" and "brewed the germs of our present school curriculum, concocted the virus of the La Raza separatist and racist mythology, and then released these pathogens . . . [on] unsuspecting Californians, who then proceeded unknowingly to destroy the aspirations of millions of desperately poor aliens."
After excoriating the Multicultural Left, Hanson suggests that the "wholly amoral power of a new popular and global culture" offers a countervailing force to their consciously anti-assimilation actions, in a chapter that has caused some consternation among conservatives.
Global popular culture—the new music, fast food, videos, MTV, boorish entertainment, crass magazines, slang speech, unisex clothes, defiant youth attitudes—is a revolutionary egalitarian development smashing old hierarchies, authorities, and standards—trumping family, ethnicity, race, gender, class, religion, and government. It indiscriminately levels both outmoded snobbery and good taste. It undermines the multicultural race agitator as well as the earnest teacher.
It is "schlock" Hanson tell us, "perhaps deleterious to the long-term moral health of the United States" but in "the short term it is about the only tool we possess to prevent racial separation and ethnic tribalism."
But obviously, Hanson notes, "superficial immersion" in American popular culture is "no substitute for real civic education about American history, culture, and values." In the end, the "leveling effect of popular culture does buy us a little time. It gives America a few years respite before we must deal with the catastrophe that we are not educating millions, not teaching them a common and elevated culture, and not addressing the dilemma of open borders." (And perhaps as the emergence of Arnold Schwartzenegger has revealed, popular culture might "buy a little time" a "few years respite" for the California Republican Party as well.)
Four Choices for
In the concluding chapter, Hanson declares that Californians (and, thus, Americans) have essentially four choices in dealing with immigration. First we could "continue de facto open-borders" but insist upon assimilation. Second we could vastly reduce immigration and assume that assimilation will take care of itself. Third—Hanson’s choice—we could combine greatly reduced immigration (both legal and illegal) with vigorous patriotic assimilation.
The fourth path¾our present policy—would lead to "a true Mexifornia," an "apartheid state" that "even the universal solvent of popular culture could not unite."
In this case, Hanson tells us, poverty becomes endemic; schools erode; crime soars; taxes increase; budget deficits explode; legal or illegal status becomes "irrelevant" for college tuition, driver’s licenses, welfare, and "perhaps soon even voting privileges." The assimilated upper and upper-middle classes of all races practice a "self-interested apartheid" while professing "selfless liberality." A new argot of Spanglish, the "dumbing-down of both languages," emerges among a large, unassimilated, constantly growing Latino underclass that dwarfs both the upper class and an assimilated and intermarried middle and working class.
Advancing Party of the Flag?
Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia is creating quite a stir among mainstream conservatives. It is the summer sensation, with a cover story in National Review and overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic reviews in the center-right press. Even the Wall Street Journal had some favorable comments.
One reason for this enthusiasm is that the book has arrived at just the right time. Conservatives are having "second thoughts" on immigration and assimilation policies. During the 1970s and 1980s, when there was broad support for relatively open immigration among conservatives, it was assumed that assimilation into the American mainstream would take care itself. With the publication of a seminal article ("Time to Rethink Immigration") in National Review in June 1992, by a free-market journalist and Forbes contributor named
During the same period, however, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, it was becoming increasingly clear to many thoughtful conservatives that traditional assimilation was not working. Slowly and almost imperceptibly, leading conservative intellectuals and activists began having "second thoughts" about our de facto mass immigration policy. The events of 9/11 further strengthened the rethinking.
Today, this "second thoughts" group would include, in varying degrees, Californians such as Ward Connerly, Thomas Sowell, and former leftists David Horowitz and Peter Collier (Collier urged Hanson to write this manuscript in the first place for Encounter Books, his publishing house); City Journal writers such as Myron Magnet and Heather MacDonald; First Things editor Fr. Richard John Neuhaus; American Enterprise editor Karl Zinsmeister; Hudson Institute President
With the strong and positive reception given Mexifornia, conservatives have now entered the second stage of their internal debate over immigration and assimilation. In one sense, conservatives are divided between those who seriously believe in democratic self-government, that is to say, that a people that wants to limit immigration has the moral right and the ability to do so, versus those who believe in economic or demographic determinism, who tells us that the market requires and demands continuous mass immigration regardless of what the American people want and that there is nothing we can do to stop illegal immigration anyway. Hanson, who insists that the future is ours to shape, is clearly in the democratic camp as opposed to the determinist one.
In another sense, conservatives are divided between those who emphasize the long-term national interests in strengthening American unity and our common civic culture and those who emphasize the short-term economic interests of the benefits of cheap labor. The irony facing the "economy über alles" conservatives is that their open-borders policies create the types of social costs, high taxes, and left-wing politics that ultimately undermine both the free market and the nation.
John Fonte is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson's Center for American Common Culture.
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