Victor Davis Hanson, Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter Books, 2003), 150 pages, $21.95
December 15, 2003
by John Fonte
When Victor Davis Hanson talks, Washington’s conservative elite listens. A brilliant classical scholar, a prolific military historian, and a hands-on, tractor-driving, fifth-generation California farmer, Professor Hanson has lectured the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dined at the Vice President’s home, and advised the President of the United States.
In his latest book, Mexifornia: A State Of Becoming, Hanson dissects America’s mass immigration, anti-assimilation status quo and details how it undermines our national interests. 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 Mexico City, erosion of legal statutes, multiculturalism in our schools, and a general breakdown in the old assimilationist model.
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 California to get into state universities for reduced tuition rates while American citizens from neighboring Arizona and Nevada pay the full price.
As a leading military historian, Hanson is undoubtedly familiar with the crucial insight of Prussian military Strategist Karl von Clausewitz, that the best way to defeat an adversary is to strike at 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 locates the “center of gravity” of the mass immigration/weak assimilation regime in a de facto alliance between the Corporate/Libertarian Right and the Multicultural Left, which 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 belief that the assimilation of immigrants into the American mainstream is proceeding today 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—Ellis Island redux—with today’s Latinos playing the role of yesterday’s Italians, assimilating, joining the middle class, and—as a bonus for political conservatives—even voting Republican.
After the publication of Barone’s influential book The New Americans in 2001, the affable and well-connected columnist was everywhere in the pre-September 11 world of the establishment center-right—K Street business luncheons, 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 it 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 unique. In contrast to immigrants from “the Philippines, China, Japan, Basque Spain, Armenia, and the Punjab,” the Mexican arrival in California faces little physical separation from the homeland; after all, “the Rio Grande is no ocean.” This makes assimilation more difficult. Add to this the “enormous numbers” (Mexicans are the largest single immigrant group) and “the constant stream of new arrivals” which “means for each assimilated Mexican, there are several more who are not.”
Hanson notes that in the past, Italian, Jewish, and Polish immigrants knew that if they did not learn English they would be failures in America. Today, he writes, “A Mexican in California senses that if he fails to integrate into mainstream American society, there will always be thousands of more newcomers like himself who will . . . join him in a viable expatriate culture.” Moreover, American leaders “lack confidence in the melting pot” and make little, if any, attempt to assimilate immigrants into their language or their culture.
While American elites of 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 allow 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 Mexico as long its potential critics go north” instead of marching on Mexico City.
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 illegal aliens earn much more than they ever could in Mexico, many begin to compare their circumstances of backbreaking work not to life in Mexico, but to the seemingly easy life of their American employers sitting at poolside, sipping drinks, gossiping on cell phones. Human nature being what it is, they become resentful of these affluent gringos. At the same time, their children, who know little of Mexico, become even more resentful.
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 California prisons are from Mexico. The author describes a series of personal confrontations with young illegal aliens who vandalize, steal, and deal drugs on his property. Parroting Chicano Studies ideology, one gang member told him, “Hey, it’s our land anyway, not yours.”
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” (as in ancient Sparta) even live in their own towns that resemble, in many respects, some of the negative aspects of rural Mexico.
In contrast to today’s failed immigration and assimilation policies, Mexican immigration to America before 1970 was a great success story. The old, assimilationist model worked. Hanson describes civic education in his predominantly Mexican-American school in the small town of Selma in the heart of California’s Central Valley in the late 1950s and early ’60s. They learned a “tough Americanism” with “biographies of Teddy Roosevelt, stories about Lou Gehrig, recitations from Longfellow, demonstrations of how to fold the flag, a repertoire of patriot songs to master.” He remembers his fellow students singing “God Bless America” with “Spanish-accented refrains” of “Stand bêsid her.”
Nor did they simply learn a one-sided “triumphalist” history as contemporary academics tell us. They learned about America’s failings, about slavery, segregation, discrimination, and prejudice. But Hanson remembers that discussions of the negative aspects of America’s past did not “teach the cheap lesson that America was racist and oppressive.” Instead, there was a sense of balance “achieved through the comparison with contemporary societies elsewhere, and confidence in our values, measured against a recognition of innate human weakness.”
The end result of this type of civic education was a Selma, California, composed of and run by assimilated, patriotic Mexican-Americans—Hanson’s friends, neighbors, and in-laws. He writes, “If the purpose of such an education system as the one that formed us was to turn out true Americans of every hue, and to instill in them a love of their country and a sense of personal possibility, then the evidence forty years later would say that is was an unquestionable success.” His former classmates, overwhelmingly Mexican-Americans, have become teachers, principals, business executives, army officers, skilled mechanics, insurance agents, and lawyers. They are the true heroes of this book, and they prove that successful assimilation is not based on race or ethnicity, but on embracing our common culture and the American Way of Life.
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, for example, 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 United States and to the nation itself in the name of multiculturalism, Hanson strips the moral authority from those he calls “race manipulators.” In blunt language he explains how a “new race industry” committed to an “agenda of separatism and racial spoils” in the schools, universities, bureaucracies, unions, and politics subverts our common culture, dis-integrates our nation, and harms the life-chances of the very “clients” it claims to speak for.
Mastery of the English language and of an academic curriculum that could help Latino students compete in California’s tough labor market is discouraged in the state’s public schools and colleges in favor of the separatist ideology of Chicano Studies and a bilingual education in which Mexican-American children become competent in neither English nor Spanish.
Hanson contemptuously denounces racial ideologists in the universities: “If there is truly a lingering racism in California, then one need go no further than the state universities, where so much money and power has been handed over to an elite class of racialists who in return have created a curriculum designed to guarantee failure for the children of migrants.”
Hanson points out that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have dismal high school and college graduation rates and are overrepresented 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 that is smashing old hierarchies, authorities, and standards—trumping family, ethnicity, race, sex, 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 election of Arnold Schwarzenegger has revealed, popular culture might buy a little time for the California Republican Party as well.)
In his 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 path—our present policy—would lead to “a true Mexifornia,” an “apartheid state” that “even the universal solvent of popular culture could not unite.” California would then combine the “worst attributes of both nations,” an “American individualism shorn of both Anglo-Saxon-inspired allegiance to the letter of the law and traditional Mexican familial and religious bedrock values.” In this case, Hanson tells us, poverty becomes endemic; schools erode; crime soars; taxes increase; budget deficits explode; and legal or illegal immigration 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.
As we might have expected, Mexifornia is creating quite a stir among mainstream conservatives. It was 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 ’80s, when there was broad support for relatively open immigration among conservatives, it was assumed that assimilation into the American mainstream would take care of itself. However, with the publication of a seminal article (“Time to Rethink Immigration”) in National Review in June 1992, by free-market journalist and Forbes contributor Peter Brimelow, opposition to mass immigration started to build on the Right. Under the editorship of John O’Sullivan, National Review was at the center of the first wave of the debate pre-9/11.
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 September 11 strengthened this 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 Mac Donald; First Things editor Father Richard John Neuhaus; American Enterprise editor Karl Zinsmeister; Hudson Institute president Herbert London; Nixon Center president Dimitri Simes and scholar Robert Leiken; academics including Walter McDougall, James Kurth, Fred Lynch, and Samuel Huntington; National Association of Scholars stalwarts such as Carol Iannone, Glynn Custred, Thomas Wood, Gilbert T. Sewall, and Eugene Genovese; journalist Michele Malkin (whose new book on immigration and national security, Invasion, is a bestseller); National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru; Claremont Institute scholars Ken Masugi and Tom West; neoconservative professor Fred Siegal; and, since September 11, Daniel Pipes, the prominent scholar of Islam and presidential appointee. Even the venerable libertarian thinker Milton Friedman has noted that mass immigration and the welfare state don’t mix.
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 tell 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.
In the name of national cohesion and self-government, Mexifornia strikes a major blow for The Party of the Flag against the Right-Left coalition that allies The Party of the Dollar with The Party of Racial Separatism. Hanson’s main weapons are moral arguments. He tells us that the current policies protected by this Left-Right alliance have undermined our common culture in the post-September 11 world; harmed the very Latinos they are designed to help; weakened the standard of living for working-class whites, African Americans, native-born Mexican-Americans, and legal immigrants; and created new forms of segregation and a virulent race industry. Logically it follows that these policies are amoral, if not immoral.
Hanson’s emphasis on moral factors in Mexifornia is reminiscent of one of his books on military history. In The Soul of Battle (1999), Hanson narrates the campaigns of three extraordinary generals—ancient Greece’s Epaminondas, the Civil War’s Sherman, and World War II’s Patton—who led democratic armies against authoritarian, race-based regimes (Sparta, the Old South, National Socialist Germany). Common to all three generals was their moral vision of fighting against injustice—Spartan helotage, Southern slave society, Nazi race superiority. They were moralists as well as realists. They were “better warmakers,” Hanson tells us, because they were ultimately fueled by democratic ideas and an ethical agenda.
Hanson’s Mexifornia is also compelled by a moral vision. He is a better policymaker because his writing is fueled by an ethical agenda. He strikes at the center of gravity of an amoral Left-Right alliance that, while obviously not authoritarian, is clearly cynical and opportunistic with its own, twenty-first century variants of race manipulators and helotage-creating systems that ultimately subvert the cohesion of the United States as a nation.
Like his hero William Tecumseh Sherman, who promised to “make Georgia howl,” Victor Davis Hanson surely makes his opponents—these modern-day anti-unionists—howl. But the larger question is this: will the intellectual war over the relationship of immigration to American unity and our common culture accelerate? Is Mexifornia the beginning of a new ideological offensive by The Party of the Flag that outlines a moral vision in the name of a united American people? And if Hanson is Sherman, who will play Grant?
My guess is that John O’Sullivan, a bloodied and savvy veteran of the immigration/multiculturalism wars of the 1990s who took the helm of The National Interest in September, is ready to fill this role—ready like Grant to wage a war of attrition, issue by issue, trench by trench, against the forces of Separatism that make up the Corporate Right-Multicultural Left nexus: the business lobbyists, the libertarian editorialists, the pandering politicians, the immigration rights lawyers, the international law specialists, the group preference advocates, the race industry, the multicultural educators, the promoters of transnational and subnational arrangements that degrade our democratic sovereignty, and all those who directly or indirectly undermine the unity of the American nation.
John Fonte is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson's Center for American Common Culture.
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