Hercules and the Hydra
Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster.
National Review, May 1, 1995
By Samuel Francis
© National Review Inc. 1995
AFTER a decade and a half of confinement to fairly obscure pamphlets and technical monographs, the case against massive immigration has at last found a champion whose book, in the wake of the landslide passage of California's Proposition 187 last year, is likely to inform and shape the national discussion of immigration for years to come. As both a consumer and a producer of such obscure literature myself, I have to acknowledge that the author, a respected financial journalist at Forbes and a senior editor of this magazine, as well as a sort of perennial immigrant — from Great Britain to Canada to the United States — has mined those pamphlets and monographs well. Peter Brimelow's Alien Nation reproduces much of their argument and research in a format that makes it both the most comprehensive and the most readable contribution to the anti-immigration side now available.
One feature of Alien Nation that makes it particularly useful is the way its author constructed it. The book is essentially an extended debate with the proponents of open borders,'' mainly Julian Simon, Robert Bartley of the Wall Street Journal, and their followers. One by one, like Hercules whacking away at the heads of the Hydra, Mr. Brimelow cuts down the major arguments for immigration and puts the torch to their roots.
The claims that current immigration figures are exaggerated, that open immigration is deeply grounded in American political traditions, that large-scale immigration is economically beneficial, and that it is politically and culturally harmless all fall to his merciless sword. The polemical structure of the book thus allows readers wedded to the open-borders dogma, or unfamiliar with its finer implications and presuppositions, to follow (and perhaps even approve) Mr. Brimelow's surgical destruction of it.
His case rests on two propositions: 1) as the U.S. Census Bureau reported a couple of years ago, current levels of immigration, coupled with current levels of fertility among immigrants and indigenous non-whites and declining fertility among indigenous whites, will in the next sixty years or so reduce the historical white, European-descended majority of the United States to a minority, and 2) this ethnic and racial revolution portends a social transformation that will jeopardize not only the cultural identity of the country but also its very political unity as a nation-state.
The arguments that develop from these claims run counter to the conception of America as an idea,'' a proposition,'' or a creed.'' That conception implies that the United States has almost a bottomless capacity to absorb and assimilate immigrants, since assimilation'' would consist in little more than mere assent to the credal identity of the nation. But Mr. Brimelow performs meticulous surgery here as well, showing, for example, that both the Declaration of Independence and The Federalist assumed ethnic and cultural homogeneity as a precondition of a coherent nationhood. The point, of course, is that whatever ideas enter into the definition of America as a political order, those ideas depend for their proper functioning on a population that accepts them as habits balanced and defined by other habits rather than as newly learned precepts and abstractions. It is unlikely that massive numbers of immigrants will doff their old cultural garments and don new ones comfortably. Hence, large-scale immigration represents a threat to the cultural homogeneity, and thus the political unity, of the nation.
Much the same lesson of preconditions applies to the free market, which advocates of open borders invariably invoke as the great solvent of whatever cultural differences immigrants may import. Mr. Brimelow argues that
"the free market necessarily exists within a societal framework. And it can only function if the institutions in that framework are appropriate. . . . Economists have a word for these preconditions: the 'metamarket.' Some degree of ethnic and cultural coherence may be among these preconditions. Thus immigration may be a metamarket issue.''
He parts company here, at least implicitly, with those who see the functioning of the market as a natural, universal process rather than a cultural artifice and therefore the product of a particular and unique historical legacy. If the market depends on both moral and cultural presuppositions, then ethnic fragmentation will undermine the market itself.
Mr. Brimelow's main case against immigration, then, is a cultural one rather than the usual economistic quibbling over how many jobs Mexicans take from black waiters and so forth. But despite his attention to culture in principle, he is surprisingly muted on its specifics. He fails to discuss in any detail the significant cultural changes that mass immigration is bringing (there are now whole cities where English is virtually a second language). Nor does he delve much into the extent to which non- Western immigration drives the cult of multiculturalism in education. Much of the cultural case against immigration was developed by the Rockford Institute's magazine Chronicles long before it became fashionable to do so, but Mr. Brimelow mentions the magazine and its contributors only briefly. Dare I suggest that perhaps a native American, or at least a non-Manhattanite, might display a firmer grasp of American cultural specifics?
Yet the cultural argument remains the core of Alien Nation, and properly so. By driving the debate over immigration to that level and making the argument as closely and as seriously as he does, Mr. Brimelow has ensured that his book is not only the main source for the strongest case for immigration restriction in decades but also an important contribution to American political thought on the very eve of what he fears could easily be the snuffing out of the American nation like a candle in a gale.''