In Praise of Common Sense

Sir — A nation has a history, a culture, an identity. Britain is not France, Spain is not Germany, and none of these are Bangladesh or Morocco. Nor do their citizens want them to become so. People do not want to be overrun by foreigners of a strange religion, a different race, or exotic (and sometimes repulsive) customs, even if it means a 1% rise in economic growth. No amount of lecturing will change these attitudes.

This letter appeared in a recent issue of The Economist, in response to an article run by that publication advocating relaxed immigration policies. I join John Derbyshire in marveling at the undiluted candor and old fashioned simplicity of those sentiments. You rarely find such straight-forward commonsense in the mainstream media these days, despite the fact that many Americans are still sharp enough to realize that preserving national identity is part and parcel of preserving our republic as we know it.

If I have an objection to make, it's with the letter writer's decision to use the word "race" instead of ethnicity, though I supposed the ethnicity was implied in the customs bit.

It's remarkable -- also, remarkably scary -- that the notion of "particular community" is receding from American public discourse. In public, in polite company, it's increasingly difficult to articulate a desire for a "familiar" nation without immediately being labeled a bigot, xenophobe, racist, or know-nothing. Really a pity.


Jeff Hudecek said...

So what's your ancestry, Phil?

Our country has and always will be a mix and match of cultures that flock to us based on our principles. Just because they have dark skin and speak another language doesn't mean we shouldn't let South Americans in too.

We aren't as homogenous as European nations like England or France, and we were never trying to be.

Philip Primeau said...

I'm English, Irish, little Italian and little French. All good Western European countries. A good section of our roots go back far, all the way to the start -- mid-1600's. Fought in the Revolution to free this country and then in the Civil War to preserve it. Mom's Daughter of the American Revolution. Well, you get the point.

I think it's appropriate to be vigilant about large masses of immigrants, regardless of their port of origin. The vigilance is extra-necessary when the immigrants appear to be resisting assimilation, when they are predominately uneducated, when they are entering illegally and, in doing so, stealing citizens' jobs and undermining their already meager wages.

Immigration should be slow and, probably, punctuated by freezes. There should be a renewed focus on assimilation, a rejection of the multicultural project, favoritism given to the educated, etc.

I'm not alone, though you'd never know given the cultural defeatism of these parts.

Jeff Hudecek said...

I don't think you're alone. I'm from Virginia, not Mass. I'm well aware of the distaste for illegal/legal immigration from the moderate preservists to the Dobbs and Limbaugh-ites.

I just think your concern for national homogeny is misguided.

You seem to attribute what it means to be from this country to ethnicity, language, and singular cultural belief. I on the other hand believe that the very nature of our country transcends such physical triviality. We were founded on the principles of equality, freedom, and tolerance; not WASP.

Lord knows we weren't perfect at first (and aren't perfect now), but we've historically been striving to widen the breadth of national heritage. We didn't want the Irish, that stopped, we didn't want the blacks, that's stopped (though some cultural boundaries remain, overreaching institutional racism has largely ended). We have a declaration of independence that advocates "..that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

We have a constitution which guarantees freedom of religion, and has continually adapted to allow more and more of the traditionally marginalized to gain a voice in our country (women's suffrage, civil rights, etc).

To think that being American means anything BUT being open and accepting of others is simply farce. We were founded by people who were being persecuted, for christ's sake.

Now, if you want to talk about the problems of illegal immigration, feel free. There are plenty of legitimate ones that should be met with legitimate solutions. But if you're going to sit there and say you're concerned because you see someone speaking Spanish on TV, then I'm going to tell you that you're being unamerican.