When I asked last May for reader thoughts on the defining themes of the 21st century, my friend Van Ballard responded with the challenge to “merge the ever growing number of minority groups in this country with our existing political, economic, educational, and religious culture without losing our democratic system of government and simultaneously avoid open conflict”. It would be difficult to argue that this is a daunting challenge and one that certainly belongs high on the list of American priorities. But, as with many of our “wedge” issues, I wonder if we have the political will or, as important, the institutional fortitude to confront it. I read the reports of the cultural fault lines that are surfacing in the Netherlands and Germany, for example, as a result of the huge influx of people from non-Western cultures, and I share Van’s concerns about the growing multicultural ethos in the U. S. and what it means for our unique republican institutions.
The debate over whether America is essentially an idea or a culture has raged among our leading intellectuals for well over a century (see A Culture Or An Idea?, The Texas Pilgrim, April 2000), but whatever the answer, there is no doubt that, until recently, there had been a consensus in the expectation that immigrants to our country should be assimilated with our values and foundational beliefs. Consistent with this has been the expectation that immigration should be as beneficial to the host country as to the incoming immigrants, which at a minimum implies the loyalty of the new arrivals to the host nation. This consensus and its intellectual grounding have apparently collapsed. As John O’Sullivan notes in a recent article in National Review, there is a series of new assumptions and related rules around the world concerning the obligations to assimilation and loyalty. These assumptions would transfer the obligation to change from immigrant to host nation. Accordingly, in the interest of the immigrant’s autonomy and self-actualization, it is the responsibility of the host to accommodate its practices and institutions so that the immigrant can remain his “old self”. If you think this is far-fetched, consider that a former general counsel for the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service remarked that assimilationists repeat “the old error of seeing America as fixed and placing the needed adjustment on the immigrant’s side. A more accurate understanding pictures America as a contract under constant renegotiation”. In a previous issue (June 2000), I posed the question, “is the American proposition still valid?” If we answer this question in the affirmative, we need to come to grips with the fact that this proposition is totally incompatible with our current immigration policy and our growing reverence for the gods of multiculturalism and cultural relativism.