Okay, here’s the deal. Back in John C. Wright’s place they’re talking about whether it’s right or not to talk about America as a proposition nation. I gave a couple of responses and already had no less than Tom Simon – a man I have the utmost respect for, and who I’ve claimed to be our greatest living essayist – claim that I offended him with my evil, evil views. So this is my absolute last word on the subject, period. Anybody who wants to respond to me about it, I’d be thrilled, but I’ll respond only in the comments section here.
Here are the comments from smart, intelligent people I generally respect:
Well, maybe somewhere there are these congenitally inferior untermenschen who are unable to become “real” Americans. Maybe we could revive the American Know-Nothing Party?
This is Michael Flynn, who is a Catholic, has an excellent series of scholarly posts out on Galileo and the Crusades, and was invited to write for “God, Robot”. He is author of the great novel “Eifelheim”.
Despite that, this is a disappointing response. Notice the reframing going on here. Not a single person on that thread – and I dare anyone to find a reference – is claiming that non-Americans are “untermenschen”. They are merely claiming that non-Americans are…non-American.
The irony is that it is all of the people who are so horribly, horribly insulted on the n0n-Americans behalf that are equating Americans with supermen. The only people who are claiming that immigrant non-citizen residents are subhuman…are the ones who are trying to argue in favor of melting pot theory.
The “Know-Nothing Party” jibe is just a sly rhetorical dagger, containing no substance of its own. It’s purely a smear label; you might as well call us all Nazis and be done with it if you’re going to play that game.
In response to a gentleman who pointed out that the melting pot theory wasn’t even invented by one of the founders – perfectly true – Mr. Wright responded with this:
It is simply mind-boggling to me that any sane man regards this is an argument against the concept. For that matter, it was a foreigner, Einstein, who first said E=MC^2, but nonetheless, the atom bomb still ignited as planned.
This is another neat bit of misdirection. Of course, the argument was never that the concept was a bad one because a foreigner came up with it. The argument was that America wasn’t designed under the theory of being a melting pot nation. Or hey, maybe I missed a reference and it was; in any case, the point Mr. Wright responded to is not the point the original commenter was trying to make. The frustrating thing about this is that Mr. Wright clearly knows this, as he responds to the actual argument later in the same comment, while making sure to land in a tidy little insult to boot. Remember, if you disagree with the free and equal superman, you are a subhuman.
Okay, before we go on, I’m going to talk a bit about my back and forth with Tom Simon. I found this exchange almost as deflating as the original exchange I had with Mr. Wright on monarchy. I consider Tom Simon not one of our greatest living writers, but the greatest living essayist. “Writing Down the Dragon” is a genius collection, and his essay “The taste for magic” is a minor masterpiece. I believe this to be absolutely true.
So it disappoints me when, again, I try to be polite and, again, someone I respect and admire insists on being offended. Here was the exchange – and here I am replying to a comment by Mrs. Wright, L. Jagi Lamplighter, a woman I have now worked closely with multiple times and who is consistently a pleasure to work with. She, too, is an excellent and highly recommended writer.
That said, me:
[Quoting Mrs. Wright] In New York, at that time the main entrance point, the process was so definite and so obvious that no one who had been through that could fail to comprehend what was going on.
With respect, this is absolutely and totally untrue. New York broke itself apart on totally racial grounds – that’s what “West Side Story” is about, even, for that matter – to the point that things were so parochial that my Italian great-grandmother was horrified that my grandmother was marrying a Sicilian…distinct from an Italian!
Things were not only not melted, they were divided into places like little Italy, Chinatown, etc.
That foreigners could have been fooled differently at first glance is plausible…but they were wrong.
Here is Tom Simon’s response to me:
I ask you to look at an American cultural icon from the 1930s and thereabouts: the Marx Brothers. In the day, they represented (tongue-in-cheek) the Terrible Foreign Hordes come to overthrow the American Way of Life: the Irish, Italians, and Jews. Not long before that, none of those ethnic groups were considered ‘White’ by the U.S. authorities. Today, they all are considered merely white Americans – yet they are sometimes the very people who claim that integration is impossible. Poppycock. It took a couple of generations, but they themselves integrated.
This response is perfectly polite and measured. It also gives up the game completely. Who here ever said that over several generations the descendants of immigrants couldn’t assimilate with the dominant culture? Even Vox Day claims this; he just quibbles about the number of generations needed. If this was the only claim being made, nobody would have any reason to argue.
The claim being made is that we are a melting pot nation; a proposition nation. That America is a church. People don’t need to assimilate into churches, they express belief in their doctrines and get baptized. Supposedly, this is what it takes to be American – a desire to assimilate into American culture and a taking on of American values – that is, of becoming a liberal. Simply by virtue of admitting that it takes *multiple generations* for an immigrant group to assimilate is enough to disprove the point. I pointed this out:
You just admitted that even immigrants who sign all of those [naturalization/citizenship/immigration/what have you] American forms do not become Americans by virtue of that fact. So how is America different than any other nation in that regard?
Whoops. I questioned equality. And thus this response:
Immigrants who sign all of those American forms do not immediately acquire the culture and attitudes of native-born Americans. No Shinola, Sherlock. But that does not mean that their descendants are doomed to retain those attitudes.
You think the melting pot doesn’t work because you expect results in a single generation. It never did work that way – but in the way that it actually did work, it worked very well.
I should perhaps point out that while not American, I am descended from recent immigrants to my own country. And I find your bonehead racial nativism not only wilfully stupid but deeply insulting.
You know who else was deemed by your ideological preceptors to be incapable of assimilating and becoming Americans? Catholics, because they are slaves to a foreign monarchy and therefore incapable of citizenship in a republic. Perhaps you would care to tell Mr. Wright to go back where he came from?
What we have here is a classic motte-and-bailey argument. The motte: Over generations immigrant groups tend to assimilate into the host culture. This is obviously true. But the bailey – what this is supposed to defend – is the concept of the proposition nation. And it does nothing of the sort. In fact, it has very little to do with it.
Consider this: Nowadays, America has supposedly lost sight of its culture to the point that it’s difficult for immigrants to assimilate because there’s no clear culture for them to assimilate into. Why is that the case? Mrs. Wright makes the argument that it was the fault of the communists, and they DO probably have something to do with it. But you know what ELSE probably had something to do with it? The masses of immigrants entering the country and voting, virtually without fail, for increasingly leftist policies. Maybe – just maybe – getting so many immigrants from so many different cultures muddied our own by bringing in many conflicting viewpoints, and all with the ability to enact change via the democratic process. And now finally, with the muslims, we’ve reached a class of immigrant that has no interest in moving the country further left. They just want to kill us.
Mr. Simon’s response disappointed me for several reasons. I am utterly unmoved by the fact that he is “deeply insulted” except to be disappointed…and in him, not myself. I did not write in a remotely inflammatory way, I insulted nobody, libeled no racial, ethnic, or religious group, and generally acted as polite as I could reasonably be expected. I cannot control Mr. Simon’s response to me and frankly the fact that he’s insulted tells me nothing except that he is thin-skinned. Well, at the risk of sounding callous that’s not my problem.
Mr. Simon then shows his emotions to be taking leave of his reason. He is apparently unaware that I am a Catholic. And it is quite true that, IF being Catholic was the equivalent to swearing allegiance, in a political sense, to a foreign king, then we couldn’t be Americans. But – as he well knows – this is not true.
Of course, if being American really does mean being a liberal, full stop, then Catholics should not have become Americans…but whether or not that concept makes sense or is what American means is entirely the question.
G.K. Chesterton says this in the original essay Mr. Wright posted:
A man is perfectly entitled to laugh at a thing because he happens to find it incomprehensible. What he has no right to do is to laugh at it as incomprehensible, and then criticise it as if he comprehended it. The very fact of its unfamiliarity and mystery ought to set him thinking about the deeper causes that make people so different from himself, and that without merely assuming that they must be inferior to himself.
I can only hope that, now that Mr. Simon knows I am the Catholic descendant of Italian Ellis Island immigrants, he spends a moment thinking about why I think the things I do instead of assuming I’m a racist, self-contradictory moron. As Mr. Chesterton helpfully nudges, if he finds my view incomprehensible and mysterious perhaps that’s a sign that he, not I, lacks understanding. Perhaps it will at least make him think.
I did NOT have a problem with everyone in that thread. Joseph Moore,as always, remained polite and spoke eloquently in defense of his position. Mrs. Wright was unfailingly polite as always. But unfortunately, folks like Mr. Flynn, Mr. Wright, and Tom Simon, proved once again that classical liberals are liberals in the end.