Here we go again

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.

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18 Responses to Here we go again

  1. Joseph Moore says:

    (I had to drop out of that discussion because it became too big to follow. Sorry, too, for all concerned that things got rude. I’ve only been on the receiving end once that I can recall, where I totally respected the commentator yet got it with both barrels. I just dropped out – life is too short, the point was not worth it, and I could imagine how misunderstanding had crept in. Not saying that’s what’s going on here, just that’s what happened to me, once.)

    “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.”

    A quibble: The Franks began to become Catholic in great numbers sometime around the 5th century. Yet, concepts such as ‘women are people, too’ and ‘confession isn’t the opportunity to cut a deal with God’ and ‘murder isn’t a proper response to every little slight’ and other such central ideas took *centuries* to take root. Point: saying America is a ‘propositional nation’ and therefore a church is not disproven by it taking several generations for most children of immigrants to become indistinguishable from other Americans by belief or behavior. Churches take generations to reform their members as well.

    To me, the question is settled rather by a reductio ad absurdum: since perfectly good American citizens demonstrably *do* come from all nations and cultures and ethnic groups, what else could unite them other than beliefs, and a willingness to conform their behaviors to them? Further, that the process is often slow and always imperfect is not nearly as amazing as that it works at all. The people whose ideas bugged me were ones whose arguments seemed to require perfection in order to deign to recognize the mere presence of a process.

    • Point: saying America is a ‘propositional nation’ and therefore a church is not disproven by it taking several generations for most children of immigrants to become indistinguishable from other Americans by belief or behavior. Churches take generations to reform their members as well.

      This is a solid point, but I guess what I’m missing here is what makes America different from any other country. Practically every country will assimilate immigrant groups it gets after several generations, and it’s far from clear – in fact, I would argue the negative – that bringing in all of those immigrants specifically made the country a better place anyway.

      Now, Chesterton claims that the difference is that we ask the new members of the country to uphold certain values. Maybe so, but the next question you need to ask is “Did this whole experiment work?”.

      The other question, of course, is whether or not America was ever intended as a proposition nation. I’ve so far seen no evidence that it ever really was until relatively long after the founding.

      It’s a motte and bailey. “You can’t expect new immigrant groups to assimilate immediately” is perfectly reasonable, but the flip side of that is that I’m not really sure what you’re arguing with me about then. Even Vox Day readily admits that immigrants will assimilate after several generations. So what?

      • Joseph Moore says:

        I was making an assumption: that since we are talking about a nation whose first formal act as a nation was to issue a document in which is declared “We hold these truths self evident, that all men are created equal…” etc., that it was a given that America is founded on an idea, that the Declaration, especially as expanded on in the Bill of Rights, is the proposition. I was not looking any further for evidence, because it seems to me utterly conclusive. Mere consistency (not that that carries much weight) would seem to require immigration practices that reflected this. But you disagree?

        If the argument is whether immigration has, on the whole, been good or bad – well, since few of us are descended solely from Daughter of the Revolution or American Indians, the question necessarily takes on a certain personal quality that might explain the vehemence of the reactions to it. It would be very, very fraught to go through each group of immigrants and make such a judgement. There’s much evidence that can be mustered to say, for example, that the Irish, on the whole, have been a disaster for America. This is liable to strike an Irishman as rather harsh, and to bring the Know-Nothings and their church burnings to mind. You can see how that could happen, and some of the commentators were definitely going there (I was a bit put off by a shot take at ‘eastern Europeans’ by somebody, as I’m 100% Czech immigrants on my mom’s side. We seem OK to me.) Simply raising the question suggests the process can be done, and arguing the point assumes it should be done. People will take offence at that.

        I would say that imaging that immigration weakened America is not giving nearly enough credit to the Puritans and the Unitarians and secular Humanists they spawned, and the influence of Harvard (founded and run by those same Puritans). I suspect they could have screwed it up without the immigrants (for example, I doubt there was wide support for Prohibition among immigrants), and that whatever bad tendencies their current heirs foster in immigrants is more the fault of the Puritans than of the immigrants they may have corrupted. Besides, all in all, Mexican drug dealers might be a cultural upgrade over the faculty at Harvard, since they merely want to provide a fix to some people, and do not think it their duty to fix everybody else.

      • I was making an assumption: that since we are talking about a nation whose first formal act as a nation was to issue a document in which is declared “We hold these truths self evident, that all men are created equal…” etc., that it was a given that America is founded on an idea, that the Declaration, especially as expanded on in the Bill of Rights, is the proposition.

        I’m rather confused about this. That is the official philosophy of the United States, yes. How does that makes us a melting pot/proposition nation, as in, a nation that is not defined by the people living there but by the people who agree to hold to its creeds? That is the question, and I’m not convinced that was originally meant to be the criteria for American.

        You’re right that it is an emotional and personal issue, though. But then, as a Catholic and Italian I have no problem at least entertaining the argument that the Italian Catholics who entered the country en masse were part of a group that further helped to pervert the original American ideal.

        And you’re right that the philosophy America was founded on – classical liberalism – is rotten right at its core in any case, but I’m still not convinced that we should all be saying that the whole point of america was to throw a bunch of wildly disparate people together in the hope that they’d all agree that America is the best. Obviously this HASN’T worked.

    • I’m actually not totally surprised at this reaction, by the way, and I sort of kind of regret getting involved because I know I was arguing about the sancrosanct here. But I’m also not going to apologize for wording dissenting opinions politely because I made Tom Simon feel bad. I honestly have no problem discussing it, but I’ve come to learn that I can’t control people having problems with me. I can only be polite and honest, and I tried to be and was.

      The other thing is…don’t you think it’s a problem – Mr. Simon even hints at it being a problem, albeit, not seriously – that Catholics are talking about joining another church? What if you really were required to affirm liberalism to become American? SHOULD Catholics have done that?

      Something about the attitude of “America as church” seems off.

  2. Actually, a proposition nation makes more sense in countries ruled by monarchs.

  3. Crude says:

    Mostly, I just want to say you have my sympathies. A few comments, though.

    Even Vox Day readily admits that immigrants will assimilate after several generations.

    Vox admits that immigrants can assimilate after several generations, if they’re in small enough number, overwhelmed by natives. That’s not our situation, of course. 100 million chinese will not be assimilated by 10 million turks. 10 million turks WILL be assimilated.

    Meanwhile, some groups may never assimilate, or they may even de-assimilate. Case in point: blacks, who – despite being here for a very, very long time – managed to (in the words of Vox Day) practically create their own culture out of whole cloth. They are not some undifferentiated mass from the rest of the country now.

    Europeans came to the US while natives were here. Did they assimilate? Does saying ‘Well, look at Milwaukee, that’s an indian name you know’ count as assimilation success?

    That said, I’m with you on, ‘I find your opinion deeply insulting.’ I’d be more direct, but perhaps I should learn from your politeness now and then.

    • That politeness comes from both the very high respect I have for the writing of Tom Simon and the more simple fact that I work often with Mr. Wright and more than occasionally with Mr. Simon as well. I like both gents, but I can’t control how they react to me.

    • Anyway,

      Vox admits that immigrants can assimilate after several generations, if they’re in small enough number, overwhelmed by natives. That’s not our situation, of course. 100 million chinese will not be assimilated by 10 million turks. 10 million turks WILL be assimilated.

      You’re right and I’m simplifying. There’s a curious fallacy going where it’s pointed out that at one time Italians, Irish, and Jews were “hated foreigners”, and so therefore one day we’re going to feel this way about every ethnic group.

      Nobody stops to think if there really WAS something different about those groups as opposed to middle easterners or blacks, and we just didn’t catch it at the time. Or if – horror of horrors – they did not, in fact, make the country a better place after all, but just made it increasingly leftist over time.

  4. Jill says:

    The English are an odd bunch. At one end, they were shipping off all the undesirables to their colonies, such as my Irish ancestors who were expelled from Ireland for being Catholic. And at the receiving end, they tried to organize English style governance, despite the “undesirables” in the population. Also, of course, there were already Spaniards here. Whatever were these people thinking? I’m being mildly sarcastic, but when you add it all up, you get a lot of cultural ideologies that people don’t easily give up. I honestly think that was one of the primary reasons for mandatory public education. But if mandatory education can be used as a tool of pro-America propaganda, it can also be infiltrated and used as a tool for any ideology fighting its way to the top. Like communism. And materialism.

    Largely, I find your points valid. Wright is an idealist, and I’ve given up arguing with idealists. Simon — at least in the case of this thread — responded to his assumptions rather than your words. That’s the point at which a debate becomes useless.

    • There on the next thread Mr. Simon contends that if you believe that X groups probably made the country a worse place and aren’t likely to fit a nation’s guiding philosophy then obviously you believe in expelling all of them and starting a civil war. Of course. That’s clearly the only possible conclusion to draw.

      “It was probably a bad thing when the Normans invaded and conquered the country.”

      “What, so now you’re saying we should kick out all of the Norman descendants? Where to? Do you want to start a civil war????”

      • Zippy says:

        The fact that you condemn mass rape by Russian troops in eastern Europe means you want to exterminate all of their descendants.

        Or there might just possibly be different possibilities, even granting the premise that mass rape is wrong.

      • Mere recognition that mass immigration may have been a poor idea does not mean that now that it’s happened the people who arrived are untermenschen…but once again, to the melting pot proponents the low man is the only option.

  5. Zippy says:

    The thing about liberals is that once you understand the mindset they become maddeningly predictable.

    Re: congenitally inferior untermenschen:

    http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2007/11/noble_lies_and_the_superman.html

    • There is a disturbing trend going on where melting pot theory proponents assume that if you believe that X group probably made the country a worse place when they tried to assimilate with a country that has a philosophy totally foreign to theirs, you really think they’re inferior to you and should all be deported or killed or something.

      Nobody seems to be catching the obvious point: That melting pot theory proponents apparently believe people who think differently than Americans are untermenschen.

      But then Mr. Wright told me as much; those willing to doff their hats to the king have the souls of slaves, after all.

      • Zippy says:

        Malcolm:
        Exactly so. Liberals pat themselves on the back because they see themselves as the great defenders of human dignity (which they define liberal political equality to be), while at the same time implicitly (and at times explicitly) asserting the subhumanity of everyone who is not one civics lesson away from adopting the liberal creed.

  6. goldrushapple says:

    Yes, I read through some of this discussion over at Wright’s page. It was somewhat strange to me. I remember taking a college course where we discussed the melting pot vs tossed salad theory, and the instructor, fortunately, said that America was more of a tossed salad due to various cultures aka immigration. My parents are immigrants and they themselves aren’t fully integrated in terms of culture and they’ve been in the US since the mid-1970s.

    • Crude says:

      Yeah, as I said in a previous reply – it’s bizarre to see people talking about how successful we’ve been with immigration and integration, to the point where everyone nowadays is the same and the only differences they have are ‘accidents of skin color’ or something. They may as well say that, worldwide, everyone’s already the same and if only we’d stop being so preoccupied with this ‘ethnicity’ talk we’d see that a Zulu in Africa was indistinguishable from an East German.

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