...without simultaneously being struck by their correlations with race, ethnicity, and identity.
In a recent article, John Derbyshire considered at some length whether those three conceptions, which are interrelated in ways both obvious and subtle, are relevant to the question: What does it mean to be an American?
The article is too rich with important observations for me to do it violence by pulling any of its meatier bits free of their context. It deserves your undivided attention from top to bottom. However, one early passage strikes me as excerpt-able: Derbyshire’s probe of whether America is a “proposition nation:”
Suppose I were to trek up into the highlands of Ethiopia, get myself invited into the hut of some illiterate Amhara goatherd, and explain our founding documents to him; and suppose he were to respond with enthusiastic agreement. Did he thereby instantly become an American?
Conversely, here is a U.S. citizen every one of whose forebears arrived here before the Revolution, and whose male forebears fought with distinction in our country’s wars. He strongly disagrees with the principles of the Founders, and would have preferred we become a Christian theocracy. Should he be stripped of his citizenship?
I regard this as important because it bears on the frequently derided concept of an American culture.
Take that Ethiopian goatherd and drop him into Nebraska, perhaps on the outskirts of Lincoln. (Yes, he can bring his goats.) Would he be able to survive, much less flourish? More important yet: Would he abide by the behavioral norms, positive and negative, that characterize the American culture:
- The legal “thou shalt nots:” no murder, theft, fraud, perjury, false accusations.
- The cultural “thou shalts:” public decency; a certain minimum of neighborliness; adherence to the rules of civilized behavior in public accommodations (e.g., a grocery store).
Note that the advocate for a Christian theocracy would have no problem with any of that. He’s a product of the American culture, having absorbed it from birth. Would our Ethiopian goatherd pick it up in time to avoid being jailed or lynched?
The social pathologies of our era derive from the rejection of the American culture, as summarized above. That rejection correlates powerfully with race, ethnicity, and identity:
- The preponderance of violent crimes and crimes against property are committed by Negroes.
- Exclaves where American law is not honored are dominated by Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and African immigrants.
- Persons who identify as other than American account for a great deal of the tension and disorder in our cities.
The most important contrast here is between the above-named groups and the Eastern European immigrant waves of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Those persons arrived knowing only that they were leaving their homelands. They knew little about America; many believed much that was not so. They had little or no acquaintance with the Christian-Enlightenment heritage upon which America is based. Yet they assimilated swiftly, became sound, law-abiding citizens, and flourished.
They were powerfully influenced by the institutions of the time, especially the public schools, which had as a principal mission the assimilation of immigrant children. They were not accommodated in maintaining the cultures from which they came:
- They were expected to learn English.
- They were expected to abide by American laws and customs.
- They were expected to transfer their allegiance to the United States.
Those late 19th and early 20th Century Eastern European and Asian immigrants did all those things. They didn’t even regard them as impositions. Yet today we make excuses for rapists and molesters on the grounds of their “culture.” We condone riots in our cities because of “the legacy of slavery.” We refrain from criticizing the practices of any culture, preferring to treat all as “equally valid.” If there’s any single development that underlines how far into reverse we’ve gone, it’s this: Instead of expecting the residents of the United States to speak, read, and write English, our governments print their official publications in more than90 different languages.
There’s a lot that needs explaining here...and part of the explanation must derive from race, ethnicity, and identity as those things bear upon resistance to cultural assimilation.
I maintain that you cannot function as an American – i.e., as a self-supporting member of American society, free to navigate through it at will, whose fear of the law cuts off roughly at the traffic and zoning ordinances – unless you adopt – assimilate to – the American culture. Yet we allow designated minorities to flout their active rejection of the laws and customs of that culture. We admit thousands of persons each month who neither understand the American culture, nor want to become a part of it, nor respect it enough even to pay lip service to its norms. And we passively tolerate their construction of exclaves in which an American, as implicitly defined here, would be unwelcome at best.