AS THE WORLD TURNS by VariousNews Weekly
, December 4, 1999
America needs its melting pot
As the first major US state to face the political reality of a shrinking white minority, California has become the laboratory of America's ethnic future.
Underlying social dynamics, whether in California or in the nation at large, have not changed, and ethnic conflict, temporarily submerged, has far from disappeared.
To the contrary, given the nature of the demographic processes now at work in the country, the potential for such conflict is growing rather than diminishing, and any sudden crack in our unprecedented economic prosperity might well be the occasion for its revival.
This need not occur. The overwhelming evidence is that today's immigrants are at least as economically productive and socially assimilative as their European predecessors, with low rates of crime, welfare dependency, and social instability.
Asians have followed the pattern of high academic achievement and economic entrepreneurship exhibited by America's Jews before them, while Latin American immigrants have demonstrated much the same social conservatism and working-class values as Italians or Slavs. (One remarkable sign of their assimilationism is the high rate of conversion to evangelical Protestantism among Latin American immigrants.)
Today's immigrants are no less eager than yesterday's to have their children merge into our English-language society.
Most significantly, nearly 40 percent of third-generation Asians and Latinos are intermarrying, usually with whites, a figure far greater than the intermarriage rates of Italian-Americans or Greek-Americans with other ethnic groups as late as the 1950s.
It is therefore a tragedy of the first order that, even as the reality of the American melting pot remains as powerful as ever, the ideology behind it has almost disappeared, having been replaced by the ÒdiversityÓ model and by the politics of grievance.
A social ideology that allots to blacks and Latinos and Asians their own separatist institutions and suggested shares of society's benefits cannot long be prevented from extending itself to whites as well, especially as whites become merely one minority among many minorities.
Before it is altogether too late, those who support this status quo must realise that the diversity prescription contains the seeds of national dissolution.
America today stands as one of the very few examples in history of a large and successful multi-ethnic society. If we are to continue to extend our success - which is hardly foreordained - we can only do so by returning to the core principles ... ethnic assimilation, and individual equality under the law. Otherwise, we face the very real threat of future movements, each worse than the last, and on a national scale.
There are few forces that could so easily break America as the coming of white nationalism.
- Ron Unz, Commentary, November 1999Ancient feuds
Russian attitudes to Chechnya ... are the product of fierce historic passions and deep-seated nationalist myths. Just as Serbs were taught to discount the presence of a 90 per cent Albanian majority in Kosovo and to think of it as theirs because of a famous medieval battle against the Turks, so Russians have been taught to claim Chechnya as theirs because of the epic campaign of Russia's imperial armies.
In the 19th century, the foothills and upper reaches of the Caucasus mountains held out against more than 70 years of constant Russian attacks. Cossacks versus Chechens became the equivalent of cowboys and Indians. Chechnya was the scene of Tolstoy's novel, The Cossacks.
Shamil, the Chechen leader who was finally captured in 1859, was a Caractacus figure, hauled off to the Third Rome in chains.
Since then, Russian prejudice has cast the Chechens in the role of inveterate rebels and bandits, who have never willingly subscribed to the blessings of Russian civilisation.
In 1918-21, during the civil wars, the Chechens briefly broke free.
In 1943-44, Stalin was so suspicious of their intentions towards the advancing Wehrmacht, that he had the entire nation deported in cattle trucks to Central Asia, killing perhaps half of them in the process. The victims, as was the practice, were added to the tally of ÔRussian war dead'.
After the war, the autonomous republic was set up without genuine autonomy. All positions of power were held by the Russian-run Communist Party, which turned the capital, Grozny, into a Russian city.
The Grozny district was valuable. It had oil and it had a pipeline running between the Caspian and the Black seas. Chechnya's natural wealth could be pumped away for the sole benefit of Moscow's coffers.
So the Chechen survivors, when they returned from their wartime exile in 1957, came back to a colony where they were cast in the role of second-class intruders. Only decades of pent-up anger can explain the daring and ferocity which defeated the Russian attack in 1994-96.Ó
- Professor Norman Davies,
The Spectator, November 13, 1999Ourselves alone
Individualism may feel like a natural condition, but many of its aspects did not develop until the last thousand years. Surnames, for example, did not emerge until the mid-1300s. Before then, men typically were identified only by the names of their fathers - John, son of Henry; Martin, Peter's son - and women took the names of their fathers or husbands ...
As for the idea of personal space, it was not until the 1700s in England that corridors were first included in the homes of the well-to-do. Until then, to get from room A to room E, one had to walk through all the rooms in between.
The newest thing about individualism is that more people can aspire to it. A rising standard of living has freed most Americans from having to spend every waking hour satisfying basic needs. Middle class affluence has also reduced the need to rely on parents or children. A hundred years ago, few people lived by themselves; today, one out of four American households contains only one person.
Meanwhile, the character of individualism is changing. The older style turned on self-reliance, achievement - what sociologists call utilitarian individualism. That is still much evident. But a newer style has blossomed in recent decades - what is called expressive individualism. This is about emotional gratification, self-help, getting in touch with feelings, expressing personal needs ...
It was not always so: if my grandparents had been asked about the importance of communicating their feelings, they might not have understood the question. They were too busy running a grocery store, raising 10 children and trying to survive the Great Depression.
- Andrew Cherlin, New York Times Magazine, October 17, 1999Presidential humour
A new biography of Ronald Reagan, Dutch by Edmund Morris, has confounded reviewers with the use of fictional characters to help penetrate the 'mystery' that apparently surrounds the former President. There is some agreement that Reagan reveals most about himself in his sense of humour. Whatever the other merits of the book, Morris has catalogued some of the President's well-worn but still humourous jokes and anecdotes.
Two men, hiking in the forest, see a grizzly bear heading straight for them. One reaches into his back pack and starts pulling on a pair of running shoes.
The other guy looks at him and says: "You don't mean to think you can outrun a grizzly?"
To which the one with tennis shoes replies: "I don't have to outrun the grizzly; I only have to outrun you'."
A farmer driving his horse-drawn wagon collides with a truck. Litigation follows, and the opposing lawyer extracts from the farmer the surprising confession that, when lying on the road at the accident scene, he had remarked as to how he had never felt better in his life.
The farmer's own lawyer then questions him: "When you gave that answer about how you felt, what were the circumstances?"
"Well," the farmer says, "I was lying there and a car came up, and the deputy sheriff got out. My horse was screaming with pain - had two broken legs. The deputy sheriff took out his gun, put it to the horse's ear and finished him off. And my dog was whining with pain - had a broken back. The deputy went over and put the gun to his ear. And then he turned to me and said: "Now, how are you feeling?'."Nation-state is 'here to stay'
The fitful performance of the European Union, coupled with the Asian economic crash, ought to prompt doubts about whether the nation-state really is headed for obsolescence. Even more telling has been the steady uptick in violent conflicts, from Africa to Europe. With this upsurge in ethnic violence and the renewed jockeying of major powers - India's explosion of nuclear weapons, China's noisy assertion of its claims to Taiwan, and North Korea's launching of the Taepodong missile - it seems ludicrous to maintain that, in the post-Cold War era, power politics has suddenly and mercifully been annulled by economic advances.
The truth is that the assertion of national pride, a quest for status and recognition and self-determination, far from disappearing, all appear to be making a comeback in the post-Cold War era.
And so the notion that something called globalisation is taking, or has taken, place is more than a little facile and obtuse.
If America is to retain supremacy in the 21st Century, it will not be as much a product of economic as of military strength and purpose. Endless debates about globalisation may turn out to be a mere sideshow.
No doubt economic activity has taken on new forms with the emergence of multinational companies and the internet. To evidence this as the dawning of a new age is, however, another matter. Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson was already complaining about the manipulation of sterling by the 'gnomes of Zurich' in the 1960s and Chris Patten, in his recent memoirs of his years as Governor of Hong Kong, notes that the Asian collapse is not really all the unprecedented, that corrupt bankers and speculators have always been with us.
As far as the road to prosperity is concerned, the economic lessons of the past two decades are clear, and both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have understood them. But even trillion-dollar surpluses cannot cure all of society's ills, let alone bring about the parliament of man.
Market booms and crashes will come and go, but the nation-state is here to stay."
- Jacob Heilbrunn, senior editor of The New Republic,
writing in The National Interest, Fall, 1999