The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Progressives’ Penance

What is immigration? While that question may seem rather basic a proper definition of immigration goes a long way towards clarifying our thoughts on the subject. Immigration is the noun we use when we wish to speak of the act of immigrating as if it were a concrete thing. Immigrate is the verb that describes the act of moving into a country/society/community, not as a tourist or guest, but with the intention of taking out long-term or permanent membership in that country/society/community.

I wrote society and community alongside country, because a) nobody can move into a country without moving into a society and a community within that society, and because b) immigration affects society and community even more than it affects a country. A country is a geo-political entity, a territory under a common law and a sovereign government. A community consists of families who live as neighbors, usually with common schools, recreational facilities, etc., and who therefore have social ties to one another. A society, in the sense in which I am using the term here, is usually coterminous with a country in size, but is organic like a community in nature.

By definition, to immigrate you require a pre-existing country to immigrate to. From this fact we see that the oft-heard “we are a nation of immigrants” argument for liberal immigration policies is wrong. There is no such thing as a nation of immigrants. It is a contradiction in terms. What the people who mindlessly repeat this mantra are referring to is that the people who founded countries like Canada and the United States moved to North America from Europe and the UK. As true as that is, those people did not move to North America to become members of pre-existing societies that were already here. The founders of the societies that would become English and French Canada, and of the United States of America, were not immigrants, they were settlers or colonists. For that matter, the people who were already living in North America when the English and French settlers arrived, were not immigrants either when their ancestors crossed what is now the Bering Strait.

“But isn’t that just quibbling?” someone might ask. No, actually, it is not. What proposition are those who think that “we are a nation of immigrants” constitutes a legitimate argument arguing for? They are arguing that our country/society has no right to turn immigrants away today, except perhaps if a particular immigrant can be shown to be a criminal or terrorist.

The implications of that proposition, however, are that no country has a right to be a country. An essential part of the definition of a country is political sovereignty and that concept is meaningless if a country does not have the right to decide who they will accept as immigrants or even whether they will accept any immigrants at all (some countries don’t). It is in the immigration debate that we most clearly see that liberalism is the enemy, not of tyranny and the abuse of state power as it purports to be, but of society.

Now demonstrating that a country has the right to decide for itself whether it will allow immigrants in or not, is not in and of itself an argument that a country should restrict immigration. If you have the right to do something it does not necessarily follow that you will be right or wise in doing it. If a country has the right to determine its own immigration policy why would it be wrong to decide upon a liberal policy of basically letting whoever wants to come in?

Before answering that question, lets take a look at what a liberal immigration policy consists of.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and virtually every other Western country embraced “liberal” immigration policies.(1) While these policies were different from each other, they had the following characteristics in common: a) more immigrants would be let in than in previous waves of immigration, b) the immigrants allowed in would be further removed ethnically and culturally from the societies they were immigrating to than in previous waves of immigration, c) this wave of immigration would be accompanied with efforts to change the country and society to accommodate the immigrants rather than with the expectation that the immigrants would assimilate into the existing society.

The governments of these countries never had popular support for any of these policies. Instead they silenced debate by loudly condemning their critics as “racists”, a tactic that was soon picked up by progressives in the media and academy.

What on earth was the purpose of all this?

It is important to remember that these policies were introduced in the era of anti-colonialism. Britain, France, and other European countries, devastated politically and economically by two World Wars, and under pressure from the new superpowers that had emerged from WWII to contend with each other for control of the world, were closing their colonial and imperial offices overseas. Progressives, who a century earlier had regarded European imperialism as a vessel to spread the blessings of modern science, technology, and reason across the globe so as to create a new and better world of the future, now saw colonialism and imperialism as being morally wrong and the cause of all the suffering and poverty in the Third World.

Against this backdrop liberal immigration looks suspiciously like a secular, collective act of penance. (2) Our countries either practiced imperialism or were established by colonists of an imperial power, therefore to make restitution, we will turn our own countries into colonies of the world. We will bring in people from all over the world and tell them they don’t have to adapt British ways to become British, Canadian ways to become Canadian, or American ways to become American. Instead we will adopt “multiculturalism” and change the definition of what it means to be British, Canadian or American, to include the newcomers.

So what exactly is the problem with this?

First of all, it involves a betrayal on the part of the governing elites of our countries, of the people whom they govern. Canada was founded in the 1860’s as a country united under a single political identity – a North American country, with a British-style parliament, under British Common Law, loyal to the British Crown. Within that unity, were a number of particular cultural societies - English Canada (English speaking, Protestant), French Canada (French speaking, Catholic), and Aboriginal Canada.

When the Liberal Party of Canada, under the premierships of Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau changed Canada’s immigration policies in the 1960’s, they did not ask English Canadians if they wanted English Canada to disappear and be replaced by “multicultural Canada”. They did not ask French Canadians if they wanted French Canada to disappear and be replaced by “multicultural Canada”. French Canada is famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) for its attempts to preserve its cultural identity. English Canadians were and are no less opposed to the Liberal Party's efforts to dissolve the cultural identity of English Canada into their multicultural “mosaic”.

At this point someone might object “but shouldn't the government do what is right rather than what the majority want”? Yes it should, but we are not talking here about allowing the majority to vote away a minority's property or life. We are talking about a government dissolving its own people's cultural identity against their own wishes. This is a major betrayal on the part of government. One of the most basic purposes of government is to protect a society against foreign invaders. People who live in any given society wish to preserve its culture, traditions, religion, language, customs and ways intact for future generations. They expect foreign conquerors to try and take these things away from them and impose a foreign culture on them. It is a role of government to try and stop it. Yet in liberal immigration and multicultural policies, government has taken upon itself the role of foreign invader, towards its own society.

A second problem with liberal immigration policy is that it ignores the importance of cultural homogeneity within a society. “Diversity is our strength” the multiculturalists chant. Is it, however?

In one sense the answer is obviously yes. A society where everybody was a policeman, or where everybody was a doctor, or where everybody was a fireman, would not function very well. A society needs farmers, doctors, policeman, firemen, teachers, and people who specialize in all sorts of other work as well.

However, there are other senses in which diversity is a weakness not a strength. The story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis provides one obvious example. People need to communicate if they wish to cooperate and communication requires a common language. Language is vitally connected to culture. The national identities of continental Europe are largely distinguished by language – French, German, Spanish, Italian, Greek, etc. Why do we often say “England” when we mean “The United Kingdom”, which consists of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland? Because English is the language spoken there. It is through language that a people passes down to future generations the stories, songs, poems, history, and other traditions that comprise their cultural identity.

Clearly a society and a country need both unity and diversity. The question is what kind of unity and what kind of diversity? The modern progressive answer is that cultural diversity is what is needed. As we have seen above, however, the kind of cultural diversity the progressive has in mind is the diversity least likely to strengthen a society and most likely to weaken it. There is another kind of cultural diversity. Within a larger English speaking society, for example, regional and local dialects of the common tongue will develop as will local and particular variations on the common culture. This kind of cultural diversity is good for a society but it is not the product of immigration.

This brings us to our third and final objection to liberal immigration. It undermines community. Community requires more than just living in proximity to other people. Imagine six houses on both sides of a street facing each other, all occupied by families, none of whom ever socialize with the others or even know their names. Are they a community? No. To make a community out of a neighborhood requires knowing the people with whom you share sidewalks, streets, schools, playgrounds, and churches. This requires a degree of trust. The strongest communities are communities where the families have long roots, where families have lived together as neighbors for many generations.

Now a strong community will be open to newcomers. A closed community is not healthy for a number of reasons. There is a difference, however, between what happens when the son of a family long established in a community, comes back home and brings his new wife from out of town with him and what happens when a large number of families from a foreign country that nobody knows anything about or has any connections with, move into a neighborhood all at once. The latter undermines the basic sense of trust which binds the families in the neighborhood into a community. As John Derbyshire puts it:

Diversity seems to affect every kind of social connection. In places with more ethnic diversity, people have fewer friends, watch more TV, are less inclined to vote, trust local government less, and rate their personal happiness lower. (3)

Community is essential for society – and a healthy country must first be a healthy society.

To recap, the case against liberal immigration has been made on the grounds that it a) involves governments breaking faith with and betraying their own people, b) increases the wrong kind of diversity, diversity which weakens rather than strengthens a society, and c) undermines the trust needed to generate the social ties which keep communities together. (4) I will conclude by answering two objections that advocates of liberal immigration raise against restricting immigration.

The first objection is the compassion objection. “These people are just looking for a better life for themselves and their children, isn’t it cruel to turn them away?” The answer to this is that a liberal immigration policy which appears to show compassion to masses of immigrants is in fact unfair to them as individuals and families. Lets say a family is considering moving to Canada because prospects appear better for the future of their children here than in their home country. They are willing to come here, to become part of Canada, to integrate into our society, and work to better their condition and that of their children. It is easy to see how letting this family into Canada would be compassionate and would improve their circumstances without harming our country and society in any way.

Suppose however, that we admit the family, not on the merits of their own case, but as part of a flood of immigrants that are being admitted because their culture and ethnicity are different from that of Canadians, as part of a government policy designed at dissolving the traditional identities of “English Canada” and “French Canada” and replacing them with “multicultural Canada”. If we do that, then what we are saying to the hypothetical family of immigrants in this illustration, that we will admit them, but not to the Canada they were hoping to move to and become a part of. That Canada we are dissolving and tearing apart. This is not compassion. It is as unfair to prospective immigrants as it is to English Canadians and French Canadians.

The second objection is “Isn’t it racist to oppose immigration policy on the grounds that it weakens cultural homogeneity and increases diversity?” This objection is never raised in good faith but rather as an attempt to poison the well. It does not deserve an answer but I will give it one anyway.

No, it is not racist for English Canadians to want English Canada to remain English Canada. It is not racist for French Canadians to want French Canada to remain French Canada. It is not racist for the British to want the UK to remain British. It is not racist for the French to want France to remain French, or for the Germans to want Germany to remain German. It is natural and right and normal for people to form ties of loyalty to their own people and culture and society and to want their children and grandchildren to grow up and become part of the same society that they are attached to. It is immoral to accuse people of being racist for wanting these things.

“Racist” as most people understand the word, means disliking someone else because they are different from you in skin color and ethnic background. Wanting your own society to remain essentially the same is not about disliking other people and wishing them ill.

(1) In Canada, the Liberals under Pearson and Trudeau, introduced these policies in a most underhanded manner. They made a big show of bringing in the “points system” in 1967, a system which on paper looks pretty good – it awards points to prospective immigrants for knowing English and French, for education and skills, and for other things the government should be looking for in prospective immigrants. They stuck some pretty big loopholes into the system, however, and quietly relocated Canada’s visa officers to High Commissions and consulates in the Third World where they launched a recruitment campaign for immigration to Canada.

(2) In Christian theology, a repentant sinner is supposed to confess his sins and make restitution to those he has wronged if it is possible. If he has stolen something, for example, he is supposed to return it. In sacramental branches of the Christian tradition (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, etc.) the term “penance” refers to these things and an outward rite in which sins are confessed before a priest and the priest pronounces absolution (forgiveness). In lay language, however, the term “penance” is most often used in a limited sense to refer to the acts a person does to “make up” for what he has done wrong. It is in this sense that I use the term here. In chapter 2 of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward A Secular Theocracy (University of Missouri Press: Columbia and London, 2002), Dr. Paul Gottfried, the Professor of Humanites at Elizabethtown College, argues that liberal Protestantism is the religious worldview which “gives direction to the managerial state’s progress toward a therapeutic regime concerned with the self-esteem of victims” (p. 66). It is interesting therefore, to read his remarks on page 65 of that book about the absence of the sacrament of penance from the branches of Protestantism that developed into “liberal Protestantism” and about the public rituals of repentance that these churches developed to fill the vacuum.

(3) John Derbyshire, We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism, (New York: Crown Forum, 2009), p. 19. This quotations is from chapter two entitled “Diversity: Nothing to Celebrate”. In this chapter, Derbyshire discusses among other things the findings of political scientist Robert Putnam regarding the impact of ethnic diversity on social capital. It is in the context of that discussion that this quotation appears. Derbyshire’s book is both informative and witty, and chapters two and ten are especially relevant to those seeking more information on the subject of this essay.

(4) Other objections could be raised, on a wide variety of grounds. Diane Francis’ book Immigration: The Economic Case (Key Porter Books: Toronto, 2002) provides economic objections to Canada’s immigration policy, for example. Last year the Fraser Institute published The Effects of Mass Immigration on Canadian Living Standards and Society, a collection of essays edited by Herbert Grubel criticizing the immigration policies of Canada (primarily – there are two essays devoted to France and the United States) from a number of standpoints (economic, demographic, social, and political).

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