The Swiss newspaper Junge Freiheit interviews VDH
JF: Professor Hanson, you criticize U.S. immigration policy in your recent bookMexifornia. What is it that bothers you about the development at the Southern border?
VDH: Many things. 1)We are wide open to terrorist infiltration; 2) We privilege illegal immigration from Mexico, while penalizing and delaying legal immigration from Asia, Africa, and Europe; 3) We serve as a safety valve and enabler for Mexico, which therefore will never make needed reforms; 4) We are creating a chauvinistic tribalism, a race industry that tries to convert the presence of 15 million illegal aliens into some sort of political movement; 5) We use cheap illegal labor to ensure our own entry level workers cannot bargain or organize.
As you see, I could go on ad nauseam.
JF: The U.S. did steal Texas from the Mexicans in the 19th century. Isn’t there a certain justice in what is happening now, the land being gradually reclaimed by its original owners?
VDH: In the sense of the irony that Mexico stole its land from Spain, that stole it from the Indians. Though unlike Mexico, the U.S. legitimized its forced annexation through a treaty and payment. There surely is irony on all sides that long ago mobs of European Texans encroached on Mexican land and now their descendants face the same from Mexicans. That said, the greatest irony is the majority of Mexican citizens in Mexico who poll that (1) they think the southwestern U.S. really belongs to Mexico, and (2), the majority of such respondents still wish to leave Mexico and emigrate to the U.S.: the subtext being ‚we want the status and prestige of being Mexico, but don’t wish to live in what we subsequently create.’
JF: How would you phrase the main thesis of your book?
VDH: Promotion of traditional assimilation, integration, and intermarriage of legal immigrants who come lawfully, in measured numbers, and are willing to accept the language, protocols, and culture of their newly adopted country.
JF: What does the emergence of Mexifornia mean for the U.S.? What consequences are likely to arise from it?
VDH: If illegal immigration continues and we reach 30-40 million illegal residents from south of the border, who don’t fully assimilate in rapid fashion, then look at the Balkans, Rwanda, Iraq, and elsewhere for the sorts of factionalism and sectarianism we will soon experience. We are already beginning to see towns and communities in the American Southwest resort to apartheid status, where English is not spoken and Mexican nationals here illegally comprise the vast majority of the resident population.
JF: Why is the U.S. allowing this to happen?
VDH: The libertarian/corporate Right likes cheap, exploitable labor, while the identity-politics on the Left wants more constituents. And the majority in between was asleep at the wheel for thirty years, afraid to speak out lest they be called “protectionists” and “nativists” by elites who read the Wall Street Journaland “racists” by the academic and political left.
JF: Which measures do you think the federal government needs to take in response?
VDH: Fence the points of easiest transit; beef up security; provide a fool-proof ID; fine employers who hire illegals; do not provide public services in multiple languages; insist that newcomers are legal, and accept our language and protocols. Close the border and fine employers, and then the influx will stop — and the existing cohort of illegals will insidiously begin to assimilate and disappear as a distinct bloc.
JF: President Bush is perceived as a conservative and patriotic leader. Would you consider this a fair appreciation of his attempts to deal with the “Mexifornia” issue? Why hasn’t he been able to solve this problem? And if he can’t solve it, will any future president be able to?
VDH: The Left agrees with him, but nevertheless wants to see him fail for political purposes in the post-Iraq climate; the Right thinks he is a megaphone for Wall Street and privileges the employers’ concerns over the middle class’s anxieties. So his policies are orphaned and the debate has moved so far to the right that his moderate suggestions seem radically liberal in this new political landscape.
JF: Do you think the “Mexifornia” issue is a reflection of the mental state of the union, or does this sound too far-fetched to you?
VDH: The term I borrowed, “Mexifornia,” from the radical left-wing Chicano movement suggests an alternate future of chaos, but one that we still have it in our power to avoid.
JF: How did readers and critics respond to your book? Did you get a lot of negative reactions?
VDH: In 2003 the Left thought the book was illiberal and slandered it; now the Right finds that it is too tepid and assimilationist. So the debate in five years has swung hard-right to an astonishing degree.
JF: Like the U.S., Europe is currently subject to a strong immigration wave — although not Hispanic but Muslim in origin. Based on your research into what has been happening in the U.S., do you have any advice to offer to Europeans?
VDH: Curb the numbers. Jettison multicultural mish-mash, and instead insist on assimilation and integration. Show pride in your culture that newcomers, after all, have voted by their very presence to accept. Distinguish legal from illegal immigration and don’t let tribalists and illiberals masquerade as progressives as they demonize the very sanctuary they flee to. Most immigrants who are unhappy and bite the hand that feeds them learn their venom from disaffected Western elites.
JF: And leading on from this, why do you think European countries are allowing this to happen? What consequences will we have to expect?
VDH: At first it was economics, the desire for cheap labor; but then the multiculturalism encouraged the “other” to come without conditions and to recreate the landscape of their abandoned and mostly failed home countries. Now you have the worst of postindustrial West: too few jobs for a growing population of illegal immigrants, even as enabling elites assure them that their problems and pathologies are all the fault of the host. A bad combination by any means.
JF: Do you see any appreciable differences between the way the U.S. is dealing with immigration issues, and Europe’s response to similar problems?
VDH: We will stop the influx soon and through our powers of assimilation and popular culture absorb those here; you may well not and thus are already seeing a tiny elite on top mouthing utopian leftwing bromides while a radical rightwing movement on bottom will grow, demanding xenophobic solutions.
I am not confident in an easy solution for Europe, given its 20th-century past — whether confronting the specter of a Muslim Eurabia, or the counter-rightwing backlash that could get very ugly. You in Europe have little facility — socially, culturally, and politically — to absorb immigrants into full-fledged Europeans. We do (as Europe’s historic critiques of America as a mongrel nation attest) — if the numbers of new arrivals are reasonable, of diverse backgrounds, and of legal status.
Officially Europe sounds more utopian, while in reality Europeans are clannish and reluctant to integrate and embrace; America sounds strident and angry, while Americans in their personal lives integrate, assimilate, and marry Mexican nationals who come here illegally — the tragedy being that if we just cut the numbers of new arrivals of illegals, the existing cohort would soon disappear through assimilation.
JF: What is it that makes the U.S. and Europe so different from each other? From the outside, the two are often perceived as a monolithic unit: the West. Does this unity really exist, or are we talking about two separate worlds? Do you think the alliance between the U.S. and Europe is made to last, or is it no more than an illusion?
VDH: We have a common legacy, as the elections in France and Germany remind us. And we coalesce when faced by a common illiberal enemy — whether against the Soviet empire or radical Islam.
But after the fall of the Soviet Union, you diverged onto a secularized, affluent, leisured, socialist, and pacifist path, where in the pride and arrogance of the Enlightenment you were convinced you could make heaven on earth — and would demonize as retrograde anyone who begged to differ.
Now you are living with the results of your arrogance: while you brand the U.S. illiberal, it grows its population, diversifies and assimilates, and offers economic opportunity and jobs; although, for a time you’ve become wealthy — given your lack of defense spending, commercial unity, and protectionism — but only up to a point: soon the bill comes due as you age, face a demographic crisis, become imprisoned by secular appetites and ever growing entitlements. Once one insists on an equality of result, not one of mere opportunity, then, as Plato warned, there is no logical end to what the government will think up and the people will demand.
JF: Would you say many Europeans’ critical attitude towards the U.S. is rooted in legitimate concerns, or does it rather stem from a typically European bias against the U.S.? How would you describe the nature of this bias?
VDH: In part, the animus originates from innate envy, and jealousy over the loss of European imperial preeminence; in part, there is the old befuddlement that a mongrel population of European rejects in America has now created the largest and most powerful nation in history — as a sort of deviant Western answer to European notions of class exclusion and aristocratic pretension. But once you predicate status, as is done in America, in a Western liberal society on the acquisition of money rather than birth, then you see something enormously dynamic, but also crass, and that crassness apparently drives the Euros crazy. Finally, we are enablers: there are no consequences to vocal and cheap anti-Americanism. If we withdrew our troops, and cut the E.U. loose, then it would see that in a world without America at its side, creepy people like Putin, Ahmadinejad, and Dr. Zawahiri are not just bogeymen of a U.S. President.
JF: Is there a corresponding bias against Europeans in American society? How come nobody has ever thought to diagnose such a sentiment? Is it truly non-existent, or is it just that Americans are too wise, and Europeans too cowardly to mention it?
VDH: There has always been skepticism of Europe as a class-bound, hopelessly aristocratic static society, warped by Old World factionalism, and prone to dangerously wide springs between totalitarian fascism and totalitarian Marxism. Few note such suspicions of ours, since we are self-obsessed within our borders, and don’t translate these musings into some driving ideology. Nor do we feel that Europe per se affects our lives to any great degree, despite our ubiquitous Western heritage that we owe to Europe and the billions of U.S. dollars that are held by European governments.
The irony is that while Europeans periodically chest-pound and loudly vie with each other in hating the United States for various alleged sins (fill in the blanks from global warming to Iraq), slowly, insidiously we in the U.S. are drifting away from Europe, whether defined by commitments to its security (I doubt we would intervene again in the Balkans) to sort of a popular weariness. One article in Le Monde or a quip by a Chirac or Schroeder might pass over the heads of those in Iowa or Nebraska, but not a few hundred of these per day. So the Europeans have done the almost impossible: alienated a Western powerful ally, that kept it safe and free for the majority of the 20th century.
JF: Europeans like to take the U.S. to task for their geopolitical immorality. Are Europeans really morally superior? Or would you rather say, Americans are not immoral but Europeans are unrealistic? Where does this lack of realism originate? And where will it lead Europe in years to come?
VDH: Well, Europeans are no more or no less moral than the U.S. — though the collective West itself is quite a bit more moral than a Russia, China, or India, whether we look at China’s environmental travesties, Japan’s whale hunting, or Russia assassinations abroad. Europe allowed a quarter of a million to be butchered in the Balkans for a near decade. Its agricultural subsidies are the most illiberal in the world, and it has no compunction about trading or even extending trade credits to the most oppressive regimes in the world, whether that be Cuba, Iran, or Syria.
No, I don’t think Europeans are “unrealistic.” They are instead canny in fabricating a utopian veneer and a sophisticated humanistic rhetoric to mask everything from cut-throat trade policies to a complete abrogation of international military responsibilities.
Americans, in contrast, are the naive ones. They spend billions trying to jump start democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, while being blamed as “imperialists.” They keep the peace on the high seas, whether in the Persian Gulf, the Aegean, or the Korea Sea, and run up enormous deficit in the international free commerce that ensues. And they open their markets to almost anyone, and run on enormous massive debts that encourage a China or India to enter the international system of commerce and trade.
JF: Europeans like to cast the European Union less as a kind of United States of Europe but rather as a precursor to a “one world” utopia. What is your view on this? Do Americans feel any sympathy for this idea? Will it get Europe anywhere?
VDH: Europe is to be commended for creating a structure that avoided a third world war. But its present notion of utopia — minimal defense, socialism, atheism and agnosticism, continental governance — is a prescription for disaster. When the individual believes in nothing transcendent, has no allegiance to a notion of nationhood, and believes nothing is worth sacrificing for, stasis sets in, lethargy follows, and an effete citizenry becomes as vocal in condemnation as it is impotent in matching deed with word.
JF: What would serve American interests better — a “one world” European Union, which would always be fundamentally “other than” the U.S. in structure as well as in nature but would never challenge the U.S.’s position as a super power? Or a United States of Europe, which would function according to similar principles as the U.S. but might well prove a threat to U.S. hegemony?
VDH: We would welcome the challenge and tension of the latter, since with it there lies hope; the former, however, means the fountainhead of Western culture will slowly decline and whimper as it melts into a pool of irrelevance. Who wants to see that? Americans love Sarkozy for his muscular rhetoric and the glimpse of a proud France of years past.
JF: What would Europe need to do differently in order to become a serious international contender?
VDH: Open its economy to free trade; reduce the size of government; curb entitlements; rearm; forge a closer alliance with the U.S/, the U.K., Australia, Japan, and other Westernized countries; and redefine the E.U. as a sort of commonwealth rather than an omnipotent Big Brother.
JF: European powers have ruled the world for century without ever being challenged by any powers outside of Europe. Has this situation changed and if so, how come Europeans are not aware of the change? What risks do Europeans run by ignoring it?
VDH: Being powerful and rich, but weak militarily means all your eggs are in the U.N. basket, and such multilateral associations are as corrupt as they are weak — rusty chains that reflect the vulnerability of their autocratic weak links. So you offer low-hanging, enticing overripe fruit to anyone who chooses to pick it — whether radical Islam, Iran, Putin’s Russia, or China.
And you demonize the United States for our skepticism of such questionable multilateral institutions; but we suspect that your critiques are not based on principle, but the necessity of collective defense and decision-making in lieu of a credible military. How sad that you hate the liberal nation that defends you, and appease the illiberal forces who would intimidate or destroy you.
JF: Do you think a threat like the one outlined above might result from Islam and the Islamic immigration to Europe? A threat which Europeans simply cannot foresee because we continue to perceive Islam as the victim of Western occupation which it has been since the demise of the Ottoman Empire?
VDH: Here, many Mexican Christians who do assimilate do not pose the problem of most Muslims among you who don’t. And radical Islam hates you even more than it hates us, because it considers you atheistic and weak, us thralls to Christendom, but strong. At some point, either demography at home, or the sheer hatred voiced for Western values abroad by radical Muslims will wake you up — or Europe, as you know it, will either be lost or relegated to subservient status.
JF: How much political significance do you ascribe to religious faith? Do you consider the U.S. to be a religious nation? Would you consider a strong religious faith a geopolitical advantage in the sense that it is a source of strength in the struggle for hegemony? If so, what does this mean for Europe, which — speaking honestly — is a completely secularized region in the grip of rationalism?
VDH: Religious belief means transcendence, or the notion you are living for something greater than yourself. Atheism means this is it — so why have children, invest in your country, or sacrifice your health for abstractions like your country? We worry about Europe because it seems to be creating a new culture in the West: marry at 35, have 0-1 children, be taken care of from cradle to grave.
Everyone needs a god; Europeans have turned their backs on the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and adopted in its place a Rousseau or Foucault as totems. Atheism is bad enough when it worships the Calf of Pure Reason, but when logic and rationalism are themselves replaced by postmodern relativism, then the loss of god, and the trade off become an even worse deal.
©2008 Victor Davis Hanson