Saturday, March 01, 2014

Excellent chapter: The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America

I've now completed the fourth chapter of Eric Kaufmann's The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America. I have to say it was a tremendously interesting chapter of the book.

If you recall, the first few chapters made the case that up to the 1880s the American elite had a double consciousness. On the one hand they saw themselves in positive terms as a dominant Anglo-Saxon ethny. On the other hand, they were committed to a policy of open borders that changed the demographics away from the Anglo-Saxon founding stock.

The fourth chapter looks more specifically at attitudes toward immigration in the 1800s. Up to the 1880s, immigration was opposed by various working men's organisations, as it was thought to erode workers' conditions and also from a patriotic consciousness. It was favoured, though, by the Republican business elite, as well as the media and religious elites.

Some of the employers were very blunt in their reasoning:
"All I want in my business is muscle," declared a large employer of labor in California in the 1870s. "I don't care whether it be obtained from a Chinaman or a white man - from a mule or a horse!"

...a New York merchant boasted that machinery and immigration made the American capitalist as independent of American workingmen "as the imported slaves made Roman patricians independent of Roman laborers"

There were also political reasons for supporting mass immigration:
Generally speaking, radical liberals in the northeastern United States prior to 1900 affirmed two basic principles: individual liberty and equal opportunity. This meant a repudiation of legislated immigration restriction.

The Protestant elite, at this time, also favoured open borders. One of the reasons for this was the prevailing climate of laissez-faire in which it was thought that leaving things to work out for themselves would bring the right outcomes. For some people, this meant leaving things to the market; for others it meant a Darwinian survival of the fittest; and for some Protestants it meant leaving things to Divine Providence. For this reason, some of the Protestant elite did not want to interfere with the free movement of peoples:
Commentators of the day were just as tenacious in arguing that it was wrong to interfere with the providential hand of God which had served America so well: "Why have we to make a better plan for the Almighty than He has made for Himself," complained George Seward. "Can we not be just above things and leave consequences for themselves?" Popular preacher and Protestant intellectual Henry Ward Beecher concurred with Seward and Williams, provoking fury in the San Francisco press by insisting that the white residents of California should refrain from trying to impede the will of God and the evolution of nature.

So there were major similarities and major differences with the situation today. A similarity is that the Republican Party elite was connected to big business interests which wanted open borders as a source of cheap labour. The church elite was also in favour of open borders, just as it is today.

One difference is that organised labour was at this time committed to patriotism and to restrictions on immigration. Another difference is that the American elite, in spite of their commitment to open borders, still looked on themselves in positive terms as a dominant Anglo-Saxon ethny.

How did the elite try to reconcile their support for open borders with their desire to identify as Anglo-Saxons? Some tried to convince themselves that open borders would not lead to massive population transfers. S. Wells Williams, for instance, claimed that the Chinese were not as numerous as some thought them to be and that they would probably return home. Anyway, Williams was sure that it was part of America's destiny to remain a Protestant Nation:
"To my own mind, there is no fear of a great or irresistible immigration....Thirty years have passed since the providence of God placed this region [California] under the control of a Protestant nation."

As for George Seward (quoted above) he believed that you could have mass immigration from China and keep the races socially separated (he said there was no obligation to offer your daughters in marriage to the newcomers).

I'm not sure that this dual consciousness is not a more general part of the liberal mind. It's not uncommon for liberals, when embarking on policies that will radically reshape society, to dismiss claims that the policies will destroy older institutions. And here is what a former Australian PM, John Howard, said around the time that he was greatly increasing Asian immigration into Australia:
It's perfectly possible for an Anglo-Celtic Australian who sort of has a lot of reverence to the traditional institutions of the country, and the traditional characteristics of Australia, and to want to hang on to those, to be completely tolerant and colour-blind and so on.
It's possible that the less nihilistic of liberals have to have a kind of double consciousness. They are politically committed to policies such as open borders (because of ideas about non-discrimination or neutrality in public policy), but still value the older traditions and identities. And so they are forced to cling "optimistically" to certain beliefs about how things might still work out alright in the end, for instance, by claiming that open borders won't attract a transforming migration, or that private preferences might keep a tradition going even if public policies aren't allowed to do so.

In the 1880s, the intellectual climate began to change. A social gospel movement emerged in the churches which rejected the idea of laissez-faire and which therefore allowed itself to support a deliberate policy of restricting immigration in order to improve working-class living standards.

Sections of the Anglo elite also began to lose confidence, faced with the demographic reality then emerging in the larger cities, that America would always be dominated by an Anglo-Saxon yeomanry (independent, rural farmers). Furthermore, a progressive intellectual movement emerged which, at this time, remained patriotic rather than cosmopolitan. Finally, the workers' movement also continued to push for immigration restriction as a means of protecting living conditions.

This changing of the political outlook (the creation of an alliance between churches, labour organisations, progressive intellectuals and elite Anglo-Saxons) was sufficient to bring in immigration reform in the 1920s, which was designed to limit any further demographic transformation of the United States.

I will be very interested to read Eric Kaufmann's explanation of how this coalition was eventually defeated. I'm expecting, similar to what happened in Australia, that part of the explanation is the shift amongst progressives to a cosmopolitan view - but we'll see what Kaufmann has to say.

Kaufmann's book has been a very informative read so far; it can be purchased via Amazon here.


  1. Mark,

    While not related to this post specifically, it is related to the theme of the decline of the Anglosphere. I looked up "chinese buying up australia" on Google and found this piece--

    What I found more interesting than the original text was the Editor's Note made on 25 Feb that was 453 words long to the original 813--

    "This article generated strong response when published on 18 February 2014, including concern about racist undertones in its original headline “Wealthy Chinese buyers are making Sydney’s housing problem worse”.

    The author and Guardian Australia disclaim any racist intent. Both are conscious of Australia’s racist past. Neither believes that legitimate issues for public debate - here, housing affordability - should be avoided simply because the discussion may be viewed through the prism of that past."

    Amazing. The Spirit of this Age not only creates the problems but prevents people by calling it by name.

    1. Ingemar, that's a very interesting link, thank you. It is also quite relevant to the issues raised in the post. For a period of time in both America and Australia progressive thought was mostly nationalist rather than cosmopolitan (say 1880s to 1920s). The problem is that when progressive thought turned cosmopolitan there was no longer a sufficient force to hold back those in favour of open borders.

      You can see the tension at work in the piece you linked to. Clive Hamilton is a progressive thinker. He wants to sympathise with ordinary Australians wanting to have a home of their own and to belong to a community. He doesn't like the idea that they should be prevented from doing so by the unregulated operation of the market. But in raising the issue he has had to confront insinuations that his article was racist or discriminatory. In the year 1900, chances are that the issue would have been resolved in a patriotic way; chances are that in 2014 it will be resolved in favour of the open borders approach.