Wednesday, November 30, 2011

PETER SALINS, AMERICANISM, AND ASSIMILATION

One last essay on current matters before I get back to Terry Eagleton’s “Reason, Faith, and Revolution”.

Peter D. Salins, then an Urban Affairs professor at Hunter College, wrote a book*on Assimilation and Acculturation in the US back in February, 1997, entitled “Assimilation, American Style”.

Since this gets him into Multiculturalism and a whole gaggle of other initiatives and developments that have been embraced by elites in the past few decades around here, and since the subject is of such importance, I want to share my thoughts.

He observes that in other societies around the world Assimilation has meant that new-comers must “abandon all their original cultural attributes and conform entirely to the behaviors and customs of the majority of the native-born population”.

He is wise to put the topic in context of world-wide practice, since Assimilation and Multiculturalism mean different things depending on the site-context. So, for example, in the highly fraught nations of Southeast Europe (the Balkans) and in the nations bordering them, Multiculturalism and Assimilation have indeed pretty much meant precisely that: give up all your old ways (and old habits of ethnic insistence and ethnic hatred) if you want to join or create a new society.

In France in the 1960s and 1970s the problem was how to respond to large numbers of immigrants from the former French colony of Algeria – so recently and violently freed from its colonial status but still possessing dense ties to French culture – and seeking to  make a better life for themselves by leaving Algeria and immigrating (or moving) to France.

Canada, on the other hand, began with two large already-established sub-cultures: the Aboriginal population (popularly referred to as ‘Indians’) and the French-speaking population of Quebec. In the 1960s pressure was generated by both of these populations.

But whereas the Aboriginals were open to some larger blending, while also seeking from the larger society recognition and respect for their customs and ways, yet the Quebecois were precisely looking to maintain their French-speaking culture as distinct from the larger English-speaking Canadian culture; they didn’t want to ‘blend with’ the English-speaking culture – they wanted to remain insulated from it and preserve their long-established French-based culture, certainly in their own originally French Province of Quebec, their geographical home and base.  

Each of these groups presents a different challenge to the national polity in regard to Multiculturalism and Assimilation.

The Aboriginals were seeking larger ‘recognition and respect’, you might say, although were open to some amount of cultural interpenetration and blending. How does a nation go about working through those desires? How would ‘recognition’ work out in policy and law? To what extent and in what ways can the national government bring about change? By helping to inform and perhaps also educate public opinion and see what the Citizenry come up with through their informed deliberations? By imposing policies and laws first, so as to more forcibly shape and direct public opinion?

The Quebecois were seeking to be left alone in their historically French-based culture. They too wanted government ‘recognition’, but that recognition would have to take the form of government laws aimed precisely at creating not only a special status for the Quebec culture, but also carving that special status out of the larger common culture of Canada and erecting policy and legal boundaries to ensure that, no matter what happened in the demography and culture of Canada yet the Quebec culture would remain distinct and, in a certain sense, separate. Thus the official language of Quebec would by law be French, and advertising signage would have to be in French (although English translations beneath the French would be more or less permitted).

It goes without saying that on top of all that complexity, the Canadians were then also embroiled in the misch of matters stemming from US cultural experiences and developments, where Multicultural demands were going in a far different direction.

In the US, there would be no geographically separate units that remain the preserve of a particular sub-culture. Indeed, there would be a question whether there was even any American Culture to which other ethnic identities were more properly construed as sub-cultures.

Racial identity, not at all the same thing as immigrant-ethnic identity, was tending toward a blanket acceptance of ‘black culture’ (to the extent that any such single monolithic entity can accurately be said to exist) and, as well, a sense that such an identity was beyond the right of the white culture (ditto) to judge, nor should the ‘white’ expect the ‘black’ to change at all; while at the same time, whatever the ‘black culture’ chose to embrace as old or new cultural habits and ways would have to be accepted without ado.

And there was also the matter of to just what extent the national government should or could go in ‘recognizing’ these demands in policy and law.

This entire thrust was by nature highly political, given the long and difficult history of the black experience within (and at the hands of) the white experience throughout the country’s history.

And, as I have often said, all of this came to the fore in the later 1960s, when the reigning Democratic Party was desperate to enlist fresh ‘demographics’ and burnish its image as being the Party of ‘the common people’ in the face of the ongoing Vietnam debacle, the imminent end of the postwar American economic world-primacy, and (through the civil-rights legislation) the break-up of the New Deal coalition of the  Northern urban workers and the Southern Jim Crow-tinged political machinery.

The US government, as self-declared Leader of the Free World, was also eager to eradicate its vulnerability to Soviet observations that a country that claimed to be the home and protector of Freedom still treated its black population as second-class citizens. And in those late 1960s some notable post-Martin Luther King shapers and ‘representatives’ of black culture were voicing threats of ‘revolution’.

The fraught Questions as to how ‘black’ and ‘white’ culture might live together, with the black culture receiving ‘recognition’ not only through cultural acceptance (however defined) but also through active government programs that might be imposed (at public expense) to re-shape the national culture … these haunted and fueled the complexity.

And then, before the country could even begin to deliberate as to how to work through all that, suddenly there arose Genderism, again essentially distinct from the specific Multicultural concerns about assimilating immigrants from foreign countries and cultures.

Under the aegis of radical-feminism, the Citizenry was hypothesized as being divided and divisible not along the axis of race but of gender: ‘women’ were envisioned by their spokespersons as being long oppressed, regardless of race or ethnicity and including all of the women of the white culture as well as of black women and immigrant women.

Intensifying the complex problems even more, radical-feminism had drunk deeply from the wells of Marxist and Leninist cultural analysis, and by a simple substitution of ‘women’ for ‘proletariat’ and ‘working classes’ in the Communist tomes, the radical-feminists instantly had a ready-made corpus of ‘philosophical’ justifications and how-to manuals to bolster their position.

But the Marxist-Leninist analysis was and always had been specifically geared to ‘revolution’ and the overthrow of reigning systems. There was no room for ‘deliberative democratic process’ and not even any desire for it; only the cadres of the ‘revolution’ could be trusted to know and do what was right for ‘the masses’, whom the vanguard elites would lead like helpless cattle into the bright visions of the New Order. (See my immediately previous Post at Addendum 2 and Addendum 3 for more discussion of this development.)

Pre-eminent among this corpus of thought was the work of the early 20-century Italian Communist thinker Antonio Gramsci. In the service of the Marxist-Leninist Project and Cause, he had worked out a strategy whereby what he called the “hegemonic culture” could be attacked and undermined from within by a process of cadres forming a separate minority-culture and then making whatever temporary alliances had to be made to enable those cadres, seemingly speaking for all the oppressed, to infiltrate the government and not so much destroy it as to replace it, taking its power for themselves so that they could re-Shape society and culture through government power and thus lead the polity to the Great New Order.

Thus, his strategy simultaneously called for a) the formation of a culture precisely opposed to and distinct from the ‘hegemonic culture’ (this is where Multiculturalism starts to come in, in its American variant) while b) weakening and attacking the “hegemonic culture” at every opportunity (which including creating crises and outrages to fuel such opportunities) and c) continuously pressuring the government to incorporate more of your cadres into its ranks (where they could work against the “hegemonic culture” from within that culture’s own government).

Historically, not only the autocratic government of the Romanov Czars but also the classically Liberal government (Kerensky’s) that replaced them (for a brief sad moment, before Lenin overthrew the Liberals) had difficulty defending itself against such an attack strategy. Because the classically Liberal position was to remain open to free and open debate and the slow but respectful process of building public opinion and listening to the Citizenry; and under the protection of that Liberal (not to be confused with today’s ‘liberal’) praxis, the Marxist-Leninist-Gramscian vanguard-attack strategy could fester (or thrive, depending on your point of view), infiltrating and taking-over the government from within and taking its power for the purpose of bringing about the New Order.

So in the US, the radical-feminists hit the ground running with an already-worked out strategy of proven effectiveness (or frakkulence, depending on your point of view).

From that quick overview, you can see that Multiculturalism and the question of Assimilation has to be carefully sorted out from other dynamics also at work in (and on) the American polity.

It would have been nice if the American media and professoriate and even the legislators themselves had helped the public to get a handle on all of this (if it all sounds new and/or complex to you, well … now you know why).

But the politicians were desperate to raise up new reliable electoral ‘demographics’; and the media had a) gotten the idea that it was more fun to ‘make’ history than to merely ‘report’ it and also b) increasingly needed to keep readers interested, and there’s nothing like conflict (no matter how simplistically portrayed) between Good and Evil, with the Powerful Hero coming to the rescue, if you want to keep people reading and tuning in; and the same sort of thing hit the intellectuals and the professoriate, especially when they realized that the government was willing to provide lots of funding and the media was willing to provide lots of status, for profs who embraced the New Order.

And here We are.

Anyway, with all that pre-work out of the way, back to Salins.

In America, he notes, Assimilation has not meant abandoning your old culture. He’s got a point. For the long stretch from the 1630s to the 1840s, most immigrants were from the same general culture of Northern, Anglo-Saxon Europe. The Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War added large tracts of territory that were rooted in French or Spanish culture, but they remained for quite a while territorially distinct.

Territoriality is an element of the Multicultural equation that doesn’t often receive the attention it deserves, I think. The culture of Old New Orleans (that doesn’t mean ‘before Katrina’ but rather the city as it existed from the beginning of the 19th century up to the mid-20th century) remained easily and comfortably unique and distinct, yet the inhabitants considered themselves Americans.

Yet it probably wouldn’t have worked if the government of that era had tried, say, to plant a little ‘New Orleans’ in each of the large Eastern cities; there was too much of a difference in cultural habits and ways (and Americans, at least in those days, did most certainly not like the government to be telling them what to do).

Nor, even more surely, would it have worked if the government had tried to reduce American culture to some sort of Least Common Denominator whereby you used government power to remove from American culture any element that would give offense to anybody, and then try to claim that the pale and flattened residue from that process would be a workable foundation for a new American culture.

Thus for example, the government might have insisted that any elements of urban Eastern-seaboard culture that didn’t mesh with an Old New Orleans type of culture would have to go; or at least, would have to be kept inside your own house, since the urban Eastern-seaboard cities were now officially going to be ‘sensitive’ to Old New Orleans culture.

The urban-immigrant enclaves of an earlier era, such as Boston’s North End, seemed to hit just the right balance: arising naturally out of the immigrant phenomenon, comprised of a genuine community that embraced America’s genius and core Vision while retaining the dense and subtle textures and matrix of their culture-of-origin.

This is a major axis of the reality involved in modern American Multiculturalism, especially since the American approach – trying to incorporate not only large numbers of post-1960s immigrants but also the sensitivities of the sub-cultures of race and gender – cannot realistically seek for some sort of ‘territorial-geographical’ solution, and has sort of fallen into the Least Common Denominator approach.

And that Least Common Denominator approach leads to a hugely weakened and thinned sense of common culture. (Which, of course, plays right into the Gramscian playbook of ‘weakening and undermining the hegemonic culture’ … funny how the night moves.)

But Salins quotes the sociologist Henry Fairchild (who did his work in the late 19th to mid-20th century, dying in 1956) that the American style had been “more flexible and accommodating, and consequently, more effective in achieving its purposes”.

(Remember, he is speaking of Multiculturalism in regard to Immigration, not Race and Gender.)

Thus, Fairchild saw the national purpose achieved in this regard: allowing the country to “preserve its national unity in the face of the influx of hordes of persons of scores of different nationalities”.

In the early and mid 19th century large numbers of immigrants from the Scandinavian and Germanic countries came over, but largely headed to the rich farming country of the Upper Midwest, where they enjoyed some geographic-territorial specificity, imparting a certain shape and tenor to that region of the country. But in the later 1800s large numbers of Poles and Central Europeans came over, congregating in such urban enclaves as Chicago.

And in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s the nation saw a huge influx of immigrants – needed for industrial growth, to work the many factories and shops – from non-English speaking countries, especially Southern and Central Europe.

Thus there was a large language difference, and some notable differences in customs and traditions, especially as the peasant and rural immigrants set up life in the Eastern seaboard cities; but I would add that they still brought with them some basis in a common European culture that stemmed back to the days of European unity in Christendom. And you can see how current American preoccupations with deconstructing or devalorizing that core European culture originating in the Christendom of many centuries ago undercuts even the solid ground that Fairchild thought the national Culture could be based on.

Salins notes the significant scholarly criticism as to whether “the melting pot” image – where immigrants would be totally transformed into Americans while the receiving culture did not change at all – ever actually worked at all.

There was, rather, he thinks, a mutual exchange whereby somehow the immigrants did become Americans but also imparted new dimensions to the American culture. That sounds more accurate to me.

Salins also notes the objections of the American philosopher Horace Kallen, who raised the acute point that it was neither wise nor prudent to expect human beings to thoroughly abandon the customs and traditions and ways of their birth (and if adults, those would be long-established life patterns). And that some amount of “cultural pluralism” (Kallen is said to have first used this term) actually is not only more humane and wise but also strengthens the national culture and polity.

Kallen’s thought, I note, was taken up by Randolph Bourne, who worked through the 1890s and up into the era of World War 1. Bourne thought that a “cosmopolitan” and “trans-national America” was a far better objective than simply confining ‘American culture’ to its initial or original Anglo-Saxon roots.

Bourne was no doubt alert to the tremendous American political complexities engendered by World War 1 in Europe. The largely Northern European, Scandinavian and Germanic Upper Midwest was partial to Germany in that war and did not want to see the US join the war. The Eastern seaboard leaned, in large part for cultural reasons, toward the English (with the vivid exception of the Irish-Americans who often harbored their own objections to the English).**

Kallen was on to something. Just how much and how fast and by what means can you change a culture – which, getting right down to it, is the shape and structure of many people’s lives? At this profound level, such things are not to be dealt with in a shallow or hasty way. And in the American Universe, certainly not by rapid and widespread government imposition. And not by an imposition that precisely seeks as well to preclude or foreclose public objections or doubts or questions, or simply the public need to have some time to deliberate and consider.

A government, I would say, that loses sight of such fundamental wisdom about how human beings ‘work’ is in grave danger of wrecking the society and the cultural and perhaps losing its legitimacy as well.

Kallen’s “cultural pluralism” seems to me a wise point. There is a human need for a reliable culture to ground and shape life and self, and there is a dynamic flexibility (‘plasticity’ might be implying too much to the modern American reader) in which the new (immigrant) culture would interact with the receiving culture.

This of course presumes that the immigrant seeks to embrace the core of the receiving culture (which s/he has chosen to join) and does not expect merely to exist at the margins of the receiving culture, rejecting it while enjoying its perceived benefits. While at the same time, the immigrant has the right and dignity not to be rapidly re-shaped as if s/he were an old ship quickly being re-built in the shipyard.

But you can see, I think, where this issue and the analysis and insight offered by the early 20th century thinkers is not sufficient to deal with modern American reality, where Multiculturalism has moved beyond simple (so to speak) matters of immigration and has become enmeshed with a more fundamental and hostile ‘pluralism’ of race and gender and even secularism that precisely seek not to embrace but to replace American “hegemonic culture” (derisively written off as dead, white, European, male, macho, industrial, logocentric, rational, insensitive, abstract, and so forth and so on).

Salins then proposes – perhaps for the purposes of discussion – an “ethnic federalism” that quietly abandons any thought that there actually is any such thing as “a transcendent American identity”, one that governs as a foundation all subsequent processes of Assimilation and cultural identification and creating Identity.

It’s an interesting gambit: American identity as amorphous, mostly flexible and unhindered by any deep or solid structuring or shaping that might obstruct adaptation to whatever sub-culture might come along to join the party.

But I have my doubts.

The Framing Vision was rooted in a quite historical specific time and place, though it was also legitimately seeking to embody a universality.

First, the Framing Vision was aware that it was dealing with human beings – and we are not now nor ever have been utterly invertebrate and plastic. In our human nature, in our lifeways, in our beliefs, we are somewhat limited in our plasticity. You can’t just change yourself or another  human being or a whole society of human beings overnight, especially through the imposition of external force (and the Framers most certainly did not want to see their federal government having such power or using it in such a way).

Second, the Framers, although deeply influenced by the Enlightenment, relied upon the Afterglow (my term) of Christendom. They could reliably presume – without having to admit it – that Americans (of that era) would not only share a common humanity, but also a common Ur-cultural grounding in the common culture of European Christendom: the dignity of all individuals, the responsibilities and limitations of any State and its agents under the judgment of the Higher Law of God, the essential dignity of humans yet somehow reliably prone to being undermined by some form of Original Sinfulness.

Third, the Framers imparted in their Framing Vision the hallmark English developments in political thought and the structuring of government: the right to be free of unwarranted government force, the division of the government authority to better prevent the centralization of power to such an extent that the government would escape the control of its governors (the Citizens) and turn on them.

The great blessing of Leviathan, after all, was that it somehow could reduce the vagaries of social violence; the great danger of Leviathan  – which the Romans had named with the question Quis custodet ipsos custodes? (Who shall guard the guards themselves?) – was that it would somehow burst its bonds and turn with all its accumulated power on the Citizens who had created it and who had given their personal powers of violence over to it.

Somehow that Framing Vision and its assumptions about the human beings who would form its Citizenry and exercise the vital role of The People is constitutive of America and of American Identity.

You can’t treat all that foundational work as merely ‘historical’ or ‘quaint’ or so plastic and malleable and fungible as to be invertebrate. Not only humans, not only Americans-as-humans, but also Americans as Citizens of this unique embodiment of a Vision of government … will be undermined, robbed of the Grounding that enables them to robustly fulfill their roles and responsibilities as Citizens together and as The People. ***

So a pure (that is to say: concerning immigrants) Multiculturalism still must deal not only with the matter of customs, traditions and lifeways, but also the vital reality of the Framing Vision.

Otherwise, Multiculturalism is undermined by an insufficient grasp of just what is at stake in all of this.

And of course, the enmeshed-Multiculturalism of modern America – insofar as it is so profoundly tainted at its very core with Leninist-Gramscian thought and praxis – presents an even more lethal challenge because it is not simply unaware of the Framing Vision but rather is aware of the Framing Vision and most deliberately seeks to do away with it.

Salins notes that contemporary Multiculturalists make many demands for concessions in regard to ethnic rights. I would add that they do not spend much time acknowledging concomitant responsibilities to a common civic culture or commonweal (even if you don’t want to go so far as to say a Common American Identity). And he does not take into account the race and gender ‘identities’ who claim ‘culture’ of their own, and often a culture that is incompatible with and engaged in ongoing war against the “hegemonic culture”.

He nicely lists some of the more wide-known counter-metaphors to the old “melting pot”: Jesse Jackson’s “rainbow”; David Dinkins’ “gorgeous mosaic”; Shirley Chisholm’s “salad bowl”; Barbara Jordan’s “kaleidoscope”.

But, he observes, they all share common assumptions: 1) that all Americans (at least he lists “immigrants and blacks”) can live side by side; 2) that none of them should ever have to give up their cultural habits or attributes; 3) that there never will be a common, single, unified national American identity to which all Americans can ascribe.

His observation is acute.

Because (1) requires some sort of Least Common Denominator approach which – given the wild efflorescence of American political developments and demands – would have to be very very “least” indeed, to the point of becoming invertebrate and unsurvivably thin.

And the Gramscian playbook is looking not simply to find any such Least Common Denominator but rather to replace the whole “hegemonic culture” in the first place. Anything else is a half-measure and is doomed to failure.

In this regard, I would add, Gramsci and the Leninists were actually kind of realistic: they realized that you can’t simply have a country without a government and a unifying culture. They didn’t simply want to get rid of government and culture. No, they wanted to get rid of the current government and culture in order to set up their own. The thought of a ‘rainbow’ or a ‘salad bowl’ would have reduced Lenin to scornful and derisive laughter. And Stalin was even more ruthless in his realism: he was not a ‘rainbow’ kinda guy at all and I doubt he liked salads. Human societies, like humans themselves, need spines and skeletons – solid and precisely not-plastic – to impart and support Shape and everything else.

I am not here plumping for a Volkisch or totalitarian uniformity, but a skeleton is a skeleton and humans don’t function well without one.

You also run smack into the Argo Paradox first formulated by the ancient Greeks: if you take a ship, named Argo, and embark on a long voyage, and in the course of that years-long voyage have to make numerous repairs, replacing piece by piece much of the ship, then at what point does the vessel cease to be the Argo at all?

Curiously, the 18th century US sailing frigate Constitution, still a commissioned warship of the US Navy and manned by a US Navy crew, probably contains no piece of wood from her original construction (with the exception of the very keel itself). So in what sense is she – and is she not – the Constitution that briefly won glory against Royal Navy frigates in the War of 1812?

You might say that she is the Constitution because most people choose to believe that or perhaps don’t even think about the question at all, but while belief is a very good thing, it doesn’t make the simulacrum real. And not-thinking about a question is hardly an answer to what might be a real problem.

And (2) requires immigrants and minorities (another Gramscian bit) who have no intention of embracing the recipient culture. But then why immigrate and why should the recipient country be under any obligation to receive you? And if it receives enough of this type of immigrant, how do the polity and the society and the country continue to cohere and to function? Where is the tipping point?

And of course you instantly see here the problem with the American race and gender variants: the race and gender ‘identities’ are not immigrants at all. They claim to be ‘oppressed’ but they are already Americans and Citizens. This presents a problem and challenge far and away beyond anything simple and pure Multiculturalism was designed to deal with.

And, even more than the anarchists of a century and more ago, Gramscian-grounded advocacies are looking from the outside-in at American society and working to undermine it. Surely no country or society can survive if it willingly accepts (let alone if its government cynically or witlessly embraces) huge swaths of persons seeking to undermine the whole show. This constitutes a modern-day replay of the Trojan Horse.

And (3) requires a fractalized and fragmented amalgam or congeries of ‘cultures’ (none of them  willing to accept the categorization of 'sub-cultures' but rather all insisting upon full ‘culture’ status) which can hardly provide the robust sense of commonweal that will enable any country or society to face challenges and maintain coherence.

In that regard, I think (3) reflects the Era of its conception: America in the 1960s seemed to be permanently on top of the world (the signs indicating otherwise were there but not attended to, and there were also the Soviets – those barbarians who were so seductively useful to provide an exo-skeleton for American identity: Who am I? I am not a Commie or a Russkie!).

Thus there were no serious challenges, America had reached the ultimate safe and protected harbor of World Primacy and so the kids could afford to play around. After all, the great Vessel would never again have to face the treacherous and demanding Sea.

Interestingly, Obama (and this is not an attack on him; he just happens to be President just now) has to come up with a way of uniting The People in a common cause of great urgency and yet, after so many decades of (government-enabled) assault on the Common American (and 'Hegemonic') Identity, there is really so little language or imagery or common culture to which he can appeal.

 








And this opens up another disturbing possibility. Pour qui et pour quoi? This was the 1930s French citizenry’s response to the growing threat of Hitler’s Germany. Having been radically divided by the agitations of the extreme Left (Communist) and the extreme Right (anti-republican), the French public – when asked to prepare for sacrifices to meet the growing threat – simply asked: For whom and for what? For whom and for what do you, the government, ask us to sacrifice and shed blood and sweat? What is there around here that’s worth all that now?

Did you attend a Veterans Day parade, if your locale even had one? What music to play that wouldn’t offend? ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’? Aggressive. ‘Dixie’ is out; ditto Sousa’s marches (the Spanish-American War, the ‘aggressiveness’ of it all). The great Irish-derived cavalry marches like ‘Garry Owen’? It would upset the Native Americans. ‘Yankee Doodle’ or Revolutionary War music? Ditto and ditto and it’s all from some ‘hegemonic’, ‘male’, and aggressive past. Broadway melodies don’t seem in tune with the solemnity of the occasion. The WW1 marches and songs? Nobody knows them now. The WW2 marches (so few of them, except Richard Rodgers’ selections from ‘Victory at Sea’) and songs? Nobody seems to care about them. ‘Oh Susannah’ or songs from the migrations out West? Hokey and aggressive and no doubt offensive.

I’m not particularly aggressive and certainly it doesn’t make my day to contemplate Our current military misadventures or feel that it would all be OK if America could just ‘win’ a nice little war against somebody.

But the songs and marches do (did, rather) provide some sort of celebratory bond while also reminding everyone that huge amounts of blood, toil, tears and sweat went into the building and sustaining of this polity of Ours. And – yes – that it also required tremendous infliction of same upon others.

And that ‘blood, toil, tears, and sweat’ – in glory or gory necessity – seems inevitably built into the business of being a country, if you’re going to stay in business as such.

And that – as Lincoln proclaimed in that first official Thanksgiving Message in the midst of the Civil War – the whole thing would provide a splendid opportunity for feeling profoundly grateful and also taking some time for rather deep and sober reflection on the awful nature of human history. (Let’s not even get into the bits about giving thanks to God.)

What holds American culture together now? Inertia? Reagan tried to recall the 1930s and 1940s (and all the prior past that his favorite movies portrayed). Even in the 1980s he sensed that American Culture was losing its coherence, its skeletal structure. And Jimmy Carter tried to take a higher road and appealed to a sense of American responsibility and maturity, but if that wasn’t ever going to play well to youth-addled and callow modern voters in the 1970s, it certainly wasn’t going to play to voters soused with the first full decade of Gramscian deconstruction in the service of Identity Politics.

What will hold the Vessel together as it must now put back out onto the deep, unforgiving, and treacherous Sea of History, with its storms and the shock of great waves and perhaps the presence of rivals or opponents seeking their own advantage at the expense of our own?








What sort of Culture goes with the (curiously no-longer-touted) Knowledge and Service economy? Does it have any room for “blood, toil, tears and sweat”? If there’s no room for any of that, how robust and realistically Grounded a Culture can it possibly provide?
What then?

What now?

Salins is not unaware of this huge problem. “Behind their unexceptionable blandness, the antithetical cultural pluralist metaphors are profoundly insidious. By suggesting that the product of assimilation is mere ethnic coexistence without integration, they undermine the objectives of assimilation, even if they appear more realistic.”

Yes. For all its short-comings, Assimilation at least realized that somehow there must be some very vital and profound matters around which immigrant and already-American could – and had to – bond.

(And here he isn’t even touching upon the race and gender variants, with their Gramscian determination to do away with the “hegemonic culture” root and branch.)

He proposes a solution.

First, immigrant and already-American cultures must accord each other “legitimacy”.

Second, immigrants must have the “competence” to “function in all the normal American workplaces and settings”.

Third, immigrants “must be encouraged to exercise civic responsibility, minimally by being law-abiding members of American society, respectful of their fellow citizens, and optimally as active participants in the political process”.

Fourth, “and most essential, immigrants must identify themselves as Americans, placing that identification ahead of any associated with their birthplace or ethnic homeland” and already-Americans must be ready to accord them a willing embrace if they do. [italics his]

An excellent proposal.

But I would add that while these ideas work with ‘pure and simple’ Multiculturalism – having to do with immigrants – they run counter to Gramscian praxis in terms of race and especially gender variants of Multiculturalism.  The Gramscian idea is precisely to de-legitimize the “hegemonic culture”, and if you do “participate”, it is only to burrow in where you can more effectively undermine. Nor does Gramscian theory – or its Leninist daddy – have any use or respect for any sort of deliberative democratic process.

So there is a double problem created here: the Gramscian assaultive Project itself, and then the effect it has on immigrants coming to the country who are now given two frakkulently opposite messages: commit to the country and culture but retain your identity in the service of deconstructing it all.

This is not a wise or prudent situation to put immigrants in. And it cannot end well.

An immigrant now is not coming to the America of earlier times; the immigrant now is coming to a culture and society and polity now wracked by long decades of Gramscian assault from within (abetted by the government itself) and on top of that a society that is addled by the financial melt-down and subsequent massive decline in American economic strength and potential.

And the immigrant may well realize that. And realize thus that – especially if from the nearby countries on the Southern borders or just beyond – America at this point is not so much a culture to be embraced as simply a site for making a few bucks. Salins mentions a study of New York City Dominicans who do not see their sojurn here as anything but a temporary money-making gambit, travel frequently back to their homeland, and don’t expect to stay permanently, nor bring their families. This is not the immigration of yore (although many in those days did indeed return permanently to their homelands after they realized that the streets here were not paved with easy gold -curiously, there is more chance of that now if you factor in all the possible entitlements provided by the government).

Nor will it help that the Beltway solution to all this has for decades been to create not new Citizens but fresh client-classes dependent upon public monies (and the Beltway pols) and willing to simply take the King’s orders in order to get the King’s shilling (to use an old phrase).

The real secret of the historical success of American immigration has been, he says, the already-Americans who received the immigrants.

BUT I doubt that can work now. The generations of Americans who were actually committed to a vertebrate and vibrant and efficacious American Identity and Culture have suffered decades of derision and outright ‘deconstruction’, as have that Identity and that Culture. And the young have been raised in some amorphous simulacrum of a national culture and identity that cannot, as I have said, support them against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune soon to come as American Abundance sinks and threatens to pull down American Democracy with it. A 'lifestyle' - even one touted as 'totally autonomous' - is not a culture but merely a costume.

And ditto when Salins posits that “Americans have sustained a civic order and civic ideology that values good citizenship and political participation by all residents”. Such was once the case, but it has not been the case in these parts for a number of decades now. We can’t continue to project from the past into the future a strength that was deconstructed vigorously and deliberately in the recent intervening decades (and that should have been clear even in 1997 when Salins wrote this).

Salins selects, accurately enough, four distinctive characteristics of American society: 1) “the liberal universalist ideas embedded in the U.S. Constitution”; 2) “the universal commitment to an economy based on market capitalism”; 3) “the density and redundancy of organizational life – governmental, political, religious,  social, economic and philanthropic “; and 4) “a persistent, society-wide infatuation with modernity and progress”.

In (1) he runs the risk of confusing classical Liberal with current conceptions of ‘liberal’ and current ‘liberal’ ideas are deeply tainted with all manner of anti-Constitutional and anti-Framing Vision ideas.

In (2) he is to some extent undermined by the recent terrible damage to the economy, although even in 1997 it should have been somewhat obvious that the US economy was more a thing of smoke, mirrors, and bubbles than it was a solid, wealth and Productivity-sustaining enterprise.

In (3) he seems to take insufficient notice of the huge number of non-governmental civic opportunities that were becoming weakened by the lack of participation by Americans who were already using most of their time and energy just to make ends meet, and also by the sustained attacks on those religious enterprises that were not willing, as the government was, to abandon their Original Visions and conform to the New Order. With those subtractions taken into account, there is far less reason for optimism here. American ‘trust’ in ‘intermediary institutions’ has been rather largely undermined (think, for example, of the Catholic Church – which, as he mentions, played a tremendous role in socializing so many generations of immigrants).

In (4) he rightly terms this an American “infatuation”. But what then flows from it is that Americans tend far too easily to presume that ‘change’ is ‘progress’, that ‘old’ is automatically worse than ‘new’, and that you can change and make progress and ‘reform’ without simultaneously losing vital benefits that have been kicked to the curb along with the ‘old’. Although, granted, in the heady if quease-making glitz of the America of the second Clinton Administration – with the fabled party year of 1999 still in the shimmering future – things might still have looked ‘pretty in the sun’.

Maturity, for that matter, - individual, communal, and civic – works to master infatuation, but maturity was – alas – slated for deconstruction.

And I don’t think that the public’s current concerns about immigration can be merely written off as “nativism” redux, as Salins does. There are more than enough reasons to doubt the integrity – if I may – of immigrant purposes in coming here, as well as serious reason to doubt that the country any longer has the jobs to offer both its Citizens and fresh waves of immigrants.

And this point goes directly to the government’s decades-long strategy: not only was the Immigrant raised up as a) yet another fresh potential electoral demographic for a desperate Democratic Party that would also b) provide more warm bodies to fuel the Gramscian assault on the “hegemonic culture” that was the permanent strategy of domestic Identity advocacy.

Because on top of that there was another supposed benefit that large immigration would provide: it would c) provide a fresh pool of laborers who would work far more cheaply and for far less employer-provided benefits than the highly-unionized American workers of the immediate postwar era. So Congress could pander to both Big Identity and Big Money simultaneously.

Yes, that had always been a concern of already-here Americans in the 19th century. But the country then, especially after the Civil War, was industrializing rapidly and continuing to populate the vast center of the continent.

All of that no longer applies now.

After the past 40 years, the country is no longer the developing powerhouse it once was, hungry for fresh laborers and – in Henry Ford’s eminently practical insight – willing to pay good wages to workers who would then buy many of the products (like the Model-T) that  they produced.

While aiding and abetting the Gramscian assault on the culture (which included industrial productivity) the government sort of lost track of the economy, and in trying to hide that lethal reality with more easy credit and fake ‘wealth’, the government ran the whole shebang into a ditch, if not over a cliff.

So you don’t have to be a lumpish ‘nativist’ throw-back to the mid-19th century to have some well-founded doubts about the wisdom of continuing high levels of immigration.

And it is quite possible that some immigrants already realize that. And already realize that the culture itself is now a thing of smoke-and-mirrors like the economy; and that the New Model and New Order culture of postmodern, secularist ‘liberalism’ is not sea-worthy, incapable of being a Vessel that can bear the lives of its people through the increasingly stormy seas of 21st century life and history.

Gamely, Salins has come up with a useful (conceptually, at least) distinction: between Assimilation and Acculturation.

Assimilation denotes the full embrace by the immigrant of the core principles and of the dynamic living spirit of America – which, as he has said, is indispensable.

Acculturation denotes something less and more a thing of surfaces: the embrace of this or that fashion or style or lifestyle. This is not so necessary and may well not be something the immigrant would want to do, nor should have to do – at least totally.

This is a worthwhile insight.

But since the core principles of American culture have themselves become ‘contested’ (as the advocacies like to say) and have been under Gramscian assault for almost half a century now (with government collusion), then it makes it that much harder and more dubious a proposition for the immigrant to embrace them. Why embrace core principles of an America that is no more? Why embrace core principles of an America whose own government and ‘elites’ are busily engaged in ‘deconstructing’?

To a shrewd peasant eye, it may seem rather a rum business to sign-on to a culture that is in the process of deconstructing itself, just as the peasant of an earlier age might well have decided not to book passage on a ship whose officers and crew were busily ripping out the vital hull planking even while it was tied to the pier.

I respect the efforts of decent and competent scholars to draw upon American history and on rational thinking in order to provide some meaty and useful material upon which the Citizenry might deliberate.

But I wonder if it is all too little, too late. Matters have progressed (or re-gressed, or de-gressed) to the point where the similarities with prior eras of America’s remarkable history are outweighed by the sobering differences.

If such is so, though, I would completely agree with Salins that the responsibility lies not with immigrants, but with Americans themselves.

NOTES

*A review of the book can be found here or you can use your own search engine talents and resources.

**I would point out here that it was precisely this substantial complexity that fueled the Wilson Administration’s rather ruthless and manipulative expansion of government power into the task of suppressing dissent and objections against America’s ultimate entry into that War. There were very significant portions of the public that did not approve of US entry into the war, either because it was a ‘foreign war’ and thus contrary to the original American ideal of remaining aloof from ‘Europe’s wars’ or because particular ethnic elements among now-American immigrants did not want to see the US waging war against the country of their birth or ancestry.

It was here that the 20th century development of government imposition in the service of Shaping and manipulating public opinion or overriding public objections, underwent a tremendous expansion.

Nor, alas, did it help that Marxist-Leninist and Gramscian ideas were also starting to circulate, emanating from Europe and Russia and coming here, where they blended with the Progressives’ home-grown ‘elitism’ (only those who ‘know’ should run things, and those who ‘know’ must help all of those who don’t-yet-know – who should be grateful for the education).

The whole brew was the fount and foundation for a) 1960s-1970s American government imposition upon culture and for b) the still-current variation of the Progressivist and Leninist war-cry:  against those who ‘just don’t get it’.

***I would also add that the Framers could also quietly rely on the fact that just about all Americans believed in some version of the Judeo-Christian God, thus introducing a transcendent Beyond as an additional strengthening factor in the construction.

And given that the great religions of the Axial Age and even the Eastern philosophies seem at their core to embrace the same unifying ethical vision, then such transcendence and unity remain potentially available today.

 



For that matter, let me offer this thought: It has become fashionable to lubricate the gyrations of the past 40 years by insisting, as do the university literature departments where so much of this Theory officially resides, that the Constitution should be approached just like any work of fiction. That is to say, while the author had a point or points to make, the reader – even centuries later – may consider his/her own take on the work to override the author’s intentions. This approach has had vast consequences in political thought and legal praxis here over the past few decades.

But suppose that one looks at the Constitution not as a work of fiction but as an instruction-manual or an owner’s manual. Just how much weight do you then want to give to the ‘subjective’ thoughts, feelings, responses, and musings ginned up by this or that reader?

Would you really want to trust a contractor who tells you that while the blueprints are clear, he sorta feels it would be groovy to try something else? Would you want to fly an airline whose maintenance crews treated the manufacturer’s manuals as merely ‘texts’ about which the mechanic, as reader, might agree with or disagree with? How ‘creative’ do you want your airline mechanics to get with the ‘text’ of the maintenance and repair manuals? How much does the mechanics’ ‘subjectivity’ enter into it?


ADDENDUM

I can’t emphasize enough just how lethally toxic and anti-democratic the Gramscian gameplan – that constitutes much of the core of the current American (radical) feminist agenda – really is. This is not something that the relevant organized Advocacies and the ‘liberal’ elites and the pols who embraced them care to think about. Nor would they like to have anybody else thinking about it either.

But if you have ever encountered the term ‘hegemonic’ then you have encountered one of Gramsci’s core concepts, and he built a rather comprehensive gameplan around the task of “de-legitimizing” any such culture.

As I have said, he was working in the service of the Marxist-Leninist agenda – seeking to undermine the ‘hegemonic’ aristocratic or capitalist or bourgeois target-culture in order to replace it with the ‘culture of the proletariat’ or the ‘culture of the masses’, which of course worked out to mean for all practical purposes the ‘culture’ and the agenda of the Marxist-Leninists and – not to put too fine a point on it – the Communists.

But since ‘the masses’ were probably too habitualized to being on the bottom, they couldn’t be relied upon to initiate their own liberation. Therefore the vanguard elite cadres of the Party would have to do it for them.

In the 1960s here, ‘the working classes’ and ‘the proletariat’ and ‘the masses’ were simply replaced with ‘women’ in the tracts that flooded the country, enabled by a stunningly receptive political class, media, and intelligentsia – all the (grotesquely misnamed) ‘liberal elites’, as they now prefer to be thought of.

Anytime you run across such thoughts as ‘oppression by a hegemonic culture’; or about how even the oppressed ‘just don’t get it’ because they have for so long (perhaps, in the case of ‘women’ going back to the beginning of recorded human history) been subordinated by the (necessarily) demonic and lumpish male, violent, aggressive, logocentric, rational ‘patriarchy’; or that ‘majority’ politics won’t work because the minority have been so oppressed that they can’t even exercise or claim their rights to liberation from their oppression … any time you run across any of that you are in Gramsci’s Universe. Which, as you may imagine, is hell and gone from the Framing Vision, the American legal and cultural Universe, and – not to put too fine a point on it – ‘deliberative democratic process’ and the Constitution.

So even before you start thinking about the Content of this or that particular demand, you have to give urgent and serious consideration to the Method by which these entire Agendas and Gameplans are being and have been erected in the nation’s Culture: by imposition, and by people who – whether they know it or not, whether they care to think about it or not, whether they care for you to be thinking about it or not – are soused with the Gramscian presumption that most people – oppressed as well as oppressors – ‘just don’t get it’ … and need to be made to ‘get it’.

There is indeed a Gramscian ‘struggle’ in what have been popularly (and, you can see, not inaccurately) named ‘culture wars’ here: it most certainly is a war, and one that is working off a long-term but very clear agenda: to eradicate the ‘old and oppressive’ culture and tradition and impose  the New Order Agenda in their stead, with whatever ‘culture’ goes with that. And have you ever really looked at Soviet ‘culture’ as it existed on the ground when that demon was still enfleshed in the body of a captive state (the old USSR)?

I offer these links here, here, and here, if you want to get some grasp of Gramsci’s own thought and what it means for the American cultural (and legal and political) Universe.

So before becoming entranced like a master-magician’s audience by the distractions of the (real enough) problems and issues which the Advocacies and their elected enablers wave before the Citizenry like the matador’s cape (that hides the sword from the bull’s attention), look at the Method by which those Advocacies have chosen to achieve their ‘solutions’.




















Labels: , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home