Over on his supplemental opinions blog, New York Times Reasonable Young Conservative™ Ross Douthat notes that many readers objected to his claim that xenophobia, by forcing immigrants to adapt to “Anglo-Saxon” culture, helped make America the great nation it is . He didn’t mean to say that bigoted nativists were the only people who had something good to offer:
The work of assimilation has been done by all kinds of people, from civic republicans to self-interested industrial barons to Jane Addams-style community-builders to, above all, the immigrants themselves. And the line between the two theoretical conceptions of America I described, one constitutional and one cultural, blurs very quickly in practice.
So Douthat concedes that the theoretical structure of his original column—title: “Islam and the Two Americas”—didn’t really correspond to “practice,” where in this instance, “practice” means “existence in reality.” Now Ross Douthat would like to go on and talk about how complicated history is, and how nativism and assimilationism have always existed in tension with one another, and—wait, why are we talking about this, again?
Oh, right: we are talking about it because Ross Douthat wrote a column saying that people who support the right of an Islamic community center to exist in Lower Manhattan need to understand and acknowledge the “wisdom” of the people who are screaming about the Ground Zero Mosque. This was where the whole “Two Americas” business came from, with Douthat arguing that “constitutional” Americans, elitists who love diversity, sadly fail to understand “cultural” Americans, who want immigrants to assimilate to their values.
What could be more assimilationist than trying to explain to the assembled tribes of the world that here, in this country, you are not allowed to prevent your neighbor from going to church? But Douthat has already written that his theoretical structure was a failure.So how was his history?
On Reason’s Hit & Run blog, Matt Welch went ahead and asked a historian of immigration about Douthat’s notion that anti-immigrant hostility caused new arrivals to adopt shared American values more quickly. ” Full of crap ,” the historian replied:
[T]here was no real “national” culture until after the Civil War (and this developed gradually with industrialism and the spread of a mass media and eventually mass consumption) so there could be no “insistence” on immigrants assimilating.
Nativism, and some aspects of the Americanization movement of the WWI period (especially the more coercive stuff) has always had the effect of making immigrants cling more tightly to their cultures, their languages, traditions. This is both basic psychology and is historically accurate and can be documented for many groups.
The American Catholic Church became the authoritarian institution that it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries in large part because of Anglo-American Protestants insisting that Protestantism and Americanism were synonymous and attacking Irish Catholics.
[T]he harder you push for “assimilation”…the more you getorthodoxy, extremism, alienation.
The Ground Zero Mosque protesters are not only wrong on constitutional principles, but also tactically wrong, if their goal is to diminish the power of anti-American Islamism. For Muslims to be fully integrated into American life, Douthat wrote in his original column,
they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.
Actually, what they need is to ignore Ross Douthat.