The postwar American conservative movement had many factions, but most at least feigned to revere British statesman Edmund Burke. Those who read the movement’s books and magazines were told Burke abhorred radical change, and so should we. In practice, however, most movement conservatives proved powerless to stop the many radical changes America has seen since the 1960s, either because they were too busy cheering the changes brought by free market forces or too timid to resist the ones brought about by leftist cultural forces. Most movement conservatives could barely mount a whimper of protest, much less stand athwart history yelling, “Stop!”
A prime example of radical change the mainstream conservative movement proved too timid to notice is the rapid demographic change brought about by the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. The pace of change has been dizzying. The white student population in American public schools declined from roughly 85 percent in 1970 to 49 percent in 2015, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That number is projected to decline to 45 percent by 2027, according to the NCES.
This transformation was not natural but the result of government policy that has systematically favored immigration from non-European countries. If Burkean conservatism has anything to tell us at all, it is that such rapid change bodes ill for the body politic.
Indeed, even some leftists are beginning to see potential dangers posed by America’s demographic transformation. Recently, Tufts professor Monica Duffy Toft penned an article entitled, “Identicide: How Demographic Shifts Can Rip a Country Apart.” Toft began her piece by asking:
What happens to a country when its core national identity—its preferred image of itself in terms of race and religion—doesn’t match its demographic reality?…The answer, unfortunately, is ‘nothing good.’ Internal strife, perhaps civil war or collapse often precedes a decisive demographic shift.
She then draws parallels between the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was preceded by anxiety over the declining percentage of Slavs in the country’s population, with the current state of American politics, which she sees as being profoundly influenced by the demographic changes undermining a “national mythology…centered on an identity with a white, male and predominantly Protestant Christian hero.” The parallels are inexact, but Toft is right to notice potential dangers posed by rapid demographic change—dangers that should have been obvious to self-professed conservatives decades ago.
Unfortunately, Toft’s proposed remedy—having the “federal and state governments…commit to a future of inclusiveness”—makes no sense. Indeed, what she recommends is more or less already national policy, with schools, corporations, churches, movies, television shows, and government bureaucracies already given over to paeans to diversity and inclusion.
A brief consideration of The New York Times shows why the elevation of “diversity” to a de facto national religion has done nothing to reassure anxious American whites. Last year, the Times put on its editorial board Sarah Jeong, a writer who had tweeted “#CancelWhitePeople,” “White people have stopped breeding. You’ll all go extinct soon. That was my plan all along,” and “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” among other gems of gratitude to the white men who fought and died to keep her native South Korea free from communism.
The Times has also launched what it calls the “1619 Project,” a sustained effort to promote the view that America was founded on slavery (1619 being the year slaves were first brought to Jamestown) and that it remains permeated by white racism—notwithstanding the election and re-election of Barack Obama and the widespread popularity of black athletes and entertainers. The message from the Times and its myriad collaborators is clear: white Americans are suspect at best and evil at worst, and the country they created is rotten to the core. No wonder our politics are so turbulent.
Instead of doubling down on an approach guaranteed to increase rancor and division, we should instead lessen the dangers posed by rapid demographic change by slowing it down. The way to do that, of course, is to severely curtail legal immigration and to stop illegal immigration.
Such immigration pauses have been beneficial, allowing both recent immigrants to assimilate and reassuring older Americans that the country is still the one they loved. The alternative, as Professor Toft seems to recognize, is too terrible to contemplate.
[Image via FranckinJapan on Pixabay.]
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.