by Ryan McMaken
Recently by Ryan McMaken: Edward Snowden: Master of Realpolitik
Pat Buchanan is again sounding the alarm about how immigration to the United States is leading to “balkanization” and will result in the United States being split into “two countries.”
In an interview with talk radio host Andrea Tantaros, Buchanan complained that new immigrants are not being sufficiently assimilated, and Buchanan and Tantaros agreed that people aren’t being taught the right kind of American history:
“If you indoctrinate or teach kids different views about their country and how it began,” Buchanan said, “what you get is a growing disintegration of the country, a fragmentation into different parts.”
Apparently, Buchanan’s position is that we need to “indoctrinate or teach” kids all the same views about the country and how it began. This should be done in the name of unity.
Buchanan received some support in this thesis of his from Barack Obama last week when Obama complained that different groups in Irish society send their children to different schools:
In other words, if we’re not all culturally united and believing the same thing. That’s a bad thing.
It’s hard to see a significant difference between Buchanan’s lament about too much variety in instruction producing disunity, and Obama’s condemnation of diverse schooling for encouraging “division.”
This should not surprise us. Pat Buchanan, while he often has many insightful observations about the state of political affairs in the country, is nonetheless a lifelong beltway political operative, politician, and a Nixon acolyte.
This is a man who believes that the modern nation-state should micromanage demographics and cultural affairs, invade foreign countries that don’t do what The U.S. government says, and that the nation-state itself serves a hugely beneficial role in human society. In his 2001 book The Death of the West (which I reviewed here), Buchanan approvingly quotes Jacque Barzun’s claim that the nation-state is “the greatest political creation of the west,” and that most of cultural crises in the Western world today stem from insufficient loyalty to states. Buchanan then goes on to criticize secession and various kinds of political decentralization.
Buchanan points to the 1960s as his benchmark for the high point of American “unity.” Buchanan notes that the 1960s came as a high point for the legitimacy of the American state. Following the New Deal, years of WWII propaganda, and the Cold War, Americans were primed by 1960 to provide the American state with virtually unquestioning allegiance and loyalty. The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant version of history was the only version of history being taught in public schools, and even in most private schools. For middle-class white people, like Pat Buchanan growing up in northern Virginia in the 1950s, it probably did seem like the United States was culturally united.
But even in the 1960s, Americans were not quite as unified as Buchanan imagines. It was during 1960 after all, that Americans were openly debating if a Catholic should be elected president, lest he enthrone the Pope on Capitol Hill. Where was that “one religion in common” Buchanan likes to refer to?
This cultural unity, to the extent that that it did exist in the 1960s, and which Buchanan so fondly remembers, was an aberration in America history, and depended on relentless pro-government propaganda through media, schools, and even religious institutions during the mid-twentieth century. The central government, through the FCC, essentially controlled broadcasting, and through its funding and regulation of educational institutions, created a uniform political ideology among formally-educated people which outlined the acceptable parameters of political debate and ideology.
In the 19th century, before mass media and widespread public schooling and public universities, one’s ideology was shaped by one’s wealth, race, ethnicity, religion and private formal instruction. Regional experiences and local institutions could produce wide variations in what ideologies dominated locally from place to place.
Political institutions by necessity were varied and local in the face of deep ethnic, economic and ideological divisions.
The Golden Age came at last (for people like Buchanan and Obama), when the federal government became skilled at using nation-wide media and public schooling as a means to “teach” the citizenry to be loyal to the local nation-state and to accept its laws, edicts, abuses, and lies. What the people learned in school was then reinforced in the evening news.
Thus Americans began to think that loyalty to the American state was better than loyalty to one’s local government, or community, or family, or religious group. The old divisions were downplayed, eliminated, and ridiculed.
There was no way to fight it, as there was no other easy means of obtaining information outside of the approved channels. Knowledge was controlled by the regulated media and by the approved educational institutions. Everything else was firmly within crackpot territory, according to those with respectable opinions.
Today, however, with the proliferation of homeschooling in all its forms, the web, and the rise of alternative media, the days of “unity” are thankfully coming to an end.
While I’m not one who believes that the internet will by itself cause libertarianism to sweep the globe, it does appear that the variety of information offered by the web and by the home education movement will lead to division and dissent and variety where it has not existed in decades.
Buchanan looks upon this with horror. For the nationalists, widespread unity, uniformity and obedience are to be desired for that is what allows a vast nation-state like the United States to function. The suppression of cultural minorities by the cultural majority, along lines desired by the cultural elites, made the American leviathan state of the 20th and 21st century possible.
The conservative culture warriors who now complain about secularist left-wing control of schools and other cultural institutions are only suffering at the hands of a beast they created. The forces of conservatism created the public schools to teach watered-down American Protestantism, to beat the foreign languages out of students, and to above all, “assimilate.” They got their assimilation machine, but now the shoe is on the other foot, and when we look at the speech codes, and the P.C. wars and propaganda coming out of the public schools, we should all thank the right-wing guardians of American culture who made it all possible.
That age of assimilation, however, whether to right-wing or left wing ideals, is coming to an end. The future is likely to look much different. The future will bring cultural division, and with it, political division, just as Buchanan predicts.
It had always been unnatural for the American central government to hammer into one polity the people of New Mexico and the people of Massachusetts, for example. To tell 300 million people of such diverse origin that they’re all part of one giant nation-state, was always nonsensical except in only the loosest confederation. Centralization made assimilation to a centrally-determined ideal necessary, and by 1960, we got it. And it made Pat Buchanan happy.
The future divisions that come, on the other hand, will simply be a matter of recognizing the cultural, economic, and ideological divisions which had always been there, but had been covered over by state “education.” Immigration will contribute to this, but that factor is by no means the only one.
Unfortunately, there is a great downside to this as well. In the wake of political disintegration, the American nation-state will leave behind a huge government apparatus: the remnants of a federally-funded and militarized police forces, its subsidized agricultural systems, its military bases, and a political culture devoted to seizing power and control whenever possible. The destruction of the family as a central economic institution, and the hobbling of the market itself will all lead to impoverishment and a desire by different and disgruntled groups to control the machinery of power that the centralized nation-state will leave as it recedes.
With this will come conflict, unrest, and violence along economic, ethnic and racial lines. It will just be part of the legacy of the American nation-state which the nationalists still trumpet as our savior.
Buchanan thinks the best thing to do is to keep up the façade; to paper over the deep divisions with flag-waving American history classes for the indoctrination of the young into embracing “unity.”
That’s an idea for an age long past, and the time has come to abandon that failed experiment that is the centralized American state. But, as usual, we’ll be left with cleaning up the messes the state will leave behind.