An Old Right Libertarian Lion vs. The Great Immigration
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[VDARE note: We continue our series on the intellectual antecedents of immigration reform. See also: Libertarians And Immigration Archive]

Garet Garrett, one of the lions of the Old Right, is rightly regarded as an ancestor by many of today's libertarians. In the 1930s, Garrett, writing in the Saturday Evening Post, was one of the most eloquent opponents of the New Deal. But he was also an opponent of open immigration - and for some of the same reasons.

The ideas behind the New Deal, Garrett argued, were socialistic and had come from Europe. And though the main carriers were intellectuals, he noted that the wave of European immigrants in the three decades before World War I was part of the backup support. In the 1920s Garrett had argued to restrict immigration, and for the same general reason that he later campaigned against the New Deal. Immigration, he argued, was changing America's political culture.

Writing in 1924, the year the immigration door was largely closed, Garrett noted that two in every five white Americans were either foreign born or of parents who were foreign born; that the new immigrants were chiefly from countries in southern and eastern Europe where the intellectuals were Marxist and there was no tradition of democratic, constitutional government; and that in America they were concentrated in cities where they were encouraged to act politically as a bloc.

That was dangerous, Garrett thought. The foreigner was often a backward and uneducated "proletarian:"

"The word was not current in the language until after the tide of migrating humanity began to rise from the south and east of Europe,"

Garrett wrote.

"There is still in the United States no proletariat but this."

Back then there was no multiculturalism, at least not like today's. The pressure on the immigrant was to Americanize him. And that was fine; the immigrant, thought Garrett, should be educated, indoctrinated and Americanized before being offered the vote. But —

"…the stress of all Americanization work is upon citizenship. The impulse is to bring them as fast as possible to a political status. Why? Their children in any case will be citizens as fast as they are born."

In hindsight, some of Garrett's fears may appear unfounded. The southern and eastern Europeans were eventually assimilated. But assimilation came slowly - and may well have been made possible because the tide was stopped in 1924. Though these immigrants scored lower on intelligence tests than Americans, the gap would later disappear, and along with it the worry that they were inferior. [VDARE.COM note: In fact, the idea that immigrants scored poorly on early IQ tests seems mainly to be a faculty lounge legend, based on the willful misinterpretation of H.H. Goddard's work by Steven J. Gould etc. As reported in The Bell Curve in 1994, Mark Snyderman and Richard J. Herrnstein exploded this legend in an American Psychologist article[i] as early as 1983. But it won't lie down.]

Immigrants did bring an ideological influence. As Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks wrote in their book, It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States (2000), it was the Germans who introduced Americans to socialism, a current of thought

"disproportionately supported by foreign-accented workers and intellectuals in the largest urban areas."

In the early 20th century the Socialist Party often conducted meetings in German and in World War I opposed the war on Germany. Socialists were elected to Congress from only two places: Milwaukee, because of the Germans, and New York City, because of the East European Jews.

Immigrants' ideologies were eventually watered down. Full-strength socialism never took control in the United States.

But immigrants did change the flavor of the American mainstream. How much is impossible to say, because it would have changed in any case. But in The American Story (1955), published the year after he died, Garrett noted that from 1875 to 1925, immigration ended the identification of America as a predominantly Protestant, Anglo-Saxon country. A decade later, in the New Deal, it abandoned its tradition of limited, constitutional government, which had been weakened for several decades.  

Were the two trends linked? Garrett thought so.


Bruce Ramsey is a columnist with The Seattle Times, a contributor to Liberty Magazine and the editor of the Garet Garrett collection, Salvos Against the New Deal (Caxton, 2002).

[i] Snyderman, M. and Herrnstein, R.J. "Intelligence tests and the Immigration Act of 1924," American Psychologist 38 (1983): 986-995.


September 03, 2002

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