December 26, 1941, just 19 days after Pearl Harbor, Winston
Churchill addressed the U.S. Congress and famously raised the
following question about the enemy, "What kind of people do they
think we are?"
Every crisis is a judgment call on an
existing state of affairs; and the deeper the crisis, the deeper
the question that is raised.
Churchill's question evidenced a deep
crisis. But one that pales beside the question raised by the
deepest crisis of all: "Who do we think we are?" Or, in the words
of Professor Samuel Huntington's insightful recent book, "Who are
fundamental question requires a courageous honesty that goes to the
very core of a nation in crisis. Only by saying who we are, and
showing who we are, can we turn potential danger into an
opportunity for growth and advancement.
is precisely our challenge with immigration in America today. The
issue goes to the very heart of American identity and unity, and we
are all indebted to Professor Huntington for his wise perspective.
And I am indebted to my friends at The Heritage Foundation, and in
particular to Ed Feulner and Matt Spalding, for inviting me to
I am delighted to address this topic because the twin issues of
immigration and assimilation are also very Californian. The Golden
State leads America, and indeed the world, in immigration--legal
and illegal. In the period from 1991 to 2000, some 5.6 million
people became new U.S. citizens. But in just the three years since
September 11, 2001, the U.S. has naturalized more than 1.5 million
people and made 3 million more lawful permanent residents. In
addition to the millions of legal immigrants and residents arriving
each year, an estimated 10 million undocumented people have already
made their way to California alone, and an addition million more
arrive each year.
home state is also the battleground for many of the political and
social challenges arising with immigration. It is not too much to
say that California's success in dealing with this thorny issue
will be a beacon--illuminating and instructive for the world, and a
vital part in the forward march of what George Washington called
"the Great Experiment" and President Bush the "freedom project"
that is America.
have been in debates that are seriously miscast, both in California
and in the national media, by conservatives as well as
liberal circles, the issue is discussed as one more phase in the
movement for expanding liberty and diversity, with no attention to
issues of national identity and unity. And for my friends in
conservative circles, the issue is hotly debated as a contest
between "law-and-order conservatives," concerned only with national
security and control of our borders, and "pro-growth business
conservatives," concerned only with the chronic labor
shortage--again, with no attention to issues of national identity
little or no discussion of what it means to be an American, this
narrow framing of the debate completely ignores the most important
issue of all: the national implications of immigration without
is to Professor Huntington's credit that he fearlessly raises
questions ignored by many, and I want to support his general
position by adding my own perspective as a political leader in
confident that no politician will appeal to our citizens without
sounding the missing positive note that has always resounded freely
in American history. We must invite people to "become
The American New Man
the British Empire was at its height, Rudyard Kipling wrote that
"to be born an Englishman means winning the first prize in God's
lottery." Today that privilege belongs to Americans, and our
blessings are more than the luck of the womb. We are the legacy of
the free people who have gone before us, on whose shoulders we now
central part of our American heritage is the way we welcome diverse
people from all over the earth to join us as fellow-citizens in
this great experiment. For countless millions, coming to America
has meant freedom from oppression; for countless others, freedom to
pursue a myriad of social and economic opportunities undreamed of
flood of immigration is perhaps the most compelling endorsement of
the allure of the American Dream. As Jack Paar once said,
"Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery."
current challenges of immigration and assimilation are therefore
not new to us. We have always been more diverse than most
countries. The United States rightly can claim to be the modern
world's supreme model of how to live with the deepest differences.
We are a "nation of nations." E pluribus unum is not just our
national motto; it is our supreme American achievement.
our generous attitude toward immigrants has two important
consequences. One, we cannot take in the entire world, and two,
those who do come must become American.
Today, however, our supreme achievement--e
pluribus unum--is called into question, not by the fact that so
many people are coming but by the fact that we are not assimilating
we begin this new century, America does not stand out so uniquely
from the rest of the world as it once did. From the culture-war
controversies of the last 30 years to the more radical expressions
of multiculturalism, there are disturbing signs that here in
America difference and separateness are becoming more pronounced
than unity and harmony.
time when living with our deepest differences is one of the world's
pressing challenges, any American confusion over this issue goes to
the heart of America's nationhood and freedom--thus the importance
of the question "Who are we?"
answering Professor Huntington's question, I would submit that
immigration is not the defining problem, but rather the lack of an
adequate framework and focus for citizenship.
the days of the Pilgrims, these twin pillars--immigration and
assimilation--have been central to why America was called "the
first new nation." The history of America is the story of a
steadily expanding pluralism. What is at issue now is how
immigration and assimilation are to be understood and handled in
light of the plain facts and circumstances of this generation.
fundamental question we face today is whether immigration will
contradict or reinforce American identity and unity. Will we allow
a flawed approach to assimilation and diversity to lead to what has
been called by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "the disuniting of
America"--a tragic situation where American identity and unity is
there are important differences between the source and scale of the
different waves of immigration, but the fundamental issue is still:
How do people from different nations, who speak different
languages, believe in different faiths, and practice different
social customs settle in the same geographical region and live
under the same political authority without turbulence and strife?
Our answer has been to "Americanize" them--in other words, to
integrate them and create a new national identity by respecting
certain differences, melting others, and thus transforming many
disparate peoples into one nation.
process was evident from the beginning of our history. For example,
the French farmer Hector St. John de Crevecoeur emigrated from
Normandy in France in 1759 and settled in the Hudson Valley, New
York, and married an American woman. The astounding diversity of
the other settlers startled him: "a mixture of English, Scotch,
Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes." One family he knew had
an English grandfather, a Dutch grandmother, an Anglo-Dutch son
with a French wife, whose four sons all married women of different
nationalities. "From this promiscuous breed," he wrote, "that race
now called Americans has arisen."
"What then is the American, this new man?"
Crevecoeur famously asked. And his answer points to one of the keys
in the success of America's nation-building. "He is an American,
who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners,
receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the
new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. The American is
the new man who acts upon new principles.... Here individuals of
all nations are melted into a new race of men." According to Samuel
Huntington, immigrants "become Americans only if they ...
participate in American life, learn America's language, history and
customs, absorb America's Anglo-Protestant culture, and identify
primarily with America rather than with their country of birth."
The Disuniting of America
this conviction still hold true today, over 250 years later?
the historic idea of America's unifying identity as clear and
strong as it used to be? Hardly. In the last generation a new and
opposing idea has emerged, and a growing chorus of voices now
decries the earlier transforming process.
people point to 1965 and the new immigration laws overturning the
quotas that since 1924 had favored people from a European
background. Certainly these laws caused an important shift, not
just in the numbers coming in but the sources. The main thrust of
immigration is now from Latin America and Asia, not Europe.
the real explanation for the problem lies elsewhere. The new views
of diversity do not come from the latest immigrants. As we know
well, most Latinos and Asians are the most enthusiastic supporters
of integration and the best examples of its benefits. Instead, the
new ideas come from the oldest and most established areas of our
society and they grow directly out of the cultural revolution of
the 1960s led by the wealthy, young elite of that day.
There are two main themes in this new view
of diversity: a weakened confidence in there being any such thing
as Americanism, and a sudden awareness of groups that had been
supposedly locked out or left behind by the American dream.
major result of this crisis of confidence was a new stress on
culture and on the differences between cultures. The traditional
picture of the "melting pot" is out; "mosaic" is in. "Assimilation"
is now viewed as bad; "integration" is good. The emphasis on
"Americanizing" helped to create the blind spot that led to
America's greatest evils, so "Americanism" itself is suspect--it is
said to be essentially coercive, always relentless and sometimes
Besides, advocates of diversity say that
the chosen metaphor of the melting pot was always an exaggeration
and never an accurate description. All cultures are equal--equally
true and equally valuable--and therefore unmeltable. Thus the
United States is a multicultural society rather than "Western" or
"American." Indeed, they argue there is no such thing as
Americanism with which to do the melting.
best they say, the notion is an abstraction. At worst it is an
excuse for coercing the cultures of the world into the mold of the
Anglos or the Europeans.
Instead of Americanness, these critics
say, what we need to stress are diversity, relativism, and
tolerance. According to the liberal psychobabble, all the cultures
of the earth are equal, and must be treated as such. What is
respected must be protected, and what is protected must be
celebrated and promoted. Anything else is discrimination and
judgmentalism. Thus all cultures are equal--especially formerly
victimized cultures, which are at least temporarily more equal than
ever there was a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water,
this must be it. It is one thing to identify occasional excesses of
Americanizing and another thing to reject its even more frequent
successes and overall dramatic picture. Ironically, the very
appreciation of cultural diversity is a fruit of the values now
rejected in the name of cultural diversity, just as almost all of
America's most distinctive values have roots in the tradition now
pushed to one side.
far more importantly, the process of Americanizing is crucial for
American nationhood. One of the lessons of the 20th century was the
explosive power of nationalism--far more potent and enduring than
the power of communism and other failed forms of government. E
pluribus unum is therefore an extraordinary achievement, and one
that we neglect at great peril, for it lies at the heart of our
what were the dynamics at work in the process of American
nation-building at its best?
the 17th to the late 20th century these dynamics are clearly
visible, and the chorus of voices describing them has a remarkable
First, becoming American meant that new
arrivals saw themselves as individuals rather than as members of
groups. As George Washington said, "The bosom of America is
open...to the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and
religions"--but they should not come as groups and so retain the
"language, habits, and principles (good or bad) which they bring
with them." Rather they should settle as individuals ready for
"intermixture with our people" and so become "assimilated to our
customs, measures, and laws: in a word, soon become our
Woodrow Wilson made the same point
strongly: "You cannot become thorough Americans if you think of
yourselves in groups. America does not consist of groups. A man who
thinks of himself as belonging to a particular national group has
not yet become an American."
stark contrast with our recent politics of identity and quotas is
more than a little disturbing.
Second, becoming American meant that new
arrivals saw themselves looking forward rather than looking
backward. As John Quincy Adams said to a visiting German aristocrat
about new immigrants, "They must cast off the European skin, never
to resume it. They must look forward to their posterity rather than
backward to their ancestors."
forward-looking stance is most striking in the great leaders of
earlier generations. Frederick Douglass said, "No one idea has
given rise to more oppression and persecution toward the colored
people of this country than that which makes Africa, not America,
their home." W.E.B. Du Bois said similarly, "Neither my father nor
my father's father ever saw Africa, or knew its meaning or cared
overmuch for it...there is nothing so indigenous, so completely
`made in America' as we are." As late as the early Sixties Martin
Luther King said, "The Negro is an American. We know nothing of
Third, becoming American was seen as a
matter of beliefs rather than birth and blood, a matter of the
heart and mind rather than race and ancestry. This past
Independence Day, President Bush declared that "There is no
American race, only an American creed." Earlier, in 1943, Franklin
D. Roosevelt said, "Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart;
Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race and ancestry. A
good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed
of liberty and democracy."
addition to this belief in freedom and democracy, the American
republic itself--and hence its citizenry--is grounded in a
collective recognition of a Higher Being. Alexis de Tocqueville
observed that, "In the United States... religion... is mingled with
all the habits of the nation and all the feelings of patriotism,
whence it derives a peculiar force."
Fourth, becoming American was seen as
transformative rather than preservative. In a letter to a French
friend, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, "Imagine, my dear friend, if
you can, a society formed of all the nations of the world...people
having different languages, beliefs, opinions: in a word, a society
without roots, without memories, without prejudices, without
routines, without common ideas, without a national character, yet a
hundred times happier than our own."
wonder the magical power of the melting pot grew ever more
mythical. In America, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, this "asylum of
all nations, the energy of Irish, Germans, Swedes, Poles &
Cossacks, and all the European tribes--of the Africans, & of
the Polynesian, will construct a new race." The climax of praise
was probably Israel Zangwill's celebrated hymn to the melting pot
in 1908. "America is God's Crucible, the Great Melting-Pot where
all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand
... in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages...and your
fifty blood hatreds.... A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans
and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians--into the
Crucible with you all! God is making the American." As historian
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., later wrote more soberly, "The point of
America was not to preserve old cultures, but to forge a new
Our Tribute and our Warning
account of becoming American stands as a tribute but also a
tribute, as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, "No other
nation has so successfully combined people of different races and
nations within a single culture."
the warning needs also to be underscored.
After his visit to this country in 1922,
the great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton pointed out what is plain
to anyone with a sense of history: "The melting pot must not
Earlier Theodore Roosevelt had said
equally bluntly, "The one absolutely certain way of bringing this
nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to
be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of
squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans,
Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans,
Scandinavian-Americans, or Italian-Americans, each preserving its
separate nationality." Talk about a toppling tower of Babel!
people argue that, even if there are no common American values
today, it is enough to maintain our unity through technology and
the economy, through the links of the media and the marketplace.
But this simply will not do. Anyone who understands the American
republic knows that our unity as Americans must be a unity of
citizens, not simply of consumers or geographical coincidence. Our
goal must be to have people become American, not just
There is no escaping the conclusion: There
are two equal and opposite errors in the debate: unguarded liberal
support for immigration and diversity and narrow conservative
advocacy for tighter controls alone. Both ignore the central
importance for citizenship education and the broader issues of
national identity and unity.
errors of the first approach are plain: It will balkanize the
nation, and leave us divided and weak. Multicultural dogma will
triumph over American identity and purpose. Separatism will
overpower integration. The color of our skin and the pedigree of
our past will matter more than the content of our character and the
quality of our commitment to freedom.
Without a clear American unum, to balance
the pluribus, we will inevitably come to the point at which
immigration will put its stamp on this country even more than the
the error of the second approach needs to be understood, too. A
narrow approach, focusing only on national security and relying on
strict law enforcement alone, both of which represent sound public
policy, is also inadequate, for it ignores the genius that makes us
who we are as Americans.
sum, while we glory in the many cultures in our land, the radical
rainbow vision of a multicultural America is a prescription for
American decline, and a purely legal security-minded response will
not suffice. An America that is all pluribus and no unum cannot
hope to remain strong and free, let alone be the champion of the
Lincoln had it right: United we stand, and
divided we fall.
Policies Worthy of our Past and
does all this mean for our present policies? Let me set out a
possible paradigm in a series of pairs:
First, when we negotiate the opportunities
and challenges of immigration, assimilation, and diversity, there
must be two guiding principles.
is that, for Americans, immigration and assimilation are ultimately
and always a matter of nationhood. In today's emotional debate the
sole focus is too often on faked documents, welfare costs,
non-citizen jail populations, law and order, urban deterioration,
the creation of an internal alien culture, bilingualism, and so
these things are important, and no policies will be comprehensive
unless they address these issues, but they pale beside the issue of
nationhood. The United States will never be stronger and more
united than in its answer to the challenge of diversity.
other principle is that American history is the best guide to
American decision making--offering us a range of principles and
lessons that, sometimes as inspiration, sometimes as caution, are a
unique and proven toolbox for wise and seasoned policy.
Second, when we negotiate the
opportunities and challenges of diversity, there are always two
extremes to avoid.
extreme is the vision of a "fortress America" that seeks to exclude
further diversity and condemns it uncritically, forgetting the
richness of its contribution to our present strengths and the
character of its importance to the American experiment. Let there
be no misunderstanding: I am unreserved in my commitment to the
place of immigration and diversity of America.
other extreme is the vision of a "frontierless America" that seeks
to welcome all immigration and embrace all diversity, and
celebrates it uncritically, forgetting that without a companion
emphasis on citizenship, immigration and diversity can weaken and
undermine rather than enrich. Again, let there be no
misunderstanding: I am unreserved in my commitment to the
importance of American citizenship and American values for all who
come to participate in our republic.
Third, when we negotiate the opportunities
and challenges of immigration and diversity, there are always two
main spheres of application.
sphere is education in the broader sense, for the genius of the
original ideal of the public schools was not just free, universal
education, but an education in American values that transcends the
diversity born of spiritual creed and social class. This issue must
not be lost in the debate. Required citizenship education that is
serious and substantive is an indispensable component of any
successful immigration policy.
other sphere is immigration, for each wave of newcomers enriches
those already here to the extent that the path to citizenship is
open, clear, and rewarding. This means, I believe, that we must not
only focus on immigration but on citizenship education for
immigrants in a narrower sense if our American values are to remain
clear and strong.
Fourth, and here I speak more personally
in light of what we face today, when we negotiate the opportunities
and challenges of diversity, there are two vital priorities for
practical policies at the present moment.
priority is a clear, firm commitment to stating and enforcing our
policies. We cannot tolerate casual attitudes to controlling and
securing our own borders.
other priority is to create a clear, efficient and attainable path
toward citizenship, with a strong component that deals with
citizenship that clearly inculcates American principles into all
who seek to become citizens.
the 19th century the poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell was
once asked by a Frenchman how long he thought the American republic
would remain dominant. His reply: Just as long as the ideas of the
Framers remained dominant in America.
sheer passage of time means that our generation is further from the
Framers than any other. There is nothing we can do about that, and
it is not the distance that concerned Lowell. But sadly, many in
our generation--both liberals and conservatives --are also further
from the Framers in terms of understanding and sympathy--and
nowhere more so than over the discussion of immigration and
diversity. That fact is more fateful.
eyes of the world are on America today as never before. My state,
the great state of California, has a special responsibility as
America's most diverse as well as its largest population. At the
start of the 21st century, we represent what New York did a hundred
years ago and Boston before that: the point of entry for millions
of new Americans. But we cannot solve the problem alone. And if
this argument is correct, the issue is not a Californian, or Texan,
or even a Southern problem, but a federal and American one.
us not hesitate. Let us not turn back from the shining path that
lies behind us. Let us work together from whatever background or
heritage we come from.
challenges of character-forming, culture-blending, and
nation-building are greater than ever but our resources are as
strong as ever. The prize is the guardianship of freedom and the
continuation of our previous legacy that is uniquely American. As
citizens of "a nation of nations" we must ensure that our American
diversity always complements rather than contradicts our liberty
and our unity. We must work to see that our diversity always be a
New World symphony, not an Old World cacophony. Our melting pot
must create the richest and most varied republic the world has ever
seen and never turn into a toppling tower of Babel. The complex
realities of e pluribus must always be resolved by a clear American
Together let us dedicate ourselves to that
demanding but glorious end, and thus prove ourselves worthy heirs
of those who went before and worthy guardians of those who
William E. Simon, Jr. is
Co-Chairman of William E. Simon and Sons L.L.C.