Nationalism and the Immigration Question

By Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

The State Department doesn’t like the revival of nationalism, but those of us who believe in national independence can only applaud. Socialism isn’t the only reason the Soviet Union collapsed; the captive nations wanted their own traditions, institutions, and languages. They rejected the messianic universalism of Communism, which is why they will prove a barrier to the New World Order.

In thinking about nationalism, we must distinguish between two sorts. One, as in Croatia, is pro-freedom and anti-imperial, and therefore good. The other, as in Serbia, is pro-imperial and anti-freedom, and therefore evil. We see its results in blasted cities and murdered civilians.

Both nationalisms are nothing new in Europe, but it’s been some time since we saw healthy nationalism in America. It could not be more timely, for we are under attack by a fifth column of multiculturalists. Western civ courses at top universities are one long libel, and that’s only a sign of the deep anti-Western bias of the elites. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, “the idea of liberty is Western,” and whatever the enemies of our civilization claim, they “look with envy upon its achievements, want to reproduce them, and thereby implicitly admit its superiority.”

Nationalism puzzles most economists because it is bound up with what Mises called “extraeconomic” considerations: language, history, religion, manners, and private life. But he did some of his most subtle and brilliant writing on the subject.

The classical liberal economists showed that a world of free trade and free migration would tend toward the most suitable uses of labor and capital. But, with almost the sole exception of Mises, they ignored nationalism.

If the classical liberals were guilty of oversight, the socialists were blind. They assumed that nationalism could be literally abolished in the long march towards a world state.

The classical liberals were concerned about emigration and governments that treated citizens like prisoners. We should always be free to leave with all our property. But the “right to immigrate” seems less persuasive.

In 19th-century America, our booming free market easily absorbed everyone who wanted to work, and if someone didn’t want to work, he was out of luck. There was no welfare, no ideology of victimhood, no inferiority complex about our heritage, and no attack on English. Immigrants became English-speakers because they wanted to become Americans. “What is specifically national lies in language,” says Mises, and “individuals belong only to one nation.” After he emigrated to America, Mises wrote and spoke English.

Today, our economy is disabled, victimology is rampant, welfare is abundant, and English is demeaned. In the New York City public schools, classes are held in 82 languages. This tax-funded multi-lingualism is an attack on English and therefore the American nation.

Bitter social conflict is inevitable when the dominant culture and language are displaced by immigrants – as Americans in border towns know. Mises, who favored the free immigration ideal, said fears of majority displacement in a mixed economy were “justified.” “As long as the state is granted the vast powers which it has today,” he wrote in 1919, “the thought of having to live in a state whose government is in the hands of members of a foreign nationality is positively terrifying.”

Leftists claim that group antagonisms can be cured with togetherness, but that’s utopian nonsense. Under present circumstances, as Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming points out, open borders would only subvert American liberty. Anyone could arrive, have his children educated in the public schools in an alien language, be hired and promoted through affirmative action or go on welfare, lobby for more “civil rights,” and be feted by the national media as superior to the plain taxpayers – just for showing up.

Is there a case, in 1992, for a slow rate of immigration and preference for those from compatible cultures? Certainly businessmen should be able to hire foreign contract workers, as they could before the trade unions had their way, and we need to reexamine the idea of citizenship.

Citizenship is a civil convention, not a right, yet we grant it automatically to anyone born here. Former Congressman Ron Paul, an obstetrician, tells about the legions of pregnant women who arrive illegally from Mexico at his Texas hospital, receive free medical care (which the doctor and hospital must provide), and then leave with their newborn American citizens. As my daughter’s favorite magazine says, What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Shouldn’t naturalization at the least require a long residency, good behavior, and proficiency in English? Aristotle praises Pericles for denying the franchise to those not of “citizen birth by both parents.” That was classical democracy; today it’s a hate crime.

Mises argued that private property would help solve the immigration question. Certainly we should seek to make our commercial districts private and therefore as safe and bum-free as malls, and private residential areas could be closed to anyone not invited or hired by the owners.

Immigration policy is no easy matter in the age of the new nationalism, but as in other areas, if we put the liberties of the American people first, we cannot go far wrong.