Tag Archives: Charles Murray

The “Melting Pot”

Wikipedia’s article on the “melting pot” is interesting. Here’s a quote from J. Hector St. John de Crevecour:

“…whence came all these people? They are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes… What, then, is the American, this new man? He is neither a European nor the descendant of a European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. 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 Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared.”− J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer.

And from a magazine article in 1875:

The fusing process goes on as in a blast-furnace; one generation, a single year even– transforms the English, the German, the Irish emigrant into an American. Uniform institutions, ideas, language, the influence of the majority, bring us soon to a similar complexion; the individuality of the immigrant, almost even his traits of race and religion, fuse down in the democratic alembic like chips of brass thrown into the melting pot.”[1]

And Henry James:

“Understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your fifty groups, your fifty languages, and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to – these are fires of God. 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.”[3]

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Charles Murray and Immigration

Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart says nothing about immigration, per se. Rather, it is about “the state of white America,” and in particular, about the separation of a new cognitive elite (“Belmont”) from a new underclass (“Fishtown”) with falling rates of male labor participation, high rates of out-of-wedlock births and single mothers, high rates of imprisonment, low rates of church attendance, and so forth. Murray alleges, with statistics to back up his story (though he has to fill in a lot of gaps with anecdote, speculation, and appeals to readers’ experience) a “segregation of the successful,” as smart people whom the university system has become increasingly efficient at discovering and bonding with each other sort themselves out and largely stop interacting with their under-achieving high school fellows or cousins.

The more homogeneous white America of 1963 that Murray looks back to with a certain degree of seeming nostalgia was the product of 1920s nativism, the New Deal, World War II, and in general, a couple of decades when collectivism had more influence in America than at any other time. In spite of his seeming nostalgia, Murray insists that he wouldn’t really want to go back to 1963: the “coming apart” that has taken place since then, however troubling, is a price worth paying for the innovation and variety that has been unleashed. I agree. Conformist egalitarianism is rather boring, stifling, stultifying. That was what the 1960s youth thought, more or less. That’s why they rebelled, for better and worse.

Here’s how Murray’s book connects to immigration. Nativists seem to want to reconstruct a lost national unity, or preserve what’s left of national unity, by excluding foreigners. Murray shows that national unity is unraveling without any help from foreigners. It’s unraveling at a time when the borders are far from open. It’s unraveling even among whites. It’s unraveling because people are different, and sort themselves out.

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