Emotional assimilation and patriotism

Some opponents of open borders argue that large-scale immigration can hamper the emotional assimilation of immigrants, i.e., the immigrants don’t feel an emotional loyalty to the land they are now living in.

Immigrants have split loyalties. On the one hand, they are part of the economy and society of the nation they have migrated to. On the other hand, they have family and friends back in their native countries, and they may further feel more comfortable interacting with others from their native country in terms of language, culture, and religion.

Mark Krikorian has argued that this emotional assimilation is more of a problem with some high-skilled immigrants, who like to think of themselves as trans-national rather than belonging to any one particular nation. There are also second-order effects where natives who interact with these immigrants also start developing trans-nationalistic feelings.

Many proponents of open borders don’t see a problem with this.

Below is a lengthy quote from Krikorian’s book The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal about how this problem may be more pronounced among more high-skilled and better-educated immigrants:

Most important, perhaps, is the assimilation challenge that would be posed by mass skilled immigration. This may seem like an odd concern; after all, educated immigrants are more likely to know English, or at least have a greater likelihood to pick it up, than uneducated immigrants. Likewise, educated immigrants are, almost by definition, more likely to find relatively well-paying jobs that will allow them to settle into the home-owning, middle-class mainstream of American society. But while speaking English and getting a job are important first steps to assimilation, they are not sufficient for the development of the deep emotional and psychological attachments that this book’s chapter on the subject calls patriotic assimilation. There are a couple of reasons that educated immigrants may actually pose a greater challenge for patriotic assimilation than the uneducated. The first is that they have greater resources to take advantage of the modern opportunities to live a transnational lifestyle—to live simultaneously in two (or more) countries at the same time. This means their ties (and their children’s ties) to the old country are less likely to atrophy, making it less likely that their affections and attachments will end up being redirected to their new country. Two scholars who have examined a survey of new immigrants put it this way: “The picture that emerges from this analysis is of a fluid and dynamic global market for human capital in which the bearers of skills, education, and abilities seek to maximize earnings in the short term while retaining little commitment to any particular society or national labor market over the longer term.”78 Another study found that “regardless of nationality, transnational immigrant organizations’ members are older, better-established, and possess above-average levels of education….”79 The survey of new immigrants suggests a second assimilation-related concern about educated immigrants: “Those with high earnings and U.S. property ownership are actually less likely to intend ever naturalizing; and those with high levels of education are least likely to express satisfaction with the United States, and for this reason both are groups of people less likely to plan [on] becoming U.S. citizens or settling permanently.”80 In other words, the more educated and the more prosperous are less likely to want to commit to any one nation, including this one. This is related to, but a little different from, the first issue; it’s not just a question of flitting about in “a fluid and dynamic global market for human capital,” but instead a sense that the immigrants don’t feel the need to join America because they already belong to something else. This second concern relates to how the immigrants identify themselves—specifically, whether they come here already in possession of a fully formed national identity. While humans have always seen themselves as belonging to one or another kind of community, the development of national identity is a modern phenomenon. Philosopher Ernest Gellner, for instance, specifically ties nationalism to the needs of a modern, industrial society.81 The idea that national identity needs to be cultivated and developed comes out in the famous aphorism related to the unification of Italy in 1861: “We have made Italy, now we must make Italians.” What Italians, or any other national community, are made out of is people who have a wide variety of subnational or prenational attachments—people who think of themselves mainly in terms of different regions or religious communities or tribal groups. When we talk of patriotic assimilation, we mean cultivating in immigrants an American national identity. But this can be much more difficult to accomplish in the case of those newcomers who already have a national identity than for those who arrive here not yet having developed one, still seeing themselves in terms of tribe or clan. And it is precisely the more educated immigrants who are more likely to have acquired an alternate sense of national identity in their home countries, because they are products of modern urban life and have already made their way through a modern educational system. We actually have some experience with this in our history. One indicator of having been “nationalized” is knowledge of the nation’s standard language, often artificially constructed from one of the many dialects spoken by the prenational peasantry. Immigrants from Italy, for instance, started coming here in large numbers when the project of making Italians was still a work in progress. Though Italy’s schools taught the standardized version of the Italian language, based mainly on the dialect of Tuscany, and educated people in Italy all knew this version of the language, those who immigrated to the United States generally had little education and thus little exposure to the nationalizing influence of Italy’s schools. The result: “In the United States, immigrants from one area of Italy could not understand their new neighbors from another area; they were reduced to speaking a mixture of the little standard Italian they knew, combined with words from one or another of the dialects and from English.”82 This linguistic arrangement—the development of an Italian American dialect—represented an important fact: Many immigrants from Italy went straight from being Sicilians or Calabrians to being Italian Americans, without ever having actually been Italians, at least not in any emotional or psychological sense, and this happened precisely because they were uneducated. We clearly saw the contrast between prenational and nationalized immigrants when refugees from various nations in central and eastern Europe came here after World War II, joining immigrant communities that had seen few newcomers in a generation. The older communities had been established by pre-World War I immigrants from peasant backgrounds with little education, often speaking rural dialects; for them and their American-born children, their Hungarianness or Lithuanianness was mainly a matter of folk traditions, distinctive cuisine, and religious affiliations. Because such expressions of ethnic heritage did not constitute a modern national identity, they did not pose too much of an obstacle to the immigrants and their children developing a strong sense of American national identity, especially in the context of strong pressures for Americanization from the broader society. But the post-World War II refugees were much more likely to be educated, urbanized, and thus nationalized—possessing a fully formed national identity, which many were not ready to discard for a new one. One example: “The earlier immigrants had been chiefly peasants unaware of the Belorussian heritage, but the post-1945 immigrants were predominantly professionals, artisans, and skilled workers. Moreover, because these new immigrants had been educated during the national renaissance in both Soviet Belorussia and Poland, they were fully aware of their Belorussian identity.”83 It was the same with Serbs: “The earlier settlers had been illiterate or barely literate peasants, with rarely more than four years of elementary education. The postwar newcomers were often graduates of high schools, technical schools, and even universities, and their literary Serbian contrasted with the peasant dialects of the earlier settlers.” The result? “Now, in a fundamental way, the process of Americanization has been interrupted.”84 This concern over immigrants who have already gone through the process of modernization and have a competing national identity is today no longer limited to the educated. As modernization has spread around the world, governments even in less-developed countries have successfully used the media and the schools to shape their people’s attachments and impart to them a modern national consciousness. But among many of the uneducated, the process remains incomplete; there are probably still many peasants in India, for instance, or Guatemalan highlanders who lack any modern sense of national identity. But there are few such people among the educated, urban classes who would be the source of any hypothetical scheme of mass skilled immigration.

Krikorian, Mark (2008-07-03). The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal (pp. 163-166). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

Elsewhere in the book, Krikorian blames immigrants’ lack of patriotic assimilation on post-American attitudes among what he calls the American elite:

But the transnational possibilities created by modern technology wouldn’t matter so much in inhibiting assimilation if it weren’t for the second, political, factor: All modern societies, or at least their elites, lose the cultural self-confidence needed to induce patriotic assimilation. Past waves of immigration encountered strongly assimilationist attitudes among America’s elites. The Founding Fathers insisted that patriotic assimilation was key; Alexander Hamilton, for instance, said that the success of the American republic depended upon “the preservation of a national spirit and national character” among native born and immigrant alike.45 Later, John Quincy Adams told a German aristocrat contemplating immigration that immigrants “must cast off the European skin, never to resume it. They must look forward to their posterity rather than backward to their ancestors.”46 Theodore Roosevelt was quoted earlier on the necessity of assimilation, but he was seconded, if only on this matter, by his bitter political rival, Woodrow Wilson, who admonished new citizens, “You cannot dedicate yourself to America unless you become in every respect and with every purpose of your will thoroughly Americans.” 47 Nor was the robust promotion of Americanization confined to the federal government; state and local governments and the private sector were also actively involved. The first sentence that Henry Ford’s immigrant workers learned in their company-supported English classes was “I am a good American.”48 National Review reporter John Miller, in his valuable look at Americanization, The Unmaking of Americans, tells of the Americanization program launched by the town fathers of Lawrence, Massachusetts, after a bitter 1912 strike involving immigrants. One local group published a pamphlet, “Lawrence—Here She Stands: For God and Country!” while the public schools developed an “American Plan for Education in Citizenship,” which included lessons in history to teach “love and loyalty for America” and promoted things “which the American spirit holds dear.”49 Miller also describes the North American Civic League for Immigrants, founded in 1907, as “a group of philanthropists, social workers, writers, and industrialists” who promoted Americanization by, among other means, a series of public lectures and pamphlets on such topics as “The Story of the American People,” “Abraham Lincoln,” and “George Washington.”50 One need only imagine what “a group of philanthropists, social workers, writers, and industrialists” today would teach immigrants about America to see how much we’ve changed. The reason is that elites in modern societies change from being nationalist to being cosmopolitan, so that, as Huntington writes, they “abandon commitment to their nation and their fellow citizens and argue the moral superiority of identifying with humanity at large.”51 Another way of saying this is that our elites—in government, business, education, religion, philanthropy, journalism, and other fields—have become “post-American.”52 Post-Americans are not necessarily anti-American; it’s just that their chief political allegiance is no longer with the United States. They don’t feel the visceral emotional attachment to the American national community that is the mark of patriotism, instead seeing themselves chiefly as “citizens of the world” or perhaps as part of a multinational corporation or of an ethnic or other group that is the chief object of their affections and attachment.

Krikorian, Mark (2008-07-03). The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal (pp. 25-26). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

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