Note: I was planning to publish this post later, when I do a series on Pat Buchanan’s books. But this post is particularly relevant to issues right now, so here it is.
Patrick J. Buchanan. The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002.
In Death of the West, paleoconservative commentator Patrick Buchanan laments the decline of Western birthrates, the proliferation of non-Western birthrates and illegal immigration, and attacks on Western heritage, including American history and Christianity.
Here are some thoughts, analyses, and critiques:
A. Ever since the election of Donald Trump, I have often heard the term “cultural Marxism” within conservative circles. Cultural Marxism is usually associated with the Frankfort School of thought. Long before 2016, Buchanan in this 2002 book talked about cultural Marxism and viewed it as a threat. Essentially, as Buchanan relates, cultural Marxism is an attack on Western civilization and traditions, viewing them as oppressive. Buchanan also talks about the influx of non-Western populations into Europe, an issue that became especially prominent during the latter years of the Obama Presidency and the candidacy of Trump.
B. Buchanan laments the decline of Western birthrates and believes that the United States should encourage women to have more children and start families. Businesses should resume the practice of paying more to breadwinners, and the federal government should have generous per child tax credits. First, in terms of feasibility, some of Buchanan’s policy proposals have potential downfalls, yet they may actually work. On the one hand, if breadwinners cost more, would not companies hire fewer of them, discouraging what Buchanan wants? And would not breadwinners want to spend time with their families rather than be at the office all day and all night? On the other hand, breadwinners perhaps would be particularly motivated to work more hours to support their families, so businesses may find them to be a productive asset. Second, I wonder how Buchanan reconciles his stance on starting families with his own life, since he and his wife do not have children and have not adopted.
C. A salient theme throughout this book is the importance of having a common heritage that brings Americans together. As in A Republic Not an Empire, Buchanan in Death of the West points out that people would have more loyalty to their families and their nation than they would to a nebulous world society. They would take more pride in those things and work to cherish and protect them. An essential part of this loyalty, Buchanan argues, is having a shared history and culture. For Buchanan, rampant illegal immigration threatens this, since illegal immigrants from south of the border tend to be more loyal to their countries of origin than to the United States, and the push towards multilingualism undermines a common language, which is part of the glue that has held Americans together. Meanwhile, the cultural Marxist attacks on Western heritage and its promulgation in public schools have undercut America’s common national heritage. Although Buchanan emphasizes the need for a common national heritage, he, ironically, supports a form of school choice that could conceivably segregate people into schools based on their religion, with Jewish schools, Catholic schools, and evangelical Christian schools. Would that undermine the vision that Buchanan supports of a common national heritage, since public schools are the place where that heritage is promulgated? That is a valid question, but I can envision Buchanan having an answer to it. He could point to the common Americanism that existed in the 1800’s and early 1900’s among people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. But then the question would be whether that can exist today. There are many immigrants who have embraced American culture and language, while still holding on to their own distinct customs.
D. Buchanan does not care for illegal immigration, and he is not that crazy about legal immigration, either. That said, he does have a beautiful passage about the effectiveness of English language immersion for Latin American immigrant children, who learned English rapidly.
E. The issue of illegal immigration is fraught with tensions. First, there is the question of whether immigrants are an asset to society. On the one hand, they can contribute more talent and productivity and provide a greater number of consumers, which helps the economy. On the other hand, they compete with American workers and use social services. Second, there is the question of how Christians should respond to illegal immigration. On the one hand, Christians are called to be compassionate towards the poor and the downtrodden, and many fleeing Latin America to come to the United States fall in that category. On the other hand, letting in masses of illegal immigrants does seem to be an unwise policy, in terms of economics and also in terms of the criminal gangs that illegal immigration brings in. Does God want us to throw practical wisdom out of the window? And is not protecting people part of love (I Corinthians 13:7)? Buchanan engages the first topic, somewhat, for he sees illegal immigration as having a net negative effect. He cogently argues against the idea that illegal immigrants are only doing jobs that Americans do not want to do, for he cites indications that Americans want to do them. On the second topic, Buchanan is silent. He seems to think that others’ misfortunes are not our problem and that we should take care of our own.
F. Buchanan is nostalgic about the version of American history that he received in school, which admires the American experiment and praises both sides of the American Civil War, both North and South. He contrasts that with the harsh revisionism of today, which demonizes America’s founding fathers as oppressive slaveholders. Buchanan acknowledges that America’s history is less than rosy, but why should children in schools be made to wrestle with those troubling issues, when that is the place for them to be educated to become good citizens—-with an appreciation for America’s contributions and heroes? Buchanan’s discussion stimulates thought. First, Buchanan does well to highlight that the “heroes” the revisionists prefer were far from perfect themselves: the Aztecs, for instance, practiced human sacrifice. Second, Buchanan engages in his own historical revisionism. He is against American intervention in World War II, when the standard American patriotic narrative is that the Americans were the “good guys” in that. He likely does not care for Franklin Roosevelt’s domestic policies, when the American patriotic narrative tends to portray FDR as part of America’s heroic pantheon.
G. Buchanan’s discussion of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Civil War general who founded the Ku Klux Klan, is particularly interesting. According to Buchanan, Forrest was quite egalitarian in his own treatment of African-Americans and came to criticize and repudiate the Klan.
H. Buchanan laments the decline of traditional moral values, particularly in the areas of religion and sexuality. What is ironic is that the people he criticizes, immigrants from south of the border and Muslims, tend to be conservative in those areas. Many Latin American immigrants are devout Roman Catholics, and evangelicalism is growing among Latin Americans as well. Regarding Muslims, Buchanan’s stance has been rather ambivalent. On the one hand, he admires them because they have resisted and stood against what he considers to be America’s cultural sewer, particularly its libertine sexuality. On the other hand, the proliferation of Islamic populations does give him concern, especially because there are Muslims who are bellicose and see strategic advantage to being bellicose.
I. Buchanan is critical of hate crimes legislation, seeing it as an attack on white people. If we want to look at interracial crimes, Buchanan argues, we should at least be honest. We should consider the greater number of black on white crimes, as well as the violent crimes that illegal immigrants commit. But hate crimes are not just about race. They are about whether an act of violence was specifically motivated by hatred towards a particular group. In this case, there are times when non-whites are accused of hate crimes against whites.
J. Buchanan is also critical of the neoconservative stance towards the cultural wars. Neoconservatives, Buchanan argues, are rather tepid in confronting the cultural wars, and they prefer a detente between the traditionalists and the liberals. The problem is that the liberals do not want a detente but suppression of the traditionalists. If I have a stance on this, it is that I would love for there to be a detente. I do not believe that homosexuality should be criminalized, but I also think that society should respect the rights of conservative Christians not to approve of homosexual sex. Unfortunately, the cultural wars, as they exist today, do not support that kind of tolerance. They used to do so, but they are coming to do so less.