The Next American Nation is a deeply imperfect book. It is also exhilarating, original, and mostly right on target in its criticisms of the current state of American politics. Even where not, it is wonderfully thought-provoking. Its imperfections are very obvious: it is needlessly repetitive and needlessly combative; it is more boastful of its own originality than is quite decent; it contains too much wishful thinking; and there are too many purple passages that a kindly editor should have struck out. But these are a small price to pay for the energy and high spirits of which they are a reflection. Sacred cows are slaughtered at the rate of one a paragraph—Jefferson is a villain, Hamilton a hero, Lincoln a good guy, but inferior to FDR; the Mexican War did more good than the Civil War, and President James K. Polk should be as revered as the Founding Fathers. Lind is a liberal but attacks affirmative action and “open door” immigration policies; and when talk of nationalism reminds us of xenophobes like Zhirinovsky and Karadzic, Lind is an unabashed American nationalist.
Intellectually, The Next American Nation is most interesting as a work of iconoclastic history and political science. Michael Lind turns upside down every platitude of orthodox American history and political science. But Lind’s unorthodoxies are not offered for our pleasure; they serve a political purpose. Lind believes that American politics will go badly until everyone understands that the United States is a nation-state like other nation-states, not a “multicultural” state but a state built on a single American culture, to which 95 percent of its inhabitants subscribe.
Hostility to multiculturalism sounds like the conservativism of the “angry white male,” but here it is not. Lind wants a transracial, melting-pot America, where the lines of color, national origin, and religion are dissolved by interracial, interethnic, and interfaith marriage. He is perhaps the only liberal today who says openly that interracial marriage is necessary for national unity and racial harmony. Angry white male hostility to multiculturalism usually goes along with a hatred of government. But Lind insists that it takes a strong and active government to look after the interests of ordinary Americans. Indeed, Lind wants government to redistribute wealth and income from the well-heeled to the citizenry at large, with no nonsense about trickle-down economics or tax cuts for the indecently rich, no nonsense about state’s rights, and no kowtowing to corporate interests. He is a big-government populist and a liberal nationalist.
The Next American Nation sets out its unorthodox views on three different questions. The first is philosophical, or methodological. “Are we a nation?” asks Lind—following Senator Charles Sumner in the aftermath of the Civil War. Like Sumner, Lind answers yes. But he must clear the way to that reply. The first obstacle is the multiculturalists, who say that the United States is not a nation-state. “Rather,” they argue, “it is a nation of nations, a federation of nationalities or cultures sharing little or nothing but a common government: a miniature UN.” Who composes these nations is a matter of doubt; nowadays, many writers use the Census categories—“white, black or African-American, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Inuit.” Others—Michael Walzer among them—think of ethnic groups rather than racial groups in much the way that Horace Kallen and Randolph Bourne did during the First World War. Both welcomed the idea that bilingual immigrant communities should cultivate a European culture while taking part in American political life. Either way, the upshot is that there is no American nation-state. As Walzer puts it, “It isn’t inconceivable that America will one day become an American nation-state, the many giving way to the one, but that is not what it is now; nor is that its destiny.”
Many opponents of multiculturalism, says Lind, espouse an equally unacceptable view of the United States. It is “not a nation-state at all, but an idea-state, a nationless state based on the philosophy of liberal democracy in the abstract.” Democratic universalists, celebrating America as the first global civilization, are invariably “exceptionalists”: American institutions and character are not just different but better. The United States is the bearer of the future, the prototype of the global community; as the political analyst Ben Wattenburg has it, this is the first universal nation.
Lind will have none of it. “The United States is not, and never has been, either a multinational democracy or a non-national democracy. The United States has been, is, and should continue to be a liberal and democratic nation-state.” Nor is the United States exceptional because it is “a nation of immigrants.” The United States is less a nation of immigrants now than in 1930, and less so than modern Canada: “The chance that a U. S. citizen is an immigrant is one in fourteen; that a Canadian citizen is an immigrant, one in six.” The United States holds together not because Americans of different cultural allegiances share a principled attachment to the Constitution, but because they share a national culture. They share, most of them, the English language, and they share a host of habits, and tastes, and loyalties that distinguish them from other English-speaking peoples. Educated Americans feel this as much as anyone, but they have too long associated nationalism with fascism in Europe and nativism at home. Lind believes what Lord Acton never doubted: liberal nationalism is not a contradiction, and the modern nation-state is the best hope of political freedom.
Lind’s chief preoccupation is the defense of American nationhood. His second is a hatred of the political cowardice that hides behind the “dictates” of economics. American workers, he argues, have been the victims of an allout war on their standard of living, waged by employers and their allies in Congress. Among the ideological smoke screens they have thrown out to disguise what they are up to, the most effective has been the fetishism of free trade. Free trade has reduced tariff barriers; more importantly, it has legitimated the export of American jobs to Mexico, the Philippines, and wherever else cheap labor is to be had. Lind believes in “economic pragmatism”—we should begin from the premise that a high-wage economy is the only basis for social peace and friendly relations between classes, ethnicities, and races and do whatever it takes to preserve such an economy.
The third of Lind’s unorthodoxies is his vision of American history. The subtitle of The Next American Nation is “The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution.” Most of the book is an exasperated account of what is wrong with the present—Third—Republic, and how a more satisfactory Fourth Republic can be built, but the book’s credibility rests on that of the longer history. The First Republic was Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, and federal. “To be an American in Anglo-America, according to the informal but established conception, was to be an Anglo-Saxon (or Teuton) in race, a Protestant in religion, and a republican in political principles.” Political attachment mattered less than race and religion. Whether Catholics or Jews could ever become “real Americans” was very doubtful; Indians were doomed; and emancipated blacks, as Lincoln himself once said, should go and colonize some other territory.
This first America gave way after the Civil War to “Euro-America.” The racial coalition was expanded to include all white Europeans, many of them recent immigrants; they were protected from black competition in the job market by segregation and culturally by segregated housing. The national creed was “something called the Judeo-Christian tradition, promulgated by a tri-faith establishment that sent a delegation made up of a pastor, a priest, and a rabbi to pray at every high school commencement.” The political formula was “democracy,” a catchall ideal detached from any particular institutional frame, but something to be exported to other nations, fought for in two world wars, and as essential to Americans as the air they breathed.
It was the Second Republic that first engaged in serious debate between nationalists and multiculturalists. Mass immigration raised the question “Who is a real American?” more starkly than before. “Hyphenated Americans”—the term was invented by conservatives complaining that newcomers were reluctant to learn English and assimilate—were a threat to the peace of mind of Americans born in the country: they ate strange food, undercut wages, provided voting fodder for the outrageous political bosses of the day, and frequently brought with them an anarchist or socialist contempt for the very idea of patriotism.
Oddly enough, The Melting Pot, the vastly successful 1909 play by Israel (later Sir Israel) Zangwill that gave its name to the assimilationist view, was written by an Englishman rather than an American—his family had immigrated from Russia to the East End of London. The play was a propagandist work commissioned by the New York Society of Emigrants. It was attacked some years later by Horace Kallen in an essay on “Democracy versus The Melting Pot” which shares with Randolph Bourne’s essay on “Trans-National America” the honor of originating the theory of cultural pluralism.
Kallen, who taught at the New School, and Bourne, who wrote for the New Republic and Dial, had different views of American pluralism. Lind rides roughshod over them, which makes his own account of the conflict between the One and the Many cruder than it need be. Kallen really was a multiculturalist. He invented the post-modernists’ favorite term when he accused his opponents of being afraid of “difference.” His essay was provoked by the “Americanization” campaigns of the First World War; even in 1915, the war hysteria against the German language, music, and culture was already building. Kallen’s views were summed up in the phrase “No man chooses his grandfather,” a proposition meant to suggest that our deep cultural attachments are unchosen, while our political allegiances are a matter of choice. “Hyphenated Americans” were born to the cultural allegiances to the left of the hyphen, and migrated to the political allegiances to the right. The United States could and should demand political loyalty, not the obliteration of all difference.
Bourne was more of an individualist; his ideal was “the good life of personality lived in the environment of the Beloved Community.” He knew that America was good at deracinating immigrants but feared it was no good at reracinating them. He feared, too, that America lacked a worthwhile culture in which they could be reracinated. Lind offers the somewhat fantastic suggestion that Bourne acquired a belief in cultural pluralism from Austrian social democrats whom he had met on his prewar travels, but it’s much more plausible that he picked up the idea of “the Beloved Community” from Josiah Royce and most of the rest of his ideas from John Dewey. What Bourne acquired on his European travels was the liking for German culture that reinforced his antipathy to the destructive effects of “Anglo-America.” Lind dwells on these battles because he rightly thinks the Second Republic was a considerable success, and a clear victory for the melting pot. By 1950 few Americans lived in ethnic neighborhoods, second-and third-generation immigrants spoke only English, and interethnic and interfaith (though not interracial) marriage was commonplace. Still, it had not been a forced assimilation. There had been more cultural “pull” than political “push,” so to speak.
Lind reminds us how untidy it was: the political system remained in the hands of a Northeastern establishment, the white rural Protestant vote got far more congressional seats than its numbers warranted, the New Deal did not usher in the “big coherent government” that the Progressives had wanted, but “big incoherent government.” And success though it was, the system could not survive the attempt to undo three hundred years of white supremacy. “Euro-America” was a white European coalition, supported by the wage-earning middle class because it never threatened their continued prosperity or self-respect.
Just how the Second Republic was undone is something Lind never makes quite clear. He draws a sharp contrast between the “color-blind” civil rights policies of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and the multicolored affirmative-action programs of their successors, and he is as friendly to the first as he is hostile to the second. What is not clear is whether Lind believes that the US could have had a smooth passage from the “Euro-American” coalition to a genuinely inclusive, transracial America if only affirmative action had not got in the way. Of course, it is true by definition that even such a smooth transition to a colorblind politics would have been the death of Lind’s Second Republic—but that is not a very exciting truth.
The real bite of Lind’s argument is that the racial violence of the late 1960s and the demands of the advocates of “Black Power” led to extreme color-consciousness, and thence, via Richard Nixon’s astuteness in spotting an issue that would fatally divide the Democrats, to the affirmative-action policies we have had ever since. Add to the mix the great influx of immigration after 1965, and we arrive at the politics of quotas, competitive victimhood, white working-class male backlash, and all that Lind detests about the present condition of America.
What we now live with, then, is the Third, “multicultural,” Republic. The distinctive feature of Lind’s account of it is his readiness to explain it in the terms of class conflict. The Third Republic is based on an alliance between a white “overclass” and its non-white clients, at the expense of ordinary people. Lind’s overclass is not a small group of behind-the-scenes conspirators. The people who appear to run the country really do run it; that is the trouble. Lind is anxious to distinguish this class analysis from what he calls “Marxist pseudoscience,” but he has little reason for anxiety. As he himself observes, Aristotle, Montesquieu, James Madison, and a great many other cautious liberals took it for granted that politics is, among many other things, class warfare.
Lind is a populist, however. He is concerned with the contrast between the one fifth of the population whose lives are prosperous and secure, and the four fifths whose incomes have been stagnant for thirty years, and whose jobs have become less secure. The children of the overclass follow a predictable route from good high school to good college to graduate school or professional school, and on to the usual perquisites—money, prestige, and power. The children of ordinary people manage as best they can, and feel that they have been cheated of the promise of American life. Lind concludes from the usual polls and surveys that the Third Republic is illegitimate in the eyes of some 70 percent of the citizenry.
The connection between the rule of the overclass and multicultural politics is not obvious. The mechanism Lind proposes to connect the two sounds uncomfortably like a conspiracy:
By means of college-to-Congress racial preference policies, the white overclass, over the past thirty years, has attempted to create and maintain small, artificial black and Hispanic overclasses. It has done so, not out of charity, but in order to co-opt the potential leaders of black and Hispanic dissent.
But Lind elsewhere points out that most people of Latin-American extraction share the aspirations of everyone else in the United States, so it is not obvious why the overclass feels the need to co-opt them at all. A coolly amoral overclass could have got its way even more easily by widening the anti-black coalition and not bothering with affirmative action.
Lind seems unsure of himself. When he says that “the white overclass tends to be more consistently libertarian, in morals and economics, than the masses below,” that might suggest that the overclass supports affirmative action out of a genuine sympathy with the hopes of minorities. The point is worth making only because of Lind’s relentless assault on affirmative action. He treats affirmative action not as what happens when antidiscrimination policies are pushed too far in a bureaucratic and litigious society, but as a malignant plot. Other commentators besides Lind have noticed that it was under President Nixon that the Justice Department became embroiled in enforcing affirmative action and that the 1970 Census for the first time classified Americans under five racial—or crudely color-based—headings. Lind is unusual in placing so much weight on Nixon’s realizing how he could divide the Democrats. The Democrats, according to his analysis of Nixon’s strategy, would be abandoned by their trade-union supporters if they went along with affirmative action and job quotas, and abandoned by their black supporters if they did not. Those of us who lived through that period may prefer to trust our memory that the Justice Department got the bit between its teeth and pressed forward with what was essentially the Johnson Great Society policy.
Lind’s distaste for affirmative action is essentially political and cultural. That is, he does not complain that affirmative action damages national efficiency by placing minorities and women in jobs they cannot do, or by shutting the talented out of positions from which they would contribute to the national well-being. Nor does he object that it has in practice done much more for middle-class white women than it has for lower-class minority men. What Lind objects to is, on the one hand, the way that affirmative action creates a corrupt system of patronage and, on the other, its violation of liberal standards of colorblind justice. It matters less that the “angry white male” has in fact suffered much economic damage from affirmative-action policies than that the American government has fostered the climate that has created the angry white male.
The failing of most accounts of the way that rich, clever, and wicked people manipulate the political and economic system is that they make the manipulators too clever. Lind has little need of such contortions. The overclass, in his view, preserves its position without much cleverness or even subtlety. For one thing, it is a very homogeneous group: it is “the child of the former Northeastern Protestant establishment, produced by marriage (not only figurative but literal) with the upwardly mobile descendants of turn-of-the-century European immigrants and white Southerners and Westerners.” It is, says Lind, “the first truly national upper class in American history.” It speaks with a uniform accent—the American version of British “received pronunciation.” It goes for the most part to Ivy League schools whose students, save for the black and Hispanic beneficiaries of affirmative-action admissions, are of Northern European Protestant descent, or the offspring of European Jews. (Lind is inattentive to the arrival of Asian students in the Ivy League even though Asian applicants cause trustees and admissions officers just the same anxieties that clever Jewish boys caused Harvard, Yale, and Princeton seventy-five years ago.) Although this seems to define the overclass in “cultural” or even ethnic terms, Lind is in fact more interested in its power, especially its power over economic policy.
Here the story he tells is simple. The overclass provides most of the campaign finances needed by the present, utterly corrupt system of party politics. It provides most of the candidates, the members of the judiciary, and senior policy-makers in the public service. Party fights between Republicans and Democrats are sham battles, squabbles between different factions of the overclass. In populist fashion, Lind thinks the real battle is the one between a greedy elite and exploited masses. It is no accident that the salaries paid to wage earners have dropped while CEOs, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals have seen their salaries rise as their numbers rose, too—in contradiction of the law of supply and demand—for they have rigged the market.
The ability of the overclass to drive down wage rates depends on global free trade in both jobs and bodies. The surge in immigration that followed the immigration reforms of 1965—the largest legal influx since the turn of the century—has provided a pool of cheap labor that undercuts the wages of the existing work force.1 This would not happen so easily if trade unions could still make life impossible for employers; but they cannot, as a result of deliberate policy, legal decisions, and aggressive action by employers to deunionize their work forces. As if this were not enough, firms can increasingly export employment to low-wage places, whether by relocating manufacturing plants over the Mexican border or by having insurance claims processed by secretaries in Ireland at 70 percent of the US cost.
This feeds middle-class insecurity. It also reduces social mobility, as the hope of steady work for oneself and a leg-up for one’s children fades. About the processes that hinder mobility, Lind is simply savage. Two things especially madden him: professional closed shops on the one hand and, on the other, college admissions of the children of alumni by “legacy.” He tartly observes that “very little of what is learned in law, business, or graduate school is ever used in practice,” and infers—rightly—that the primary purpose of the American Bar Association’s hold on legal training or the American Medical Association’s hold on medical training is to exclude competition.
But the race is rigged even earlier; Ivy League schools and the best liberalarts colleges practice “overclass affirmative action” in the form of “legacy preference.” Alumni children have at least four or five times as good a chance of admission to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale as do unconnected children. Much has been written about the role of affirmative action in boosting the prospects of black and Hispanic students, but “legacies” get more help than they do. Nor is there anything to be said for the justification—offered even in that paean to meritocracy, The Bell Curve—that students admitted by legacy will later be richer and more generous to their alma mater, and are therefore a good investment. The evidence suggests that it is the children of blue-collar families who make the most of the education offered by Harvard.
All the same, Lind exaggerates the stupidity of students admitted by legacy. The Ivy League does not “warehouse mediocrities” as he supposes; the SAT scores of legacy students are little lower than the rest; and they are higher than those of affirmative-action students and higher than those of athletes. It is not true that the well-connected can walk into Ivy League schools on scores that would otherwise send them to Podunk U. It is quite enough of a scandal that they receive an unmerited assist in a society that supposedly sees education as a means of social mobility.
If Lind is most disturbed by the way this Third Republic sacrifices the many to the few, he is also enraged by the cultural corruption that comes with it. At the most basic level, he has an old-fashioned radical’s contempt for the way cultural myths inhibit the ordinary person’s ability to fight back against exploitation. Black Americans, he writes, are done no favor by being told that they should enter politics as blacks, not as underpaid or underemployed workers. Emphasizing “vertical” or cultural divisions—between ethnicities, races, colors, sexes—plays into the hands of the overclass, which wishes that nobody would look too carefully at “horizontal” or class divisions.
Less straightforwardly, he loathes the evasions of reality that the system of racial preferences inspires. The search for the “African” roots of black American culture is as absurd as the search for a generic European culture; the invention of fake festivals such as Kwanza as a replacement for Christmas is condescending as well as foolish. Afrocentric education is a pure fraud. Lind finds it the easier to say so because he is so adamant that black Americans are more American than most white Americans.
For Lind, the backlash that multi-culturalism provokes is as bad as the disease. The takeover of Congress by reactionary Southerners deeply alarms him; the ragings of the Christian right against secularists, feminists, homosexuals, and Jews unnerve him. Ordinary conservatism is lumpen resentment—while conservative think tanks are affirmative action for the children of prominent neo-cons. But the liberals are in no position to fight back; having sold the pass to cultural pluralists, they have no idea how to appeal to the national interest against anti-social sectarianism.
Even readers who doubt, as I do, that all the evils Lind points to are mutually implicated will admire the verve with which Lind denounces them. What induces more anxiety is Lind’s “wish-list” of changes in the political system, in economic, social, and educational policy, and in Americans’ cultural allegiances. It contains nothing mad or wicked; but it raises very sharply the question of how a country in the mess Michael Lind describes for the first three hundred pages of his book can be persuaded to adopt the vision spelled out in the final hundred. It is easy to share Lind’s wish that the changes he is after should be enacted, hard to believe that they will be.
As I have suggested, Lind’s heretical view of American history makes Alexander Hamilton’s strong state nationalism look good and Jefferson’s weak state, anti-urban bias look terrible. The latter got into the Constitution of 1787, which was imperfect from the start and is now utterly out of date. The Senate is one of the system’s worst features. Before the Civil War, it prevented a peaceful abolition of slavery; in the Gilded Age, senators were bought and sold by state legislatures. Today, the Senate makes it possible for a small, white, neo-conservative part of the population to obstruct legislation in the interests of the majority. Already “16 percent of the nation can elect half the Senate—and thwart the senators representing the 84 percent of the public who live in the twenty-five most populous states.” Since it is the most populous states whose populations are growing fastest, this will get worse. Lind’s remedy is to detach the Senate from the states entirely. “Let us formally nationalize it, clean it up, and, while we are at it, democratize it.”
Some readers may flinch at the money that would surely be spent on national senatorial campaigns. Michael Huffington spent $30 million in a failed bid to become a senator for California; who knows what he would spend in a national campaign. But Lind has an answer: “the separation of check and state.” Get money out of elections. Like many of us, he thinks the 1976 Supreme Court decision (Buckley v. Valeo) that a rich man could spend as much as he liked on his own candidacy, was a terrible error. Democracy is about one person–one vote, not one dollar–one vote. Every other developed democracy has elaborate and effective rules to prevent the abuse that allows Phil Gramm to outspend an opponent by three hundred to one, and the US should have them, too.
Once he starts looking at what equalizing the power of the vote requires, Lind also observes that the plurality, or “first past the post,” voting system looks pretty bad. In a three-way race, 40 percent of the vote may be sufficient for victory, even if the 60 percent on the two other sides would have ranked the winner as the worst of the alternatives.2 Lind would sweep away plurality voting and institute proportional representation. That would fulfill another of his deep desires—the abolition of racial gerrymandering. Proportional representation provides everything worthwhile that gerrymandering offers without the attendant distortions. The British objection to proportional representation, that it encourages the formation of many parties, is one of its virtues in Lind’s eyes. Whether he has any more elaborate reason for this view than a dislike of the two existing parties, it is hard to tell. He has surprisingly little sense of how much of a multiparty system the United States possesses already. Alliances across party lines are common; presidents cannot rely on “their” congressional party. Americans are deeply astonished that Newt Gingrich can get almost all House Republicans to vote the same way. By contrast, the British party system totters when as few as nine Conservatives refuse to vote with John Major.
The final indignity Lind would visit on the Constitution would be to establish the primacy of national legislation over local legislation. Foreigners have always thought it strange that basic civil rights should be so at the mercy of where one happens to live. Whether there is a death penalty and what for is a state matter; the degree to which abortions are available is a state matter; what sexual practices are licit and illicit is a state matter. In a country where people move house every five years, it does seem mad to allow these things to be dictated by state legislatures.
The object of such criticism is not to make the political system rational and egalitarian for its own sake. If there is to be an end to the Third Republic, two things must happen at once—the 80 percent must see their jobs secure and their wages rising, and the 20 percent must be made to give up their grip on the system of recruitment that allows them to behave as a caste. One point at which many of Lind’s readers will part company with him is over his ideas about how to achieve these ends. For Lind stakes a great deal on stopping almost all immigration into the United States.
It must be said—he says it energetically here, and has said it with some ferocity elsewhere—that this is a piece of pure economic pragmatism.3 Lind could not care less about preserving the purity of the American race, the distinctiveness of its culture, the proportion of browno-yellow to pinko-grey, the balance of Buddhist and Christian, or any other of the things that agitate the nativist, racist, or religious opponents of immigration. The argument is simple: cheap immigrant labor threatens the wages of the people already here, so let us reduce the competition and push up local wages. If American firms try to save money by exporting jobs, they should be charged a tariff equal to the difference between domestic and overseas production costs.
I feel uneasy about this argument, though not because it contradicts the view that immigration is good for the economy—as Lind says, that is an open question, and in any case he minds more about the distribution of economic benefits than about growth rates in themselves. Even on his own terms, Lind ought to feel more uneasy than he does. He mentions in passing the anti-immigrant positions of the AFL and the American Socialist Party at the turn of the century, as well as the hysteria after World War I that led to the 1924 Alien Restriction Act that dried up immigration for forty years. But he seems not to understand how hard it would be to keep the policy he has in mind as coolly pragmatic as he proposes and how hard to avoid encouraging just the prejudice and nastiness he wants to avoid. It is not as though there are no other means available. If the national economy were encouraged to grow at close to its maximum rate, it would have just the same effect; so would a serious concern with full employment on the part of the Federal Reserve. There are many routes to tight labor markets.
Tight labor markets, moreover, will not solve all problems. Lind sees that even if we can push up the wages of the employed, we may have difficulty getting the underclass back into the economy. Inner-city young men have been socialized into a culture that is at odds with “workaday America.” The ghetto poor “are not so much immoral, as moral according to norms governing sex, work, violence, and honor that the larger society rejects. The morality of the ghetto is not a black morality, since most black Americans reject it.” It is, Lind says, like the culture of the Irish and Italians of Hell’s Kitchen and other cultures of poverty. As to what might change it for the better, Lind suggests “maximum feasible paternalism,” such as orphanages and boarding schools. It is hard to be optimistic about such suggestions; direct attempts to change established cultures have a poor record, and a society that spends so little on policing the inner city is hardly likely to spend $30,000 per child per year on removing them from its influence. I’d rather bet on full employment, on the effects of a labor shortage, and on inner-city entrepreneurship.
Meanwhile, Lind proposes that we should ensure that the overclass cannot perpetuate itself. He proposes first that the professions be dissolved, so there would be fewer expensively trained JD-boasting lawyers and MD-boasting doctors, and a lot more practitioners of a variety of less expensively acquired skills—conveyancers could transfer property and draw up wills, and nurse-dispensers could write most prescriptions. This would open access to a new middle class and abolish the monopolistic power of the existing professions. As for higher education, the federal government should immediately outlaw the preference for the children of alumni. In the best of all worlds there would be “a universal, single-payer system for higher education,” and admission would depend on academic merit alone. Lind’s belief that this is a radical idea will strike any British reader as odd; the British University Grants Committee long predated the National Health Service, and even in benighted Oxford and Cambridge it has for thirty years been thought scandalous to accept students except on merit.
What Lind seeks is the creation of a “transracial” America, with a strong central government; unfettered social mobility; a liberal outlook on questions of sex, religion, and cultural diversity; a fastidious unwillingness to promote one race, religion, or ethnicity over another; and a strong sense of national identity. Enthusiasts for Herbert Croly’s wonderful 1909 book, The Promise of American Life, will see that Lind has drawn his inspiration from the “New Nationalism,” the creed that Croly drew up and Theodore Roosevelt ran on. Croly, however, had the advantage over Lind that he believed he was writing with the current of the times.
Croly demanded that the American national government should take itself seriously because the modern business corporation had shown conclusively what was needed for national efficiency. Croly thought his upper-class readers shared his desire for a more rational, better-ordered republic; Lind sees no such signs of grace in the overclass. What he wants is that the dispossessed 80 percent should rebel: “The peasants should stop fighting over the property lines between their tiny plots in the village and direct their united attention to the castle and its fields.” But if the American wage earner had been capable of fighting the class war in the way Lind demands, matters would be different already.
In fact, Lind’s thoughts on how we might get to the Fourth Republic from where we are now are notably vague, uncertain, and hesitant. He knows what we must not hope for—salvation by a Leader; but Lind knows, too, that the Congress he has so acerbically described is an unlikely sponsor for the changes he wants. Pete Wilson is the only presidential candidate who might conceivably combine mildly liberal views with a policy of zero new immigration. That his campaign has stalled so badly suggests that there are few takers for Lind’s recipe. Moreover, even the most nationalist of liberal nationalists ought to take more notice than Lind does of the fact that the United States is indissolubly linked to the world economy and neither politically nor economically able to behave as if it were the only state in the world. 4 I don’t mean to be grudging; The Next American Nation is a splendid jeremiad. It also paints a persuasive picture of a more generous America than the one we now inhabit. But it doesn’t begin to answer the question of how to get there.
October 5, 1995
Although Lind mostly concentrates on narrowly economic issues, he also worries that Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean provide 48 percent of the migrants and Asia 35 percent; by 2080, more than half the US population will be non-white. Aside from all else, the position of black Americans in California, Texas, New York, Florida, and New Jersey is especially threatened by competition in low-wage jobs. ↩
This was, of course, what kept Mrs. Thatcher in office for eleven years; the Labour Party and the Social Democratic/Liberal Alliance split the opposition. In none of her three victories did she come close to getting a majority of the popular vote. ↩
See his review of Peter Brimelow’s Alien Nation in The New Yorker, April 24, 1995. ↩
Benjamin Barber’s lively account of life after the Cold War, Jihad vs. McWorld (Times Books, 1995), for instance, takes as its starting point the proposition that national independence is dead. ↩