The Ghost of Bertold Brecht and the Balkanization of America
by PETER FARMER
September 21, 2012
Would it not be simpler if the government dissolved the people and elected another?
Bertold Brecht (1898-1956), German playwright
Bertold Brecht's name is now largely lost to history, but the idea expressed in the succinct question above remains as potent today as when he uttered it. Brecht, a self-made Marxist who was once investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the "Red Scare" era of the late 1940s and early 1950s, probably did not know a then-young Edward Kennedy or the other politicians who later devised the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, and he did not live to see the eventual mass migration of immigrants, legal and illegal alike, into the U.S. after his death. We can only speculate on how Brecht would have viewed the rapidly-Balkanizing United States of the early 21st century, but it seems safe to conclude that the old Marxist would be astounded at its scope, scale and rapidity.
The Democrat Party and the new left faced an existential political problem in pre-1965 America: the majority of its citizens were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants - or "WASPs" - Americans of European descent who voted conservatively in most (if not all) elections by a substantial plurality. The Democrats still enjoyed the political momentum provided by the FDR "New Deal" coalition, as well as strong support among urban ethnic and racial minorities - but these advantages were off-set by the substantial power of the conservative "Dixiecrat" wing of the Democratic Party and mainstream Republicanism. The "Greatest Generation" of the Great Depression, WWII and Korea was largely a traditional one, still firmly committed to the civic and cultural norms its parents and grandparents had held.
How to break the cycle? Following Lyndon Baines Johnson's landslide win in the 1964 presidential election, the left saw its chance to alter the political landscape permanently - and seized it, right in front of the unsuspecting Republicans. In 1965, Representative Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) and Senator Philip Hart (D-MI) proposed the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which sought to overturn the national origins immigration quota system in place since the 1920s. Under the existing system, immigration preference was given to Europeans and members of the Anglophone world; the Celler-Hart Act would abolish these guidelines, granting no special status to groups heretofore extended preferential treatment. When polling data showed that a clear majority of the electorate was opposed to the measure, Democratic Party leaders assured the public that the measure would not have an adverse impact on American culture. Shortly thereafter, with strong support from Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the bill was passed and President Johnson signed it into law.
In the beginning, changes to immigration policy were modest and the fears of skeptics appeared unfounded. The Celler-Hart Act fit the cultural zeitgeist of the unfolding 1960s counter-culture and civil rights movements. Besides, hadn't America always managed to assimilate people from different nations and backgrounds successfully? The news cycle passed by the issue, which seemed settled. Months, years and decades passed.
Gradually, however, as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s and 1990s, the changes fostered by the Immigration Act began to make their presence felt in ways great and small. Hospitals, schools and prisons which previously had conducted business in English, were now confronted with a dizzying array of foreign languages with which to contend - from Spanish to Laotian and so many more. The United States, particularly in its cities, has always had ethnic enclaves - from Chinese to Polish to Korean to Greek - but this was new and different. Entire tracts of some U.S. cities resembled foreign nations, where only Spanish or other languages were spoken. Moreover, thanks to the leftist-sponsored multicultural and diversity movement, assimilation was now seen as passé; keeping your racial and ethnic identity was "in" - becoming an American was "out." Traditional civics and American history courses, long an effective means of acculturating immigrants, were discarded or watered-down.
Politically, the new multi-cultural United States was a smashing success for the Democrats, particularly in its strongholds in California, the upper Midwest and Northeast. The vast numbers of immigrants entering from the Third World proved to be very amenable to big government and the presumed virtues of the welfare state. Ethnic-racial identity groups soon sprang up and coalesced into political blocks that could be counted upon to vote Democratic on a consistent basis.
Economically, it took businesses some time to adapt - but adapt they did. The Democrats were not the only ones benefitting from the new scheme of things.
The GOP and its supporters in the business community soon discovered the enormous cost advantages offered by the multitude of largely-unskilled immigrants from the Third World, many of whom would work for pennies on the dollar normally paid to Americans. The plentiful supply of cheap labor allowed employers to bid down wages in a host of jobs and occupations, some skilled, some unskilled. Those immigrants with skills in the trades were soon put to work undercutting union labor. Since many were not in unions, and could not be - they did not have to be paid the generous benefits normally provided to unionized labor.
The members of the political/economic elites of both parties also benefitted from the more-than-ample number of recent immigrants willing to do their landscaping, serve them in restaurants, and perform other menial tasks that they claimed Americans would not do.
By the turn of the millennium, the "melting pot" beloved of traditional Americans had been overturned in favor of what some activists called the "Salad Bowl." The nation's motto may have been E Pluribus Unum, Latin for "From Many, One" but former Vice-President Al Gore inadvertently summed up the new order of things with a Freudian slip when asked about the motto, saying it meant "From One, Many." Anyone working in the Los Angeles County School District would certainly agree; ESL (English as a Second Language) students in that district speak in any one of more than 200 native non-English tongues. Spanish has become the de facto second language of the United States.
Demographic data confirm what many Americans already suspect - this is not the America of your grandparents, or even of your parents. In 1970, Whites (Caucasians) comprised 83.2% of the nation's population; Blacks (individuals of African, Caribbean or other descent) comprised 11.1% and Latinos/Hispanics 4.5% - with the remaining 1.2% split between Asian-Americans and other groups. In 2010, the percentages of the same groups tallied 63.7% (Caucasians), 12.2% (Black), 16.3% (Latino/Hispanic), plus Asian-Americans with 4.7% and the remaining 3.1% for other groups. Many demographers estimate that within 1-2 decades, European-Americans and other Caucasians will become a minority within the U.S. (source: U.S. Census).
Brecht's vision has been fully-realized, in a little more than a half a century's time.
Some Americans cheer this development; others lament it as a disaster, while still others are apathetic. However, these varied views do little to address the most-fundamental questions implied by the vast changes since Brecht spoke his words in the 1950s. No nation in modern history has undergone such rapid and drastic changes in its racial, ethnic and cultural makeup. What is to be the fate of the nation ten or twenty - or even fifty - years hence? None of us can see the future infallibly, but history suggests some possible outcomes.
The term "Balkanization" is now a part of the geopolitical lexicon; it entered use after the First World War to describe the fragmentation of the Balkan Peninsula of Southeastern Europe, formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire, into numerous new states and regions. The term has come to define the disintegration of a nation, state or polity into fragments or parts of the former whole. In an ironic twist of history, "Balkanization" was to happen again in the very same region in the 1990s, with the break-up of the former communist state of Yugoslavia, which was followed by a vicious civil war.
The history of the Roman Empire, as well as numerous more recent examples, suggest that the fragmentation of a nation becomes more-probable as its population becomes more diverse; this directly contradicts the conventional dogma of modern leftist multiculturalism, which posits that unlimited diversity strengthens the unity of nations, peoples and polities.
Nations and peoples exist along a continuum of tradition and precedent versus dynamism and change. Those that become too- resistant to outside influences can stagnate and may suffer sharp demographic declines, as evidenced by modern Japan - which is among the most insular and homogenous of nations. However, the opposite applies; nations and peoples that are too-open to outside influences risk losing their character and the uniqueness of their language, culture, customs and traditions. The ties that once bound strain and then break, as neighbors no longer know one another, communities lose their cohesion and factionalism becomes the norm. There are disturbing signs that the local, regional and national cohesion that once characterized Americans have weakened significantly. Many forces are driving this trend, but foremost among them is that Americans no longer know or trust their neighbors and fellow citizens to the extent that they once did.
In an upcoming article, we will explore further aspects of the Balkanization of the United States, and also some of its implications.
Copyright Peter Farmer 2012
Peter Farmer is a historian and commentator on national security, geopolitics and public policy issues. He has done original research on wartime resistance movements in WWII Europe, and has delivered seminars on such subjects as political violence and terrorism, the evolution of conflict, combat medicine, and related subjects. Mr. Farmer is also a scientist and a medic.