Our Borders, Ourselves: America in the Age of Multiculturalism
Litchfield, Ct.: VDARE, 2019
On dipping into this book, I was hit with a sense of cruel nostalgia, mixing memory and despair. Assembled from writings that Lawrence Auster did in the 1980s and ‘90s, it’s a window into how forthrightly we then approached problems of race politics and non-white immigration.
This was the period when Proposition 187 (banning state social services to illegal aliens) was overwhelmingly approved by voters in Pete Wilson’s California. That vote was in 1994, and I was one of those voters. Alas, implementation was stalled almost immediately by a legal challenge; appeals went on for years. But meanwhile, former Senator Eugene McCarthy had published a memoir in which he apologized for having backed the 1965 Hart-Celler immigration bill, conceding that it was a disaster for the nation (A Colony of the World: The United States Today, 1992). Sen. McCarthy also joined the board of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. And then, in 1995, Forbes senior editor Peter Brimelow published his landmark Alien Nation.
The immigration issue was unruly, but not totally unmanageable, and the race-realists seemed to be on a roll. As John Derbyshire once recalled of the mid-1990s, they were a kind of “interglacial warming period” in matters of race and immigration. You could talk about things. The Derb was mainly referring to discussions of race and IQ, but it was also a time when you could openly propose the deportation of illegal aliens. That was not a radical view; at least, no edgier than talking about legalizing marijuana.
This is one of the paradoxes of reading Our Borders, Ourselves. Lawrence Auster is forever a Cassandra, telling us how bad things are . . . here, and now in the . . . 1990s!
Way back then, he didn’t think things could get much worse. But from today’s perspective, six years after Larry Auster’s death, the ‘90s look pretty good.
Most of this volume is an abridged version of a much longer work on immigration, cheerfully entitled The Death of America. Auster didn’t finish it till 1998, and by then it was too politically incorrect to publish. The interglacial period was over. The major publisher who had agreed to bring out the massive tome balked upon receiving the typescript. I gather from Larry’s entries on his View from the Right blog (an excellent repository of trad-Right discussion in the years prior to his death in 2013), this had less to do with the book’s length or its nominal subject than the fact that there was a chapter called “Jews: The Archetypal Multiculturalists.”
Two decades and more later, Auster’s analyses stand up well, are still relevant, and help remind us of how we got to the state we’re in. His essays are like snapshots of a nation in freefall: the hard ground is still far off, but we know there’s a crack-up coming.
America: The Multicultural Mental Construct
In the 1980s and ‘90s, pundits had all kinds of rationalizations for ignoring the immigration problem as it careened out of control. They’re still being recycled today. We were told that illegal aliens were basically hard-working family people, “doing jobs Americans wouldn’t do,” and just needed a bit of acculturation and “assimilation” in order to turn them into steadfast blue-eyed, apple-cheeked yeomen. Or something like that. And besides, weren’t we all immigrants, after a fashion?
Pushing the argument just a little further, they’d tell us that we should accept the inevitable, and even welcome the multiracial hell that awaits us. Auster has many examples of this, but my favorite is the mealy-mouthed misrepresentation of American history given by art critic Robert Hughes.
Here’s Auster putting it in context:
Having declared the “inevitability” of a white minority future, the multiculturalists also appropriate the past by informing us that America has always been multicultural. So there’s nothing to discuss. The issue has already been settled. Robert Hughes of Time, himself an immigrant from Australia, wrote that the United States has always been a heterogeneous country, and its cohesion, whatever cohesion it has, can only be based on mutual respect. There never was a core America in which everyone looked the same, spoke the same language, worshipped the same gods and believed the same things. America is a construction of mind.
A mental construct! There was never a core America! Here we have not only the fallacy that lies behind the “civic nationalism” beloved of National Review conservatives (anyone can be an American, because, you see, it’s really all about shared values), but a hairball of out-and-out fibs. Or, as Auster dissects them:
Every single one of Hughes’s sweeping statements – that there was never a core culture that spoke the same language, that Americans didn’t share the same basic moral beliefs, that Americans didn’t worship the same God; that they didn’t share a common national loyalty and identity – is a breathtaking lie, a slap in the face against our entire history. But Hughes’s slick phrases come so thick and fast that they create a plausible reality in the reader’s mind, a reality in which America, as a historically existing nation, has been made to disappear. If America is nothing, period, but “an agreement to respect people,” then America is nothing, period.
Auster repeatedly juxtaposes these two poles of thought: “civic nationalism” vs. “White Nationalism.” He doesn’t use those terms; I don’t think they were around in the 1990s. Auster explored the strange lands, and left it to us to name them. But it’s clear what side of the divide he stood on. He was a White Nationalist avant la lettre, if a unique and exceptional one.
Stages of Surrender
Another glittering insight he pulls out of the rhetorical mare’s nest is how and why the immigration debate was subverted and lost. There were two highly effective arguments against immigration control; “The Two Stages of Surrender,” he calls them:
In the first stage, there is a refusal to face the fact that immigration poses a danger because immigration is a “blessing,” and it’s “xenophobic” to oppose immigration. Whatever the slogan it always precludes critical examination of the issue.
In the second stage, the disaster created by immigration has become undeniable. But people do not then repent of their pro-immigration stand. They just say that it’s “too late” to do anything about it.
We’ve all seen this in action, with friends and family, and in the news media. Up until a few years ago this scenario held pretty true. In some cases, the mental shift of gears from disregard to despair took only a few months or years. It’s not that big a shift, really; we’re just going from Stage I Apathy to Stage II Apathy.
However . . . I submit there might also be a third gear, one of awareness and alarm; such as occurred in 2015 with the two mass-killings in Paris (at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Bataclan Theater). Back in the 1990s, Auster could not have foreseen those, or imagined their knock-on effect in international politics, particularly in Britain and America. We don’t know whether the politics of Brexit or the Trump presidency will bring effective remedies to the non-white-alien problems in those countries, but what’s undeniable is that those issues have been at the center of national political debates for four or five years now, and they aren’t going away. Real remedies – not just curtailment, but reversal of the last few decades’ alien invasion – are still light years away, but we’re not at the Slough of Despond – not just yet.
Auster was writing from a 1990s vantage, and didn’t have a crystal ball. He saw apathy and nihilism around him, and figured that trend would continue, in straight-line depreciation.
He has a most apt metaphor for the apathy and passivity that characterizes so many white Americans (or at least characterized them twenty years ago). We are “America’s White Middle-Class Eloi.” You remember the Eloi, the beautiful, lotus-eating layabouts in H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine (wonderfully adapted for the screen by George Pal in 1960; one of the few good film adaptations of this or any other Wells book). The Eloi are lovely to look at, but so dim and degenerated they don’t realize they’re being bred for food by the monstrous and industrious Morlocks, who live underground and build steam turbines. And so it is with our white middle class, increasingly subject to the whim of our (not-so-industrious) Morlocks:
Whites seem to have lost the energy, confidence and leadership qualities that once created a civilization. Absent is any sense of the long views and great plans, the intensity and faith that once bestrode a continent. There is no look of destiny, or even of character, in the people I see. Even the Waspy upper-class types on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, for all their supposed elitism, do not have the aspect of leaders of society but of an enervated clique maintaining a residue. It might be said that they have declined into a mere ethnic group – but even that would be an overstatement.
And in this peaceful, orderly and insipid aspect of today’s middle-class white people, they bear an eerie resemblance to that race of drones called the Eloi . . .
I love the comparison, but I wonder why he’s singling out Upper East Siders. Was Auster making a study of these people? Is he just making throwaway snark – a suggestion of what these people might be like, as imagined by a first-generation American, moreover an ethnic Jew who converted to Christianity (first to the Episcopal Church, finally to Catholicism)? And what does it really mean to be called an Eloi, anyway? Pretty, but emptyheaded? Passive, insipid? And is there supposed to be a significant difference between the folks on East 88th Street and the country-club set of Evansville, Indiana? I’m just mystified here.
He has a serious point to make, I’m sure, but following through with descriptive particulars just isn’t in the Auster wheelhouse. He’s good on philosophical concepts and polemical forensics, but poor on anything observational. He’s like Ignatius J. Reilly, preferring vague generalizations and dismissals to nuanced descriptions. (“Needs more geometry and theology.”) Auster doesn’t tell you what people look like, or what their taste in clothes and dining might be. If he wrote a James Bond thriller, he’d have 007 wearing some kind of a suit, driving some kind of a car, and telling the barkeep to mix up something with, you know, alcohol in it.
Ethnic Animus and Cultural Subversion
This lack of follow-through mars some of Auster’s best passages. For example, when he talks about Columbo, the 1970s detective drama with Peter Falk, he tells us there are class and ethnic subtexts, but offers no physical description at all of the title character, or the dialogue tics and script gimmicks that made the show so watchable. (“Uh, just one more thing, sir . . .”)
This is in a section called “[Jewish] Subversion Through Popular Culture,” a subject that puts Auster into a state of high dudgeon. He has a dog in the fight, and he’s in a fury to get something off his chest:
What John Murray Cuddihy called the “ethnic-specific animus of Freud and Eastern European Jewry generally against Gentile civility” had moved from the esoteric world of the academic literary culture into the world of mass entertainment.
The anti-WASP campaign has been even more pronounced in drama and suspense genres, where it has also intensified over the decades. In every episode of the 1970s detective series Columbo (written by Steven Bochco, later the producer of such flamboyantly decadent programs as L.A. Law and N.Y.P.D. Blue), the slovenly ethnic hero exposed a cool WASP patrician as a murderer. The ethnic-specific animus, partly concealed as a class animus, remained relatively low key, even humorous; the murder was never performed on camera; and Columbo’s prey remained polite if increasingly irritable, even as Columbo zeroed in on him.
If you get Auster’s references, this is great pop-culture and social criticism, apart from some minor quibbles I have. Auster tosses the “WASP” thing around in a way that suggests he doesn’t know what it means. As I recall (with slight exaggeration), the high-class villain in Columbo was usually played by Patrick McGoohan or Jack Cassidy. But the observation that ethnic animus was concealed as class animus – ahh, that’s pure gold! In fact, the ethnic animus was doubly concealed, because Jewish actor Falk is unaccountably wearing an Italian name. Why couldn’t the character be Steinberg? Bad optics? They didn’t want a wiseguy Jew trying to get a jump on his betters? Larry Auster could really have gone to town with that.
But if you’re coming to this cold, and you don’t know the Columbo series because you were in boarding school then, or because you grew up in Ulan Bator, you might be completely lost here. Auster assumes that everybody knows what Columbo looks like, hence he doesn’t describe him or tell you that he’s played by Jewish actor Peter Falk. You’re supposed to know that. Lieutenant Detective Columbo is an unkempt, shifty-acting guy with a glass eye, a wrinkled old trenchcoat, and in-laws in Fresno. He’s also a crashing bore. Typically the first three-quarters of each hour-long episode has the upper-class suspect condescending to the detective with ill-concealed disdain, but then – bingo! – the snooty guy drops a revealing bit of information, and Columbo suddenly has him dead to rights.
It’s all as predictable as a child’s fairy tale or a Roadrunner cartoon: You always know how it’s going to turn out. It’s this cartoony, formulaic aspect that requires a high-caste tycoon or professor to face off in each episode against scuzzy little Detective Columbo. It’s simple, shallow entertainment; we can’t read deep motives into the casting. I don’t think Auster was honestly bothered that Columbo was formulaic, with the villains as elegant high-caste types. What bothered him was that the scriptwriters and producers didn’t see their ethnic-animus subtext. Or worse, they did; they deliberately put it in there and thought they were getting away with it because they were disguising the title character as an Italian.
But enough of Columbo. Warming to the theme, Auster tells us that the “WASP” type soon became the stock villain for television and film writers of the Bochco persuasion:
Just twenty years later (i.e., 1970s-1990s), the anti-WASP animus in film and TV had evolved into a formalized demonology. The cold-hearted, inhuman WASP – the WASP as super-Nazi – has been a regular fixture in one suspense/action movie after another, providing second careers for such middle-aged actors as Donald Sutherland and John [sic] Voight. In the 1994 movie Outbreak, Sutherland plays a top US Army general with an inhumanly cold voice and sinister features, who turns out to be the leader of a monstrous conspiracy to kill thousands of American civilians with biological weapons. But never fear, Dustin Hoffman – the Jew now cast as action hero – and his brilliant black sidekick heroically foil the plot.
I said Auster had a dog in the fight; actually, he had two dogs. He’s defensive on behalf of real-life (not movie) WASP types, whom he considers honorable role models who should not be defamed as a class. But he’s also enraged, as someone of Jewish background, to find that there are so many Jews involved in this defamatory enterprise. He tells us of his father:
My Jewish father, who immigrated to America in 1923, always talked about how he came here to be an American. It wasn’t what we immigrants have done for America, but how great America was for taking us in. That was the ethos then.
Was it, now? A seasoned observer will read this and dismiss it as just so much glib pleading. But Auster honestly does seem to be baffled by the Jewish penchant for destructive, anti-American signaling. Don’t Jews realize – Auster wonders – that by tearing down American traditions and promoting “multiculturalism,” they’re acting against their own best interests?
In the lawless Third World America of the coming century, do Jews think they will be able to count on Dominicans and Chinese and Arabs and Mexicans to protect them from black anti-Semites? . . . Having acted all along on the ludicrous and hostile assumption that the white American majority is a potential neo-Nazi force that must be dispossessed, Jews will hardly be in a position to complain about real anti-Semitism when it appears among whites who have actually been dispossessed.
Dispossession and Moral Rot
Mention of “dispossession” puts me in mind of the late Wilmot Robertson, of The Dispossessed Majority and Instauration magazine. I sense that Larry Auster was heavily influenced by Robertson. There is the stalwart defense of the “white American majority” that built the country and holds it together – or at least did; there’s the close attention paid to the gradual demonization of Majority types in film and TV; and there’s that penchant for tossing off easy, breezy generalizations about social groups (Upper East Siders = Eloi) with little or no detail given.
There is also, I am sorry to say, something of a defeatist tendency in Auster. See how quick he was in describing the “Two Stages of Surrender” on the immigration debate. He assumed people would give up, despair, and never fight back. Abandon All Hope, It’s the Death of America! This was also Robertson’s attitude, and some other ancients I knew, e.g. William Gayley Simpson. And yet it was always reasonable to expect there would be many tipping points along the way, as the illegal-alien problem intensified. This is something Auster just couldn’t envision, back in the Reagan-Bush-Clinton era.
Where Robertson and Auster differ is in the latter’s religious dimension. Auster doesn’t see race dynamics as being primarily a problem of animal husbandry. (Just have more white babies and we’ll be fine!) Auster sees the issue holistically. He understands that race-replacement and cultural dissolution are just different aspects of the same thing, an all-consuming moral rot that has gradually come to permeate all our institutions; but which began with an abandonment of the Christian core of our culture.
So when he sums up his credo toward the end of the book, we get a jeremiad that is more radical and unexpected than anything that went before. Auster is talking to America in the 1990s, but he could just as well be denouncing the Jacobins in France two centuries earlier:
What must be understood and resisted is the secular-democratic consciousness in all its forms, whether they be called leftist, liberal, conservative, or even Christian . . . The core of the secular-democratic consciousness in all its forms is the deformation of the Christian religion into the Religion of Man. But that is only the beginning of the disaster. With the advent of multiculturalism and anti-racism, the Religion of Man has been further perverted into the Religion of OtherMen and hatred of ourselves. The secularization of the Christian West has thus ultimately led to radical alienation and race suicide.
Therefore, while there may be other, non-Christian ways of re-building a normal sense of peoplehood and racial identity among whites, I believe that the only way it can happen in the context of Western civilization is through the rediscovery of the classical and Christian understanding that we Westerners have lost.
In other words, citoyens, multiculturalism is au fond immoral and anti-Christian. That’s your problem right there, and that’s why it’s the path to national and racial suicide.
But is such a classical-and-Christian moral rearmament realistic? Possible? Who knows, it hasn’t been tried yet. But it’s bound to be more efficacious than the vapid, secularist anti-ethos of multiculturalism and civic nationalism. We already know about that. And that way madness lies.