In the most recent Claremont Review of Books, our good friend William Allen makes the important point that, when America invites immigrants to become citizens—as it is our long and proud tradition to do—we invite them not only to obey our laws, but to join in making the laws. We place the future of our country in their hands as we do in the hands of our own children. Can you think of a greater expression of that "honorable determination," as James Madison called it, "to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government"?
But to suppose that every Rwandan, or North Korean, or Frenchman who happens upon our shores, fine and welcome lad or lass though he may be, comes fully-equipped to govern our empire of liberty—this is no "decent respect for the opinions of mankind." This is madness, and political suicide to boot. As Mark Twain liked to remind us, just look at the bunch of yahoos, crooks, and bunglers in high places that come home-grown from our native soil! And that's after we already trained them.
So making citizens is serious business. In a government "of the people, by the people, for the people," it is the same thing as making statesmen—or at least congressmen, senators, governors, and judges. One might think that it would seem a rational and non-controversial policy to teach our new citizens about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, government by consent, limited government, the rule of law, constitutionalism, and the like. But don't tell our professional educrats. From that multicultural crew you're apt to hear the kind of thing a school board member said quite a while back at a meeting of the California School Boards Association: "We have children from all over the world. They want to learn about their own cultural heritage, not about the Bill of Rights."
There are many (most?) making educational policy in this country who firmly believe that American taxpayers are duty-bound to support the inculcation among American citizens (native and naturalized) of non-American cultural heritages, however antipathetic these cultures may be to American democracy. Headhunting anyone?
But Bill Allen is after bigger game. We should join him in the hunt. Don't get lost in the thickets.
The Summer 2003 issue of the Claremont Review of Books is on newsstands now. If your local news vendor doesn't carry it, please ask for it. Better yet, get a subscription to the CRB for your best immigrant friend. It will help make him the American you want him to be.