12 November 2005

Absorption

"A nation, in that sense, is like a very large extended family. Now, in the great settler nations, such as the United States and Australia, which experienced continuing, periodic immigration, the cultural element in nationhood has been much more important than the ethnic element. Even though the new immigrants arrived bearing existing cultural heritages, they went through a process – partly automatic, partly conscious policy – that assimilated them into the existing cultural identity of their new nation. The entire English-speaking world, unlike the bureaucratic European Union (EU), is designed to both assimilate and retain their immigrants’ private cultural and ethnic identities from their past lives. Hence, while immigrants were assimilating into the culture of the United States, there was a second process going on as well: the national identity of the host country was assimilating influences from the immigrants’ ethnic cultures.

Because of this great absorptive capacity and ability to turn immigrants into Americans in a relatively short time, America is not naturally a multicultural society. It has an enriched common culture that draws upon different cultures to produce a distinctive mix in which members of the society have common memories and allegiances. They can look back to the same heroes and sing the same songs, and from that everyday culture they draw ideas, emotions, and memories that they can exchange easily with one another. Such a civilizational society is quite different from multiculturalism, which asserts that numerous cultures should remain distinct within the society and that assimilation involves surrendering an important part of one’s soul. The English-speaking world, by contrast, is open to these cultural influences, which means that newcomers are not only able to adapt to it but also are able to retain enough of themselves not to feel that they are surrendering their souls. The society that emerges from such a process – when it is well done – is a relatively stable, effective one that unites people.

Immigration, of course, always creates problems for both host and immigrant. For example, when large numbers of Irish Catholics began to immigrate to America in the nineteenth century, they were seen by most Americans, who were Protestants, of course, as incompatible with the nation’s liberal political traditions… In fact, the history of almost all American immigrant groups includes a period of "ghetto" ethnicity followed by assimilation and absorption into the wider society.

Thus it seems likely that in order for absorption to work, a society must have either moderate, steady immigration, which makes assimilation possible, or periods of great immigration followed by pauses in which the country absorbs and digests those who have arrived."

[Entire Citation: "The European Challenge to American Power" by John O'Sullivan, American Outlook, March-April 2001]

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