The New Nativism

By Glassman, James K. | The American Enterprise, May 2006 | Go to article overview

The New Nativism


Glassman, James K., The American Enterprise


Guess what these developments have Gin common?

* Immigration is quickly becoming the number-one issue of the 2006 Congressional campaign.

* CAFTA, an innocuous trade agreement with five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, last year passed the U.S. House by just one vote.

* Although there was no national security threat, Congress stopped the proposed purchase of Unocal, a California oil company, by CNOOC, a Chinese one.

* An uproar stopped a globally respected company based in the United Arab Emirates from taking over terminal operations in six U.S. ports--despite approval of the deal by intelligence agencies and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

* Sentiment for a huge tariff on Chinese goods is running strong.

All are examples of the New Nativism, a reaction to globalization that shuts doors and limits access to what's foreign: people, goods, services, even ideas. It has thrived over the past decade in Europe with the rise of anti-immigrant parties and figures like Jose Bove, the French Farmer who campaigns against McDonald's and genetically modified foods.

While the U.S. has always been, in John E Kennedy's words, % society of immigrants, each of whom had begun life anew," nativism has flared off and on since the Alien Acts of 1798. Samuel E B. Morse ran for mayor of New York on an anti-Catholic nativist ticket in 1836. He lost. So did Millard Fillmore, who ran for President in 1856 on the nativist National American (formerly Know-Nothing) party ticket while antagonism toward Irish and German immigrants ran strong. After World War I, the Ku Klux Klan, with some 5 million members, revived nativist sentiment briefly.

Now nativism is back. Why? In her 1998 book, The Future and Its Enemies, Virginia Postrel argued that the world can be divided between people who fear the future and either want to manipulate it (technocrats of both U.S. parties) or retreat into the past (rightists like Pat Buchanan and leftists like Ralph Nader), and people who embrace the future, ardently or implicitly. Postrel calls these embracers "dynamists;' and I suspect they comprise the vast majority of Americans.

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