Immigration and Assimilation
Victor Davis Hanson is to be commended for another outstanding analysis of America’s de facto policy of “mass immigration without assimilation” (“France’s Immigration Problem—and Ours,” Spring 2006). His 2003 book Mexifornia puts the blame where it belongs, on the collusion of elites from the multicultural Left to the libertarian-corporate Right. Interestingly, both in France and in the United States, popular opinion is sounder than elite opinion. The majority of the French people stand with Interior Minister Sarkozy’s “France: love it or leave it” approach and the majority of Americans prefer the House enforcement efforts to various McCain-Kennedy amnesty-lite proposals emanating from the Senate.
I propose three ideas for Professor Hanson to accept or reject. First, border enforcement only and no discussion of amnesty, guest workers, etc., for two years. After two years, if the border is secure, we could begin to listen to (but not necessarily agree with) different cheap-labor proposals. Second, instead of a one-time amnesty let us try a methodical “attrition” strategy. This would require that we steadily and consistently enforce the law, particularly against employers. Over a period of time, the market will work, jobs for illegal aliens will dry up, and many will leave voluntarily. At that point, we should decide what to do with the remaining smaller number. Since the change would be gradual, the economy would not be unduly affected by a sudden elimination of cheap labor. It took years to reach the figure of 12 million illegal aliens; it might take years to get the number down. Moreover, immediate “mass deportation” is a phony scare tactic; it is not necessary, and no one is seriously suggesting it. But merely by enforcing the law, steady attrition over time could work.
My third proposal concerns patriotic assimilation. We must end the practice of American dual citizens voting in two countries. As Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote, “Taking an active part in the political affairs of a foreign state by voting in a [foreign] political election involves a political attachment and practical allegiance thereto which is inconsistent with continued allegiance to the United States.”
I am not surprised that Victor Davis Hanson cuts through the self-congratulatory rhetoric that Americans typically adopt when discussing immigration. Moreover, I find myself in broad agreement with his policy recommendations: especially his opposition to guest-worker programs, his rejection of proposals to deport the 12 million illegal immigrants in our midst, his consequent support for amnesty for those individuals—coupled with strong enforcement measures including increased enforcement manpower, enhanced physical barriers at the border, sanctions on employers hiring illegal immigrants, and, finally, vigorous assimilation programs.
It is Professor Hanson’s analysis of our immigration problems, on which those recommendations are based, that I strongly disagree with. Eager to draw instructive parallels between Muslims in France and Latinos in the U.S., Hanson paints with far too broad a brush. Indeed, given the questionable basis of his analysis, I wonder how much confidence he has in his own recommendations.
For example, despite his humane and prudent opposition to the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants, Hanson argues that those illegals live in “segregated communities” and “comprise an entire underclass without sufficient language skills, education, or familiarity with their host country to integrate successfully.” Yet this is clearly not accurate. To be sure, many illegal immigrants—along with many legal ones—do not speak English and are poorly educated. But they hardly live in “segregated communities.” The fact is that illegal immigrants live with and among legal immigrants. Many illegals are married to legal immigrants. Many others have children who are American citizens. In fact, of the 6.6 million households in which either the head or the spouse is an illegal (altogether totaling 14.6 million people), about one-third include at least one child born here in the United States. Such numbers are precisely why any deportation policy would be so wrenching.
Hanson also suggests that illegal status is a bar to intermarriage. Again, he offers no evidence. But this seems unlikely, since Mexican-origin individuals and Latinos generally are marrying outside their groups at rates comparable to those among European immigrants during the 20th century.
A final point relevant to Hanson’s comparison with Muslims in France is his failure to mention the significant movement of Latinos here and throughout the Western Hemisphere away from Catholicism and toward evangelical Protestantism. Indeed, about one-fourth of U.S. Hispanics are now Protestants. Observers such as Samuel Huntington are not wrong to view this as a significant indicator of assimilation to American values. There is reason to believe this is how Latinos themselves see this shift.
The fact is that the United States remains a strikingly open and absorptive society—for illegal as well legal immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants own their own homes. They are joining labor unions. Indeed, in Southern California they have been the backbone of a revived labor movement. Many illegal immigrants are graduating from our high schools and are now demanding reduced tuition to our public universities. Yet because many Americans are put off by the tone in which such demands are often made, we tend to overlook the good news about assimilation that lurks beneath the noise and controversy. Certainly, Hanson ignores these trends.
In his book Mexifornia, Hanson wrote of American popular culture’s complicated impact on Mexican immigrants. On the one hand, it overwhelms the racial and ethnic boundaries that insulate Mexicans from the wider society. On the other hand, it does so by fostering and then pandering to crass appetites. Democratic culture is at work here, but not the sort that leads to broader civic awareness or engagement.
Hanson also seemed mindful in his book that assimilation is, as Norman Podhoretz once put it, “a brutal bargain” that is painful and wrenching for all involved. These negotiations are such that it is difficult to predict how things will turn out, which is why Hanson is right to be concerned about signs of dependency among Mexican immigrants and their offspring. But some perspective is needed here. He is right that second-generation Mexicans have strikingly elevated high school drop-out rates—much higher than among American blacks. Yet the evidence is that this pattern reflects an eagerness to go out and join the workforce, indicated by the high labor-force participation rates among young Mexican-Americans.
But though single-parenthood and male delinquency and crime rates are higher among Mexican-origin individuals than native Anglos, these figures are still much lower than among black Americans. That may be faint comfort, but the fact is that the jury is still out on Mexican-American social and economic mobility. Most observers have found that while there is progress from immigrant parents to their offspring, it is less than what we saw with European immigrants during the 20th century.
The final twist about assimilation is one that Hanson points to in his article, but then ignores. It concerns our unreasonably high expectations for immigrant mobility. As Hanson puts it, “near-instant parity for all is taken to be the only benchmark of success.” But when Hanson himself notes with concern that “less than 10% of [Latinos in California] over 25 have bachelor’s degrees,” he too seems guilty of exaggerated expectations—especially since only about one-third of native whites over 25 complete four years of college.
I appreciate Victor Davis Hanson’s effort to engage the immigration issue without sentimentality. But his realism seems to cut in one direction more than the other. His concerns about illegal immigration are broad and exaggerated, but also inattentive to the fact that much of what troubles him about illegal is true also of legal immigrants.
Chestnut Hill, MA
In this season of massive urban marches demanding (often with Spanish-language signs) the unlimited right to violate U.S. immigration law, Victor Davis Hanson provides an illuminating and unflinching exploration of the topic. The fast-growing population of a linguistically and socially alienated underclass is less menacing, he concedes, than the violence-prone French Muslim neighborhoods. But he takes seriously the reconquista sentiments still heard from Hispanic ethnic chauvinists in the Southwest, and has a special talent for making visible the dead-end outcomes awaiting so many, the aging as well as the high school dropouts, in the illegal underclass. Hanson, with deep roots in the Central Valley, is a restrictionist and a pro-immigrant one. His policy recommendations are 90% sound—no guest-worker programs, resolute border control, interior workplace enforcement, and deep distaste for yet another amnesty. Yet he also suggests an increase in Mexican visas to 100,000 a year—a special deal for one country that will stir up demands for similar favoritism for Canada, perhaps also the Philippines and post-Castro Cuba, and lead us back onto the trail of national origins discrimination that we were so proud to repudiate in 1965. But 90% is an A- grade for Professor Hanson, and on making sense about the future of the American Southwest he has no peers.
Otis L. Graham
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA
The prolific Victor Davis Hanson’s commentary never fails to arouse, but does it truly inform? Hanson is concerned that the United States might yet come to resemble France in hosting an angry, unassimilated, and anti-establishment ethnic minority with dire consequences for American civic culture and identity. To bolster his case and your fears, Hanson cites the fantasies of “the radical agenda of the most vocal ethnic separatists” and the remarks of a few minor California officials. They see southwestern America as part of Mexico, and our Mexican-Americans, as Mexican first, and American, if at all, decidedly last.
By all means, let us expose and block these pernicious assaults on our civic culture. But let us not confuse a small minority with the majority. The larger question is how to foster an emotional attachment to this country. America has traditionally made the bet that it could leverage immigrant self-interest into genuine attachment. It has won this bet in large part because Americans demanded it and government, civic organizations, and industry supported it. No longer. Cheap labor trumps civic tutoring. Adding potential voters trumps concern with American national identity. Civic organizations encourage and fund “home” country identifications in the name of “welcoming,” and making new immigrants feel at home—their former home—while living here. Foreign governments are quick to see the benefits of having hundreds of thousands of their nationals become American citizens, send home their earnings, and establish a beachhead for the home country’s policy preferences.
Political leaders of both political parties, from the president on down, stand mute before this crisis, either unaware or unconcerned. Securing the border is a crucial step; so is immigration law enforcement. But to avoid France’s fate we will have to have a real public discussion about immigration and our national identity.
If not, we will devolve into two countries, but not the haves versus the have-nots about whom Mr. Hanson worries. Rather, the country will be divided into a smaller core that maintains its emotional connections to the country for more than instrumental reasons, and a large group who are in it, essentially and primarily, for what they can get.
City University of New York
New York, NY
Mr. Hanson’s account of the negative connotations surrounding the term “La Raza” is mistaken. The term refers to all the peoples who have spoken Spanish since the time of the Spanish Empire, but is now less popular for obvious reasons. It doesn’t really refer to a race but to a cultural group that includes many races.
I don’t see how Mexican immigration, legal or illegal, is going to cause the same tensions that Muslim immigration has in France. All I see is hard-working people whose children try desperately to integrate, many times at the cost of forgetting the Spanish language. Groups such as MEChA don’t seem to me representative of the vast majority of immigrants. When you visit California you see Americans (many of whom also speak Spanish). As with any new group of immigrants, there are some tensions and anger at being considered different. But after a few generations, they are integrated and proud of being Americans. The Muslim religion and culture, on the other hand, are obstacles to integration in any Western country. The Catholicism of Mexican immigrants is not.
Angeles Martinez de Carvajal
Holly Springs, NC
Victor Davis Hanson replies:
I appreciate John Fonte’s characteristically insightful suggestions. I agree that border enforcement must precede all other deliberations. As for his second proposal, our government did, in fact, once employ his notion of “attrition.” At least, that seems to have been what those green “migra” vans of my youth were doing as they scoured the countryside for illegals. But I fear that if such patrols returned to catch the unwary, we would drive the rest even deeper into the shadows. My own sense is that allowing illegal aliens to stay while applying for citizenship is a useful bargaining chip in winning a closed border. And I agree that dual voting, which encourages conflicted loyalty, should be eliminated.
Peter Skerry should spend some time in California towns like Parlier, Mendota, San Joaquin, or Orange Cove, then persuade us that those places are not apartheid communities.
He confuses the issue of assimilation in regard both to my CRB essay and to what I outlined at greater depth in my book Mexifornia. The problem is not that assimilation of illegal aliens per se has failed, but that the pool of illegals is now so large (and growing each year) that a permanent underclass of individuals remains without English, legality, or education. In theory, if the problem is not to exist in perpetuity, we would have to assimilate hundreds of thousands each year in order to outpace the hundreds of thousands arriving annually from Mexico. For each illegal alien who advances beyond a “dead-end” job, another arrives—unlike the large 19th-century influxes, which were periodic rather than unending, not to mention largely legal. I don’t think it reveals an “exaggerated expectation” to lament that four out of ten Hispanics of all statuses, legal or not, first generation or third, are not graduating from high school; that one-fourth of illegal-alien households in California are currently on public assistance; or that 15,000 illegal aliens are in California penal institutions alone.
Prof. Skerry also doesn’t consider the pernicious effect of illegal immigration on the Mexican-American community at large. When legal and illegal immigrants wrongly become conflated, strange things happen, such as offering affirmative action to new arrivals on the theory they have experienced historical discrimination by virtue of being from Mexico. (Apparently quite unlike, say, recent legal immigrants from the Punjab.) Even more Orwellian, we extend affirmative action to upper-middle-class Hispanics, supposedly to redress statistical ethnic imbalances in income and education—themselves skewed in part because of the huge presence of illegal aliens.
I thank Otis Graham for the A-. I offered the figure of 100,000 legal entrants from Mexico each year as a supposition. It is far smaller than either the present illegal influx or the number often mentioned in the proposed guest-worker program. Reasonable people can debate the right numbers once the idea of legality has become established. That being said, I think criteria other than family ties such as education levels, knowledge of English, and specialized skills should matter for admittance to the U.S.
I’m not sure where Stanley Renshon disagrees with my argument, since his concerns echo my own about the social and cultural consequences of a large population of unassimilated illegal aliens, whose otherness tends to serve the particular interests of the Mexican government, worker-short employers, and ethnic tribalism. By assimilation I mean not only the acceptance of the values of American society, but a belief in its exceptionalism, past, present, and future. When an illegal alien becomes lawful, obtains a high school diploma, speaks English, and accepts the protocols of American culture—and hundreds of thousands do—the Mexican government usually loses a source of cash, the employer a low-paid, hard-working plum picker or cement layer, and the Chicano activist a victimized constituent in need of some sort of collective redress. The present system, after all, did not emerge in a vacuum, or without supporters.
As for Ms. Carvajal’s remarks, imagine the following inversion: “Angeles Martinez de Carvajal’s negative connotations for the term ‘the Race’ are mistaken. It doesn’t really refer to a (white) race but to a cultural group that includes many races (German, English, Dutch, etc.).” I suspect that should there appear a white lobbying group with the appellation “National Council of the Race,” an appalled Carvajal would be the first to reject just the sort of sophistry she employs here.
I agree that most Mexican immigrants eventually do assimilate, especially when they come legally and in moderate numbers. So I challenge Carvajal to support a proposition in which in exchange for allowing most illegal aliens to stay while they seek citizenship, she would agree to close the border, thus precluding a further influx of hundreds of thousands. Such a willingness would dispel the suspicion that there are, in fact, quite an influential group of Mexican and Mexican-American activists who find the sheer numbers of illegal aliens conducive either to their own political agendas or to some reassuring romance about the emergence of a mythical Aztlán. As I said, the present system did not emerge in a vacuum.
Reclaiming the Courts
Richard E. Morgan has written one of the most straightforward, bold, damning, and courageous explanations of how the Rehnquist Court failed to do its constitutional duty to interpret the Constitution in the manner authorized by the American people themselves; and in particular, how Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter continued the unbridled judicial arbitrariness of Chief Justice Warren and Associate Justice William Brennan (“The Failure of the Rehnquist Court,” Spring 2006). Through his brilliant doctrinal analysis, Morgan has rendered a signal service to those of us in the academy who still care about the Constitution and the rule of law. He ends his piece with a plea directed at Justices Alito and Roberts to ignore what might be said about them by the Harvard Law Review or the New York Times, and, instead, to set about the task of recapturing the Constitution’s original understanding as an expression of popular will rather than a license for judicial legislation.
Given Justice Kennedy’s expected tergiversations as he succeeds O’Connor as swing justice, however, real change in the Supreme Court will not happen until Justice Stevens retires (the smart money believes this will happen soon) and is replaced by a justice closer to Scalia or Thomas (whom Morgan quite properly calls “superb”)—say, for example, Edith Jones from the Fifth Circuit, the choice of right-thinking Federalist Society members, Wall Street Journal editorialists, and judicial conservatives.
Should President George W. Bush have the courage to make that pick (which his father eschewed in favor of the disappointing Souter), the Senate Democrats led by Charles Schumer, Edward Kennedy, and Patrick Leahy will attack Judge Jones or someone like her as possessing an improper “judicial ideology” and being “out of the mainstream” of contemporary jurisprudence. If there is a fault in Morgan’s piece it is his failure to address this issue.
The notion of “judicial ideology,” which surfaced in the hearings held by Senator Schumer during the brief period when the Democrats controlled the Senate in June 2001, was apparently the brainchild of law professors Cass Sunstein (then of the University of Chicago, most recently at Harvard) and his colleague, Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe. Sunstein and Tribe advised the Democrats to argue that the Courts always ought to have a “balance” of judicial ideologies, and that it was important to make sure that believers in the “original understanding” school of constitutional jurisprudence were “balanced” by those who adhered to Justices Warren and Brennan’s notion that the Constitution was a “living document,” the meaning of which changed as Justices reconceived it in line with the changing needs of a dynamic society. This was a rhetorical masterstroke, inasmuch as “balance” always sounds good, suggesting restraint, temperance, and wisdom. Alas, however, “balance” in this context is misleading and amounts to the “balancing” of right and wrong, an enterprise in which we should never be engaged.
Edith Jones, or someone like her nominated to replace a retiring Justice Stevens, will need the support of a slowly increasing group of scholars such as Professor Morgan who understand the true needs of the rule of law and of constitutional government itself. Their work in combating such result-oriented advocates of judicial activism as Sunstein and Tribe will determine whether the Court will return to the framers’ conception of constitutional interpretation and republican self-government, or whether we can expect another generation of judicial usurpation of the people’s sovereignty.
Stephen B. Presser
School of Law
Richard E. Morgan makes a persuasive argument that the Rehnquist Court utterly disappointed conservatives who expected that a newly invigorated constitutional jurisprudence would roll back the excesses of the Warren and Burger Courts. In many ways, the Rehnquist Court extended the reach of liberal jurisprudence in such notoriously bad cases as Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Lawrence v. Texas. Despite this massive failure to reclaim the Constitution, Morgan still seems cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a conservative revolution on the Court. “Conservative constitutionalists,” he writes, “are deeper intellectually and tougher politically than they were 20 years ago.” Morgan doesn’t say who these “constitutionalists” are, but presumably they include the Supreme Court’s newest appointments, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Yet nothing in their confirmation hearings suggested intellectual depth or political toughness, though each proved adept in the technical niceties of constitutional law. Both will probably drift to the left of Justices Scalia and Thomas, though precisely how far leftwards is impossible to predict. Neither is likely to demonstrate intellectual prowess when it comes to articulating and defending constitutional principles—the only appropriate ground for a conservative constitutional revolution. Their jurisprudence seems to agree with that of Robert Bork: the Constitution is a procedural document indifferent to ends or purposes; it is merely a text without principles and must be understood, above all, as an expression of positive law.
On one crucial issue, Morgan agrees with the liberal constitutionalists. He writes that it is a “myth” that the 14th Amendment commands “colorblind policy.” For more than 20 years leading liberal scholars have labored to prove that Justice Harlan’s dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson was wrong-headed. After all, if he were right and the 14th Amendment required a colorblind legal system, then there would be no room for racial set-asides and quotas.
The framers of the 14th Amendment frequently said that the amendment was an attempt to complete the principles of the founding, to bring the Constitution at least into formal harmony with the principles of the Declaration. Color-conscious policies such as affirmative action treat an accidental feature of the human person—race—as if it were an essential feature. If rights can be conditioned by race, then “equal protection of the laws” has no meaning, because the rule of law will encompass the arbitrariness of race. The 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection—understood as equal protection of equal rights—should be the mainstay of any conservative jurisprudence. It is the fundamental principle of the rule of law itself.
Edward J. Erler
California State University, San Bernardino
San Bernardino, CA
Richard E. Morgan replies:
There is no one working in the field of constitutional studies today from whom words of praise are more welcome than Steve Presser.
To Ed Erler I can only say, with the greatest regret, that he is wrong. The historical 14th Amendment did not embody Justice Harlan’s principle of color-blindness, although I have never doubted that it should have. It is something approaching a national tragedy that it has not been added to the Constitution by amendment, replacing the 14th’s radically deficient and equivocal provisions. Instead, the Supreme Court has been left to wing it, re-engineering the equal protection clause again and again, attempting to explain why you can discriminate on the basis of race in some situations but not in others.
Debating Intelligent Design
I am puzzled by my friend Harry Jaffa’s objection to my Wall Street Journal essay on Intelligent Design, since I agree with his central argument: there is “nothing in Darwinian theory that excludes the possibility that natural selection is the means by which God created the species” (“Who Owns the Copyright to the Universe?,” Spring 2006). Evolution rules out the possibility that God created each species one at a time but it does not rule out the possibility that God designed natural selection, infused mankind with a soul, or presides over an afterlife.
My objection to Intelligent Design is not that no Designer could exist, but that the advocates of Intelligent Design produce false arguments to support that Designer’s existence. Their argument is that some biological phenomena display such “irreducible complexity” that evolution could not have produced them. As teams of biologists have shown, this is false. I.D. proponents are entitled, as is everyone else, to believe in God, but they are not entitled to create a misleading test of His existence. I doubt that I am “behind the curve” on this matter, since the National Academy of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all said the same thing.
As the federal court in Pennsylvania showed in its lengthy opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover, I.D. supporters repeatedly argue that facts prove God’s existence and thus evolution must be wrong. The court struck down the school board’s requirement that I.D. be taught, on the grounds that this rule violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. I have some trouble with how courts interpret that clause, and no doubt Professor Jaffa does as well, but the clause, amply if sometimes weirdly supported by many Supreme Court decisions, governs public schools.
I tried in my essay to distinguish between two meanings of the word “theory.” In one case, a theory is a scientific prediction that can be tested by facts. In the other, a theory is an assertion based on faith or speculation. Darwinian evolution is a theory in the first sense, one that is amply supported by facts even though it cannot say very much about the existence of God. Intelligent Design is a theory in the second sense. Its advocates, like the Discovery Institute, wish “to defeat scientific materialism” and replace it with “the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.” (I quote from the Discovery Institute’s “Governing Goals.”)
It is true that a debased and incorrect view of evolution was once used to allege that blacks are inferior. But a debased and incorrect view of religion has also been used to support dictatorial regimes. Evil exists, and we must defend human dignity against it. And even evolution can teach us something (but not everything) about what is good. Our human experience leads us to acquire a moral sense even if we are neither religious nor scientific.
James Q. Wilson
Harry Jaffa asks “Who Owns the Copyright to the Universe?” and suggests it probably isn’t the federal government, much less a low-level district judge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Last winter, Judge John Jones ruled that mentioning Intelligent Design in the Dover, Pennsylvania, science classroom was impermissible. Many assume the ruling merely protects Darwin’s theory of evolution from faith-based challenges in that school district. But the Supreme Court settled that issue 19 years ago. Judge Jones reached much further. He and men like James Q. Wilson insist that nature provides not “a shred of evidence” for design, and then set about denying students and teachers the freedom to discuss voluntarily not only design arguments in biology, but even design arguments that appeal to the Big Bang or the fine tuning of the laws of physics.
Intelligent Design is much broader than biology. I.D. holds that some features of the natural world are best explained by reference to an intelligent cause rather than to purely material causes. The idea stretches back to ancient Greece and has been updated by 20th-century discoveries in physics, cosmology, information theory, and the information revolution in biology. New evidence has reinvigorated it, and that’s why some who oppose the idea want to minimize discussion of it. What’s the solution? Don’t mandate Intelligent Design. Don’t label it a thought crime. Prof. Jaffa has the right prescription: mandate intellectual freedom.
In his thoughtful essay, Prof. Harry Jaffa rightly notes that “nothing in Darwinian theory…excludes the possibility that natural selection is the means by which God created the species.” Indeed, were this not so, we would expect all the world’s great religions to be lined up against Darwinian theory, which is hardly the case.
I take it that Jaffa’s point is that the actual scientific claims of Darwinian theory are irrelevant to the large questions of human purpose and the human good. Even if billions of years of mindless matter in motion produced earth and some billions more produced man, the nature of man is independent of, and supersedes, the apparently unintentional character (a “cosmic accident,” according to Stephen Jay Gould) of his creation. Although Jaffa may well be right philosophically, what seems to me incontestable is that over the past century-and-a-half Darwinian theory has eroded the claims of human dignity, human nobility, and free will. Certainly, many of the practitioners of modern science have reached just this conclusion.
Regrettably, in defending (a kind of) intelligent design, Jaffa, like many of those he criticizes, fails to recognize that there is a genuine scientific debate over the tenets of Darwinian theory. I do not mean the notion of descent with modification, an idea that precedes Darwin himself, but the claim derived from the 20th-century’s neo-Darwinian synthesis that random mutations in the human genome combined with natural selection can account for the diversity of the living world. Biologists and chemists with respectable academic credentials challenge the argument that environmental selection pressures operating on random copying errors in the DNA molecule can produce fantastically complex molecular machines. Mathematicians calculate the unrealistically low probabilities for the events presumed by Darwinian theory, even over long timescales. Information theorists raise doubts about the power of random mutation and natural selection to account for the vast growth of complexity and information content in living beings since the first simple cell. Physicists and others point to the amazing “fine tuning” of the universe: the laws and constants of nature seem to be precisely what they have to be for life to exist.
Jaffa writes that “Aristotle says that whatever can come to be by art—that is, by intelligent design—can also come to be by chance—that is, without an artisan or designer.” Imagine, however, exploring a wilderness and coming across Mount Rushmore (an example sometimes used by Intelligent Design theorists). No reasonable person would conclude that random patterns of erosion just happened to produce a striking resemblance to four famous American presidents. Even if one could compute the infinitesimally small likelihood that unguided natural forces produced the patterns on Mount Rushmore, this likelihood would be so low as to compel the conclusion that some intelligence was indeed the cause. One track in the Intelligent Design argument explicates the mathematical basis for distinguishing chance occurrences from those caused by an intelligent actor.
The keepers of the Darwinian orthodoxy have succeeded, unfortunately, in convincing many that there is no genuine scientific debate over these matters. We are told that the debate is really one between modern science and biblical literalism, or, somewhat more charitably, that the debate is a metaphysical one outside the ken of science. Yet ever since the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species serious scientists have challenged the adequacy of mutation and natural selection to account for the living world. Serious scientists still do.
Joseph M. Bessette
Claremont McKenna College
Harry V. Jaffa’s essay on evolution continues to miss the point of the controversy. He says that “those claiming exclusive sovereignty for what they consider the method of science in the curricula of our schools…fail to realize how limited is the understanding aimed at or achieved by this method.”
Most of the advances that have made possible the present world of plenty have relied on the Scientific Method. That method, as universally defined, requires evidence and not conjecture, and that method of discovery has been and continues to be the source of science’s power as a way of thinking about the world.
To be sure, there are always lots of ideas without sufficient evidence yet that are floated around by research scientists looking for answers, but they must be accompanied by scientific evidence before being taken seriously. The word “evidence” has a specific meaning in science; it does not mean speculation about possibilities.
The crime here is to teach unsophisticated children Intelligent Design in a class called Science. Teach it anywhere else, but not to children whom we are supposedly teaching how to think as scientists do.
Prof. Jaffa’s article is a testament to his lack of understanding of the Scientific Method. If he thinks it is “limited” he might try to develop another method that can be used to understand the universe. Whatever its limitations, scientists invented it, and they use it because all other ways to understand the universe have failed so far.
Harry V. Jaffa replies:
I can only commend Jonathan Witt for his letter, and urge our readers to take it with the greatest seriousness.
I am however puzzled that Jim Wilson is puzzled at my objection to his Wall Street Journal essay. It was not clear whether his dictum that there was “not a shred of evidence” applied to both Intelligent Design and the Designer of that design. My essay intended only to insist upon intelligent design, leaving open the question of whether that design existed by some inherent necessity of its own, or by the will of an intelligent designer. I believe that students in public schools, or any schools, ought to be exposed to the evidence of the advocates for Intelligent Design, at the same time that they are exposed to the arguments of fundamentalist Darwinians.
Wilson says that the “advocates of Intelligent Design produce false arguments to support the existence of the Designer.” That however does not mean that there are not arguments that are not false, for the existence of the Designer. The conflict between arguments on this subject ought to be debated openly, if need be before the students. Wilson’s ipse dixit, however authoritative, is no substitute for the free examination of this subject.
Much of Wilson’s letter is devoted to shoring up the claims of genuine science against religious propagandists who don’t want the biblical faith of young people undermined by the teaching of evolution. But the days of the Scopes trial are over. There is now no longer any question of whether evolution can be taught. The question now is whether any critique of evolution can be taught. The aura of intolerance has changed sides.
What is at stake is more than the fate of biblical religion. What is at stake is American constitutionalism’s moral and legal foundation. Darwinism may proceed as Wilson contends, upon strictly scientific premises. But its conclusions remain hypothetical, and they extend only to questions of how the species, including the human species, became what they are. But being and becoming are different. How a thing became what it is, is a different question from what it is. The first chapter of Genesis and the Declaration of Independence—with their references to Creation and Creator—assume the order of being that we can see with our own eyes. The equality of mankind is self-evident; that is, its truth is known a priori to anyone who can recognize the difference between a human being and a dog, and see why legitimate authority arises from nature in the latter case, but not in the other. This self-evident truth conveys at the same time the reason why legitimate authority among human beings arises from the consent of the governed. From this, in turn, follow all the essential elements of what is properly meant by political freedom and the rule of law.
The attempt, inherent in Darwinism, to reduce man’s humanity to the outcome of a blind struggle of material forces denies, in effect, the ground in nature and reason of man’s personal and political freedom. In this, Darwinism is only one of many attempts to confine the science, or sciences, of mankind to what can be known by a method through which the behavior of human beings can become as predictable (and as controllable) as the behavior of mindless matter, or of subhuman organisms.
Evelyn Berezin accuses me of not understanding the “Scientific Method” which has given us our “present world of plenty.” I can assure her that I appreciate fully what modern science has done for (in Bacon’s words) “the relief of man’s estate.” No one can be more grateful than I for the miracles of modern medicine. The method she celebrates is rightfully credited with increasing astronomically man’s power over the forces of nature. But it has certainly not increased in the least man’s wisdom to match the increase in his power. In fact, the false belief that the same method that has increased man’s power can also increase his wisdom has led to ever greater but ever more fruitless efforts to turn the social sciences into natural sciences.
I am more grateful than I can say for Professor Bessette’s wise and deeply informed letter. I welcome his correction regarding the “genuine scientific debate over the tenets of Darwinian theory,” a correction that I believe I have already made in my reply to Prof. Wilson, in which I rejected his “no shred of evidence” and called for open debate on the whole question of both Intelligent Design and Intelligent Designer. Prof. Bessette has given both me and Prof. Wilson a bulletin on how biologists, chemists, physicists, and mathematicians are examining the possibilities and probabilities of a Designer for the many and manifest evidences of design. For that I am grateful, and am hopeful that Prof. Wilson will be also.
Diana Schaub has read Harvey Mansfield’s Manliness carefully and thought deeply about what she considers to be possible implications of his position (“Man’s Field,” Spring 2006). In sum, as she notes, he advocates that “we should continue to insist on gender neutrality [in public and under the law], but in private there should be a more honest acknowledgment of gender differences, and yes, even the truth of sex stereotypes.”
Schaub then states her reservation about this position: “I don’t see why the triumph of Aristotle in private [i.e., acknowledgment of gender differences] would not eventually undermine our official stance of gender neutrality.” And yet, at least with respect to political candidates, the clock is not going to be turned back. Today women in the United States can be political candidates. I cannot imagine that the time will come when American women will no longer be allowed to be political candidates.
As New York Times columnist David Brooks recently reminded us, “all politics is thymotic,” or spirited. Even if men have an edge over women in developing their thymotic tendencies, as Professor Mansfield suggests they do, women are perfectly capable of developing their own in order to become political candidates. Couldn’t the Yale female undergraduates mentioned by Schaub become stay-at-home mothers and then go to law school later in their lives, as Phyllis Schlafly did at the age of 51 (“Queen of the Grassroots,” Spring 2006)?
Thomas J. Farrell
Diana Schaub replies:
Yes indeed, women will continue to run for political office and the polity is not about to disenfranchise women. However, we shouldn’t be surprised if there continue to be fewer women than men in the halls of power. In 2006, only 15% of the members of Congress are women. Moreover, it is a very revealing fact that a significant number of the women who gain office do so upon the death of a spouse or, occasionally, a father. In effect, they inherit office rather than gain it solely by their own thumotic, ambitious efforts. Since 1923, congressional widows (who almost never lose a special election) have accounted for one-fifth of the women who have served. By contrast, only one widower ever sought his wife’s seat, and he lost. Despite their inherited incumbency, widows often decline to seek reelection. Perhaps women really are of a more retiring, irenic disposition.
Mr. Farrell suggests that after their child-bearing years, women could pursue the polemical life (law school, political candidacy, and “developing their own” thumotic tendencies). It is true that post-menopausal women are a force to be contended with, as we know from the stereotype of the old “battle-axe.” It may be that as women age, their sphere of life should quite naturally expand, although we shouldn’t be surprised if the issues that most concern political women remain domestic ones, as the example of Phyllis Schlafly confirms.
Being critical of Israel is not always anti-Semitism, as Mr. Tartakovsky implies when he writes, “As Gutmann says, nearly every evil of the last three centuries—racism, apartheid, militarism, colonialism, fascism, ethnic cleansing, genocide—is routinely invoked against Israel. These are not so much criticisms of policy, mind you, but of Israel’s existence….” (“Pictures Worth a Thousand Lives,” Spring 2006). A double standard is justified if you expect more from a democratic Israel than you do from the corrupt tyrants that surround it.
Is not Israel’s problem that it has consistently misrepresented its intentions in the occupied territories, by using security as a pretext for expropriation and annexation? It is because the Israeli position has been and remains fundamentally dishonest, not because of Palestinian propaganda, that Israel is losing the media battle.
London, United Kingdom
I can’t help thinking Joseph Tartakovsky’s review of The Other War amounts to the vaudeville joke question, “Who you gonna believe—me, or your own lying eyes?” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to believe that the entire lousy, degrading, horrific, and sad Israeli human-rights record was engineered by an inscrutable and “shameless” Arab demagogue named Yasser Arafat (standing in, in classic Orientalist style, for a moustache-twisting Fu Manchu)? But even if stone-throwing orgies during the Intifada were organized by the Palestinian Authority so that they could be videotaped by Reuters, my question to you is: did the Israeli army really have to bring live M-16 ammunition to the party?
Joseph Tartakovsky replies:
In response to Mr. Iloniemi, I did not imply that “being critical of Israel” is “always anti-Semitism.” Ariel Sharon has been critical of Israel, for one, and judging by their unruly politics, nearly all Israelis seem critical of Israel in one way or another. I agree that there is a double standard. But it’s not only Europeans and Americans who demand more from Israel. Israelis themselves expect that their elected leaders will not behave like the kings, mullahs, and presidents-for-life who rule the rest of the neighborhood.
But when a “critic” begins ranting about colonialism, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing, I suspect something else again. If one believes that Israel is a colonialist entity, does this mean that Israel must be decolonized and the land restored to someone else? If one believes that Israel practices apartheid, does this mean its government should be abolished like the apartheid regime of South Africa? If Israel now commits ethnic cleansing, might NATO have to bomb in the Holy Land, as in Serbia, to halt it? (If you believe Israel deserves bombing, NATO probably won’t help—but you may have a champion in Iran.)
If Mr. Robinson believes Israel is so intent on “expropriation and annexation,” I wonder how he explains the fact that Israel just relinquished Gaza to the Palestinians. This met a decades-old demand of the Palestinians—and how did they respond? By electing Hamas, the party of theocracy and terror, which yearns for a new round of holy war. Which side seems more committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict?
If Mr. Wilson doesn’t sympathize with the Israelis, fine, but why the cheap sarcasm? He seems to dispute that the Palestinian Authority had a hand in organizing the Intifada. But who do you suppose those masked fellows are with the uniforms and AK-47s? Who pays their salaries? Who buses schoolchildren to riots? Who prints those martyrdom posters? Sneering doesn’t hold up well against the facts, and here’s one: last month, more Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians than by Israelis.
Correction: In the spring 2006 CRB, Prof. Ralph Lerner’s letter to the editor was erroneously abridged. The complete letter is reprinted below.
Behind Benjamin Franklin’s carefully wrought graven image there lurks “a serious thinker who, though he wore a leather apron, philosophized not with a hammer but a joke.” So argues Jerry Weinberger in his essay, “American Idol” (Winter 2005/06). The case is made with much evidence and glee in his challenging book, Benjamin Franklin Unmasked. He shows there that members of Franklin’s audience who are unprepared for, or tone-deaf to, the music of a master ironist will hear but half the score.
Weinberger’s Franklin observes the world with disenchanted eyes—a prefiguration of Plunkitt of Tammany Hall? But with this difference: each man’s closet nihilism is draped to suit his distinct private purposes. Your Boss-Fixer wants “More!” pure and simple. Weinberger’s Franklin, on the other hand, is in it for the pleasure of playing “the grand game of modernity.” As with chess, or with the construction of arithmetical magic squares and circles, or with charming and disarming conversation, he is good at it. He loves challenges and even more his success in mastering them, sometimes with subtlety but always with panache.
But does this reading account for, let alone do justice to, Franklin’s astonishing achievements? Can one leave it at his “apparent dedication to public service”? Even if he was an Olympic-class voyeur, amateur, and gamesman, these qualities by themselves leave unanswered the question, what did Ben really care about? Granted, he maintained a critical distance from any and every orthodoxy or heterodoxy. Partisans of Presbyterianism, family values, even Baconian science, could not or would not face the problematic character of their premises. Franklin did, and that was enough to keep him from getting carried away. But care he did. For America, first as the jewel in the imperial crown, then as a jewel in its solitaire setting. For Philadelphia, for which he labored tirelessly both before and after his retirement from business for its inhabitants’ security and quality of life. Turning to his sundry projects, this savvy man of affairs was well served by his clarity of mind. In confronting any particular situation, condition, or impasse, he steered clear of the commonplaces and certitudes that were the stuff of ordinary discourse. These, he thought, were less shortcuts to truth than barriers to understanding and peaceful resolution. Just about any ringing abstract claim invites its equally assertive counterclaim. The colonists’ claim of rights elicited the Parliament’s claim of its rights; the arguments used by Britain could as well—and as absurdly—be used (in a hoax) by the “King of Prussia” in reasserting his rights against the English descendants of his Saxon subjects.
Franklin’s famous “strategy of humility” aimed at getting people off their doctrinal high horses. With their feet more solidly planted on earth, they might now engage fruitfully with one another