Nearly a year ago, National Review writer Kevin Williamson infamously declared that white, working class communities “deserve to die.” While the charge reverberated and appalled most who read it—particularly the white Trump supporters at which it was aimed—Williamson did not lose his job. He was praised and defended, and still writes for NRO.
Last week, another member of the privileged #NeverTrump class took aim at the historic American population. Bill Kristol, who recently smeared former American Greatness senior contributing editor Michael Anton as a Nazi, suggested at an American Enterprise Institute discussion with Charles Murray that white working class Americans are so “lazy, spoiled” and generally unsatisfactory, that they deserve to be replaced by “new Americans.”
Look, to be totally honest, if things are so bad as you say with the white working class, don’t you want to get new Americans in? Seriously, you can make the case—this is going on too long and this is too crazy, probably, and I hope this thing isn’t being videotaped or ever shown anywhere. Whatever tiny, pathetic future I have is going to totally collapse.
You can make a case that America has been great because every—I think John Adams said this—basically if you’re a free society, a capitalist society, after two or three generations of hard work everyone becomes kind of decadent, lazy, spoiled—whatever. Then, luckily, you have these waves of people coming in from Italy, Ireland, Russia, and now Mexico, who really want to work hard and really want to succeed and really want their kids to live better lives than them and aren’t sort of clipping coupons or hoping that they can hang on and meanwhile grew up as spoiled kids and so forth. In that respect, I don’t know how this moment is that different from the early 20th century.
Just before this point in their conversation, Murray had offered a much different perspective on immigration:
…Elite America was able to avoid any of the costs of immigration, whereas non-elite America was not able to avoid those costs, is a source of a great deal of the anger. And I will just add parenthetically that the one thing that I really changed my view on over the course of last year—I never warmed to Donald Trump and I am still not not warmed to Donald Trump—I have warmed to the idea that…we as Americans owe an obligation to our fellow Americans that should…I want to say “trump”…that should, should take priority over our loyalty to the world’s population and globalization, and so I am in favor of limiting low-skill immigration in a way that I was not in favor of it before, prompted in part by the kinds of issues implicit in your question.
Kristol immediately chimed in: “I’ve actually sort of gone the opposite way on immigration,” and launched into the tirade that got him into hot water last week—though, in my opinion, not enough.
Kristol gives vague citation to John Adams as inspiration for his sentiments about the need to refresh a degenerating democratic population. But it seems more likely that Kristol is taking inspiration from Plato’s argument about the degenerative nature of democracy and the cycle of regimes. Tocqueville, too, expressed skepticism about the ability of Americans to remain virtuous enough to govern themselves. It bears noting, however, that even in his darkest musings about the actions that tyrants might take against their own people, Plato never contemplated a tyrant so evil that he would seek to physically replace his own people every three generations.
While masquerading in the guise of an aristocratic plea to right the wrongs of degenerate modern democracy, Kristol’s recommendations remind one more of something from Machiavelli: a prince importing mercenaries when he cannot control or make use of his own citizens. (Though Machiavelli doesn’t even recommend this as a course of action, since mercenaries aren’t loyal to anyone.)
The problem is Kristol doesn’t seem to allow for any remedies for the plight of the white working class, and he doesn’t diagnose their problem as primarily one of citizen virtue. “We need immigrants who have more of the old-fashioned American virtues than lots of old-fashioned Americans,” Kristol said. One assumes that he means a work ethic. Surely Kristol doesn’t believe the only virtues are economic—does he? For that matter, is it really a virtue to be willing to work for wages artificially depressed through mass immigration?
In his discussion of how a prince can go about conquering a republic, Machiavelli observed: “For in truth, there is not any sure mode of possessing [such cities], other than to ruin them. But in republics there is greater life, greater hate, more desire for vengeance; the memory of ancient liberty does not leave them, nor can it let them rest—so the safest way is either to extinguish them or to live there.”
Whether it’s true that replacing the white working class with “new Americans” would really be good for the economic well-being of the nation as a whole seems to be an open question. But setting economics aside—would replacing a population used to liberty with one unused to liberty be good for the political well-being of the nation, assuming that self-government is a political good?
Whether democratic peoples eventually lose their capacity for self-government, particularly without careful devotion to piety and education, is a serious question. What is remarkable about the American working class today is in spite of the fact that, for decades, politicians and the education establishment have offered little to remind them of who they are, they still love their country and fellow citizens. Who has been there to teach them?
When it comes to historical memory, the white working class, despite all odds, hasn’t lost its devotion to the American nation. They loved it enough to vote for Trump in 2016.
The same cannot be said for our political elites. But just as working class Americans resist the idea of their grand replacement, so too does our intellectual class. Nevertheless, after two or three generations, the intelligentsia has become decadent, lazy, and spoiled. If things are so bad in Washington, don’t we want to get some new elites?