As the Taliban forces America into submission , we wonder about our country’s claim to greatness. What has our global prosperity and power brought us? In Federalist 11, Alexander Hamilton excited his readers’ imagination for a world where America, by its example, would liberate oppressed and backward peoples from enslavement and savagery. In this way, a strong America is a civilizing force.
Hamilton spreads the revolutionary fire of the Declaration: “Africa, Asia, and America have successively felt [Europe’s] domination. The superiority she has long maintained has tempted her to plume herself as the mistress of the world, and to consider the rest of mankind as created for her benefit.”
The Declaration of Independence condemned the barbaric, British-inspired slave revolts of King George, but the new nation would constitute the greatest slave revolt in human history. “It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race,” Hamilton proclaims. “Union will enable us to do it.” On this point Lincoln would reassure Americans some 75 years later, and the 20th century has given further proof of America’s model and action for the world.
America once could show corrupt Europe, both its politicians and intellectuals and their American imitators, that only in the new republic can men show their true human selves. Contrary to the nonsense that in America “dogs cease to bark” free American air clears the minds and throats and allows human reason and speech to guide political life.
Although the immigrant Hamilton wanted future Americans from across the seas to come here and settle, he (as did the other founders) wanted citizens who respected and strengthened republican institutions. In other words, they didn’t want just anyone to come.
Today, three of Hamilton’s most effective supporters are the daughter and sons of Asian immigrants who, in various ways, would overthrow the critical race theory emanating from tyrannical German and French sources. These lively minds are the Filipino Chinese-American Yale law professor Amy Chua, Korean-American writer Wesley Yang, and Chinese-American journalist Kenny Xu.
Their arguments should inform today’s patriotic citizens, in particular those who are battling their local school boards and governments against the imposition of alien ideologies attacking the Declaration of Independence.
Before reading them, I had long thought that the best essay I had read on Asian Americans was Richard Rodriguez’s essay “Asians,” in his 1992 book Days of Obligation. Reflecting on his life in the “Chinese” city of San Francisco, Rodriguez makes trenchant observations about how identity is formed by people other than from one’s own tribe, in his case, Irish nuns and a south Indian relative added to his Mexican ancestry. In school he became Americanized and “ended up believing in choices as much as any of you do.” As a professor, his Asian students, because they were opposed to it, made him aware that he was putting too much emphasis on class participation. “Like most other American teachers, I equated intelligence with liveliness or defiance.”
In fact the entire essay, barely 16 pages, is a commentary on Jessica, Shylock’s treacherous daughter, in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Shylock is the despised Jewish financier of Venetian prosperity. Venice’s Christian businessmen mock him, while seeking low-interest loans from him. Shylock is content with this commercial relationship, but his daughter falls to the wooing of a young Christian lad and loots Shylock’s home, running off with the young man. Immigrant children, observes Rodriguez, become Jessicas, rejecting spiritual tradition and faith, while taking their fathers’ gold and then disappearing with other uprooting persons. “Foolish immigrant parents.” (An excerpt appears here.)
Each of the Asian authors mentioned above deals with the flourishing and thwarting of immigrant ambitions in America.
Amy Chua in her remarkable (and quite misunderstood) memoir—not about the superiority of Chinese parents but, as she says, “about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year old.”
In her vivid account of raising her daughters, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua captivated and horrified readers. She detailed with alternate glee and frustration her demanding approach to disciplining her young daughters to become successful musicians and model Chinese daughters. (An excerpt appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.)
Having now read the entire book, I see I had initially overlooked its literary qualities. (I had first heard of Chua when Patrick Buchanan praised her first book. Many scholars too, I add, approved of its observation about how ethnic conflicts shape national policies.)
The war story—a metaphor I adopt from the mom’s account—between mom and daughters (ranging from threats of starving to burning stuffed animals) and brutal music practice sessions—is deliberately appalling and, at least in parts, exaggerated. It is a book to be taken seriously though not always literally. It shows the toughest of tough love, and it seems she succeeded, at least according to the glowing profiles that emerge. (Today the older daughter, Sophie, having clerked for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, serves in the U.S. Army in the JAG corps, while the younger daughter Lulu attends Harvard law school.) Their father, Yale law professor, Jed Rubenfeld, occasionally intervenes in the book when the children blow up at mom.
Chua advises, “Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.” Chinese parents demand excellence. Often the Chinese approach gets results, while the Western often produces mediocrity and insecurity. (Later she admits that other immigrants have similar ethics. The cartoon version is seen here.)
We see Professor Chua’s comeuppance—and her becoming the student—when, in a kind of postmodern development, she and her daughters critique the book as it is being written; by then the kids are in high school.
Mother: “I refuse to buckle to politically correct Western social norms that are obviously stupid . . . I actually think America’s Founding Fathers had Chinese values.” That is, as Sophia rebuts, not a “totally Chinese way of thinking” but rather “an American way of thinking.”
Instead of hiding the book from the local politicians who want to discriminate against high-achieving Asian-American students, it should elicit admiration and not resignation from parents who might even be tempted to resort to bribery (or its close relative, political power) to get their kids into colleges they regard as socially acceptable. This Tiger Mother is what you’re up against, and she will devour you.
Patriotic activists might also get a mixed message from Wesley Yang’s 2018 collection of profiles, Souls of Yellow Folk. The title is deceiving, for we might think of it as a version of W.E.B. DuBois’s classic, Souls of Black Folk, but Yang’s “yellow” does not refer merely to race but to various forms of cowardice. He crafts discerning profiles (like a disgusting spectacle one can’t turn away from) of horrifying and often appalling people such as the Korean-American student mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho. “He looks like me . . . ”
And as to his identity, Yang also confesses, “I have never dated a Korean woman. I don’t have a Korean friend. Though I am an immigrant, I have never wanted to strive like one.” He notes, with some admiration, that Chua’s Battle Hymn is “a very American project—one no traditional Chinese person would think to undertake.” Yet the academic assertiveness, he notes, does not produce Asian-American prominence in the ruling class or even corporate management.
In exploring non-Asian topics, Yang portrays cowardice or reticence, a form of mikropsuchia or unmanly lack of ambition, in grotesque online sex sites, an internet genius who committed suicide when confronted for hacking the academic repository JSTOR, and finally, racial divisions over exploitative episodes—flyers with the message, “It’s OK to Be White” and indeterminate but actionable definitions of “white supremacy.” The calculated cowardice of school boards and local government produces an “intricate system of racial casuistry, worthy of Jesuits, . . . a beguiling compound of insight, partial truths, circular reasoning, and dogmatism operating within a self-enclosed system of reference immunized against critique and optimized for virality.” No friend of Trump, Yang is nonetheless a spirited voice for reason.
In An Inconvenient Minority: The Attack on Asian American Excellence and the Fight for Meritocracy, Kenny Xu has provided more reasonable (or at least less yellow-bellied) school boards and their energetic allies a comprehensive guide to how politics, culture, and the new “diversity, equity, and inclusion” ethic damage the futures of Asian-American students and employees.
The young author’s book details how Harvard (and other elite schools) craft policies that result in discriminatory practice against Asian-Americans in order to bolster more black, Hispanic, and favored white applicants. On academic standing alone, the Asians clearly prevailed over the others. The book as a whole is not about the cases but how the prejudices that led to Harvard’s approach are found in society in general. Asians are an “inconvenient minority,” which overcomes discriminatory barriers but fall prey to other, invidious practices. I have previously reviewed this book for Liberty Fund’s Law and Liberty site, but Xu’s understanding of “meritocracy” needs a defense.
Meritocracy in a republic requires loyalty to the regime, and in the American instance, an understanding of and action promoting the founding principles of equality and liberty. Compare what Aristotle says about officeholders: they must love the republic, first of all, and next perform their duties well, and finally be just and virtuous. Woke education attacks the first two in the name of a twisted notion of the third.
As Xu’s book points out, leading Asian-American academics already have adopted the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” ethic. His response, focusing on Asian-American super skills, is wanting. His overall argument needs to satisfy the patriotic and virtuous elements of citizenship in order to be part of Jefferson’s natural aristocracy. This would be a kind of populism needed to attach these great performers to their country. That would obliterate Harvard’s and other woke admissions policies that are subverting academia. Of course there are plenty of other changes required before Harvard and higher education generally can be made safe for democracy, but that can be the subject of Xu’s next book.
These resources and authors should be familiar to all Americans interested in giving the American democratic republic a vital future. Each answers Richard Rodriguez’s observations and gives advice that would produce more grateful Jessicas.
In antebellum America, The Merchant of Venice was the Shakespeare play performed most frequently. Jessica’s father Shylock initially wins his court case demanding a pound of flesh from his enemy Antonio. When, in Act IV, scene 1, the Venetian judge asks that Shylock relent from this barbaric demand, he replies,
You have among you many a purchased slave, . . .
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them: shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs?
. . . You will answer
‘The slaves are ours:’ so do I answer you:
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon your law!
There’s an even deeper tie of the Merchant of Venice to America: not just America’s conquest of the Jessicas so dear to immigrant fathers but America’s grappling with and ultimate rejection of slavery through its embrace of equality. That is another tale I’d like to relate sometime.