The University Bookman


Winter 2017

Editor’s Note

Conservative Thinking on Immigration

The recent executive order from President Trump concerning immigration has caused controversy noticeable even by the unusual standards of this most unusual administration. The question of immigration concerns profound questions of who we are as Americans, and what our culture and society represent both to citizens and to those who wish to come here. As Ross Douthat has recently written, we are facing a clashing of narratives: “the real American past was particularist as well as universalist. Our founders built a new order atop specifically European intellectual traditions.” Americans were settlers of a new world, rather than immigrants from the old. For numerous reasons that narrative has faded in preference for one that takes the language on the Statue of Liberty to be the animating force behind “who we are”: immigrants bound to little more than an aspiration to be liberated from a bigoted past.

Unfortunately, debate over immigration is often innocent of any knowledge of history, culture, or demographics, and proceeds almost solely on the basis of the immediate political points to be made. To remedy this lack of serious thought, The University Bookman has invited a number of distinguished conservative scholars to consider how conservatives should think about immigration.

Although the contributors differ in emphasis and, likely, policy prescriptions, some common themes emerge. The first is that America has a unique heritage: we are a nation committed to the truth that all men are created equal in political life, as David Azerrad explores in his reflections on the Declaration of Independence. But our equality is not the abstract Lockeanism that is prized by both the progressive left and the global capitalist right, in which we are seen merely as independent egos and consumers. Rather, we live in actual communities in the real world. These communities differ from one another and the people in them have the responsibility to maintain the goodness of these communities for ourselves and our posterity as our Constitution provides. But as Brad Birzer shows in his reflections, the personal experience of Americans, virtually all of whom descend from immigrants, cannot be discounted and must be integrated into the wider debate of how we treat newcomers. Indeed, Birzer makes the provocative point that nationalist restrictions on immigration is in fact a progressive innovation, and one inconsistent with American experience.

This leads to a second commonality, one that was once obvious but seems to have been almost forgotten: not everyone has the right to immigrate to the United States, and it is an appropriate exercise of sovereignty to think carefully about which immigrants to allow in; this is what Daniel McCarthy refers to as the “proxy war” over immigration, which reflects deeper divisions. This means that our immigration policy must be oriented around the good it does for America and Americans, as Yuval Levin suggests, and also a renewed emphasis on assimilation. Richard Reinsch refers us to the helpful work of Harvard immigration economist George Borjas, which has analyzed both the positive and negative effects of large-scale immigration on American workers.

America is a rich and welcoming country, and it should continue to be so, but we must welcome immigrants into a political society that values our country and its political and cultural traditions above those of others, as Bruce Frohnen discusses in his essay. Peter Lawler reminds us a republic is bound together by loyal citizenship, which avoids xenophobia and also rejects a kind of universal citizenship. Without that notion of republican citizenship, political society crumbles and must be kept together by bureaucratic tyranny and an imperial-type government.  

Gerald J. Russello

Posted: February 6, 2017 in Editor’s Notes.

Did you see this one?

The Third Road
Felix Morley
Volume 4, Number 1 (Winter 1964)

Real progress consists in the movement of mankind toward the understanding of norms, and toward conformity to norms. Real decadence consists in the movement of mankind away from the understanding of norms, and away from obedience to norms.

Russell Kirk, Enemies of the Permanent Things, 1969


Subscribe & Follow


More from the Bookman!

book cover book cover book cover

Remember the Walking Dead
Timothy D. Lusch

Untethered Revolution
Scott Beauchamp

Literature as Counterculture
Allen Mendenhall

The Enigma of the Black Republican
Kareim Oliphant

One Hundred Years of Communism
Francis P. Sempa

The Ambitious Intellectual
Ann-Michele Sproviero

book cover book cover book cover

Bookman Contributors Elsewhere

John Lukacs —the great contemporary historian has pieces in both Chronicles (on being surrounded by books) and First Things (on a displaced pianist).

Joseph Bottom on fraud, American-style.

Andrew Bacevich on the end of endism.

Helen Andrews on the moon landing and the 1970s. Helen (a 2017 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow) wrote one of our most popular pieces, a consideration of the anti-suffragettes.


We are pleased to announce the release of The University Bookman on Edmund Burke, now available for Kindle. Collecting 21 reviews, essays, and interviews from the Bookman on the life and thought of Edmund Burke, this book is only $2.99, and purchases support our ongoing work to provide an imaginative defense of the Permanent Things. (3 Mar 2015)

Other Sites of Interest

Publisher Sites


Copyright © 2007–2017 The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal