Canadian Hordes

15 March 2004

Waiting for the Canadian Hordes

By Gwynne Dyer

Dr Samuel P. Huntington, chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies and co-founder of ‘Foreign Policy’ magazine, is like a dog that has only one trick: we’ve all seen it before, but he won’t stop doing it. We’re going to have to stop giving him biscuits.

Dr. Huntington’s trick is to identify some alleged new threat to US security, dress it up in academically respectable language, and inflate it to bursting point. He did it in 1993 with his essay ‘The Coming Clash of Civilisations’, which warned Americans that the Islamic hordes were coming from the east while the Chinese hordes were growing to the west. It did very well in US national security circles, where people whose jobs were endangered by the end of the Cold War were urgently looking for some new threat to justify their pay-cheques.

He recycled the article as a best-selling book in 1996, and the book enjoyed a whole second life after 9/11, but now it’s time for a new threat. This time it’s the Mexican hordes coming from the south. In the most recent issue of ‘Foreign Policy’, he poses the question: “Will the US remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant culture? (Or will) Americans acquiesce to their eventual transformation into two peoples with two cultures (Anglo and Hispanic) and two languages (English and Spanish)?”

Don’t confuse Dr Huntington with the foul-mouthed bigots who usually rant on about the Mexican Peril: his usual habitat is Harvard University’s dreaming spires, not some redneck drinking establishment on the wrong side of town. But his article, ‘The Hispanic Challenge’, is a trailer for his new book ‘Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity’, and one suspects that his definition of ‘We’ does not include African-Americans, Muslim Americans, or Mexican-Americans. In fact, it doesn’t really even include Catholic Americans.

Dr Huntington is not exactly predicting that Mexican-Americans will grow into a permanent Spanish-speaking minority as important as French-Canadians in Canada, with a territorial base in the Southwest, a culture that profoundly diverges from the traditional white, Protestant culture of the United States, and the political clout to impose bilingualism nationwide. He’s just warning about it, that’s all (and he’s too cunning to court charges of extremism by suggesting specific policies to avert this dreadful fate).

It would be a waste of time to go through his arguments piecemeal, but a couple of examples will convey the style. He admits that the share of Mexican immigrants in current US immigration is lower than that of Irish immigrants in the period 1820-1860 or of German immigrants in 1850-1870, but insists that the danger is greater now because Mexicans won’t assimilate.

Then he quotes a study showing that over 90 percent of second-generation Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles speak fluent English and that over 60 percent of them speak either no Spanish or worse Spanish than English, but promptly frets that “with the rapid expansion of the Mexican immigrant community, people of Mexican origin would have less incentive to become fluent in and use English in 2000 than in 1970.” Yes, they might, but where’s your evidence? There is none; just false parallels, unsupported conclusions, and a lavish use of the conditional mood.

Yet there is more to Huntington than just cynical careerism; you sense a genuine cultural and racial panic in what he writes. He talks of the “distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers” as “the bedrock of US identity”, and lists its key values: “the English language; Christianity; religious commitment;…the rule of law, including the responsibility of rulers and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, a ‘city on the hill’.”

Anybody who does not live in the United States would reel back in disbelief at the arrogance and naivete of that list, as if France and Japan didn’t have the rule of law and the work ethic, or as if the British and the Spanish couldn’t really manage democracy because so few of them ever go to church. But Dr Huntington seems genuinely to believe that what most other people see as human values are uniquely American values, and that people who aren’t white, Protestant Christians and don’t speak English have no access to them.

He really ought to get out more. He might start in a small way by visiting Canada, which takes in proportionately twice as many immigrants as the United States, picking them by rules that give every region of the world an equal chance. As a result, about a quarter of its immigrants are Chinese, and Chinese is already the third most widely spoken language in Canada. Old-stock Canadians, whether English- or French-speaking, seem remarkably unalarmed by this, and most non-white Canadians will tell you that they live in a less racist society than the one next-door.

If nothing else came out of his Canadian trip, Dr Huntington would come home with two good ideas. One is how to solve the ‘Mexican problem’: open up America’s doors to immigration from all over the world at the same per capita rate as Canada, and Mexican immigration would quickly shrink to relatively insignificant proportions. Alternatively, when he needs a topic for his next scare book, he could write about the hordes of black, brown and yellow Canadians, some of the French-speaking, who are about to inundate the United States from the north.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 9. (“Yet…them”)