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Political correctness and the crisis of open borders
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
December 6, 2012

Originally published June 22, 2005

America has a de facto policy of open borders and virtually unlimited immigration along the southern border with Mexico.

Americans like to call the eleven million undocumented workers "illegal aliens," a curious misnomer. Theoretically, immigrants who come to America without reporting to the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (INS) and obtaining the requisite papers are breaking a law. However, a law on paper must be taken seriously by a society and meaningfully enforced by the state before that law has effectual existence. When only token enforcement of the law is performed as a game of political appearances and many city governments forbid their police to enforce immigration laws, the people will behave as though no law existed.

This is a "de facto" policy of open borders, because the policy in fact contradicts the ostensible policy of Congress.

How did this farce come about? Why does our political system require us to have immigration laws, but refuses to enforce them? Why are we politically incapable of either (a) openly admitting we have a policy of open borders, or (b) enforcing immigration law? What pathology is causing us to live in fantasy or to tell ourselves lies about our de facto policy of open borders? Why can't our political leaders speak honestly about immigration? Like much of our political theater, a combination of political correctness and special interests lies at the bottom our inability to have an honest, intelligent discussion about immigration.

In the days when men said there is "no law west of the Pecos River," plenty of state laws of Texas were on the books (West Texas had law, de jure), but the laws were not enforced (West Texas had no law, de facto). That is why "hanging judge" Roy Bean got away with boasting, "I am the law west of the Pecos."
    Judge Roy Bean of Vinegaroon
    Held high court in his own saloon.
    Fer a killin' or a thievin' or other such fracas,
    Bean was the law, out west of the Pecos."
    (The Law West of the Pecos, by S. Omar Barker.)
Whatever Judge Bean claimed, and whatever it was he was doing, it did not have much to do with law. Bean's operation more closely resembled a protection racket and an extortion trap than law.

Likewise, whatever it is the INS is claiming and whatever they are doing on our southern border, it does not much resemble enforcing immigration law. The game INS is playing can continue as long as powerful political interests in both parties like things as they are.

Democrats like unlimited immigration because they think they can manufacture new Democratic voters this way. Democrats have been doing this ever since Boss Tweed's party hacks introduced themselves to Irish immigrants as they stepped off the boat and recruited them as party members.

Powerful Republicans like unlimited immigration because they like cheap labor for their factories and cheap domestic servants for their homes. Republicans have been encouraging heavy immigration intermittently since the era after the Civil War when there was a labor shortage in running the factories and building railroads. This was briefly interrupted from 1920 to 1965 due to the "Jim Crow effect" when immigration was limited to quotas by national origin, which assigned the largest quotas to European nations. After 1965, both political parties reverted to historical type on immigration.

The benefits to special interests of unlimited immigration are easy to understand. Much more difficult to calculate is whether heavy immigration is, on balance, good for America. Intelligent conservatives are on both sides of this debate. Both pro-immigration conservatives and anti-immigration conservatives are making interesting and compelling arguments about immigration, and I can find no great flaw in either set of arguments.

The complex question has taken on new urgency because of the potential for terrorists and drug smugglers to filter into the country through the southern borders. Americans need to have an intelligent national discussion on immigration, and every coherent voice must be heard. However, the discussion is blocked in many quarters by the taboos of political correctness. Before we can work our way through to a national consensus on immigration, we must understand the taboos that are blocking the conversation.

Guilty history and political taboos

Recently, a remarkable op ed piece was written in my local paper about political correctness. The author was Andrew Oldenquist, professor emeritus in philosophy at Ohio State University. Although I disagree with Dr. Oldenquist on many subjects, his comments on political correctness were so wise and clear that they approached what rationalist philosopher Descartes called "intuitions of pure reason."

Oldenquist began by pointing out that Germans are the most politically correct people in the world. Traumatic memories about the Nazis have impelled the Germans to fashion a set of politically correct rules against any word or deed that is reminiscent of something the Nazis said or did. German law allows unrestricted abortion on demand of babies that are healthy and normal. However, abortion of a radically deformed baby is forbidden because the Nazis practiced euthanasia and disposed of deformed children. Germans are embarrassed by patriotism and nationalism because Hitler abused patriotism and nationalism.

We Americans are following suit. Just as Germans are frightened of doing anything the Nazis did, many Americans are frightened of doing anything that will open them to accusations of racism. Just as Germans are uneasy about their Nazi past, many American are uneasy about their racial segregationist past. Oldenquist described in several particulars how political correctness, impelled by a fear of charges of racism, has crippled efforts to think clearly about education and improve public schools in the inner city.

Bad dreams

America still is haunted with bad dreams from the long racial nightmare in our past. "O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams" (Shakespeare's Hamlet). There is still plenty of white guilt and black bitterness hovering in the ether to give us bad dreams and hinder conversations that impinge upon race. Meanwhile, the left has discovered that the accusation of racism can be a powerful substitute for reasoned argument.

Several years ago, I wrote an essay on the problems of open borders. Not a single point I made was challenged, but four black men, all personal friends or acquaintances, accused me of racism. My rejoinder was that gratuitous insults are cheap, but responding to serious debate points with reasoned arguments requires mental effort and integrity.

But it was to no avail, of course. The accusation of racism had scuttled the conversation. None of my accusers would explain if they were in favor of open borders, and if so, why. They conveyed to me that for some inexplicable reason, I had violated a taboo for broaching the subject of immigration and being critical of open borders. How this amounted to racism was never explained, of course.

I recall the dark irrationality of this incident as a bad dream. However, it furnished me with a textbook case of how political correctness closes down conversation. Our political leaders hate to talk about our open borders because they fear the accusation of racism. They are nervous and timid because they have bad dreams about the racial past of America.

The banana peel of political correctness

The race card is only one peel on the banana of political correctness. Other peels include feminism, the gay agenda, abortion, multi-culturalism, and hostility to the European cultural past. One might slip on any of these banana peels if he attempts to explore and communicate forbidden ideas. For example, Larry Summers, President of Harvard, slipped on the banana peel of feminism, and the columns of Harvard fell on him. He broached the subject of gender in a manner that violated the taboos of political correctness, and the campus feminists went into a hysterical rampage.

When the subject comes to immigration and open borders, the race card is the show stopper. How can we get around this irrational barrier, so we can have an honest national discussion about immigration? It won't be easy. Bad dreams of black bitterness and white guilt are still so oppressive to the national psyche that we might have to wait for another generation to pass, so that no living human can remember the American system of apartheid that was quaintly called Jim Crow.

On the other hand, complete honesty about America's racial past might help to thaw the stubborn ice that prevents real communication from passing through our politically correct censorship. If we can truly understand the complex and baleful curse of what racism was in America, we can learn to laugh at the frivolous accusations of racism flying around in the air and see the agenda of identity politics for what it is.

Jim Crow

Jim Crow was the name of a little black boy who danced to entertain white people in Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stow. Subsequently, a dancer playing a Jim Crow stereotype sometimes appeared in black-face minstrel shows. Curiously, these shows were very popular in the North, but despised in the South. Jim Crow became the symbol of racial stereotypes and the name of the American racial apartheid system of the twentieth century.

The racism of Jim Crow towns in the twentieth century was different in kind from the racism under slavery. This is a vital distinction, because some people who are alive today remember Jim Crow attitudes or have parents who remember them. Therefore, most of the present racial guilt and resentment comes from memories of Jim Crow and not from historical reports of slavery in southern states, which ended in 1865.

Historically, there have been at least four distinct kinds of racism: (1) Racism under slavery, (2) Jim Crow racism, (3) Welfare State racism, and (4) Postmodern racism. Let's take a look at each.

Antebellum racism

Racism under slavery had three main ingredients — (a) nativism, (b) commodification of human beings, and (c) the overseer system.

(a) Nativism. Nativism arose as part of the eighteenth century German romantic movement and became popular in the antebellum (before the war) South. Nativists believed that a mystical force rising from the soil binds together a racial group of people into a common culture and mystical folk group with qualities of kinship. The unique identity of the people in a folk group came not from universal qualities of man, but from the unique culture they shared. The presence of an untouchable caste like slaves intensified the feeling of romantic solidarity of the white brotherhood that is "native to the soil." The phrase "blood and soil" evoked powerful emotions among nativists. The slaves who actually toiled the soil were looked upon as permanent resident aliens. Nativism still existed in the twentieth century, of course, but had faded considerably since the heyday of nativism in the antebellum South. Nativism had only a secondary effect on Jim Crow-style racism.

(b) Commodification. When slaves are bought and sold in slave markets, the buyers and sellers value them for their dollar value, which is determined by supply and demand. Their intrinsic worth as human beings is forgotten during the rough handling and brutal calculations of the slave market. The slave is reduced from personhood to the degrading status of a commodity. In a TV show of the late sixties, a former heir to a plantation was thrown together with a former slave. The former slave asked, "How many slaves did you have?" The former Virginia planter said, "I don't rightly know. I was not in charge of the inventory." Thinking of a slave as a useful object instead of as a man is a form of racism endemic to slavery.

(c) The Overseer System. Slavery was increasingly inefficient compared with free enterprise in the early nineteenth century, and this was especially true in the Northern and border states. Then Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Suddenly, the cost of processing cotton fell sharply and the demand for Southern cotton for export to the textile factories of New England and Great Britain skyrocketed. However, there was not enough cotton grown to meet the demand, and there was a severe shortage of field hands to pick the cotton. The laborious manual process of picking cotton was a bottleneck in the otherwise efficient process of automated ginning to remove seeds, automated spinning to create thread, and automated weaving to create cotton cloth.

Rich investors bought huge plantations along the Mississippi River where the land was cheap and river transportation of bales of cotton to New Orleans and world markets was available. The tycoons of the new plantation empires went to the slave markets with orders for thousands of slaves. The price of young, strong field hands was greatly inflated. Slave holders in Northern and border states began to sell their slaves in large numbers. Being "sold down the river" (i.e. down the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers for sale to large plantations) was the bitter experience of many slaves. Many slave families were dissolved by the terms of the sale, the logistics of their transfer to new owners, and the realities of labor on the new plantations.

Massive selling of slaves down the river over a few decades resulted in a "whitening " of Northern and border states and a "blackening" of the deep South. This set the stage for the psychological and cultural alienation of North and South that led to the Civil War.

The huge cotton plantations on the Mississippi were not run by the planters as they often were in Virginia. They were run by hired overseers. Slave quarters were situated a great distance from the planter's mansion. This was very different from My Old Kentucky Home, a song written by Stephen Foster, a white Northerner, about the nostalgic love of a slave for his home. As Foster sat on the veranda of his friend's home in Bardsville, Kentucky, he was fifty yards from the little cabins where the slaves lived. As Foster sipped his mint julep in the twilight, he romantically fantasized about how the happy slaves love their cozy little cabins.

However, not even Foster could find anything romantic to say about the isolated slave quarters in the Mississippi plantations. Since the slaves were out of sight, the planters did not know if the overseers were kind or cruel, and in many cases did not want to know. The hired overseers had no chivalry or genteel manners like the old planter class, but were closer in type to prison wardens. The new plantations were essentially prison systems, and the work was done by black chain gangs driven by the whip.

The isolated field hands fell in status and became untouchables because they were alienated from society. Prior to the rise of the overseer system, slaves occupied the bottom rung of the social hierarchy, but at least they had a place within the social community. As a result, slaves often rose to be the "straw boss" for a work team and sometimes were trusted as plantation foremen. A senior house slave might even become a "major domo" (majorus domesticus, appointed head of the house) and virtually rule the great house. They could bully the slaves of lesser status and scold the white folks if they were late for dinner or had bad table manners. Such promotions did not come to a field hand under a hired overseer. Such slaves were pariahs and outcasts from society like prison chain gangs condemned to hard labor for life. They were like lost souls in existential despair in a room with a sign over the door that says "No one gets out alive."

"O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams."

Jim Crow racism

In 1920, a half century after the Civil War, large numbers of white farmers began buying tractors. Black sharecroppers had mules, but mules could not compete with tractors. Sharecroppers could not pay rent in cash, so they paid by sharing one third of their crop with the land owners. They did not have the cash flow or financial leverage from owning real estate to qualify for a bank loan to buy a tractor.

Beginning in 1920, economic pressures began to force blacks off the land by the millions. They flooded into the towns and cities, resulting in great anxiety for the white folks of the towns. The municipal governments began to zone the towns to have white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods. Blacks could come downtown during daylight hours to buy and sell, but were required to return home by sunset. Each town had a black and a white drinking fountain, a black and a white restaurant, and black and white schools.

On the positive side of the scales, a small black professional middle class emerged in the black neighborhoods to provide leadership. The leadership of the black clergy was particularly vital. The black middle class did not desert the people in poor black neighborhoods as they often do today. The black community had social solidarity and a vibrant community life.

Unfortunately, young black men learned violence in the Jim Crow system. Contrary to rumors of white paranoia, black slaves and sharecroppers prior to Jim Crow were mostly peaceable and longsuffering. Unfortunately, Jim Crow towns did not allow backs to have their own police, and the white police were often negligent in enforcing the law in black neighborhoods. A black could be arrested for jaywalking in the white part of town, but get away with brawling in the streets in black neighborhoods.

This contradiction encouraged white stereotypes. When my mother was a child, she remembers venturing in curiosity to the edge of a black neighborhood. In those days the neighborhood boundaries were clear enough to have an edge. She observed violent acts from a distance and carried those scenes in her mind for the rest of her life. She said with a shudder, "The white police won't go into those neighborhoods." The absence of police must lead to violence and all the horrors of anarchy. "O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams."

Such Jim Crow racism, stemming from fear of violence, consisted of (a) racial stereotypes, (b) Darwinian racial theory, and (c) economic snobbery.

(a) Racial stereotypes. Racial stereotypes were particularly acute during the Jim Crow era (1920-1965). Part of it was mental laziness. Imposing categories by caricature is an easy way to impose superficial order over the surface of a living complexity. The black-face minstrel shows and Hollywood Step'n Fetchit stereotypes did not help. If the whites had read more literary classics, they would have had more understanding of the complexity and contradictory nature of man and would be less interested in cartoon caricatures.

Racial stereotypes also had roots in the human psyche and the punishing demands of the social community. According to psychologist Karl Jung, some people cut themselves in two to win social respectability. Those parts of the self that are socially approved are crystallized in the "personae," which is presented to the public. Those parts of the self that are rejected are hidden in a cellar of the subconscious and formed as a complex called the "shadow." Most people work hard to convince themselves that their personae is their real self and their shadow does not exist. This fiction cannot be sustained unless they project the shadow upon others and attribute to them the despised qualities of the shadow. If an apartheid system offers a ready-made class of socially disreputable people, it is easy to create stereotypes so the white community can cast their dark shadows on the stereotyped people.

Finding a socially approved target for the shadow provided psychological relief for whites, but made the white dominant class secretly dependent on the black underclass. The blacks discovered they could use this power to manipulate the whites. But the price of entry into this game was to learn to act out the stereotype. In time, it became as difficult for blacks to stop acting out the stereotype as it was for whites to stop thinking in stereotypes.

Jim Crow towns were like dysfunctional families that keep acting out the same threadbare script. Each person in a dysfunctional family is assigned a role to act out in the family drama. One child is the star, one is the dreamer, one is the good girl, one is the bad boy, and so forth. Stepping out of your assigned place is subversive to the family script. It throws the other characters in the story into confusion. When a black man in a Jim Crow town refused to act out the formula stereotype, he was accused of being "uppity" and was told that "he does not know his place." "Please cooperate and play your assigned role, and we shall all be one big happy family together. Right, boy?"

(b) Darwinian pseudo-science. Darwin's theory of evolution led to new racist theory that was widely circulated in America during the Victorian era. This pseudo-science became commonplace in Jim Crow towns. Many folks sincerely believed that white superiority was a scientific fact. As late as 1960, many Americans still believed it. President Harry Truman believed that blacks are racially inferior, but hated Jim Crow segregation on purely moral grounds. He integrated the military during the Korean War, not on practical grounds, but on moral grounds. This successful experiment contributed to the decline of Jim Crow.

(c) Economic snobbery. Economic snobbery and elitism in the towns led to white condescension towards poor blacks. As old middle-class black families steadily increased their economic and educational advantages over the poor black community, they drifted into economic and social snobbery. Malcolm X said that the black middle class of Harlem in the forties were very bigoted towards poor blacks. This was the beginning of a simmering black rage towards blacks who are rich, educated, and cultured and make no effort to meet the social and political expectations of the black community. Misguided black leaders subsequently taught poor blacks to regard successful blacks in the suburbs as "Uncle Toms."

Welfare State racism

The Jim Crow apartheid system petered out in the North during World War II and in the South during the 1960's. As the Northern factories were running overtime during the war and the white factory workers were in the military, blacks moved north by the millions to take the premium factory jobs. It was not just Rosie the Riveter who kept the factories going. It was also black sweat and muscle in the steel mills of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Gary, Indiana. This economic revolution brought forth extensive working class communities for blacks in large cities.

Jim Crow was busted in the North. But it lingered longer in the South, where social traditions were harder to change. Political pressure and anti-segregation laws helped to push the changes through. The Southern version of Jim Crow lasted until 1965. Jim Crow-style racism has been steadily fading during the last forty years. However, remnants of the old stereotyping still linger in the dark nooks and crannies of the culture.

Many middle-class blacks moved out of the inner city to enjoy the American dream in the suburbs. Working-class blacks failed to keep up with whites in higher education and new technology. Inner city families began to disintegrate and became dependent upon welfare. Black youths learned to run in gangs and subjected themselves in brutal conformity to the demands of deranged gang leaders.

The disastrous black slums of the Welfare State ignited a new moralistic, law-and-order racism in the North. At least the police were now trying to bring order to the ghetto, if at times a little too brutally.

Law and morality are vital to civilization, and black slums have a lot of lawlessness and immorality. However, the new racism incorrectly associates human wickedness with a race. Fallen man is extremely corruptible. The white slums of the London of Charles Dickens were shockingly depraved. According to the movie The Gangs of New York, NYC once had some of the most violent street gangs of all time. Sin knows no race.

The welfare state bred a new soft racism of low expectations. Black youth were granted the right to fail by virtue of being black. After all, they are the victims of racism. They were granted a free pass for their misbehavior. To blame them would mean "blaming the victim." But demanding a free pass and clinging to victimhood leads quickly to self-destruction. These ideas are as destructive to black youth as asking them to act out the Jim Crow stereotype. Our long racial nightmare goes on and on. "O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams."

Post-modern racism

The people who push politically-correct rules are the new racists. Their intimidation and manipulation of whites who are afraid of being accused of racism contains within it a stereotype of the white racist. It is important to understand all the virulent strains of historical white racism, so we can laugh at the silly postmodern caricatures of the racist.

The politically-correct commissars are prone to racism towards conservative blacks. Some of the leftist political cartoons about the scholarly Condoleeza Rice look like Jim Crow stereotypes. I have black liberal friends who regard conservative blacks as traitors to their race. I like to ask them, "Do you really believe in a cultural determinism that reduces blacks to cogs in a great machine, so that all blacks must believe the same thing? Black men are men, after all, and man has a nature that transcends culture. That nature includes reason and free will and the capacity to weigh and evaluate alternative political philosophies. To claim that blacks cannot be intellectual dissenters apart from personal corruption or weakness implies that blacks do not have reason and free will. This is racism by blacks against blacks, resulting from the confusion of identity politics." The black thinker who dissents with the popular political currents of the black community and defies political correctness evinces special courage and force of mind and will, not weakness or corruption.


The reverse racism of identity politics and political correctness has replaced reasonable debate with insults based upon foolish racial stereotypes. Politically correct mischief has prevented America from having an intelligent national dialog on immigration, education, and other vital issues. Hopefully, a fuller understanding of the complex kinds of racism that have haunted America's past will help expose the bogus reverse racism that underlies some of the politically-correct taboos of the left.

Then Americans will be able to discuss immigration and open borders without guilt, bitterness, emotional blackmail, or political intimidation.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison


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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31