A Melting Pot of Dross
Are Hispanics really “natural conservatives”?
Every now and then, you come across a piece of news that leaves you asking, like Obergruppenführer David Mitchell, “Are we the baddies?”
The latest item for that dossier comes from the Pew Research Center. According to their latest survey, American-born Hispanics are more likely to identify with the “nones” than with the Catholic Church. Now, 43 percent of Hispanics are still Catholic. But it seems that, the longer one lives in the United States, the more likely one is to apostatize. America is corrosive to religious faith.
At first, it seems like another nail in the coffin of the “Natural Conservatives” theory. For those who don’t recall (and why should you?), some think-tankers used to believe that mass immigration from South America would actually be a boon to Republicans. Why? Because Hispanics tend to be more religious than white people. Their very presence in this country would give a much needed boost to the social-conservative movement. In time—and whether they meant to or not—Latinos would push the Overton window to the right.
The Natural Conservatives theory enjoyed its heyday under President Bush II, but seemed to die in 2016 along with any hopes for a President Bush III. It enjoyed a brief revival as the “Natural Integralists” theory, when Adrian Vermeule suggested that, once Hispanic-Americans and other immigrant groups reached a critical mass, our republic might be transformed into a Catholic theocracy. Alas, the Pew survey also seems to kill any hope for the Empire of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
And yet, even as Hispanics become less religious, they are also warming up to the GOP. Every year, a larger portion of Latinos are voting Republican. But why? The answer is simple: assimilation.
Of course, Latino-Americans aren’t exactly a novelty. The Spanish settled in Florida almost fifty years before the English landed in Virginia. Yet, because the United States has so long being dominated by white Protestants, Hispanics were often perceived as newcomers. We spoke of them as a distinct “wave” of immigrants. First came the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, and the Germans; now it’s the Hispanics’ turn.
Most sociologists predicted that the Latinos’ air of “other-ness” would quickly vanish, as it had done for the Irish and others. In time, they would become ordinary middle-class Americans. They would attend our public schools, serve in the armed forces, start their own businesses, and put themselves through college. They would watch the same television, listen to the same music, and read the same newspapers we do. Before long, names like Rodriguez would seem no more exotic than Murphy or Schneider.
That’s more or less how things are shaping up. Yet what is interesting is that, apparently, one can become more politically right-wing while also becoming more culturally liberal, broadly speaking. More and more Hispanics are joining the American “establishment,” and yet they’re not ditching their own traditions in favor of ours. They are just ditching their traditions, period.
In one sense, that’s kind of a well-duh argument. This new generation of bougie Latinos obviously wasn’t going to wear Brooks Brothers and join the Episcopal Church. That old idea of “American culture” died with the old WASP establishment. What is the “American culture” into which immigrants are assimilated? What does it mean to be Americanized? Who is the average American, in whose image and likeness these Hispanics are being remade?
Well, that’s exactly what these studies are telling us. By watching Latinos assimilate in real time (so to speak), we don’t learn only about Hispanic-Americans. We learn about the American people as a whole.
The average American, it seems, does not have any deep religious loyalties. He may identify with the religion of his ancestors, but he doesn’t observe its rules very closely, if at all. He certainly admires those who have deep faith, but he assumes that it’s an inborn trait: Some people are good at religion, just like some others are good at math.
Because faith is a kind of natural gift, he couldn’t reasonably expect his own kids to share even his own weak loyalty to his faith. So, he doesn’t.
On the contrary. He might have felt that religion is, in many ways, a hindrance to worldly success. Growing up in an Irish/Italian/Polish/Latino slum, his Catholicism felt like an alien faith. Much as he loved his Nana/Nonna/Babchia/Abuela, her old-world piety was completely alien to “mainstream” culture. He couldn’t let her know about all the music he listened to, all the liquor he drank, all the pot he smoked, all the girls (or boys) he “dated.”
These folks want to fit in, settle down, and enjoy life. And, sure, that’s a little selfish. But when your parents and grandparents worked so hard to start a new life in this country, it almost seems more selfish not to be a little selfish.
That’s why the children of successful immigrants often aren’t as sympathetic to mass-immigration or welfare policies as one might expect. It is why, as voters, they often prioritize lowering taxes. It also explains why they’re not so hot on religion—and why they’re especially keen not to “force their views” on their children.
In most countries, religious and cultural traditions exist (at least in part) to promote greater social cohesion. But in a multicultural, pluralist society like ours, such traditions serve mostly to set us apart. That’s why the American system works to strip us of our oldest traditions and identities, our deepest convictions and loyalties. Again, in a traditional society, those things are assets. Here and now, they’re liabilities.
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Anyway. Judging only by what you see on the news, it would be easy to think that America is on the verge of a great battle between the forces of right-wing nationalism and those of left-wing radicalism. And maybe that’s true. What is more likely, though, is that American culture will keep drawing us down to our lowest common denominator: a kind of soulless, selfish consumerism.
This is what will shield the United States from any serious unrest—whether it’s racial, ethnic, religious, or ideological. For better or worse, those conflicts are fought by men who define themselves by their convictions and loyalties. Men who live for something greater than themselves, whether it’s their tribe or their king or their God. To lay down their life for that cause, should the need arise, for men like this it is only natural.
That isn’t us. American culture exists to free us of such dangerous attachments. And that may save us from Civil War II. At some point, though, I’m not sure we’re worth saving.