July 26, 2004

Flag Amendment Restores a 200 Year Old Tradition (John Fonte, American Outlook)

[T]he flag amendment does not reverse 200 years of constitutional tradition, amend the Bill of Rights, or restrict free speech. On the contrary, the amendment restores traditional legal practice. As Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in his Johnson dissent: “Both Congress and the states [for years] have enacted numerous laws regulating the misuse of the American flag.” At the time of the Supreme Court’s Johnson decision, all the states except Alaska and Wyoming had laws on the books prohibiting flag burning. Moreover, Congress had passed the Uniform Flag Act of 1917 that stated, “No person shall publicly mutilate, deface, defileā€¦” an American flag. Furthermore, the regulation of the misuse of the flag was made uniform and incorporated into the federal U.S. Code (18 U.S.C. 700a).

In short, there is no sense in which the proposed flag amendment reverses a “200-year old constitutional tradition” and “amends the Bill of Rights.” Indeed, any “amending” of the 1789 Bill of Rights occurred in 1989, when the U.S Supreme Court, by a 5 to 4 vote decided that the legal protection of the American flag that “had existed for 200 years was now mysteriously unconstitutional,” in the words of Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

The other main charge against the flag amendment-that it restricts freedom of speech-is also unfounded. In fact, it is particularly significant that the proposed constitutional amendment does not prohibit or restrict free speech or the articulation of any ideas.

As Chief Justice Rehnquist noted in his dissent, the flag burner Gregory Johnson was free to “make any verbal denunciation of the flag that he wished.” Rehnquist pointed out that Johnson did lead a march chanting “Red, white, and blue, we spit on you,” for which he was not (and could not) be prosecuted. The Chief Justice also noted that under traditional (pre-1989) law, Johnson was “left with” both “a full panoply” of non-verbal “symbols” and with “every conceivable form of verbal expression.”

The proposed flag amendment is not concerned with speech, but with conduct. It simply states, “The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” This has been the traditional and commonsense practice of America’s constitutional democracy for 200 years (supported by such civil libertarians as Earl Warren, Hugo Black and Abe Fortas.) Even a 1974 Supreme Court case (Smith v. Goguen) that permitted a protestor to wear a flag patch on the seat of his pants stated unequivocally as part of the majority decision that, “nothing prevents a legislature from defining with substantial specificity what constitutes forbidden treatment of United States flags.”

Our democratic republic is based on two core principles: self-government (“government by consent of the governed”) and limited government (in which governmental power is limited because all citizens possesses “inalienable natural rights”). Those inalienable natural rights have traditionally included freedom of the press, speech, religion, and assembly, but until 1989 few dreamed that they included the “right” to physically desecrate the American flag, the symbolic representation of American liberty. There is not, never was, and never should be, such a “right” under our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Actions aren’t speech.



May 20, 2003

We Need a Patriotic Assimilation Policy (John Fonte, 5/14/2003, American Outlook)

In America, today as in the past, immigration and assimilation are bound together like Siamese twins. It makes no sense to discuss immigration without talking about assimilation, nor does it make sense to develop an immigration policy without an assimilation policy. The United States has the most successful tradition of immigration in the history of the world for one basic reason: the triumph of what I have termed "patriotic assimilation"–the assimilation of immigrants as loyal members of the American body politic.

For more than two hundred years, immigrants to America and their children have been successfully assimilated into what has been called the American way of life. This civic or patriotic assimilation of immigrants into the American constitutional regime did not happen naturally. Patriotic assimilation was the end result of a sometimes explicit (and other times implicit) long-range vision formulated by America’s leaders. From the days of George Washington continuing through the era of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and supported in the past decade by such public figures as Barbara Jordan, this strategic vision has helped to define immigration-assimilation policy by articulating two interconnected ideas: (1) welcoming immigrants and (2) assimilating those immigrants into the mainstream of American civic life.

George Washington wrote John Adams that he envisioned immigrants becoming "assimilated to our customs, measures, laws," and because of this, he predicted, native-born citizens and immigrants would "soon become one people." In the same vein, more than a century later Theodore Roosevelt stated, "The immigrant who comes here in good faith [and] becomes an American and assimilates himself to us . . . shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed or birthplace or origin. But that is predicated upon the man’s becoming an American and nothing but an American. . . ."

In a similar manner, Roosevelt’s chief political rival, President Woodrow Wilson, told immigrants at a citizenship ceremony, "I certainly would not be one even to suggest that a man cease to love the home of his birth and the nation of his origin–these things are very sacred and ought not to be put out of our hearts–but it is one thing to love the place where you were born and it is another to dedicate yourself to the place to which you go. You cannot dedicate yourself to America unless you become . . . with every purpose of your will thorough Americans. . . ."

Closer to our own time, in a 1995 New York Times oped entitled "The Americanization Ideal," the late Texas Democratic congresswoman Barbara Jordan wrote, "Immigration imposes mutual obligations. Those who choose to come here must embrace the common core of American civic culture," but the native-born must "assist them" in learning about America, and, at the same time, must oppose prejudice and "vigorously enforce" laws against discrimination.

In different ways, Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, and Jordan all advocated what I have called patriotic assimilation. Clearly, there are different types of assimilation. Economic assimilation implies that immigrants are doing well financially and joining the middle class. Linguistic assimilation means that newcomers are learning to speak English. Cultural assimilation could mean that immigrants are becoming absorbed (for better or worse) into the mainstream popular culture of twenty-first century American life. Although economic, linguistic, and cultural forms of assimilation are clearly significant, nothing is more important to the health of American democracy than the patriotic assimilation of the millions of immigrants who have come to our shores.

Patriotic assimilation does not mean giving up all of one’s ethnic traditions, customs, cuisine, and birth language. It has nothing to do with the food one eats, the religion one practices, the affection one feels for the land of one’s birth, or the languages a person speaks. Multiethnicity and ethnic subcultures have enriched America and have always been part of our past. Historically, the immigration saga has involved "give and take" between immigrants and the native-born. That is to say, immigrants have helped shape America even as this nation has Americanized them.

Patriotic assimilation occurs when a newcomer essentially adopts American civic values and the American heritage as his or her own.

this is what we’d advocate too. The most important element being that immigration is a privilege not a right and imposes certain obligations on the immigrant himself. But we’d welcome every healthy non-criminal willing to accept the obligations.


January 16, 2003

The Fracturing of the West?: A new ideological challenge to liberal democracy ‘transnational progressivism’ is emerging from inside rather than outside Western civilisation. (John Fonte, Spring 2002, Policy)

The key concepts of transnational progressivism could be described as follows:

1. The ascribed group over the individual citizen. The key political unit is not the individual citizen, who forms voluntary associations and works with fellow citizens regardless of race, sex, or national origin, but the ascriptive group (racial, ethnic, or gender) into which one is born. This emphasis on race, ethnicity and gender leads to group consciousness and a de-emphasis on the individual’s capacity for choice and for transcendence of ascriptive categories, joining with others beyond the confines of social class, tribe and gender to create a cohesive nation.

2. A dichotomy of groups: Oppressor vs. victim groups, with immigrant groups designated as victims. Influenced (however indirectly) by the Hegelian Marxist thinking associated with the Italian writer Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and the Central European theorists known as the Frankfurt school, global progressives posit that throughout human history there are essentially two types of groups: the oppressor and the oppressed, the privileged and the marginalised. In the United States, oppressor groups would include white males, heterosexuals, and Anglos, whereas victim groups would include blacks, gays, Latinos (including many immigrants), and women. […]

3. Group proportionalism as the goal of ‘fairness’. Transnational progressivism assumes that ‘victim’ groups should be represented in all professions roughly proportionate to their percentage of the population or, at least, of the local work force. If not, there is a problem of ‘underrepresentation’ or imbalance that must be rectified by government and civil society. Thomas Sowell recently wrote-as he has for several decades-that many Western intellectuals perpetually promote some form of ‘cosmic justic’? or form of equality of result. The ‘group proportionalism’ paradigm is pervasive in Western society: even the US Park Service is concerned because 85% of all visitors to the nation?s parks are white, although whites make up only 74% of the population. The Park Service announced in 1998 that it was working on this ‘problem’.

4. The values of all dominant institutions should be changed to reflect the perspectives of the victim groups. Transnational progressives in the United States and elsewhere insist that it is not enough to have proportional representation of minorities (including immigrants, legal and illegal) at all levels in major institutions of society (corporations, places of worship, universities, armed forces) if these institutions continue to reflect a ‘white Anglo male culture and world view’. Ethnic and linguistic minorities have different ways of viewing the world, they say, and these minorities’ values and cultures must be respected and represented within these institutions.

The whole thing is well worth reading, but I couldn’t help but think of this part as Imus wondered aloud this morning how he should feel about affirmative action. His key question was, even supposing, as we must, that some groups (especially blacks) have been discriminated against in the past: does that justify our granting a special benefit to a black student who wasn’t discriminated against, at the expense of a white student, who wasn’t one of the discriminators? In order to believe such a thing is just, you really have to buy into the ideology described above.

Appropriately enough, Imus too used the phrase “cosmic justice” and wondered if we’re required to “balance the scales” of past discrimination against one group by discriminating against another. The idea seems repellant, but you can see why the groups who stand to benefit would support it.