Wednesday, December 26, 2007


A hundred fifty years ago, Americans looked at the map and saw the near-finality of what had been self-evident for many decades. A continental nation -- a single country spanning from shore to shore. Continentalism. Of course. How could it be otherwise. Incipient effetism to the sallow north, corrupt Old World futility to the south -- and in between, God's favored child. Westward Ho! -- it was a longitudinal truism that did not exclude the eventual conquest of the latitudes.

But that extremity was not to be. The inherent logic of reaching the Pacific did not lend itself to conquest after the Roman style. It was not a malevolent but an exuberant spirit that made it necessary to cross the Rockies and settle the distant shore. It was a spirit essentially law-abiding, and understood that territories truly controlled, truly settled and tamed by foreign powers could not rightly be claimed as ours. And after all, the Pacific was enough. When we reached it, and held at last all the land between, the country was clearly completed. It held the same internal self-validation as the flag has, for us. Fifty stars. Of course. The flag is finished.

But there is a cost to maturity. It breeds complacency. Indeed, it leads to decadence. The fervor of that first love wanes, flickers, fails -- retains only the remembered heat of embers laid in ash beds. No, not dead -- but certainly gone. America's territorial frontiersman spirit has leeched away, or at best it's been transformed into the shopkeeper's mentality of mere profitism. Whither has fled the ancient pride? For surely it has not perished from the world?

Shall we say, Mexico?

What does Mexico see today, when it looks at the map? What destiny seems manifest to its teeming multitudes? The oceans that churn beneath the Tropic of Cancer will not give way to shore -- so how shall Mexico grow?

Northward Ho!

And it's not as if she has no ancient claim, now, is it. It isn't as if her polemicists and apologists can't lay the charge against us that much of the United States occupies Mexican land. So where's the harm, where's the shame, how can it be anything other than manifestly right, to march in militant if not military hoards across a northern border that exists only by right of an extorted treaty?

Mexico, too, might feel it has a Manifest Destiny. We hear the proud and racist claim that this is tribal land, birthright land and linked somehow to all who share any droplet of pre-Columbian blood. Nevermind that the Indian tribes of California were as separated from the Aztecs and Mayans as they were from the Phoenicians or the Mongols. Nevermind that the autochthonous tribes of the American southwest had at best only a trading relationship, and at worst a subservient one, oppressed by southern conquerors whether indigenous or mixed with Spaniard blood. Nevermind this, uh, inconvenient truth. For this would be a spiritual claim -- a claim based on mythos more than ethos, and entirely on emotion and not at all on rationality. It is, in fact, an appeal to revanche -- the political, or in this case the social, attempt of an ethnic group to regain territory perceived to have been lost ... perceived to be necessary.

Is this why millions upon millions of Mexicans have violated every regard for law? -- have hired criminals to smuggle them or guide them illicitly into our land? Of course not. They come because Mexico itself will not provide a chance to advance their standing. Their children may not be hungry, but they are ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed ... running unsupervised through village, town and city streets attempting to earn something that they can bring home to their mothers. God bless them in their struggle. The invaders -- for so they are, whatever their motives -- come so that they can send money back to their families: remittances, the largest source of foreign capital for the Mexican economy ... greater than foreign investment, more important than tourism. They care not at all for political theories, and are in no way motivated by irredentist claims. They care about their families.

But once they are here. Ah. Once they are here. They feel themselves entitled, encouraged in this by our own disregard for the law. What they have violated, we fail to enforce. Are they wrong, then? And if they listen to rabble-rousers with loudspeakers, or demagogues on Spanish language radio, and are encouraged to be brazen -- well, we have seen fit not to count such speech as sedition. So are they wrong?

Thus they are transformed, as we ourselves have been. No longer are we a nation that stands firm on the line and brooks no trespass. And no longer are they simple and actually honest workers forced by the corruption of their homeland to seek prosperity where it may be found. Now they are Americanized in the worst sense of the word -- possessed of a sense of entitlement, emboldened the way pornography, hypocrisy and a disregard for the rule of law is wont to do. Shameless. They have lost the virtue of their own land, while learning the vice of ours. And what are we to do?

Revanche. It's an interesting word. Related, curiously, to the word revenge. How interesting. But there's a complexity to it. It's a sort of conspiracy. For we, somehow, have armed them against ourselves. We enable them to take their stand and launch their attack. We school them in the tactics that undermine our own sovereignty, and then, some of us, bewail the fate that overtakes us. What our crime might have been, I do not know. But we are complicit in a revenge against ourselves, nevertheless.

Perhaps our crime is this: we did not guard with sufficient diligence that which was precious. And thieves have stolen in, and are taking away what is of greatest value -- our identity. Who does not protect what is dear, does not deserve to possess it. If we lack sufficient vigor to reclaim what is ours, we deserve to lose it. And ours is, overall, a merely inherited blessing. It is not our generation that earned it -- and what we will pass on to our sons seems destined to be of less worth than what we received from our fathers. So if we do not launch our own campaign, of revanche, then we were right to conspire in a revenge against ourselves. There's an obvious, a self-contained, a sort of manifest logic to it, wouldn't you say?

Let's hope it's not true.



Will C. said...

"They have lost the virtue of their own land, while learning the vice of ours"

That about sums it up...once again you amaze with wit, clarity, and eloquence.

Jack H said...

All I need is two or three hundred comments like this a day, and I'd be pleased.