A Reasonable Reader Worries About Nordicism
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An Alabama Reader Reports New GOP Resolution

FROM: Tom Long

I refer to your commentary in November last year on a CIS paper presented by a Mr. Steinlight. I thought that Steinlight's attempt to demonize you by misrepresenting your positions was disgraceful and repugnant. It was a disgusting example of the "Sista Soulja" strategy invented by Bill Clinton in 1992, in which individuals attempt to make themselves appear more "moderate" by pointing fingers at "extremist" scapegoats. [Click here for more on Steinlight, who seems to have fallen silent, alas.]

But I do take issue with your contention (and that of Kevin MacDonald [California State University psychologist, author of the Culture of Critique] that "Nordicism" was a myth, with regard to the immigration reformers of the 1920s. Perhaps the most influential scholar in the immigration reform movement of that era was Dr. Madison Grant, who was the "ultimate Nordicist."  Dr. Grant's two books, Passing of the Great Race (1916) and Conquest of a Continent (1933), greatly influenced the immigration debate before World War Two. My 95-year old Italian immigrant mother, who settled in Indiana in 1918 with her family, clearly remembers the hostile reception in the small town in which they purchased their first home.

The work of the 1920s immigration reformers may have been generally good for the country. But some immigrant families still retain bitter memories of the racial and social attitudes that were common in that era.

Peter Brimelow writes: This is an entirely reasonable comment. But I seriously doubt that Madison Grant was widely read in small town Indiana in 1918, or even that he had been heard of. My guess is that the locals just didn't like strangers much.  I would also guess that the strangers didn't like natives either. I clearly remember an Italian-Canadian girlfriend telling me about her first day in Canada - her mother looking out the window and commenting: "The barbarians are hanging out their washing" (no mean feat in an Ottawa winter). It took a couple of generations for these quite natural tensions to abate, as Roy Beck  chronicled in his brilliant account of Storm Lake, Iowa – at which point the 1965 Immigration Act introduced a whole new set of tensions.

Nordicism as a popular ideology has the obvious limitation that many of its putative supporters, even in Indiana, don't match the physical ideal – including, as has often been pointed out, Adolf Hitler. It haunts the immigration debate because some immigration enthusiasts are projecting their own ethnic preoccupations onto the host American nation.

I asked Kevin MacDonald for his comment. His reply:

I stand by my contention that Nordicism was not a major factor in the Congressional debates of the period. I noted this on p. 251 of Culture of Critique:

"Although playing virtually no role in the restrictionist position in the congressional debates on immigration (which focused mainly on the fairness of maintaining the ethnic status quo; see below), a component of the intellectual zeitgeist of the 1920s was the prevalence of evolutionary theories of race and ethnicity (Singerman 1986), particularly the theories of Madison Grant…Grant's ideas were popularized in the media at the time of the immigration debates (see Divine 1957, 12ff) and often provoked negative comments in Jewish publications such as The American Hebrew  (e.g., March 21, 1924, 554, 625)."  

And I concluded that

"As indicated below, arguments related to Nordic superiority, including supposed Nordic intellectual superiority, played remarkably little role in Congressional debates over immigration in the 1920s, the common argument of the restrictionists being that immigration policy should reflect equally the interests of all ethnic groups currently in the country. There is even evidence that the Nordic superiority argument had little favor with the public: A member of the Immigration Restriction League  stated in 1924 that "the country is somewhat fed up on high brow Nordic superiority stuff " (in Samelson 1979, 136)."

Having read the Congressional debates, I see no reason to change my assessment. Grant was part of the zeitgeist but, even at that time. it started to become unrespectable to assert Nordic superiority in Congress.

February 13, 2002

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