Steve King, Conservatism and American Exceptionalism

Jonathan S. Tobin of Commentary has written an article for National Review that condemns Steve King on the basis of “American exceptionalism”:

“What is at stake in the long-running battle over illegal immigration? The answer from the overwhelming majority of Americans who worry about it is “the defense of the rule of law.” Others speak of the economic impact of unskilled workers on employment and wages. But for a minority, there is something else at issue. They think that the influx of Hispanics from Mexico and Central America or immigrants from the Middle East — whether they arrive legally or illegally — is a threat to the fabric of American culture and values. …

One can think that current vetting procedures for legal immigrants and refugees are not as rigorous as they should be and still accept the idea that the United States is — in contrast to the nations of Europe — a nation of immigrants. …

While the United States began its life as a nation of white Protestants whose forebears came from the British Isles, the national identity the Founders forged was not based, at least in principle, on race, ethnicity, or religion. That is why an American culture rooted in ideas about liberty, democracy, and the rule of law not only survived but flourished as the population of the nation was eventually transformed from a WASP majority into one in which the descendants of the Scotch Irish and English settlers became a minority. …

He might claim he was talking about culture, but the mention of “babies” is a not-so-subtle attempt to say that the survival of Western values requires white children to outnumber those who are not white. …

By asserting that preserving “our civilization” cannot be accomplished by “other people’s babies,” King is promoting a view of American identity that is at odds with the country’s basic principles. To believe that Hispanic or Muslim immigrants — or those of any other ethnicity or faith — can’t fully accept the values about liberty that King claims to cherish is to ignore two centuries of U.S. history and ideas. “Other people’s babies” have been fighting and dying to defend American values since before Iowa was a state. …

The country thrived because those values were not the preserve of a specific ethnic or religious group but could be embraced by anyone regardless of his background or faith. It is not naïve to assert that this hasn’t changed even while the skin color of immigrants is darker today than it was in the past. That is the essence of American exceptionalism. To think that only white babies can preserve this legacy is a betrayal of conservative principles that are rooted in faith in the law rather than race. …”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the historically illiterate nonsense that calls itself “conservatism” in the United States.

Consider what we learned here yesterday: “racism” became a secular sin after 1960, “sexism” followed suit in 1965 and “Islamophobia” became a secular sin in the 1990s. The so-called “mainstream” which we all must conform our lives to didn’t exist until 1960. We weren’t a “Nation of Immigrants” until 1960. “Diversity is our strength” is something we were taught in the 1980s.

As for this alleged betrayal of American values, American citizenship was based on whiteness from the Naturalization Act of 1790 until the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952. We continued to exclude immigrants from Third World countries in Asia and Africa until the Immigration Act of 1965. The explicit purpose of excluding these people and keeping their babies out of the United States through the National Origins Act was to preserve America’s traditional demographic makeup.

Doesn’t that undermine “American exceptionalism” though?

The term “American exceptionalism” was first popularized by Joseph Stalin in the late 1920s. It wasn’t used much until the 1950s and only starts to take off in the mid-1970s. Like everything else we discussed above, “American exceptionalism” is actually a belief that characterizes a peculiar epoch of American history that begins after the Second World War.

Contrast Jonathan S. Tobin’s belief in “American exceptionalism” with John C. Calhoun on incorporating Mexicans into the United States in antebellum America:

Calhoun says “Ours is the Government of the white man.” In his Disquisition on Government, he explained why the preservation and perpetuation of our race is more important than “liberty.”

In 1912, Texas restricted the right to own land to “members of the white race.” New Mexico wasn’t admitted to the Union until 1912 because of concerns about its large non-White population. In fact, Indians couldn’t vote New Mexico and Arizona until 1948. Hawaii, which also had a large non-White population, was the last state admitted to the Union in 1959.

The “country’s basic principles” that Jonathan S. Tobin appeals to here have a history. As we saw with the Statue of Liberty, it is a cosmopolitan tradition that has its origins in the 1930s. From the 1930s to the 1960s, we can see this cosmopolitan version of Americanism challenging and displacing an older tradition that was once reflected in our identity, laws and customs.

This system had a good run of about 70 years. It can be compared to the system we had from the War Between the States to the Great Depression. The postwar order is collapsing now and giving way to its successor.

Hunter Wallace
the authorHunter Wallace
Hunter Wallace is the founder and editor of