Since the first Thanksgiving, America’s tradition has been to welcome immigrants, and it was only with the advent of the progressive movement in the early 20th century that a significant faction of educated opinion aligned itself otherwise. Embracing eugenics, environmentalism, and Malthusian ideology, and suffering from delusions of grandeur as the would-be elite managers of all aspects of society, the progressives sought immigration restriction as a way of controlling and culling the qualities of what they saw as the nation’s herd of human racial “stock.” Using IQ tests (administered in English and containing many questions relating to baseball and other aspects of Americana) that had been designed for World War I Army recruits as pseudo-scientific proof of the mental inferiority of immigrants, the progressives pushed through laws in the 1920s sharply restricting the immigration of Jews, Slavs, Italians, and other Southern and Eastern Europeans into the United States.
The same crowd also created environmentalism as a political movement, as a way of restricting access to America’s natural resources, and the federal bureaucracy, as a way of restricting Americans’ personal liberty. Thus, if you go to the redwood forest in California today, you will encounter a plaque to the three leaders of the Save the Redwoods League, Madison Grant, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Charles Merriam. All three were eugenicists and personal associates of Theodore Roosevelt, progressivism’s founding father.
Grant was also vice president of the Immigration Restriction League and the author of the Aryan-supremacist classic The Passing of the Great Race
. Osborn was vice president of the American Eugenics Society and president of the American Museum of Natural History. In his remarkable keynote speech to the Third International Congress on Eugenics, held at the Museum in 1932, Osborn drew the connection between environmentalism, immigration restriction, and eugenics clearly by stating that overpopulation by allegedly inferior people (including in the United States, with a population of 125 million) was causing resource destruction and unemployment. Two years later, Osborn received the Goethe Medal from Adolf Hitler, but then he died, leaving his part in the cause to be carried on by his son, Fairfield Osborn, who kicked off the postwar environmentalist movement with his 1948 bestseller Our Plundered Planet
. His nephew, American Eugenics Society president Frederick Osborn, together with John D. Rockefeller III, founded the population-control movement’s flagship Population Council in 1952. It is from this group that the anti-immigration movement has sprung.
America is a country defined by a set of ideas, and when people choose to accept those ideas, they should be able to become Americans, as fully so as any — and perhaps more so than most — regardless of how recently they or their ancestors arrived upon our shores. This is the true American tradition, which as conservatives we must defend. We should not abandon our formative principle, which is inclusion and growth, not exclusion and stasis. We should continue to bravely welcome new talent into our ranks, sure in our knowledge, and in our faith, that the more of us there are, the more opportunities we can create, and the more great things we can do.
Americans constitute 4 percent of the world’s population, yet are responsible for half its inventions. Consequently, the world needs more Americans, and so do we.
And as for those who still shy away from such an inclusive policy, answer this: Barack Obama was just reelected, at least partly because the Republican party embraced your preferences. As a result, the U.S. economy will continue to decline, American energy production will continue to be strangled, our deficits will continue to mount towards bankruptcy, our military will be continue to be hollowed out, American foreign policy will continue to support the spread of Islamism, and Iran will get the atomic bomb. Is it worth it?
— Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author, most recently, of Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism.
editor’s note: This article has been amended since its initial publication.