CRB: Plymouth Rock landed on them

We continue our preview of the new (Fall) issue of the Claremont Review of Books with Christopher Caldwell’s valuable essay “Plymouth Rock landed on them” (subhead: “The immigration crisis of 1620”). I picked it out for Power Line readers and I will tell you why. Among the critically important tasks before us is the rescue of our own history. Caldwell writes:

As in every matter that involves ethnic, cultural, or racial interactions, the “traditional” or “establishment” narrative has been censored in schools, city halls, and all the traditional places it was once told. No establishment lifts a finger to defend it. The “subversive” or “alternative” narrative, meanwhile, has become doctrine: it is championed by corporations and foundations and backed by the government’s full power to punish.

Over time, the intended result is reached: authorities cannot teach the story of the Pilgrims even if they would, because most of them no longer know it. The story of the settlement of North America has become a scandal. It is worth looking more closely at who the Pilgrims were, and what they did, to understand why so many people have grown so uncomfortable telling their story.

In the second half of the essay Caldwell takes up the counter narrative spawned by the 60’s. Caldwell concludes:

Of the two communities that confronted each other in New England 400 years ago, it may now be the Indians, not the Pilgrims, who most resemble today’s Americans. The Wampanoags were divided between, on one hand, cosmopolitans like Massasoit, who believed that there was room for a mosaic of peoples in southeastern Massachusetts, and, on the other, skeptical provincials like [Massasoit’s son Metacom, known as] Philip who lost faith in that ideal. They lacked the cohesion to stand up against a resolute rival.

A remark often bandied about today is Adam Smith’s to the effect that “[t]here is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” by which he meant that it takes a much greater set of misfortunes to destroy a nation, and over a much longer period of time, than we commonly realize. It is not actually true. The Wampanoags went from dominance and confidence to a point of no return in about 55 or 60 years. Suddenly they were losing population, and abandoning old values, too. Each problem fed on the other in a dangerous process. Once a people begins debating how much ruin there is in a nation, that process is already well underway.

Complicated as it is, Caldwell’s essay nevertheless makes an exemplary contribution to the critically important task before us.