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Book Review: Suicide of a Superpower

I was nearing the close of Pat Buchanan’s new book Suicide of a Superpower (St. Martin’s Press) when I read that MSNBC had fired him as a political commentator for expressing views offensive to political correctness as practiced at that left-leaning network. (“Left-leaning” as applied to MSNBC comes from the Los Angeles Times, which is well situated to know a left-leaning news operation when it sees one.)

The conservative Buchanan cited Suicide of a Superpower as the occasion for his heave-ho by MSNBC. If this book is actually did do him in, I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. It’s hard to imagine anybody agreeing with everything it says, and many will come away from it hopping mad. But matter for firing? Only in a setting where thinking unpopular thoughts is not allowed.

Buchanan is blunt on topics where others tread lightly or not at all. But bluntness is the only honest approach to his central theme: America’s ideologically-driven craze for diversity has gotten out of hand and is well on its way to doing us in. (In a book I haven’t read, Coming Apart, Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute makes a similar argument but, unlike Buchanan, deliberately omits race and immigration from his analysis.)

“Racially, culturally, ethnically, politically, America is disintegrating,” Buchanan writes. Ever since the cultural revolution of the 1960s, Americans have been losing their shared sense of identity as a nation. “Out of one we have become many,” he says.

In tackling tough issues like race, immigration, and the wisdom of continuing international commitments left over from cold war days, Suicide of a Superpower says plenty to raise hackles. Even more annoying, the author bolsters what he says with facts and coherent arguments. That includes making the case that unchecked immigration presents a grave national problem whose ducking by Congress and the White House reflects the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of political Washington.

But has he got the story straight about Hispanics? Recently-arrived Latinos may be at the same early stage of assimilation that groups like the Irish, the Jews, and the Italians occupied a long time ago. Entry into an alien culture is bound to be a bumpy road—for the Spanish-speakers as it was for them. Give the Latinos time. The results could turn out more happily than Buchanan imagines.

The author, a Catholic, devotes a chapter to the Church, saying no institution in America has been more “ravaged” than it by cultural changes of the last half-century. Now, he says, Catholicism in the United States must “necessarily [be] an adversary culture” in order to survive. The assimilation of American Catholics has already gone disastrously far. Much farther, and American Catholicism will be finished as a viable cultural force.

That, however, underlines another problem—in the real world and also in this book.

Buchanan seeks a solution to disruptive diversity in the seamless assimilation of diverse groups into a unitary American culture. In other words: bring back the melting pot. Yet, as he’s well aware, American secular culture in its contemporary manifestation is far from being the basically healthy thing that it was back in melting pot days. On the contrary,  it’s degraded and destructive, as a few hours spent watching television or reading The New York Times should persuade any sensible person.

What to do? Diversity or assimilation? Or some yet-to-be discovered third way that combines elements of counter-culturalism and new evangelization? That’s worth another book. Maybe, without MSNBC on his hands, Buchanan will have time to write it.


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C.


  • PJB is on the mark in so many ways, and is one of my favorite commentators. But Shaw exposes his Achilles heel on immigration.

    The Hispanics entering the country are generally more in tune with America’s Judeo-Christian tradition than the Anglos who are US citizens by birth. One does not close the windows on a stinky outhouse, but rather lets fresh air enter.

  • goral

    PJB is “on the mark” as you say, Robert. Your further statement is true, generally speaking. There is, however, a whole set of problems with our Spanish speaking population. Just one of the obvious ones is their adherence to the mother tongue and our govt’s total support of it. It certainly is not a national unifying factor.
    Mexico’s lust after our Southwest is another, and the list continues.

  • noelfitz

    I read here that Pat Buchanan wrote “Racially, culturally, ethnically, politically, America is disintegrating,”

    Sorry, but I disagree fundamentally with Mr Buchanan.

    The US was anti-Catholic and is now amongst the most Catholic Countries on earth.

    In the 18th century there were less than 1% Catholics in the US, now there is over 25%, and they play an important part in the life of the country.

    Al Smith prior to John F. Kennedy, was the only serious Catholic candidate for President and he was defeated by anti-Catholic bigotry.

    When I was in the States years ago a friend told me she worked in a Boston bank and overheard the remark that Catholics were not to be allowed in the bank vault, as they were untrustworthy. Where I worked, in Pennsylvania a young man from Alabama fell for an Italian-American Catholic and his parents were appalled. Again indicating anti-Catholicism in the past in the US.

    Now the Catholic Santorum was the preferred candidate for many Southern Evangelicals.

    Web sites such as CL provide leadership in Catholic thought.

    Two thirds of the members of the Supreme Court are Catholics, the rest are Jews and none are Protestant.

    25% of Senators are Catholic and a higher percentage are in the House of Representatives. The VP is a Catholic. Prominent Catholics in Public Life include Pelosi, Biden, Giuliani and Kerry.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_Catholics gives a list of prominent Catholics. I do not think any of us is in a position to judge others.

    Cardinal William Levada, as Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith, is one of the most influential Catholics alive.

    The Papal Nuncio sent by Pope Benedict to sort out the problems in the Irish Catholic Church is the American Charles Brown.

    Recently the Pope sent a team, led by the American Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to examine the Irish Catholic Church and some of its recommendations have been implemented, which will help revitalize the Catholic Church in Ireland and shows the important role Americans play in the Universal Church.

    So to claim America is disintegrating is false.

  • Noelfitz. That you would cite renegade “Catholics” like Pelosi, Biden, Giuliani and Kerry makes it apparent that you are looking at American politics from the perspective of your residence overseas. Scotland is it? The foursome you mention are foes of the Church. They’re as pagan in practice as Mafioso Catholics.

  • noelfitz

    Shock, horror, gasp. I am appalled anyone would consider I am a Scot. I am Irish, but I admit both Scots and Irish are Celts (LOL).

    But seriously, expecting a reply along your lines, I did write “I do not think any of us is in a position to judge others.”

    Myself and others in Ireland are very encouraged by American Catholics. Personally I am encouraged and heartened by my friends here in CL, among whom I consider you.

    Recently I read an article in “Position Papers”, April 2012, p 18, by Kathy Sinnott, an American living in Irelands about “A Parish in the USA”. Please look at http://www.positionpapers.ie/2012/04/a-us-parish/.

    Friends of ours are snow-birds and spend winters in Florida. They have recently returned to Ireland and have told me about the dynamism, commitment and enthusiasm among American Catholics.

    In Ireland, where the Church is battered, it is uplifting to hear of the many loyal American Catholics.

  • Thanks, Noelfitz, for the link. I posted a comment there about the similar blessings in our flourishing Catholic community Bremerton WA (on the outskirts of the Seattle metropolitan area).

    As for judging, I cannot believe that Matthew 7 and Luke 6 indicate that Jesus is forbidding citizens to make judgements about the character of public figures. Otherwise, how are we supposed to vote responsibly in a representative democracy?

    Of course we judge Biden, et. al. on the basis of their public positions. The four you mentioned use their political standing to oppose the moral teachings of the Gospel (as clarified for us by the Church). In their opposition they make themselves, ipso facto, foes.

    Clearly, this is not judging their souls, or the interior status of their consciences in the sight of God. But judging them on the basis of their works is a legitimate civic necessity, insofar as it regards their public life.

    Oh, and sorry about positioning you on the wrong side of the Irish Sea.

  • noelfitz

    Robert,
    many thanks.
    Let us not think too much of judging people, but be glad there are such active Catholic communities, from Washington to Florida, which are a model and encouragement.

    Another example of the influence of American Catholicism is that I use Maurice Blumberg’s writings and Sunday Reflections (from CL here) as a help in preparing for the Lectio Divina meetings I hold in our parish.

  • wild rose

    Good comments, everyone.
    Catholics were viewed with suspicion since Colonial times in the US. This is probably due to our country’s English roots where Catholicism was banned by Henry VIII. Protestantism was the mainstream belief in the US. Little did our founder’s anticipate that more than two centuries later the last bastion of freedom and culture of life in America would be the Catholic Church. After all the Catholic Church props up what is genuinely American. If America is to succeed in her providential mission, it will be the Church that drives this great lovable country to her destination. A thriving country begins with us, our family, our parish, our community, the diocese, our State and our country.

  • noelfitz

    WR,

    sincerest thanks for your beautifully expressed and powerful post.

    I agree fully with you.

    I feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle. When I was in the US it was anti-Catholic and Catholics voted for Democrats. Now America, at its best, is appreciative of Catholicism, and Republicans, at times, reflect our views.

    Here in Ireland I would not vote for the Labo(u)r party, as I consider their policies anti-Catholic.

  • wild rose

    noelfitz, thank you for your kind words.

    I hope that your country will never have a far-left, socialist/Marxist party in control of your land. We’ve got a 14-year old in the White House and the elected members of the Democratic Party think he’s their dream boy.

  • Tom Sea

    The thing is though, many Hispanics have basically never assimilated. You have the amnesty (meaning Reagan Simpson Mazzoli ’80s amnesty) that brought in many, now living in Southern California, many of them aren’t speaking English yet. So in this, we have experience.