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Not Fit for Our Society

Immigration and Nativism in America

Peter Schrag (Author)

Available worldwide
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Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN: 9780520259782
May 2010
$52.95, £36.95
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In a book of deep and telling ironies, Peter Schrag provides essential background for understanding the fractious debate over immigration. Covering the earliest days of the Republic to current events, Schrag sets the modern immigration controversy within the context of three centuries of debate over the same questions about who exactly is fit for citizenship. He finds that nativism has long colored our national history, and that the fear—and loathing—of newcomers has provided one of the faultlines of American cultural and political life. Schrag describes the eerie similarities between the race-based arguments for restricting Irish, German, Slav, Italian, Jewish, and Chinese immigrants in the past and the arguments for restricting Latinos and others today. He links the terrible history of eugenic "science" to ideas, individuals, and groups now at the forefront of the fight against rational immigration policies. Not Fit for Our Society makes a powerful case for understanding the complex, often paradoxical history of immigration restriction as we work through the issues that inform, and often distort, the debate over who can become a citizen, who decides, and on what basis.
Contents
Sources and Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. A City upon a Hill
2. “This Visible Act of Ingurgitation”
3. “Science” Makes Its Case
4. Preserving the Race
5. The Great Awhitening
6. “They Keep Coming”
7. A Border without Lines

Epilogue

Notes
Index
Peter Schrag, for many years the editorial page editor and later a weekly columnist for the Sacramento Bee, currently contributes to The Nation, Harper's, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications. He is a visiting scholar at the Institute for Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of several books, including Paradise Lost and California: America's High-Stakes Experiment (both from UC Press) and Final Test: The Battle for Adequacy in America's Schools. Peter Schrag is the 2010 winner of the Carey McWilliams Award from the California Studies Association.
“A fine history of nativist movements and the reasons why their rhetoric has been so seductive at particular points in history.”—Publishers Weekly: Nonfiction (2)
“When it comes to immigration in America, a disconcerting truth applies: We’re for it in the past but not so much in the present. . . . Not Fit For Our Society astutely teases out the perennial contradictions at work here.”—Boston Globe
“This is a remarkably compact survey, covering nativism and immigration in the United States from the early days of the Republic to the present . . . Not Fit for Our Society is an important addition, even on a crowded bookshelf.”—Dorothee Schneider The Historian
“With an easy, direct writing style, the author has created a noteworthy intellectual rumination on the nature of anti-immigrant sentiment in the US.”—Choice
“Tells the story of xenophobia in a fresh way and reminds us of how multifaceted it has been.”—Contemporary Sociology
“Lays out a gripping history . . . . Sets the scene for the new immigration battles about to be staged on Capitol Hill and across the country.”—Ray Suarez Journal Of Democracy
“This is a very pleasant book about a very unpleasant subject.”—Journal Of American History
"Peter Schrag is the model for all political writers. He is committed, passionate, and eloquent, but always stays harnessed to the facts and rooted in the realities of politics and human nature. He reports out everything, and he writes like a dream. We can be grateful that in Not Fit for Our Society he has turned his gifts to the seemingly intractable problem of immigration. We will have to settle this issue again, as we always manage to do despite enormous commotion and anxiety. Schrag will force everyone to think more clearly and to approach immigration with both compassion and good sense."—EJ Dionne, Jr., author of Souled Out

"Just who is fit to be part of the society that became a nation in 1776 and who decides, and on what basis? In Not Fit for Our Society, Peter Schrag offers an invigorating, well-informed, carefully reasoned investigation into today's immigration debates."—David Hollinger, President of the Organization of American Historians, 2010-2011

"Peter Schrag has a unique view of the immigration debate and policies that have shaped our country since it's founding. His very timely writing of Not Fit for our Society helps us to better understand how the immigration debate and politics have gotten us to where we are today. His insights and intellect on the subject give all of us much to think about as we move forward on this very important issue."—Doris O. Matsui, Member of Congress

"Peter Schrag has done it again. A sweeping review that puts the ferocity of our current immigration debate in historical context, Not Fit for Our Society is a must-read for those hoping to get past talk-show rhetoric and cherry-picked facts. Uncovering the dark impulses that have long undergirded nativist thought, he argues that we have seen this before—and that America will be better if we see through it again."—Manuel Pastor, University of Southern California

"Peter Schrag offers a lively and thoughtful reinterpretation of America's ambivalence about immigration and immigrants' place in the nation's life. Drawing on his reading of primary sources and the latest scholarship, he tells a story rich in irony, detail, and nuance, tracing the history of nativism from the earliest days of the Republic to the current debates over immigration reform. The book is particularly striking for the way that it connects the arguments and organizations of the current anti-immigration movement to their roots in the eugenics movement and pseudo-scientific racism of the early 20th century."—Mark Paul, New America Foundation

"[Schrag] delivers a story rich in irony, detail, and nuance, often told with passion and frequently challenging orthodoxies of both the political right and left. It is the right book at the right time."-Mark Paul, New America Foundation

"History's lessons come through loud and clear as Peter Schrag vividly recounts the characters and the ideas behind that side of America that rejects immigration. Illuminating both in its sweep and its detail this 300-year narrative makes an important contribution to our understanding of today's policy debates."—Roberto Suro, author of Strangers Among US: Latino Lives in a Changing America

"In an intemperate time, Peter Schrag's voice is lucid and truly American."—Richard Rodriguez
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Interview with the author, Peter Schrag

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