Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America / Edition 1

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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.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Schrag (Paradise Lost) offers a scholarly history of the political movements that have sought to restrict immigration to the U.S. since its founding—from the 19th-century Know-Nothing Party through the years of American eugenics “research” that vastly influenced the Nazis in the years leading up to WWII. He points out how the same anti-immigration and anti-immigrant arguments have been recycled across generations: most notably the idea that certain groups—be they the Irish, Jews, Chinese, or Mexicans—were “inassimilable.” Though he doesn't provide any especially new insights, Schrag has assembled a fine history of nativist movements and the reasons why their rhetoric has been so seductive at particular points in history. The book would have been well-served had Schrag devoted more time to untangling the provocative idea he concludes with: that rather than “becoming white” and thus acceptable—the path trod by previous generations of European and Jewish immigrants—today's Latino and Asian immigrants may be shifting the paradigm and derailing the very mechanism that keeps the U.S. on a locked pattern of exclusion and race-based fearmongering against new immigrants. (May)
San Francisco Chronicle

“An exquisite rendition of America's long history of immigration and anti-immigrant backlashes.”
Boston Globe

“Astutely teases out perennial contradictions.”
The Historian - Dorothee Schneider

“This is a remarkably compact survey . . . Not Fit for Our Society is an important addition, even on a crowded bookshelf.”
Contemporary Sociology

“Tells the story of xenophobia in a fresh way and reminds us of how multifaceted it has been.”

“With an easy, direct writing style, the author has created a noteworthy intellectual rumination on the nature of anti-immigrant sentiment in the US.”
Journal Of American History

“This is a very pleasant book about a very unpleasant subject.”
Journal Of Democracy - Ray Suarez

“Lays out a gripping history . . . . Sets the scene for the new immigration battles about to be staged on Capitol Hill and across the country.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520259782
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2010
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 299
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

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.
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Table of Contents

Sources and Acknowledgments


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



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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 31, 2010

    The long strange career of American nativism

    Peter Schrag's book combines deep reporting and analysis of the current debate over immigration with the historical scholarship on nativism. The result is the best and most engaging overview of the subject since John Higham's "Strangers in the Land." Lucid and rich in irony, this book delivers a strong narrative held together by Schrag's themes and propelled both by the play of ideas and his mini-portraits of the many characters that show up along the way. It deserves to be widely read and discussed by all those involved -- citizens, policy makers, journalists, public officials -- in the debate about immigration reform.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2011

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