Catholics then, Muslims now

Doug Saunders, author of The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?, draws attention to the parallels between the anti-Catholic bigotry of the past and the Islamophobia of today.

The view that members of a religious minority are not to be trusted – that they are predisposed to extremism, disloyalty and violence; resist assimilation; reproduce at alarming rates, and are theologically compelled to impose their backward religious laws on their adopted home – is not new. From the 19th century on, distrust, violence and, eventually, immigration restrictions were aimed at waves of Roman Catholic immigrants.

As late as 1950, 240,000 Americans bought copies of “American Freedom and Catholic Power,” a New York Times best seller. Its author, Paul Blanshard, a former diplomat and editor at The Nation, made the case that Catholicism was an ideology of conquest, and that its traditions constituted a form of “medieval authoritarianism that has no rightful place in the democratic American environment.”

Catholics’ high birthrates and educational self-segregation led Mr. Blanshard and others – including scholars, legislators and journalists – to warn of a “Catholic plan for America.”

Many Americans shunned such views, but some liberals did not. Mr. Blanshard’s book was endorsed by the likes of John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, and respected scholars like Seymour Martin Lipset, Reinhold Niebuhr and Sidney Hook debated Catholics’ supposed propensity toward authoritarianism.

New York Times, 17 September 2012