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From Anglo-Saxon Nativism to Executive Order: Civil Religion and Anti-Immigration Rhetoric

  • Ryan T. O'Leary (a1)


This article examines one aspect of current disagreements over immigration reform — Anglo-Saxon nativist rhetoric — through the lens of civil religion. It argues that the idea of America as a “New Jerusalem” can sometimes take on a nativist and even ethno-centric cast. The analysis uses two case studies to articulate the ways in which this nativism can play out in terms of civil religion: Patrick J. Buchanan's folding of immigration concerns into his culture wars rhetoric and some of the far-right rhetoric coming out of the 2016 presidential race in America. This sort of rhetoric can also be found surrounding President Obama's executive action on immigration. The analysis shows that these fears combine a view of American “chosenness” with a sense of existential threat generated by rapid demographic changes. However, while this rhetoric is grounded in civil religion, it is also a symptom of the corruption of the prophetic core of American civil religion.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Ryan T. O'Leary, Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin – Marathon County, 518 South 7th Avenue, Wausau, WI 54401. E-mail:


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