|End of WASP Rule?|
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This is a shorter version of an excellent review essay by John Attarian of Samuel Huntington's book, Who Are We? This review was originally published in The Social Contract, Volume 15, No. 1, Fall 2004. Huntington was called a racist by the mainstream media for arguing that America was being radically transformed and threatened by Mexican immigration and "Hispanization". But, as this review shows, what appeared to be a strong and committed set of arguments against immigration and multiculturalism in the defense of the American Anglo-Protestant core — to the point that even neoconservatives felt very uneasy about this book — ultimately faltered in its lack of willful affirmation of the racial interests and identity of the American founding peoples.
Attarian shows with keen acumen that Huntington's unwillingness to link the core Anglo-Protestant culture of America to the race of Europeans is the root of the book's political ineptness. As close to the race line as Huntington gets at times, to a concept of national membership based on ethnicity, he generally wavers throughout and, in the end, gets entangled in contradictions, halfhearted measures, and the ultimate acquiescence to the marginalization of whites in America on the illusion that masses of Mexicans, Muslims and Asians will embrace the WASP heritage as their own.
Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington's Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity argues that the prominence we give our national identity has varied; that we have defined our identity in terms of race, ethnicity, ideology, and culture, with the weights given these also varying over time; and that "Anglo-Protestant culture has been central to American identity for three centuries." (p.xvi) (1) Our national identity is threatened, he rightly maintains, by mass immigration; multiculturalism; the large Hispanic population, mostly immigrant, and a resultant trend of Hispanization; and the denationalization of America's elites.
The possible outcome is that America could become a "creedal nation" united by commitment to a set of political principles, the liberal democratic Creed first formulated by Jefferson. This assumes that "a nation can be based on only a political contract among individuals lacking any other commonality." Huntington is rightly skeptical. Such a nation might become a loose collection of diverse groups, apt to fall apart without a central authority holding it together. (p.19)
Huntington's main theme is "the continuing centrality of Anglo-Protestant culture" to our national identity. By "culture" he means not art, literature, music, and so on, but "a people's language, religious beliefs, social and political values, assumptions as to what is right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate," and "the objective institutions and behavioral patterns that reflect these subjective elements." Although one cannot change one's ethnic and ancestral identity, one can change one's culture so defined. (pp.30-31)
Who Are We? is a deeply mixed effort. Although many of Huntington's points are good, Who Are We? is lethally flawed, muddled, and softheaded. Moreover, from a truly conservative perspective it is bad news. The deeper one looks, the worse it looks.
One Cheer for Myth-Busting
Immigrationists assert that America is "a nation of immigrants," and that our identity is grounded solely in "a set of political principles, the American Creed." These claims have "much truth," Huntington concedes, but are only half-truths. (p.37)
The claim that all Americans except Indians are descended from immigrants is simply wrong. Huntington points out, correctly, that America was founded not by immigrants, but by "settlers" i.e., colonists from Great Britain. The difference is substantive, not semantic. Settlers leave an existing community and create a new one elsewhere. Immigrants, by contrast, simply move from one society to another one already created by somebody else, and typically experience "culture shock" on arrival.
As for the claim that America is a "creedal nation" defined by adherence to political beliefs democracy, equality, rights and liberties, individualism, property, and the rule of law in reality, race, ethnicity, culture, and religion were the original defining aspects of American identity and the creedal component became prominent only when the colonists fell out with Britain. And these purportedly defining principles were applied only selectively. Blacks were enslaved, then segregated. Loyalists were expelled and their property confiscated. And so on. So the idea that the Creed is what America is all about is nonsense. (pp.46-49)
Moreover, Huntington makes a good case that "Anglo-Protestant culture," not political propositions, is the true core of American identity. America would not be what she is, he avers, had she been settled by anybody other than English Protestants. Many of our key political institutions originated in Tudor England a bicameral legislature with committees and whose members are responsible to local constituencies; subordination of government to fundamental law; separation of powers; and so on. Much of America's essential orientation to existence is rooted in English Protestantism; so for that matter is the political creed that supposedly defines us. Huntington points out that the notions of individual dignity and worth, the fundamental equality of mankind, the resistance to authority, especially arbitrary authority, which underpin the "creed" have their roots in England's dissenting (non-Anglican) Protestantism.
Historically, assimilation meant not adopting "propositions," but embracing Anglo-Protestant culture, starting with learning English. "Throughout American history, people who were not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants have become Americans by adopting America's Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture and political values." (p.61) Huntington is obviously right. This was certainly the assimilation my own Armenian and Dutch immigrant ancestors made. And the equation of being American with assenting to a series of propositions is dubious. By this argument Americans skeptical of democracy and equality, as many conservatives were and are, are not Americans.
In short, Huntington has smashed two key props of the open borders argument. After Huntington's effort, the "nation of immigrants" and "creedal nation" line simply cannot be tenable to any serious, well-informed, and honest mind. This, surely, is one reason why immigrationists are crucifying Huntington.
One Cheer for Exposing the Pernicious Role of Elites
Also valuable is Huntington's revelation of the role of elites in deliberately deconstructing America. In the Sixties, certain intellectuals and politicians began promoting ideas and policies destructive of national identity and enhancing the status and identities of subnational groups. They not only reopened America to immigration but also encouraged immigrants to retain their identities, gave them special legal privileges, and downplayed assimilation. Learning English yielded to bilingual education. American history was rewritten to emphasize subnational groups. Minority group rights and racial preferences displaced individual rights. All this and more was justified by an ideology of multiculturalism exalting "diversity" rather than unity or Americanism.
In short, America abandoned her old policy of promoting national identity and unity, and instead adopted measures "consciously designed to weaken America's cultural and creedal identity and to strengthen racial, ethnic, cultural, and other subnational identities. These efforts by a nation's leaders to deconstruct the nation they governed were, quite possibly, without precedent in human history." (p.143) Liberalism led American elites to feel sympathy and guilt for supposedly excluded, oppressed minorities. Finally, "perhaps most importantly," civil rights, immigration and other legislation which delegitimized race and ethnicity as factors in national identity "paradoxically legitimated their reappearance in subnational identities." (p.144)
Academic, business, media, professional, nonprofit, and intellectual elites are not only far more liberal and less religious than the American people, Huntington shows, but also far less patriotic. Many members of the elites identify with global or transnational institutions, are hostile to the very idea of nationalism, and see themselves as citizens of the world rather than of the United States. Transnational ideas and persons come in three types universalist, represented by figures such as Ben Wattenberg, who sees America as merging with the world by accepting immigrants from all nations and cultures; economic, which sees globalization as dissolving national boundaries and creating one world economy and one market, and overriding the authority of national governments and making them obsolete; and moralistic, which sees nationalism as evil and regards international law and institutions and supposedly universal moral norms as superior to and overriding national institutions, patriotism, and national self-interest. Moralistic transnationalism is rampant in academe, Huntington notes, citing such specimens as Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago) and Richard Sennett (New York University). He perceptively sees economic transnationals as "the nucleus of an emerging global super class." (p.268)
Even casual knowledge of the anti-Americanism rampant in academe and of internationalist publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, and theglobalist.com, confirms his account. Huntington is laudably disturbed by the denationalization of the elites, who "abandon commitment to their nation and their fellow citizens and argue the moral superiority of identifying with humanity at large." (p.269) Globalization is likely to continue, he warns, and so, therefore, is this denationalization.
Globalization, he points out, is bearing out Adam Smith's observation that whereas landowners are necessarily citizens of the countries containing their land, a stockholder "is properly a citizen of the world, and is not necessarily attached to any particular country." (p.267)
A Half-Cheer about Multiculturalism and Immigration
Who Are We? is most notorious for its discussions of multiculturalism and immigration. Multiculturalism, Huntington flatly and correctly states, "is in its essence anti-European civilization... It is basically an anti-Western ideology." (p.171) He warns that the ultimate consequence of multiculturalism will be to destroy the consensus of American political values of democracy, individual rights and liberty, and so on. The political Creed itself, he rightly observes, was the product of a specific culture, namely Anglo-Protestant. A multicultural America will ultimately become "a multicreedal America," with different groups of different cultures professing different political principles. (p.340) Although he does not say so, an obvious problem is that such an America would swiftly become ungovernable. No political system can possibly work if large segments of the population refuse to endorse it or observe its rules.
Huntington bluntly calls immigration "the greatest threat" to "societal security". The real issue, he maintains, is not immigration, but immigration without assimilation. Formerly, immigrants assimilated, because they came from many nations and cultures and dispersed spatially after arrival, which prevented formation of a large homogeneous bloc resistant to Americanization; because most immigrants were Europeans, with cultures similar to or compatible with ours; because they wanted to become Americans (those who did not went home); because immigration had fluctuating levels and long pauses facilitating assimilation; and because Americans, who shared a patriotic notion of American identity, insisted upon assimilation. Indeed, he shows, businesses, public schools, state, local, and national governments, and private organizations strove energetically to Americanize immigrants and even celebrated their Americanization.
Now, however, most immigrants are from cultures and languages radically dissimilar to ours. Many are not committed to Americanizing. What's more, many need not Americanize; they can retain dual identity and even dual citizenship, something once unheard of and, Huntington rightly observes, "foreign to the American Constitution." (p.213) Also, the immigration valve is stuck open over a million immigrants arrive yearly, and this persistent high volume hinders assimilation. Moreover, many in the elite do not want immigrants to Americanize, but rather to preserve their distinct identity. Public policies such as bilingual education hinder assimilation.
Whereas previous immigration fluctuated, with periods of little or no immigration making assimilation of previous arrivals easier, Mexican immigration levels are persistently high. This not only hampers assimilation, but "the longer migration continues, the more difficult it is politically to stop it." (p.228) Mexicans, unique among immigrants, believe themselves to have a historical claim to American territory, specifically, the southwestern states obtained by the Mexican War. They are coming to lands which had once been theirs, which makes them resist assimilation.
As a result, Mexicans are lagging behind other immigrant groups in such important aspects of assimilation as learning English, educational attainment, occupation and income, naturalization, intermarriage with the indigenous, majority population, and sense of identity with America.
Huntington raises the possibility that the Southwest will be so heavily populated with Hispanics, especially Mexicans, that it will be culturally and socially amalgamated with Mexico and that its Hispanic residents will neither want nor need to assimilate. Rather, that part of the country will undergo Hispanization a la Miami, which is so full of Cubans that they need not assimilate and that Miami's blacks and whites have become outsiders, marginalized and discriminated against, with no choice but to accept their lot, assimilate to the Hispanics, or get out.
While little of Huntington's candid discussion of multiculturalism and immigration is new, it is welcome nevertheless. Its great merit is that an "establishment" intellectual has called the country's attention to things immigrationists have swept under the rug. No matter how hard conservative critics of multiculturalism and immigration work to make their case, liberals just ignore or demonize them. Huntington's academic credentials and prestige make ignoring him impossible. The effect is to push the immigration issue into America's face, and that is absolutely vital if the America we love is going to survive. The more controversy Who Are We? stirs up, the better.
But those wishing to conserve America's identity as an essentially European nation with an essentially British, or at least European, civilization and culture who think Huntington is a kindred spirit had better think twice. In an interview, Huntington stated perhaps to appease his rabid immigrationist critics that "basically, immigration is good," that in 1965, "I think very happily, we opened up, changed those [immigration] laws," and that "I want to make it clear that I'm not opposed to immigration per se. I'm in favor of immigration ... but it has to be immigration with assimilation."(3) Given that America's government and other major institutions have forsaken the old Americanization project, and are unlikely to return to it unless and until the American people force them to, Huntington's qualification is empty. And although Huntington bemoans the mass immigration of Hispanics, especially illegals, and observes that past immigration lulls facilitated immigration, it never occurs to him to make the connection that an immigration moratorium and rigorous elimination of illegal immigration are crucial to assimilation, much less to recommend these measures.
A 'Boo' for Uncoupling Nation, Culture, and Ethnicity
Moreover, while his attack on the "creedal nation" myth looks attractive, on closer inspection, it is nullified by his desire to separate nationality and culture from ethnicity.
Incredibly, Huntington never defines "nation," although surely it would be appropriate in a book devoted to national identity and threats to it. My Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1951) gives the etymology of "nation" as follows from the Old French nacion, which in turn came from the Latin natio, nation, race, which in turn came from natus, the past participle of nasci, to be born. A nation, then, as conservative critics of immigration such as Thomas Fleming, Brent Nelson, and Peter Brimelow have rightly observed, is essentially a kind of extended family, meaning it has a common, or at least dominant, ethnic stock.(4)
Webster's goes on to define "nation" as:
- A people connected by supposed [sic] ties of blood generally manifested by community of language, religion, customs, etc.
- Any aggregation of people having like institutions and customs and a sense of social homogeneity and mutual interest.
- The body of inhabitants of a country united under a single independent government; a state.
Early on, Huntington stresses that he is arguing "for the importance of Anglo-Protestant culture, not Anglo-Protestant people." He deems the elimination of race and ethnicity as parts of American identity, and the creation of "a multiracial, multiethnic society in which individuals are to be judged on their merits" one of America's greatest achievements, perhaps the greatest. This transformation flows, he claims, from our commitment to Anglo-Protestant culture and to liberal democracy. If we sustain that commitment, "America will still be America long after the WASPish descendants of its founders have become a small and uninfluential minority." (p.xvii)
Huntington's desire to sever or ignore the links between ethnicity, nationhood, and culture is also evident in his treatment of the Soviet Union. With the Cold War over, he points out, the Soviets no longer had an enemy; and without it, the Soviet Union "quickly dissolved into sixteen states, each with its own national identity defined largely by culture and history." (p.259) The last statement is a crass evasion of the truth that these states were in fact "largely defined" by their ethnic groups Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Estonians, Georgians, Latvians, and so on. It was obviously ethnicity that gave these nations their identity, and was the main root of their mutual antagonisms.
Huntington's concept of "culture" is crucial here. For him culture is, as we saw, a matter of ideas, beliefs, and institutions. Key elements of "Anglo-Saxon culture," he informs us, include "the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, the responsibility of rulers, and the rights of individuals," as well as the dissenting Protestant values of industry (which he stresses), individualism, and the duty to create a sort of heaven on earth. (p.xvi) Since anybody can subscribe to a belief or an idea or participate in an institution, Huntington's definition cuts culture free from all of its roots in ethnicity save one language.
So Huntington uses "nation" and "culture" largely as abstractions, whereas for genuine conservative critics of immigration such as Peter Brimelow, Nelson, Sam Francis, and others, these terms are grounded in ethnicity. Huntington and the restrictionists are literally not speaking the same language.
One huge problem is that Huntington tangles himself in a profound contradiction. On the one hand, he asserts that what is important is "Anglo-Protestant culture, not Anglo-Protestant people." On the other hand, he argues that if America had not been settled by British Protestants, "It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil." (59) This is a tacit admission that Anglo-Protestant people are in fact of central importance to our identity. Furthermore, he notes Campbell Gibson's finding that 49 percent of America's 1990 population was descended from the 1790 colonial and black populations, which obviously implies that for most of America's history, the lion's share of her population was Anglo-Protestant. Surely this is of decisive importance for our national identity. Culture, both in the usual sense and in Huntington's sense, is grounded in ethnicity just how would America have created an Anglo-Protestant culture without an overwhelmingly Anglo-Protestant population?
And just how would the Americanization of immigrants, their assimilation of Anglo-Protestant culture, have taken place, if America had not had an overwhelmingly Anglo-Protestant population, living that Anglo-Protestant culture and thereby providing a model for immigrants to emulate; enveloping immigrants in that culture; creating, operating, and manning the institutions that promoted Americanization; and sufficiently aware and proud of its Anglo-Protestant identity to deem it worth preserving and to insist on immigrants' conformity to its ways? If Anglo-Protestants had been at best in a slim majority and had not controlled America's institutions, the Anglo-Protestant culture Huntington stresses could not conceivably have become central to America's identity. The Anglo-Protestants simply would not have been able to make it so.
Another grievous fault is that Huntington's sense of "culture" renders his demolition of the "creedal nation" myth illusory and meretricious. If Anglo-Protestant culture is what Huntington says it is and the Creed consists of democracy, equality, rights and liberties, individualism, property and the rule of law, then it emerges immediately that the Creed is merely a subset of Anglo-Protestant culture, and that the latter is merely the Creed with the English language, Protestant Christianity, and workaholism tacked on.
Anybody can become an American, immigrationists claim, by assenting to a set of "propositions." No, no, no, Huntington retorts; becoming an American also requires learning English, being somewhat individualist, perhaps being religious (he does not insist), and working hard. It turns out that he and the creedal immigrationists are not so far apart. He kicks the "creedal nation" myth off the front porch, only to sneak it back in through the kitchen window.
A Loud 'Boo' for his Treatment of Race
As if this is not bad enough, Huntington's treatment of race is proof positive that the victim of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.
He argues, as we saw, "for the importance of Anglo-Protestant culture, not Anglo-Protestant people." He also asserts that, "identities are, overwhelmingly, constructed." Apart from a few characteristics like age, ancestry, and gender, identity may be defined as one likes. Although we inherit race and ethnicity, we can deny them, and in any case, Huntington claims, the meaning and applicability of "race" is malleable, and changes. (p.23)
While physical differences between races exist, Huntington acknowledges, people classify each other by race because they deem it important; therefore "race is a social construction as well as a physical reality. Race may also be a political construction." (p.305) Intermarriage is slowly blurring the races, he observes, and multiracialism is becoming more accepted. If multiracialism keeps increasing, Huntington says, government efforts to classify people by race will become quixotic. "When it happens, the removal of race from census forms will signal a dramatic step toward the creation of a comprehensive American national identity." (p.309)
Although Huntington does not say it explicitly, his prescription is clear. Whites should forget their identity as whites and not resist rising pressure from Hispanics and blacks, cheerfully submit to their dispossession, and embrace gradual biological obliteration through intermarriage and miscegenation. In short, Huntington thinks whites should commit racial suicide for the sake of averting racial conflict and promoting national unity.
It would, he concedes, be "extraordinary and possibly unprecedented in human history" if America's momentous demographic and other transformations did not trigger a reaction from whites. (p.310) Huntington points out that a "white nativist" movement reacting to these forces "should not be confused with extremist fringe groups," such as militias and "hate groups." What he sees possibly happening, rather, is a political movement arising to protect white interests. Actual or perceived loss of power, status, and numbers by any group, he rightly observes, "almost always leads to efforts by that group to stop or reverse those losses." (p.313) As a result, he warns, America has the makings of "serious white nativist movements and of intensified racial conflict," such as affirmative action, liberal immigration policies, multiculturalism, concern over job losses due to globalization, and so on and, above all, the perceived threat to whites' language, power, and culture from the rise of Hispanics. (pp.315-316)
What is so wrong with white nativism, especially if it's not synonymous with race hate? Huntington's only answer is worry about a possible rise of racial conflict and a more intolerant, exclusionist America. Brent Nelson, by contrast, put his finger on the real problem with a clarity and forthrightness Huntington lacks "When ... European Americans begin to think of themselves as such and demand ethnically conscious European American leaders, then America will have become America Balkanized, a nation without Americans, just as Yugoslavia, in the early 1990s, became a nation without Yugoslavs i.e., no longer a viable nation."(5)
Nelson argued that racial amalgamation along the lines of Brazil i.e., Huntington's prescription is an illusory cure. Brazil is in fact a racially stratified society shot through with racism, race obsessions, and conflict. Nelson concluded that the only sound course, the only way to avert Balkanization, is rigorous immigration control.(6)
Nelson, not Huntington, has the right answer. If affirmative action, bilingualism, multiculturalism, and immigration are the real causes of America's identity crisis, then reason and common sense suggest that the cure is to remove them. Yet Huntington advocates instead a solution not suggested by the problem white self-immolation. Why?
'Not with a Bang but a Whimper'
Who Are We? has other grievous faults. First, Huntington asserts that although all societies eventually succumb to threats to their existence, some can postpone their demise by "halting and reversing the process of decline and renewing their vitality and identity," and that he believes that "America can do that" (p.xvii) yet he has nothing to say about how she can do so. From his description of the threats to America's identity from affirmative action, immigration, multiculturalism, and denationalized elites, the remedies are obvious. We should drop affirmative action, bilingual education, and all public policies promoting multiculturalism and minority militancy; secede from globalization and break the hegemony of organized money in our national life; resurrect the vigorous Americanization of immigrants practiced in yesteryear; stop legal immigration; deploy enough troops along our southern border to halt illegal immigration; and deport as many illegals as possible. The yawning gap between the agenda and policies of the elites and the interests and desires of the American people cries out for a political realignment and a nationalist, populist third party.
Yet Huntington recommends none of these things. Given his concerns, this omission is bewildering. If immigration is the threat to American identity and "societal security" which he says it is and of course it is why does he make no proposals for immigration control? If he thinks that Hispanization will be the main stimulus to the white nativism he dreads, then why does he not argue for curtailing Latino immigration with a view to averting racial conflict?
Second, Huntington never makes a case for his own preferences. He asserts his belief that "Americans should recommit themselves to the Anglo-Protestant culture traditions, and values that for three and a half centuries have been embraced by Americans of all races, ethnicities, and religions and that have been the source of their liberty, unity, power, prosperity, and moral leadership as a force for good in the world." (p.xvii) Yet this single blast of rhetoric is as far as he goes. From first to last he never advances any reasons why we should do so. He obviously believes that assimilation of immigrants is crucial to preserving America's identity. Yet he won't fight for it.
In any case, Huntington's exhortation is utterly quixotic and naive. Even if he had backed it up with arguments, whom would he have persuaded? Why should the millions of immigrants and their descendants, and the increasingly cocky, truculent, and racist Latino activists, embrace the Anglo-Protestant culture and its values, especially if doing so means they would forego political and financial advantages? Why should they want to? They have learned that they can get along just fine in America without becoming imitation Eighteenth Century colonists especially in an America that is all too clearly afraid of them and is abjectly fawning over them, rather than insisting on their Americanization. Suppose somebody (Huntington?) did insist on it, and they merely said, as many surely would, "Vamoose, gringo, you bother me."? What then?
The same goes for the implacable multicultural Jacobins on and off campus, race racketeers like Morris Dees and Al Sharpton, and the minorities working the racial spoils system. Huntington apparently thinks that America's domestic deconstructors will voluntarily abandon their corrosive ideology now that he has politely explained that it has dysfunctional consequences from a patriotic perspective. But why should they commit to "Anglo-Protestant culture" when they have nothing to gain, and much to lose, thereby? A multiculturalist academic who turned his coat would soon find himself marginalized and persecuted, and his career prospects ruined. A race racketeer who opted for individualist meritocracy would be walking away from his meal ticket. For that matter, why should denationalized elites drop their commitment to globalism, universalism, and multiculturalism, since it has facilitated their acquisition of wealth, power and prestige?
Finally, Huntington's ending is incredibly weak and tired. That white race suicide is the only thing besides recommitment to Anglo-Protestant culture which Huntington can suggest and covertly at that in the entire book is telling. The deepest significance of this prescription is that it witnesses for the terminal decadence of the Anglo-Protestant stock that spawned America and Huntington himself and for the liberal West's limp, suicidal and masochistic acquiescence in its own oblivion. His opening exhortation to recommit to our Anglo-Protestant core identity, then, is not the rousing thump and blare of a Sousa march, evoking the proud, self-confident, swaggering America of Teddy Roosevelt's day, but the frantic, pleading gasp of a played-out, beached fish flopping on the sand, pathetically protesting a doom it is aware of but lacks the vitality to escape. All in all, Who Are We? is eerily reminiscent of Eliot's "The Hollow Men"
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
1. Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, New York Simon & Schuster, 2004, p. xvi. To avoid a cluttering proliferation of footnotes, page references to Huntington are enclosed in parentheses in the text.
2. See Thomas Fleming, "The Real American Dilemma," Chronicles, March 1989, p. 9; Brent A. Nelson, America Balkanized: Immigration's Challenge to Government, Monterey, VA American Immigration Control Foundation, 1994, p. 80; Peter Brimelow, Alien Nation Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster, New York Random House, 1995, pp. xix, 203.
3. Nelson, America Balkanized, p. 70.
4. Ibid., pp. 98-99, 106.