Diversity and Its Discontents | The Nation


Diversity and Its Discontents

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What is that culture? Rather than just life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Huntington says, it includes such key elements as "the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, the responsibility of rulers, and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, a 'city on a hill.'" Readers familiar with Huntington's massive 1968 tome, Political Order in Changing Societies, will recognize these as the essential features of the "Tudor polity," which the Puritans supposedly took with them when they set sail for Massachusetts in 1630. Although the Tudor dynasty had ended some twenty-seven years earlier with the death of Elizabeth I, the theory (which Huntington picked up from the constitutional historian Charles McIlwain) holds that the Puritan middle class responded to the absolutist, crypto-Catholic policies of her successors, the Stuarts, by holding ever more tightly to the ideas they associated with her reign: patriotism, antipapism, limited government and the belief that the English were God's new chosen people. Their purpose in journeying to the New World was to safeguard this heritage and construct a new political order (or, rather, reconstruct an old one) along neo-Elizabethan lines. Anxious nearly four centuries later that assorted multiculturalists, affirmative action advocates and Clinton Democrats are tearing America apart, Huntington makes a passionate plea for a return to the original Tudor "constitution" underlying the formal Constitution now encased in a bomb-proof vault in the National Archives.

About the Author

Daniel Lazare
Daniel Lazare is the author of, most recently, The Velvet Coup: The Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the Decline of...

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While America may change in some respects, he argues, it must never abandon those sixteenth-century Anglo-Protestant beliefs that have been the source of its greatness. Rather, it must return to its roots by restricting immigration, protecting the English language and turning its back on liberal secularism. Although Huntington is cagey as to whether he thinks it should happen or is merely predicting that it will, he contends that a white, male, nativist backlash would be a "possible and plausible response" to the affirmative-action policies and "minority language and cultural maintenance programs" that "nonelected governmental elites" have imposed on the United States in violation of the "American Creed." After all, "if blacks and Hispanics organize and lobby for special government-sponsored privileges, why not whites? If the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and La Raza are legitimate organizations, why not a national organization to promote white interests?"

All of which is enough to establish Huntington as America's answer to Jean-Marie Le Pen, or perhaps the thinking man's Pat Buchanan. But while it would be nice to report that Who Are We? is crude and lowbrow and therefore easily dismissed, the unfortunate fact is that it is Huntington's best book in decades. Compared with the tangled mess that was The Clash of Civilizations--which in true tautological fashion assembled a mass of evidence in support of its thesis and then announced that its thesis was proven because the evidence was so massive--his new work is far more rigorous and logical. He puts his finger on the key problems besetting the modern nation-state, analyzes them with admirable clarity and then uses such analysis to reach conclusions that are the diametric opposite of what they should be. The results are seductive and powerful and all the more dangerous as a consequence. This is a very bad book precisely because it is so very good.

On at least one level, the key problem besetting the modern nation-state has to do with the old question of change and continuity. Specifically, how can the United States claim to be the same nation it was in the eighteenth century when so much about it is different? A liberal might respond that what unites modern-day Americans with their eighteenth-century "forebears" is a common set of beliefs that have defined their country from the outset. Yet this avoids the question of the degree to which those core values have changed. In fact, a major portion of the US population believes in things such as racial and sexual equality and gay rights, which we can safely say would have left the embattled farmers at Lexington and Concord aghast. How can we claim to be members of the same great American family given such an enormous gulf? And if we don't make such a claim, why not cut our ties with the past and float freely away?

Needless to say, Huntington either does not believe in such a right or thinks that Americans exercise it only at their peril. Cutting America's cultural ties to the past, he writes, implies a concept of nationhood consisting of little more than "a political contract among individuals lacking any other commonality." Where he once thought this was enough, he now declares that "America with only the Creed as a basis for unity could soon evolve into a loose confederation of ethnic, racial, cultural, and political groups, with little or nothing in common apart from their location in the territory of what had been the United States of America." The United States would come to resemble the old polyglot Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman or Russian empires, except that where they at least had emperors to hold them together, America would lack even that. Instead, it would disintegrate as each subgroup went off to contemplate its own navel, leaving no one to worry about the nation as a whole.

This is a caricature, obviously, of a movement that represents fragmentation in some hands but something quite different in others. Huntington, however, targets not just multiculturalism but immigration, both the form it has taken in recent years and the way it has been presented. Contrary to myth, he argues, America is not a nation of immigrants but, initially at least, was a nation of settlers who, in going off to the New World, saw themselves not as moving to a new nation but rather as relocating from one British jurisdiction to another. Like American settlers in the Old West, they sought not to build a new nation but to extend the domain of an old one. In so doing, they gave the country a distinctly British cast to which subsequent immigrants, those who arrived after independence, have had no choice but to adapt. Thus, the children of Jewish immigrants have donned tweed jackets and entered the Ivy League, while at least one offspring of Italian immigrants has taken a seat on the Supreme Court so as to better expound the "timeless" principles of Anglo-Norman law. Regardless of religion or nationality, all have subjected themselves to an Anglo-Protestant makeover to one degree or another, Germans, Irish, Chinese, Mex...

Actually, says Huntington, Mexicans are the exception. Not only have they been slower to assimilate than other immigrant groups, but the fact that the United States shares a 2,000-mile border with their original homeland, he argues, has given their influx the quality of an invasion, which previous waves have not had. Huntington is not one to beat around the bush. "Mexican immigration," he declares, "is leading toward the demographic reconquista of areas Americans took from Mexico by force in the 1830s and 1840s." (Actually, many of us would be happy to give back Texas, although we doubt the Mexicans would take it.) The new arrivals are "blurring the border between Mexico and America, introducing a very different culture, while also promoting the emergence, in some areas, of a blended society and culture, half-American and half-Mexican." Huntington marshals evidence showing that because their original home is just next door, Mexican immigrants have been slower to adopt US citizenship than other ethnic groups (although Canadians have not been much quicker, for presumably the same reason) and also slower to learn English. Mexican-Americans are hardly the first immigrant group to be pulled this way and that by loyalty to both the United States and their original homeland. But because the latter in their case is exceptionally close at hand, the pull it exerts, according to Huntington, is exceptional as well.

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