Diversity and Its Discontents
Nowhere does Huntington address the question of what is to be done. He doesn't have to. Merely to "problematize" Mexican immigration in this fashion is enough. The more Americans buy into his argument that Mexicans are a threat--an argument that will be increasingly attractive the more the economy turns downward--the more a host of "solutions" will present themselves more or less automatically: stepped-up border patrols, intensified efforts to bar those whose papers are not in order from public schools and hospital emergency rooms, etc. Considering the immense economic benefits of moving to America--Huntington quotes the historian David Kennedy to the effect that the US-Mexican income gap "is the largest between any two contiguous countries in the world"--all such measures will prove ineffectual to one degree or another. But, as with the drug war, each failure will lead to an even more extreme response. Ultimately, the result is likely to be a Fortress America complete with a militarized border zone, police checkpoints and "English-only" signs in bus stations and other such gathering spots, an outcome that Huntington is not likely to find displeasing. Of course, it is not only Mexican-Americans who will suffer in such circumstances, but Irish-Americans, Jews, leftists and anyone else suspected of dual loyalty.
Huntington is equally adamant on the subject of religion. Americans are exceptionally religious by First World standards, and he thinks they should remain that way because...well, because Americans are exceptionally religious. He also points out that the United States is anything but religiously diverse by world standards. With as many as 88 percent of Americans declaring themselves Christian, the United States is more Christian than Israel is Jewish, Egypt is Muslim or India is Hindu. In a global survey of religious attitudes conducted in the early 1990s, he notes that America emerged as the fifth-most-religious nation in the world, behind Nigeria, Poland, India and Turkey but ahead of some thirty-seven others ranging from Ireland and Brazil to South Korea, China and Japan. Ninety-two percent of Americans believe in God, according to other polls, 85 percent believe that the Bible is God's word and 74 percent believe in life after death. As the sponsor of another religious survey observed in 2000: "Americans strongly equate religion with personal ethics and behavior, considering it an antidote to the moral decline they perceive in our nation today. Crime, greed, uncaring parents, materialism--Americans believe that all these problems would be mitigated if people were more religious." Amid the unprecedented stresses of the post-9/11 period, an astonishing 59 percent of Americans said they believed that the apocalyptic prophecies contained in the Book of Revelation would come true.
Nowhere, needless to say, does Huntington indicate that he himself believes in the Book of Revelation--he is far too sophisticated for that. Rather, he approves of religion not because it is true but because it is essential to the Tudor constitution and because it is intrinsic to America's evolution from "promised land" to "crusader state." While it doesn't quite come out and say so, Who Are We? comes remarkably close to thanking Al Qaeda for the events of 2001. Because "identity requires differentiation," Huntington writes, the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989-91 left the United States adrift. It needed a new enemy to define itself, and small-timers like Slobodan Milosevic simply would not do the trick. But then, says Huntington, "on September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden ended America's search." In addition to "kill[ing] several thousand people, he...filled the vacuum created by Gorbachev with an unmistakably dangerous new enemy, and he pinpointed America's identity as a Christian nation." Where the struggle against the Soviets encouraged America to define itself ideologically, the new struggle, according to Huntington, encourages it to define itself religiously. Indeed, Bush's crusade and bin Laden's jihad have, in an odd way, turned out to be mutually reinforcing. The more they wage war against each other, the more they succeed in "fundamentalizing" both the United States and the Middle East. The more America battles militant Islam, the more it makes itself into its Christian equivalent.
Now that much of the world has adopted the logic of The Clash of Civilizations, the question is whether Americans will go the extra mile and adopt the logic of Who Are We? My guess is that a growing number will. The problem is not just a declining economy that leaves Americans short-tempered but a growing sense of belligerence that the war on terrorism serves to promote. Huntington is right: It imposes a different sort of logic. In previous conflicts Americans took aim at targets that were specific and down-to-earth--the Southern slavocracy, for instance, imperial Germany or the Nazi government in Berlin. As soon as they fell, the war was over. But this time, the goal--to "rid the world of evil," as Bush put it a few days after 9/11-- is nebulous in the extreme. Since evil will always be with us in one form or another, a crusade aimed at banishing it forever is a formula not only for endless warfare but for ever-expanding bitterness against anyone who is not completely on board. It is a self-feeding, self-perpetuating system designed to isolate the United States and cause it to turn inward. The more it does, the more preoccupied it will become with searching out that kernel of America that it regards as its true essence. The more it tries to isolate that core, the more intolerant it will grow of anyone or anything that it regards as adulterated or impure.
The process is by no means inevitable. Americans could put a stop to it either by admitting defeat or by rethinking the war on terrorism from top to bottom in order to come up with something more rational, democratic and effective. But the first is something that Americans never, ever do, while no one in Washington seems morally or intellectually capable of the second. Since no one is willing to challenge the (il)logic of an endless crusade against terrorism, it can only drag America deeper and deeper into the abyss.
Interestingly, there is little in Huntington's book about democracy. The reason is obvious. Government of, by and for the people implies the sovereignty of "we the living" not only over government and society but over tradition as well, whereas Who Are We? implies something very different. It represents a return to the ideas of Edmund Burke, a longstanding hero of Huntington's, who argued that "a perfect democracy is...the most shameless thing in the world" and that a nation must be seen as a mystical union "between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born." The effect of such thinking is to reduce "we the living" to little more than "temporary possessors and life-renters," as Burke put it, and to substitute tradition for popular sovereignty. Instead of the present triumphing over the past, it means the past triumphing over the present. Samuel Huntington's new work is a reactionary manifesto that may very well be on a par with Burke's conservative classic Reflections on the Revolution in France. Considering America's mood these days, it should have no trouble finding an audience.