Books by David A. Hollinger

Released: July 5, 1995

Historian Hollinger (Univ. of Calif., Berkeley) argues for a middle ground between the extremes of diversity and homogeneity in American politics and culture. Over the last two decades, America's smorgasbord of ethnic and cultural groups have asserted themselves against what they perceive as cultural domination by white men and Western thought. Hollinger praises this multicultural movement for ``the cultivation of difference against the conformist imperative for sameness too often felt in American society.'' But he notes that the movement has ``outgrown itself,'' and is ``inhibited from meeting new challenges by the generality of the commitments'' to which it owes its existence. Also, Hollinger argues that multiculturalists ignore the positive aspects of American national culture and threaten to impose their own conformist imperatives on their particular communities. Hollinger makes the case for a ``postethnic America'' that recognizes and respects diversity but also offers the adhesive of a national culture that enables diverse Americans to act on problems of common concern. Further, this postethnic perspective would allow people to choose their affiliations voluntarily, rather than having them dictated by the racism of outsiders or the provincialism of insiders. Hollinger, writing for academics, does not always state his arguments as succinctly or directly as a layperson might wish. For example, he does not squarely address affirmative action, one of the most tendentious and explosive issues related to multiculturalism. Rather, he argues that class distinctions perpetuate involuntary ethno-racial distinctions; in the absence of a means of lifting themselves out of poverty, the poor turn to ethno-racial identity for a sense of rootedness. Thus, the lack of national poverty programs betrays ``the traditional American emphasis on the freedom of individual affiliation''—the cornerstone of Hollinger's postethnic ideal. (For another postethnic proposal, see Michael Lind's The Next American Nation, p. 613.) Hollinger offers a blueprint for moving the debate over multiculturalism from polarized and politicized confrontation to constructive dialogue. Those debaters seeking common ground will find this book an invaluable contribution to their efforts. Read full book review >