Scholarly analysis of the American national identity as it has evolved over the centuries, the challenges it now faces, and the choices that lie ahead.
Huntington (History/Harvard; The Clash of Civilizations, 1996, etc.) argues that Anglo-Protestant culture, traditions, and values and the principles of the American Creed—liberty, equality, law, individual rights—have made this country what it is. In recent decades he sees doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity elevating racial, ethnic, and gender over national identity, and an increased tendency of immigrants, especially Hispanics, to maintain dual identities rather than to assimilate. The result is an emerging bilingual, bicultural society fundamentally different from the one of the three previous centuries with its Anglo-Protestant, English-language core. Controversies over racial preferences, immigration, and an official language are, he notes, battles in a single war over national identity, with substantial elements of the country’s elites in academia (himself not included), the professions, and the media on one side and the general public on the other. Huntington bolsters his analysis with impressive statistics, and he assembles persuasive examples to illustrate the changes he sees taking place. To the question of whether a nation lacking a cultural core can define itself by ideology alone—that is, can America be a coherent nation if the American Creed is its sole source of national identity?—his answer is a firm no. A nation’s soul, he states, is determined by a common history, traditions, and culture. As to where we go from here, he sees the world entering a new age of religion, one in which the nation’s ideological war with militant communism has been replaced by a religious and cultural war with militant Islam. He outlines three possible approaches to the country’s role in the world: cosmopolitanism, in which the US welcomes the world, its ideas, its goods, and its people; imperialism, in which the US is the dominant component of a supranational empire reshapes the world; and nationalism, in which the US does not try to eliminate the social, political, and cultural differences between itself and other societies but seeks to preserve and strengthen its own defining qualities. Elites may favor cosmopolitanism or imperialism, but most Americans, Huntington says, are, like him, patriots committed to nationalism.
A work of serious intent that is certain to arouse controversy.