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The Clash of Civilizations Within
on January 8, 2005
Samuel P Huntington - Professor and Chairman of the Harvard Academy of International and Area Studies - is best known for his groundbreaking and prescient book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order" wherein he argues that in the post-Cold War era there will be conflicts of cultures rather than ideologies. To an extent this has proven to be the case. In the present volume - "Who Are We: The Challenges to American Identity" - he predicts similar conflicts unfolding domestically inside America's borders. The clash of civilizations within, as it were.
And what is the American national identity that Huntington claims is being challenged? He asserts that our national identity consists of two components: Anglo-Protestant culture and the American creed. Anglo-Protestant core culture is uniquely American and it is the foundation upon which the more universal principles of the American creed are based. He believes that the unique aspects of this identity are central to our national survival.
Anglo-Protestant culture has been central to the American identity for three centuries. It was originally established by dissident Protestants from England who valued individualism, had a healthy suspicion of government, had a vigorous work ethic, believed in voluntary associations and who had a crusading moralism tempered by tolerance. They were united by the English language and English legal tradtions. These were the salient features of the core culture upon which the creed rests. America would have been very different had it been settled by French or Spanish Catholics.
The American creed, the second component, consists of principles to which all can subscribe: liberty, equality, civil rights, nondiscrimination, justice, and rule of law - all the elements of a liberal democracy. Huntington believes that even though the elements of the creed are universal their American manifestation are an outgrowth of our singular Anglo-Protestant core culture and not transferable everywhere.
Huntington believes that this unique American national identity is being challenge at both ends of the social spectrum.
At one end of the spectrum are the liberal elites who are becoming increasingly denationalized with their doctrines of multiculturalism and globalization. "...American elite groups, business, financial, intellectual, professional and governmental were becoming denationalized and developing transnational and cosmopolitan identities superseding their national ones."
Obviously leaders of multinational corporations and international organizations must deemphasize their national identity when conducting their business. Being a nationalist chauvanist on the world stage would be counterproductive and offensive. Huntington's argument here is mainly against the mulitculturalism encourged by the elites. The irony is that the cultural elites derive mainly from the Anglo-Protestant tradition. Are the elites trying to make it a global culture? Or are other cultures at the same time transforming Anglo-Protestantism? I think both are the case and that Huntington may be on a fool's errand to get in the way of this two-way traffic.
On the other end of the spectrum America's national identity is being challenged by immigration. Huntington claims that the large influx of immigrants from Latin America - especially Mexico - is different from previous waves of immigration. The Mexican immigration poses at threat not only for the numbers involved (23 million and counting), but the fact that they are concentrated in states and cities close to our mutual border. With low rates of assimilation, bilingualism, and dual citizenships, Huntington believes they could make territorial claims in the future.
Huntington, I think, misreads the Mexican immigrant for numerous reasons. Primarily, Mexican immigrants want to "commit themselves" to "Anglo-Protestant culture" as defined by Huntington. They are dedicated to the work ethic, they seek to learn English, they become members of the armed forces, and after the second and third generations they intermarry, go to college, and speak only English just like "ordinary Americans."
Their assimilation is actually very similar to that of the southern Italians and East European Jews of an earlier generation, only the scale is different.
Huntington has written an important book that poses some serious questions about American national identity. He is somewhat alarmist about the transformation of the Anglo-Protestant culture of yesteryear. However, I believe American culture is always evolving and becoming more inclusive. Multiculturalism and cosmpolitanism reaches out and incorporates more diverse groups into the American identity, making it less dependent on race, ethnicity, and religion. The important ingredient is creed; everyone must believe in the creed which is central to American identity.