One Nation, Out of Many

Samuel Huntington, the most significant political scientist of the last half century, has an interesting piece in The American Enterprise entitled, “One Nation, Out of Many.” It’s a continuation of his recent theme that massive Third World immigration is threatening to undermine America as we know it.

America’s core culture has primarily been the culture of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century settlers who founded our nation. The central elements of that culture are the Christian religion; Protestant values, including individualism, the work ethic, and moralism; the English language; British traditions of law, justice, and limits on government power; and a legacy of European art, literature, and philosophy. Out of this culture the early settlers formulated the American Creed, with its principles of liberty, equality, human rights, representative government, and private property. Subsequent generations of immigrants were assimilated into the culture of the founding settlers and modified it, but did not change it fundamentally. It was, after all, Anglo-Protestant culture, values, institutions, and the opportunities they created that attracted more immigrants to America than to all the rest of the world.

America was founded as a Protestant society, and for 200 years almost all Americans practiced Protestantism. With substantial Catholic immigration, first from Germany and Ireland and then Italy and Poland, the proportion of Protestants declined–to about 60 percent of the population by 2000. Protestant beliefs, values, and assumptions, however, have been the core element (along with the English language) of America’s settler culture, and they continue to pervade and shape American life, society, and thought. Protestant values have shaped American attitudes toward private and public morality, economic activity, government, and public policy. They have even deeply influenced Catholicism and other religions in America.

Throughout our history, people who were not white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants have become Americans by adopting America’s Anglo-Protestant culture and political values. This benefited them, and it benefited the country. Millions of immigrants and their children achieved wealth, power, and status in American society precisely because they assimilated themselves into the prevailing culture. One has only to ask: Would America be the America it is today if in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.


In 1994, 19 scholars of American history and politics were asked to evaluate the level of American unity in 1930, 1950, 1970, and 1990. The year 1950, according to these experts, was the “zenith of American national integration.” Since then “cultural and political fragmentation has increased” and “conflict emanating from intensified ethnic and religious consciousness poses the main current challenge to the American nation.”


Fanning all of this was the new popularity among liberal elites of the doctrines of “multiculturalism” and “diversity,” which elevate subnational, racial, ethnic, cultural, gender, and other identities over national identity, and encourage immigrants to maintain dual identities, loyalties, and citizenships. Multiculturalism is basically an anti-Western ideology. Multiculturalists argue that white Anglo America has suppressed other cultural alternatives, and that America in the future should not be a society with a single pervasive national culture, but instead should become a “tossed salad” of many starkly different ingredients.

Huntington’s basic premise, that a bilingual, multicultural society without shared core values would no longer be “America” as we’ve known it is correct. It’s hardly clear, though, that we’re headed in that direction. Indeed, as Huntington notes later in the piece, despite decades of pressure from elites, the mass public–even in places like California–consistently votes for English-only initiatives and other cultural protection issues. With the exception of a handful of border cities, fluency in English is a prerequisite to advancing in the workforce beyond subsistence wages, a rather powerful market incentive towards assimilation.

Huntington believes that is changing:

A glimpse of what a splintering of America into English- and Spanish-speaking camps might look like can be found in current day Miami. Since the 1960s, first Cuban and then other Latin American immigrants have converted Miami from a fairly normal American city into a heavily Hispanic city. By 2000 Spanish was not just the language spoken in most homes in Miami, it was also the principal language of commerce, business, and politics. The local media and communications are increasingly Hispanic. In 1998, a Spanish language television station became the number one station watched by Miamians–the first time a foreign-language station achieved that rating in a major American city.


The persistence of Mexican immigration and the large absolute numbers of Mexicans in the southwest reduce the incentives for cultural assimilation. Mexican-Americans no longer think of themselves as members of a small minority who must accommodate the dominant group and adopt its culture. As their numbers increase, they become more committed to their own ethnic identity and culture. Sustained numerical expansion promotes cultural consolidation, and leads them not to minimize but to glory in the differences between their society and America generally.

This is likely true. Certainly, the widespread availability of Spanish language media and the existence of ethnic enclaves reduces the urgency of learning English and melting into the larger culture. On the other hand, there would still seem to be rather powerful incentives for doing those things since one is otherwise relegated to a very small slice of American life. The national political system and almost all of the country is still English-only, as is the dominant media.

While Huntington is correct that Latin immigration is different from the overseas variety because of scale, contiguity, and other issues, the fact remains that ethnic enclaves–Little Italies, Chinatowns, and so forth–have existed for over a century. Almost without fail, Americanization has always taken place within a generation or two.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, Religion, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    I agree that a case could be made that the culture as we know it is in trouble. I also agree that Huntington hasn’t made his case, yet.. though I find that a lack of Huntington’s presentation, not of a lack of evdience.

    I do want to take issue with your final ‘graph, however, where you say:

    While Huntington is correct that Latin immigration is different from the overseas variety because of scale, contiguity, and other issues, the fact remains that ethnic enclaves–Little Italies, Chinatowns, and so forth–have existed for over a century. Almost without fail, Americanization has always taken place within a generation or two.

    What you say is true. However a major change has occurred within the last 40 years. THat being official recognition of other languages by our govenrment, in the name of multi-culturalism. The reason that, as you say, “Americanization has always taken place within a generation or two” is because a lack of bending to thee other cultural forces. The message sent by such lack was clear; “Want to get ahead in America? Great. Become a part of OUR culture.”

    That message is no longe being sent. The result of htat lack is already being felt.

  2. American Cuban in Miami says:

    As an American with Cuban Parents. This author cited the wrong example. First, Miami became the city it is precisely because of well educated Cubans who fled Cuba in the Sixties. These Cubans had more in common with Protestant-Americans then the Catholic Spaniards who had raped the country at the end of the previous century. Cuban’s have had a strong bond with America since America’s Civil War (previous 50 years not withstanding) Jose Marti a frequent visitor to U.S. and part-time New Yorker wrote of the said it best in a Letter to the editor, New York Evening Post, March 25, 1889 regarding Cubans

    “They have made of the heroes of this country their own heroes, and look to the success of the American commonwealth as the crowning glory of mankind;”

    The foundation Cuban Americans have layed has turned Miami into an international destination and the gateway to Latin America not unlike NY or LA. While Spanish is key to transacting business here due to the close ties to Latin American.

    No further proof of Cuban’s contributions to USA and their willingness to adopt America and it’s values and ideals as theirs is the late Roberto Goizueta born in Havana and later became CEO of Coca Cola, who some say lead Coke through it’s glory years.

    Miami currently has a conservative pro business (Cuban-American) mayor and has never advocated the liberal policies commonly found in California precisely because of the strong Cuban base which is predominantly republican, in many cases they are American citizens always extremely Pro-America and patriotic. While I share the concern of the balkanization of America the author’s example was poor. It is true that many Latins have chosen Miami as a destination and Spanish is the predominant language in many of neighborhoods of the recently arrived. But English is still the key language and any second generation’er speaks primarily English. Miami has become “Latinized” but no more than saying New York is Italianized, or Boston Irished or San Franciso “Chinaized”. In the end the overwhelming majority of immigrants come here for one reason, to build a better life and join the American Dream and that is in the end to be American.

  3. Attila Girl says:

    I think it’s easy to overreact to these issues of language difference. As James points out, there have always been linguistic “safe harbors” for new immigrants; it’s the other cultural values (primarily the work ethic, and the sense of hope) that matter.

  4. the most significant political scientist of the last half century

    Perhaps in his own mind. I’d put Robert Dahl, Warren Miller, Arend Lijphart, Philip Converse, Anthony Downs, David Mayhew, and probably a dozen others ahead of Huntington. Though, in fairness, Huntington’s bad ideas have probably had greater influence than any one else’s over the past 30 years or so (assuming we don’t consider Noam Chomsky a political scientist; if we do, then his bad ideas have been even more useless for public discourse).

  5. Joseph Marshall says:

    “The year 1950, according to these experts, was the “zenith of American national integration.””

    Let me see. If I remember correctly 1950 was but a few short years after the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, and a few short years before the first real cracks appeared in the world of Jim Crow. It was also, if I remember right, well before we abandoned the ethnic quota system of preference in immigration.

    I wouldn’t presume to contradict such emminent experts, but this does suggest to me that behind the so-called adaptation and assimilation to “American Prostestant Values” was a considerable amount of mob politics and naked legal force.

    This might have something to do with the illusion that all of America back then was pretty much like “Leave It To Beaver” or “The Ozzie Nelson Show”, with a few quirky exceptions such as “Amos and Andy”, Lucy’s husband Ricky Ricardo, and Jack Benny’s manservant Rochester.