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.