Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. ISBN 0-684-87053-3.
The author, whose 1996 The Clash of Civilisations anticipated the conflicts of the early 21st century, here turns his attention inward toward the national identity of his own society. Huntington (who is, justifiably, accorded such respect by his colleagues that you might think his full name is “Eminent Scholar Samuel P. Huntington”) has written a book few others could have gotten away with without being villified in academia. His scholarship, lack of partisan agenda, thoroughness, and meticulous documentation make his argument here, that the United States were founded as what he calls an “Anglo-Protestant” culture by their overwhelmingly English Protestant settlers, difficult to refute. In his view, the U.S. were not a “melting pot” of immigrants, but rather a nation where successive waves of immigrants accepted and were assimilated into the pre-existing Anglo-Protestant culture, regardless of, and without renouncing, their ethnic origin and religion. The essentials of this culture—individualism, the work ethic, the English language, English common law, high moral standards, and individual responsibility—are not universals but were what immigrants had to buy into in order to “make it in America”. In fact, as Huntington points out, in the great waves of immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of those who came to America were self-selected for those qualities before they boarded the boat. All of this has changed, he argues, with the mass immigration which began in the 1960s. For the first time, a large percentage of immigrants share a common language (Spanish) and hail from a common culture (Mexico), with which it is easy to retain contact. At the same time, U.S. national identity has been eroded among the elite (but not the population as a whole) in favour of transnational (U.N., multinational corporation, NGO) and subnational (race, gender) identities. So wise is Huntington that I found myself exclaiming every few pages at some throw-away insight I'd never otherwise have had, such as that most of the examples offered up of successful multi-cultural societies (Belgium, Canada, Switzerland) owe their stability to fear of powerful neighbours (p. 159). This book is long on analysis but almost devoid of policy prescriptions. Fair enough: the list of viable options with any probability of being implemented may well be the null set, but even so, it's worthwhile knowing what's coming. While the focus of this book is almost entirely on the U.S., Europeans whose countries are admitting large numbers of difficult to assimilate immigrants will find much to ponder here. One stylistic point—Huntington is as fond of enumerations as even the most fanatic of the French encyclopédistes: on page 27 he indulges in one with forty-eight items and two levels of hierarchy! The enumerations form kind of a basso continuo to the main text.

September 2004 Permalink