Huntington’s WHO ARE WE? Redeemed, Repudiated Almost 20 Years Later
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On Virginia Dare’s birthday, we should reexamine Samuel Huntington’s ‎2004 Who Are We: The Challenges to America’s National Identity, simultaneously perhaps the most prescient and most “overtaken-by-events” book on immigration from the last 20 years.

Huntington accurately observed that America was not a nation of immigrants, was at least partially defined by white racial identity, and faces an existential challenge from unchecked mass immigration. However, he underestimated the continuing challenge presented by the original American Dilemma: blacks and their unassimilability by the American nation-state. Furthermore, Huntington’s suggested answer for American renewal, a revitalized Anglo-Protestantism, appears less likely than ever. Huntington showed us that there is an American nation—but didn’t give us any answers about how (or if) it can be saved.

Despite this, Huntington’s book remains valuable simply because he proves we’re more than the profusion of errant flesh we see on display at the DNC. Critically, Huntington argued that the core American identity is not “white” or even Northern European. “America is a founded society created by seventeenth-and-eighteenth-century settlers almost all of whom came from the British Isles,” he wrote. Though he did not use the term, one could say that Huntington argues that America was shaped by “Anglo privilege.” Drawing on Wilbur Zelinsky’s “Doctrine of First Effective Settlement,” Huntington argued that the relatively small groups of British settlers who settled the future United States had a larger impact “than the contributions of tens of thousands of new immigrants a few generations later.” Thus, America did not begin in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence, much less in 1619 with blacks, or in 1492 with Columbus, or around 1000 with Snorri Thorfinnsson. Instead, Huntington argued,

It began with the first [British] settler communities of 1607, 1620, and 1630. What happened in the 1770s and 1780s was rooted in and a product of the Anglo-American Protestant society and culture that had developed over the intervening one and a half centuries.

While the 1790 Naturalization Act showed the Founding Fathers had white racial consciousness, they didn’t think of America as an extension of Europe. They thought of it as an extinction of Britain, with minor exceptions that men like Hamilton and Franklin eyed suspiciously. Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence reads like a breakup letter, telling the British that “we might have been a free & great people together.”

Instead of Noel Ignatiev’s disingenuous vitriol about “the Irish becoming white,” the American story is really about the Irish, Germans, Italians, and other European peoples conforming to a core Anglo-Protestant culture, and the American Creed which grew out of it. 

Thus, memorializing Virginia Dare in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt could refer to “our British cousins” before a presumably multiethnic American audience, without anyone thinking this strange.

Indeed, Huntington argued that, for the astonishingly long period 1607-1940, American identity was united in ethnic, racial, and cultural terms, with political separation occurring twice, in the Cousins’ Wars of the American Revolution and the War Between the States.

When mass non-British immigration did begin, especially after 1880, private organizations and then the government consciously undertook “Americanization,” especially in public schools. “The schools insisted on the immigrants accepting ‘Anglo-American Protestant traditions and values,’” wrote Huntington. Schools deliberately undermined migrants’ “native cultures” and indoctrinated them into an American civic identity.

Even the Catholic school system, which arose partly in resistance to this “Americanization” campaign, also “became a channel for the propagation of American values and American nationalism,” probably to prove their loyalty. During World War I, the U.S. government waged an unrelenting “Americanization” campaign against German-Americans, then the largest non-English speaking minority group [During World War I, U.S. Government Propaganda Erased German Culture, NPR, April 7, 2017].

Thus, even with immigration pauses and a monoracial identity, maintaining an American nation required strong ethnic consciousness by WASPs, cultural power, and government action.

Huntington argued that “The American Creed” of individual rights, legal equality, popular sovereignty, and limited government had its origins in dissenting Protestantism. The only real indigenous opposition to this creed: The brief effort by nineteenth century Southerners like John C. Calhoun to defend slavery as a positive good. This “American Creed” was broadly shared by Americans when the country was overwhelmingly white. North-South reconciliation (symbolized by joint Union-Confederate commemorations) was key in forming American patriotism in the early 20th century.

But obviously, one group was left out of this united people–African-Americans.

Huntington noted that the phrase “the American Creed” was “popularized by Gunnar Myrdal in The [sic] American Dilemma,” the book that arguably paved the way for civil rights, racial integration, and, ultimately, the theory of the “proposition” or “universal” nation. Beginning with the Civil Rights movement, Huntington argued, American identity became unmoored from even implicit white racial consciousness. However, at least in theory, it didn’t require a cultural unmooring: “The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were expressly designed to make American reality reflect American principles,” Huntington wrote. There was nothing inherent in “The Creed” that couldn’t be spread to other groups—there was no reason we couldn’t just all be “American.”

At least in theory. But in practice, cultural disintegration followed soon afterward. Anticipating Christopher Caldwell’s 2020 Age of Entitlement, Huntington noted that

…as soon as the Civil Rights Act was passed, black leaders such as Bayard Rustin stopped demanding rights common to all American citizens and instead began demanding governmental programs to provide material benefits as a distinct racial group.

Like Caldwell, Huntington blamed federal administrators and judges for interpreting laws “to mean the opposite of what they said and through these interpretations launch[ing] a frontal assault on the Creed’s principle of equal rights for all that had made the new laws possible.” Thus, judges demanded that congressional districts be drawn up to guarantee minority representation; laws were thrown out to avoid any “disparate impact” even if there was no evidence of racial intent; and special benefits were created for minority groups.

Not surprisingly, we now see the government, especially the public schools, “Deconstructing America,” as Huntington entitled one chapter. Central to this project is multiculturalism, which Huntington said rightly “is in its essence anti-European civilization.”

Huntington paid a great deal of attention to the challenge of mass Mexican immigration, which he saw as a unique challenge because Mexicans can and do “assert a historical claim to American territory.” Huntington argued that Mexicans persist in retaining Spanish, lag in educational performance, retain their citizenship, and do not identify as “American.” He added that there could form a Hispanic “enclave” in the Southwest that would be politically, ethnically, linguistically, and economically distinct from the rest of the country.

He identified Miami, Florida as a place that has already been transformed “from a normal American city into a Cuban-led Hispanic city.” Huntington forcefully claimed there is no “Americano” dream but just “the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society.” He said Mexican-Americans “will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.”

However, here we see some problems in Huntington’s analysis.

  • First, while the southwest is becoming heavily Mexican, the problem is not simply Mexican

Instead, we have Hispanic enclaves all around the country, with those on the East Coast created by Central American migrants. Mexico is now our unlikely partner in border enforcement against this invasion. Instead of a singular region dominated by one group of cultural and linguistic foreigners, we’re seeing the Third World colonization of the entire country.

  • Secondly, Huntington underestimated the importance of race, especially the difference between blacks and whites.

“Races will continue to exist,” he wrote, “but not necessarily to the same degree or with the same significance that they have had in the past.” Here, he was simply wrong.

America has had its first black president, but race has become more important. Black Lives Matter is the key racial movement of our time, not Chicano revanchism (yet). Intermarriage, which Huntington suggested could make government attempts to classify people by race obsolete, is furthering racial obsessions. Nikole Hannah-Jones, Shaun King, Kamala Harris, and countless other activists and politicians opportunistically adopt whatever racial identity is most advantageous.

As the Rachel Dolezal farce and other cases of “flight from white” show, social, economic, and legal privileges for non-whites encourage as many people as possible to de-assimilate and claim victimhood. Of course, their actions refute their own claims about the power of white privilege, but who’s going to point that out?

  • Thirdly, though Huntington admitted the possibility of a resurgent “white nativism,” he suggested that “Anglo-Protestant culture and its religiosity” could sustain America’s distinct identity.

However, the exceptional nature of America as a modern Western democracy with a high rate of Christian belief seems to be fading fast [In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace, Pew Research Center, October 17, 2019]. America increasingly resembles just another Western European country in its atheism (unless we count Black Lives Matter as a faith). Huntington’s analysis of the Christian Coalition, the Religious Right, and the role evangelicals played in the 2000 election, aren’t just dated, but completely irrelevant in the age of Drag Queen Story Hour and Black Trans Lives Matter rallies.

Meanwhile, “Anglo-Protestantism” specifically seems to have utterly vanished as a cultural force, with the Church of England and its Episcopalian American branches having beliefs and functions no different than a contributor to Vice or Teen Vogue.

Huntington referred several times to the surge of patriotism following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But these led to no real changes beyond disastrous Middle Eastern wars for Israel that the neoconservatives wanted to launch anyway. To the contrary, Islam is more powerful in American life than it was before the Twin Towers fell. And insofar as there is a reactionary Christian movement in the United States, it’s coming from Traditionalist Catholics, a group which explicitly opposes “Anglo-Protestantism” and which sometimes even appears to want to reimagine the American founding as a Hispanic endeavor.

“Americans generally may be returning to the self-image prevalent for three centuries that they are a Christian people,” Huntington wrote early in the book. This just hasn’t happened.

The truth is that the American “Creed” survived as long as it did because WASP ethnic consciousness, white racial consciousness, and a lack of mass non-white immigration kept Americans from having to deal with the contradictions between the American “Culture” and American “Creed.”

The Historic American Nation fought Indians, conquered the West, and developed the greatest industrial power on Earth. However, when its elites naively or maliciously tried to extend the classical liberal “Creed” to everyone, America destroyed itself within two generations.

It’s questionable whether this is even a process unique to America. The late Jean Raspail argued the same universalism destroyed France in the process he called “The Fatherland Betrayed By The Republic.”

This raises what calls “The National Question”—whether the U.S. can survive as a nation-state, the political expression of a particular people. On current trends, would-be American nationalists will soon lose control their nation-state and become a dispossessed people like the Afrikaners or the Kurds.

Huntington wrote that “identity requires differentiation.” But the question of “who is or is not an American” is being answered for us in the streets, as statues of Union and Confederate leaders, the Founders, heroic presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, and other symbols of the American identity are destroyed and defiled.

Stripped of ethnic, racial, and cultural unity, it may be only a short time until occupied America demands separation from its occupiers.

If that does not occur, “America” will cease to be anything more than a geographic expression. Who Are We then? Consumers, tax slaves in the case of the whites, and nothing more.

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