Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity By Samuel P. Huntington Book Review

Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity is an interesting read on America’s identity and the changes that have occurred over time.  It looks at the importance Americans attribute to their national identity and what Americans think they have in common and what distinguishes them from other peoples.

The book deals with the topic of national identity and immigration.   Huntington gives a history of the American identity and how it has varied over time.  He punctures some national myths.  One myth is we are “a nation of immigrants”.  America is a nation that was founded by settlers and was populated by the decedents of those settlers.  Immigrants came later and assimilated into America.  Americans own America and may admit or refuse any outsider on whatever grounds.  He also looks at the threats it faces.

Huntington looks at the recent history of immigration.  From the 60’s immigration is different than the previous waves.  It is continuously high levels.  Previous immigration was low and at times high peaks followed by low waves.  High peaks of immigration retards assimilation and fosters ethnic ghettoes.  The new huge wave of immigration is must less diverse.   Hunting lays out a vast wealth of social science, census, and survey data to support his thesis.

There is a lot more than just immigration.  It is an analysis of the threats that undermine America’s common culture and identity looking at cultural wars of the last 40 years.  One such is the American elites who until the late 2oth century promoted national unity, then in the 1960s and 1970s they “began to promote measures consciously designed to weaken America’s cultural and creedal identity and to strengthen racial, ethnic, cultural, and other subnational identities. These efforts by a nation’s leaders to deconstruct the nation they governed were, quite possibly, without precedent in human history.”

What the deconstructionist promote Huntington examines in detail the changes and the significance to America’s future.

The deconstructionists promoted programs to enhance the status and influence of subnational, racial, ethnic and cultural groups. They encouraged immigrants to maintain their birth country cultures, granted them legal privileges denied to native-born Americans, and denounced the idea of Americanization as un-American. They pushed the re-writing of history syllabi and textbooks so as to refer to the “peoples” of the United States in place of the single people of the Constitution.

They urged supplementing or substituting for national history the history of subnational groups. They downgraded the centrality of English in American life and pushed bilingual education and linguistic diversity. They advocated legal recognition of group rights and racial preferences over the individual rights central to the American Creed. They justified their actions by theories of multiculturalism and the idea that diversity rather than unity or community should be America’s overriding value. The combined effect of these efforts was to promote the deconstruction of the American identity that had been gradually created over three centuries and the ascendance of subnational identities.

The replacement of individual rights with group rights, undermining of equal justice, the erosion of American citizenship, multiculturalism….

Huntington analysis of American culture and identity in historical context is an interesting read about how we got to where we are today and where we are going.

Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity by Samuel P. Huntington is available at Amazon.

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