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O, My America

From the May 3, 2004 issue: The clash of the Huntingtons.

May 3, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 32 • By JAMES W. CEASER
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Huntington's challenge to the roster of leading intellectual superstars does not stop here. Many who do not share this basic antipathy to the nation nevertheless come under his critical scrutiny because they are too squeamish to take the elementary steps needed to promote the nation; they follow the weak path of willing the ends while denying the means. He cites, for example, Michael Walzer ("A radical program of Americanization would really be un-American") and Dennis Wrong ("Nobody advocates 'Americanizing' new immigrants, as in the bad old ethnocentric past"). This opposition to Americanization, Huntington declares, "is a new phenomenon in American intellectual and political history."

Aiding this intellectual disaffection have been various effects stemming from economic trends of globalization that work to devalue the idea of the nation in general. The modern economy creates a class of transnational elites who identify more with the world than the nation: "The economic globalizers are fixated on the world as an economic unit . . . as the global market replaces the national community, the national citizen gives way to the global consumer." At the head of this new class of transnationals are the "Davos" men and women, whose ranks include not just business executives but global bureaucrats and members of various internationally minded NGOs. These are the people whose hearts thrill at a ruling from The Hague, whose loyalty goes first to the United Nations, and who regard any expression of patriotism as an act equally as atavistic as attending religious services.

FINALLY, there is a particular development that has taken place over the past few decades that brings home in a concrete way all of these problems. It is "the dominance among immigrants of speakers, largely Mexican, of a single non-English language (a phenomenon without precedent in American history), with the resulting tendencies toward the transformation of America into a bilingual, bicultural society."

Huntington paints a picture of a growing bifurcation in which America is at risk of becoming a permanent two-culture nation like Canada. Worse, America did not inherit this situation, but allowed it to happen. American elites fiddled while the Southwest began to burn. Either elites delighted in the development of a full second culture, or they subordinated long-term political considerations to immediate economic gains--or they buried their heads in the sand and assumed that assimilation must occur automatically, ignoring the special difficulties posed by the geographic closeness of the Hispanic homeland to American territory and by the sentiments of a people who consider the Southwest to have been stolen from them. For some Hispanic intellectuals, what is occurring is nothing less than the reconquista of territories stolen from Mexico in the 1830s and 1840s. There is no interest in Americanization: "Uncle Sam no es mi tío." Although many Americans who only a decade ago were blithely urging unlimited immigration and open borders have finally woken up to the difficulties of assimilation, they often continue today to advocate the same policy on the grounds that it is now too late to do anything about it. Thus do they try to excuse their own errors in judgment by citing the magnitude of the problems they have created.

This part of Huntington's book, which appeared as an article in Foreign Policy, parallels the argument of Victor Davis Hanson's Mexifornia, published last year. Both works have received a great deal of attention, much of it critical, and the authors have been accused of being ungenerous and unsympathetic. Huntington, to be sure, dwells almost exclusively on the downside of Hispanic immigration, while his critics have sought out more hopeful signs, citing contrary evidence of trends of Hispanic assimilation and noting that Hispanics actually seem to place a greater emphasis on the American values of hard work and family than do most other Americans these days.

WHAT'S MORE, almost all developed nations have recently faced intense population pressures from poorer countries--particularly because these developed nations need additional labor. From this perspective, America might feel itself fortunate that whatever assimilation challenges it faces come from Mexico rather than, say, from Algeria. But while it is fashionable and certainly much easier on the part of Huntington's critics to assume things will work out, who can be sure that the prediction of a "bifurcated" culture will prove to be wrong? Huntington, the patriot, has the resolve of Cassandra, sounding an unwelcome warning that few wish to hear. One thing is certain: He is not about to receive La Raza's man of the year award.