Apropos my last post about the left-liberal abandonment of America as an idea, I just read this review of Samuel Huntington’s new book.
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.”
But he provides a context/reason
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.
Note the lines here religion/patriotism vs atheism/internationalism. Its a strange mix because the history of the nation-state and America in particular is tied, among other things, to the assertion of an identity *independent* of ones religion. During the 1960’s the modern left came into existence, abandoning the notion of America as representing the pinnacle of liberal values to the notion that America isx the foremost oppressor of other people’s cultural authneticity.
Huntington gives voice to the difference between neo and paleo conservatism that George WIll identified
Huntington argues that America has two sources of identity. The first he calls “the Creed,” by which he means the basic principles of individual rights and government by consent of the governed as these are drawn from universal arguments, such as can be found “most notably in the Declaration of Independence.” The Creed claims to make its appeal to rational precept (to “nature”), which is in principle available to all people. (It is curious that Huntington selects the term “creed” to refer to this dimension, as the word evokes powerful connotations of acceptance on the basis of faith.)
THE SECOND ELEMENT of identity is Culture. Culture, as any social scientist knows, is a most useful concept until one is confronted with the task of having to say exactly what it means. Huntington does his best, defining it at one point as “a people’s language, religious beliefs, social and political values, assumptions as to what is right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, and to the objective institutions and behavioral patterns that reflect these subjective elements”–in brief, nearly everything. But Huntington boils the concept down, as he must, and culture comes to refer to language (English), to religion (sometimes “dissenting Protestantism,” sometimes, more broadly, “the Christian religion”), and to a few basic English ideas of liberty. America’s culture, in Huntington’s shorthand, is “Anglo-Protestantism.”
Huntington formulates the central paleo-argument:
The problem with Creedalism in this arena is its clear “imperial” implication. Huntington is a nationalist, but a moderate one who has little use for contemporary international Creedalists who believe that “people of other societies have basically the same values as Americans, or if they do not have them, they want to have them, or if they do not want to have them, they misjudge what is good for their society, and Americans have the responsibility to persuade them or to induce them to embrace the universal values that America espouses.”
Huntington ties the origin of the Creed to Anglo-Protestant culture, but he does not–or does not quite–equate origin with essence. He grants that the Creed can–indeed has–spread, albeit in an attenuated form, to nations that are not Anglo-Protestant. But there is no question that his argument moves in the direction of saying that spreading the Creed very far afield, given its chiefly cultural origins, is a delusion.
A great deal of what is most lovable about America, and perhaps also higher and more valuable, is contained in the Culture, not in the Creed. For Huntington, it is clearly not just a matter of convenience that Americans have one language, which happens to be English; rather, it is important that we speak English and find our roots in Shakespeare, not Cervantes. By the same token, it is not just a matter of convenience for Huntington that America is chiefly Christian, rather than Buddhist or Islamic. He wants it to be that way. More broadly, he argues that such preferences are justified, and they should be openly defended and preferred–not be made objects of shame, hidden from view. But Creedalism (at any rate, the zealous Creedalism that Huntington attacks) is not only indifferent to these cultural preferences, but it is almost antagonistic to them.
As I said before, the failure of the Paleo-conservatives is that they seem almost antagonistic to the advocacy tools available today.