The death of the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington in December deprived us of one of our most penetrating observers of the world writ large. Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order was a minor sensation when it was published in 1993, and its core idea—that a confrontation between Western democratic society and Islam loomed on a not-very-distant horizon—has gained relevance with every passing year. Huntington’s thesis is not popular among those who believe that the best way of dealing with a clash of civilizations is to pretend that the clash does not exist. But its pertinence to the West has been glaringly evident since the morning of September 11, 2001.
It is the same with Huntington’s last book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity, which was published in 2004. Huntington’s defense of a distinctively American identity met with furious criticism on the Left. Michiko Kakutani, for example, dismissed it in The New York Times as a “portentous,” “crotchety,” “highly polemical book” that “recycl[ed] arguments from earlier thinkers” with a “bellicose new spin.” Kakutani was particularly exercised by Huntington’s criticism of multiculturalism and his advocacy of Anglo-Protestant values. But she missed something important. For Huntington was careful to stress that what he offered was an “argument for the importance of Anglo-Protestant culture, not for the importance of Anglo-Protestant people.” That is, he argued not on behalf of a particular ethnic group but on behalf of a culture and set of values that “for three and a half centuries have been embraced by Americans of all races, ethnicities, and religions and that have been the source of their liberty, unity, power, prosperity, and moral leadership.”
Huntington’s advocacy of “Anglo-Protestant values” may seem out-of-date in a country that everywhere proclaims its commitment to “diversity” and is congratulating itself for having elected Barack Obama as President. In his inaugural address, Obama stressed the idea that America was a country of immigrants. Huntington corrects that oft-repeated canard, pointing out that, in fact, America was first of all a country of settlers. Settlers preceded immigrants and made their immigration possible. The culture of those mostly English-speaking, predominantly Anglo-Protestant settlers defined American culture. Their efforts came to fruition with the generation of Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison. The Founders are so denominated because they founded—they inaugurated a state. Immigrants were those who came later, who came from elsewhere, and who became American by embracing the Anglophone culture of the original settlers. The English language, the rule of law, respect for individual rights, the industriousness and piety that flowed from the Protestant work ethic—these were central elements in the culture disseminated by the Founders. And these were among the qualities embraced by immigrants when they became Americans. “Throughout American history,” Huntington notes, “people who were not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants have become Americans by adopting America’s Anglo-Protestant culture and political values. This benefitted them and the country.”
Americans of every political persuasion can take pride in the historic election of a black American as President. It would be unfortunate, however, if the euphoria that accompanies that pride blinds us to the dangers with which multiculturalism—an ideology that is regnant in the Democratic party today—threatens America and the West. In essence, as Huntington notes, multiculturalism is “anti-European civilization… . It is basically an anti-Western ideology.” The combined effect of the multicultural enterprise has been to undermine the foundation of American national identity. Huntington spoke dramatically but not inaptly of “Deconstructing America.” What he had in mind were not the linguistic tergiversations of a Jacques Derrida or Michel Foucault but the efforts—politically if not always intellectually allied efforts—to disestablish the dominant culture by fostering a variety of subversive attitudes, pieces of legislation, and judicial interventions. We hope that as Obama sets about providing us with his new world, he listens at least as attentively to the warnings issued by Samuel Huntington as he does to the blandishments of the left-wing coterie who helped define his political agenda.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 27 Number 6, on page 2
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