A fisking, for those who need to know, is a detailed rebuttal, usually on a line-by-line basis or at least with heavy quoting from the original text. It is named in honour of Robert Fisk, who was for a number of years the Middle East correspondent for London's The Independent newspaper and has frequently been subjected to exactly such treatment. Huntington's article is too long to actually dismantle on a clause-by-clause basis, so this will be a brief but vigorous fisking instead of the far more satisfying slow, tortuous, painful fisking which I believe a man of Samuel Huntington's stature deserves. This is, in large part, because I have work to do and other topics to get to.
For that reason, this will be a two-part post. I have Chinese class tonight, which means I can't start on the next part until tomorrow, where I will attempt to undermine Huntington's actual claims about Mexican immigration. Tomorrow, I'm going to primarily consider just two issues: Is Mexican immigration really different from past immigration? Does it pose a unique and novel threat to American national identity? That will take some writing that I haven't got time for today, so first, I intend to fisk Huntington's more basic ideas.
Also, it turns out that I did bring my copy of Language in the USA to Belgium. It is an invaluable resource for someone interested in language policy and ethno-linguistic identity issues in the US, in large part because it was first published in 1981 and has been out for print for some 15 years. Thus, it was written in a context where the civil rights movement was still within the adult memory of nearly all of its contributors and contains a language of empowerment and liberation almost completely absent from more recent language policy debates in the US. Also, it makes quite a bit more reference to the pre-1964 dark ages in American identity politics, and the bibliography is invaluable for the student of poorly conceived linguistic policies. Furthermore, I acquired my edition used, where it is full of very insightful hi-liter marks and notes in the margins.
I had mistakenly thought that Huntington was a historian rather than a political scientist, as Conrad Barwa notes. This may relieve Huntington of one dram of culpability, but that is hardly significant in comparison to the mass of material on the sociolinguistics and anthropology of America that he hasn't bothered to check.
Also, go take a look at Russell Arben Fox's review. If that's a defence, I'd hate to see how Russell responds to folks he doesn't like. I can be induced to agree that there is a real relationship between language and identity. Actually, it doesn't take much inducing, although I don't find it to be as essential as many people make it out to be. My only real difference on that count - isolated from everything else - is that I don't think identity should be essential to citizenship or the physical location of your residence. But, I'm going to talk about language tomorrow.
But, as an opener, let me direct you to something completely different:
Sex abstinence U.S. teens often fail
U.S. adolescents who pledge not to have sex until they are married have about the same rate of sexually transmitted diseases as other teenagers and they often fail to keep their pledge, according to a study.
The study on Tuesday of a nationally representative sample of about 15,000 youths aged 12 to 18 found that 88 percent of teenagers who pledged to remain virgins until they are married ended up having sex before marriage. The study [...] found that these teenagers were also less likely to use condoms when they did have sex because they had not paid attention to sex education. Because of their ignorance about sexually transmitted diseases, "pledgers" were also less likely to seek medical help if they contracted [a sexually transmitted disease].
Dr. Peter Bearman of Columbia University in New York, who headed the study, said the pledge movement failed to recognise the realities of adolescent sexuality. "Ideological programs designed to make serious interventions in public health programs tend not to work," he said. [...]
"These movements that are ignorant of social science research defeat the purpose they set out to solve," Bearman said.
These movements that are ignorant of social science research defeat the purpose they set out to solve. Truer words are rarely spoken, and Huntington would have done well to heed them.
Let's start with the come-hither paragraph at the top of Huntington's article:
The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages. Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves--from Los Angeles to Miami--and rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream. The United States ignores this challenge at its peril.
Huntington's thesis puts me in mind of the Vlaams Blok's position on immigration - that the foreign born should never exceed five percent of the population. However, this does make the challenge more interesting. Huntington - rather than indulging in the kind of WASP elitism that Anglo-Protestant values have so often reflected in the past - is putting forward a slightly more sophisticated thesis. If he thought he had to he would say that, no, it's not that Mexicans are inherently inferior or incapable of becoming Americans. It's just that, unlike other immigrants past and present, they aren't becoming Americans.
A really good fisking should start by pointing out that the American dream - hard work gets you a decent life - is almost completely mythical; that Anglo-Protestant values didn't build America nearly as much as the sweat of cheap immigrant labourers (first from Africa, then from Europe and now from Mexico); and that anglophone Protestants have been happily rejecting Anglo-Protestant values for quite a long time now and have been doing so far more vocally and threateningly than Mexicans ever have.
But then, the whole first part of his essay involves saying such stupid things about American history that I can't pass them up.
America was created by 17th- and 18th-century settlers who were overwhelmingly white, British, and Protestant.
That depends on how you define overwhelming. Outside of New England (not counting the part of Maine that was still considered Canada), people who were identified as of English, Scottish and Welsh descent represented between 45% and 70% of the population, except for Virginia, where only 15% were of "Anglo-Protestant" descent. In New England, WASPs came to over 90% of the population, but only there. People identified as Dutch represented about 15% of New York state's population, Germans as about a quarter of Pennsylvania's, and about 20% of Americans were black in 1790. Of course, the 1790 census didn't count native Americans at all.
And, it depends on how you define America. The 13 colonies represented a small part of modern America. You have to assume that nothing going on in the Americas outside of the 13 colonies contributed at all to America's creation in order to make Huntington's statement true. But then, that fits his model of "value-driven" nationalism quite well.
In short, this is the New England WASP myth of America, something so archaic and so discredited that I didn't think anyone with a high school education still believed such a thing. Certainly the New England WASPs that I went to high school with didn't believe in such nonsense.
By the latter years of the 19th century, however, the ethnic component had been broadened to include Germans, Irish, and Scandinavians, and the United States' religious identity was being redefined more broadly from Protestant to Christian.
He's off by about a couple decades - most German-Americans didn't fully integrate until WWI and that was the result of a dedicated anti-German campaign - but I'll let that slide.
With World War II and the assimilation of large numbers of southern and eastern European immigrants and their offspring into U.S. society, ethnicity virtually disappeared as a defining component of national identity. So did race, following the achievements of the civil rights movement and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Americans now see and endorse their country as multiethnic and multiracial. As a result, American identity is now defined in terms of culture and creed.
I suspect this would have come as a surprise to most of New York or Chicago's inhabitants in the 50's, when those cities were still broken up into ethnic enclaves. But I suppose the basic point holds.
As a result, American identity is now defined in terms of culture and creed.
Most Americans see the creed as the crucial element of their national identity. The creed, however, was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers. Key elements of that culture include the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, including the responsibility of rulers and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, a "city on a hill."
Now we're getting somewhere. Let's disassemble this paragraph carefully.
American identity is now defined in terms of culture and creed. So much for the idea that in America you're free to be who you want to be. But what's really interesting here is the use fo the word "creed." A creed is a statement of fundamental beliefs, usually used to designate a set of foundational religious tenets. Huntington carefully avoids saying that you have to actually be a Protestant to be an American, but he still lists both Christianity and religious commitment as core American values. Is he really that bigoted?
But more important is the second part, where he actually defines "Anglo-Protestant values." They are - pretty much as I expected - the usual Weberian rigmarole of individualism, self-reliance and work ethics. In short, values far more readily found among Mexican immigrants than among WASPs. This is a truly gross distortion of not only American history but of the history of Protestantism. America's religious dissenters - the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the refugee German churches, the Huguenots - were overwhelmingly organised into tightly-knit interdependent communities. They were the very opposite of self-reliant or individualistic. One of my biggest surprises upon moving to Belgium was to discover that here, people believe self-reliance and individualism to be quintessentially Catholic values, in contrast to those communalist Dutch and Germans.
The rest is mostly nonsense. There's very little that demonstrates self-reliance better than taking control of your own fate by moving to another country in search of better paid work, nor does anything demonstrate a work ethic more than picking strawberries for a living. I'm not sure what Huntington means by "English concepts of rule of law", because as far as I can tell the only thing distinctly English about them is Common Law, which doesn't even extend to Scotland. I suppose he might mean things like the right to trial by jury and the presumption of innocence, but those have been watered down to near meaninglessness these days. If he means the rejection of the idea that it's only a crime if you get caught, then I'm afraid he's out of touch with American values. I'm also confused by what he means by the "responsibility of rulers" and "rights of individuals." The US is quite far from the forefront as a defender of individual rights these days, and considering Mexico's history of overthrowing its governments, I suspect they have a clearer idea of the responsibility of rulers than most Americans do. If Huntington thinks Mexicans are either less Christian or have less commitment to religion than anglos, I have to ask what planet he is living on. And I really can't figure out where he gets the idea that American values include a duty to build "heaven on earth." To paraphrase a conservative Christian Republican of my acquaintance: Jesus said the poor would always be with us, so fuck them.
That just leaves English.
Contributions from immigrant cultures modified and enriched the Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers. The essentials of that founding culture remained the bedrock of U.S. identity, however, at least until the last decades of the 20th century. Would the United States be the country that it has been and that it largely remains today if it had been settled in the 17th and 18th centuries not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is clearly no. It would not be the United States; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.
In the final decades of the 20th century, however, the United States' Anglo-Protestant culture and the creed that it produced came under assault by the popularity in intellectual and political circles of the doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity; the rise of group identities based on race, ethnicity, and gender over national identity; the impact of transnational cultural diasporas; the expanding number of immigrants with dual nationalities and dual loyalties; and the growing salience for U.S. intellectual, business, and political elites of cosmopolitan and transnational identities. The United States' national identity, like that of other nation-states, is challenged by the forces of globalization as well as the needs that globalization produces among people for smaller and more meaningful "blood and belief" identities.
So much is wrong with these two paragraphs that I don't quite know where to start. The first sentence is a platitude, oft repeated by people who don't know better, to the American melting pot. It gives you this image of the construction of American culture as a friendly church potluck, where outsiders would come bearing new dishes as gifts and then would pass out the recipes to things people liked. This isn't really very far from most people's conceptions. Americans are rarely able to name any "contributions from immigrant cultures" other than food and, at the very limit, music. There's a good reason for that. Unless you count African-Americans as an immigrant culture, those cultural contributions have been few and far between.
The Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding fathers is undergoing a long, drawn out, violent death (for, as Huntington shows, it regrettably isn't quite dead yet). Its proximate causes are generally economic, and the exceptions mostly involve bloodshed and social upheaval. Of the major social values of the founding fathers, social equality (among white men at least) died at the hand of industrialisation along with the last genuine belief in personal self-reliance; entrenched racial categorisation has diminished, in part from economic causes and in part because a lot of people fought, suffered and died for it; America's self-identification as explicitly Christian and Protestant ended in the aftermath of WWII - those who had seen Auschwitz had a hard time keeping it up; the founding fathers' political elitism floundered with the establishment of a middle class society in the 40's and 50's and is only now making a real comeback; their belief in the responsibility of government to the people never was very strong, since they make clear the degree to which the federal government is deemed responsible to the states, not the people; as religious as the American public was in 1790, their leaders were distinctly hostile to it by the standards of the age.
Huntington lives in an alternate universe in which the cultural values of the founding fathers that are no longer, thankfully, politically correct weren't really essential, so their disappearance and the struggle to make them disappear is reclassified as never having been a threat to American values. It makes me think of those idiots who see slavery as some sort of regrettable blot on the perfect government devised by the founding fathers, instead of seeing the real, enduring, structural and persistent effect it had and continues to have on American institutions. Nothing in America - for better and for worse - would be the way it is without the entrenchment of the injustices present at its founding.
The truth is that for the whole of American history, the values that most Americans recognised of as essential to their identity have been under constant threat, and much of what is right and good in America (as well as some of what is wrong and awful) comes from Americans losing battles to preserve those very values. That is why even if all of Huntington's claims about the threat Mexicans represent to American values were true (which they aren't), it would still be narrow-minded and xenophobic to warn people of the dangers of letting Mexicans into the country for no better reason than that it threatens American identity. Huntington's own myth of America is one where an ever growing number of people with an ever more diverse set of values is identified as American.
No, America would not be Quebec or Mexico or Brazil if it wasn't anglophone. Of course, it wouldn't be the America it is now, but so what? You'll forgive me for suspecting that he wants to imply that America would be poorer, less stable and (whispering) darker if it was different. If so, then Quebec is a rather odd entry on that list.
The second paragraph, though, shows us where Huntington really stands. It's quite striking that he identifies globalisation as one of the causes of America's woes, but that term is no more meaningful coming from his mouth than it is when Thomas Friedman says it. I've heard lots of people claim that globalisation has reinforced small group identities - it's usually a leftist claim - but I've never heard anyone put forward a convincing explanation for the phenomenon. Frankly, I don't even think that it's true.
In the second part of this post, I'm going to put forward a theory about why small group identities are growing more visible, and arguably more important to people's self-identity, without fingering globalisation at all.
Huntington thinks that group identities based on race, ethnicity, and gender are growing in importance relative to national identity, but if this is true it's at least as much because national identity is losing its hold. Does anyone really think that whether or not you're black in America is more essential to how you live your life now than it was in 1965? To target "multiculturalism" as some sort of alien doctrine, instead of as the simple recognition that not everything important in the world happens to people from your tribe - that's pretty typical on the right.
But, I want to draw your attention especially to the idea that the threat from Mexicans comes in part from their "dual nationalities and dual loyalties." I would ask my readers, especially Jewish readers, if that accusation sounds at all familiar? Huntington's concerns echo complaints about Jews dating back at least to the Reformation.
In this new era, the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America's traditional identity comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico, and the fertility rates of these immigrants compared to black and white American natives. Americans like to boast of their past success in assimilating millions of immigrants into their society, culture, and politics. But Americans have tended to generalise about immigrants without distinguishing among them and have focused on the economic costs and benefits of immigration, ignoring its social and cultural consequences.
Every new immigrant group to come to America since at least the Great Potato Famine has been accused of breeding like rabbits. It gives xenophobia a sort of moral justification and a sensual, tawdry side all at once. The unwanted minority's problems are held to flow from their open sexuality and their lack of control over their animal urges. This complaint was once levied against the Irish in America and in the UK alike, and has a long history across the English speaking world as the standard complaint about all Catholic immigrants. In Canada, people used to say it about the domestic French population. Later, it was the Italians' turn in the US, then the Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Filipinos. But, it's a good excuse even for non-Catholics. It's been deployed against blacks around the world and was even one of the grounds given for the Chinese Exclusion Act.
As for Americans tending not to distinguish among immigrants, even at the beginning of the 20th century they were quite content to accept French and British immigrants, reasonably comfortable with German, Dutch and Scandinavian immigration, wholly willing to accept Canadians (since annexation was deemed inevitable by many until after WWI), and didn't really deem Mexicans a social problem either. But, they were dead set against any immigration from the Caribbean or Asia, and immigrants from eastern and southern Europe were considered unacceptably alien and impossible to integrate by large parts of the American public.
And I haven't even reached the end of the first page. Huntington has not yet explained in what way Mexican immigration is different from other waves of immigration, but I wanted to get the whole manner in which he demonstrates a shocking lack of knowledge of the history of his own country out of the way before moving on to his specific claims.Posted 2004/03/10 17:42 (Wed) | TrackBack