Posted by: Bill | January 17, 2009

R.I.P. Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington passed away a few weeks ago. I wanted to write about it immediately, but, as usual, did not have enough time. Here is an excellent tribute in the WSJ by Fouad Ajami. Since you may need a subscription to view, I will do my best to summarize.

A few years back, I read two of his books–The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order and Who Are We The Challenges to America’s National Identity. The first presciently predicted that in the decades to come, ethnic, tribal and religious conflict would dominate geopolitics. Huntington’s thoughts were the opposite of some who believed that when the Berlin Wall fell, the world had witnessed the final triumph of Western ideas, capitalism in particular. Huntington disagreed in an article in Foreign Affairs that eventually (at the urging of others) became a book.

More recently, he penned Who Are We. Ajami writes the following:

He wrote in that book of the “American Creed,” and of its erosion among the elites. Its key elements — the English language, Christianity, religious commitment, English concepts of the rule of law, the responsibility of rulers, and the rights of individuals — he said are derived from the “distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers of America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”

Critics who branded the book as a work of undisguised nativism missed an essential point. Huntington observed that his was an “argument for the importance of Anglo-Protestant culture, not for the importance of Anglo-Protestant people.”

I don’t try to hide that I am not a fan of identity politics. This is one of the factors that Huntington argued is threatening the creed upon which the United States was founded. I celebrate the diversity my country attracts and recognize that it is one of our greatest strengths. However, I believe quite strongly that what attracts so many people here is made possible by our creed.

I will quote again from Ajami regarding what Huntington believe are three paths for the U.S.

Three possible American futures beckoned, Huntington said: cosmopolitan, imperial and national. In the first, the world remakes America, and globalization and multiculturalism trump national identity. In the second, America remakes the world: Unchallenged by a rival superpower, America would attempt to reshape the world according to its values, taking to other shores its democratic norms and aspirations. In the third, America remains America: It resists the blandishments — and falseness — of cosmopolitanism, and reins in the imperial impulse.

Now I want to turn to the book itself. The section that sticks with me to this day is Huntington’s discussion of 3 views of immigration’s affect on the U.S. He discusses the melting pot, a salad bowl and tomato soup. I prefer his description the tomato soup model; it is one of the overpowering reasons why I love this country.

The culinary metaphor is an Anglo-Protestant tomato soup to which immigration adds celery, croutons, spices, parsley, and other ingredients that enrich and diversify the taste, but which are absorbed into what remains fundamentally tomato soup.

If you are interested in reading the entire section (only a few pages), check out Google Book Search and search for part of the phrase above.


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