SAMUEL P. HUNTINGTON is a bigot, convinced that immigrant hordes
are poisoning our Anglo-Protestant
America. This in itself is not surprising; there have always been plenty of his kind on the American
scene. Nor is it surprising that this bigot is a professor at Harvard. Nativism, in its 19th-century
surge, was very much the darling cause of the New England elites.
What is surprising is that now, a century and a half after the Know-Nothings
vanished in disgrace, Huntington feels free to promote his nativist hatred in print, and can be
celebrated for doing so. Post-9/11 America, as John le Carre has said, has lost its mind. Huntington’s
screeching is a worthy contribution to the bedlam.
Huntington disguises a disingenuous question as a scholarly inquiry
in his sleazy new book, Who Are We? The Challenge to America’s National Identity (Simon
& Schuster, $27). The question is disingenuous because Huntington already has an answer,
the same one that has been peddled by American bigots for hundreds of years: America is and must remain
an Anglo-Protestant culture.
Huntington’s plan for America’s salvation requires “a recommitment
to America as a deeply religious and primarily Christian country…adhering to Anglo-Protestant
values, speaking English, maintaining its European cultural heritage, and committed to the principles
of the [American] Creed…”
Our Anglo-Protestant culture is under threat, according to Huntington,
from the Latin hordes sneaking across our southern borders. Huntington violently hates Hispanics,
especially Mexicans. The point of this book is to infect the reader with the same fear and hatred.
In the process, this eminent academic is more than willing to dirty his hands with the sort of hatemongering
anecdote Pat Buchanan would refuse to touch. His favorite, so special that he tells it at the beginning
of the book and again at the end, is an account of Mexican fans misbehaving at a U.S.-Mexico soccer
At a Gold Cup soccer game between Mexico and the United States in February
1998, the 91,255 fans were immersed in a “sea of red, white and green flags”; they booed when “The
Star-Spangled Banner” was played; they “pelted” the US players “with debris and cups of what might
have been water, beer or worse”; and they attacked with “fruit and cups of beer” a few fans who tried
to raise an American flag. This game took place not in Mexico City but in Los Angeles. “Something’s
wrong when I can’t even raise an American flag in my own country,” a US fan commented, as he ducked
a lemon going by his head. “Playing in Los Angeles is not a home game for the United States,” a Los
Angeles Times reporter agreed.
All the classics of race-baiting show up here. There’s the “sea” of alien
colors, the gratuitous insults to American icons like flag and anthem and, above all, the dirty
tricks foreigners always employ. The Hispanic traitors throw “water, beer or worse,” a gradation
ending with a dark hint that the mob threw urine at American patriots.
The fact is, different ethnic groups have been using sporting events
to work each other over for centuries—all over America. In the 19th century, boxing matches
allowed immigrants to scream for their champions, who often arrived draped in the flags of the home
country or, if they were “natives,” in the stars and stripes. The fight in the ring was very often
upstaged by the riots in the stands, as drunken fans cheerfully battered each other senseless for
tribe and country. Then, as now, the same crowd in a different context would join hands to sing patriotic
American songs in perfect ethnic, if not tonal, harmony.
As study after study of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. has shown, Hispanics
tend to be fiercely patriotic Americans. The same soccer fans that enjoyed their age-old right
to splatter the opposition with beer and piss probably drove home from the game in pickups plastered
with the stars and stripes. Huntington might as well have used the Fenway Park tradition of throwing
peanuts at Yankees fans to prove that Boston and New York will soon be at war.
It’s hard to believe that such an elite academic can be as ignorant of
American ethnic history as Huntington seems to be. For example, after whipping up hatred with the
soccer-game anecdote, Huntington offers this wholly dishonest image of past immigrants’ patriotic
fervor, contrasted with the disloyalty of the Mexican soccer fans: “Past immigrants wept with
joy when, after overcoming hardship and risk, they saw the Statue of Liberty; enthusiastically
identified themselves with their new country that offered them liberty, work, and hope; and often
became the most intensely patriotic of citizens.”
This is not just manipulative race-baiting—it’s bad history.
Consider an earlier group of Catholic immigrants despised by American nativists: the Irish. Most
of them came to America as the victims of an artificial famine in which their landlords provided
the natives with a fine example of Anglo-Protestant humanity by continuing to export vast quantities
of grain and beef while the Catholic peasantry starved to death in huge numbers. The Irish peasants
who had hung on to their little plots of land for centuries had no desire to go to America. They came
because it was leave or die. So they left, mourned in “American wakes”; going to America was a cause
for grief, a quasi-death—not a deliverance. Those who survived the coffin ships and shipboard
epidemics arrived in New York half-dead to find that nearly every job advertisement carried the
note, “No Irish Need Apply.” They scraped out a living as day laborers, criminals or prostitutes—and
were mocked and despised by nativists for their disreputable ways. There were tears enough, but
no “tears of joy.”
And if the immigrants, Irish and the rest, did come to love their new country
in time, it was precisely because those American nativists like Huntington were defeated, in a
long political struggle, by Yankees of better quality, who could see past the Anglo-Protestant
bigotries of their past.
By blurring the wild, violent past of American immigration into a crude
antithesis between grateful past immigrants and ungrateful Mexicans, Huntington distorts history
to serve a political agenda with a long and sordid history. It’s no accident he chooses Mexicans—poor
Catholic immigrants—as his chief target. William J. Stern’s description of 19th-century
nativism fits Prof. Huntington perfectly:
The nativists included among their number some of America’s elite
leaders and thinkers…Some of the country’s founders believed that Anglo-Saxon culture
was basically identical with Western Civilization. Catholicism, in their view, was incompatible
with democracy and religious freedom. As a delegate drafting the New York State Constitution,
for example, John Jay successfully pushed for an amendment forbidding practitioners of religions
with leaders located beyond American shores—like, say, the pope in Rome—from becoming
U.S. citizens (the federal government eventually took over the responsibility of granting citizenship,
rendering such state restrictions void). Fear that the pope was telling American Catholics what
to do and think characterized the opinions of elite figures like John Quincy Adams, Samuel Morse,
and P. T. Barnum, and continued right up to the presidential election of John Kennedy, who during
his campaign had to promise a group of Protestant ministers that he would be faithful to the U.S.
Huntington seems to have come straight from a convention of these grand
old bigots. He’s at his worst when he thinks he’s being generous, as here: “Throughout America’s
history, people who were not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants have become Americans by adopting
America’s Anglo-Protestant culture and political values. This benefited them and the country.”
In other words, those not fortunate enough to be born white Anglo-Saxon Protestants need not despair.
All they have to do is imitate their superiors long and hard, and they’ll be almost as good as the real
Huntington repeatedly suggests that the non-Protestant immigrant
must undergo conversion to evangelical Protestantism to become a real American. Huntington accepts
that Catholics can nowadays be good Americans, but only because “American Catholicism assimilated
many of the features of the Protestant mainstream.” It was not that the “Protestant mainstream”
gave up its old prejudices, as more liberal historians have taught; on the contrary, “the fading
of overtly anti-Catholic attitudes and activities was paralleled by and directly related to the
Americanization of Catholicism.”
Like many of Huntington’s assertions, this is so stunningly bigoted
and dishonest it takes a while to grasp. He actually asserts that, rather than repenting of their
ethno-religious bigotry, American nativists were reconciled to the continued existence of Catholicism
in America because it made the big effort to placate them by imitating their own religion.
In Huntington’s version, Catholicism in America survived by “adaptation…to
its American, that is, Protestant [!], environment, including changes in Catholic attitudes,
practices, organization, and behavior….” He notes, in a rare piece of good news from the
Hispanic-immigrant front, that “Evangelicalism [is] also winning many converts among…Latin
American Catholics.” He repeats near the end of the book that “…the most significant manifestation
of assimilation is the conversion of Hispanic immigrants to evangelical Protestantism.” So you
want to be good Americans, you Mexican hordes? Get on down to your local Baptist Church, get washed
in the blood of the lamb and read The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s the only way.
Huntington prescribes a “civil”—that is, public and compulsory—American
religion. As he informs the reader, in typically smug style, it’s for our own good: “America’s civil
religion provides a religious blessing to what Americans feel they have in common.” This means
that Huntington wants an America in which it’s impossible to run for office without publicly affirming
one’s belief in evangelical Protestantism. So it’s no surprise to find Huntington quoting with
evident approval one of the sleaziest moments in Bush’s 2000 campaign: “Asked who his favorite
political philosopher was, George W. Bush said: ‘Christ, because he changed my heart… When
you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the Savior, it changes
your heart. It changes your life. And that’s what happened to me.’” Most commentators saw Bush’s
on-air profession of faith as a scripted, cynical try for the born-again vote. But for Huntington,
it’s a wonderful example of the way America’s civil religion is rolling over the political landscape.
As Bush would say, bring it on!
In the new America, united in this civil religion, atheism will not be
tolerated at all. Failure to believe forthrightly in God is simply un-American (which will be sad
news for Ben Franklin): “[Civil religion] is not compatible…with being atheist, for it
is a religion, invoking a transcendental Being apart from the terrestrial human world…
To deny God is to challenge the fundamental principle underlying American society and government.”
So those of you who can’t pray in public—you’re out of the club.
Maybe those godless Europeans will take you in. But you can’t stay in America, because God R Us. And
those of you whose “denomination” lies outside Christianity—well, you’re going to have
to leave too, or get used to being an unwelcome alien: “Non-Christians [in America] may legitimately
see themselves as strangers in a strange land because they or their ancestors moved to this ‘strange
land’ founded and people by Christians, even as Christians become strangers by moving to Israel,
India, Thailand, or Morocco.”
In other words, you godless pagans aren’t supposed to feel at home here,
so get over it, nyah-nyah-nyah. The pure, gloating smugness of these assertions is shocking.
I’VE BEEN LIVING outside the U.S. for a few years, and when I left, bigots
like Huntington had to do their ranting at home, subjecting only their relatives to their cranky
Things sure have changed back home. These days, you can say anything
in America, as long as it’s mean-hearted and decorated with plenty of flags and references to 9/11.
Huntington fulfills that requirement on his very first page, with a long description of a Boston
street covered with flags on the day after the WTC attacks, noting proudly that Wal-Mart couldn’t
even keep Old Glory in stock. Then he raises the specter of a flag-less street, as anger over the attacks
fades. If only, he seems to imply, we could have a 9/11 every month or so! Our civil religion would
burn white-hot all the time.
On the very last page of the book, Huntington displays a graph showing
America in its rightful place among nations. There we are, at the upper right corner of the chart,
cozying up to the other nations that share our “religiosity” and nationalism: Nigeria, Brazil,
South Africa, Northern Ireland, Turkey and India. Way down there at the lower left corner of the
graph are the godless nations of Western Europe and China.
I’d think Americans would be alarmed to find their country so similar
to places like Northern Ireland and Nigeria, one of which may be about to descend into a Muslim/Christian
civil war, and the other finally emerging exhausted from decades of violence between devout Christian
sects. But for people like Huntington, the fact that our “religiosity” makes us more comparable
to such places than to France or Sweden is cause for rejoicing. You see, we’re part of a big new trend
toward religious fervor, and those silly Europeans are missing out:
“The twenty-first century…is dawning as a century of religion.
Virtually everywhere, apart from Western Europe, people are turning to religion for comfort,
guidance, solace, and identity…”
I suppose that “everywhere” means places like Omaha, Spokane and, er,
Some would say Europe and China seem to be struggling along rather well
without “religiosity” and jingoism. Some might mention that Britain, the home of those Anglo-Protestant
values Huntington worships, ranks 27th in “religiosity,” 22 places below the U.S.—and
that most British people are appalled by America’s religious mania and consider the president
a canting, sanctimonious fool.
But for Huntington, our soaring “religiosity” index is great news.
We’re right in step with the new “Great Awakening.” Let the Chinese and Europeans do all the dull,
adult work of manufacturing, peacekeeping and science. It’s us and our equally devout Muslim counterparts
who’ll be having all the fun, burning things and yelling about God.