What are the challenges of national identity

Challenges to American Identity - Challenges to American Identity according to Samuel Huntington - Explanation and critical appraisal

Table of Contents


1 American Identity - A Huntington's Disease Definition

2 Challenges to American Identity
2.1 The Deconstruction of America: The Rise of Subnational Identities
2.1.1 The deconstructionist movement
2.1.2 The attack on the creed
2.1.3 The attack on the English language
2.1.4 The attack on the dominant culture
2.2 Assimilation: Converts, Guest Citizens, and the Erosion of Citizenship
2.2.1 Immigration with or without assimilation?
2.2.2 Assimilation: Still a Success?
2.2.3 Sources of Assimilation
2.2.4 The immigrants
2.2.5 The immigration process
2.2.6 American society: Americanization is un-American
2.2.7 Hyphenated Identities, Guest Citizens, and Dual Citizenship
2.2.8 Citizens and non-citizens
2.3 Mexican immigration and Hispanization
2.3.1 The Mexican / Hispanic Challenge
2.3.2 The special character of Mexican immigration
2.3.3 Sluggish progress in Mexican assimilation
2.3.4 Individual assimilation and consolidation of enclaves
2.3.5 The Hispanization of Miami
2.3.6 The Hispanization of the Southwest
2.4 America is merging with the world
2.4.1 The environment is changing
2.4.2 The search for an enemy
2.4.3 Dead souls: the national uprooting of the elites
2.4.4 The patriotic public
2.4.5 Diasporas, Foreign Governments, and American Politics

3 Critical Appreciation




The political scientist Samuel P. Huntington undertakes in the work "Who are we - The Crisis of American Identity", published in 2004, the attempt to define the identity of the American population, to relate it to historical and cultural backgrounds and, as a result, the crisis of the To explain Americanism or the American identity crisis. Finally, he presents an outlook that relates to the renewal of American identity.

A central point in Huntington's line of argument are the attacks on American identity that he has worked out. Basically, he sees these "challenges" in four aspects: the rise of subnational identities, the assimilation of immigrants or the change of the same, the Hispanization and the amalgamation of America in a globalized world.

This work traces - after a short definition of American identity based on Huntington's disease - these challenges and attacks on American identity in detail and illustrates the pattern of argumentation. In the final part, a criticism of the theses developed by Huntington is undertaken; Here Francis Fukuyama's examination of Huntington's work is taken into account.

1 American Identity - A Huntington's Disease Definition

According to Huntington, the substance of the question of national identity lies in the question "Who are we?" For the American population, the answer lies initially in a combination of the settler past, the Anglo-Protestant dominant culture and, accordingly, an orientation towards Christianity and the American creed. This creed, as an essential point of reference for American national identity, combines the values ​​of freedom, equality, democracy, individualism, human rights, the rule of law and private property.

Based on this creed, Americans claimed to have a civic identity at the national level, rather than an ethnic or cultural one, in the context of deteriorating relations with Britain and the ensuing war for independence. The special importance of the settlers (or founding fathers) is explained by several factors; A particularly important one is the conviction of the settlers: They had to take hardships and great risks to get to America. Therefore, they were “convinced Americans” - a requirement for future Americans, which plays a central role in connection with the “challenges” that are explained in this work.

2 Challenges to American Identity

As mentioned in the introduction, Huntington defines four factors, the "challenges" - represent challenges or attacks for or on the American national identity. The following subsections explain these four aspects, show Huntington's argumentation structures and refer to the definition of American identity given above.

The structure is based on the chapters of the work “Who are we - The Crisis of American Identity” in order to ensure clear references.*

2.1 The Deconstruction of America: The Rise of Subnational Identities

Huntington sees the deconstruction caused by the rise of subnational identities in the following factors: the deconstructionist movement, the attack on the Creed, the attack on the English language and the attack on the dominant culture.

2.1.1 The deconstructionist movement

The deconstructionist movement (originating in the 1960s) contradicted the prevailing ideal of an American nation with a common, predominantly Anglo-Protestant dominant culture and a belief in the liberal democratic principles of the American creed. Rather, for the Deconstructionists, the American nation was a collection of races, ethnic groups, and subnational cultures. According to the deconstructionist view, the individual is defined by his membership of a subnational subgroup, not by one common Identity.

The programs of the deconstructionists therefore called for the influence of subnational groups to be strengthened and criticized Americanization as un-American. Through the demanded preference for individual races (affirmative action), the rights of the individual should be put on hold and thus disregarded - a clear violation of the American creed; just like the deconstructionist slogan “diversity instead of unity”. According to Huntington, the reasons for the emergence of the deconstructionist movements are:

1) Due to economic globalization and the "moving closer together" of the world, the desire to find identity in smaller groups was strengthened.
2) With the end of the Cold War (1989), national identities lost their importance.
3) Race, ethnicity, and culture were no longer a means of distinguishing Americans from other races. Hence, these features were now used to distinguish Americans from one another. The civil rights, voting rights and immigration laws of 1964/65 had made a decisive contribution to this development.

2.1.2 The attack on the creed

According to Gunnar Myrdal, the core of the American creed is “the ideals of the inviolable dignity of the human individual, the fundamental equality of all people and certain inalienable rights to freedom, justice and equal opportunities”.

The historically most significant violation of this creed is slavery and its consequences (lack of civil rights, discrimination). Americans tended to ignore or deny this dilemma.

In the fight against racial segregation and discrimination, the American creed naturally became the strongest argument. The reformers repeatedly invoked the right of all people to equal treatment, equal opportunities regardless of race and human dignity. Huntington goes so far as to predict a failure of the movement that was only prevented by the importance of the American creed.

The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and 1965, respectively, were designed to bring the American principles of the Creed into harmony with reality. However, what emerged was a reversal of the values ​​that Huntington calls the "challenge": After the passing of the Civil Rights Act, black leaders no longer demanded equal rights for all American citizens, but instead demanded state social benefits for blacks as a race. In fact, positive discrimination was demanded. This demand is an attack on the American creed and its principle of equality of rights. The result of these demands were Affirmative Action Programswho preferred blacks (e.g. race-specific admission restrictions at universities or personnel decisions in which blacks were preferred).

To this day, Americans are deeply divided over whether America should be race neutral or race conscious. The population is also divided as to which principle has priority: 'Equal rights for all' or 'Special rights for certain minorities'.

So after the American creed was brought into line with reality by the movements of 1964-65, racial discrimination was reintroduced in a reverse fashion. A “color-blind” right has been transformed into a “color-conscious” one. The American creed is thus attacked.

2.1.3 The attack on the English language

Language is the basis of a community and therefore differs fundamentally from religion and race in terms of identity. In the 1980s and 1990s, language became a central problem of American identity. America was faced with the question of whether to emphasize the dominance of the English-speaking majority or a multilingual culture (in the case of the US, multilingual is to be understood as bilingual - English and Spanish). In the disputes over the official language and bilingual teaching in schools, two key problems became apparent:

1) To what extent should the government promote the knowledge and use of other languages ​​and to what extent should it allow funding from other institutions?
2) Should the US become a bilingual society, with English and Spanish as equal languages?

Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough drafted a bilingual education law to give Mexican-American children access to education; Senator Robert F. Kennedy introduced a provision that required the New York election authorities to have election papers available in Spanish - these two beginnings gave rise to a development comparable to that of racial discrimination. Officials and courts interpreted the laws to authorize the promotion of non-English languages ​​from now on - and thus the restriction of the English language. In the further development, bilingual teaching became less and less a means of teaching immigrant children English, but rather a symbol of national pride and a means of positive self-image.

The further development of the conflict with regard to English as the official language was similar. Surveys show that most Americans still saw English as an important part of national identity, but protests and counter-protests long prevented English from being officially declared an official language. This was finally enforced in 19 states over the course of the 1980s and 1990s.

2.1.4 The attack on the dominant culture

Huntington attributes the attack on the American dominant culture to two groups: the multiculturalists and the so-called "new ethnics". Both groups (which emerged in the 1970s) had similar views: The aim of the multiculturalists was to replace the predominant Anglo-Protestant culture in America with others, especially those shaped by racial groups, or to take away the dominance of European culture in America. In other words: the movement spoke out against a monocultural hegemony of Eurocentric values. This anti-Western ideology denies America an all-pervasive dominant culture - and thus an essential part of its national identity.

The "New Ethnics" focused on immigrant groups from Europe who were not British. They saw themselves as the mouthpiece of the wrath of the white working class who had immigrated from Europe and whose cultures were suppressed by so-called WASPs (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants). The non-British Europeans who came to America should remember their ethnic identity and prevent their culture, language and customs from being lost. Although the “New Ethnics” were able to initiate programs to promote ethnic activities, they failed and the laws came to an end with no results.

The multiculturalists saw the non-British white Europeans addressed by the “New Ethnics” as part of the dominant European culture and found the appeal to these groups to reflect on their own culture anything but worth supporting. Rather, their ideal was an America that would never again be culturally united, in the sense of being unified. Such a change would be a dramatic change in American national identity.

The multiculturalists saw schools and universities as the starting point for their goals . Multicultural teaching should introduce equal treatment to all sub-national groups in the curriculum. De facto, this goal was at the expense of the values ​​and culture that all Americans had in common, e.g. there were compulsory seminars in ethnology at universities, but no longer on American history. However, national history played a crucial role in the formation of American identity. This was devalued to bring the stories of sub-national groups to the fore.

Based on the thesis that nations as communities exist not only in imagination but also in memory, the loss of this memory means that the American nation is no longer complete.

The attacks on the American Creed, the English language, and the national dominant culture presented in this chapter are battles that have not yet been fought. According to Huntington, the outcome for the deconstructionists depends to a large extent on how many terrorist attacks there will still be on American soil and how intensively America wages wars against its enemies abroad.

2.2 Assimilation: Converts, Guest Citizens, and the Erosion of Citizenship

Assimilation plays an important and central role in American history - Huntington calls it "the American success story". However, the future of assimilation in the US is uncertain.

2.2.1 Immigration with or without assimilation?

For the 23 million immigrants from 1965 to 2000 (mostly from Asia and Latin America), the following applies: It is not immigration itself that is the central problem, but that assimilation.

“Societal security” is defined as the ability of a society to essentially maintain its character under changing conditions and in the face of potential or actual threats. This includes maintaining traditional structures of language, culture, society, religion and national identity.


* Due to this approach, individual footnotes are not used.

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