The clash of civilized titans

In yesterday’s link to Daniel Pipes’ piece on Iraq, I referred to Samuel Huntington’s forthcoming book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. Trunk then pointed me to this review of Huntington’s book by James Ceaser, another one of our favorite political scientists, for the Weekly Standard. Trunk called Ceaser’s review “an incredibly sophisticated critique,” and he was not exaggerating. To characterize the review as creating a “clash” may be overstating it, but Ceaser disagrees pretty fundamentally with part of Huntington’s thesis.
Ceaser does not appear to disagree with Huntington’s view that we are experiencing national disintegration caused largely by the intersection of dangerous ideas — multiculturalism and transnationalism — with economic and demographic trends. Where Ceaser and Huntington clash is on the issue of what to do in response. Huntington considers two components of the national identity upon which “rescuers” might focus — our Creed (belief in individual rights and government by consent of the governed) and our Culture (essentially Anglo-Protestantism, in Ceaser’s reading of Huntington). Huntington, once a leading “creedalist,” apparently now takes the position that our Culture, not our Creed, represents the core of American identity. He argues that “a creed alone does not a nation make” and that there is simply not enough “glue” in our Creed to keep a nation together. Moreover, at the international level (for example, in Iraq) creedalism has disturbing imperial implications (i.e., the tendency to impose our Creed on those who do not share our Culture). Finally, Huntington apparently has concluded that our Creed is indifferent, and indeed almost antagonistic, to important aspects of our Culture.
If memory serves, Ceaser’s excellent book Reconstructing America is a creedalist work. In this review, he suggests that Creed and Culture can both be given their due. For example, “a nation living under the Creed is under no obligation to be neutral. It is entitled, so far as it wishes, though hopefully in accord with its good judgment, to embrace all preferences or prejudices that do not deny essential rights.”
I’m not prepared to take sides in this clash until I read Huntington’s book, if then. It does strike me, though, that if we are facing national disintegration, then Ceaser is correct to say that the presumption should be in favor of enlisting both our Creed and our Culture to stop the rot.
UPDATE by BIG TRUNK: Rich Lowry identifies the importance of Huntington’s book in his column posted on National Review Online: “Huntington’s warning.”


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