Native Son: Samuel Huntington Defends the Homeland

In the course of a remarkably distinguished academic career, Samuel Huntington has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to realism. Distaste for sentimentality is certainly on display in his best-known book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (which originated as an article in this magazine before its publication in 1996). It has also been characteristic of his analysis of U.S. domestic politics. The heroes of The Soldier and the State, his 1964 book on civil-military relations, are neo-Hamiltonians such as Secretary of State Elihu Root and the naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, members of "the first important American social group," as he describes them, "whose political philosophy more or less consciously borrowed and incorporated elements of the professional military ethic." In American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (1981), Huntington identifies four moments of "creedal passion" in American history: the Revolutionary era, the ages of Jacksonianism and Progressivism, and the 1960s. During these periods, he argues, Americans' unrealistic expectation of moral perfectibility prevented their leaders from doing the right thing. Throughout his career, Huntington has rejected ideology in favor of down-to-earth practicality, drawing cries of protest from critics, mostly on the left, who accuse him of cold-minded moral indifference and complicity with the powers that be.

Few subjects call out for Huntington's realism as much as immigration does. Since the 1965 Immigration Act, which effectively abolished quotas on immigrants from Europe, the United States has experienced one of the largest migrations of foreigners to its shores since its founding; nonwhite people whose first language is not English now make up a greater percentage of the U.S. population than at any other time in history. And although some writers treat this dramatic change with Panglossian optimism, the challenges are in fact staggering: bilingualism, dual citizenship, religious diversity, and multiculturalism place increasingly tough demands on U.S. culture and politics. If the United States tries to prevent immigrants from coming, it risks breaking its promise of freedom to the oppressed. But if it admits everyone who wants to come, it risks losing its distinctly American ideals -- including the creed that holds out the promise of freedom and opportunity in the first place.

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