Creedal Passions

GETTING ME WRONG

Samuel P. Huntington

In evaluating a novel, a poem, or a scholarly study, it can be useful and insightful to consider that work in the context of the author's other writings, if those exist. For social science, the relevant questions concern how the recent work embodies continuities or changes from previous works in terms of subject, style, methods of analysis, normative assumptions, arguments, and conclusions. Elaboration of these similarities and differences can greatly help a reader gain an understanding of the meaning and the significance of the volume under review.

Alan Wolfe is thus to be commended for his effort ("Native Son," May/June 2004) to relate my new book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, to several of my previous studies. He is also, however, to be faulted for getting wrong the nature of my previous books and for misrepresenting the argument of Who Are We? I do not normally respond to critical reviews of my books, but his errors are such that I feel I must correct them.

Since whatever knowledge Foreign Affairs readers have of Who Are We? is likely to reside in their fading memories of Wolfe's erroneous description, I will first spell out what the book is not and what it is.

First, it is not a book primarily about immigration, which gets one chapter out of twelve, or the growing Hispanic presence in the United States, which gets another chapter. It is a book about the salience and substance of American national identity. Salience refers to the importance Americans attach to their national identity compared to the many other identities they have. The salience of national identity has varied over time, in large part reflecting the threats that Americans see to their country. Before the Civil War, national identity ranked low compared to local, state, and regional identities. The Civil War made America a nation, and the following century was the century of American nationalism. In the 1960s, however, subnational ethnic, racial, gender, and cultural identities rose in importance compared to national identity. The attacks of September 11, 2001, dramatically brought national identity back to the fore. As the profusion of flags demonstrated, Americans quickly rediscovered their nation. Since then, however, that salience has eroded; its future will depend in part on whether Americans experience or perceive major threats to their country.

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