The Unmaking of Americans: How Multiculturalism Has Undermined the Assimilation Ethic

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The Unmaking of Americans: How Multiculturalism Has Undermined the Assimilation Ethic

By John J. Miller
Free Press, 1998
320 pp. $25.00
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This work is an important entry in the ongoing and painful debate over immigration and national identity. The author offers "An Americanization Manifesto" that condemns group rights, mandatory bilingual education, and other policies associated with "left-wing multiculturalism," while also affirming (against "right-wing nativists") the centrality of immigration to the American experience and ethos. The excellent opening chapters on "the American idea" are quite moving. Americanization programs at the beginning of the twentieth century, Miller argues, were born of a confident and generous faith in the ideals of American life, but they became fatally distorted when the First World War induced rampant fears of division and disloyalty. Compulsive conformity then replaced a healthy and necessary desire for cohesion. Since the author's own program for abolishing group rights is driven (not unreasonably) by the fear of Balkanization, the evident danger is that it pushes too far in the direction of uniformity. But while the author's recommended policies may not all strike the right balance, he presents a strong and convincing case of the balance (between unum and pluribus) that needs to be struck.