American Renaissance

Samuel P. Huntington on Cosmopolitans, Imperialists, and Nationalists

Randall Parker,, Apr. 30

Harvard history professor Samuel P. Huntington, author of the recent book Who Are We: The Challenges to America’s National Identity which examines the various threats to American national identity and how to respond to them. An essay by Huntington that sketches ideas from his book is called Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite.

Growing differences between the leaders of major institutions and the public on domestic and foreign policy issues affecting national identity form a major cultural fault line cutting across class, denominational, racial, regional and ethnic distinctions. In a variety of ways, the American establishment, governmental and private, has become increasingly divorced from the American people. Politically, America remains a democracy because key public officials are selected through free and fair elections. In many respects, however, it has become an unrepresentative democracy because on crucial issues — especially those involving national identity — its leaders pass laws and implement policies contrary to the views of the American people. Concomitantly, the American people have become increasingly alienated from politics and government.
The gap between public and elite is especially great on America’s economic relations with the rest of the world. In 1998, 87 percent of leaders and 54 percent of the public thought economic globalization was mostly good for America, with 12 percent of the leaders and 35 percent of the public thinking otherwise. Four-fifths of the public but less than half of foreign policy leaders think protecting American jobs should be a “very important goal” of the U.S. government. Fifty percent or more of the public but never more than a third of leaders have supported reducing economic aid to other countries. In various polls, 60 percent or more of the public have backed tariffs; comparable proportions of leaders have favored reducing or eliminating them. Similar differences exist with respect to immigration. In two 1990s polls, 74 percent and 57 percent of the public and 31 percent and 18 percent of foreign policy elites thought large numbers of immigrants were a “critical threat” to the United States.
These and other differences between elites and the public have produced a growing gap between the preferences of the public and policies embodied in federal legislation and regulation. One study of whether changes in public opinion on a wide range of issues were followed by comparable changes in public policy showed a steady decline from the 1970s when there was a 75 percent congruence between public opinion and government policy to 67 percent in 1984 — 87, 40 percent in 1989 — 92, and 37 percent in 1993 — 94. “The evidence, overall”, the authors of this study concluded, “points to a persistent pattern since 1980: a generally low and at times declining level of responsiveness to public opinion especially during the first two years of the Clinton presidency.” Hence, they said, there is no basis for thinking that Clinton or other political leaders were “pandering to the public.” “A disturbing gap is growing”, one analyst concluded, “between what ordinary Americans believe is the proper role of the United States in world affairs and the views of leaders responsible for making foreign policy.”19 Governmental policy at the end of the 20th century was deviating more and more from the preferences of the American public.
Significant elements of American elites are favorably disposed to America becoming a cosmopolitan society. Other elites wish it to assume an imperial role. The overwhelming bulk of the American people are committed to a national alternative and to preserving and strengthening the American identity of centuries.
America becomes the world. The world becomes America. America remains America. Cosmopolitan? Imperial? National? The choices Americans make will shape their future as a nation and the future of the world.

Bush’s half-baked immigration amnesty guest worker proposal is an example of a policy promoted by elites in the face of poll after poll showing widespread popular opposition to current levels and types of immigration.

Daniel Pipes provides a summary of the three visions that Huntington sees as competing for how America should relate to the rest of the world. (same article here)

Along the way, Mr.Huntington observes that Americans can choose among three broad visions for their country in relation to the outside world.

  • Cosmopolitan: America “welcomes the world, its ideas, its goods, and, most importantly, its people.” In this vision, the country strives to become multiethnic, multiracial, and multicultural. The United Nations and other international organizations increasingly influence American life. Diversity is an end in itself; national identity declines in importance. In brief, the world reshapes America.
  • Imperial: America reshapes the world. This impulse is fueled by a belief in “the supremacy of American power and the universality of American values.” America’s unique military, economic, and cultural might bestows on it the responsibility to confront evil and to order the world. Other peoples are assumed basically to share the same values as Americans; Americans should help them attain those values. America is less a nation than “the dominant component of a supranational empire.”
  • National: “America is different” and its people recognize and accept what distinguishes them from others. That difference results in large part from the country’s religious commitment and its Anglo-Protestant culture. The nationalist outlook preserves and enhances those qualities that have defined America from its inception. As for people who are not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, they “become Americans by adopting its Anglo-Protestant culture and political values.”

The left tends to the cosmopolitan vision; the right divides among imperialists and nationalists. Personally, I have wavered between the latter two, sometimes wanting the United States to export its humane political message and at other times fearful that such efforts, however desirable, will overextend the American reach and end in disaster.

Count me as firmly in the ranks of the unreconstructed American nationalists. I want America to remain America. Pipes, on the other hand, has definite neoconservative imperialist leanings. He would like to see America do more to reshape the world and especially to remake the Middle East. But he sounds like a conflicted neocon who realizes that the neoconservative foreign policy prescription has echoes of “A Bridge Too Far” from the World War II Operation Market Garden. However, in the case of neocon foreign policy the gap between means and ends is more than just one bridge too far.

There are people on the Left who favor the “Cosmopolitan” future who simultaneously opposing the “Imperial” future. However, many neoconservatives are for open borders and at the very same time are for an aggressive military policy of attack upon various countries such as Syria and Iran that they see as enemies. Curiously, Steve Sailer’s labels to sum up neoconservative domestic and foreign policy map fairly well to Huntington’s categories of “Cosmopolitan” and “Imperial”.

Domestic Policy: Invite the World!
Foreign Policy: Invade the World!

I see serious problems with the neoconservative project because the neoconservatives such as William Kristol and Robert Kagan are unwilling to acknowledge the size and costs of the military that would be needed to properly handle Iraq. To pursue the bigger foreign policy program of David Frum and Richard Perle to invade and occupy Iran and Syria might require a doubling or tripling of the size of the US Army. The invasion could be done with a smaller force. But as Iraq has shown the occupation would be very labor intensive as well as expensive. Iran has about three times the population of Iraq. The US Army isn’t even big enough to properly occupy Iraq. So Iran is out of the question unless the Army can be made much larger.

Contra William Kristol and Robert Kagan, that the US Army isn’t big enough to occupy and pacify Iraq is not the fault of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumseld. Rumsfeld did not have a military big enough for the job. That is not his fault. Bush has yet to ask Congress for the money needed to build a military that is big enough. Given the current one half trillion dollar US federal deficit and Bush’s desire to keep his tax cuts in place don’t expect Bush to make the argument for an expansion of the US Army by hundreds of thousands of troops either.

The “Imperial” future is effectively held back from full development by the fact that various segments of the American population would rather have lower taxes or more social spending for old folks or more spending on education and medical care for the teeming masses of poor immigrants. The neoconservative support for open borders therefore is creating domestic spending pressures that are undermining the Imperial project.

America’s biggest problem is not the Imperialists. There are large financial constraints and reality in Iraq is bursting a lot of illusions of those who think that democratic transformation of a Middle Eastern country is easy to do. America’s bigger problem is on the home front.

Writing for the neoconservative publication The Weekly Standard James W. Ceaser reviews Huntington’s arguments on the threats to American national identity and of American culture and civic society.

THE MOST IMPORTANT CAUSE of national disintegration lies in the realm of ideas. Although an intellectual himself and a faculty member at Harvard University, an institution with considerable intellectual pretensions, he has not flinched from launching a frontal assault on the dominant opinion of the intelligentsia. Intellectuals, according to Huntington, have widely abandoned the concept of the nation. Their opposition manifests itself first in the movement that encourages primary identity with sub-national entities linked to racial and ethnic groups. Known as multiculturalism, this movement has promoted a sustained campaign in our schools against any form of civic education, having as its objective, in the typical jargon of one of its proponents, the transformation of the schools into “authentic culturally democratic sites” that give emphasis to the cultures of sub-national groups. But encouraging identification with these cultures hardly begins to describe the depth of multiculturalism’s opposition to America. Its moving spirit, according to Huntington, is above all an animosity to Western civilization, which is regarded as the engine of oppression of all nonwhite peoples. Multiculturalism, writes Huntington, “is basically an anti-Western ideology.”
An even more serious attack against the American nation comes from a group of thinkers whom Huntington labels “transnationals.” These are intellectuals “who argue the moral superiority of identifying with humanity at large” and don’t place value in the idea of the nation (let alone this nation). As his centerfold Huntington features the ubiquitous Martha Nussbaum, who denounces “patriotic pride” and urges people to give their allegiance to the “worldwide community of human beings.” Where Nussbaum treads, others are certain to rush in. And sure enough Huntington spots Richard Sennett trotting along behind, condemning “the evil of a shared national identity,” and Amy Gutmann opining that it is “repugnant” for Americans to learn that they are, “above all, citizens of the United States.” Huntington might be dismayed, but certainly not surprised, to learn that Gutmann’s heartfelt expressions of repugnance have since helped elevate her from a professorship at Princeton to the presidency of the University of Pennsylvania.

In a now famous essay entitled The Ideological War Within The West John Fonte argued that transnational progressives (a.k.a. tranzis) are hostile to local democratic rule and determined to shift power up into undemocratic transnational institutions. The tranzis map fairly well to Huntington’s “Cosmopolitans”. However, at least at this stage the greatest source of threat to American identity probably comes less from increasing power in international institutions than from use of existing national institutions and policies to teach and promote policies that break down nationalism and patriotic feelings. Also, there is the huge problem posed by immigration.

Huntington sees the greatest threat to national identity coming from massive immigration from Mexico. On that point see my previous post Samuel P. Huntington Comes Out Against Immigration From Mexico and also see my post Samuel P. Huntington On Nationalism Versus Cosmopolitanism.

Update: One big problem I have with neoconservative foreign policy is that it has an underlying assumption of a universally held desire for freedom, democracy, and other American values. In an April 2003 speech at Georgetown University Huntington calls this the universalist’s illusion.

He named one British Ambassador who seemed to capture Huntington’s interpretation of the world standpoint.
“One reads about desire for American leadership in the United States. Everywhere else,” the diplomat said, “you read about American arrogance and imperialism.”

Huntington blamed this split in interpretations as something he called the universalist’s illusion — the idea that everyone in the world holds the same ideals as United States citizens. “If they do not have them,” Huntington joked with an eerie seriousness, “they desperately want them. If they do not want them, they don’t understand.”