Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity by Samuel Huntington is one of the finest books about the American spirit and American creed that I have read. It covers what makes America so great, what makes Americans American, and, most importantly for these contentious times, what issues are dividing America and could, in fact, possibly lead to a national breakdown.
That might sound like a dark subject, and that’s because, like the subject of The Gulag Archipelago, but that doesn’t make Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity a book you should avoid. In my view, that actually makes Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity a book you should try to read. We need to know what’s going on in our society and what America’s fault lines are if we are to stop ourselves from aggravating those fault lines.
In Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity, Huntington lays out what the American national identity is, why we should fight to keep it alive, and the challenges that it faces due to mass immigration and a lack of common values. Every young conservative should read it.
Summary of Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity
I was able to identify three main points Huntington tries to convey in Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity. They are:
- America has a national identity that is mainly based on Anglo-Saxon, Protestant values. While it is, of course, in no way accessible to that one, limited ethnic group, it was created by former Englishmen during the American Revolution, so it reflects their values.
- America should fight to keep that identity alive through recognition of the creed and ensuring that immigrants assimilate to American culture. Our shared national identity made us a global powerhouse in one century and has improved hundreds of millions, if not billions of lives, so it is worth keeping.
- Mass immigration, loose to non-existent border security, and a lack of assimilation, along with cultural degradation, have dramatically eroded our shared values and identity. Those challenges need to be recognized and corrected for America’s national identity to survive.
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1. America has a National Identity
After reading countless news stories about how America is a “nation of immigrants” with no shared identity, it was refreshing to read Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity. That’s because Huntington knows what America actually stands for and that we do have a national identity.
Yes, immigrants have contributed to it. But, up until the past few decades, those immigrants assimilated because they recognized the importance of becoming part of society rather than trying to change it.
So, what is the American national identity and American creed? Our national identity is as a “deeply religious and primarily Christian country…speaking English, maintaining its European cultural heritage, and committed to the Creed.”
The American Creed has never been explicitly defined but is generally recognized as including liberty, equality, individualism, populism, and a commitment to laissez faire economics of the sort discussed in The Wealth of Nations. That’s how Huntington defines it in Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity.
So, after reading Huntington’s conception of the American national identity and American creed, it was easy to see why he says it was based on Anglo-Saxon principles; those were the principles of the men that fought in the American Revolution, founded this country, and kept it great for the 18th and 19th centuries. Our national identity and creed are a reflection of the values of the Founding Fathers.
In his description of our identity in Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity, Huntington points out that our identity has remained constant for so long because the Founders were settlers, not immigrants.
Settlers leave the old to create a new community, often envisioned as a “city on a hill.” Because of that, they are imbued with a sense of purpose and have a deep conviction about their values. Immigrants simply move from one society to another. Since this nation was founded by settlers, its national identity has persevered.
2. Why America’s National Identity is Worth Keeping
Next in Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity, Huntington describes why Americans should want to keep our national identity. His writings mainly boil down the fact that English, Protestant values like free speech, capitalism, and strongly-held religious convictions are what have allowed this country to thrive.
Whereas other countries without a similar national identity, such as France or China (two very different countries, you’ll want to note) have struggled with tyranny, oppression, decline, and chaos, America has never really had those problems.
Instead, our economy has gradually and constantly improved (other than a few recessions), free speech has remained vibrantly alive until recently (because of a rejection of our national identity by socialist-leaning Millenials), and our religious convictions have made us a more morally upright people.
Of course, his detractors will find counterexamples. There are always counterexamples. But, in my view at least, those are more or less irrelevant in this case.
Overall, America has been a wonderful force for good in the world. Just read The Two-Ocean War to see how we saved the world from fascist tyranny. Or look at our near-constant respect for human rights and the laws of war, both at home and abroad. Or how our booming economy is propping up the global economy, driving innovation since the Gilded Age (which you can read about in The Republic for Which It Stands), and delivering constant returns for investors.
America’s national identity has allowed it to make the world a better place so that national identity is definitely worth keeping.
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3. The Challenges that We Face to Our National Identity
Huntington devotes significant time and attention in Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity to the challenges posed to our national identity by mass immigration and a lack of assimilation.
At this point, most conservatives can see that border security is national security. But, it’s hard to see the challenges we face because of constant immigration.
As Huntington points out, up until after World War II, immigration was limited by laws and quotas that meant each wave of immigrants had time to settle into American culture and gain an understanding of and respect for our national identity. Additionally, most of those immigrants were European, so they were more easily able to understand the Western, mainly English values that are the basis of America.
However, mass Hispanic immigration beginning in the latter part of the 20th Century upended that paradigm. Instead of occasional waves of immigrants, America has faced huge numbers of immigrants from the same South American countries every year, which is a central problem presented in Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity.
Furthermore, those immigrants often don’t have much respect for our values because conditions at home are so different (which you can read about in my review of Narconomics) and they tend to live in the same areas with only each other, rather than mixing into the American population.
In fact, it is entirely possible for children of Hispanic immigrants to grow up without speaking English. Especially if they are illegal immigrants. That lack of assimilation is probably the single greatest challenge our national identity faces.
The other challenge is the degradation of American society. Everything these days is about sex and drugs. In the past, everything was about work and innovation.
Whereas past Americans valued religion, worked hard, and struck out on their own to build something great, current generations of Americans support socialism, hate capitalism and religion, and focus on pleasure more than living life well. That erosion of cultural norms means that we no longer have shared values and has almost destroyed our shared national identity.
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Analysis of Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity
I thought that Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity was an excellent book. Not only was it well-written, constantly interested, and supported by a variety of historical and contemporary sources, it also got at America’s signature challenge: a lack of a shared national identity.
China’s building up its military and Russian defense spending has steadily been increasing. While war will likely be avoided, it could happen sometime soon. A war like the one described in The Red Line would be expensive, devastating, and challenging. If we’re going to win it, America needs to get its act together and stop fighting over what bathrooms men and women should use, and instead focus on the bigger problems. We need to learn about our national identity through books like Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity and start fighting for that identity.
The only way to ensure we focus on those bigger problems is to regain our shared sense of community, purpose, and identity. That can be done by returning to our roots and living out the ideals of the American creed.
We need to defend free speech, especially on college campuses, work to build up the already booming economy, focus on individual freedom and individual responsibility (read Why Liberalism Failed to learn how to do that), and regain our religious convictions. Otherwise, America and its values may be doomed to failure. That’s the point of Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity and it’s one that not only young conservatives, but patriotic Americans of all stripes must learn.
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Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity is a book that all conservatives need to read. When the lessons and knowledge contained in it are combined with the lessons about how to write online in an effective way found in Righteous Indignation, we should be able to mount an effective defense against the campaign of cultural degradation and erosion of our national identity that the left is currently carrying out.
Fight for freedom. Protect free speech. Fight for capitalism and strive to understand what causes prosperity. Learn and understand the Western history that you are a part of. And then go out and spread the gospel of what you learned. If that doesn’t happen, it will be hard for America to regain its national identity. We young conservatives need to start reading Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity and books like it so that we understand what America’s national identity is and start fighting for that identity!
By: Gen Z Conservative