The Dissolution of America
by ROBERT WEISSBERG
October 11, 2010
Will the United States of America as a nation survive another fifty or hundred years? The instinctive response is “of course” or at least that’s the hope. Alas, this optimism may be over-stated; the handwriting on the wall is less upbeat.
Begin by recognizing that the nation state is not the default human political organization option. The Founding Fathers certainly had their doubts about the continued existence of a sprawling (for the day) country with a highly heterogeneous, often antagonistic population lacking a loyalty-generating monarchy. Centrifugal pressures erupted almost immediately when anti-slavery New Englanders talked secession; a few decades later, the union did come unglued only to be re-glued thanks to a horrific bloody civil war.
The contemporary political landscape also suggests the nation state’s fragility. Several have vanished (e.g., Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, the East/West Pakistan arrangement); even rock solid Great Britain, Spain and Italy have pesky break away factions. Belgium totters on splitting up. French Muslims have created dozens of “no go” zones where even the police do not venture. “Lebanese” as a collective identity grows weaker by the year. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia barely survive as “nations” and must rely on brute force. More generally, everything about the modern world, from TV news streamed from one’s old homeland to the Internet, conspires to sustain old loyalties and thus hinder political integration.
More prevalent than national attachments are tribal or clan loyalties, religious ties, localism, a common language, and racial identities and these, unlike nationalism, probably reflect a biological element. The near perpetual tribal violence in Africa shows the irrelevance of national loyalties. Does anyone really believe that residents of Iraq primarily think of themselves as “Iraqis” versus, say, Kurdish or Sunni? These non-nation state loyalties have existed for millennia, long before the modern nation state emerged.
The bottom line, then, is that “national loyalty,” identifying oneself primarily as “an American” versus “Hispanic” is not inevitable; it is exceptional, so the question becomes how to create it. The answer is that if sufficiently well-taught it will overwhelm (but never extinguish) rival loyalties but it must be imparted. We cannot hope that it will just endure unaided as a force of nature. The adage, “you don’t know what you have until you lose it” describes matters perfectly.
The need to “make” Americans became most pressing in the late 19th century when immigration skyrocketed. The era’s educators recognized that absent forceful intervention, America as nation could fracture into a Balkans-like hodge-podge where ethnic and religious groups that killed each other in Europe would now just settle their scores here. Samuel P. Huntington’s Who Are Wedepicts this overt assimilation process in detail and should be required reading for all public officials.
Huntington describes how “Americanization” programs multiplied and were endorsed by both business and organized labor. All stressed learning English and mastering American history and our political principles. This was an eminently respectable “social crusade.” Large industrial firms like Ford and US Steel ran in-house “Americanization” programs while Chambers of Commerce in cities with large immigrant populations had their versions. The YMCA, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Colonial Dames, among countless others pitched in. 1916 Henry Ford organized a pageant in which a stream of immigrant workers, all dressed in outlandish garb, with strange signs proclaiming their country of origin, descended into a gigantic melting pot. Now, from the pot’s other side emerged another group of men, all dressed in identical suits, all carrying little American flags.
During this period thirty states had explicit Americanization programs while the federal government established the Bureau of Nationalization in the Labor Department, and by 1921 some 3,526 cities and towns participated in the Bureau’s programs. Americanization was also central in formal education, and included both regular students and the recently arrived. (Personal disclaimer: my mother, a 1938 Polish refugee not knowing any English, immediately enrolled in an evening Americanization class expertly taught by my soon-to-be father.) By 1921-2, between 750 and 1000 communities had these Americanization programs.
Significantly, progressive educators such as Horace Mann and John Dewey vigorously pushed assimilation education. Social Studies and English thus became tours of the often heroic men and women who exemplified America’s greatness. This unvarnished patriotic education lingered long after immigration had receded. I can recall from the early 1950s classrooms bedecked with American flags, daily pledges of allegiance, portraits of Washington and Lincoln, hallway displays of historic documents and once-a-week assembles with everyone attired in white shirts and ties to witness honor students marching with over-sized American flags. Singing the national anthem at sporting events was taken seriously.
Today, sad to say, matters have turned almost 180 degrees. If Ford Motor Co. ran an Americanization program La Raza might sue and probably receive Department of Justice support. A passion for multiculturalism and bilingualism has supplanted the melting pot and learning unaccented, grammatically correct English. American history, often under the guise of being “balanced” so as to promote “critical thinking” has transformed a celebration of America into an ideological search and destroy mission (see here). Columbus becomes a perpetrator of genocide; capitalism a source of poverty. Rather than learn that the 1950s was a period of unrivaled prosperity, including economic gains among African Americans, students learn instead about witch-hunting McCarthyism and the domestic subjugation of American women while minorities were denied civil rights. Indeed, in today’s progressive circles the very idea of assimilation is sometimes viewed as cultural genocide.
Those ignoring this transformation can seldom grasp its strident anti-Americanism. Consider one particular program in Oklahoma City. Here educators purchased a program called “Flocabulary” that uses the language (and musical style) of hip-hop to teach social studies to “at risk” students. In this edgy curriculum the Founding Fathers are “old dead white men.” It is so over-the-top anti-American that fifteen teachers and their union have objected. Take for example a lyric about Andrew Jackson:
“Andrew Jackson, thinks he’s a tough guy./ Killing more Indians than there are stars in the sky./ Evil wars of Florida killing the Seminoles./ Saying hello, putting Creek in the hell holes./ Like Adolf Hitler he had the final solution./ ‘No, Indians, I don’t want you to live here anymore.’”
One can only wonder why curriculum developers believed that anti-Americanism would energize the otherwise indolent. Does equating Andrew Jackson to Hitler light the fire to learn more history? To be sure, controversy has held up the program’ immediate implementation but it is moving forward, and it will soon be applied in math. One can only hope that these students also ignore these ill-conceived lessons like they ignored all the rest.
Flocabulary is, admittedly, an extreme example of the anti-Americanism currently pervading today’s “enlightened” social science curriculum, but it sadly reflects a pervasive mentality. According to today’s putative experts, lessons can freely celebrate competing allegiances and bash America without risk to tart up boring subjects like history. The opposite is true—the downsides of this neglect are huge. US history and politics everywhere unequivocally show that national cohesion—not tribal or religious solidity--can be exceedingly fragile. Do we really want a country with ungovernable northern New Jersey tribal areas? For the umpteenth time, you do not know what you have until its gone, and perhaps a half century from now educators in a disintegrating United States will lament, “How could we have been so stupid when we dissipated the emotional glue binding us together. What were we thinking!!!” By that time, however, it may be too late—no government will dare try to govern the New Jersey tribal areas.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Robert Weissberg is emeritus professor of political science, University of Illinois-Urbana and currently an adjunct instructor at New York University Department of Politics (graduate). He has written many books, the most recent being: The Limits of Civic Activism, Pernicious Tolerance: How teaching to "accept differences" undermines civil society and Bad Students, Not Bad Schools. Besides writing for professional journals, he has also written for magazines like the Weekly Standard and currently contributes to various blogs.