Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nativism's Apologist

Now that the Republican Party has tethered itself firmly to a nativist immigration policy ( it is worth noting that the present wave of nativism did not originate full blown out of the mouth of Tom Tancredo. Although the United States has had waves of nativism stretching all the way back to the founding of the nation (The Alien Sedition Acts 1798) the current wave of nativist animus is clearly aimed at Latinos. It is fair to say that in large measure, this nativism is nothing short of racially charged animus against brown-skinned Latinos. Contrary to much commentary this nativism did not originate on the part of rednecks, poor whites or the African-American community. Nativism is an ideology put forward by elites in order to divide communities which otherwise have common interests. The foremost in-house philosopher of the nativist ideology is the academic Samuel Huntington.

Huntington: The High Priest of the New Nativism

There is much that is odious in Samuel Huntington but the worst is a relentless racism that is targeted at almost anyone who is “non-Western” and includes Muslims, Chinese, Africans and most pointedly Hispanics. Huntington reserves a great deal of his vituperation against Latinos. His disdain for Hispanic culture is almost pathological but then again so are his positions on other issues. Huntington, for example, provided the theoretical basis for carpet-bombing Vietnam – it will urbanize the peasants who support the Viet Cong. As well he promoted the idea that the best kind of government for developing countries was the monolithic authoritarian single party state exemplified in the pitiful Mexican dictatorship that was the PRI’s 90 year rule. Not one to fade away, Huntington provided much of the neo-con garbage that justified the West’s war with Islam.

Huntington first gave voice to his anti-Hispanic views in a 1993 article for Foreign Affairs entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?" It “immediately attracted a surprising amount of attention and reaction. Because the article was intended to supply Americans with an original thesis about "a new phase" in world politics after the end of the cold war.” Edward Said, Nation, October 4, 2001). This article was expanded into the 1996 book, “The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order.” It is at the end of the book that Huntington begins to promote a pointed nativist ideology against Hispanics. The book was thoroughly trashed by the late scholar, Eduard Said in a review for the Nation Magazine. (“The Clash of Ignorance” posted October 4, 2001). ( Said demonstrated the inherent racism in Huntington’s arguments.

Most of the argument … relied on a vague notion of something Huntington called "civilization identity" and "the interactions among seven or eight [sic] major civilizations," of which the conflict between two of them, Islam and the West, gets the lion's share of his attention. In this belligerent kind of thought, he relies heavily on a 1990 article by the veteran Orientalist Bernard Lewis, whose ideological colors are manifest in its title, "The Roots of Muslim Rage." In both articles, the personification of enormous entities called "the West" and "Islam" is recklessly affirmed, as if hugely complicated matters like identity and culture existed in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Pluto bash each other mercilessly, with one always more virtuous pugilist getting the upper hand over his adversary. Certainly neither Huntington nor Lewis has much time to spare for the internal dynamics and plurality of every civilization, or for the fact that the major contest in most modern cultures concerns the definition or interpretation of each culture, or for the unattractive possibility that a great deal of demagogy and downright ignorance is involved in presuming to speak for a whole religion or civilization. No, the West is the West, and Islam Islam.

Huntington takes on the role of caricaturing the inferior civilizations such as Islam or Latin America. He makes no real effort to flesh out the elements of these “civilizations” much less in providing any coherent definition of his use of the term “civilization.” All this mediocrity was applauded by various establishment high priests as oracular pronouncements.

In fact, Huntington is an ideologist, someone who wants to make "civilizations" and "identities" into what they are not: shut-down, sealed-off entities that have been purged of the myriad currents and countercurrents that animate human history, and that over centuries have made it possible for that history not only to contain wars of religion and imperial conquest but also to be one of exchange, cross-fertilization and sharing. This far less visible history is ignored in the rush to highlight the ludicrously compressed and constricted warfare that "the clash of civilizations" argues is the reality.

(Said, The Nation). This, of course, is not accidental. Ludicrous though Huntington’s ideas may be they provide a framework which justifies a whole range of hateful policies, not the least of which is the war with Iraq.

Uncountable are the editorials in every American and European newspaper and magazine of note adding to this vocabulary of gigantism and apocalypse, each use of which is plainly designed not to edify but to inflame the reader's indignant passion as a member of the "West," and what we need to do. Churchillian rhetoric is used inappropriately by self-appointed combatants in the West's, and especially America's, war against its haters, despoilers, destroyers, with scant attention to complex histories that defy such reductiveness and have seeped from one territory into another, in the process overriding the boundaries that are supposed to separate us all into divided armed camps.

(Said, The Nation, emphasis mine)

Vitriolic Anti-Hispanic Tome Penned by Huntington

In April of 2004, Huntington wrote his nativist tome against Latinos entitled, “The Hispanic Challenge,” Foreign Policy, March/April 2004 ( Huntington makes no secret of his fears. We, the “white, British and Protestant” are threatened in every way possible: “values, institutions and culture.”

Most Americans see the creed as the crucial element of their national identity. The creed, however, was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers. Key elements of that culture include the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law, including the responsibility of rulers and the rights of individuals; and dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth, a “city on a hill.”

Nothing less than “heaven on earth” is threatened. Notice the facile values that “we Americans” are said to possess and which are presumably absent in Hispanics – Christianity, religious commitment, the work ethic, etc. Values which are not only ambiguous but which are arguably as present in the Hispanic culture as they are in the also-vaguely defined “Anglo-Protestant culture.” Using the same loose paradigm that defined his “civilization” tome, Huntington employs it to argue against the brown menace. He sets up a synthetic civilization that is alleged to have existed and given us a unitary culture. However, the civil rights movements changed that and consequently, “Americans now see and endorse their country as multiethnic and multiracial. As a result, American identity is now defined in terms of culture and creed.” This pseudo-liberal verbiage is intended as a set-up for what is threatened – a monolithic “other” as in civilization- which will wipe out “our culture and our creed.” From here on, Huntington is not so much interested in giving any rigor to these disordered ideas. Rather, Huntington sets forth the familiar elements of the Tancredo nativist framework, a framework that is not intellectual but rather puffery giving comfort to bigotry.

Huntington is not a historian or an economist: he traffics in buzzwords and speaking engagements, the Washington equivalent of a corporate motivational speaker, a Tony Robbins of political power. He offers not a narrative or a specific analysis but a paradigm, a deliberate oversimplification, an effort to find some facts to fit a pattern rather than finding the patterns in a wider range of facts. The problem is even with a decent paradigm, you wouldn’t know when it applies and when it doesn’t. His work’s success is partly owed to being a book of fancy-talk that has the virtue of telling the hardheaded what they think they already know; it gains much by not being read. His secret seems to be that he predicts things that are already happening: warning about a conflict with China, for example, which is hardly a replacement for the Cold War mentality; it is nothing more than an extension of it. Essentially Huntington has written another perennially disposable policy book about the coming war with the East, a work of fortune-telling that will seem prescient at times depending on how things turn out and is pernicious to the extent that it can blind us or limit our expectations.

“Your New Enemies,” by Said Shirazi,, November 3, 2002.

Although the foregoing analysis should be enough to discredit Huntington as anything but a bigoted hack it is worth exploring how he seeks to demonize Hispanics in his racist tome, “The Hispanic Challenge.” Huntington starts off by creating a false dichotomy that posits an “us” and a “them.” The us is vaguely referred to as the “Anglo-Protestant” country and creed. In contra to this he slips around the issue of Catholicism which is animating his characterization of the Hispanic community. Thus he posits a historical danger: “would the US be [the] same if settled by French, Spanish or Portuguese Catholics” then we would not be the Anglo-Protestant United States but instead fall to become Mexico, Brazil or Quebec. In so doing he sidesteps a couple of historical facts that demolish his narrative, namely the fact that the U.S. was indeed settled by substantial numbers of Catholics, most from Ireland, Italy, Poland and other countries. So much was the immigration of Catholics that Catholicism is today the largest denomination in this country comprising 25% of the population. By this account, Hispanic Catholics should fit in quite well in the United States.

Huntington is not a historian or an economist: he traffics in buzzwords

Nor does Huntington deal with other facts that do not fit his narrative. Are the 15% of the population that identifies itself as atheist or agnostic not “American?” What of the Jews and Muslims. Huntington makes much of supposed dual loyalties by Hispanics but nowhere does he mention the dual loyalties of Jews and Israel. Nor does he ever deal with the fact that this nation has always had discrete minorities who chose not to be part of the vague “Anglo-Protestant” majority, such as Jews, Muslims, Mormons, or Mennonites, amongst others. And what of the divisions caused by racism and the legacy of slavery. It can hardly be said that the Anglo-Protestant majority welcomed the freed African-American slaves with open arms. There is no “traditional identity” which unites the oppressor and the oppressed.

But Huntington makes facile use of this supposed “traditional identity” to countenance its supposed peril at the hands of Hispanic hordes. Leaving aside for a moment that this country has had nativist waves going back to the founding of this country and that such nativism has countenanced violence, segregation and deportation of French Catholics, Chinese, Irish, Southern Europeans, Germans, Japanese and earlier generations of Hispanics, we are left with very little to the Huntington’s concept of traditional identity. To the contrary, Huntington’s vitriol is in keeping with previous period of anti-immigrant hysteria.

Huntington trades in racist stereotypes: "no... Mexican... believes in 'education or hard work...'"

Given the fallacious assumptions underlying his argument, Huntington retreats to racist stereotypes – namely the lazy Mexican. An Anglo-Protestant “work ethic” is counterposed to the supposed "maƱana syndrome” that lazy Mexicans allegedly adhere to. “Author Robert Kaplan quotes Alex Villa, a third-generation Mexican American in Tucson, Arizona, as saying that he knows almost no one in the Mexican community of South Tucson who believes in “education and hard work” as the way to material prosperity and is thus willing to “buy into America.” This disingenuous use of the racist stereotype does not bother Huntington who then proceeds to argue that Hispanics are undermining our standard of living by taking jobs at lower pay from Americans. I doubt that Huntington even sees the contradiction in his argument since such bigotry very much informs his views.

What is most disturbing about the Samuel Huntington’s fallacious and racist diatribe is its respectability in mainstream circles. These articles are published in the leading academic journals on foreign affairs. As noted earlier they were warmly received and nary a mainstream commentator bothered to note the logical lapses in Huntington’s pieces. Were it not for leftist commentators Huntington’s words would be, as they are to the Republican right, gospel truth. These are not merely the rantings of an obscure academic. They are the assumptions which now inform the so-called immigration debate and they form the foundation of the resurgent anti-Latino nativism. As well, it is indisputable that Samuel P. Huntington is a racist.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant dissection of that racist hack, Huntington.

Anonymous said...

WOW! That is pretty goddamn complete and GOOD! I think you have found a niche…one that utilizes both your writing and story telling skills and your political passions. Keep it up!