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The bestseller that reminded us what it means to be an American is more timely than ever in this updated and enlarged edition, including "Schlesinger's Syllabus," an annotated reading list of core books on the American experience.
The classic image of the American nation — a melting pot in which differences of race, wealth, religion, and nationality are submerged in democracy — is being replaced by an orthodoxy that celebrates difference and abandons assimilation. While this upsurge in ethnic awareness has had many healthy consequences in a nation shamed by a history of prejudice, the cult of ethnicity, if pressed too far, threatens to fragment American society to a dangerous degree. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner in history and adviser to the Kennedy and other administrations, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., is uniquely positioned to wave the caution flag in the race to a politics of identity. Using a broader canvas in this updated and expanded edition, he examines the international dimension and the lessons of one polyglot country after another tearing itself apart or on the brink of doing so: among them the former Yugoslavia, Nigeria, even Canada. Closer to home, he finds troubling new evidence that multiculturalism gone awry here in the United States threatens to do the same. "One of the most devastating and articulate attacks on multiculturalism yet to appear."—Wall Street Journal "A brilliant book . . . we owe Arthur Schlesinger a great debt of gratitude."—C. Vann Woodward, New Republic
|Foreword to the Second Edition||9|
|1||"A New Race"?||29|
|2||History the Weapon||51|
|3||The Battle of the Schools||79|
|4||The Decomposition of America||105|
|5||E Pluribus Unum?||125|
|Notes on Sources||181|
On Sunday, March 15, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., author of THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: I am very glad to have this opportunity to discuss these issues which are on everybody's mind.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: I think the country becomes stridently multicultural when people argue that the celebration of separate ethnic and racial communities is a good idea. Short of that, multiculturalism enriches our life and strengthens the texture of our society. It is only the notion that ethnic groups should stay isolated and not get mixed up with each other -- this notion seems to be in conflict with the character of our society.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: Well, I think that the ethnic composition of the country will continue to change a bit, but basically I think the process of assimilation will continue, because younger people want to join the mainstream. They want to learn English and take part in the opportunities of American life, and in so doing, they meet people of the other sex and fall in love with them -- even if they are not from the same ethnic group -- and intermarry, and the process of assimilation will go on. I might add that I think that those who would push multiculturalism to the point of ethnic and racial separation, I think that tendency is slackening, because people take a look at countries like Yugoslavia, where multiculturalism takes a murderous form, to Canada, where multiculturalism is nonviolent but threatens to break up the country. Looking at these two, I think people are showing a new interest in what holds a nation together.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: Yes, it was indeed under President Kennedy that détente began and accelerated the decay of communism. President Kennedy made the first strong actions with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, as he had steered through the most dangerous moment of the cold war (the Cuban Missile Crisis). Given the brevity of his administration, Kennedy had a solid record of accomplishment in both foreign and domestic policy.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: America at the beginning was a nation looking toward the future. Newcomers to this country, making the long trip across the Atlantic, wanted to escape the past, they wanted to become American. We are an older country today, and there is more interest in roots. I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is more interest in the past than in the future, but there seems to be larger nature of ancestor worship today than there was a century ago or two centuries ago. I think that is one factor in the rise of multiculturalism. Another is the understandable sense that American society has been rigged against minorities. There is some truth in that, but the greatest and most shaming part of the American tradition is racism. We have been a racist nation from the start. Racist in our laws, racist in our customs, racist in our hearts. Minorities feel a natural desire for recognition of their contributions to American life, and that is another factor, probably the crucial factor in the rise of multiculturalism.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: I am in my 81st year and have long since retired from teaching, and as much as I like Harvard and Cambridge, I am cheerfully settled in a little town in the South, New York City. But thank you for thinking about me.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: The question of proper balance between unum and pluribus.... The nation's motto is "One out of many," and I think in the past there has been to much emphasis on "unum," but I think the militant multiculturalists put too much emphasis on "pluribus." The reason why a multicultural nation like the U.S. has hung together for a couple of centuries, except for the Civil War, is a sense of a common nationality, and that nationality is based not on ethnicity but upon common adherence to the principles of the Constitution, civic principles of our democracy. I think that is the core that holds us together and absorbs newcomers into a common American purpose. I think the notion of intermarriage is big because most American are not of one ethnic group, and the division of America into separate ethnic communities disturbs the balance of unum and pluribus. That is where I would draw the line.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: The Catholics draw a distinction between a forgivable sin and mortal sin. I think most Americans feel that lying about one's sex life is a forgivable sin. There are very few Americans who have not lied about their sex life at one time or another. You lie to protect your wife, to protect your children, to protect the girlfriend, your boyfriend, to protect yourself. In addition, it has always seemed to me that questions that invade personal privacy, the questions that nobody has any right to ask, are not entitled to a truthful answer.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: At the beginning of the decade, I was much concerned by the tendencies to oppose assimilation and integration in American life. I was disturbed by the tendency to celebrate separate ethnic and racial communities. I think this disuniting tendency has been checked somewhat. Checked by the example of Yugoslavia and the new concern with what holds a nation together. And checked even more by sex and love. Today more Japanese Americans marry Caucasians than marry other Japanese Americans. Today many Jews marry non-Jews, and some Jews are worried about the Jewish community in the U.S. Today there are four times as many black-white marriages then a few decades ago. And the whole attitude toward those marriages has changed. I think that sex and love will defeat those who favor the nonmulticulturalism of America.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: Yes, I think Kennedy valued the council of the ambassadors to the Soviet Union Lou-Ellen Thompson and Chip Bohlen. I think their assessments of Soviet intentions and Soviet reactions were very helpful in the resolution of the crisis.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: The melting pot historically has melted very unevenly, and it takes a little while for people to get fully absorbed in it. So the melting pot is indeed an imperfect metaphor, but it conveys the broad idea of different ethnic strains melted together, each strain modifying the total mix. It is not a perfect metaphor but it is one that has endured.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: I think your comment is a very representative comment. The reason why most people historically have come to the U.S. is that they want to get away from the country of their birth and become Americans. That is why the effort to make people learn and teach people in the language of their ancestors is resisted by those who want to join the mainstream and handicaps them in their effort to do that.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: It is hard to estimate what Presidents would do after they are dead. It his hard enough to know what living Presidents would do. Kennedy was very sympathetic to immigrants, but he would firmly believe in the absorption of newcomers and in their full membership in American society. He came from an ethnic group, the Irish, who were long excluded and long shunned, and he strongly believed that a major theme in American history is to move from exclusion to inclusion, so I do not think he would be happy about the opposition of militant multiculturalists to assimilation.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: The great intellectual influences on me would be Alexis de Tocqueville, William James, Henry Adams (the most brilliant American historian), the theologian Reinhold Nieblur; also I am an Emerson fan.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: I am technology incompetent, so I am not in the Internet, but I gather it is an enormous resource, filled with information if you know how to extract it. And it is also a marvelous means of intercommunication. My children are all on the Internet; thus far they have tried in vain to instruct their father.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: Well, I think human nature will not change a great deal. One of the paradoxes is that nuclear weapons seem to have been a great instrument for peace; had nuclear weapons never been invented, the cold war might have become a hot war. But nuclear weapons make war so dangerous and unthinkable that countries are reluctant to get in a position to feel obliged to use them. But as events in Africa and elsewhere in the world show, the human propensity toward violence has not diminished, tragically.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: English should be the major and primary language of this country. It has been and it will be. I think all Americans should learn two languages. A second language should be a part of every education. I would be opposed to making English an official language -- people who advocate that seem to me to lack faith in the future of English, and they do so at a time when more people speak English and books are published in English then ever before. English will be the closest thing to a world language, and I do not think it needs reinforcement by pressing or asking for so divisive a statute as making English the official language. We need not worry about the future of English.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: I welcome this chat to have a conversation with people across the country on the question of striking the proper balance between unum and pluribus. For those among us who want to celebrate ancestral cultures, do so, but let us remember always that we are Americans sharing a common nationality and a common cultural identity, and that is why so diversified a society as ours has endured. Thank you.
Posted August 7, 2002
Arthur Schlesinger, one of America's foremost historians, asks the penetrating questions that need to be asked about multiculturalism. Most people who posit 'political correctness' and multiculturalism, don't seem to think through the consequences. Schlesinger has the long view, and asks the right questions, and reveals what the true consequences will be. For example, he shows that there is no link between children reading positive things about their 'group' and having their self-esteem boosted (Italian kids don't feel better about themselves after reading that the Romans ruled the world). Multiculturalism, instead of being inclusive, actually shuts minorities out. It wants to enclose us all in our group 'boxes', so that, for example, blacks should read about blacks, whites about whites. This sounds like a white racist agenda, but it often comes from the multiculturalists. The multi-culti agenda often backfires, resulting in more isolation for minorities. Hispanic bilingualism actually tends to shut out Hispanic kids from mainstream life in America. But, as the author shows, English will not go away. In Shakespeare's day, 4 million people spoke English, now it is 1.5 billion. The ultimate question for America is this: are we going to be a nation unified by a single culture, history, and creed, or a Balkanized country of groups. Schlesinger shines much needed light on this often murky issue.
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This is a brilliant essay on multiculturalism. Schlesinger points out that "a common language is a necessary bond of national cohesion." So we should do everything possible to ensure that those who live here in Britain can speak English.
We need to have a common culture, in our single society, of one nation. We should defend British working class culture, which is the positive aspect of our country's history, while rejecting the bourgeoisie's imperial, reactionary culture. Schlesinger writes, "Belief in one's own culture does not require disdain for other cultures." This is like self-respect - respecting oneself does not mean disrespect for other people.
Posted June 6, 2009
I used this book for my book club.
The meeting was in Febuary 2009.
I had first read it in college.
It was a good starting place for a three hour discussion of the possible sea changes we maybe approaching.
I wish it and I had a little more in depth historical background but it worked great as a kick off point for our discussion.
Posted May 13, 2003
This is an unblinkered look at multiculturalism for people who want to figure out where the beef is. Schlesinger's answer? What little's there is hiding under a pickle. While he wouldn't say it this way, what Schlesinger gets across is this: Multiculturalism is a misnomer. There's no such thing. Culture is just whatever happens to be. What America has right now is a multi-ethnic culture with two genders. Big surprise. Another big surprise: When people of any ethnicity or either gender assert what multi-culturalists like to call the dominant culture's values -- meaning, when they assert their rights -- it works. Get the idea? Even though we should admit that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence from a position that was insular by comparison with ours...the fact is that the ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence represent all people. The ideas live. They work. They're...dare I say it...RIGHT.
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Posted December 22, 2008
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