What’s the Opposite of Silly Internationalism?

11:00 a.m. May 11, 2011 | So Americanism, as viewed by either Theodore Roosevelt or Charles Krautheimer, stands in opposition to “silly” and “naïve” internationalism.  How interesting as we look at a version of the Hudson Institute logo with a globe on its right.

But this discussion is going to come to immigration over and over again.  Former NPR’er Juan Williams has just denounced racial/ethnic identity as “chic” and questioned why people challenge assimilation as a “dirty word.”  He knows that the population growth in this country is due to Hispanics and is raising questions about Americanism.  He says that the Roosevelt idea—and his apparently—is the need to say “I am an American” and attached to the American ideals.  Senator Lamar Alexander says you become an American by pledging allegiance to a set of beliefs.  He points out the oath of citizenship begins with renouncing and abjuring all other allegiances.  Question:  Immigrants who want to become citizens have to take that oath and answer dozens of questions about the Declaration of Independence and other pillars of this nation, but would most indigenous Americans be able to answer any slice of the citizenship test that immigrants routinely have to answer?  Leon Kass agrees that this is a question, that there’s no criteria or duties for citizenship.

McClay asks a fundamental nonprofit question.  Is Americanism keyed to Roosevelt’s idea of a robust commitment to public education or to the liberty to choose whatever kind of education you want, public, private, vouchers, etc.?  Yes, Roosevelt’s essay contained an incredibly strong commitment to public education as the means of making one out of many.  Does the possession of money give some Americans the ability to resist the centrifugal pull of public education and still remain Americans?  Everyone likes the concept of all men are created equal, but with no recognition, so far, about class or money as potentially dividing Americans, or at least giving some Americans more choice in what it means to be an American than those who lack the resources to pick and choose among elements and brands of Americanism.

Hedge fund investor Singer notes that most of his peers in the industry came from middle class backgrounds and were educated in public schools.  To him, the idea of Americanism is the meritocracy (he says that the creation of the Internet, for example, is a uniquely American product of the openness and meritocracy of America, the fact that America is not a corrupt system, a product of an idea, the idea of economic freedom and private property and individual responsibility).  Essentially, he is linking Americanism with prosperity, and the challenge for businesses, nonprofits, and philanthropies is to maintain that prosperity within the concepts of free enterprise and the American economic system.

No one has asked, if Americanism is keyed to private enterprise (economic freedom in conservative parlance), how much of Americanism is a national commitment to take care of the people least well served in our economy and society.  If that were the question, the lines among Americans would be many, how broad the reach to people in need, how deep the levels of assistance.  Robby George asks what is the “true American,” whether America should be modeled on the social democracies of Europe or the libertarian model.  Leon Kass argues that that kind of debate occurs within a belief of shared commitments and purpose.  George says that the basic American proposition are limited government, liberty, individual responsibility, but with public spiritedness regarding a commitment to do something toward the common good.  George believes that there are threats to limited government and personal responsibility, particularly because of threats from intellectual elites.  George says that multiculturalism is a threat (he mentioned his son being faced with a class on Americanism in a private school where the sole text was Howard Zinn’s history of the U.S., which he described as indoctrination in anti-Americanism—I suspect I’m the only person in the room who studied under Zinn).

Krautheimer says that Americanism is really American exceptionalism, what makes us different from (and better than?) other societies.  He declares ethnic separatism as now entrenched in our culture and getting worse.  It’s sort of sad to have to point out that other than Juan Williams, there doesn’t appear to be an African-American or anyone else from a recognized racial or ethnic “minority” group among the 11 panelists.  Of course, that isn’t all that different many times from the composition of panels or gatherings in parts of the nonprofit sector.  How odd that people debate what it is to be an American, particularly addressing the emergence of communities and people who are relatively new and frequently unwelcome to parts of this country, how odd that we have those debates without their voice in the mix.