As a quick visit to Google makes clear, there are two things you don't discuss in polite company. Oh well. In what follows, SC will ask the reader's forbearance in rushing to judge the exposition of the ideas discussed below. Opinions about church and state are especially divisive, and many readers will find the discussion controversial. Your host will restrict this preliminary apologia to noting that while he clearly is sympathetic to the ideas of Samuel Huntington, much of the present writing is concerned with giving a reasonably neutral exposition of Huntington's motivations, a topic which SC feels he needs to defend in order to productively move on to the discussion of language policy. Aside from that, Huntingon's clams about national identity -- the overarching theme of "Who Are We?" -- are couched in a very particular conception of religion and politics, and a discussion of his views that did not take that conception into account would be doing both Huntington and the reader a disservice.
Samuel Huntington is quite a controversial figure, having come to mainstream prominence a few years ago with a provocative thesis known as the "Clash of Civilizations". Huntington is a more polarizing figure than many of his colleagues -- SC can't recall even the most angry of Francis Fukuyama's critics hurling the abuse at him for "The End of History", itself a rather triumphalist view of Western civilization, that Huntington has been subjected to. Depending on your point of view, it was either a prescient or bigoted prophecy of coming battles between Western civilization and Islam, to say nothing of China, Latin America, and other cultures that transcend merely political -- or even ethnic -- borders. Certainly since the fall of the World Trade Center, his views have demanded attention. Over the next few days, Semantic Compositions will be dedicated primarily to a review of his latest work, Who Are We?, and the salience of Huntington's views to language policy and national security.
On a personal note, your host feels compelled to point out that when he wrote in the official SC mission statement about reserving the right to digress into political science and military history, he was motivated primarily by his interest in the works of Huntington. Between 1995 and 1998, when SC was in college, he made a painstaking -- and very slow -- study of Huntington's 1957 magnum opus, The Soldier and the State. This was the serendipitous result of a chance encounter with the book outside of any coursework, but reading it had a profound effect on SC's views. While it has since been superceded by both events and theoretical advances -- Huntington's choice of the terms "objective" and "subjective" to refer to military control by civilian and military personnel respectively has been shown to be rather unfortunate -- it remains as foundational a text in its field as another prominent 1957 opus is in linguistics.
Events have conspired to produce a singularly appropriate introduction to our review, in particular the Supreme Court's dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the Pledge of Allegiance. The topic has been a matter of hot, not to say impolite, debate at Language Log (see Geoff Pullum's interesting endorsement, qualified support from Geoff Nunberg and Mark Liberman, and dissent from Bill Poser here and here). Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal has taken the liberty of republishing an article by Prof. Huntington on the flag issue which appeared in The American Enterprise, which in turn appears to be an extract from Who Are We?. The question of the phrase under G-d appears at first to be a matter of religious expression, and thus a straightforward -- if controversial -- First Amendment issue. For Huntington, however, it is merely symptomatic of a larger debate over what we might call "national ideology".
Huntington opens with a fairly abstract discussion of identity, characterized in terms of two parameters, termed salience and substance. Although they're fairly self-explanatory, we'll note that he means by them, respectively, the importance of various facets of identity to individuals, and the specific content of ideas and objects that individuals identify with. Early on, he plays an interesting game with the substance of identities, identifying some 48 attributes placed into six categories of identity which people variously have latched onto. Once absorbed, a few pages later, he observes that the reader probably missed the fact that none of them include the idea of "nation", an idea which amalgamates various attributes of race, religion, language, political frameworks, and other more basic ideas.
Clearly, this conception of "nation" must emphasize certain facts more than others depending on the people in question. For a country like Japan, with a relatively homogeneous population (the Ainu being an important exception), and a common language and history, basic demographic facts are adequate to establish a sense of nationhood. For a country like the United States, with a relatively heterogeneous population, a plurality of important languages, and an increasingly fragmented notion of history, cohering the population into a single nation requires an appeal to political principles and ideologies that transcend merely personal atributes of identity. These principles and beliefs are embodied in the founding documents of the United States, and are referred to by Huntington with a phrase popularized by Gunnar Myrdal, the "American Creed", or simply the Creed. The Creed has been formulated by various authors in different ways, which ultimately boil down to Jefferson's "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Huntington identifies three facts about the Creed which, as much as any specifics of its content, are to be credited with America's success as a nation: its longstanding stability, its widespread assent, and its ideological origins in a uniquely Protestant form of dissent. It is not an exaggeration to state that, for Huntington, religion not only does not exist partitioned from politics, but rather inspires it, and insofar as America is Constitutional, it is because America is Protestant. Even more specifically, a point on which we will have much to say over the next few days, Anglo-Protestant (a term employed frequently by Huntington).
This is the heart of what makes Huntington such a controversial thinker. It is difficult for a reader who does not share this heritage -- SC included -- to reconcile himself to the idea that anyone could set a particular racial origin and a particular religion as the defining characteristics of a system which they clearly admire, and not view that person as a bigot. Huntington's language is occasionally provocative on that point; in the article excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, he writes -- approvingly -- "Mr. Newdow got it right: Atheists are 'outsiders' in the American community"; shortly after, he cites another atheist litigant:
Brian Cronin, who litigated against a cross on public land in Boise, Idaho, complained, "For Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians in Boise, the cross only drives home the point that they are strangers in a strange land." Like Mr. Newdow and the Ninth Circuit judges, Mr. Cronin was on target. America is a predominantly Christian nation with a secular government. Non-Christians may legitimately see themselves as strangers because they or their ancestors moved to this "strange land" founded and peopled by Christians--even as Christians become strangers by moving to Israel, India, Thailand or Morocco.
It will come as a cold sort of comfort to Prof. Poser to learn that he and Prof. Huntington agree quite exactly on the significance of the phrase "under G-d" in the Pledge of Allegiance; while Profs. Pullum, Nunberg and Liberman appeal to facts of syntactic ambiguity to argue that the phrase is open to interpretation, and even irrelevant to the more general assertion of allegiance to a symbol of the United States, Prof. Huntington is quite clear that by "under G-d", the Pledge means to express not merely "ceremonial deism", but a real sense of particularly Christian identity. Huntington cites Irving Kristol, a Jewish thinker, in support of this claim:
Americans tend to have a certain catholicity toward religion: All deserve respect. Given this general tolerance of religious diversity, non-Christian faiths have little alternative but to recognize and accept America as a Christian society. "Americans have always thought of themselves as a Christian nation," argues Jewish neoconservative Irving Kristol, "equally tolerant of all religions so long as they were congruent with traditional Judeo-Christian morality. But equal toleration . . . never meant perfect equality of status in fact." Christianity is not legally established, "but it is established informally, nevertheless."
The point at which we will argue Huntington's critics go wrong on their critique of his motivations is here, at the notion that Christianity is established as normative. It's true, and there's no reason to deny it, that this places Christianity at the center of Huntington's conception of an American "national ideology", but that doesn't require an Ann Coulter-style conversion of everyone to Christianity. It does require assent by minorities to the existence of a majority, and the same respect and toleration for the majority's views that each minority expects to be shown. For this reason, the Creed is not merely the social contract of Locke or Rousseau, but is grounded instead in very particular facts about America and its Founding. To return to the notions of salience and substance, religiosity is a key part of the substance of American ideology, especially Christian religiosity. The challenge for making the American ideology salient to American citizens is to find a way to reconceptualize the substance in a way that makes non-Christians comfortable embracing it, without denying the salience of Christianity to the majority.
At this point, we've established what Samuel Huntington thinks is the foundational aspect of American culture, and we have yet to say a word about language. However, it is clear that, in order to establish a cohesive American identity, if specifically demographic facts like race and religion are to be deemphasized, other common facts must become more salient, and one of those common facts is language. This does not mean that Samuel Huntington -- or SC -- favors anything so heavy-handed as an official-English amendment; it does, however, require attention to the interplay between language, culture, and conceptions of citizenship.