April 08, 2004

Support for Huntington's questions if not his answers

Russel Arben Fox at Wäldchen vom Philosophenweg argues that I've misunderstood his position on Samuel Huntington:

Some people are under the impression that I'm a defender of Samuel Huntington and all he stands for; I'm not. I've been more than adequately convinced that Huntington's arguments supporting his thesis about the uniqueness of Hispanic immigration are flawed and even myopic. But that still doesn't change the fact that Huntington is willing to think about what it means to be a civilization, and what it means to be a nation; however clumsy or borderline xenophobic his thinking, he at least must be given credit for considering the nature and dynamics of identity-construction and maintenance, and what that may or may not mean for economic and social policy.

Fox also links to this article in today's NYT by Niall Ferguson, as an example of someone else who is asking the "truly interesting questions" that Fox feels Huntington has been raising.

For what it's worth, I agree with most of what Fox and Feguson are saying in these passages, to the extent that I understand it. But it seems too weak to criticize Huntington only for his uniqueness-of-Hispanic-immigrants thesis. How about the view that American identity is still essentially protestant and northern European? or that it's always bad to have multiple languages in use in a community?

I don't doubt that Fox is sincere in praising Huntington's questions while disagreeing with his answers. But this is a hard trick to pull off -- "asks interesting questions" is so often a coded way to register agreement with an extreme position. This is especially true if many of the questions are rhetorical ones, and doubts about the answers are backgrounded, or left unexpressed except in response to complaints from others.

And as Geoff Nunberg observes here, the flaws in the content and tone of Huntington's article are not isolated or hidden.

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 8, 2004 09:54 PM