American Fusion

2006-02-14

Thanks to a tip from Lex over at Albion's Seedlings, I've just read Joel Kotkin's essay The Multiculturalism of the Streets. Good stuff. Some quotes:

... we must not confuse the intellectual emanations of our culture wars for real life. The sights, smells and sounds of the street are not sources of national disunion today any more than they were a century ago. In 1907, after a long voluntary exile in Europe, Henry James complained bitterly about his "sense of dispossession" as he walked down the streets of American cities. He particularly disliked the guttural tones and business methods of the Jews who crowded New York, Boston and other East Coast urban areas.

Yet the Jews, Italians, Irish and other migrants so detested by James later became the parents of a whole generation of great American writers, as well as some of the nation's leading politicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and soldiers -- not to mention its solid, ordinary blue-collar families. If we look at today's new Americans, we see the same pattern. Recently-arrived Mexican-Americans, Chinese-Americans and others -- and more so their children -- integrate into American life, adding in due course their customs, cuisine and bits of language to it.

And:

This churning of the American population will accelerate the nation's shift away from ethnic enclaves. As kids grow up in mixed-race suburbs and experience diversity at both school and the mall, they will create what, for lack of a better word, is a "blended" ethnic culture.

And:

To be sure, this culture fusion will not please some conservative intellectuals, who will not look kindly on the incorporation of Spanishisms into our daily language any more than the rising popularity of Yiddish words appealed to Henry James a century ago. For the most part, however, this informal, undirected and mostly market-driven form of integration bodes very well for the continued dynamism of both American culture and economy. It guarantees that America will remain youthful, changeable and, very likely, strongly family-oriented. And it points to a major difference within the civilizational West -- for most European countries have yet to figure out how to blend and thrive as has the United States.

This cultural blending or fusion is nothing new. Americans have been dynamically blending and fusing since the beginning. Granted, the earliest fusion was of British, Dutch, Germans, and other northwestern Europeans (in fact the Brits themselves were an even earlier fusion of Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Picts, Romans, Welsh, Danes, etc.). Today's so-called Anglos were not originally of a piece and were not perceived so -- America had a hard time integrating the Irish, Italians, and Slavs, who are all now considered "white" but were strongly differentiated for many decades. I think the same will be true of today's "others" (Latinos, Asians, Africans, etc.), who at street level are busy blending and fusing into American society and thus helping to produce an ever more ethnically diverse, economically dynamic, and culturally vibrant America -- all built on top of the traditional Anglospheric memes of hard work, individualism (which is by no means opposed to strong families, I might add), common law, the English language, free markets, volunteerism, flexible institutions, consensual government, etc. It is that strong foundation which makes it possible for "the multiculturalism of the streets" to flourish and for the American outpost of Western civilization to thrive.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal