Who is Samuel P. Huntington?

The intelligence failure of a Harvard professor

Who Are We? The Challenges

For the past year or so, in the wake of September 11 and Gulf War II, we have heard much about “intelligence failure.” We have witnessed an embarrassed Bush administration attempt to explain, in the absence of any “weapons of mass destruction,” the rationale for the current Iraqi war and occupation. The temptation to place responsibility solely on George W. Bush is great. But this would grossly simplify the intelligence problems that have become apparent since September 11. The thinking of the “intelligence community”—and perhaps its composition as well—has to be examined and questioned.

A chilling reminder of the depth of the problem of “intelligence failure” appeared in March of this year in an article published in Foreign Policy, arguably one of the most prominent policy journals in the country. In “The Hispanic Challenge,” the author, Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington, warns of the cultural and political threat posed by non-assimilating Mexican immigrants. If such immigration remains unchecked, “the cultural division between Hispanics and Anglos will replace the racial division between blacks and whites as the most serious cleavage in American society.” The United States will become a bifurcated nation with two languages and two cultures. Salvation lies, according to Huntington, in a patriotic recommitment to “Anglo Protestantism,” the cultural core of the country.

The article—an advance chapter from a forthcoming book—set off a firestorm of criticism. Foreign Policy editors noted that the media and reader response was unprecedented in its 34-year history. Most responses were from academics and policy analysts, Anglo and Hispanic alike, and most were extremely critical. “Shoddy research,” “offensive and false,” “nativism,” “unnecessarily alarmist,” “bizarre,” “unabashed racism,” “xenophobic” were common descriptions offered in the critiques.

The controversy quickly spilled beyond the pages of Foreign Policy. Mexican intellectual Enrique Krauze described Huntington’s method as a “crude civilizational approach.” Carlos Fuentes called Huntington “profoundly racist and also profoundly ignorant” and accused him of adopting the favored fascist tactic of creating a generalized fear of “the other.” Henry Cisneros noted that Professor Huntington was “hand-wringing over the tainting of Anglo-Protestant bloodlines.” Andres Oppenheimer of Miami called Huntington’s work “pseudo-academic xenophobic rubbish” and called for national protests against Harvard University and publisher Simon & Schuster.

Even those sympathetic to Huntington’s anxiety about Mexican immigration stood their distance. Alan Wolfe said that at times Huntington’s writing bordered on hysteria, and that he appeared to be endorsing white nativism. The editors of the British magazine The Economist questioned Huntington’s notion of Anglo Protestant culture, noting that it had been “a long time since the Mayflower.” And Patrick Buchanan gently chided the professor for joining the anti-immigrant resistance at such a “late hour,” but welcomed him, anyway, to the Alamo.

Who is Huntington? A Harvard professor and chair of its Academy of International and Area Studies, founder of Foreign Policy, past president of the American Political Science Association, and most importantly, former coordinator of security planning for the National Security Council in the late 1970s. In short, he is not just some loopy professor. He is a policy analyst with direct ties to the political, military, and academic networks concerned with foreign policy and now with “homeland security.” His conjectures, however bizarre and unfounded, unfortunately carry some weight.

Much of his reputation comes from his best-selling book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster), published in 1996. In that book, Huntington noted that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, culture now counted more than ideology, and that as societies with cultural affinities cooperated with each other, a civilization-based world order was emerging. In this post-Cold War environment, local politics was the politics of ethnicity, global politics the politics of civilizations. Of special concern were the efforts of “Islamic and Confucian states” to develop “weapons of mass destruction.” With Gulf War I as his backdrop, Huntington forecast a “clash of civilizations” between the Muslim world and the Western one. The events of 9/11 made Huntington appear to be prophetic.

Although his focus was on the global arena, Huntington was already sounding the alarm about the internal challenges to Western culture “from immigrants from other civilizations.” “While Muslims pose the immediate problem in Europe, Mexicans pose the problem for the United States,” he noted in the earlier book.

Given this background and the advance controversy, Huntington’s follow-up examination of the internal problems of the United States turns out to be rather disappointing. The sequel to The Clash is a rambling, repetitive book of 400 pages. One gets the impression that much of the text was tape-recorded and then embellished with references and footnotes. It appears that the advance article, like the hyped-up preview of a weak movie, contained the best dramatic lines.

More troubling is the careless reasoning reflected by such casual writing. One would think that the presentation of such a provocative argument—the identification of a potential enemy in our midst—would require some fairly strong documentation and reasoned analysis. But Huntington is content to play loosely with the facts.

He places considerable attention, for example, on the challenge to the English language presented by Hispanics. Yet he acknowledges that “over 90 percent of the U.S.-born people of Mexican origin spoke English fluently.” So he attempts to shore up his argument by “supposing” that with the rapid expansion of the Mexican immigrant community, people of Mexican origins would have less incentive to become fluent in and to use English.

Huntington engages in the same kind of “supposing” when he turns to intermarriage, usually the clincher as a marker of assimilation. Here again he chooses to ignore contrary data. Acknowledging that the intermarriage rate for third-generation Hispanics as a whole is 33.2 percent, he supposes that specific Mexican intermarriage rates “are probably lower” because “members of large, low-status, geographically concentrated groups” are more likely to marry within the group. Moreover, one would further suppose that:

As the absolute number of Mexican immigrants increase and their high birth rate produces still larger numbers of offspring, one would expect the opportunities and incentives for them to marry each other to increase.

He concludes, rather dismissively, that “Mexicans marry Mexicans.” What Huntington does not report, although he has the data in his hands, is that the intermarriage rate for third-generation-plus Latinos in Los Angeles County was 57 percent! In other words, over half of the third-generation-plus in Los Angeles, the epicenter of his feared reconquista, is marrying outside the group. Huntington deliberately ignores contrary data.

He claims that his argument is “not about race or ethnicity” but about culture. Yet Hispanic culture in his mind is an unchanging, sealed-off, homogeneous entity. His worry about “soaring” Mexican fertility rates betrays his supposition that the children and grandchildren of Mexican immigrants will remain culturally “Mexican.” In fact, Huntington recognizes few distinctions between Mexican immigrants and “Mexican Americans not born in Mexico.” Indeed Hispanics of all types—Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat—are suspect in Huntington’s mind.

The wealthy Republican Cubans of Miami, for example, draw his ire because they transformed “a normal American city” into “an enclave city with its own cultural community and economy, in which assimilation and Americanization were unnecessary and in some measure undesired.” As went Miami, so could go Los Angeles and the Southwest. In spite of his bemoaning the lagging educational and economic progress of Mexican Americans, Huntington is actually more concerned that they might follow the Cuban model and become a political and economic force.

What also becomes apparent is that his disquiet with the Hispanic presence is not really about the acquisition of English and American culture. He is concerned about the persistence of bilingualism and biculturalism. As proof of loyalty to this country, Hispanics must reject Spanish. Thus he chastises Republican millionaire and Bush confidante Lionel Sosa (of San Antonio) for encouraging Hispanic entrepreneurs to dream the “Americano dream.” Sosa is wrong, declares Huntington:

There is no Americano dream. There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.

A final note about assimilation concerns fighting in America’s wars. Huntington writes that the success of the Americanization movement of the early 20th century became manifest “when the immigrants and their children rallied to the colors and marched off to fight their country’s wars.” In his clumsy but revealing language:

wars have furthered assimilation of immigrants not only by reducing their numbers but also by giving them the opportunity and the impetus to demonstrate their loyalty to America.

This is an important point. But if fighting in America’s wars is a key indicator of assimilation, why didn’t Huntington ascertain the service record of Mexican Americans? The estimated half-million Mexican Americans who fought in WWII, and the one-hundred-thousand-plus who fought in Korea, Vietnam, and now in Iraq deserve some recognition from this Cold War scholar. The most prominent Mexican American soldier lately has been Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, until recently the commanding general of the armed forces in Iraq. I wonder if he is bilingual or if he dreams in Spanish.

One discussion that I find intriguing in Huntington’s wide-ranging book concerns the possibility of an “exclusivist” scenario, where a movement of “native white Americans” revives an America that excludes and suppresses those who are not white or European. He mentions the ethnic cleansing undertaken by the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina and compares this (again, rather clumsily) to the situation in California. While saying that California whites will not react like the Serbs, he notes the referenda against illegal immigrants, affirmative action, and bilingual education, and the movement of whites out of the state. Then he adds ominously, “As the racial balance continues to shift and more Hispanics become citizens and politically active, white groups may look for other means of protecting their interests.”

Unlike the Mexican cultural threat, which he fears, he seems to understand these white nativists: Their movements are “a possible and plausible [emphasis added] response to these trends, and in situations of serious economic downturn and hardship they could be highly probable.” Is this an endorsement or hurried writing?

It is apparent that this Harvard professor has just taken note of the Southwest and its large Mexican presence. Does he know any Mexicans? Has he heard of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the most prominent Latino civic organization in the country, which has been advocating for the development of patriotic, English-speaking citizens since the 1920s? Or more to the point, why hasn’t he done his research? Huntington seems unaware that transnationalism, bilingualism, biculturalism, and a concentrated Mexican presence have been facts of border life since the region was annexed more than 150 years ago. Applying the East Coast immigrant experience to the Southwest doesn’t work quite so neatly. Nonetheless, the readily available evidence demonstrates that “Mexican Americans not born in Mexico” speak English fluently, intermarry frequently, are often economically successful, and loyally fight in America’s wars.

There is much more to criticize in this thick book about America’s national identity. His history of Anglo Protestantism as the cultural foundation for the “American Creed” of freedom, justice, and fair opportunity, for example, is much romanticized. American Protestantism has not had one simple face. In fact, one can speak of several Protestantisms, much as one can speak of several Catholicisms and Judaisms. In the 19th century, a militant form of Protestantism on a “holy mission” easily morphed into “manifest destiny.” There was the Protestantism that abetted and sanctified slavery, just as there was the Protestantism of the abolitionists. In the 1920s, there was the Protestantism of a revitalized KKK, just as in the 1960s Protestantism—both of the Anglo and African-American variety—underlay much of the civil rights movement. There is no discussion of these different Protestantisms in Huntington’s book.

He says that his book is about Anglo Protestant culture, not about the people. Yet the distinction often seems academic. He employs the phrase “native Americans” to refer to the “charter group” of English settlers and their descendants: “The American people who achieved independence in the late eighteenth century were few and homogeneous: overwhelmingly white (thanks [emphasis added] to the exclusion of blacks and Indians from citizenship), British, and Protestant, broadly sharing a common culture.” European immigrants who arrived afterwards, including Catholics, eventually became part of this “native American” core once they were “Protestantized.” The contrast of this experience with that of African- American Protestants is never explored.

And American Jews? Huntington says surprisingly little about Judaism, except to use the words of Irving Kristol to remind us that we live in a Christian nation, “a fact they [the Jews] must accept.” There is no fluffy “Judeo-Christian” language in Huntington. His book is a stern warning that if America is to remain strong, we must recommit to Christianity, speak English only, maintain a European cultural heritage, and heed the principles of the Creed.

In spite of the sermonizing tone of Who Are We?, it is important to remember that this is the work of a seasoned national security specialist. When Huntington writes that the collapse of the Soviet Union left America “for the first time in its history” with no enemy and without any clear “other” against which to define itself, one senses that he is talking about himself and perhaps his cohort at the NSC. This Cold War scholar has projected his sense of loss, as well as his view of religiosity, onto an American society, which of course he must protect. Thus Huntington is on guard to seek out and identify our country’s new enemies. He believes he has found one in the Hispanic presence, but what he has found is a caricature of his own making. His carelessly documented finding can only be described as a “failure of intelligence.”

Sociologist and historian David Montejano is an Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A former director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT-Austin, he is the author of Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986.

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Published at 12:00 am CST