Thursday, August 30, 2007

Anglo-Protestant America

"The principal theme of this book is the continuing centrality of Anglo-Protestant culture to American national identity." With this claim, Samuel Huntington throws down the gauntlet in Who Are We?, his study of American national culture. Huntington distinguishes between Anglo-Protestant culture and the "American Creed," the Jeffersonian virtues in the Declaration of Independence. He argues that the Creed, while great and central to American identity, is too thin to build a nation on. In fact, he argues that any ideology is too thin for a nation to cohere around -- a problem that drove all the communist nations to return to the nationalism they had originally despised.

Huntington is clear to say that American individuals do not all have to be Protestants. It is the culture as a whole, not the faith of each individual, that shapes the collective identity. I am inclined to agree with him on both points -- that ideology is not enough, and that the distinctives of American culture are rooted in the peculiar tension of the English-speaking Calvinist and Arminian church cultures.

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