Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kaufmann: consensus Americanism

I've been tracing the arguments made by Eric Kaufmann in his book The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America. In the last post I brought the argument up to the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War. Kaufmann believes that by this time the avant-garde intellectuals had won over the mainstream of the intellectual class and were also now supported from within the government:
The new liberal value consensus, in which artists, writers, academics and the U.S. government were united, was social democratic, cosmopolitan, and modernist...Consensus Americanism can thus be viewed as an intellectual earthquake that elevated the new avant-garde a position of cultural hegemony. Intellectual leadership...has always been a mainstay of ethnic consciousness, and its withdrawal is devastating to the group involved. In capturing Anglo-America from the top down, the American avant-garde left American dominant ethnicity rudderless. It was now only a question of time before cosmopolitanism would achieve the institutional inertia necessary for it to triumph as a mass phenomenon.

Kaufmann next looks at some of the cosmopolitan literary works of the 1940s and 50s. In 1943, Republican presidential nominee Wendell Wilkie penned a best-seller with the title One World. In it Wendell articulated a "civic nationalism" in which America was to have no dominant ethny, but a multiplicity of peoples bound together by a common liberal political framework:
Our nation is composed of no one race, faith, or cultural heritage. It is a grouping of some thirty peoples possessing varying religious concepts, philosophies, and historical backgrounds. They are linked together by their confidence in our democratic institutions as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution for themselves and their children. The keystone of our union of states is freedom.

Other notable books sharing the "cosmopolitan spirit of the times" were Carey McWilliams' Brothers under the Skin and John Higham's Strangers in the Land. According to Kaufmann, Gunnar Myrdal's American Creed was also influential amongst the elites.

Toward the end of WWII, there was a shift within the US government toward the idea of open borders. President Truman gave voice to this outlook in 1952 when he gave a speech claiming that as a matter of international "moral leadership" the US should end the national origins quota system (which aimed to preserve the ethnic balance within the US) because he thought it to be "discriminatory" and in violation of "our belief in the brotherhood of man" and the belief that "all men are created equal".

At about the same time, the print media changed its line on immigration. In 1953 the Atlantic Monthly published its first cosmopolitan piece. In the same year Reader's Digest changed its editorial policy; previously it had favoured immigration restrictions, but its change of line was announced by a piece arguing for greater Asian immigration in order to improve Asian-American relations.

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