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Volume 5.2 1997
ISSN 1048-3721
This page was last updated on 03/15/99



Thomas C. Heller

"If you would listen to stories—this is dogma among the more liberal—you must suspend disbelief."1

The question of membership in modern society, like its touchstone immigration, has never been as straightforward in America as we would have it. It remains an article of faith that the United States is an immigrant nation. The idea that if you are dissatisfied, you ought to gather your belongings and move elsewhere is a fundamental building block of America’s constitution of modernity that is as applicable to domestic politics as it is to admission to the nation. Yet free immigration was curtailed in the 1920s and is under serious pressures for further restriction at present.2 From the middle of the nineteenth century, nationalist, xenophobic, and often racist elements have formed a Red-Black alliance with organized labor to argue against open borders for the United States.3 Although this coalition alone was never sufficiently empowered to enact effective controls, the addition to its strength of Progressive or Center-left forces in the 1920s led to the first round of immigration closures.4 In part, the Progressives used immigration legislation to curry favor with organized labor from whom they desired a corporatist commitment to industrial peace in the growing sector of capital-intensive production. But Progressive politics reflected a cultural, as well as an economic, judgment. In the early decades of this century race emerged as a natural biological category and eugenics represented its social application as a hard science.5 The Progressives’ belief in technocracy as the palliative for corrupt politics pushed them to embrace immigration controls based on national quotas, which in a rough way symbolized the effort to incorporate primitive genetics into the planning of an ideal national demography.

Though the hypocrisy and futility of this campaign was made apparent during and after the Second World War, immigration controls, purged of their evident proto-eugenic grounding after 1952, have remained a permanent feature of American politics. Equally present has been the basic Red-Black alliance of organized labor and organic nationalists who seek ever-further tightening of the laws of entry.6 But again, my intuition is that the thrust toward more restriction cannot be successful without the addition of other political forces to an anti-immigration coalition, forces motivated by wider cultural or symbolic concerns in which migration becomes caught up. In other words, as in the 1920s, legislation about membership in the American nation is more likely to be rooted in internal struggles about the character of America’s domestic political constitution than in an explicit reworking of the discourse of entry itself. It is in this broader cultural-political context that we may seek the link between modernity, membership, and multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is increasingly, if vaguely, understood as a challenge to the predominant individualist (liberal) norms that have organized American political institutions for the past century and a half. To the degree that new members of American society are perceived to be purveyors, or even unwitting exemplars, of an alternative form of life that undermines American political culture, their exclusion will be advisable. This type of argument has been used before by New England Protestants in the 1840s who saw Irish immigration as the opening wedge for the establishment of Roman Catholicism and by conservatives fighting the entry of socialists in the 1920s.7 However, if the presumed adherence of immigrants to multiculturalism comes from their association with groups already asserting multicultural claims disruptive of American politics, opposition to immigration becomes a reflexive defense of American politics.

In this sense, in order to unpack the relationship between membership and multiculturalism, we must work on the relationship between liberal individualism and multiculturalism which is its generative context. To do this it is important to untangle the difficult histories of American liberalism, Republicanism, communitarianism, and racism, as well as the place of multiculturalism within the universe of nonindividualist discourses. In this effort, there can be a double return. On the one hand, there is much to be said about the American cultural future at a moment of broad, political, economic transformation. On the other, attention to the particular cultural embedding of multiculturalism in American political history can throw light on its meaning in other variants of modernity, especially in Europe, where liberal individualism has never been accorded the same weight as it has in America. Both Europe and America now find themselves prime destinations for migrants whose movements are motivated by global economic transitions these populations cannot resist at home. More, both Europe and America now find their particular constitutions of modernity variably criticized as anomic, depleted of social capital, disenchanted, or ungovernable. Simultaneously, in material and spiritual dimensions, multiculturalism, though its connotations may differ within the European and American political traditions, appears as an initial field of contest where the West’s confrontation with post-modernity will be enacted.


Let me begin by borrowing a page from the genre of self-confessed multiculturalists and telling two short stories from personal experience.8

Stanford, California. In 1995, I sat on a university-wide committee with jurisdiction over graduate-level affairs. We were petitioned by students of Asian descent to consider naming Asian American students as "targeted minorities." This status, if accorded, would make them eligible for special admission standards, special financial aid, and special adjustments in curricular composition. Although no one really had a firm grasp of the numbers of students involved, the discussion had an odd tone because of three underlying considerations. In the first place, students of Asian descent make up a far larger percentage of the total Stanford graduate student body than would be suggested by their proportion of the American, or even the Californian, population. Consequently, it would have been necessary to accept some proposition that it was the specific experience of Asian American students, separated from all Asian descent students, that should be distinctly recognized.

Next, even Asian American students were numerically overrepresented as a percentage of the entire student body. Again, therefore, the claim for exceptional treatment demanded further discrimination along two lines. Asian American students were concentrated in certain schools and departments, frequently in the natural sciences, medicine, and engineering. If cultural stereotyping resulted in this pattern, it could provide the basis for a remedial claim in only those fields where numbers were disproportionately low. At the same time, it was argued that it was essential to disaggregate Asian Americans as a category. While Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Korean Americans were well represented in the overall student population, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander peoples were not. Special status could therefore be refined to reflect both departmental and subregional criteria. Finally, it was suggested that although the least represented groups (like Southeast Asians) were the most recent immigrant populations and therefore had suffered the least historical discrimination in America, their exclusion from populations permitted to immigrate for much of this century made them the subjects of virtual discrimination (they would have been discriminated against if they had been allowed to enter) as manifested by their absence from American history.

The reaction of my colleagues (and me) to these claims was a combination of admiration for their ingenuity and confused disbelief. While (or perhaps because) all of us considered ourselves left-center liberals, there was a strong undercurrent of resentment at being placed in the position of having to adjudicate these arguments. No one doubted the sincerity or good faith in which the students had spoken. Everyone appreciated the respectful tone in which the claims had been advanced. Yet their rejection was a foregone conclusion among a group of faculty who would have been strongly in favor of affirmative action for African American students less courteous about their claims for extraordinary remediation of historical injustice. In the course of this passage from confronting the legacy of American racism to post-liberal principles of social organization, my colleagues and I wanted to get off the train, sensing that the threat to our cultural commitments had passed the boundaries in which we hoped it could be contained. Discovering where those boundaries lie demarcates the frontiers between liberal and nonliberal politics.

Mira Porta, Italy. I was working in Italy in July 1996, in the heat of the Venetian summer, when prudence and history counseled lodging outside of the city on the Brenta canal. Most days toward dusk, I would run, finishing near a small family-run grocery where I could buy a cold soda. The oddity of an overheated foreigner was enough to provoke a superficial intimacy with the store owner, who gradually felt comfortable with interrogating me over the circumstances of my situation and background. Once he located California amidst the undifferentiated mass of vacuities West, his interest waned until I began to talk about demographics. It was the presence of Asians, and my obvious fascination with their culture, that provided the axis on which he could situate and define us both.

He would allow, though not with total complacency, that in a land as far-off, unformed, and exotic as California, it might be the case that an amalgamated way of living together would be possible. He could not know from his experience. He was absolutely certain, however, that the appearance of Asians would be, and was becoming, a disaster for Mira Porta. Occasionally, Asian tourists at the nearby Palladian villas had wandered into his store. Worse, while visiting Rome he had become enmeshed in Sunday crowds, made up most likely of Philippine workers, who, for lack of other amusement, gather near the train station. In each case he was threatened and displaced. Mira Porta, the Veneto, even Italy, were identified and identifiable, by their commonality of language, food, history, genealogies, times of day when the stores opened and people walked to them. I, as American, white, Italian-speaking, cosmopolitan, could float over that reality without disrupting it. The Asians could not. Their insistence, or his, on their own cultural determination ensured that they had to be distanced, lest the frictional antithesis between his and their homologous beliefs in locally rooted character contaminate his heritage. Asians out of Italy. Or, at the least, the Veneto out of Rome. I drank, he talked, day after day.


Perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing about multiculturalism is to figure out what it might be and, thereby, determine who may have something to fear from it. Without specification, the literature about multiculturalism becomes a cascade of critical charges and defensive denials that never find a common ground on which to argue. One of the most cited contributors to the discourse of multiculturalism is Will Kymlicka whose Multicultural Citizenship makes an effort to be precise about its subject matter and may offer a good beginning point for discussion.9 Kymlicka focuses our attention on three issues that, whether or not one agrees with his conclusions, help us to frame the issue. Multicultural Citizenship first tries to define the paradigm of multicultural society and to locate the historical cases to which the model should attach. Second, Kymlicka wants to establish the theoretical relevance of multi-culturalism for liberalism, examining whether it stands in support or opposition to the liberal tradition so central to Western modernity. Third, Multicultural Citizenship raises the question of the role of multiculturalism in relation to post-modern understandings of identity and the political consequences that may be evoked by them. Although I appreciate Kymlicka’s forthright posing of the essential points in contest, I do not agree with any of the important propositions or historical interpretations on which he builds his case. A sketch of his conclusions and my dissatisfactions may put my own different approach to the same problems in a clearer light.

Kymlicka’s basic message to the liberal reader of Multicultural Citizenship is reassurance through familiarity. As he defines it, multiculturalism is no more than a claim to self-government, a virtue espoused by liberal classics from Madison’s Federalist through Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Kymlicka locates multiculturalism squarely within what he sees as a unitary liberal tradition in the West and suggests liberals can have nothing to fear from their own kind.10 For American liberals, his inoculation is still more potent. Not only is multiculturalism a reflection of their own liberal nomos, but, properly understood, it has very little relevance for the United States in any case. Neither lifestyle claims nor the politics of cultural/ethnic groups without a territorial base are appropriate subjects of multiculturalism.11 If anything, for Kymlicka the post-World War II obsession with the American politics of race has reinforced the misperception that liberalism is primarily about the civil rights of individuals.12

I will argue that Kymlicka is at once right, wrong, and odd. He is right that some currents of liberal thought have gone beyond individualism in their conception of state-society relations and that membership or the definition of the boundaries of the nation or polity has always been a theoretical puzzle for liberalism. But I sense that he is wrong, or at least too simple, about the singularity of the liberal tradition and the dynamics of liberalism when it intersects with nationalist thinking. But most of all, the tone of Multicultural Citizenship is odd, at least to an American reader, because it seems to push to the side the most central and most imitated instance of multicultural politics, that of Black or African Americans, whose history can be marginalized from the narrative of multiculturalism only at a high cost to its relevance.

Against Kymlicka’s minimalist account of multiculturalism, a maximalist reading would see multiculturalism’s significance in its rejection of the fundamental postulates of the liberal nomos that has dominated Western social organization since the Enlightenment.13 It would rearrange the state-society relation by interposing between the government and its constituent individuals a yet unspecified legal empowerment of ethnic, religious, linguistic, or otherwise articulated communities. It would displace liberalism’s attribution of unmediated identity to integrated individuals, refounding the self in the collection of fragments of disintegrated lives and/or the collectivities by which these fragments are authorized. Maximal multiculturalism would, finally, recognize the decline of the nation-state, lost in the endless flows of peoples, capital and information that make obsolescent the monocultural citizenship that constituted and reproduced modern nationalism. It is in opposition to this pervasive and ill-defined radicalism, which draws together conservatives and liberals in an anti-multicultural alliance, that Kymlicka’s plea for clarity and the reintegration of multiculturalism into the domain of the orthodox strikes a welcome chord. The questions that haunt me are whether the political benefits he seeks in returning liberals to the progressive front on which multiculturalists struggle can be gained without giving up the post-liberal insights that late modernity has won or falling back into an embrace of the pre-modern essentialism that made liberalism worth defending.

At the risk of unfairness that inheres in any schematic characterization of an extended argument, I will summarize in four propositions the principal theses of Multicultural Citizenship:

1) There is a sharp distinction that should be drawn between the claims of lifestyle politics (women, gays, disabled) and ethnic groups who have immigrated to a nation and those of national minorities whose established territories were overrun or otherwise incorporated into a modern state. Ethnic groups, whose histories are normally marked by the choice of inclusion or voluntary accession to their (polyethnic) societies of destination are due rights of nondiscrimination when they choose to express that which they carry from their cultures of origin, as well as assistance in assimilation to the dominant culture to which they have moved. By contrast, national minorities are marked off by intergenerational continuity, a traditional territory that they inhabit, a shared language, history, and cultural attributes such as cuisine, gender roles, and religion, and, often, differentiated political institutions. National minorities have legitimate claims to protection against the external majority culture through substantial self-governance and concomitant rights that may include educational and language policy, state symbols, holidays, territorial autonomy, the appropriation of rents from natural resources found within that territory, and veto powers or other group representative voting rules in national legislatures. In effect, national minorities are unlike other collectivities in that they ought to be accorded the opportunity to live and work in their own culture as members of a majority.14

2) There is a second qualitative line between the external protection against the loss of cultural autonomy owed to national minorities and the lack of any right of these same minorities to employ their internal powers of governance to restrict the civil rights of their members. Multicultural systems can be liberal precisely because neither the dominant culture nor the protected and empowered national minority cultures may interfere with the classical individual freedoms of their separate constituents.15

3) All liberal polities regularly engage in official actions to reproduce the principal elements of their domestic majority cultures. Francophone cultures take measures to protect the use of the French language and the Catholic Church (Quebec). Anglophone cultures (United States) support English and Sunday business closures.16

4) Liberal theorists have long relied on national culture as the primordial criterion for the constitution of legitimate political states. Self-determination for national groups has been the legal standard evoked by liberals to adjudge claims to recognition of nation-state status.17

Taken in sum, Kymlicka hopes to show that there is a single liberal tradition in America and Europe that includes national culture as a core operative idea in both the domestic and international construction of the modern state system. The nature of liberalism is to be simultaneously nationalist in its reproduction of both majority cultures and minority cultures that have a territorial base, and individualist in its commitment to the civil liberties of all of its members. He argues there is no conflict inherent in the aspiration to combine personal and collective rights nor theoretical difficulty with the notion of multicultural citizenship. Yet, taken in turn, I believe that each proposition has conceptual and/or historical problems.

While I will examine these questions in more detail below, consider first the work that Kymlicka’s theses do for multiculturalism. The line between voluntary immigrant and territorial minorities basically walls off the United States from the multicultural experience. The gap between internal restriction and external protection ensures the liberal character of multicultural societies. The generalized reproduction of national culture unifies the tradition of Western liberalism. The liberal acknowledgment of the claim of national cultures to a large measure of self-governance creates a homology between national and international politics with internal and external constitutions legitimated by a single norm.

In opposition I would contend: 1) that it is a misleading strategy to analyze multiculturalism through concepts that eliminate serious reference to its development in the United States; 2) that the clarity of the boundary between internal restriction and external protection is occluded by the multiculturalist topos of survivance (the power and right to insure the survival of the historical character of a national community);18 3) that modernity should be understood as broken into competing and normatively segregated currents of liberalism in Europe and America; and 4) that the national and international levels of politics are functionally integrated rather than constitutionally homologous. I would further suggest that it is precisely because Kymlicka reads liberalism through the lens of European rather than American history that he can build a minimalist case for multiculturalism. And while I do not contend that ignoring America is inevitably a mortal sin, I think that Multicultural Citizenship interprets modern European history as more tolerant of minority cultures than it has been.

In effect, Kymlicka obtains his valued clarity of definition of multi-culturalism by juxtaposed readings of American and European modernity that I find insufficiently differentiated. I also worry more than he would allow that multicultural politics will prove in practice to be more past-regarding than forward-looking. Since my thesis is that the meaning(s) of multiculturalism will be locally constructed in the distinctive liberal discourses of Europe and America, I can fill in my critique of Multicultural Citizenship by arguing my case for the historical particularity of the politics of membership in the United States, contrasting them to an outline of what I prefer to call national liberalism in Europe, and speculating about whether the prospects for Kymlicka’s multiculturalism are as progressive as he would want them to be.

Multicultural Citizenship implicitly situates itself within a rich European intellectual tradition of describing and explaining modernity. American civilization is absorbed in this tradition as a side channel, if sometimes a backwater, of the predominant currents that divide modern societies from the Old Regimes, capitalism from feudalism, nation-states from dynasties. The archetypes of historical evolution, like the origins of these systemic changes, are European in design and development. The artifact of this method is the essential unity of the modern West, a unity that appears in political theory as a singular account of liberalism. The idealized structure of the argument can be seen clearly in the summary work of the social theorist Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty.19

Gellner begins in the pre-modern world, whose multiple forms of sociality and governance converge around a few axioms of organization. Life is conducted under the rule of cousins and kings, local custom and bureaucratic intrusion, overlaid in alternative proportions. The role of an individual in such an order is "stable and ritually orchestrated, ... internalized and externalized. It enters deep into his soul.... It endows him with an identity that is both secure and inescapable."20 The individual is turned "into an integral part of the social sub-unit," and the situatedness of the context that befalls a man is the normal representation of norms and behavior.21When pre-modern societies succeed in reproducing themselves over time, the integration of the local and bureaucratic codes occurs through both law and religion. A political coalition of church and state at once regulates, organizes, and celebrates the harmony that ties the transcendent to the immanent. Though Gellner does not dwell on the economic, he might have juxtaposed to the twin customary and imperial social orders a homologous bifurcation of local, small-scale trade and agriculture and central monopolies in the large-scale administration of natural resources, luxury manufacturing, and social infrastructure.22

Against this background, Gellner picks out two developments in Europe, the spread of literacy and urbanism, that in the end decompose the crafted equilibrium of the pre-modern. Writing "makes it possible and tempting to codify doctrine independently of any particular personnel or ritual."23 It constitutes a necessary, though evidently not sufficient, precondition for the disestablishment of mediating institutions and the assertion of individual autonomy.24 Second, following Weber, Gellner stresses the effect of urbanization in fragmenting the unity of the pre-modern communal order. Fragmentation opened Europe to a more universalist ideocracy in the form of religion that "ceased to define the boundaries of communities and defines the boundary of truth instead."25 In northwest Europe ideocracy as Protestantism favored individual liberty and led to a redefining of the balance of power between the social and the economic that emerged as civil society. Gellner locates modernity in the recent capacity of the social to "check and oppose" over a sustained period the governing political economy, reordering the division of society from the pre-modern hierarchical suspension of the imperial over the local to the modern equilibrium of the public and the newly constituted private.26

The inauguration of the modern comes with the confinement of the state, first by arms and later by law, in its capacity to act arbitrarily and predatorily against individuals and organizations.27 The private domain of civil society is the space of the enactment of liberty. It opens a possibility of autonomous choice, formerly denied by the pervasive situatedness of behavior in the pre-modern. However, the liberation of the modern psyche from the control of kings and cousins does not, for Gellner, suppress the continuity of the social in favor of a Romantic apotheosis of unrooted individuality. Rather, the collective is only displaced from its traditional bilocation in local custom and imperial rule.

Though universalist religion may have been the vehicle of the dislocation of the pre-modern, Gellner denies that sociality could be reconstituted on the ground of a universal ethos. Gellner’s man is still born(e) into a life. The codes we share that define our particular identities against those of others must have a more limited compass. The social emerges again after the Enlightenment at a new midscale, poised between city and dynasty, as national community. It is national liberalism that combines the freedom of civil society with the recognition of the inevitability of man’s collective being.28 For Gellner, the European nation-state embodies the twin axes of modern social organization in its joint production of the context for the constitution of identity and the conditions of liberty. His contention that the nation-state is the centerpiece of modernity is both the starting point for Kymlicka’s understanding of liberalism and a reiteration of the constant preoccupation in Europe since Rousseau with the problem of anomie and social solidarity in a liberal order. And, if national liberalism is the general form of the modern, then the United States and other peripheral claimants to modernity must be understood through, and measured against, its defining paradigm.

While Kymlicka mirrors Gellner’s conflation of the modern with national liberalism, his psychology edges from the classical toward the post-modern. He notes that individual freedom demands choice, that choice is always socially structured, and that individuals are psychologically most comfortable with limited choices within narrowed sets. Liberalism therefore implies only autonomy within a constituted order, tempered by the possibility of the reversal of commitments once made.29 National cultures are choice set providers. National languages and histories are the common definitional terms of shared choice sets. Liberty demands, rather than denies, the collectivity as a precondition of identification.

To some post-moderns, individualism is itself an artifact of discourse, a linguistic trope that constitutes a humanism no longer primitive.30 In this sense, liberalism must always be a culture like any other since language produces the social categorization of subjectivity. All liberalisms may then be national liberalisms in recognition of the necessity of the priority of the collective constitution of discourse. Although there may be debate about the degree of mutability of constitutive categories that make identity and choice possible, for Kymlicka and recent communitarians, there is not qualitative difference between liberal and other cultures in their production of the accepted terms of discourse.31

As a card-carrying post-modern, I cannot disagree with the direction of this contention. Yet, I suggest that it is a tactical error to conflate American liberalism with European national liberalism, in spite of their similar constructivist qualities. What is required for liberal freedom is the social constitution of choice sets, not their authorization as national cultures. One can imagine a liberalism that gives up the pretense of a primitive or pre-social subjectivity and still rejects the official empowerment of any constitutive ends, texts, histories, heuristics, symbols, or entitlements. In other words, although collective discourse may provide the necessary framework for choice, it does not require the stamp of government to provide the psychological preconditions needed for self-identification.

The political discourse of American modernity is demarcated by its commitment to meta-cultural categories—propositions about the capabilities of individuals for further self-definition—rather than by its substantive constitutive policies. American liberalism, far evolved by 1850, paradoxically embraced collective self-representations of autarchic individuality that subverted the concept of culture as a determinative force in modern society. It described itself as a second-order nomos that emphasized constitutive procedures rather than constitutive ends or outcomes. More importantly, this public preference for subjectivist discourse was mirrored in political institutions. American liberalism did not have to deny the mediating role of communities in narrowing the specificity of choice sets that enable individuals to act. It needed only refrain from securing their official enforcement and reproduction through legalized violence. In taking this path, American liberalism grew away from the liberalism of national monocultures (and thus away from the case of the juxtaposition of discrete national multicultures in a single political territory) that are committed to preserving the interwoven patterns of social, economic, and cultural end states that differentiate one national culture from another.

My purpose in this essay is to challenge the interpretation of modernity that represses the American deviance from a unitary politics of national liberalism. My principal strategy will be to argue that American modernity has traced an idiosyncratic path of differentiation and rapprochement relative to the European liberal tradition that constitutes a distinctive solution to the modern problem of the relation between state and society. The affirmative case for a revised account of American exceptionalism is made in the section entitled "American Modernity." It is contrasted with an outline of national liberalism in "European Counterpoints." In the course of the argument, I hope to show that the meanings of multiculturalism—a phenomenon that reflects structural changes in political economy and cultural theory apparent in all variants of modernity—will be constructed against different historical landscapes in Europe and America. Kymlicka’s measurement of multiculturalism against only the European map constrains the utility of his analysis.

In the end, I will return to the question about who has what to fear from multiculturalism and the wider, perhaps post-modern, material and theoretical developments of which it may be a defining hallmark. Kymlicka would dispel the anxiety sensed by many liberals through his minimalist argument. However, if his particular benign conflation of nationalism and modernity is challenged, liberal unease may be resurrected. This unease may be traced to two contradictory but equally menacing (for liberals) trajectories of multicultural politics. On the one hand, to the extent that multiculturalism has roots in a viable post-modernity, it may presage the radical reconstruction of either individual or national liberalism. On the other, multiculturalism threatens reversion to a pre-liberal embrace of essentialist, rather than imagined, communities in its impulse to site identity in ground other than either the American or the European version of modernity has staked out.

Finally, for American liberals, there is another red flag associated with the loss of origins that can come with the collapse of modernity into an undifferentiated liberal tradition. The United States from its colonial beginnings has imagined its history in contradistinction to the European social order from which many of its inhabitants fled. If multiculturalism is to reabsorb American liberalism into a unified politics of national cultures, it undermines the nomos in which the United States has founded its self-constitution. Multicultural Citizenship might be correct that this act of self-constitution is illusory and that Americans should abandon their pretensions of particularity. But, especially if this is so, what greater grounds for fear than the surrender of narratives on which identity has been established?


To an American liberal it is a shock to be told that the politics of African Americans, gays, women, and, maybe, Chicanos are not at the heart of multiculturalism. These groups usually form the arc of the American rainbow with their discourse and claims assimilated to, rather than dissociated from, those of the Native Americans and Puerto Ricans who better qualify for Kymlicka’s multicultural status as national minorities. In particular, the displacement of the Black diaspora as the lodestar from which all other multicultural histories take their form and illumination ignores the unique lure of African American culture as the universal signifier of opposition.32 I would make several points against Kymlicka’s strategic choice to marginalize the United States from the constitutional claims of multiculturalism by categorizing it as the modal case of high polyethnicity within a unitary national culture.

In the opening part on "Grounding Discourse," I want to question the pragmatic value of theoretical distinctions that lack a close correspondence to the phenomenology of experience and therefore cannot contain its meaning. The remainder of this discussion of "American Modernity" is organized around three propositions that urge that we resist the conflation of American and European politics into a single liberal tradition in which all modern states, though they may vary in degree of polyethnicity, compose national cultures. Under the heading of "American Liberalism," I want to suggest that too easy an importing of categories across the boundaries of local histories can distort essential distinctions between the arrangements of societies through inapt translations. Next, in "The Genealogy of American Multiculturalism," I will argue that the construction of discourse is, to borrow an idiom from post-modern architecture, always "complex and contradictory." These nuances, in American liberalism primarily associated with the counter-histories of race and Republicanism, render the recording of cultural history a sensitive task of arranging layers of meaning whose juxtaposition is the identity of a discursive order. Finally, in "American Exceptionalism Revisited," I want to insist that the complexity and contradiction implicit in social construction impose a fragility on the metaphors that constitute a particular culture and generate a need to defend the collective memory in which they are stored.

Kymlicka distinguishes multicultural from polyethnic citizenship by separating the politics of national minorities from those of ethnic and lifestyle groups. Consider the characteristics that would justify this division. Lifestyle groups (e.g., gay/lesbian) are nonterritorial in their distribution, and membership therein is usually not described as ascriptive (i.e., members are not born into their status). While this latter attribute does not work very well for the disabled or women and is currently the subject of sharp debate for homosexuals, attribution of nonascription would render entry into such groups a voluntary act. Ethnic groups also are nonterritorial (beyond the neighborhood) in nations of immigration and may be typified by the claim that their migration to lands of destination was an assertion of their will. Therefore, although ethnicity is an ascriptive category, it can receive the same operational gloss of nonterritoriality and voluntarism as do lifestyle politics. By focusing on territory and choice, national minorities with defined homelands and an ascribed identity can be accorded a different constitutional status. However, it is also true that ethnic, lifestyle, or national minority communities could all be said to share other cultural attributes like a common history, distinctive linguistic practices unintelligible to outsiders, or specialized normative codes that have reproduced and sustained these groups across generations. In these circumstances of shared and distinctive attributes, the choice of those particular qualities that will be used to include and exclude groups from multicultural discourse must finally turn on the resonance of the categories selected to the political experience under analysis and the ethical evaluation of the varied treatment of these communities that the categories selected engender.

With regard to lifestyle and ethnic politics, the utility of the distinguishing categories of ascription and territoriality may prove very thin. I noted above that many members of lifestyle groups have had scant say as to their membership. But the same lack of voluntary assumption of identity could easily be said to hold for ethnic minorities as well. The position of African Americans is too obvious for comment. Yet where is one to locate on the scale of choice religious dissenters avoiding the Church of England, Jews fleeing Germany, the Irish escaping famine, Mexicans without access to agricultural capital in Michoacan, Haitians running from the Tontons Macoutes, or Cambodians from the Khmer Rouge? Unless one wants to emphasize the (sometimes free) right to emigrate, orthodox narratives of choice, though much favored in the self-representations of nations of immigration, cannot provide a principled distinction upon which to build a progressive political position looking toward the reconstitution of modern societies.33

Similarly, the privileging of territoriality runs the danger of too exclusive a grant of multicultural status. Minorities in diasporas—whether Africans, Jews, or Overseas Chinese—expelled from historical territories either lost or assaulted would seem to merit no less empowerment or autonomy than those peoples like Native Americans or Puerto Ricans who still abide on lands conquered or colonized. Even these latter national minorities are often the products of miscegenation after invasion or resettlement in areas where roots were not deep. My sense is that the pragmatics of territoriality, which might delimit the edges of multiculturalism more clearly than the evanescent boundary formed by voluntarism, are better tied to escaping the free fall of a post-modern politics of identity. Land is the anchor of Romantic history, the privileging of ancestral earth signaled by modern nationalists from Gobineau to Heidegger as the defense against cosmopolitan vertigo. While I acknowledge the value of hard ground as a firm line of resistance to the infinite proliferation of identities threatened by the logic of the multicultural, I hesitate to accept that it is only in the domain of the pre-modern that the post-liberal can make its stand.

My argument in the prior section contests the thesis that national minorities can and should be distinguished constitutionally from polyethnic communities. In this part, I will contend that all modern liberal polities are not alike in their enactment of a dominant national culture. My intuition reading Multicultural Citizenship is that Kymlicka sees America through Canadian and, ultimately, European eyes. There is no harm in this parochiality, unless the particularity of the reading is not confessed. Kymlicka’s multiculturalism is not mine, just as his liberalism is not my liberalism. What I object to and criticize is the loss of the locality of discourse implicit in his presumption of the singularity of the liberal tradition and in his definition of multicultural politics in relation to it. Distinctions between cultures are—like all distinctions in metaphors, orderings, and images—subtle differentiations and interplays with other possibilities of discourse. This is no more than a repetition of the insight of theorists from Durkheim through Girard that society is founded on commitments, marked too often in blood, to distinctions between the indistinguishable.34 It is the sacrifice of the double that is the cement that supports the arbitrariness of the most cherished and sacred of the qualities that define our cultures. It is only in shadings in the valences of categories and transvaluations of established meanings that we can search for the specificity of our genealogies. Discrete acts of mistranslation across these limits of local systems can turn into generic infections that sap entire histories of their significance.

Take a simple instance from the kindred cases of the United States and Canada. Kymlicka repeatedly suggests that the United States is an anglophone society.35 The point is central to his argument that all liberal societies are national. But the concept of an "Anglo" society is not an American construction. There is a minority national culture in Canada (Quebec) that defines itself as francophone. That which is outside the francophone culture in majority English-speaking Canada is, through its structural opposition thereto, a mirroring anglophone culture. Crossing over the geographic border, the majority English-speaking population in the United States is accorded the status of a national culture with the same attributes as the Canadian anglophone reflection of Quebec. But in transmuting the constitution of culture from Quebec to the United States how much has been lost?

The term Anglo was never much used in American parlance. If there was a reference to a dominant group in America that had antecedents in British culture, the usual label was White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP).36 WASPs, however, in spite of their alleged power, were always considered a class or minority element in American politics. It is their transformation into a coherent majority whose common essence is Anglophone that ascribes to the United States a national culture that contradicts its own historical understandings. But this transformation amalgamates into a single controlling element the very polyethnic groups who have long resisted assimilation to the cultural practices and institutions of British-origin Americans. It suppresses the perception that it is precisely the displacement of British culture by a newly chartered genre of liberalism that separates American from European currents of modernity. It is only in the latter that national majority cultures do play the monocultural role Kymlicka signifies by the misplaced attribution of anglophone character to the United States.

American modernity is the history of anti-politics. It developed in the shadow of resistance, variable in intensity, to the state. This peculiarly American resistance to government emerged during the colonial period among the native-born descendants of emigrants from the English metropolis. Like all creoles, they were ambiguous about colonial power. On one hand, they understood the purpose of the metropolitan administration was to appropriate rents from the colony with as little expenditure as possible. Over time, they came to resent the monopolization of the extraction of natural resource stocks and commercial trade in exotic products and were repulsed by a state that was no more than an external agent of exploitation. At the same time, creoles were attracted by the temptation to take over the colonial state and domesticate it to their own advantage. This pole of attraction was more evident in Latin than North America. The returns from Spanish colonialism in the New World had proven more valuable than from British colonialism and had justified greater metropolitan investment in an effective bureaucracy that creoles could expropriate. The poverty and weakness of the British colonial administration gave anti-statism in the United States a rational push it did not receive in better run and more profitable empires.

The economic logic for resisting the state was reinforced by political culture. American settlers developed an odd blend of liberal and Republican doctrines that were united by their common enmity to the colonial and mercantile institutions prevailing in England.37 Material conditions in the colonies fit smoothly into the Lockean images that shaped classical liberalism.38 The American frontier seemed to embody the state of nature Locke posited as the original pre-social position from which individuals would covenant to consensual government. Locke emphasized the natural justice of wealth derived from working land in abundant supply. His state was constitutionally limited by laws of property that were rooted in this natural justice. Facing metropolitan absolutism and identifying, in their isolation at the colonial margin, with Romantic psychologies of autarchic individualism, colonists were easily drawn to an anti-politics in which the balance between self and society tilted away from the collective.39 For colonists living on the edge, exit presented a more realistic and economic option than it did in Europe. Political voice could be downplayed in American political economy. There was more room, and need, for the private.

A second, perhaps stronger, ideological source of American opposition to the state lay in the English variant of Republicanism that drove many emigrants to the colonies. In distinction from Continentals who generally associated the possibility of virtuous community with the small-scale urban polis, English inheritors of Republicanism were agriculturalists. In the seventeenth-century contest with incipient Royalist absolutism, they defended an imagined, timeless "Gothick" constitution implicitly enshrined in the common law.40 Against the rising influence in England of commercialism, speculative finance, and mercantilist chartering of manufacturing monopolies, they held up a political ideal of self-sufficient freehold cultivators whose economic independence let them resist corruption. Against the standing armies needed for colonial extension, they relied on local militias. Against the professionalism of growing administrative bureaucracies, they insisted on the amateurism of parliamentary governance. It did not matter that, as with most golden-age politics, the particular threatened communal order in which they would locate virtue and identity had never actually existed. Fighting a losing battle with modernity in England, Republicans found in America a better environment in which to reconstruct the agricultural order that would repudiate the predatory state.

The classical politics of the Aristotelian tradition did not oppose government per se. To the contrary, its stress on the sociality of human nature gave priority to the political over the economic. It was the situated character of man in community that was the necessary condition of psychic health and identity.41 The recognition by Rousseau that flirtation with asocial competition risked anomie and the dissolution of the bonds of citizenship both founded the modern Republican critique of liberalism and set Europe on a different path from American political culture. Beginning with the desire shared with liberals to repudiate the corporatism and monopoly of the Old Regimes, Continental Republicans faced the need to transform the ancient polis in two directions. First, they had to leave behind the pre-modern city’s dependence on slavery and other forms of unequal participation in the life of the Republic. Rousseau’s figure of the general will had to be institutionalized so that the identification of the individual with the community was available to the entire population. Second, the scale of the community had to be enlarged. Wealth production through industry and commerce, and the ability to afford security against external predation, increasingly demanded midsize public and private organization. The evolution of Republican communitarianism into national liberalism emerged as the European, but not the American, answer to the politics of modernity.

Following the American Revolution, the coalition between diverse American interests united by opposition to colonialism broke down. The creole strategy of displacing the metropolitan elite with a local elite and leaving the regime otherwise unchanged prevailed in the plantation economies of the Southern states. In the North, divisions within American Republicanism between Jeffersonians loyal to the displaced idiosyncratic English agricultural tradition and Federalists who admired the triumphant London circles of commerce and finance became apparent. Both sought autonomy from corruption and a participatory community to define the ruling virtue. Both underlined the importance of moral education to shape the character of citizens and the reproduction of that virtue through religious and governmental socialization. They agreed on the need for a stable social order, which they sought in the American continuity of an established English monoculture. They differed about whether the independence of the Republic would be better ensured by emulating the imagined England of Gothick yeomanry or the emergent England of industrial-military power.

Jeffersonians favored state and local government over national government, which they legislated to constrain.42 They advocated the cheap sale of public lands to increase the population of small farmers, free trade to encourage American specialization in agricultural commodities, and acquisition of Western territories to expand the supply of land and remove foreign (French) entanglements that might require a state able to defend the community. Hamiltonians, echoing themes heard more clearly in Europe, abandoned the anti-statist stance of the Revolutionary alliance. The central government was to be the lead agent in creating a sound monetary and financial system through a National Bank and securitizing the consolidated federal-state war debt, in building tariff walls to protect infant manufacturing and provide revenues for public spending on subsidies, and in chartering monopolies and patents to assure that manufactures essential to national security would be developed in America.

Though leading Federalists admitted that their conversion to English commercial modernity risked the temptations of corruption, statism, and speculation that had driven their Republican forebears to America, they broke with what they came to see as a reactionary agricultural politics that condemned America to dependency.43 Federalists never abandoned the social conservatism with which all American Republicans defended the established local order. They would substitute a natural aristocracy of merit for that of heredity and patronage but were committed to hierarchy and the preservation of class distinction. They relied on the disinterested spirit of their own political class to ensure the public good would supersede the cacophony and parochial interests of popular legislation. They insisted, as much as did Jeffersonians, that the collective must shape character to civic virtue, religion, and loyalty, and increasingly believed that virtue lay in "order, deference and restraint."44

What changed was the scale and nature of the community with which they identified the modern Republic. It was an extended national community, built on industrial power, that would displace traditional agricultural localism. By the time the Federalists had evolved into the National Republicans in the 1820s and the Whig Party in 1834, American Republicans were relatively united around the link between industrialization, an interventionist central government, and the statist fabrication of a unitary national identity.45 The Whig American system argued for a National Bank to build a network of canals, railroads, and turnpikes that would tie together the destinies of the fast-diversifying regions. They sought increased taxes at the federal level to increase the dependency of the states on the nation. In short, having vanquished the agriculturalists, the inheritors of American Republicanism had become converts to national liberalism. By the time they had consolidated their program, the leading edge of American political culture had moved elsewhere.

The exceptional evolution of liberalism in the United States may be traced to the twofold character of its revolution against the pre-modern political economy. The first episode of the revolt centered on the displacement of the established political regime. Though the form of American pre-modernity was colonial, in this first dimension the changes were in their essence paralleled by the European overthrows of the mercantilist Old Regimes in the period from 1640 through 1789. The divergence of American modernity is better associated with the second stage of social change that is reflected in the disestablishment during the early Republic (1800-1840) of the religious, economic, and civic organizations that were the institutional carriers of English national culture. In the United States it was the disruption of the small order of colonial daily life—of church, guild, and local community membership restrictions—in the whirlwind of resettlement in the half century that followed independence that foreclosed the possibility that the nation would be a new England.

By contrast, the failure by 1848 of the multiple efforts in Western Europe to follow up the liberal capture of political power with the fragmentation of the prevailing social system empowered the reformed bureaucratic state as the agent of modern national communities. The reasons for the different fates of liberal and Republican, or national liberal, in European political culture are complex. As noted above, there were from the outset strong creole currents of anti-statism in the American ex-colony. In addition, the weak and distracted character of the British administration in the poor colonial economy never established a state apparatus approaching in quality the mercantile bureaucracies of France, Prussia, or England in Europe. These organizations survived as powerful residues of European absolutism with interests and capabilities that commanded the attention of those who displaced the Old Regimes. Third, because of the peculiar history of English Republicanism, American Republicans were split internally for critical decades during which liberal sentiment grew. This division was especially telling because of the extra political capital that would have been needed to construct an activist state, rather than simply expropriating an existing body. Fourth, in the New World, the demand for a national state was weak in the absence of local competitors who might have threatened American security. Neither Mexico nor Canada were serious factors in building up a centralized defense or foreign affairs capacity. The threat of external war never had the same force in stimulating nationalism in America as it did in Europe. Last, and perhaps most important, America developed its institutions in a political economy of high mobility or cheap exit to which its exceptional liberalism may have constituted the archetypical modernist response.46

Robert Wiebe outlines the two-stage constitution of American modernity:

As democracy came crashing across early 19th-century America, what stood in its way were the hierarchies that had organized 18th-century life everywhere in the Western world, including America. In economic opportunities and political prerogatives, in dress and language, in the control of information and the right to speak, in all aspects of public life, obvious and subtle, hierarchy’s privileges came graded along a social scale, and society’s functioning depended upon a general acceptance of those differences. From time to time the hierarchy’s rules were broken ... but the broad structure survived. Those hierarchies were adept at repairing piecemeal violations, only wholesale breakdown could open enough space for a new social order. Beginning around 1800, accelerating between 1815 and 1825, then consolidating one success after another in the 1830’s, just such a general collapse occurred in the United States.47

During this second American revolution, the collective devolved downward. Wiebe suggests the dominant democratic maxim was "give the government little to do and keep it close at hand."48 Constitutional conventions, though their membership and the scope of their claim to governance were undefined, sprung up to contest the jurisdiction of legislatures, which were seen as the repositories of class privilege. Jacksonians opposed government in general as predatory, bent by the rich and powerful to secure privileges, subsidies, and special advantages.49 In particular, they opposed the National Bank, government support for commerce and industry, the post office, public asylums, and inspections of bakeries and butcher shops. Low taxes ensured a restricted state and were held at ten to twenty percent of those then in force in Europe.50 The upward flow of public power should be residual. Only that not exhausted by the states and localities should remain for the federal government.51

The historical moment frozen by de Tocqueville in his journals was that of America in its second transition. He focused on the leading edge of the direction of change, noting the priority of the private over the state and the preference to construct identity in shifting nets of private association instead of through the political definition of community.52 He argued that democracy was less a philosophy than the social condition of disestablished inequalities and saw the West as the paradigm of escape from the domination of "great names and great wealth."53 As opposed to what was happening at the same time in Europe where advancing centralized administration created a continuity between the Old and New Regimes, Americans embraced competition and local solutions to collective problems. While de Tocqueville worried about the potential for populist tyrannies in American liberalism, other European observers could see only the chaos of the disruption of the familiar order of Church, class, status, and the obligations of patronage.54 They lamented the disappearance of livery, service, deference, and politesse. Mobility was disorientation. Security was lax because government was absent.55 Most travelers returned to the familiarity of daily life in Europe much relieved. All recorded, if in partial still-shots of varying coloration, the emerging separation between American and European modernity.

The eccentric composition of American liberalism might be distinguished from national liberalisms dominant elsewhere across five variations in tone. I will call these differences in stress in American political economy disempowerment, disestablishment, marketization, thin citizenship, and marginality. The five are intertwined as harmonic reverberations across the economic and social system of the victory of the political forces organized around the theme of anti-statism. The genesis of the peculiar form of American liberalism should not be told as an idealist narrative of the emergence of a coherent national culture. It rings more true as a materialist account of the contingent outcome of highly local struggles against the established ranks of religion and class that had co-evolved with the overturned institutions of the colonial state. American anti-politics was the displacement of the power that was needed to undergird the familiar practices of daily life and work. Shrinking the domain of the political was the means of limiting the reproduction of government’s monopoly of violence as associated monopolies of virtue.


Disempowerment. Jacksonian democracy was marked by the hyperbolic display of the characteristics of the reformed political regime for which it struggled. Politicians were to be both amateurs in vocation and distrusted for even their limited calling to power. The mechanics and style of rule had to be transparent and accessible. European commentators, who deplored the lack of an American political class with an instinct and willingness to govern, spoke of the parade of "public meetings, conventions, caucuses, platforms, demonstrations [that] are forever going on."56 The White House was not only opened to the unruly citizenry for Jackson’s legendary inauguration, but was made available to hear the complaints and counsel of ordinary visitors on a near daily basis. But beyond the excess that symbolized change, the ongoing American commitment to anti-politics rested in a superimposition of formal constitutional practices and structures of mobility that disempowered the state as the agent or the author of national community.

The originally unstated constitutional disability of the collective capacity to enact and enforce a normative order had first been made explicit in the Bill of Rights. As importantly, the federal courts asserted their power to interpret these rights against the central, and later the states’, government, independently of the will of the other branches. The legitimation of judicial review dismantled the legal positivism that in Europe usually left without remedy those who believed state action had devalued their ethical and cultural practices. The chronicle of American public law has been a constant testing, and progressive weakening, of instruments such as official language policies, the sanctity of days of closing, or the association of holidays with religion by which national liberalisms empower communal identities. However, in spite of the celebration of the jurisprudence of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, it might be argued that the American devaluation of politics comes most from its structural devolution into fragmented jurisdictions subjected to the competitive pressures of exit. In this sense, the core contribution of constitutional law to American liberalism may be the barriers it has erected to the policing of the boundaries of these multiple polities.

Where politics were accorded a legitimate place in American liberalism, public choices were usually localized and, thereby, made plural. Government was not only disfavored as a means for dealing with the problems of collective organization, but, where invoked, operated under a presumption that decentralization was its preferable form. Unless political entities are able to close their borders, through taxes or frontier police, to free flows of goods, capital, and people, mobility will act as a constraint on their monopoly powers. American state and local governments were compelled by judicial restriction of their powers to control these cross-border movements to compete for inhabitants with tax and expenditure packages and regulatory policies that emulated markets for collective goods.57 The recent theory of fiscal federalism is a formalization of longstanding American liberal practice. Moreover, substantive official enactments by such constrained agencies could rarely define and reproduce a broad common culture. In the absence of policed borders, shared conceptions of the good are threatened by immigrants with different political values or an attraction to redistributions of the community social product to which they did not contribute. Consequently, in America, collective choices were limited, temporized, and eventually drained of the compulsory content that established, routinized, and protected the practices that elsewhere constituted national liberalisms.

In modern societies where the political role of the state is extensive, admission to membership entails access to public benefits. The definition of the shared attributes of the national community provides legitimation for the distribution of privilege. Where the state is recessive, the value of political membership is lowered. There are reduced incentives for organizations to invest in political favor or for individuals to attend to their political identities. In the structural constitution of American liberalism, the role of the state as a social choice mechanism was limited relative to markets and other forms of mobility. Rights to engage in private exchanges or participate in the thick associations of civil society were not conditioned on political citizenship. They came with the residency available to any entrant. The restricted domain of politics made exit from any local jurisdiction relatively costless since there were few benefits of membership to forfeit on emigration. With the predominance of markets and open frontiers, the possibilities for the state in America to enact a community of character fell to a point where it became misleading to compare American modernity to that of European societies where the centrality of the political makes a national monoculture salient.

Another uneasy translation of assertedly universal liberal qualities from national liberalism to the American context concerns the significance of external borders.58 Claims to sovereignty in modern international relations are often based on a correspondence of a national territory and a national culture. Migration between sovereign monocultures may pose enough risks to their reproduction that border control has become an indicator of national autonomy. This signal is problematic in the American case. The Lockean individualism of democratic politics in early nineteenth-century America did not supply a coherent rationale for membership beyond a would-be member’s confession of adhesion to the procedural principles of constitution. If identity is understood as a biography of self-definition by existential subjects and migration is seen as a voluntary stratagem in this narrative, then open borders should and did follow in the United States as the logical consequence of its commitment to liberal principles.59

This is not to say either that the federal legal power to close America’s borders was in dispute or that free migration was uncontested. The contribution of immigration to the disempowerment of American government was not formal, but practical. New England Republicans, despairing by midcentury of reestablishing a virtuous English citizenry, became wary of Irish and Mediterranean Catholic population movements they feared would lead to religious dissension. These themes of community debilitation caused by the entry of the unsocialized and purportedly unsocializable prefigured the sense that diverse polities were corrupt and ungovernable, which induced Progressives to support the end of open immigration in the 1920s. In addition, the law of naturalization was colored by racist policies from the founding of the Republic.60 But, in a society in which the domain of the state was relatively constrained, entry and residence were far more meaningful than citizenship. Largely unrestricted immigration added to the streams of spatial, social, economic, and ideological mobility that sapped the vitality of public attempts to form and preserve a particular social order. Until the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, most of the formative century of American self-understanding presents counter-testimony to the proposition that sovereign liberal states are basically closed.


Disestablishment. The (second) American Revolution dissolved the established hierarchies of religion, expertise, class, and patronage that had ordered the routines of social and economic life in England and America. Forsaking predestination theologies that had ruled Colonial churches, Methodists and Baptists preached a democracy of salvation. The door was opened to evangelical, charismatic, and revivalist sectarians who delegitimated institutional mediation between God and the individual believer.61 Self-help books and the multiplication of eclectic practices of medicine led an assault on professional monopolies in other fields.62 The common law, made accessible as common sense in local courts, fostered the popularization of justice and a consequent expansion of the number of lawyers. Property ownership spread far beyond the class that concentrated wealth holdings at the end of the colonial era. Cheap public land was made available on the frontier. Preemption of titles and squatter rebellions against absentee landlords were recognized. By the 1820s, legal reversals cleared the labor market of traditional employment relations like indenture and paternalist apprenticeship.63 According to the many Europeans observing at first hand the effects of democratization on social order, familiar codes of courtesy, status, and deference did not fare much better.64

The exposure of established institutions to competition, for which they were usually unprepared and often unsuited, was tied to the disempowerment of the state. There was little sentiment in favor of the exclusive delegation of public authority or funds to agents. Churches and corporations, formerly charged to socialize the community to order, were increasingly consigned to the private sphere. In addition, public finance, whose needs were held down by the receding state, was freed from its mercantilist dependence on the sale of ranks and titles to the upper classes and of monopoly privileges and charters to professional and corporate strata. Finally, the explosion toward the frontier, the expansion of the market, and the growth of transactions with strangers at a distance diminished the logic of relying on informal mediating institutions.

Where exchange is local and between known actors, coordination of economic behavior is done principally through familiarity. Investment in organizations specializing in risk management through law, insurance, accountancy, or diversification is rarely justified. However, expectations about the conduct of even known associates are generally reinforced by informal codes that are administered by religious, ethnic, lineage, guild, or mercantile institutions. The development of dedicated public agencies and private firms that mitigate the extended risk networks of modern capitalism ruptures the prior interdependence between the state and cultural organizations engaged partially in the coordination of the local segments of pre-modern economies. Disestablishment became feasible in America as the functional integration of the political economic and sociocultural systems dissolved.


Marketization. In nineteenth-century America, the disempowerment of the political domain foreclosed coordination of the economy by bureaucratic administration. Disestablishment cut down reliance on delegation of these tasks to the corporatist bodies that had been familiar in the colonial-mercantile period. Neither regulation by government experts nor standard setting by producer organizations could emerge in America without a central state to charter their authority. As the influence of the anti-political forces waxed, the allocation of resources was left increasingly to the market. Markets, as is always pointed out by their critics, do not operate in the absence of the state and law. Rather, markets require their reconceptualization. The constitution of the liberal state is expected to forswear predatory action that imposes political risks on property. It must develop a legal system that facilitates voluntary exchange and complements private risk management tools. It must give up its own temptations to public monopoly and police private cartels.65 In the expanding world of American markets, lawyers and courts proliferated as the lead agents of contractual coordination.66

Markets were assigned responsibilities in the United States that far exceeded their scope in other modern economies. The laws of property and contract were no more developed or sophisticated in American than in European jurisprudence. However, a larger share of the potential universe of economic transactions was processed through them in America than elsewhere. Decentralized allocations of goods, labor, capital, technology, and services were mainly free of public influence on relative prices, determined in much of the nineteenth century in markets without concentrated private power. The exceptional degree of the American commitment to markets shows up especially in sectors in which elsewhere the operative decision rule mixed economic and political weightings.

The service sectors associated with investment in human capital—health, housing, media, insurance against poverty, culture—were left to private choice and reflected compensated purchasing power in the same way as did normal consumer goods. Where government intervened, principally in education, it did so on a local basis and in competition with substantial private provision. Even when public allocations of collective goods and services predominated (e.g., the furnishing of infrastructure like common streets or sewers), state and local polities were generally charged with this duty. Because of the high mobility of the citizenry, competition among these jurisdictions for taxpayers emulated private markets in the public sector. Not only were taxes too low to distort market price relations, but even the supply of money was principally carried out through private, competitive banking until the state’s inability to finance the Civil War forced the federal government to impose a political monopoly on the currency.

The emerging American emphasis on markets in the 1830s may underlie two critical premonitions that worried de Tocqueville (and sundry European commentators on America since). He argued that the United States was plagued by conformity to mass taste and opinion. He also foretold a loss of respect for high culture and the "incontestable superiority of merit" that was essential to good governance and social productivity.67 It seems presumptively odd that a society so intent on internal narratives of individuality would be vulnerable to charges of conformity in practice. Yet, markets tend to replicate the statistical characteristics of normal distributions. The bulk of consumer demand clusters around salient preferences shaped by mean incomes and patterns of information diffusion about alternative options. If there is little public regulation and few producer-dictated standards for product price and quality to move the choice set away from common compensated tastes, the appearance of conformity should be expected in free markets.

At the same time, societies that substitute markets for politics make high culture problematic. With the demise of the aristocracy, the financing of the arts other than marketable forms of popular culture is uncertain. Markets will respond to the upper tail of a normal distribution of income and taste and support niche production of high-quality goods and services. Although there is always a risk of insufficient scale, the private sector can develop a greater variety of quality services like health or culture than is the case where such services are publicly produced to a mean or common standard. However, when compared to polities where state subsidies reflect the demand of social elites with disproportionate political clout, market-oriented societies will seem insensitive to high culture. Early on, American firms developed expertise in meeting, and organizing, demand in unstructured mass markets. Though the quality of popular opinion reflected in the American market has been a constant object of criticism, the experience of these firms fostered the rapid penetration of global markets by American low culture when other economies grew and their state or corporatist restrictions on mass demand receded.


Thin citizenship. Citizenship is a classical Republican concept. Montesquieu surmised that liberalism would have only confederates and not citizens.68 From the time of the (second) American Revolution, citizenship in American became thin. Thin citizenship can be understood in contrast to other post-classical polities that have attempted to transmute the communitarian ideal of sociality into a modern idiom. If the modern is founded on the expansion of risk and reward, the multiplication of goods, the fact of mobility, and the interaction of strangers, to what ends can the Republican formative project be directed? What are the fields on which virtue can now be enacted? What are the elements that compose lives well led that community must define and protect? Under what circumstances can it hope to succeed? The common characteristics that produce a shared noetic world wherein identity is rooted can range widely.

A first focus of common culture is often on language and other codes of presentation like gesture, dress, or politesse. A second concentration is on religion, cuisine, holidays, art, music, and dance. Here, the liminal, the celebratory, the tabooed, and the symbolic instantiate culture. But social organization also manifests nomos. Roles of class and gender, hierarchies of deference, conceptions of just distributions of wealth and income, the appropriate balance between work and leisure, the quality of work to which one is entitled, the relationship of man and nature—all could be part of the moral order that evidence the character of community. Or, the core of the shared world may be sought in the meta-rules and institutions that fix the cultural and social practices implicit in daily life. Is community not the law, the methods of governance, the agencies that shape the young to the situated order, the canons of authority that are recognized, the cognitive frameworks in which the canons are represented?

Thin citizenship in America is the abandonment of the project to define and reproduce a public order that incorporates many or most of these dimensions. Thin citizenship focuses primarily on civil rights that ensure liberty to participate in the myriad forms of private organization that make up civil society. Membership in a civil society first assumes unstated rights to participate in the disempowered institutions of economic and social life—capacity to own property, participate in the exchange of resources, and protect the integrity of body and wealth against crime and tort. Stated rights are then directed against the state’s historic proclivity to interfere with that freedom. Beyond civil rights, thin citizenship offered few political, social, or cultural guarantees or privileges formally listed in law or granted in practice.

Political rights to equal voice were slow to emerge for women and African Americans, but were, given the restricted domain of what politics could offer in America, of relatively low value. The endemic popular disregard of the right to vote that persists in American elections symbolizes the embeddedness in American liberalism of the depreciation of the political. The organization of the public domain that structures and informs democratic opinion was left to private media. Redistribution through the fiscal system has been distrusted and consigned principally to private charities. Once protected by a civil rights floor that insures that private arrangements are voluntary, gender and sexual practices were placed beyond the reach of the state. Social rights to work, security, health, and education were nonexistent or available only in local government. Their hesitant expression in the twentieth century, discussed below, was never consistently theorized. Explicit cultural rights were not available. The state was disempowered as the agent of a shared formative project and social and religious institutions, to which the power to reproduce a coherent community could be delegated, were disestablished. Nor was there an implicit recognition of the right to an integral culture that is enforced by frontier closures and the soft policing of codes of comme il faut behavior. Formulas for thickening citizenship, and the defenses of the social psyche against the anomie that its absence threatens, call for the agency of a central state with which American liberalism has never been comfortable.


Marginality. The United States generally stood apart from the nineteenth-century system of international law and diplomacy that reflected the link between national monocultures and territory in its core notion of sovereignty.69 It was not so much that American international lawyers developed a different theory of international society. Instead, this community never had much presence in what was otherwise an extraordinarily powerful profession in American life. The United States looked on the world of the international state system with a cynicism and separation derived from its conviction that this regime was but an outcropping of a corrupt European statist politics with which entanglement was ill advised. Even in the twentieth century, when shifts in political and military power imposed on America obligations abroad that it did not seek out, an isolation from the discourse of international law continues to mark the United States as a frequent scofflaw and unilateral player in an order that was never native to its liberal tradition. This distance makes it problematic to assimilate America to a unified Western political culture that is at once national and liberal, whose domestic reality is mirrored in its international reflection.

American liberalism defined itself in opposition to classical politics. It embodied the competitive market as the disrupter of the quasi-mercantile power of the elites who had led the Revolution. It disturbed the cultural makeup of daily life, especially in religious affairs where the charisma of radical and evangelical Protestantism removed the need for established Churches to mediate between man and God. It enabled popular beliefs and pastimes, often expressed in the direct voice of the people in markets and the direct democracy of state Constitutional conventions, to supplant the high, if provincial, culture of the day. The United States became democratic in economy, faith, politics, and taste as did no other liberalizing society. By the time that a Whiggish counter-movement arose in the 1840s seeking to limit the anarchy threatened by the multiplication of private answers to collective questions, it was clear that reconsolidation of the social order could only take place on liberal terms.70

Although the ensuing decades before the Civil War were consumed in dealing with reconciling the festering issue of Southern exceptionalism, the American variant of liberalism was so firmly embedded in the postwar era that the conflicted politics of earlier history were marginalized in the rewriting of the orthodox American narrative. Those who defended the Anglo-American monoculture were reduced to an audible (WASP) rear guard, quite distinct in their concerns and pretenses from the general inattention to the protection and reproduction of a dominant majority culture like those that were becoming increasingly well defined in the national liberalisms of Europe and states more closely tied thereto. In Canada, even after the British North America Act of 1867 created an independent nation, important constitutional powers such as foreign policy remained with the colonial metropolis. Just as the large or macro-political institutions were linked to the past, so the Canadian small order of faith and business was never uprooted from the imported English organization. The concepts of Anglophone and Francophone could resound in this context.

In the United States, the macro-institutional structure was severed from the Crown by 1783. The first half of the nineteenth century completed the dissolution of the bonds that tied the American social order to the familiar English fabric of ordinary existence. The displacement of English culture and the institutionalized exposure of American life to polyethnic reconstruction at the genesis of American modernity can be compared to Canadian anglophonity only with considerable erasure of this local history. A multicultural politics that seeks to reestablish an Anglophone or white national culture as its foil in the United States is equally questionable. Such a national culture may appear to be a necessary artifact of the contemporary shift in discourse that describes identity as a collective production and of the later expansion in the role of the American neo-liberal state that made group identity salient. However, unless subtly managed, the introduction of new political theory and practices may appear less as an evolution of native discourse than as the imposition of an alien rewriting to be resisted as are all foreign elisions of memory and denials of core narratives of identity.71

All currents of liberal thought are modern in that they deny to government the power to compel by law adherence to any metaphysical or religious essentialism as did many of the Old Regimes. All liberalisms therefore face the problem of how to guarantee social order in a polity in which some recognition is given to the normative judgments of individuals about constitutive ends. In Europe, the faith in invisible hands that turned passions into interests and coordinated interests without much need for governmental intervention was always given shorter shrift than it received in America. To the extent that Herder, Hegel, and Savigny relied on Romanticism to resolve the puzzle of society, they traced the journey of Spirit at the national, instead of the individual, level. Europe’s phenomenology of consciousness was collective. Order arose from the positive state acts that embodied this ideal.72 By contrast, American liberalism was early associated with a Romantic psychology that affirmed the benevolence and cooperative character of the individual spirit, once freed from the corrupting influence of political institutions in the Old World. Coordination was private in the American state of nature and the ideology of a democratizing American polity did accord a natural and primitive capacity to pre-social individuality that belied the tides of associationalism and frontier communal solidarity noted by de Tocqueville and Turner. Yet, this naive privileging of autarchic subjectivity in the orthodox American self- representation betokened a displacement and depreciation of the political as a collective forum for choice in America that distinguishes it from other forms of modern social organization.

If we put aside the hyperbolic figures of self-contained individualism that have been the traditional targets of revisionist criticism of American exceptionality, we may summarize this section on the differentiation of American modernity with reference to the relation of community and state power. Theorists of community trip lightly between overlapping formulations of the ground that defines communal membership. At one pole we might speak of communities of fate as people bound by a common situation, such as religion, race, ethnicity, or language, which has befallen them. Communities of fate need not be, but often are, understood more as essentialist than constructed, composed more by biology than conversion.73 They often blend into communities of character, described by a unified nomos of discourse, codes, expectations, and roles. In communities of character, emphasis on birth declines relative to that in communities of fate, though their criteria for inclusion or membership are often unclear. Communitarian accounts can also focus on communities of obligation, a sharing of futures and the risks that they entail.74 Usually risks are pooled only with those who participate in common rules of life and work that may be traced to another account of community, but the community may represent itself primarily through its redistributive networks. Communities may also be communities of memory, tied through identification with a history of (interpreted) events. The collective recollection, celebration, and commiseration of wars, revolutions, slavery, the passage of immigration, or the Holocaust in themselves can constitute a noetic world. Finally, we might speak of communities of commitment, groups tied through joint projects that will demand a common, if negotiated, consciousness to reach a successful end and become the stuff of memory for those who follow.

None of these types of community are exclusive of the others. Communities of race, popularly conceived as closest to the essentialist pole, express themselves in all the other dimensions as well. But the logic may not work as well in the other direction. Communities of commitment may share no common history, obligation, character, or essence. In some sense, there is a firmer narrative of community when it begins in ascription, a declining index of cohesion from the community of fate. As we move from the predestined to the chosen, the power of communitarian thought to persuade seems to lessen. To bind and justify, those who practice politics in the name of community often strive to imagine and fabricate an essentialist pole where none appears obvious.

In American modernity, it is not that we cannot speak of community or the ties of sociality that surround individuation. It is more that American community as empowered lies at the weaker end of the continuum. Americans form a community of memory and commitment. Veterans, the trans-Atlantic voyage as escape, the race to the moon, the Lincoln Memorial: all are authorized, if contested, collectively and empowered, if weakly, by the state’s recognition.75 But the strong definition of community is left to the private sphere and is disempowered. Public communities of obligation, discussed below, are traditionally disfavored and minimal. Communities of character are lauded but disestablished. Communities of fate, because they shade into the ascriptive segmentation of social organization against which America first rebelled and recall the racism that has discolored American liberalism, are feared and resisted. The (second) American Revolution never denied the sociality of identity. Instead, it left multiple local communities disempowered, unauthorized, competitive, exposed, and open. The state would neither choose among them to craft a national culture nor lend its force to police their internal order, guard their boundaries, or provide resources for their reproduction. The fluid association between communities, members, and the state, united only by commitment and memory, often proved transitory. The assurance of mobility depreciated the stock of public capital and debilitated the psychological defenses against anomie. In the social space cleared by the displacement of an established national community, American modernity has wrestled with its own shadows.

Modern political theory, like all rationalist philosophies, is drawn to logical consistency. Liberal theorists pursue this attraction by means of argument based on structure and exception. If the structural logic of liberal principles demands racist or cultural nationalist expressions be suppressed in American politics, the discovery of such expressions demands their explanation as exceptional. This exceptionality, in turn, may require both the extirpation of continuing expression and even reparation for past practices. There is rhetorical force to arguments of structure and exception as they have been effectively deployed in American law and politics. Without denying this force, I want to suggest that genealogy matters as well as logic.

Genesis, like birth, is normally violent and leaves traces of the original struggles that cut against the structure of a social order that has come into being. American modernity is the emergent effect of the twin vectors of logic and genesis such that cultural vestiges that appear to liberal theory as exceptional may be as hard to cut out from the material of politics as are natal scars from human tissue. To change metaphors, such genetic effects may be seen as shadows on a landscape that store the displaced images of the past and alter the shadings of the present. Unlike evanescent exceptions, genetic shadows can be menacing because they obscure the vision of a scene and, if allowed to spread, can fully darken it.

I want to argue that American multiculturalism grows in the intersection of two shadows that color American history. The first is the shadow of race; the second is that of Republicanism. Each was present and contested in the formative period of American life. But both have also endured as counter-themes of social organization whose continued reconsideration is as much as part of the American scene as is the liberalism they shade and distort. They constitute minority traditions or dissenting opinions from liberal principles or pretensions. They are archived in diverse institutional and literary memories until retrieved, renovated, and redeployed as foils to the liberal present. Republicanism, once put aside as a majority quasi-English culture, did not disappear from the map of politics. It was transformed as an ongoing signal of opposition in nineteenth-century labor and utopian movements disdainful of capitalist markets and individualist psychologies. More recently, Republican sentiments have been discovered in women’s and minority politics.76 Similarly, racism has been a constant refrain both of conservative proponents of an organic American nationality who condemn liberalism for its failure to recognize the cultural reality of race and of progressives who fault liberalism because it does too little to counteract the consequences of America’s racist history.

If Republicanism and racism were foreign to American liberalism, as the figure of structure and exception implies, they would strike a lesser chord in political discourse. It is rather because they are originary in American history that they can serve as effective agents of critique. The dilemmas of anomie and parochiality they recall are appropriate targets of both anti-liberals and national liberals because they are integral to the evolution of American modernity. They evoke collective guilt that demands response because it is impossible to deny that universality and community have been in some way sacrificed in the construction of American liberalism. The meaning of multiculturalism as an acknowledgment, rather than a repudiation, of American modernity emerges from these shadows. On the one hand, a rapprochement with Republicanism or national liberalism in the first part of the twentieth century pushed toward a thicker notion of citizenship, involving social rights and transfers. On the other, reparation for racism against African Americans shifted in small part the valence of their group identity as they became an object to which collective entitlement could legitimately be attached. American multiculturalism is, in this sense, first the problematic extension of the particular history of American Blacks to groups and privileges otherwise situated and constituted. However, its evolution has become more complex. While the origins and significance of multiculturalism are rooted in the peculiar condition of African Americans in the genetic shadows of American modernity, its development has been reinforced and transformed by the generalized, but uncertain reconceptualization of identity in an emergent discourse of post-modernity.


The Shadow of Race. Orthodox liberal theory must treat official racism as a circumscribed historical anomaly whose extirpation and remediation has been a leading theme of post-Civil War law and politics. The aberrational status of race as state policy is normally traced to the dual order of Southern and Northern socioeconomic organization whose preservation was legitimated in the resolution of the constitutional crises of the 1780s. According to this analysis, the double structure of American life ran pervasively through the institutions of the different regions. The South’s economy was monopolistic, the North’s competitive. The South’s Baptist Church was paternalistic, the North’s egalitarian and abolitionist. The South’s law barred Blacks, slave and free, from the professions and education while subjecting them to registration requirements, restricted freedom of movement, and different criminal penalties including banishment and re-enslavement. It perpetuated an ideology that characterized individuals of African descent as a subhuman species and therefore refused them the liberal capacity for subjective agency in law or morals. The legal condition of free Blacks in the North was cloudy, but clearly other. Finally, federal controversies like the Dred Scott case functioned as a type of conflict of laws that mediated the legal space between the dual systems. With the end of slavery and the homogenization of the American constitution on Northern terms, the conflation of racism and liberalism should have been terminated.

In truth, the definition of the boundary between the institutional structures of the North and South was always more nuanced than the logic of exception- alism would have imagined it. In the South, state trial courts regularly accorded even to slaves the agency or legal capacity for free choice and responsible action in liability cases that appellate tribunals, perhaps more concerned about the protection of the symbolic order, often denied them.77 In the North, the legal status of African Americans as equal members of American society was also shaded by ambiguities. There were no formal restrictions on the entry of persons of African descent to the United States until general immigration controls were enacted in the 1920s. Although this may have only reflected the lack of demand for entry by Africans, there was surely some entry of West Indian Blacks. However, the original national legislation on citizenship in 1790 denied the possibility of naturalization to nonwhites. It is unclear what significance should be given to this sole early textual mention of racism against the background of the constitutional compromises that recognized the legitimacy of slavery in the South. It is possible that the provision was an additional accommodation of slave states that feared the growth of the population of free Blacks whose legal status in the North was sufficiently uncertain that they might come to destabilize the Southern order through a federally protected intrusion below the Mason-Dixon line.78

However, at least for most of the nineteenth century, the naturalization constraints were relatively unimportant because the benefits from recognition as a citizen of the United States were small relative to the privilege of residency. In a society where the domain of the political was unusually restricted and the involvement of the central government in the lives of American residents was structurally and constitutionally removed, the denial of federal political rights to nonwhite residents may not have been, practically, very debilitating. Recognition of citizenship as full inclusion in the polity might have been more relevant at the more active state and local government levels. Yet even for free-born Blacks there was little certainty beyond a variable pattern of state laws on the right to vote that the attributions of citizenship differed from those of residence. Blacks in the North could vote in all New England states save Connecticut. In New York they could vote if they met property qualifications. In Michigan and Ohio they voted in school board and sometimes, in contravention of formal law, in general elections. Northern Blacks, native-born or otherwise resident, normally had full recognition of the civil rights that most mattered in a privately ordered system. They could usually go to public school, own property, sign contracts, seek employment in any profession, and bring lawsuits in state courts, although they surely suffered de facto discrimination.79 Some states enacted entry (residence) restrictions against free Blacks, but it is not clear whether these formal controls were seriously enforced. Nor should it be assumed that these limits on voting and movement were original features of the American social order. Instead, they were frequently artifacts of the (second) American Revolution that recolored the association between democracy, popular culture, and racism.

In the Northern states, the shadow of racism may have been extended after 1820 by the political recognition of popular practice and belief that was an essential feature of the genesis of America’s singular form of modernity. Federalist Republicanism, like the monocultural national liberalisms that were its analogs in Europe, maintained pre-existing political, economic, social, and cultural institutions that were later dislocated in America by markets, radical Protestantism, and mass culture. In spite of the logical disjunction between liberalism and essentialism, racism in the North may have been enhanced by popular ideas and instincts about Blacks that came along with the disruption of the more conservative and traditional forms of hierarchy. Constitutional conventions in New York limited Black voting rights in 1821. It was in the "burned over" Northwest Territories of Michigan and Ohio where the liberal displacement of established institutions was more complete rather than in the older Eastern seaboard states that free Blacks were often the most disempowered. Wiebe, in his explanation of the success of the overturn of the inherited social organization in the United States, implies that an important forge of a minimal commonality in the emergent populist democracy was the solidarity of white men against Blacks.80

If a reinvigoration of, or new focus upon, racism is seen as an element in a process of redrawing the boundaries of exclusion and rank in American society, Southern exceptionalism is only one dimension of the narrative of liberalism and race. In part, the foundation of an exceptional American liberalism depended on the bonding effects of racial disintegration. This dynamic can be illustrated in the behavior of Irish immigrants, the restriction of whose entry in the 1840s and 1850s was demanded by New England Whigs committed to the reproduction of English national culture in America. The Irish soon discovered the utility of anti-Black politics to create a protective alliance with the popular classes that formed the liberal vanguard. Since England’s colonization of Ireland, English texts had described the Irish as savages to be exiled or managed. Policy toward American Indians was modeled on the earlier experience in Ireland. Irish connection to, and reinforcement of, the racist views of rising white populist groups helped to advance them on the scale of relative cultural development beyond where the common Republican enemy would have placed them, and militated in favor of continuing immigration. A racism genetically linked to the democratization of American politics would, like all processes of cultural redifferentiation, occasion both ongoing expression and the guilt that attends the artificial and instrumental degradation of some to enhance the cohesion of the whole.

The psychological duplicity cast by the shadow of race on American liberalism led sequentially to the devaluation and transvaluation of African American identity. The case of devaluation is obvious. Transvaluation is a more subtle cultural strategy. It first accepts the categories, no matter their validity, by which group character and boundaries have been defined by lawyers, anthropologists, politicians, or authors external to the community under examination. It then reverses the sign of the evaluation of these categories, rendering that which was cause for depreciation or disempowerment into the reason for appreciation and privilege.81 Transvaluation can originate within or without the community being transvalued. What matters is whether its logic is adopted and generalized. In the American instance, the salience of being classified and identified as Black, at all times the source of discrimination, was made simultaneously positive. As the United States developed a national social policy, especially through the medium of labor market controls, it made an object of affirmative treatment the identical racial categorizations it had fashioned in the past for malicious purposes.

Race became an operative descriptor in the evolution of an American social policy that was one aspect of a more comprehensive progressive movement to reorganize American liberalism in the early twentieth century. As discussed more fully below, the direction of that movement was toward a rapprochement with national liberalism that in the end proved incomplete. While domestic critics of America turned to the European model of the state as the prototypical and normatively correct elaboration of modernity, they were never able to overcome the genealogy of disempowered community that grounded the American polity. In social policy, there was never a theorized account of labor market regulation or income transfer programs that approximated the corporatist and socialist accounts that in Europe competed to define and justify the role of the state in establishing and tending a community of shared obligation. The collectivization of risk in the United States was haphazard in the sense that it reflected no more than the minimalist communities that were authorized by American liberalism.

American social policy, though never accorded that name as a recognition of pretended coherence, was developed as a series of independent initiatives of wholly diverse political significance. The first major redistributive transfers were aimed at veterans of the Civil War, originally those who had been disabled and wounded, and later simply all who had served.82 The protection of soldiers celebrated the American community of memory represented by the struggle to preserve the national Union. It was a bond of individual sacrifice that mirrored the historical grounding of community in war, already hallowed by the sanctification of the American Revolution. Social support was next focused on indigent mothers and their dependent children.83 These specifications of mothers and children replayed the victimage theme of communities of innocence and sacrifice in a period when paternalist protection was increasingly common in legislation on work and morals. Only the weakest commitments to a universal biological community were acknowledged in the proposition that any child whose fate was poverty was eligible for assistance.

Beyond these efforts, small transfer programs to the blind and other extreme bearers of the risks that generally befall human kind were enacted. To the extent that misfortune was attributable to individual fault and complicity, as most risks were in the absence of politically empowered narratives of class or nationalist causation for injury or condition, costs were left to families or private charity. The New Deal programs of old-age pensions and unemployment and disability compensation for workers were justified as insurance programs to be funded by voluntary contributions.84 Social Security was never operated as a funded insurance program in which benefit schedules were accurately correlated with payments and investment returns. However, without an objective ground for community to rationalize the transfers that were made, only a voluntarist story could be legitimated within American liberalism.

In the formative era of American social policy there was no explicit allocation of privilege by race or by other reference to group identity. Implicitly, while it is unlikely that programs for veterans or disabled individuals favored African Americans, poverty relief would have afforded them some disproportionate aid.85 Moreover, public intervention in the structure of the labor market, a primary determinant of economic position and security, also improved the relative position of African Americans. The Wagner Act’s enabling of collective bargaining at the national level and the subsequent extension of federal controls over union internal affairs strengthened the position of unions in the more advanced and growing industrial sectors and gave Blacks better possibilities of access to these gains. The expansion of public employment in administrative bureaucracies and the military reduced the costs of monitoring job discrimination in the private sector. Even though redistribution through educational finance has historically been limited in America because of its local organization, the rise of a neo-liberal state in the early twentieth century moved toward the transfer of some wealth and work toward African Americans without directly confronting liberal reservations about empowering communities of fate, character, or obligation.

The last round of social policy in the 1960s abandoned this reserve to a greater degree. Medicare was presented as more insurance; Medicaid was undisguised redistribution. The Great Society programs that aimed to rebuild urban communities were in their scope and language formally neutral with regard to race and ethnicity. In practice, there was substantial attention to group identity in composing and empowering the community agencies that would design and administer subsidy and education programs. Most significantly, affirmative action was authorized as an explicit remedial recognition of the debilitating effects of race built into American liberalism. Along the two central axes of labor market policy, job access and human capital investment, race was made positively salient. In hiring, government contracting, educational access, and finance, some measure of preference could be accorded to Blacks to make up for embedded inequities. The shift in the historic valence of race, however small and time-limited in intent, presaged a more radical transvaluation of the discourse of community identity and self-representation within the communities so acknowledged.86 Though this transvaluation first appeared in the Black Power and Black is Beautiful movements of the late ’60s, its generalization to other claims to empowerment and other communities of fate and character ran against the logic of American modernity to whose own shadows its genealogy can be traced.


The Shadow of Republicanism. Republicanism, as a counter-theme to American liberalism, was always present in the United States as a discourse of political opposition. Like all minority traditions, its plasticity of meaning allows it to serve as a focal point for divergent interests over time. American Federalists and their Whig successors reinterpreted both English conservatism and classical Aristotelian politics. Early twentieth-century Progressives revived Republican claims and causes only in loose translation. Post-modern critics of liberalism embrace communitarian visions but reject the Progressives’ bureaucratic state as the lead architect of civil society. In spite of the malleability of Republicanism, the shadow of its dissent from the American liberal commitment to disempowered community persists. The various avatars of American Republicanism all push toward a rapprochement with European nationalism as the more appropriate development of modernity. The political center of Republicanism has usually been close to New England, the region that best embedded and preserved an imported hierarchical social order.87 In the decades between 1900 and 1940, as the United States came to resemble industrial Europe and economic growth increased the relative political influence of New England and other manufacturing-intensive Northern regions, Progressive Republicanism looked to national liberalism as a technology to be transferred to America. Its efforts to expand the domain of politics and to restructure the state into the agent/author of national community led to an incomplete rapprochement with European modernity of which American multiculturalism is an idiosyncratic artifact.

In the face of increasing urbanization, industrialization, international trade and factor flows, and the disappearance of the frontier, turn of the century Progressives resounded the Republican call for collective order. An American liberalism that privileged exit over politics no longer seemed adequate to an ecology in which escape was less cheap and easy or to an economy in which spillovers from one activity to another were not reflected in market prices. The burgeoning cities were laced with poverty, crime, and disorder that were less amenable to traditional solutions of local self-help and mobility. Industrial workers were dependent on others, and thereby subject to the political corruption that Republicans had long predicted, in a way that self-sufficient yeoman farmers had never been. This foretold corruption had become evident in machine governance. Community, de facto as well as de jure, had dissolved in the cacophony of unassimilable immigrants from the margins of Europe in the east and from Asia in the west. The potential costs of American liberalism’s disempowerment of the established nomos, bearable when entrants came only from the relative homogeneity of Northwest Europe, were exposed as excessive. Insecurity, foreign and domestic, required national response. Progressives recognized the advance of anomie, expected since Rousseau and confirmed by Durkheim, and turned to familiar European defenses to halt it.

National liberalism provided both a ready-to-hand model against which to measure the American loss of public community and the instruments with which to reproduce the depleted social capital base. Market failures, identified by neo-liberal economists with increasing analytical dexterity and frequency, were to be corrected by an expansion of state regulation. Because the political domain had been corrupted through the neglect of the disempowered public sector, government had to be reconstituted on a technocratic ethos beyond the infirmities of parties and patronage. Bureaucratic administration by experts schooled in politics as a science was tried on in an context where amateurism had been the exclusive and desired order of governance.88 The centralization of state power was reimagined as an antidote to the weakness of political authorities with porous boundaries. Debilitating competition between governments would be reduced by harmonization of law at the national level.89

In the process of elevating a new national order on the foundation of scientific expertise, there was a rebuilding of class hierarchies that superseded the populist, aggressively democratic culture of nineteenth-century America.90 Although qualification in the rising elites was based on claims to professional knowledge rather than on aristocratic birth or the accumulation of wealth, the Progressive utopia was Republican in establishing an empowered order that integrated the state and private spheres in pursuit of a public interest. In folding the local organization of American life into a set of more comprehensive technical principles for determining the character of the communal order, Progressivism both imagined the American nation and defined the national class that would embody it. As American universities after the Civil War had looked to the European example of what modern science was supposed to be, so the class they educated focused on European governance as the forum for its appropriate application.91

Just as the Progressive revival of American Republicanism embraced the tenets of public empowerment, private establishment, and administration over markets, it also aimed at an American thick citizenship that would stress political, social, and cultural, as well as civil rights. The movement for political rights at once ran against and complemented the drive for expert administration. On one hand, an expanded political domain increased the importance of collective choice mechanisms like voting. Since electoral politics had been corrupted, bureaucratic rule was the preferred remedy. At the same time, the tarnished reputation of legislatures caused traditional populist pressures to surface in proposals for more direct democracy, including the initiative and referendum. In the search for a structured midground, Progressives like Walter Lippmann and John Dewey explored more subtle understandings of public opinion and an informed electorate that would evolve into a theory of a public sphere that mediates between the state and civil society.92 The same quest to eliminate the dependency that underlay political corruption led toward social rights. If the autarchy of small-scale agriculture was forever gone, then protected social entitlements or labor market interventions could mitigate political vulnerability. National regimes for social security and collective bargaining to reduce the incidence of poverty functioned as substitutes for Aristotelian class balance.

I have suggested above that thick citizenship in national liberalism supports the communal nomos by ensuring the reproduction of national culture. The apparatus of support is less legal definition of explicit cultural rights than the protection of the established culture by border closure, extensive policing of deviant practices, and moral education. American Progressives opted for all three. Throughout the nineteenth century, groups advocating state empowerment of a national organic monoculture most often manifested their cultural faith by demanding the exclusion of those they deemed outsiders to it. Anti-immigration xenophobes aimed at the Irish, Southern and Eastern Europeans, Jews, and Asians successively as they presented themselves on the national horizon. The greater the perceived historical distance between English, rechristened as American, culture and that of the potential entrant, the more intense the outcry became. Yet, only an unlikely alliance of Progressives with xenophobes and unionists seeking to restrict labor supplies in the 1920s yielded broad restrictive legislation.93

Urban governance was given prominent place in Progressive causes because cities were the main locus of social disorder. The reorganization of policing and the suppression of crime was a central subject of the new science of city management. Most importantly, true citizens, especially recent immigrants, had to be engaged in the national formative project. To forestall apathy and disconnection, they were to be prepared for the common standards and roles they faced in a demanding public community. Standardized public school curricula, mandated rituals like saluting the flag and pledging allegiance, civics courses for adults required by employers, settlement houses with programs in Americanization—all pointed to the Republican will to fashion the national community that American liberalism had allowed to dissipate.94

The final dimension of America’s rapprochement to European modernity was its insertion into the international order of nation-states. National borders, the normal sign of sovereignty, hardened after World War I with the passage of immigration controls.95 But, the war had a much broader impact on the development of an American national consciousness. American weak identity had often been tied to the communities of memory rooted in local war. The combination of the hyperbolic commitment to war on an international scale and the expansion of the federal administration that was needed to mobilize the economy for its successful conduct reified the American state as it had never been. Having accepted the costs of global war, Americans also accepted Great Power chauvinism and the European acknowledgment of Great Power status among the spoils of victory. The problems of external security were mirrored in domestic threats from foreign elements that fed into immigration restriction.96 The American history of resistance to international entanglements was compromised by Progressive advocates of a leading role in the League of Nations that would rationalize and formalize the nation-state system. Even the long standing American aversion to international law was abandoned in Wilson’s formulation of new principles of self-determination and the prospective rights of national minorities to territorial autonomy.

Both at the national and international levels, twentieth-century Republicanism promised the convergence of the disparate streams of American and European modernities. This promise provided the basis for revisionist American histories that denied there were different currents of modernity. Revisionism took as its object of critique the thesis that America was an exceptional case, often associated with the work of Louis Hartz in the 1950s.97 The rejection of exceptionalism is the logical condition that allows the assimilation of American history and politics to national liberalism—the common form of European states and the aspiration of post-colonial polities that bought into the nationalist and bureaucratic images of European modernity in which they had been tutored. Recent communitarian and Republican arguments that attributes of European, and perhaps Canadian, social organization such as national minorities, official languages, or national cultures are also native to America depend on a bridging of the divides that the American exceptionalism thesis dug out.98 While I will return to the politics of revisionism below, I want to reiterate first that the American rapprochement to Europe was always incomplete, that convergence accounts of modernity are usually misleading, and that, in the comparative ecology of institutional systems, genealogy matters.

European modernity was a pole of attraction in an American institutional topography laid out in a fundamentally different arrangement. The national state in Europe had been in the nineteenth century, and remained in the twentieth century, a principal constitutor of modern life. The state was a developed institution, inherited from the Old Regime and recognized in positivist legal doctrine as an independent authority. It directly administered important sectors of economy and society. In its presence, evolution in Europe favored private organizations adept at securing and maintaining public establishment and finance or adaptable to corporatist interdependence with public bureaucracy. By contrast, in nineteenth-century American liberalism, the disempowerment of the national state had opened a space that was populated by multiple local governments and private organizations that offered competitive solutions to collective problems. They resisted national appropriation of their arenas of action and feared the ability of competitors to marshal the power of an expanded national state in hostile monopoly. Vestiges of this liberal resistance marked both the theory and practice of the American central government that grew in the Progressive and New Deal periods.

American neo-liberal economists argued that new grants of state power were legitimate only as residual corrections of market failures beyond the scope of remedy by local or state governments. The efforts of the early New Deal to mimic the corporatist policies of European states fell apart because there were too many firms in most sectors to be monitored by national agencies with too little bureaucratic experience, esprit de corps, or political initiative.99 National planning on an etatiste or social democratic model fared no better and was abandoned in favor of a weak sectoral regulation that as often as not justified traditional warnings about agency capture.100 The constitution and funding of social programs were normally shared between state and federal levels, with substantial regional variations in entitlements. American central government most approximated the European national liberal state when its activities were tied to the war powers that grounded the American community of memory. The state expanded its tax and macroeconomic capacities principally during wars and struggled to hold on to portions of them thereafter. Extraordinary and ongoing political interventions, like the comprehensive economic, educational, and social programs for farmers and veterans or the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, were rationalized as security measures. While the domain of politics grew in twentieth-century America, its redrawn shape and boundaries still reflected the particular equilibrium between civil society and the state that evolved in the formative period of American liberalism.

Just as the American neo-liberal state never achieved the scale, range of function, fiscal capacities, or aspirations of any major European nation-state, the commitments of American liberalism to markets over administration and to competition over regulated oligopoly were not seriously devalued even during the high tide of rapprochement. The priority given to competitive markets in social choice limited the mechanisms of establishment, bureaucracy, and border closure by which national community is effectively reproduced. In the nineteenth century the reduced portfolio of collective action problems that were addressed through the national state left private firms, local governments, and voluntary organizations a free field in which to grow. Without the protection and support of public establishment, churches, unions, parties, and universities faced the incessant foundation of competitors, often better adapted to changing popular demands, which undid familiar patterns of institutional stability and power.

The national state’s inability or unwillingness to exclude competitive organizations from the process of producing a virtuous community fed back over time into politics to ensure that this condition persisted. As the population of unofficial entities expanded, the actors in any potential sector of regulation became too numerous for effective bureaucratic monitoring or management. An oligopolistic market structure that allows the corporatist coordination of the economy or the social order did not prevail. In its absence, the option to use administrative rather than market solutions for social choice dried up. The twentieth-century efforts of American bureaucracy to handle complex systems beyond its capacity yielded a predictable disenchantment with state regulation. In turn, neither individuals nor the government were willing to invest their careers or capital in a public administration of which not much was expected or permitted.101 The dominance of market competition over administrative coordination in American modernity was recorded in the theoretical attention to, and active application of, antitrust law to an extent not attempted in Europe.102 As the later New Deal backed away from both corporatism and planning, it reaffirmed the American faith in the social benefits of market competition with a revitalized campaign against monopoly.103

The competency of the national civil service was put in further dispute during the Cold War. McCarthy’s witch-hunt in the Executive perversely symbolized the long-standing ideological aversion to bureaucracy, now widely interpreted as the hallmark of socialist centralism. The elaboration of an aggressive doctrine of judicial review of the procedures of regulatory agencies in the 1960s formalized, rather than constituted, an imbalance between market and administration already locked in by the institutional history of American liberalism. The legal mandate that cost-benefit analysis be used as the decision framework for regulation forced public interventions to mimic the operations of (corrected) markets. In combination with close and frequent legislative oversight and enforced transparency of administrative processes, such policies underlined the illegitimacy of an expert public sphere and autonomous bureaucratic formulations of a public interest.

The privileging of resource allocation through markets proved especially fortuitous in the postwar period because of the reformation of the international economy. American firms had built up a century of experience in meeting mass demand for products and services and in shaping organizations adapted to competitive and expansive markets. Presented with the chance to enter or force open foreign markets that had been externally protected and internally regulated to nonmarket standards, these firms were able to penetrate newly exposed sectors and identify American practices as the icons of a transnational popular culture. The comparative advantage American liberalism had developed in responding to market rather than political demand promoted continuing economic specialization along lines that limited rapprochement to national liberalism.

Incomplete rapprochement also describes ongoing American marginal- ization from the international legal order. There is no question that the United States played a central, if not hegemonic, role in the post-World War II international regimes for security and trade. Marginalization as an isolationist impulse is sheer nostalgia or delusion in twentieth-century America. Rather, American reluctance to recognize itself as a normal member of the family of nation-states shows up in the regularity of its unilateral and extraterritorial actions. The United States resists at each opportunity the extension of a model of international governance that prescribes an enlarged political domain replete with legislative assemblies, permanent bureaucracies, and legal redistributive obligations. Whether in the League of Nations, the still-born International Trade Organization, or the Law of the Sea as applied to sea-bed mining, the United States refused to cede its authority to international institutions or to acknowledge the binding application of international norms. Where America does participate, as in the GATT or the United Nations, its proclivity to intersperse cooperative with unilateral actions is a constant annoyance to the diplomatic community.104 In so behaving, America keeps its symbolic distance from an international system that imagines itself the collectivity of national liberal communities.

Finally, I argued in the discussion of the shadow of race that the American practice of thin citizenship was not negated by the Progressive introduction of social policy and border controls. These Republican initiatives toward national liberalism could not approximate the European systems they emulated because they failed to define either a principled, and thereby bounded, account of the community of obligation or coherent criteria of membership within that community. Redistributive transfers were not theorized in any consistent fashion across their evolution from veterans to mothers and children, the aged and infirm, and, finally, to the victims of racism. In the unclearly demarcated zone where claims to social payments were put forward, the recognition of the historical particularity of the African American community as an appropriatly revalued object of the same state power that had once constituted and depreciated it could be generalized to other groups willing to identify themselves as communities of (ill) fate. The recognition of a communitarian term in social policy held out the prospect of its legitimation in wider fields of discourse.105

The realization of this semiotic potential was enhanced by the inability of American advocates of national liberalism to seal off effectively the borders of community. Although immigration was restricted in the 1920s by means of national quotas intended to compose and preserve an American culture, substantial inflows of legal and illegal entrants have continued ever since. Broad norms of family reunification, acceptance of refugees from the Communist bloc, the porousness of the Mexican frontier, and the abandonment in 1952 of the national quotas that had favored European immigrants gradually shifted the demographics of entry to Latins and Asians who contested any pretense of monocultural nationality. The newer population strains, increasingly connected to their recent areas of origin by contiguity, ease of transport, and transborder media, appeared more as communities in diaspora than as classical American escapists from a repressive past.

American multiculturalism is then the joint product of the rapprochement to national liberalism that allowed the transvaluation of community discourse and the incompleteness of that change in direction that multiplied and confused the applications of that discourse. The meaning of multiculturalism in America cannot be assimilated to its meaning in Europe because such assimilation pays an excessive price in ignoring the American histories of race and Republicanism that shadow, but do not blot out, the differentiation of American liberalism. Multiculturalism in the United States is an artifact of the exceptionality of American modernity. This exceptionality suggests that its intersection with the post-modern will also be locally constructed.

My dissatisfaction with many serious communitarian or national liberal readings of the unity of modernity is that they found their interpretations on the revisionist denial of American exceptionality. The prima facie case against revisionism may rest on historiographical, philosophical, or political grounds. Writing history, like all discursive practice, involves overreaction to the pre-existing state of the system. 1950s liberals, indulging their Whiggish desires to smooth out the conflicts and repressions of the first decades of America as a mass industrial society, recrafted the meta-cultural narratives of immigration and individualism that produced the hyperbole of American exceptionalism. As the memory of European corruption that had led to war and the immediate Soviet threat cooled in the ’60s, exaggerated exceptionalism generated, in its turn, an excessive revisionist insistence on convergence within modernity to deflate the mythic pretense that America had escaped the social, political, and cultural struggles that were discernible elsewhere.

The desire to flatten the divides within the modern was reinforced by an emergent acquaintance in America with European linguistic and social theory that assaulted the possibility or value of subjective autarchy. If the collective was the necessary condition of speech, discourse, normativity, and cognitive representation, then American individualism was either naive or conspiratorial. As Walzer has argued, this communitarian critique is both valid and overdrawn.106 If sociality is the inevitable human condition, American problems cannot be attributed to the absence of community. If sociality can vary in its construction, then differences in the organization of community and self-representation, including America’s voluntarism, can be consequential. The recognition of the collective settles nothing in itself, but redirects our attention to how community is deployed and the nature of its relationship to power.

The politics of revisionism involve what has recently been called freeze frame thinking. Freeze framing implies that a snapshot at a particular moment is developed and projected as the essence or telos of a much wider panorama. The revisionist attack on American exceptionality focused on the 1930s, the high-water mark of the rapprochement of American to European liberalism, as a kind of Golden Age in which the United States was finally maturing toward the universal form of the modern. National security, expert administration, border controls, corporatist coordination, social policy, international reciprocity, and even the dream of a national curriculum were taken as signs of movement toward the European model on which American emulation concentrated. New England and the Upper Midwest, with their tight Northern European connections, most projected the desired convergence.

There are two impediments to this freeze frame projection. First, it distorts the persistence of the American mass culture, marketized service economies, localized education, and untheorized state that halted and, in many ways, later reversed the flattening of Western modernity. Second, it fabricates an American national culture from material that was extraordinary. Generalization from the ’30s, a decade of extremes associated with the collapse of the domestic and international economic orders, is dangerous. Germany is not essentially fascist, Japan essentially militarist, or the United States essentially regulatory because these features predominated in the ’30s. Under the atypical conditions of that decade, genetic shadows in the history of nations everywhere spread and deepened. To imagine their permanence, for ill or good, risks deception.

The distance established by the American turn away from rapprochement after 1945 was masked in part by an inverse European push toward American liberalism. In the presence of occupation and Spenglerian despair about the link between national liberalism and war, European states saw more virtue than they had earlier observed in individualism, constitutionalism, administrative and antitrust law, civil rights, and free markets. These influences questioned, and moderated, the degree of the European commitment to nationalism and statism and were formative of the particular integrationist agenda that looked to the European Community as both a Continental deregulated market and a security zone freed from former intra-European rivalries. As the ongoing contests over subsidiarity, European citizenship, regulatory competition, and EU social policy make clear, Europe’s convergence toward American modernity is no more complete, or desired, than were the precedent American steps in the opposite direction.

The multiplicity of the modern calls for a revised American exceptionalism. Following the recognition of the inevitability of the collective in social organization, a redefined exceptionalism cannot restore the idealism of Romantic individuality that once differentiated America’s self-representation from Europe. Instead, it must specify a separate ecology of institutions and expectations that maps a uniquely American evolution of power and culture. Exception is not the absence of an American state, but its pattern of federalism, competition between local jurisdictions, openness to mobility, and small political domain relative to the market. It lies in the decentralized constellation of law as constitutional, contractual, anti-monopolistic, and constraining of bureaucracy. Exception is not the lack of community, but its disempowered and disestablished fragmentation.

The separation between divergent strands of modernity that expresses exceptionality is not constant over time. America and Europe are rhetorical figures in each other’s discourse. What occurs in each system is monitored, translated, and brought forward as points of attraction and repulsion in the political arguments of its counterpart. Each is the occasion for claims of imitation and violation in the other. The persuasive forces of rapprochement or genesis have waxed and waned so that the measure of exceptionality must be given a temporal sign. Similarly, the internal composition of the exceptional must be nuanced. Discourse in liberal societies cannot be monopolized so as to obliterate the memory and retrieval of competitive social constructions that live on as shadows. These vestiges of the historical contingency that marked the genesis and development of the prevailing discourse now dull the clarity of a redefined exceptionality and threaten its continuity. Late-modern American exceptionalism is shaded and brittle, without the bright lines that earlier invited revisionist attack.

Yet, it is in this nuanced landscape that significance must be discovered. Meaning lies in the margins of daily lives that are largely common to individuals and societies. It flows out of minute differences at the origins of societies that are repeatedly fed back into its ongoing evolution as a semiotic system. The distinctiveness of identity is traced out over time in discrete increments. The complexity of the institutional and cultural order that distinguishes societies from one another arises in the regular iteration of alternative narratives, metaphors and inflections—the proverbial beats of the butterfly’s wing.107 It is because American modernity replayed and reworked its own story of differentiation from Europe long enough that the account became embedded in the strategies and structures of organizations and groups prepared to defend their adaptations. To deny or ignore the subtle constructions of shadings of significance and arrangements of practice is to step over the place where identity is cultivated.

Critical accounts of social organization that fail to recognize the marginality and the fragility of identity may have two effects. First, they engender a defensive reaction that seems excessive, unless it is understood that the contingency of that which makes sense of our lives cannot be left exposed. Second, to miss the margin where meaning lies suppresses the history that is the record of the self-constitution of modernity. If wiped out, the empty space may be filled with pre-modern figures that have the lure of familiarity. To locate the discourse of multiculturalism in a unitary tradition of the modern, away from the margins of an American exceptionalism, risks such a loss of meaning. It renders foreign that which grows from the intersection of particularly American shadows. It elides the experience of African Americans and proliferating diasporic communities that give the concept its material grounding. It trivializes the defensiveness of American liberals against the legitimation and generalization of claims to the empowerment of communities of fate. It leaves the multiplication of the inventive but ascriptive counter-narratives of the Asian students at Stanford without limits or response.

The current revival of American Republicanism coincides with the widening use of multicultural discourse. The potential for alliance around their common disenchantment with American liberalism and their shared emphasis on communal identities has occasioned a conflation of what each oppositional camp professes. This coalition, however, is built on illusions about the nature of modernity and its meeting with the unfamiliar phenomena in the domains of economy and theory that are sometimes lumped together as post-modern. There was never in the modern West a unique form of state-society interactions that defined the modern constitution. There is no telos that lays out a single route from the monopolistic and segmented orders of the pre-modern to the market, democracy, and social welfare. America and Europe have expressed alternative versions of liberal modernity, with different self-representations and internal tensions. American liberalism always underplayed the risk of anomie that comes from the depreciation of the social capital it had inherited from the established communities it disempowered. Republicanism has served as a constant reminder of that danger. But European modernity has already played out the dynamics of Republican therapies for these weaknesses. The histories of European liberal states indicate that the state-led production of coherent national communities is not easily compatible with the multicultural diversity that the collapse of the colonial and Soviet empires has imposed on them. Although the importance of the communitarian images in both Republican and post-modern discourse suggests a shared political practice, the nexus between multiculturalism and Republicanism is not uncharted territory. European modernity has been Republican and its confrontation with post-modern minorities remains problematic.


The genealogy of European modernity, and the meaning of multiculturalism within it, are other. National liberalism in Europe is the outcome of a dual differentiation. The first differentiation was liberal, separating modernity from the older dynastic and mercantilist regimes. It substituted a unitary people for the pervasive and formal legal segmentation of European societies into classes, fueros, corporations, and guilds. It constrained the organization of the economy through royal grants of monopoly and office. It inhibited the capacity of the state to behave in a predatory fashion toward its own inhabitants, relocating sovereignty from the Crown to the newly unified people. It argued that the legitimate authority of the state was derivative from popular sovereignty in a democratic process that could limit the scope of powers accorded. In the pretensions to universalism, constitutionalism, democracy, and competition, European liberalism and American liberalism were joined in their division from the mercantile and colonial orders they displaced.

The second differentiation split European from American modernity. It was centered around the relation between liberalism and community and focused, in particular, on the threat of anomie or social disintegration that liberal modernity might pose. Early in the history of continental liberalism, Montesquieu had spoken of liberal society as being composed of confederates and not citizens.108 Rousseau elaborated on the theme, contrasting citizen to bourgeois. The bourgeois individual, split off from a community ethos and competitive with his fellows, was a "divided man," always plagued by comparisons with others.109 His motivation was rooted in a destructive self-love (amour propre) rather than a rooting of the self in a larger social entity (amour de soi). For Rousseau the sin of Absolutism, his vantage point on early modernity, was to have assaulted the autonomy of the local communities in which, like the ancient city-states that were his models, man could aspire to virtue and the unity of the political and the social without despotism.110 He did not deny that liberalism could yield peace and wealth. He believed it could do so only at the price of a psychic debasement that attends the eternal comparison and separation of each from others. Human gratification was in the end not economic but political.111

Rousseau’s premonition of the problematic juxtaposition of liberalism and community has been a continuing leitmotif of European modernity. Rousseau did not imagine the reactionary possibility or desirability of return to the ancient polis.112 He would have been comfortable with the Hegelian maxim that empire had been defined by liberty for one, the classical polis for some, and modernity for all. He was also fully aware that the scale of the small urban communities of the Central European band from Genoa to Geneva to Leiden had made them indefensible against the predation of absolutists. The problem of modern European liberalism was to integrate general liberty, expanded political economic scale, and the communal identity that forestalled psychic dislocation.

The centerpiece of this inquiry into community at scale became the nation-state. Modernity shifts the optimal social scale from the traditional bifurcated arrangements of cousins and kings to midsized organizations. Only the latter are large enough to assume the extended risks of innovation and defend their wealth against predation, and small enough to resist the temptations of monopoly. If community in Europe were to be extended to survivable scale, a reimagined state would have to produce commonality where none had been previously recognized. Enlarged scale necessitates the construction and defense of community in all of its dimensions and its propagation across wider boundaries and more diverse populations. If the definition of the attributes of community required the autonomous production of law, political institutions, education, and canons of authority, then the right to live in an integrated society would imply sovereign autonomy. Community at scale would blend classical Republicanism into national liberalism.113

The intellectual preoccupation with anomie and the primacy attached to social integration in European modernity cannot and should not be divorced from the material continuity of the state apparatus. Bureaucratic organizations inherited from mercantilist regimes afforded capital available for appropriation by liberal regimes and adaptable to the solution of the new collective action problems posed by the development of community at scale.114 The second differentiation of European modernity was tied to the multiplicity of these residual bureaucracies and the consequent multiplicity of communities their legitimate propagation would demand. If each state organization was to be justified by its role in reproducing and protecting a differentiated communal order, modern Europe would have to be divided into mutually exclusive jurisdictions that bound each nomos from its peers. An international society of communities would emerge as a system of sovereign, monocultural nation-states. Dual differentiation led to dual fault lines. On one hand, fault lines divided the national communities of Europe. If France was to be governed independently from Germany, those nations had to express against one another the separate virtues of historical communities that were to be embodied in sovereign autonomy. On another hand, there was another fault line between European and American modernity. All European systems shared the common characteristic of a national liberalism that was rejected in the United States by the (second) American Revolution. If American modernity suffers the risk of anomie that attends the disempowerment of community, European modernity lives with the competitive statist nationalisms that carry the genes of its peculiar fabrication of community at scale.

The shape of the distinctive institutional topography of national liberalism in Europe can be traced along the same dimensions of empowerment, establishment, administration, thick citizenship, and internationalism that I used above to distinguish American liberalism. I will here only try to outline some of the main points of distinction that frame the differentiated meaning of multiculturalism in the two variants of Western modernity. Again, the state and its projection into national monocultures is the key fault line. The centralized national state and the broad domain of politics it creates have a different prominence in European than in American modernity. Domestic collective action problems were never as amenable to resolution by internal migration in a more densely populated Europe as they were in the United States. Voice was relatively cheaper than exit in the Old World. With mobility over familiar geographic, religious, and class lines less common than it was in America, reliance on political action to control the impact of change and protect the fixed order in place led organizations to structures and strategies adapted to state intervention.115

Moreover, external security threats were always present in modern Europe and imposed competitive pressures on the national economies. The national state in Europe took on a leading role in the industrial transition of the nineteenth century in part because of the correlation between economic and military power. As the security threats within the Continent were successfully displaced to competition overseas for colonies, the role of the state as the organizer and administrator of empire was further enhanced. In Europe, unlike America, the modernizing force of competition was often more manifest between nations than between private organizations and individuals, and the bureaucratic state claimed to be the agent of the collective so engaged.

The most telling disjunction between the variants of modernity developed across the Atlantic turns on the circularity of the relation between national state and national community. In Europe, the state had to define and produce the new communities at scale whose existence justified the national states. The major elements of community that nations cite to distinguish themselves from their peers did not match the jurisdictions of the bureaucratic organizations charged with the reproduction of the culture. Eugen Weber, Hobsbawm, Gellner, and Benedict Anderson have described how the repression of minorities, national media of communication, mandatory military service, standardized educational curricula, national legal codes, national holidays, censuses, national statistics, and other technologies of modernity were used to create entities that finally had reasonably homogeneous languages, common knowledge, codes of behavior, and shared self-representations.116

European nation-states were primarily bricolleurs rather than "imagineers." They pasted together national communities from selected bits of the familiar social order and cautious allusions to putatively natural distinctions they found in the popular consciousness.117 The pre-modern nongovernmental order of church, class, guild, corporation, and family was not torn up by incessant mobility in the first decades of the nineteenth century in Europe to nearly the same degree as it was in America. Pieces of these traditional forms of organization were defended and established by the nation-state as the defining features of national identity. State resources financed their growth and reproduction. State powers were delegated to them to assure and, in many cases, increase their continuing relevance.118 The crafted patterns of religion, work, and gender, and their particular roles in governance and the organization of everyday life were the stuff from which national communities of character and obligation were articulated. At times, especially in moments of stress when the lesser bonds of imaginary communities are tested, European states have turned to the more volatile material of biology and ressentiment out of which harder communities of fate are composed. Though the logic of dual differentiation requires that the specific constellations and histories of community vary among national liberalisms to justify their independent sovereignty, the resulting cohesive national communities and identities, which are the artifacts of and justifications for state power, contrast sharply with the disempowered and fragmented communities of American modernity.

The administrative capabilities of European nation-states complemented their expanded domain and pretensions. In France and Prussia, the models for modern European governance, technically competent central bureaucracies had been developed in the dynastic period. These mechanisms did not have to be dismantled and built from the ground up as would have been the case with the weak colonial administration in the United States. The structure of European law also contributed to the redeployment of autonomous, if transformed, state power. The new national legal codes, promulgated across Europe in the nineteenth century as a sign of the aspiration to modernity, were invariably divided into private and public law. Public law, defining the sphere of administration, was rarely reviewable by courts of general jurisdiction and implied an independence of bureaucratic action for state agencies. This implication was reinforced by the construction of limited systems of intra-administration appeal (conseils d’etat) and by academic theories of positivist legitimation of rules and regulations that looked no further than the procedural propriety of their promulgation by duly constituted authorities. American law, by contrast, made no similar qualitative distinction between public and private law, elaborated a full jurisprudence of constitutional review, and concentrated attention on protecting the civil rights of individuals and private organizations from state intrusion. Without these same limitations, the state in Europe could aspire to become an apparatus with the ability to regulate oligopolistic competition, monitor the behavior of established corporate institutions, act as an external security agent, and police the communal culture its regulations recognized and shaped. If Americans are skeptical of Foucault’s image of the state as a Panoptic organization that disciplines and punishes, it is because his hyperbole is directed at a state they do not know.119

The social and economic space opened by the displacement of pre-modern monopolies and corporate privileges could have been filled by competitive markets or state administration. The legal enabling of bureaucracy in Europe occurred against a background of suspicion of Anglo-American theories that emergent effects in complex, but unregulated, systems could yield a beneficial order by themselves. Such hidden-hand theorems had been criticized by Continental mercantilist economists who showed that free markets could produce collective problems of under-employment and infant industry growth in competitive economies. Instead of accepting the constraints a commitment to markets imposed on the state viewed as incompetent or corrupt, European modernity unfurled the banner of technical expertise and a public science of administrative governance.

Represented at its zenith by specialized training institutions like the Ecole Polytechnique and the Ecole National d’Administration, the instinct to engineer a national community as an object of disinterested technology became the ideal of a state freed from the political interests that had delegitimated pre-modern bureaucracy. The ethos and methods of the administration of the social body were refined in colonial offices that did not suffer from liberal inhibitions about governing foreign objects. Technologies of education, statistics, and demographics worked out for the administration of the Other were reimported from the periphery for the construction of the European metropolitan order.120 Such capabilities and authorizations of state action far exceeded any approximations of public technocracy in the United States.

The American presumption against bureaucracy left the vast bulk of social risk and cultural standards to the distributions of the market. European conceptions of thick citizenship were worked out in the networks of corporatist and state organizations that administered the national community. Political membership and voice in Europe were more salient than in America because of the expanded domain of politics and the high costs of mobility. The importance of political centralization led to strong party systems and national level interest associations, often piggybacked on the corporatist class and church bodies that enjoyed or sought state establishment. Social policy, a field never even identified as a unitary enterprise in the United States, was developed through national labor markets regulation and complex social security and family transfer systems that were constructed locally in each European state to reflect the particular arrangements of historically embedded norms and organizations.121

German, French, and British models of social policy were all more or less corporatist or social democratic in their theorization.122 Labor co-determination in Germany varied from the powers granted to the Trades Union Congress in England. Education and health and communication services were nationalized in different patterns and sequences across Europe. But compared to American modernity, in Europe there was uniformly more political determination of income distribution and more state provision of an averaged level of human capital services. Europe developed less private charity and foundation activity than America because it brought communities of obligation into the state sector. Where American consignment of income patterns and social services to the market yielded extremes of exceptional quality and deprivation, the European communities recognized themselves by the profiles of shared risk they legislated and by the commitments to the norms of fairness and conformity these communities implied.

Strong national communities of character or fate are ultimately differentiated from disempowered communities by what might be called cultural rights. Unlike the civil, political, and social rights that Marshall described as the elements of modern (European) citizenship, cultural entitlements are rarely expressed directly in constitutions or legislation.123 They are more visible as common knowledge and shared codes of language, religion, politesse, and behavior that are supported by the state through establishment, policing, emigration, and prophylaxis. The public reproduction of cultural practices takes place less through government repression of open deviance than by homogeneous socialization to the national culture, by community self-enforcement of established norms, and, at the margin, by soft police reinforcement of expected behaviors. It is the combination of a common curriculum and disapproving nods, underlined by the unobtrusive presence of the gendarme, that gives substance to the ordre publique of the lawns of the Jardin de Luxembourg or the ordnung of the bus queues in Frankfurt. The integrity of the nation is preserved principally by restricting the entry of both those who do not wish (or are deemed incapable of) assimilation to the community of character and those who have not contributed to the resource pools that fund the communities of obligation.

While emigration, which may connote a failure of moral education, is never wholly welcome, borders are only asymmetrically closed to facilitate the draining off of those unresponsive to soft policing. Before the implosion of colonial empires in the period from 1950 to 1980, in no European nation was immigration on close to an American scale a serious issue.124 Relevant concerns centered on the assimilation of willing refugees and uprooted colonial elites, the absorption of small minority communities like the Picardians or Savoy Italians in France, and the regulation of foreign guest workers ineligible for membership in the national community. While the formal laws of residence and naturalization differed in each nation-state, Germany’s self-description as "not an immigration land" was practically true for all major European states.125 The recent legal restrictions of entry and asylum that have followed imperial implosion and its subsequent disorder only restate the long-term European strategy of prophylaxis as the central defense of national culture.126

European national liberalism is multicultural, but as an international system. One people, one territory is the organizing maxim. The system assumes the ideal form of an aggregation of monocultural national communities bound together by contractual (treaty) commitments that attest to the independent sovereignties of its constituent units. There remains substantial debate whether all constituents share a common core of liberal civil or human rights that are universally recognized. Since these rights may conflict with the political, social, or cultural rights that are nationally embedded, there is no consensus on this question as yet. In any case, it is evident that access to all dimensions of citizenship beyond civil rights lie only through membership in a national state.

In such a system, the concept of a national minority makes good sense. A national minority would share the attributes of a national culture, except that it lacks sovereignty over a separate territory. Once the aggregation of national liberalisms is taken as the international order of (European) modernity, it is possible to define multiculturalism as the acquisition of all or most of the attributes of self-definition and self-governance (including border closure) within a nonautonomous national territory. However, the history of national minorities in the international state system modeled on European modernity is, at best, mixed.

After the First World War, the break up of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires made national self-determination the principle by which the territories of the defeated entities could be disposed.127 A similar process extended the orthodox discourse of public international law to the disintegration of colonial empires and the socialist bloc. Statehood tied to discrete communities of fate or character was modeled on European nationhood with which peripheral Europeans and ex-colonials were familiar. The acknowledgment of sovereignty became the required rite of passage into modernity, a recognition of domestic autonomy, and the precondition of membership in international organizations that afforded prestige and eligibility for trans- national income transfers.

In spite of the fit between the concept of national minority and the prevailing international legal order, claims to national minority status within the established European core have led neither to national secession nor the cession of substantial internal sovereignty over regional territories. In colonial and ex-socialist territories, civil war rather than legal principle has normally generated new nation-states. In theory, Multicultural Citizenship coheres in European modernity, though not outside it. In practice, its prospects within the history of European national liberalism and its derivative states have been very problematic. The telling irony is that it is because European modernity takes the figure of national community seriously that it rejects internal multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is different and easier in America because the claim to cultural status can be taken more lightly. To be recognized as part of a minority does not necessarily entail an entitlement to political authority. In Europe, to ratify the legitimacy of multiple domestic communities, with comprehensive and empowered senses of identity, either will sap the common sense of fate, character, and shared obligation that national sovereignty implies or move toward effective partitions of existing states with uneasy truces over internal boundaries. European liberalism has embedded the richer dimensions of citizenship at the national level and defined modernity in nationalist discourse. The European Union faces an impasse in political, social, and cultural deepening because the European popular consciousness historically associates these features with the defining attributes of national identity. European citizenship is empty and resisted because the unity of European modernity is the differentiation of thick national communities.128 The more typical European response to the demands of new minorities with national pretensions is to suggest that they express their character in more apt territories and to limit immigration that would enhance the presence and power of contesting groups. Its preferred answer to multiculturalism was given at Mira Porta.


In American politics, it is because Blacks live in the shadow of a racism that is genetic to American liberalism that they are the most significant referent for a multiculturalism that threatens to deconstruct that tradition. There is, then, a telling irony in their elision through the strategic adoption in Multicultural Citizenship of America’s classical individualist narrative of immigration. It is this casting of the Atlantic crossing as a surpassing of national culture, a leaving behind of the collective in Europe, that allows the construction of America and its Black minority as polyethnic rather than multicultural. Yet there is an alienating discomfort in an account that at the same time affirms American liberalism’s core narratives and advocates the empowerment of communitarian discourses that strongly mute its accustomed language of voluntarism. The inconsistency suggests that no single interpretation of what multiculturalism means can be used to locate multiculturalism within the distinct European and American currents of modernity. What makes sense of the term in the context of European history deprives it of its felt meaning against the American backdrop.

Similarly, evolutionary genealogies may help to explain the local perceptions of the diverse fears multiculturalism engenders in Europe and the United States. Identities are contested cultural representations, images, and metaphors. Like all categorizations or discursive practices, they rest on an arbitrary or self-supported base. There is a fragility to even foundational metaphors to which the persistent shadows of any systemic history call our attention. The fragility is transposed into the narratives of identity that incorporate these metaphors. What is most important to us will bear no weight and we fight most fiercely to wall it off from trespass.

Come back to the subjectivist images that underlie the American narrative of immigration. The metaphors that give meaning to this foundational story are the supersession and transvaluation of European cultures. Yet there is a competing metaphor of asylum that generally connotes expulsion and the retention of cultural legacy. The thematics of exile, with its implicit project of an eventual return home to the restoration of that which was wrongly taken, have echoed across American history from English dissenters to African Americans, Jews, and Cubans. The metaphor of exile and asylum puts the lie to the familiar story of voluntary migration as a journey of individual education or its more recent expression in technical discourse as a rational choice to invest in human capital. How easy would it be for the dominant imagery of American culture to be tipped between these metaphors? And in that inversion of discourse how much of the narrative of American identity would be lost? It is the fear of the shattering of the crystal of fragile images and the consequent assimilation of self to the history of another that shades the American politics of multiculturalism.

I do not want to imply that cultural politics will be static because they are fragmentable and defended. Discourses do and must rearrange themselves. Institutions like the law where prevailing and dissenting memories are stored and where any particular resolution of image and shadow is exposed to revision are sites of this continuing variation. What matters is the quality of the artifice of the recognition of the distinctions in play. That which stimulates change and reorganizes order must be domesticated or translated into the semiotics of the discourse being reworked. The politics of the introduction of the external must be understood in terms of the local histories of usage into which it is imported.

In this context, to invoke national liberalism in America, as is done by integrating it to a unitary tradition of modernity in which national liberalism is a defining element, is an erasure of difference that loses sight of the self-organization of American culture. The impropriety of this erasure shows itself in the unfortunate circumscription of the sense of multiculturalism by which a phenomenon emerging from the shadows of American liberalism is made to vanish in the loss of the interplay between local genetics and structures. If multiculturalism is to have a progressive impact on American politics, it cannot simply call forth and mimic the experience of another place or a time gone by.

There is a cautionary note to be sounded in the fabrication of a revised American narrative that accounts for the interplay of subjectivity and sociality in the elaboration of identity. Neither national monocultures nor multicultures based on territory or ascriptive groups will be adequate to post-modern aspirations. Each represents an erasure of the history of American liberalism and may lead to a reactionary reenactment of the dramas of its genetic period. Ascription and territory are vestiges of pre-modernity whose only tie to the post-modern is their oppositional framing of liberalism. In their ignorance of the passages of the intervening modernity they are likely to provoke from both right and left American liberals no more than a defensive reassertion of images of a primitive or Romantic individuality and a demand for a reduction of the domain of politics as time-honored antidotes to the vestiges of the Old Regime. Such a distortion of post-modern intuitions about the theory of community will end at most in the empowerment of a reactionary liberalism, caught up only with nostalgic longing for its own past.

The relationship between American and European modernities has been an ongoing pas de deux of alienation and rapprochement. The exchange of symbols between the United States and Europe has been constant since the initial colonization of America. Recently, European theories of the collective production of language and the locality of interpretation have stimulated American reconsideration of the Republican politics of community virtue and have exposed a niche into which a discourse of multiculturalism may be fitted. Whether the application in America of the nuanced anti-humanism of structural and critical theory will prove in practice more the worth or the perversion of post-liberal insights remains uncertain.

In a wider frame, the meaning multiculturalism will come to have in either Europe or America will be complicated by material factors that may call into question all prevailing patterns of Western social and cultural organization. The sources of variation in the culture of politics come not only from its exchanges of symbols with other societies but also from the recognition of, and response to, the legion of changes in the wider social system. Three prospective changes stand out that challenge the adequacy of both American and European modernity. First, the redesign of work, the relocation of global patterns of production, and the widespread movements of populations that have been elicited by the restructuring of the international political economy will alter the reception of post-modern images of community and the provision of collective well being. Social risk in this economy seems beyond the capacities of either private charity or the welfare state. Value added is increasingly tied to education that neither the local school district nor a national curriculum can assure.

Next, the place of the other in advanced industrial societies has shifted. Asia, which had best represented the stranger as exotic and external to the modern, intrudes upon familiar Western domains and images as a serious competitor in the contemporary design of social organization. The habitual nexus between territory and national culture is weakened by mobility and media. The lines between members and outsiders, between citizens and foreign objects of administration, have blurred. Yet, the importance of membership in communities of obligation grows with the need to pool the heightened risks of innovation intensive economies. Multiculturalism betokens this uncertain state of demographic and political reorientation, even as its temptation to essentialism contradicts the realities of diaspora, cities that transcend the states that house them, and frontiers that push so far inland that only peripheries remain.

Ultimately, what is most in contest is the politics of ourselves. Post- modernist speculation does not conduce either to nationalist or subjectivist self-representations. It transforms individuality from a metaphysical entity to a standpoint or a locus where multiple local discourses intersect and negotiate or sort out the contours of an evolving identity. This construction makes use of material that is collectively produced in communicative systems. As such, individuality is always social but never determined. Of the proper relationship between subjects and power, citizens and the state, post-modern theory offers few new prescriptions. Critics of European modernity have stressed the need for a psychology of commitment aware of its own contingency and open to its own flux. Contingent commitment would enable individual action and identity but disempower the national and religious communities that have been solid and confident enough to make war over the proper rankings of public virtues. The theme of disempowerment, however, recalls the history of American modernity in its current Mannerist mode. If American liberalism once merged the utopian force of Romantic individualism with the prophylactic constraint of power as corrupt and repressive, a reconstituted liberal politics must be rebuilt only on the disconnection of communities from the state’s ability to authorize monopoly. But, as America shows, Mannerism is weak stuff from which to craft identity and meaning. The Mannerist’s delicate and formal beauty, so admired by artists and intellects disenchanted with the quest for the real, has not yet found popular or lasting appeal.

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1 Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1995) 260.

2 Immigration to America has, as has often been noted, never been wholly free or completely closed. Qualitative restrictions like those on health, literacy, and poverty were imposed by states of entry in the early nineteenth century and by the federal government later on. Also, after 1882, racial restrictions were enacted against Chinese and other Asian immigration. Even as the general quantitative system of national origin quotas was legislated in 1921, the border with Latin America remained open. See Thomas Heller, "Immigration and Regulation: Historical Context and Legal Reform," in Jorge A. Bustamante, Clark W. Reynolds, and Raula Hinojosa Ojeda, U.S.-Mexico Relations: Labor Market Interdependence (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992) 42-74.

3 John Higham, Strangers in the Land (New York: Atheneum, 1965) 35-105.

4 Heller, "Immigration" 52-58.

5 Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics (Berkeley: U of California P, 1985) 70-112; see also Donna Harraway, "Universal Donors in a Vampire Culture: It’s All in the Family: Biological Kinship Categories in the Twentieth-Century United States," in William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1995) 321-48.

6 See, for example, Michael Lind, The Next American Nation (New York: The Free Press, 1995) 139-80.

7 Higham 8-14.

8 See Patricia Williams, "The Obliging Shell: an informal essay on formal legal equality," Michigan Law Review 87.2128 (1989), as well as other essays published in the special issue on Legal Storytelling, Michigan Law Review 87.8 (1989); see also Martha Minow, "Identities (in fiction and law)," Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 3.97 (1991).

9 Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).

10 Kymlicka 61-69.

11 Kymlicka 10-26.

12 Kymlicka 58-61.

13 Let me stress the point that Kymlicka’s coherent analysis of multiculturalism’s familiarity to liberalism is a minimalist account by contrasting it to a hyperbolic expression that exposes the maximalist pole of multiculturalism’s meaning. If Kymlicka reassures by steering away from the sharper rocks of post-liberal politics, Suzanne Roth’s satirical column "The Weirdos Next Door" invokes all of the symbols of modernity’s deconstruction. (Herald Tribune 5 Feb. 1993: 5) Roth recounts the dilemma faced by the New York City Schools chancellor who had decided to remove the book "Heather Has Two Mommies" from the "Children of the Rainbow" curriculum. Regretting this result, she proposes a series of still other titles that ought be included in order to recognize "the wide range of disparate voices also crying out to be heard in this diverse, multicultural, multiethnic land called America." After describing the story line of such parables as "Red Paint for Miss Robertson’s Raccoon Coat," "P.M.S. Weekend," and "Occult Math," she concludes with the most bizarre tale possible "The Weirdos Next Door." "Father leaves for work in a suit every morning and kisses Mom goodbye. Mom does the breakfast dishes and then drives brother and sister to school. Mom picks up the kids after school and gives them cookies and helps with their homework. The kids watch TV while Mom makes dinner. Father comes home and the family eats together. After playing a board game, the kids go to bed. Mom and Father read and then go to bed. Riveting reading about one strange family." Somewhere between this satirized threat to the known social order and Kymlicka’s calming palliative lie the potential trajectories of multiculturalism’s evolutionary path.

14 Kymlicka 121-49.

15 Kymlicka 34-48.

16 Kymlicka 107-15.

17 Kymlicka 49-60.

18 Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition" (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994) 51-61.

19 Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals (New York: Allen Lone/Penguin Press, 1994).

20 Gellner, Conditions 7.

21 Gellner, Conditions 8.

22 Though Gellner spends little time on refinement, it is important to recall the richness of the forms of social and economic life subsumed in the ideal structure of the pre-modern. Such societies varied enormously in the degree of penetration of the local by the central, the administration of monopoly by central bureaucracies or parceled oligopolies, and the degree of normative integration between the large and small orders. Nor were pre-modern societies static, although it may be argued that the forms of innovation and dynamism permitted were constrained to those that could be developed by and administered through monopoly organizations.

23 Gellner, Conditions 191.

24 This focus on writing may reflect or be reflected in the emphasis given by Benedict Anderson in his account of the genesis of modern nationalities, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983) 37-46. It was not just the independence of the written word but its printed publication in national literatures that fostered the formulation of identities based around more egalitarian access to these multiple languages.

25 Gellner, Conditions 192.

26 I make no strong judgments here about the adequacy of Gellner’s modified Weberian account of the emergence of Western modernity. In fact, I find the account too thin, since both the written word and urbanization certainly characterized the case of China, the primordial case of alternative evolution for Weber. My own tastes lean toward a genesis of Western exceptionality in the failure of integrative orders, Church or Empire, to establish an ability to prevent the rise of independent political economic units, whether urban polities or trading firms. In many cases, cities and firms were one and the same. Nor do I find the split between Protestant and Catholic particularly useful in locating the sources of innovation that led to economic growth and political transformation in Europe. Whether in Northern Italy or South Germany, economic competition seems more relevant than religious orientation in explaining behavior. But, for our purposes here, there is little reason to debate the genesis of Western modernity. What matters instead is the impact of the Gellner narrative on the self-representation of the West, or at least its European variant.

27 Gellner aptly cites Ibn Khaldun on the character of the pre-modern state as "the institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself." See Gellner, Conditions 28, and his description of the circumstances of the initial limitations of state power at 193-95. For a catalogue of the forms of traditional predatory state behavior influential in disrupting economic growth, see also, Eric Jones, The European Miracle, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987) 89-93.

28 The assertion that man is, by his very nature or telos, social or political has been a constant theme in the European Civic Republican tradition since Aristotle. See Pierre Manent, An Intellectual History of Liberalism, trans. R. Balinski (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994) 10-17.

29 Kymlicka 82-84.

30 See, for example, the discussion of different approaches to a post-modernist anti-humanism in Michel Foucault and Niklas Luhman in Thomas Heller, "Structuralism and Critique," Stanford Law Review 36.127 (1984): 163-76.

31 See generally Michael Sandel, Democracy’s Discontent (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1996) 3-24.

32 Think of the speed and scope of the spread across the globe of rhythm and blues, rap, NBA uniform clothes, the cult of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls (watched across the whole of China), and the ubiquitous symbol of rebellion—the baseball cap worn backwards. It does not matter that practically no one so turning the cap has any idea of its representation of the sacrifices made by its original oppressed wearers, baseball catchers, or the particular association of full-time cap reversal by Josh Gibson, the great Black catcher never given a chance in the major leagues because of racism.

33 Kymlicka disparages the right to emigration as insufficient to assure just (liberal) treatment for members of national minorities whose civil rights are endangered by their own communal governments. Kymlicka 84-88.

34 Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred, trans. P. Gregory (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1977) 1-38.

35 Kymlicka 76-80.

36 Anglo has acquired recent usage in California and the Southwest to connote all white, non-Spanish speakers. It is not clear for Kymlicka whether this regional national minority analogy to Canada will stand up because of the uncertain territoriality claims of current Latinos, most of whom migrated from the central states of Mexico and Central America to the United States in this century.

37 See generally, Joyce Appleby, Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992); see also, Gordon S. Wood, "Ideology and the Origins of Liberal America," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 48 (1987): 628.

38 For a discussion of Locke’s amendments of the Hobbesian variant of liberalism, which was focused on the restoration of order during the English Civil Wars and thus more open to a legitimation of absolutism, see Manent 28.

39 American political theorists were also heavily indebted to Montesquieu, who assumed the priority of liberty in civil society and strategized about the institutional structure that would best protect it from public predation. Montesquieu’s insights on the separation of powers were much advanced by Madisonian reflections on the value of decentralized federalism and the open boundaries of political jurisdiction to limit the exercise of power. It could even be argued that the Marshallian court’s doctrine of judicial review added a third restraint on politics that Montesquieu had not believed effective in the Continental legal tradition. For a fuller account of Montesquieu’s liberalism, see Manent 53-64.

40 See J.G.A. Pocock, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1957) and The Machiavellian Moment (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1975) for analyses of English Republicanism, its relation to the European classical tradition, and its transposition to America.

41 Sandel 317-24.

42 Jeffersonians enacted both the Bill of Rights and the Alien and Sedition Acts to limit the relative power of the central state against the local community. For a general account of the split in Republican politics of the early decades of independent America, see Sandel 123-67 and Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), especially parts 2 and 3.

43 The Federalist hope that virtue, the conservation of order and industry, could be combined to mitigate the orthodox Republican aversion to commerce was exemplified in the Lowell experiments with paternalistic manufacturing communities. Sandel 150-54.

44 Sandel 128, 131-33, 141.

45 Jefferson and many Jeffersonians moderated or dropped their earlier opposition to manufacturing in the first decades of the nineteenth century, drawing them closer to their former Federalist foils. Sandel 147-50.

46 In one reading, the individualist liberalism most associated with America is the institutional and cultural adaptation of the social system to the fragmentation of cognitive frameworks and fluid mobility among them that is the modern condition. In the face of dissolution of a nature previously unified by the forms of resemblance and the extension of sympathy, schisms within the heart of Christianity, and confrontations with other complex normative constructions in Asia, Western man had his gaze fixed on the multiplicity of virtue. (On the perhaps less familiar idea of the pre-modern understanding of a unitary nature see Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, trans. unknown [New York: Vintage Books, 1973] 46-77.) If the reproduction of a predominant communal understanding of virtue had been the core task of the classical public, then the domain of the public had to be confined. The private had to be invented in order to accommodate and store the portfolio of Goods that had come into the market. Early liberalism struggled to imagine a world of enhanced mobility. Investment in loyalty was constricted by the possibility of abandonment. Obligation endured so far as contract. Membership had to consider the criteria for the entry of strangers across weakened borders. Growth in mobility exposed the limits of the traditional mechanisms of social control. The informal local codes of customs, embedded cognitive frameworks, and shared expectations that imposed the rule of cousins on daily life, and thereby made feasible the light overlay rule of kings, were not extendible to aliens. Liberalism took extra-communal man as it found him, recognized that he was not easily malleable, and reformulated politics as the government of a "nation of devils," the status to which man outside the nomos had always been consigned.

In the end, the relation of situation and self had to be re-balanced. The multiplication of possibilities brought the expansion of risk. In the moment before uncertainty is resolved, in the last instant before deciding the move on which to bet, there is a sense of psychological isolation that requires a name. In the temporality of choice, liberalism discovered the individual and built its interpretation of modernity on the figure.

47 Robert Wiebe, Self-Rule: A Cultural History of American Democracy (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995) 17.

48 Wiebe 61.

49 Sandel quotes the Jacksonian Democratic Review: "A strong and democratic government ... is an evil, differing only in degree and mode of operation, not in nature, from a strong despotism. It should have as little to do as possible with the general business and interests of the people." Sandel 156.

50 Wiebe 69.

51 Wiebe 34-36.

52 Community life was conducted in fraternal channels, a collection of self-organized lodges and clubs that lay across a divide from publicly franchised corporations. Had enrollment been static, these associations would have risked the solidification of exclusive identities. Instead, observers from de Tocqueville forward describe the effect of private associations in the context of mobility as "opportunities for chameleon like shifts among an array of lodges" and note the constant possibility of the reconstitution of identity through changes in membership. Wiebe 72-73, 101.

53 See Manent 105-106 and, more generally on de Tocqueville, 103-13.

54 De Tocqueville did not distinguish between the tyranny of the majority exercised through the political imposition of conformity by means of democratic institutions and the conformity generated as an emergent effect of free markets. Local homogeneity may arise with cheap exit in small and open jurisdictions. In such circumstances, people who do not share their neighbors’ tastes and behaviors tend to move closer to those whose they do. Within a diverse system, particular communities may evolve toward conformity without any need for official legislation of virtue. Market-driven conformity may also be a normal outcome of the conjuncture of mass purchasing power and the fact that preferences for many goods and services are arbitrary and often the product of social interactions in a situation in which the emptiness of desire is filled by mimicry. For a discussion of conformity in free markets see infra at 53-56, and on mimicry and desire see Girard, Violence and the Sacred 143-68.

55 Wiebe 41-60.

56 Wiebe 65.

57 For discussion of the federal jurisprudence of the Commerce Clause and Privileges and Immunities Clauses that prevented the development of internal border controls to counter the economic effects of differential regulatory regimes in other states or impose restrictions on the free movement of persons seeking exit from, or access to, jurisdictions with alternative public practices, see Thomas Heller and Jacques Pelkmans, "The Federal Economy: Law and Economic Integration and the Positive State—The U.S.A. and Europe Compared in an Economic Perspective," Mauro Cappellitti, Monica Seccombe, and Joseph Weiler, eds., Integration Through Law: Europe and the American Federal Experience (New York: W. de Gruyter, 1985) 297-306. Moreover, although the efficiency and propriety of the practice are at best problematic, it could be pointed out that the extraordinary place of private campaign donations in American politics reflects the limited reliance on political rather than economic decision rules in the matrix of social choice.

58 For example, Kymlicka argues that liberalism has always been group oriented since it does not require or historically display open frontiers. Moreover, the closure of national states is said to justify the special rights of members within their frontiers since citizens who share a discrete minority national culture have the same collective characteristics as the groups on which the international system is founded. Again, I have no quarrel with this characterization of national liberalism in Europe. I object to its sliding over, if not its eradication, of the evolutionary trajectory of the American polity.

59 Liberal principles should in theory have led to free external trade, as well as the mobility of persons and other factors of production. This external movement would have mirrored the free movement of both goods and factors in the internal market. In fact, relatively high tariffs were enacted during the Federalist administrations with mercantilist leanings before the Second American Revolution. They were not dismantled thereafter. This inconsistency with the proposition that America abandoned the Republican road to national liberalism can be slightly mitigated. The United States remained wholly open to foreign capital, technology, and labor inflows. American producers were not substantially protected against foreign competition, as is the case in most polities where restrictions on the import of goods are complemented by barriers in factor markets. What tariffs did do was induce production to locate in America, even though all value added may have been garnered by foreign suppliers of capital and labor. There was not even a serious tax share taken by the passive American states. Only a multiplier argument would seem to make economic sense of the odd bifurcation in the controls imposed on goods and factor markets.

60 See I.F. Haney Lopez, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Law (New York: New York UP, 1996) 37-47. Xenophobes and racists, often allied with organized workers seeking to raise the price of labor, always provided a political grounding for a anti-immigration. It was not until their alliance with left-leaning Progressives, who were in many ways the inheritors of the mantle of American Republicanism, that immigration restriction was passed. See Heller, "Immigration".

61 Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale UP, 1989) 3-46.

62 Wiebe 19-21.

63 Contract and liability rules also increasingly stressed individual responsibility for self-protection. See Wiebe 92-93, and generally, Morton J. Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law 1780-1860 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1977) 63-108.

64 Wiebe 41-60.

65 Beyond its constitutional, contractual, and competition-promoting functions, the liberal state must engage in some level, endlessly debated across the history of capitalism, of collective goods provision and market correction. See Heller and Pelkmans 262-70.

66 In his history of bureaucracy and civil service in America, Skowronek labels the nineteenth-century American state a state of "courts and parties." His reference to political parties calls attention to the complexity of anti-politics to which I will return below. American liberalism has no strong theory of the state but recognizes that a constitutionally limited state is required to supply law and other collective goods. The resultant state will tend, like any organization, to develop its own interests. As the century progressed, these interests were increasingly associated with party-dominated patronage. This corruption of the classic state function became, ironically, the ground for reformist campaigns to expand the role of the administrative state against the market that disempowered the state and made it susceptible to illegitimate appropriation. See Stephen Skowronek, Building A New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities 1877-1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982) 39-46.

67 Manent 110.

68 Manent 63

69 The discourse of sovereignty, and the modern state system, has a complex history that is usually traced to Westphalia in 1648. An earlier clear statement of the doctrine in 1576 in Jean Bodin’s Six livres de la République emphasizes the link between the need for an undisputed internal authority and the chaos of the religious wars that affected sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. The call for an effective domestic governance was mirrored externally by the need for limitation of the nonterritorially based claims of dynastic and religious organizations that fueled these conflicts. The principle of the insulation of sovereign entities from such intrusion reinforced the integrity of civil order. Although it is misleading to argue that early European sovereign states were nation-states in the modern sense because of their dynastic, segmented, and monopolistic character, the doctrine of sovereignty was appropriated by and fitted to the national liberal polities that were formed in nineteenth-century Europe.

The resistant American attitude to the international legal order founded upon the discourse of sovereignty may be related to the history of liberal thought. Hobbes prefigured both liberalism and sovereignty in his quest to end civil disorder. For Hobbes, the internal and external undisputed authority of a positive state was the condition of social peace. Hobbes was liberal to the extent that he rested this grant of authority on the consent of the people. However, because his concept of theoretical consent, one-time and usually implicit, could easily justify authoritarian governance, subsequent liberal theorists, especially in America, stressed the need for constitutional and structural limits on domestic power. The deflation of the American domestic state, in the context of its geographic insulation from foreign intrusion, also deflated the correlative principle of external sovereignty that was the basis of the European multistate system.

70 The moderate Whig reaction was centered on resistance to territorial expansion that would further diminish a common American sympathy and a sense of shared fate, popularization of the dogmas and practices of traditional Churches to increase inclusion and counter the appeal of charismatic religion, emphasis on universal public schooling as civic and moral education in the face of growing cultural diversity, and flirtation with anti-immigration sentiments to limit the influx of Catholics. See Sandel 161-67, Hatch 193-226, and Higham 9-14.

71 It is true that in any society some order including a lingua franca, days of rest, and rules assigning traffic to one side of the road are needed. It is equally true that in their genesis these practices may express a once-dominant cultural preference. If all nations must make such choices at any single moment, they do not thereby become polities like Quebec with language controls on public advertising, centralized educational curricula, and internal residency rules that signify the empowerment of a monoculture. A polity committed to a limited political domain will not escape the torment that appears at the margins of American constitutional law. Education will forever entwine the state with the issue of how to socialize without endorsement of substantive cultural ends. Nor will there be an end to the tension between the liberty of nonofficial communal groups, in and against which identity is inevitably crafted, to reproduce their nomos and their use of that freedom to attempt to appropriate state political authority to that purpose. Yet these dilemmas at the edge of American liberalism are not the same as those at the boundaries of a national liberalism. The more telling questions are whether such policies are legally established, policed, and systematically shielded from processes of change like constitutional review and domestic and international migration.

72 J.S. Mill’s national liberalism identified those individuals with the subjective capacity to participate in the politics that defined community by their membership in the national cultural entity. See D. Klusmeyer, Between Consent and Descent: Conceptions of Democratic Citizenship (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1996) 61-68.

73 For an analysis of the constructedness of even racial categories, see Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1980s (New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Francesco Cavalli-Sforza, The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution, trans. Sarah Thorne (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1995) 227-44.

74 Thoreau, asked whether he would give to the poor, inquired whether they were "my poor."

75 See Scott Sandage, "A Marble House Divided: The Lincoln Memorial, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Politics of Memory, 1939-1963," Journal of American History 80.135 (June 1993).

76 See Daniel T. Rogers, "Republicanism: the Career of a Concept," Journal of American History 79.11 (1992) and Daniel T. Rogers, Contested Truths (New York: Basic Books, 1987) 45-111. As Republicanism has migrated to situations more and more removed from its classical and English roots, the transformation of its meaning has increased apace. Its contemporary reappearance as a leading American discourse of post-liberal sociality testifies to the hermeneutic agility of collective memory and to the distortions that may ensue when persistent shadows permit the time-warped coupling of the pre- and post-modern.

77 See Ariela Gross, "Pandora’s Box: Slave Character on Trial in the Antebellum Deep South," Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 7.267 (1995).

78 Similarly, it is hard to extricate the meaning of the infamous Dred Scott decision from the orthodox narrative of Southern exceptionality. That decision denied Blacks born into slavery in America the national citizenship that might have protected them against deportation back into the Southern states from which they had escaped or migrated. In a convoluted opinion that cannot be separated from the fear of public disorder in the South (see Dred Scott at p. 418), the Court held that a Black recognized as a citizen or free inhabitant of a Northern state did not by that recognition acquire either national citizenship or the full panoply of rights granted under the Privileges and Immunities Clause to the citizens of each state when present in another state. Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 1857. American Indians, as subjects of parallel sovereignties, could "be naturalized by the authority of Congress, ... become citizens of a State, and of the United States, ... and be entitled to all the rights and privileges which would belong to an emigrant from any foreign people." See Dred Scott at p. 404. At the end of the nineteenth and early in the twentieth century, a series of cases defined how different Asians fitted into the category of non-naturalizable nonwhites. See In re Ah Yup, 1 Fed. Cas. 223, D. Cal 1878; Elk v. Wilkens, 112 U.S. 94, 1884; United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 18 S. Ct. 456, 1898; Ozawa v. United States, 43 S. Ct. 65, 1922; United States v. Bhagat Thind, 1923. These decisions, like the associated restrictions on immigration that began in the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882 and ended in the general quota system enacted following World War I, reflected the forces favoring a rapprochement to the thick citizenship, border closures, and the shaping of an organic national community more characteristic of European liberalism. As such they can be considered below in that broader context.

79 They did not, of course, under Dred Scott have the civil right to travel and conduct business in slave states.

80 Wiebe 96-104.

81 Transvaluation is unlike the cultural strategy proposed by Said in Orientalism, whereby the characterization of the outsider is rejected as an artifact of the exercise of power by the stronger over the weaker. See Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979). Instead, the description is admitted, but the meaning is inverted. An example of transvaluation that may be familiar is the turning on its head of the classical accounts of Mexican backwardness in Chicago school anthropologists and 1950s development theorists by Octavio Paz. See Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico,trans. Lysander Kemp (New York: Grove Press, 1962). Paz accepts descriptors like fatalism, spirituality, and group dependence that had been used to explain why Mexico had not grown economically as did the United States and transforms them into the reasons why Mexico’s culture was humane, able to deal with death, and generally more healthy than that of its Northern neighbor.

82 Skocpol stresses the relation between veterans support and political patronage in late nineteenth-century America in discussing the untheorized nature of the programs. See Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992) 67-151. Veterans support through special medical, education, and income-supplement programs has been the most comprehensive American social policy regime since that period. The closest institutional analogs were developed in agriculture, a sector where corporatist structures, tied, as are veterans affairs, to national security, prevail in all advanced industrial societies.

83 Skocpol 373-524; see also Theda Skocpol, Social Policy in the United States: Future Possibilities in Historical Perspective (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995) 72-135.

84 Skocpol, Social Policy 113-66.

85 The measure of this disproportion would be complicated by the fact that much federal assistance was matching assistance to state expenditures. States with heavy Black populations in the South often minimized their poverty relief efforts and thereby mitigated even the implicit redistributive effects of aid.

86 By the use of the word presage I want to stress that I do not argue that the change in discourse was caused in any simple sense by the change in legal benefits attached to group identity. The relationship of the material and the cultural is not one of direct production in either direction. It is evident that the scale of the benefits provided was far too small to ever make up for the negative consequences that still attached to race. Yet what matters seems to be more sign than scale. Discourses are always nuanced and usually fragile. Alternative organizations of cognitive representations often lie close to the semiotic surface and systems can tip from one potential state to another in a nonlinear fashion. An official shift in the valence of race at a moment in which other complementary Republican and post-modern discourses were in open circulation could contribute to a inversion of dominant practice that could be better discussed as coincidence or co-evolution than cause. A valuable thick description of the intermixture between material salience and self-representation is found in Clifford’s account of the changing identity of the Mashpee as the social and material significance of being Indian shifted across American history. See James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988) 277-346. For more extended remarks on the fragility of representation, see infra at 102-5, 123-27.

87 It may be argued that it is not New England but the American South that is the region with the most deeply structured social order or communal nomos. However, because the roots of this culture lie in the Antebellum slave system, there has never been a coherent or widespread Republican theorization of Southern social organization.

88 Skowronek 163-248. On the development as American political science from a European import toward an American variant, see Rogers 144-47, 156-68, 193-97.

89 Heller and Pelkmans 397-400.

90 Wiebe analyzes the raising of new hierarchies on the basis of "interrelated sets of skills in a rationalized society." These meritocratic elites fragmented populist America in a process he calls "dissolving the people." He argues that "[c]haracter in the 19th century drew upon attributes of everyday life, universal traits that ordinary people could find in themselves and see in their neighbors; any sensible adult could judge both its qualities and its consequences. The training that produced scientific detachment in the 20th century, on the other hand, separated its beneficiaries from ordinary minds; only experts were qualified to evaluate other experts.... As science, technology, and the broad economic forces accompanying them changed, it was culture’s challenge to adapt, to make a rational fit with reality. But popular culture could not keep pace with those changes in the objective world.... Effective public leadership, by giving citizens a sense of direction, at least kept culture on track to chase after reality." Wiebe 143-44, and more generally 138-80.

91 In addition to political science, other academic and policy fields were scientized on European models. These included cultural anthropology that shored up genetically based immigration theories and legal science that was brought from Germany to form the basis of an inductive case teaching method at Harvard. See Kevles 132-35, and John Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition, 2nd ed. (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1985) 61-67.

92 J. Cohen and A. Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992) 210-31.

93 Progressives were interested in immigration controls in general to compensate labor for its commitment to social peace in the mass industrial sector. But the specific form of the national quota system enacted after 1921 was shaped by their technocratic ideology and their Republican monocultural longings. In part, they wanted to reduce diversity and broadly consented to quotas that measured the fitness of immigrant groups by their degree of separation from Anglophonic antecedents. In part, because they wanted to believe in the new science of genetics to compose and administer an optimally constituted population, they did not accept the more extreme racial and cultural formulations of admissibility. Heller, Immigration.

94 Wiebe 177-80. See also, Higham 234-63.

95 The border with Mexico remained open except for qualitative controls on literacy and dependency. This omission, extremely odd from the monoculturalist standpoint, reflected both the integration of Latin farm workers into the Southwestern agricultural economy and the Eastern/Midwestern centeredness of Republicanism. (Entry of Asians had been limited on purer xenophobic grounds since 1882.)

96 Higham 222-33.

97 Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955).

98 The anti-exceptionalism thesis underlies not only Kymlicka’s assimilation of American multiculturalism to a global model but also work like that of the pro-nationalist, anti-immigrationist Michael Lind. Lind argues from a unionist, social democratic perspective that the United States is a discrete national community founded in part on shared obligations. Continuing immigration threatens both the social wage and transfer system and the national culture. See Lind 1-15, 259-98. Although I might suggest that Lind’s reading of America may reflect his European origins and that a national culture defined by such shared features as the universality of the barbecue grill may not quite merit the name, Lind’s echoes of the classical Republican themes from a left-center politics are not easily dismissed.

99 Ellis W. Hawley, The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969) 72-129.

100 Hawley 169-86.

101 The reverse situation has prevailed in the American judiciary where the prestige and material attractions that come with the effective power America confers on its decentralized legal system has resulted in a parade of judges whose names are household knowledge and whose effects in shaping American modernity are widely acknowledged. In contrast, in Europe where positivism has denigrated judicial independence and power relative to the civil service, the quality, reward, and ambitions of the judicial branch are commensurably lower. See Merryman 109.

102 Morton Keller, "Regulation of Large Enterprise: The United States in Comparative Perspective," in Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. and Herman Daems, Managerial Hierarchies (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1980) 161-81.

103 Therman Arnold, The Folklore of Capitalism (New Haven: Yale UP, 1937); see also Hawley 404-55.

104 It has been well argued that the liberal international order created around the United Nations system after 1945 is an American product. Anne-Marie Burley, "Regulating the World: Multilateralism, International Law, and the Projection of the New Deal Regulatory State," in John G. Ruggie, Multilateralism Matters (New York: Columbia UP, 1993). While I don’t dispute the facts that underlie this assertion, I am uneasy with the interpretation given to it. America may have created the post-war international order; it did not do so in its own orthodox image. The New Deal state, which widened the domestic scope of politics and technocratic administration through functionally specialized regulatory agencies, projected itself during the Second World War into the international sphere through the installation of its planners in the State Department. However, in ways such as the centralized executive coordination of agency behavior, the international projection quickly pushed beyond what was already a receding and restrained tide of political expansion at home. In effect, while the immediate cause of the shift in the model of international governance was the change in the domestic policy of the incipient American hegemon, the motivating image was that of the European state, reflected back through the light of American rapprochement. In this sense, the American willingness to engage in such actions may be the unilateralism of Section 301 of the Trade and Tariff Act of 1974 and the extraterritorial application of American securities and antitrust legislation is no more than a return to origins. See Jagdish Bhagwati and Hugh T. Patrick, eds., Aggressive Unilateralism: America’s 301 Trade Policy and the World Trading System (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1990).

105 Ironically, the generalization of the historically specific case of African Americans to other asserted communities has come full circle in the controversies over Black English or Ebonics. In the late 1960s disadvantaged communities whose members were not native English speakers were successful in gaining access to public funds for bilingual or language remediation programs. African Americans, with no access to these funds unless they too were educationally impaired by their dialect, have been forced to argue that they shared the collective attributes of recent immigrant communities because their primary language had an African structure that persisted in their use of English.

106 Michael Walzer, "The Communitarian Critique of Liberalism" in Amatai Etzioni, ed., New Communitarian Thinking: Persons, Virtues, Institutions and Communities (Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1995) 53-57.

107 See generally John Holland, Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1995); for a more technical presentation of self-organizing systems and adaptation see Stuart Kauffman, The Origins of Order (New York: Oxford UP, 1993) 175-235.

108 Manent 63.

109 Manent 66.

110 For an example of Absolutist assault on civic Republican virtue, see Anthony Pagden, "The Destruction of Trust and its Economic Consequences in the Case of Eighteenth-century Naples" in Diego Gambetta, ed., Trust (New York: B. Blackwell, 1988) 127-42.

111 In postulating a psychology that favored politika over autarkia, Rousseau recalled the claims of classical Republicanism amidst the rising tides of Enlightenment. The Aristotelian canon had always emphasized social situation rather than isolated choice and subordinated economic organization to the priorities of sound politics. Wealth production sustained the pre-established order of the household and the city-state. It had no virtue of its own. See also Sandel 123-67, and especially 124-28 and 144-45.

112 Rousseau anticipated the anti-nostalgic assault of Fustel de Coulanges on the slavery and economic exploitation that founded the city-state. See generally Fustel De Coulanges, La Cité Antique (1967), discussed in Gellner, Conditions 7-12. See also Paul Veyne, Bread and Circuses, trans. Oswyn Murray (London: Penguin, 1990) for discussion of the classical subordination of economics to politics and, especially, the virtue of magnificence in relating them.

113 There is a tension between the liberal and communitarian dimensions of European modernity that is reflected in the odd juxtaposition of the term "national liberalism." Small-scale, pre-modern societies, imagined with qualities integral to the ideal of community, customarily coordinated social and economic behavior less through legal systems and bureaucratic agencies than by means of informal familiarity with the roles and obligations that codified expected actions. Whether this shared code and the normative order and institutions that reinforced it were organized as a virtuous republic, as a (Weberian) ethical religious community, or as an ethnic clan system, risk-management and social solidarity were sought in general conformity to stable and known practices, set within dense and narrow information networks that facilitated easy monitoring. The cost of such pre-modern organization was often constrained innovation, internal segmentation, and external closure. Where such communities survived inside more comprehensive political conglomerations, it was because their local structures were not disturbed by physically remote colonial or imperial authorities. See Geoffrey Hawthorn, "Three Ironies in Trust," in Gambetta; Gary Hamilton, "Patriarchalism in Imperial China and Western Europe," Theory and Society 13.393 (1984); and Clifford Geertz, Hilary Geertz, and Lawrence Rosen, Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979) 212-35.

European modernity sought to incorporate the social solidarity of communal organization with liberal egalitarianism, with a greater reliance on functionally specialized institutions able to manage the more extensive risks associated with larger scale and extensive innovation. In one sense, modern (liberal) community implies an inclusive process of deliberation that results in a history of collective self-constitution. In another sense, community is the recorded history of those constituted practices that define the character of the collective, the standards of excellence (virtue) of its citizens, the familiar expectations around which trust can accrue, and the sense of identity as befallen. This history, as the codification of shared being, cannot be erasable or available for wholesale renegotiation from generation to generation, as a pure liberal politics might allow. Rather, the collective history must be institutionalized in modern forms that substitute for the embedded cultures of pre-modernity. Codes must be socialized directly through national curricula and indirectly through the delegation of pervasive public authority to established organizations, languages must be standardized through national academies, weak networks of trust must be supplemented by national administrations, and the survival (survivance) of the nomos must be insured through policing and national wars. European modernity enacts the troubled intersection of community and liberalism that American modernity, to its own different peril, has largely excluded.

114 This transformation of the existing state bureaucracy to the agent of enlarged community was quickly advocated by continental liberals who took up Rousseau’s problems. Guizot expressed a demand for meritocratic governance in the pursuit of the common good, recognized by talented men, as the necessary condition for sovereignty. He criticized individual will in Rousseauist fashion and liberalism emerged as a bureaucratic ethos of ruling in the society’s own interest. Civil society did not precede or define the state but was symbiotic with it. This reformed liberalism became for Tocqueville the point of continuity between the pre- and post-Revolutionary regimes in France. He saw isolated, equal individuals needing to create either new local institutions of self-governance or to turn responsibility for civil order over to a central state that would govern in their name as Guizot proposed. Tocqueville suggested the latter choice would lead to a bureaucratic suppression of competition to limit the effects of inequality and the eventual rise of a statist social democracy. He predicted the former option was more likely in America; the latter in Europe. See Manent 100-2, 106-10.

115 Organizational adaptation to an enlarged political domain was manifest in strategies that aimed to occupy oligopolistic niches occasioned by the exercise of state power. Building organizational capacity to influence government decisions on tariff protection or extensive public procurement policies became a rational strategy as soon as state intervention created national champions in industrial sectors or delegated to small number cartels the coordination of competitive pricing and marketing practices within an industry. See, for example, John Wolff "Business Monopolies: Three European Systems in Their Bearing on American Law," Tulane Law Review 9.325 (1935). Adaptation in European institutions reached personal, as well as corporate, life. In the absence of the sometimes cruel discipline imposed by market competition, it may make more economic sense to invest in friendships and participation in deeper social networks. In the inevitable indeterminacy that surrounds the allocation of public licenses, offices, and contracts, family and informal relationships often carry greater salience. See Larissa Lomnitz, "Informal Exchange Networks in Formal Systems: A Theoretical Model," American Anthropologist 90 (Mar. 1988). However, it may be only American jealousy that mischaracterizes the well-noted stress placed on personal relationships in Europe as an artifact of the lower mobility and competition in comparison to the weight of voice in European social organization.

116 See Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914 (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1976); Eric Hobsbawm, "Introduction: Inventing Traditions," in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992) 1-15; Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1983); and Anderson.

117 It may be useful here to recall the now-discarded late Marxist notion of the imaginary, as opposed to the imagined. An imagined national community sounds fanciful, invented from whole cloth. As such it generates resistance and pushes the debate about national community back toward seemingly more realistic distinctions like race or ethnicity. The imaginary is a more subtle notion, implying the path of dependence of grounded discourse from which the evolution of new terms and operators emerges. These historical trajectories are not uniquely determined as more objective Marxist or structuralist accounts once insisted but allow room for choice, conflict, and strategy in the explanation of action. It is within the open spaces afforded by the imaginary field of European history that nation-states composed communities out of institutional and symbolic elements sufficiently embedded in popular recollections that they could, with careful reinforcement, become real.

118 Note that while all European states reflect their liberal heritage in allowing the free exercise of religion, most either have a national Church or allow the use of public funds for the religious facilities and activities of particular churches. See Donald P. Kommers, "German Constitutionalism: A Prolegomenon," Emory Law Journal 40.837 (1991): 868-69 and Silvio Ferrari, The new wine and the old cask. Tolerance, religion, and the Law in Contemporary Europe, unpublished paper on file with author (1995). At the same time, industrial organizations, employers associations, syndicates, engineering standards groups, and other corporate bodies are regularly delegated the power to set public policy in European polities. See Claus Offe, "The attribution of public status to interest groups: observations on the West German case" and Philippe C. Schmitter, "Interest intermediation and regime governability in contemporary Western Europe and North America," in Suzanne D. Berger, Organizing Interests in Western Europe: Pluralism, Corporatism, and the Transformation of Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981).

119 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979) 195-228.

120 The tension between the self-governance of liberal subjects and the administered governance of the Other became manifest at home in the development of discontinuities or parallel structures and doctrines within European political economies. Colonial offices often operated under autonomous procedures and budgets from other government agencies. Policies promulgated or advocated by them in the interest of imperial administration could conflict with policies advocated at home. For example, it has been argued that the monetary and trade policies that favored the British Empire undercut the competitiveness of the home economy over time. See Peter Hall, Governing the Economy: The Politics of State Intervention in Britain and France (New York: Oxford UP, 1986) 37-45.

121 Daniel Levine, Poverty and Society: The Growth of the American Welfare State in International Comparison (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1988) 37-181.

122 See Gosta Esping-Andersen, Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990).

123 Thomas H. Marshall, Citizenship & Social Class & Other Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1950).

124 See Aristede R. Zolberg, Immigration Crises: An Historical Comparison, unpublished manuscript on file with author (1995) 4-10.

125 See R. Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992) for an analysis of the different legal basis for membership and residence within Europe. The fault line that he draws focuses on the distinction between jus sanguinis and jus soli, leaving France on the same side of the divide as the United States. My own sense is that this formal fault line is less interesting than the divide between Europe and America that attends to the numbers and political salience of immigrants on the two sides of the Atlantic. I might suggest that the German obsession with ethnicity as the criterion for community was imagined because Germany’s principal other, the Slavs, were located in a contiguous hinterland or imported to work within Germany itself in the mining and agricultural sectors. Their proximity forced their hard differentiation. At least before the collapse of empire, the French and British hinterlands were overseas colonies, which could be administered as foreign objects without the immediate tension of contiguity. While the formal laws of entry might be less harshly drawn, colonial administrators had little difficulty distinguishing between members and nonmembers of the metropolitan nation and limiting the privileges of membership in liberal modernity on racial and ethnic grounds.

126 See D. Kanstroom, "Who Are We Again? Laws of Asylum, Immigration and Citizenship in the Struggle for the Soul of the New Germany," Yale Journal of International Law 18.155 (1993); "The Legal Rights of Guestworkers: The Case of West Germany," Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 24.311 (1986); and M. Baldwin-Edwards, The Politics of Immigration in Western Europe (Ilford, Essex: Frank Cass, 1994) 168-96.

127 For discussion of the complex relationship between the discourse of self-determination and the broader discourse of modernity, see N. Berman, "Nationalism Legal and Linguistic: The Teachings of European Jurisprudence," International Law and Politics 24.1515 (1992).

128 Because of rapidly escalating concerns about the economic, social, and political rigidities associated with the identities of the national communities that constitute European modernity, there is considerable agreement with the (somewhat grandiose and typically insular) diagnostic of the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut that "we are confronting the failure of modernity." See New York Times 11 Feb. 1997: A6. Because my purpose in this essay is to distinguish European from American modernity, this is not the place to judge whether the effort in Europe to create relatively egalitarian communities at midscale has succeeded. One line of criticism of this effort has focused on the inability of European nations to fabricate a sense of belonging that resists anomie without periodically marshaling themselves into anti-liberal, warring communities of fate. The irony of this criticism is that the imagined national communities may be strong enough to forestall the development of a more inclusive pan-European politics, but insufficiently compelling to yield the desired psychological integration of the more local classical communitarian ideal.

A second direction of critique suggests that the happy combination of collective identity, wealth, and effective governance that modern Europe has achieved is due less to egalitarian than to hierarchical community and, moreover, is unsustainable. Neo-corporatists argue that it is the state-established structure of cultural, religious, and functional associations that is the real locus of social, psychological, and economic order. At this point, inquiry about the future of European modernity turns either to: 1) whether such nuanced communities are fluid and open enough to comply with modernity’s liberal aspirations; or 2) whether communities built on such associations can permit both political stability and adaptive response to a changing economic context. In this latter sense, we might interpret the budding controversy over "Asian values" as debate about East Asian high-growth societies as an alternative social order. At issue is whether internally hierarchical (non-liberal) but externally competitive communal organizations, whose interrelations are coordinated by technocratic bureaus, represent systems with differently adaptive psychological and economic potential than either European or American modernity.

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