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Nations around the world are suffering from identity crises. Perhaps it began two decades ago, when the last European holdouts were dragged in and the European Union was finally established, a move described by one journalist as "the triumph of the Eurocrats over the peoples of Europe." More recently, The New York Times reported on France's efforts to articulate its national identity. Soon thereafter, controversy erupted when Switzerland banned the construction of Muslim minarets. The Times and Forbes have reported on identity crises facing South Korea and China, as immigration makes largely homogenous nations increasingly diverse.

All these reports raise the question, "Who are we?"—which is also the title of scholar Samuel P. Huntington's final and most prophetic book. "The more general causes of these … questionings," wrote Huntington, "include the emergence of a global economy, tremendous improvements in communications and transportation, rising levels of migration, [and] the global expansion of democracy …."

There's also an identity crisis bubbling just under the surface in the United States.

Huntington documents several challenges to a cohesive sense of American identity. First, while early settlers and immigrants were never ethnically homogenous, they largely traded in the same Anglo-Protestant cultural currency. But as 21st-century demographic trends increasingly draw people from other quadrants of the world, shared cultural assumptions erode.

Exacerbating the problem is a rise in dual citizenship and more subnational identities, which have created divided loyalties. Meanwhile, in the business community, an increasingly globalized economy has caused leaders to adopt a more transnational identity, what ...

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Who Are Americans?
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In the Magazine

June 2010

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