The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society
Setting the American experience against a global backdrop in which one nation after another is tearing itself apart, Schlesinger emphasizes the question: What is it that holds nations together? The classic American image was of the "melting pot, " in which differences of race, religion, and nationality were reduced, however unevenly, by common adherence to unifying civic principles. Today that image is challenged by an identity politics that magnifies differences and abandons goals of integration and assimilation. Must we surrender national identity to ethnic lobbies? Is hypersensitivity on the question of language handicapping minority children? Is the purpose of teaching history to make minorities feel good about themselves? Or is it rather to teach an accurate understanding of the world and to protect unifying ideals of tolerance, democracy, and human rights? Strident multiculturalism, Schlesinger contends, is an ill-judged and wrong-headed response to the real problem: the persistence, despite many gains, of racism in the white majority. In a world scarred by ethnic conflict, he writes, it is all the more urgent that the United States set an example of how a highly differentiated society holds itself together. In this new and enlarged edition, more timely than ever, Schlesinger updates the discussion, assesses recent developments, points to factors that promise to defeat the disuniting of America, points also to the dangers of strident monoculturalism on the right, and adds "Schlesinger's syllabus" - an annotated list of a baker's dozen of book essential for understanding the American experience.