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Reviewed by:
  • The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America
  • Jason Edward Black
The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America. Eric P. Kaufmann . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004; pp 374. $49.00.

Identity has become, undoubtedly, one of the hottest topics not only in rhetorical studies but also in political science, anthropology, cultural and American studies and history. Studies such as Ian F. Haney-Lopez's White by Law, Eva [End Page 144] Garroutte's Real Indians, Neil Foley's White Scourge, and Ronald L Jackson II and Elaine B. Richardson's collection of essays, Understanding African-American Rhetoric, have emphasized the production and sustenance of subaltern ethnic identities from within, along with the distinction of these identities alongside the template of "white" identities. In most of these (and other) works, white identities have become a monolithic block of Anglo-Protestantism devoid of unique characteristics related to regionalism, sexuality, class, religion, intersectionality, and gender—components vital to an understanding and assessment of any particular group's many identities. In sum, while scholarship has ascribed multi-consciousness and pan-identity to subaltern ethnic identities, it has simultaneously tended to sever these constructions from white culture.

Kaufmann's The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America remedies the one-dimensional construction of white identities by offering a layered and nuanced appraisal of Anglo-Protestantism. In particular, he attributes the decline of a dominant white ethnie to contentions and contours within Anglo-Protestantism itself. He traces "this innovation to its sources within WASPdom and attempt(s) to deconstruct the notion of a united WASP ethnic actor." He also contends that "the internecine schism within the Anglo-Protestant soul, and not inter-ethnic conflict" resulted in the waxing and (current) waning of white dominance. As evidence of this internal decline in white dominance, Kaufmann offers a historical account of newspaper coverage and popular culture discourses that show how class, regional, and religious differences—specifically—prevented the solidification of a truly united "Anglo-Protestant soul." As a primary example, he counter-poses labor-class and Catholic Irish citizenry with the more haughty and protestant English American mainstream. The latter, of course, is shown to exert a veritable "white on white" form of cultural hegemony.

While Kaufmann presents a unique means of evaluating white identities—and though the historical and longitudinal organization of the book, its most powerful quality, is quite noteworthy—The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America contains some deficiencies. First, the book denies the presence and power of hybridity in constructing identities. American studies scholar Homi Bhabba has made the compelling argument that identity construction does not exist in a vacuum for each ethnie or group claiming relation based on culture, ritual, origins, geography, religion, political structure, and the like. Instead of working from an internal constitutive rhetorical framework or from an external model that contends that the mainstream builds subaltern identities (Maurice Charland and James Jasinksi, respectively), Bhabba explains that both work together in a symbiotic fashion. The subaltern shapes itself and the mainstream, while the mainstream simultaneously gives form to itself and subaltern [End Page 145] ethnies. Kaufmann, in claiming that whites alone propagated cultural American change, rebuffs the impact of identities mingling and holding some—though not always equal—influence.

Second, and related to the first hitch, is the hegemonic consequence of predicating social change on a sole group (or block of related groups). By elevating Anglo-Protestant constitutive sway, Kaufmann weakens the agency of subaltern social movements, immigration influxes, socio-political coalitions, and alternative ideologies. In Kaufmann's estimation it seems that the voices of Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Betty Friedan, Harvey Milk, and Dennis Banks—as well as the twentieth century contributions of immigrants, the New Left, and non-Judeo-Christian religions to U.S. culture—pale (no pun intended) to the influences of inter-white wrangling.

Third, Kaufmann's arguments rely on newspaper, media, and popular culture/press discourses alone. Absent from the work is primary discourse as well as any scintilla of rhetoric spawning from executive, judicial, and legislative sources. With the recent publications from Mary E. Stuckey (Defining Americans) and Vanessa B. Beasley (You, the People) in our field emphasizing the importance of institutional...


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