restricted access 6. Margin as Mainstream
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6 Margin as Mainstream NEW parochialisms abound in the land. To the Right, a parochialism celebrates America's exceptionalism--characterized by Joyce Appleby in her 1992 presidential address to the Organization of American Historians as "America's peculiar form of Eurocentrism"l-an exceptionalism that defines and affirms a people by negating others, who form their opposition. The eighteenth-century idea that America represented a break from the European monarchist asylum, declared Appleby, served to unite the disparate colonies against a common foe, but it was also presented as a natural law and universal truth by which others were measured. Similarly, the new parochialism of the late twentieth century offers an adhesive, this time for a fracturing state bursting at the seams with an apparent excess of diversity. Unlike its parent, however, this new parochialism represents a foreclosure that anchors itself to Europe against the tide of nonand therefore anti-European peoples. The global economy and advanced systems of communication and travel have broken down national borders, even ideological walls, but have reconstructed racial and "tribal" allegiances that enable the survival and competitive edge of those groupS.2 Undergirding the worldsystem are European or European-like values, ethics, and culture, 1 Joyce Appleby, "Recovering America's Historic Diversity: Beyond Exceptionalism ," Journal of American History 79, no. 2 (September 1992): 420• 2 Joel Kotkin, Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy (New York: Random House, 1992). 14 8 149 from capitalism to the English language. In America, Eurocentrists , these new parochialists, proclaim union on the basis of race, language, and culture to counter the perceived threat of nonwhite "racial tribes" and to stifle dissenting voices from within their own ranks-of women, workers, lesbians and gays, and those who would contest the dominant order. Eurocentrists wax nostalgic for the apparently simpler past: when Egypt was a part of Mediterranean civilization, when Western culture formed the core of a liberal education, and when Americans formed a national consensus.3 Despite the historical ebb and flow of competing ideologies about America's national character-from the ideals of assimilation to those of pluralism, from homogeneity to heterogeneity, from singularity to diversity -there is, wrapped within that exceptionalist longing for a simpler past, a persistent and pervasive notion about American history and culture: the idea of a unifying mainstream, embraced in the motto "Out of many, one," and in John Jay's definition of America, "one united people ... descended from the same ancestors." Steering the ship of state toward the mainstream, toward the central values of the nation, toward the bedrock foundations, holds, for those latter-day restorationists, a return to better times. Besides being free of cultural illiteracy and intellectual impoverishment , the mainstream offers movement, vitality, and clarity, unlike the inert, insipid, and muddy fringes of the margin. The margin, composed of racial minorities, women, the underclass, gays and lesbians, is exhorted to join the mainstream, composed of European Americans, men, the ruling class, heterosexuals. In its stress on racial, gender, class, and sexual inequality, in its insistence on identity and self-definition, the margin has led the nation astray, far from the original formulations that made the Republic great, has created instead balkanized enclaves-ghet3 See, e.g., Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987); and Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Disuniting of America (Knoxville, Tenn.: Whittle Direct Books, 1991). MARGIN AS MAINSTREAM toes-and, even worse, has stirred up social conflict and "culture wars." Without a center, things have fallen apart. We know Eurocentrism as consort to the "meanness mania" that ran amok in the Reagan-Bush state, wherein "meanness" involved both selfishness and small-mindedness.4 We know the new parochialism as the weapon of choice among the born-again, John Wayne gunslingers in their high-noon showdown along the frontiers of Western civilization. We know the new Eurocentrism as the postmodern incarnation of the old exceptionalism, spruced up for the occasion of late capitalism's assault against rebel bases within the heartland of the new world order. To the Left, another parochialism celebrates a minority's exceptionalism , characterized (and sometimes caricatured) by invention of traditions, affirmation of fragile identities, and exclusion of others, who form their opposition. Like some on the Right who see racial perils and "tribes," some on the Left posit communities -sisterhoods and brotherhoods-that are no less imagined. The ideas that minorities too had heroes and "great" civilizations, that minority scholars can represent and...


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