In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

9 | Democracy Versus the Melting-Pot: A Study of American Nationality Horace M. Kallen Horace M. Kallen, “Democracy Versus the Melting-Pot: A Study of American Nationality,” part 2, Nation, February 25, 1915, 217–20. The term “cultural pluralism” is part of the American vernacular today due to Horace Kallen (1882–1974), who coined the phrase in his 1924 essay “Culture and the Ku Klux Klan.” Kallen and others had been developing their ideas about cultural pluralism since the very beginning of the twentieth century. Yet the fact that cultural pluralism began with Jewish intellectuals in American universities is often overlooked or unappreciated. Kallen was born in Berenstadt, Selesia, in Germany and moved to Boston with his family in 1887. He broke with his religious family as a young man and received undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University, where he studied under George Santayana and William James, among others. Kallen taught philosophy at Harvard, Clark College, and the University of Wisconsin before becoming one of the founders of the New School for Social Research, in New York, in 1919. Although Kallen was a secular Jew by his own definition, he took an interest in Jewish culture and issues of Jewish self-definition in his early twenties. In fact, as a student Kallen was among the founders of the influential Harvard Menorah Society, which grew into the Intercollegiate Menorah Association. The first two decades of the twentieth century saw both mass Jewish migration and considerable debate about the nature of America as a nation. The period between 1905 and the beginning of World War I was the historic high-water mark for Jewish immigration to the United States. It was also a period of growing resistance to unrestrained immigration and concern for the changing demographics in the United States. While most Jewish immigrants agreed on the necessity to “Americanize” themselves, a wide variety of opinions existed about what such a process should entail. This was a time when so-called hyphenated Americans became an object of derision, not least by the American presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Kallen provided a counterargument against pressure for immigrant conformity, and in “Democracy Versus the Melting-Pot,” below, he aimed his argument at two targets in particular. The first was the book The Old 156 | p r e s e r vat i o n a n d r e c o n s t r uc t i o n World in the New, by a controversial sociologist and colleague of Kallen’s at the University of Wisconsin, Edward Alsworth Ross. At the time, Ross was president of the American Sociological Society and a vocal opponent of America’s open-door immigration policies. Ross’s concern in his book about the double allegiance of immigrants became more inflammatory with the onset of World War I, even before America entered the war. The second target, as the title of Kallen’s essay suggests, was the melting pot, a metaphor for the American nation made popular (though not invented) by Israel Zangwill in his play of the same name. In that play, which premiered in the United States in 1908, Jewish immigrants represent the ultimate Americans because their many years of surviving as a minority facilitated their adaptation of American identity. The message of The Melting Pot—that Jews will make America more Jewish as they become American—ironically, as David Biale suggests, became the story of Zangwill’s play itself. Jewish opponents to Zangwill’s play hardly opposed the idea that Jews were the quintessential Americans, or the idea that Jews had something to contribute to the construction of American nationality . But the play established two poles in the debate over Americanization. As Kallen observes in the essay below, the contention centers around difference, and whether it should be eliminated or preserved. For those who opposed hyphenated Americans and favored the melting pot, becoming American meant that immigrants would have to leave behind their Old World nationality. At the other end of the spectrum, intellectuals like Kallen argued that the federal nature of American democracy made the United States uniquely tolerant of difference. Rather than a melting pot, Kallen’s preferred metaphor for the American nation was an orchestra. Similar ideas can be seen in the earlier work of Judah Magnes, a vocal proponent of Jewish autonomy in the United States and the president of New York’s Jewish Kehillah from its inception in 1909 until its end in 1922. When Magnes spoke...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.