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Michael Walzer What Does It Mean to Be an “American”? THERE IS NO COUNTRY CALLED AMERICA. WE LIVE IN THE UNITED STATES of America, and we have appropriated the adjective “American” even though we can claim no exclusive title to it. Canadians and Mexicans are also Americans, but they have adjectives more obviously their own, and we have none. Words like “unitarian” and “unionist” won’t do; our sense of ourselves is not captured by the mere fact of our union, however important that is. Nor will “statist” or even “united statist” serve our purposes; a good many of the citizens of the United States are antistat­ ist. Other countries, wrote the “American” political theorist Horace Kallen, get their names from the people, or from one of the peoples, who inhabit them. “The United States, on the other hand, has a peculiar anonymity” (Kallen, 1924: 51). It is a name that doesn’t even pretend to tell us who lives here. Anybody can live here, and just about every­ body does—men and women from all the world’s peoples. (The Harvard Encyclopedia ofAmerican Ethnic Groups begins with Acadians and Afghans and ends with Zoroastrians.) (Themstrom, 1980) It is peculiarly easy to become an American. The adjective provides no reliable information about the origins, histories, connections, or cultures of those whom it designates. What does it say, then, about their political allegiance? PATRIOTISM AND PLURALISM American politicians engage periodically in a fierce competition to demonstrate their patriotism. This is an odd competition, surely, for in most countries the patriotism of politicians is not an issue. There are ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SOCIAL RESEARCH VOL. 57, NO. 3 (FALL 1 9 90) social research Vol 71 : No 3 : Fall 2 004 633 other issues, and this question of political identification and commit­ ment rarely comes up; loyalty to the patrie, the fatherland (or moth­ erland), is simply assumed. Perhaps it isn’t assumed here because the United States isn’t apatrie. Americans have never spoken oftheir country as a fatherland (or motherland). The kind of natural or organic loyalty that we (rightly or wrongly) recognize in families doesn’t seem to be a feature of our politics. When American politicians invoke the meta­ phor of family they are usually making an argument about our mutual responsibilities and welfarist obligations, and among Americans, that is a controversial argument.1 One can be an American patriot without believing in the mutual responsibilities of American citizens—indeed, for some Americans disbelief is a measure of one’s patriotism. Similarly, the United States isn’t a “homeland” (where a national family might dwell), not, at least, as other countries are, in casual conversation and unreflective feeling. It is a country of immigrants who, however grateful they are for this new place, still remember the old places. And their children know, if only intermittently, that they have roots elsewhere. They, no doubt, are native grown, but some awkward sense of newness here, or of distant oldness, keeps the tongue from calling this land “home.” The older political uses of the word “home,” common in Great Britain, have never taken root here: home countries, home station, Home Office, home rule. To be “at home” in America is a personal matter: Americans have homesteads and homefolks and home­ towns, and each of these is an endlessly interesting topic of conversation. But they don’t have much to say about a common or communal home. Nor is there a common patrie, but rather many different ones— a multitude of fatherlands (and motherlands). For the children, even the grandchildren, of the im m igrant generation, one’s patrie, the “native land of one’s ancestors,” is somewhere else. The term “Native Americans” designates the veiy first immigrants, who got here centu­ ries before any of the others. At what point do the rest of us, native grown, become natives? The question has not been decided; for the moment, however, the language of nativism is mostly missing (it has 634 social research never been dominant in American public life), even when the politi­ cal reality is plain to see. Alternatively, nativist language can be used against the politics of nativism, as in...


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