What Is An American?

Horace Kallen (1882-1974) was a Polish-born American philosopher well respected for an article entitled “Democracy Versus the Melting Pot: A Study of American Nationality,” which appeared in The Nation in 1915, in two parts. In this article, Kallen discusses the principle of liberty and Americanism from the time of the revolutionary war in America to the time of his writing in 1915. He ably addresses the then and now current issue of applying the principles incumbent in the Declaration of Independence of life, liberty and happiness, over time, in a changing country and changing world.

The American revolutionaries did not demand freedom and democracy on behalf of all residing on colonial soil at the time of the Declaration. Kallen argues that the signatories were probably not “abolitionists” in tenor and temperament, and they, themselves, “owned other men.” (190) The literal text of the Declaration ably applies words of liberty and freedom to the entirety of American society. (190) In Kallen’s view, Americanization is possible and necessary if we, as citizens, adopt a shared self-consciousness and like-mindedness based upon the Declaration and its fundamental principles.

Necessary in Kallen’s mind is the “Americanization” of our society, every person in each generation. The philosophy of the Declaration and of being an American cannot be inherited. America is a country and society of diversity and, continues in existence as it began, as one of newcomers. All must be taught to be Americans, both the descendants of forefathers as well as immigrants newly arrived. Kallen illustrates the efficacy of the Declaration beyond the American Revolution.

In Kallen’s view of history, the Declaration of Independence is “an instrument in a political and economic conflict” rather than a document setting forth “abstract principles” or “formal logic.” (190) It constituted both “offense” and defense” within the context of the era of Revolutionary America. The function of the Declaration was to “shield” “national rights” from those seeking to enforce the “superiority” provided by a government founded upon a belief in authority conferred by “divine right.” (190) The political and economic peril of the colony was the “occasion” giving rise to the Declaration; the cause was the “like-mindedness” and “self-consciousness” shared by the ethnically homogenous colonials in mental peril. (191) At the time of his writing in 1915, Kallen believed that ethnic diversity, development and preservation in art, literature and culture are only possible with homogeneity, self-consciousness and like-mindedness which he found resulting in individuality and autonomy by 1915.

Yet, after the Revolution, in the 1810’s to 1820’s, the British inhabitants lessened in majority as they, themselves, migrated westward and faced relative diminution with European immigration. This resulted in ethnic and religious diversity. They, too, sought economic and political liberty and freedom. The immigrants of Ireland, Germany, France, Scandinavia and Slavic territories were present. And, in Kallen’s words, also were, in the American South, “nine million negroes, whose own mode of living tends, by its mere massiveness, to standardize the ‘mind’ of the proletarian South in speech, manner and other values of social organization.” (192)

All residents, suggests Kallen, are “Americanized” over a period of six to seven years. (192) For, those present during colonial times, new immigrants, and citizens of our modern era are included. America’s abundant environment makes this possible in permitting a free choice, laissez-faire economy. In words that are truly applicable today: “What poverty and unemployment exist among us is the result of unskilled and wasteful social housekeeping….” (192) For, “economic equilibrium” must be reached within a population steeped in abundant resources. (192) A democratic government and meritocratic, market economy establish Kallen’s America.

Our cultural and religious diversity grew as the population spanned from East to West. The once American aristocracy of the Anglo-Saxons of New England gives rise to a cultural leveling unto an equality at the highest plane through free social contracts and the imitation of meritocracy based upon a free enterprise market. (192) With transportation and mobile populations and public schools, America becomes a country of an American race. Said by Kallen as it might be said today.

Kallen describes the efficacy and value of the principles of the Declaration. He subtly states that our founding principles have been newly understood. We no longer profess that all men are equal, but, as of 1914, rather that some men are better than others. In his words, “’Human rights versus property rights’ is merely the modern version of the Declaration of Independence.” (193) Further, attention in America was in 1915 focused on the “equalization of the distribution of wealth,” in Kallen’s analysis, “not socialistically,” but presumably economically and politically as sought by the signers of the Declaration. Kallen views this the “dualism” of the “rich and poor” coming to an end. (193) For, the newfound ethnic diversity in the marketplace no longer permits ethnicity to achieve class domination or monopoly. Rather, difference is based upon achievement in a laissez-faire economy based upon merit. Legal restrictions in the marketplace would only be required to counter greed profiting improperly from child labor and illiterate immigrates, etc. (193)

The “fundamental institutions” of America are a “durable expression” of our “ethnic and cultural unity” as a “free and equal” citizenry. “’American’ is an adjective of similarity applied to Anglo-Saxons, Irish, Jews, Germans, Italians, and so on.” (193) And as Kallen’s most fundamental theory in this article, he suggests that the similarity of Americans is “one of the place and institution, acquired, not inherited, and hence not transmitted.  Each generation has, in fact, to become ‘Americanized’ afresh and, withal, inherited nature has a way of redirecting nurture of which our public schools give only too much evidence.” (193) As a result, class consciousness is not coextensive with racial division as the second generation seeks similarity. (194)

Yet, we all, for the most part, retain our ethnicity. There is no “American” race or ethnicity. (194) Rather, the forefathers of New England were aristocrats because of their being first to arrive as all such are aristocrats in Kallen’s thought. Arising are organizations looking back upon ancestors such as the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution in face of confrontational immigrants. The homes of forefathers and noteworthy Americans are likewise enshrined, Kallen notes. We must note that such shrines have far continued since 1915 and include all racial groups long immigrated to America. Kallen foretold the result of “inevitable equilibrium between wealth and population.” (194)

In Part II of “Democracy Versus the Melting Pot: a Study of American Nationality,” Kallen shares his view that the American race arises from our like-mindedness which he professes gives rise to our nationality. (217) The English language is that of the majority, dominant classes. The weakness of the lesser classes promotes a sense of individuality and an inclination toward assimilation. A privilege of reinforcing language and religion of the lower classes lessens assimilation and Americanization, such as parochial schools. Kallen notes that President Wilson similarly objected to hyphenated identities and not referring to all citizens as Americans, though immigrants from another country. Kallen asks, though not challenging hyphenation: how do we achieve harmony within the cacophony of diversity of tunes that is America? For some “populations … national self-consciousness is perhaps the chief spiritual asset.” (217) In this respect, ethnic group self-respect grows with group cultural and economic development and the loss of the label “foreigner” and thus the becoming of being Americanized in public schools and libraries when they share their culture. These people came to America to escape persecution and or starvation and Americanization is a source of “spiritual self-respect” and inclusion within the “body-politic,” replete with the “responsibilities of American citizenship.” (218)

Americanization includes four phases. First, becoming well fed and assimilating to attain economic independence. Second, a comfortable return to one’s own sense of ancestry and nationality. Third, dissimilation begins with a focus on a group’s own art, literature and culture. Fourth, a maintenance of Americanization in political and economic relationships conducted in the English language, while cultural achievements related to nationality transcend from “disadvantages” unto “distinctions.” (219) America’s institutions are the cause and background of “cultural consciousness.” (219) In Kallen’s words: “Americanization liberates nationality.” (219)

In returning to the Declaration, Kallen reminds us that the forefathers did not possess ethnic diversity among them. In 1915, Kallen offered in contrast that democracy and federalism have encouraged the peopling of America’s land with all nationalities. Yet, in Kallen’s view, a laissez-faire capitalist economy may only be the subject of a government controlled by the plutocracy with the entire nation focused upon the country’s bountiful resources and wealth it produces. (219)

Of greater concern is ethnic unison as we sing “America” and focus on the “conditions of life” and not the “kind of life.” (219) American law and institutions are at issue. For, they do not support the unison and union required of Americanization. Kallen called for the nationalization of American educational institutions, abolition of parochial and private schools, abolition of teaching in a language other than English and the concentration of American and English history and literature. This, he believed, would achieve Americanization. For, required is a “unison of social and historic interests,” the subject matter of our existence. In part, American law and society long ago have demanded this in its academic institutions. No more is probably needed. Rather, American citizens need to defer to Kallen’s premise that each generation must learn our fundamental principles of freedom and liberty.

For, in addition to union, Kallen sought ‘harmony” among us. (219) We would eliminate waste and become more efficient in our social organizations and their interrelationships. By definition: “’Americanization’ – that democracy means self-realization through self-control, self-government, and that one is impossible without the other.” Our organizations must be in harmony one with another. To do so, all must be given conditions “under which each may attain the perfection that is proper to its kind.” (219) This selfhood is inalienable yet achieving it requires “‘inalienable’ liberty.” (220) We derive this from our ancestral endowment and happiness, in Kallen’s words: one’s “psychophysical inheritance.” (220) A democracy assumes that this is necessary for the self-realization of one’s innate original being. Government acts as an “instrument” to achieve democracy by liberating and protecting. To eliminate the waste and social chaos among ourselves, our organizations and our government, we must abide original principles of the Declaration and our founders. Kallen deems this the freeing and strengthening of our ethnic groups by our fundamental law and institutions and the achievement of self-realization and individuality.

Without the foregoing, Kallen believed that social and political chaos reigned, and perhaps it still does. Yet, in his optimism, Kallen suggested that government, as an instrument was flexible and subject to change and reform, in response to “changing life” and “changing opinion.” (220) “Intelligence and wisdom prevail over politics.” When our inalienable talent and ability transcend the confusion of our “common life” a great democracy emerges. Kallen stated that it is a “Federal republic in substance a democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously.” (220) This occurs as citizens self-realize unto the perfection of their kind. Do “the dominant classes in America want such a society?” (220)

(Horace Kallen, “Democracy Versus the Melting Pot: A Study of American Nationality,” The Nation, Part I (Vol. 100, No. 2590, pgs. 190-194, Feb. 18, 1915) and Part II (Vol. 100, No. 2591, pgs. 217-20, Feb. 25, 1915)).

Lori Gayle Nuckolls

 

Advertisements

The Economic Question

How do we reform the American economy and governmental structure to provide equality as to personhood at birth and a social arrangement based upon merit? Economic and political equality look to liberty, fairness and justice within a democratic republic. Neither a fascist autocracy nor a collective state will achieve an environment for self-governing individuals. Political expressions of both the far left and the far right arise when they perceive a threat to norms they deem permanently determinative of their existence. These norms are within the innate human personality and may be only mitigated and not undone by the structures and powers of government.

Leftist and rightist autocracies seek dominating leadership that is self-serving rather than self-governing. Both are dominated by norms that look beyond the individual to the state.

Republican democrats in America assert a belief in the normative values of freedom, justice, equality and rule of law, supported by a belief in American patriotism. A belief in republican democracy is a midpoint within the spectrum. Our new economy will accord value to merit and provide for employee self-sufficiency within our republican democracy.

Lori Gayle Nuckolls

Judicial Review and the Separation of Powers

A balance of power among the governing authorities in America requires a new look. Not so much as to the three federal branches of government, but rather as to our principle of federalism and the relationship between our states and territories and the three federal branches of government.

So expansive a territory as the United States requires greater guidance from above through the equally as expansive federal system of government. Our Article III courts may readily provide an initial and comprehensive source of a consistent, uniform and ever more evolving body of governing law.

In doing so, both judges and attorneys should view the law in an imaginative and creative manner that makes the most of both precedent and our founding legal precepts. Courage to look beyond one’s jurisdiction for a supporting argument when proper and prudent provides efficiency and, more importantly, an improvement to the community in which we live by encouraging polite discussion and debate.

Citizens can discuss government and the Rule of Law over the tea and coffee cup. We do not have to wait until the throes of an election to analyze our society and government. Let’s get started.

Lori Gayle Nuckolls, Esq.

Let’s Return To The Fundamentals, Even At The Very Beginning!

The American Public has transformed in the past 50 years into a continent and attendant states and territories of true understanding, education and complexity. The talent, training and acuity of virtually each individual are virtually discernible at a glance.
In a time of increasing obligations of self-government, we owe much to our young people. Academic tracking with the very young is ethically feasible. College preparatory education, based in Classical Greek and Latin, should begin during preschool years. The children are there and so is the curriculum.
Lori Gayle Nuckolls

Should the Federal Government Pay Tuition for Higher Education to All for All?

This Story was originally published in October of 2017 and it discusses a subject matter of continued relevance. For, in an increasingly more complex society and government how do we maintain a democracy if each of our residents and citizens are not able to understand our world.

Admission to American colleges and graduate schools is duly regulated by several nongovernmental organizations, notably, entities such as The College Board, the Educational Testing Service and the American Bar Association. And, our secondary and elementary schools are similarly reviewed and ranked as to merit, both within political subdivisions and across the nation, by educators, journalists and governing officials.

Would an assumption of tuition payments for all American college and graduate programs by the Federal government undermine current private governance by those currently governing and affiliated with America’s private schools of higher education? Would it undermine the aura and efficacy of local history and culture within our publicly owned and governed colleges and universities?

Perhaps, the objectivity of the nongovernmental organizations responsible for admissions testing and school ranking in American higher education already provides and requires obligatory accuracy and fairness as to merit and quality across the nation in a way that state, local and private control of funding currently may not affect. Private and state decision-making in higher education must currently yield to duly enacted legislation and promulgated regulation, and a replacement of the monetary source for tuition, from the student, parent and or school to the Federal government, could not transcend present governmental procedures. Our schools would, in every respect, remain fully self-governing and retain due and fair competition.

The question then is whether Federal tuition runs only to the public good and public interest, and if the American economy can afford to pay the tuition of all college and university students? There seems to currently be neither an economic necessity nor an economic value in requiring students and parents, as the recipients of the goods and services of American colleges and universities, to make the tuition payments, when the ultimate beneficiary of educated Americans is America. Educated Americans determine America’s reputation and goodwill and the relative efficacy and value of its democratic government. In doing so, the American public receives goods and services provided by those who do not earn the true value of the service they provide over the course of their careers.

Salaries of ordinary citizens and residents barely pay living expenses, no less do these salaries provide for college tuition. And, it is hoped that American families contain more than one child. College graduates and licensed professionals earn less than professional athletes and corporate executives. Our governing officials, doctors and lawyers provide more to keep America sane and rational than do CEOs, pitchers and quarterbacks. How can CEOs and athletes work day-to-day without professionals and government officials overhead. And, non-managerial employees and traditional small business men and women, who would receive college tuition for their children, would still benefit from American capitalism. Students and graduates of the long existing 2-year colleges, who receive learning in the technical arts and vocations, would certainly provide more to the public good as interns during school years in subjects related to their studies than as employees of those within their community who offer the highest pay in part-time employment regardless of the task.

A parent’s future payment of tuition to American colleges and universities is a for-profit incentive in the American and international marketplace. Currently, parents look to a child’s academic achievement, and the competitiveness of admission to America’s colleges and graduate schools, as an incentive for business success. Federal tuition would lessen stresses unrelated to achievement, regardless of parental income. And, the once thought long entrenched competitive advantage of students attending private elementary and secondary schools, is, now, rarely a concern, for advances in teaching, curriculum and college recruiting have provided economies of scale within local governing political subdivisions, and create a just capitalism in education.

If America’s professionals and college graduates are deemed, as our governing principles intend, to grow and raise children who make the most of our academic institutions, how do these professionals provide for their children’s tuition, even in two professional households, and even if with only one child? How does such a family pay for its children’s college and graduate school attendance, even if they are, themselves, among the American socio-economic elite? And, are not these very children of American professionals and college graduates socially obligated, themselves, by our social contract as citizens and residents, to not squander what has been provided to them by their parents and secondary school educators?

The centuries-old legal principle of discerning the merit and value of prospective legal and or governmental reform, as I profess to personally coin and denominate: “experimentation among the States,” may be in order. For, it provides that, if not all Americans are ready for a proposed reform, one State, or a few, in the Federal Union might enact a variation upon the proposed reform, for review and evaluation by citizens and judges. Today, governmental payment of tuition to public colleges and universities, especially as recently announced in the State of New York, may provide a basis for Federal reform, especially by our current President and noted businessman Donald Trump. For, President Trump professes a belief in the economic competition, efficiency and small government that Federal tuition payments to all American schools of higher education would provide. This may be achieved by President Trump from now through the inauguration of his successor in 2025!

Lori Gayle Nuckolls