by Francis Fukuyama
Seymour Martin Lipset was a colleague of mine at George Mason University, and for the years I was there we taught a course together on comparative politics that was originally based on his book American Exceptionalism. I learned an extraordinary amount from talking to him, reading his books, and listening to his lectures, and I appreciate the opportunity to apply some of his thinking to our current situation.
Marty Lipset is, of course, a great student of liberal democracy. As the twenty-first century unfolds, it seems unfortunately clear that liberal democracy continues to face multiple challenges. One challenge particularly apparent to Americans since the attacks of September 11 is that of jihadist terrorism. The radical Islamist ideology motivating such terrorism is profoundly antiliberal and, when combined with the destructive possibilities of modern technology, poses a tremendous security challenge.
Most Americans have tended to regard the jihadist problem as something that has been bred and nurtured in profoundly dysfunctional areas of the world like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other parts of the Middle East. Since jihadism is something that is happening “over there,” the solution lies either in walling off the United States and other target countries, or else, as the Bush administration would have it, going over there to fix the problem at its root by deposing dictators and promoting democracy.
There is no doubt, of course, that the Muslim world is dysfunctional in many ways, and that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been the sources of an extremist and hateful ideology. I would contend, however, that the more serious longer-term challenge facing liberal democracies today concerns the integration of immigrant minorities—particularly those from Muslim countries—as citizens of pluralistic democracies. Culturally diverse immigrants create problems for all countries, yet Europe has become and will continue to be a critical breeding ground and battlefront in the struggle between radical Islamism and liberal democracy. This is because radical Islamism itself does not come out of traditional Muslim societies, but rather is a manifestation of modern identity politics, a byproduct of the modernization process itself. In this respect, it is unfortunately a familiar challenge, one that we have seen earlier in the extremist politics of the twentieth century.
There have been signs of trouble across Europe: the Madrid bombings of 11 March 2004, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri in Amsterdam on 2 November 2004, the London bombings of 7 July 2005, and the riots that consumed the French banlieues in November 2005.1 Muslims constitute 7 to 8 percent of the population in France and upwards of 6 percent in the Netherlands, and in cities like Rotterdam they come close to being a majority (see Table). Even with no new net immigration—which most European countries by now have cut off—higher birth rates among minority communities will increase their overall proportion in the population in the next generation.
Most European countries have right-wing populist parties opposed to immigration and increasingly mobilized around the issue of Muslim minorities; these include the National Front in France, the Vlaams Belag (formerly the Vlaams Blok) in Belgium, the People’s parties in Denmark and Switzerland, and the Freedom Party in Austria. Nonetheless, mainstream European academics, journalists, and politicians have been very reluctant to address the problem of Muslim integration openly until very recently, though there is by now a growing—and in some cases very alarmist—literature on the emergence of “Eurabia.”2
Identity and the Hole in Liberal Theory
Modern identity politics springs from a hole in the political theory underlying modern liberal democracy. That hole is related to the degree of political deference that liberal societies owe groups rather than individuals. The line of modern political theory that begins in some sense with Machiavelli and continues through Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the American Founding Fathers, understands the issue of political freedom as one that pits the state against individuals rather than groups. Hobbes and Locke, for example, argue that human beings possess natural rights as individuals in the state of nature—rights that can only be secured through a social contract that prevents one individual’s pursuit of self-interest from harming the rights of others.
Modern liberalism arose in good measure in reaction to the wars of religion that raged in Europe following the Protestant Reformation. Liberalism established the principle of religious toleration—that is, the idea that religious goals could not be pursued in the public sphere in a way that restricted the religious freedom of other sects or churches. As we will see below, however, the actual separation of church and state was never fully achieved in many modern liberal democracies. Moreover, while modern liberalism clearly established the principle that state power should not be used to impose religious belief on individuals, it left unanswered the question of the exact degree to which the free exercise of religion by private individuals would be allowed to impinge on the rights of people within a religious community or tradition. Freedom understood not as the freedom of individuals but of cultural groups to protect their own group identities was not seen as a central issue by the American founders, perhaps because the new settlers of North America were relatively homogenous culturally. In the words of John Jay writing in Federalist No. 2, “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles.”
The question of group identities might not have been such a problem but for the parallel development of identity politics in modern societies. In the West, identity politics began in an important way with the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther argued that salvation could be achieved only through an inner state of faith, and attacked the Catholic emphasis on works—that is, exterior conformity to a set of social rules established by the Church. The Reformation thus identified true religiosity as an individual’s subjective state, thereby dissociating inner identity from existing social practice.
The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has written quite helpfully about the subsequent historical development of identity politics.3 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in both the Second Discourse and the Promenades, argued that there was a huge disjuncture between our outward selves, which were the accretion of social customs and habits acquired over historical time, and our true inner natures. Happiness lay in the recovery of inner authenticity, le sentiment de l’existence, which had been covered over by the passions generated by social dependence. This idea was developed further by Johann Gottfried von Herder, who argued that inner authenticity lay not just in individuals but in peoples, in the recovery of what we today call folk culture. In Taylor’s words, “This is the powerful moral ideal that has come down to us. It accords moral importance to a kind of contact with myself, with my own inner nature, which it sees as in danger of being lost . . . through the pressures toward outward social conformity.”4
The disjuncture between one’s inner and outer selves comes not merely out of the realm of ideas, but is something produced by the social reality of modern democratic societies with free-market economies. After the American and French revolutions, the ideal of la carrière ouverte aux talents was increasingly put into practice as traditional barriers to social mobility were removed. One’s social status was achieved rather than ascribed; it was the product of one’s natural talents, work, and effort rather than an accident of one’s birth. One’s life story was the search for fulfillment of an inner plan, rather than conformity to the expectations of one’s parents, kin, village, or priest.
Taylor points out that modern identity is inherently political, because it ultimately demands recognition. One’s inner self is not just a matter of inward contemplation; it must be intersubjectively recognized if it is to have value. The idea that modern politics is based on the principle of universal recognition comes from Hegel. Increasingly, however, it appears that universal recognition based on a shared humanity is not enough, particularly on the part of groups that have been discriminated against in the past. Hence modern identity politics revolves around demands for recognition of group identities—that is, public affirmations of the equal dignity of formerly marginalized groups, from the Québécois to African-Americans to women to indigenous peoples to homosexuals.
It is no accident that Charles Taylor is Canadian, since contemporary multiculturalism and identity politics were in many ways born in Canada with the demands of the Francophone community for recognition of its rights as a “distinct society.” The latter’s codification in the Meech Lake amendment to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms violates the liberal principle of equal individual rights: French speakers enjoy linguistic rights not shared by English speakers. It is illegal, for example, for Francophones or immigrants to send their children to an English-speaking school in Quebec, while a similar law singling out Anglophones would not be permitted in Alberta or British Columbia.5
Multiculturalism, understood not just as tolerance of cultural diversity in de facto multicultural societies but as the demand for legal recognition of the rights of ethnic, racial, religious, or cultural groups, has now become established in virtually all modern liberal democracies. U.S. politics over the past generation has been consumed with controversies over affirmative action, bilingualism, and gay marriage, driven by formerly marginalized groups that demand recognition not just of their rights as individuals, but of their rights as members of groups. The United States’ Lockean tradition of individual rights has meant that these efforts to assert group rights have been tremendously controversial. As we will see, there is a tremendous divergence between the United States and other advanced democracies in the way that group rights are treated.
Radical Islamism and Identity Politics
The radical Islamist ideology that has motivated many of the terror attacks over the past decade must be seen in large measure as a manifestation of modern identity politics rather than as an assertion of traditional Muslim culture. As such, it is something quintessentially modern, and thus familiar to us from earlier extremist political movements. The fact that it is modern does not make it less dangerous, but it helps to clarify the problem and its possible solutions.
The argument that contemporary radical Islamism is a form of identity politics has been made most forcefully by the French scholar Olivier Roy in his book Globalized Islam.6 According to Roy, the root of radical Islamism is not cultural—that is, it is not a byproduct of something inherent in or deeply essential to Islam or the cultural system that this religion has produced. Rather, he argues, radical Islamism has emerged because Islam has become deterritorialized in such a way as to throw open the whole question of Muslim identity.
The question of identity does not come up at all in traditional Muslim societies, as it did not in traditional Christian societies. In a traditional Muslim society, an individual’s identity is given by that person’s parents and social environment; everything, from one’s tribe and kin to the local imam to the political structure of the state, anchors one’s identity in a particular branch of Islamic faith. It is not a matter of personal choice. Like Judaism, Islam is a highly legalistic religion, meaning that religious belief consists of conformity to a set of externally determined social rules. These rules are highly localized in accordance with the traditions, customs, saints, and practices of specific places. Traditional religiosity is not universalistic despite Islam’s doctrinal universalism.
According to Roy, identity becomes problematic precisely when Muslims leave traditional Muslim societies by, for example, emigrating to Western Europe. One’s identity as a Muslim is no longer supported by the outside society; indeed, there is strong pressure to conform to the Western society’s prevailing cultural norms. The question of authenticity arises in a way that it never did in the traditional society, since there is now a gap between one’s inner identity as a member of a Muslim cultural community and one’s behavior vis-à-vis the surrounding society. This explains the constant questioning of imams on Islamist Web sites about what is haram (prohibited) or hallal (permitted): The question of whether, for example, it is haram to shake hands with a female professor never comes up in Saudi Arabia because such a social category does not exist.
Radical Islamism and jihadism arise precisely in response to the resulting quest for identity. It is Osama bin Laden who can answer the question of “Who am I?” posed by a young Muslim in Holland or France: You are a member of a global umma defined by adherence to a universal Islamic doctrine that has been stripped of all of its local customs, saints, traditions, and the like. Muslim identity thus becomes a matter of inner belief rather than outward conformity to social practice. Roy points out that this constitutes the “Protestantization” of Muslim belief, where salvation lies in a subjective state that is at odds with one’s outward behavior. Thus could Mohamed Atta and several of the other September 11 conspirators drink alcohol and visit a strip club in the days before carrying out their attacks.
Understanding radical Islamism as a form of identity politics also explains why second- and third-generation European Muslims have turned to it. First-generation immigrants have usually not made a psychological break with the culture of their land of birth and carry traditional practices with them to their new homes. Their children, by contrast, are often contemptuous of their parents’ religiosity, and yet have not become integrated into the culture of the surrounding Western society. Stuck between two cultures with which they cannot identify, they find a strong appeal in the universalist ideology offered by contemporary jihadism.
Olivier Roy overstates the case for viewing radical Islamism as a primarily European phenomenon; there are plenty of other sources for radical ideologies coming out of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan have all exported radical Islamist ideology, and Iraq may do so in the future. But even in Muslim countries, Roy’s analysis remains valid to an important degree because it is these societies’ confrontation with modernity that produces the crisis of identity and radicalization. Globalization, driven by the Internet and tremendous mobility, has blurred the boundaries between the developed world and traditional Muslim societies. It is not an accident that so many of the perpetrators of recent terrorist plots and incidents either were European Muslims radicalized in Europe or came from privileged sectors of Muslim societies with opportunities for contact with the West. Mohamed Atta and the other organizers of the September 11 attacks fall into this category, as do Mohammed Bouyeri (the murderer of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh), the March 11 Madrid bombers, and the July 7 London bombers. In addition, there was an extensive network of mostly Moroccan terrorists, operating out of the Belgian town of Maaseik, which supported the bombings in Casablanca and Madrid before being broken up by the police.7 It should be noted that al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are both highly educated men with plenty of knowledge of and access to the modern world.
If contemporary radical Islamism is properly understood as a product of identity politics and hence a modern phenomenon, then two implications follow. First, we have seen this problem before in the extremist politics of the twentieth century, among the young people who became anarchists, Bolsheviks, fascists, or members of the Bader-Meinhof gang. As Fritz Stern, Ernest Gellner, and many others have shown, modernization and the transition from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft constitute an intensely alienating process that has been negatively experienced by countless individuals in different societies.8 It is now the turn of young Muslims to experience this. Whether there is anything specific to the Muslim religion that encourages this radicalization is an open question. Since September 11, a small industry has sprung up trying to show how jihad, violence, and even suicide bombing have deep Koranic or historical roots. It is important to remember, however, that at many periods in history Muslim societies were more tolerant than their Christian counterparts. Maimonides was born in Muslim Cordoba, which was an incredibly diverse center of learning and culture; Baghdad for many generations hosted one of the world’s largest Jewish communities. It would make no more sense to see contemporary radical Islamism as an inevitable outgrowth of Islam than to see fascism as somehow the culmination of a Christian European cultural tradition.
Second, the problem of jihadist terrorism will not be solved by bringing modernization and democracy to the Middle East. The Bush administration’s view that terrorism is driven by a lack of democracy overlooks the fact that so many terrorists were radicalized in democratic European countries. It is highly naïve to think that radical Islamists hate the West out of ignorance of what the West is. Modernization and democracy are good things in their own right, but in the Muslim world they are likely to increase rather than dampen the terrorist problem in the short run.
Identity in Europe and North America
If Muslims in the West feel caught between the identity of their parents and the identity of the country in which they live, where does the latter come from? Liberal societies are known for having weak identities; many celebrate their own pluralism and multiculturalism, arguing in effect that their identity is to have no identity. Yet the fact of the matter is that national identity still exists in virtually all contemporary liberal democracies. The nature of national identity, however, is different in North America than it is in Europe, which goes far in explaining why the integration of Muslims is so difficult in countries like the Netherlands, France, and Germany.
American identity was one of Seymour Martin Lipset’s chief preoccupations throughout his career, as elucidated in works from The First New Nation to American Exceptionalism. According to Lipset, American identity was always political in nature and was powerfully influenced by the fact that the United States was born from a revolution against state authority.9 The American creed was based on five basic values: equality (understood as equality of opportunity rather than outcome), liberty (or anti-statism), individualism (in the sense that individuals could determine their own social station), populism, and laissez-faire. Because these qualities were both political and civic, they were in theory accessible to all Americans and have remained remarkably durable over the republic’s history. Robert Bellah once described the United States as having a “civic religion,” but it is a church that is open to the country’s newcomers.10
In addition to these aspects of political culture, American identity is also rooted in more narrowly ethnic traditions, what Samuel Huntington has labeled “Anglo-Protestant” culture.11 Lipset agreed that the religious traditions of America’s British settlers—what he described as the sectarian nature of American Protestantism—were very important in the shaping of American culture. The famous Protestant work ethic, the American proclivity for voluntary association (which still today remains rooted in the congregational nature of American religion), and the moralism of American politics are all by-products of this Anglo-Protestant heritage.
But while key aspects of American culture are rooted in particular European cultural traditions, by the beginning of the twenty-first century they had become deracinated from their ethnic origins and were practiced by a host of new Americans. Americans work much harder than do Europeans, and they tend to believe—like Weber’s early Protestants—that dignity lies in morally redeeming work rather than in the social solidarity of a welfare state.12 But who in today’s America works hard? It is much more likely to be a Russian cab driver, a Korean shopkeeper, or a Mexican day-laborer than a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
There are, of course, many aspects of contemporary American culture that are not so pleasant. The culture of entitlement, consumerism, Hollywood’s emphasis on sex and violence, and the underclass gang culture that the United States has reexported to Central America are all distinctively American characteristics that some immigrants come to share. Lipset argued that American exceptionalism was a double-edged sword: The same anti-statist proclivities that made Americans entrepreneurial also led them to disobey the law to a higher degree than Europeans.
European identity, by contrast, is much more confused. In the period following the Second World War, there has been a strong commitment throughout most of Europe to creating the same kind of tolerant and pluralist political identity that characterizes the United States—the “post-national” ideal promoted by intellectuals like Jurgen Habermas and embodied in the European project. But despite the progress that has been made in forging a strong European Union, European identity remains something that comes from the head rather than the heart. While there is thin layer of mobile, cosmopolitan Europeans, few think of themselves as generic Europeans or swell with pride at the playing of the European anthem. With the defeat of the European constitution in referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005, core European publics seemed to be telling elites that they were not yet ready to give up on the nation-state and sovereignty.
National identity—that is, identity at the member-state level—has been officially frowned upon since the beginning of the European project. The most formative experience for contemporary European consciousness was the First World War, which Europeans tend to blame on nationalism and out-of-control sovereignty. The fascist past of many European countries and its association with nationalism make it inconceivable that a German or a Spaniard would wave the national flag the way that Americans did after September 11.
Yet Europe’s old national identities continue to hang around like unwanted ghosts. In each member state, people still have a strong sense of what it means to be French or Dutch or Italian, even if it is not politically correct to affirm these identities too strongly or to engage in public discussions of what they mean. And national identities in Europe, compared to those in the Americas, remain far more blood-and-soil based, accessible only to those ethnic groups who initially populated the country.
Germany, for example, had a citizenship law that, until it was changed in 2000, was based on jus sanguinis rather than jus solis, meaning that one had to have a German mother to qualify for citizenship.13 A second or third-generation Turk who spoke only German had a harder time achieving naturalization than a recent ethnic German refugee from Russia who spoke not a word of German. Germans often would say that theirs was not a land of immigration like the United States, despite the fact that their cities were filling up with hordes of non-European guest workers and refugees.14
The Dutch, by contrast, are famous for their pluralism and tolerance and do not share the Germans’ nationalist legacy. Yet in the privacy of their own homes, the Dutch remain quite socially conservative: It is much easier for them to tolerate cultural difference when it is practiced in other, parallel communities rather than in their own. Dutch society has been multicultural without being assimilative, something that fit well into a consociational society that was traditionally organized into separate Protestant, Catholic, and socialist verzuilungen, or pillars.15
While other European countries do not formalize the corporatist organization of society in pillars, most tend to conceive of multiculturalism in a similar manner—as a framework for the coexistence of separate cultures rather than a transitional mechanism for integrating newcomers into the dominant culture. Many Europeans express skepticism about whether Muslim immigrants want to integrate, yet those who do are not always eagerly welcomed, even if they have acquired the language and basic cultural knowledge of the dominant society. In the United States by contrast, first-generation Guatemalan or Vietnamese immigrants can say proudly after taking the oath of citizenship that they are Americans, and no one will laugh at them for that.16
It is important not to overstate the differences between the United States and Europe in this regard. Europeans argue with some justice that they face a harder problem in integrating their immigrants—the majority of whom are Muslim—than does the United States, where the vast bulk of newcomers are Hispanic and share the Christian heritage of the dominant native cultural group. Numbers also matter: In the United States there are between two and three million Muslims in a country numbering nearly 300 million; were this Muslim population proportionally the same size as in France, there would be over 20 million.
What is the Solution?
Europe’s failure to better integrate its Muslims is a ticking time bomb that has already resulted in terrorism and violence. It is bound to provoke an even sharper backlash from nativist or populist groups and may in time threaten European democracy itself. Resolution of this problem will require a two-pronged approach, involving changes in behavior by immigrant minorities and their descendants as well as by members of the dominant national communities.
The first prong of the solution is to recognize that the old multicultural model was a failure in such countries as the Netherlands and Britain, and that it needs to be replaced by more energetic efforts to integrate non-Western populations into a common liberal culture. The old multicultural model was based on group recognition and group rights. Out of a misplaced sense of respect for cultural differences, it ceded entirely too much authority to cultural communities to define rules of behavior for their own members. Liberalism cannot ultimately be based on group rights, because not all groups uphold liberal values. The civilization of the European Enlightenment, of which contemporary liberal democracy is the heir, cannot be culturally neutral, since liberal societies have their own values regarding the equal worth and dignity of individuals. Cultures that do not accept these basic premises do not deserve equal protection in a modern liberal democracy. Members of immigrant communities and their offspring deserve to be treated equally as individuals, not as members of cultural communities. Thus, there is no reason for a Muslim girl to be treated differently under the law from a Christian or Jewish one, whatever the feelings of her relatives.
Multiculturalism, as it was originally conceived in Canada, the United States, and Europe, was in some sense a “game at the end of history.” That is, cultural diversity was seen as a kind of ornament to liberal pluralism that would provide ethnic restaurants, colorful dress, and traces of distinctive historical traditions to societies often seen as numbingly conformist and homogeneous. Cultural diversity was something to be practiced largely in the private sphere, where it would not lead to any serious violations of individual rights or otherwise challenge the essentially liberal social order. Where it did intrude into the public sphere, as in the case of language policy in Quebec, the deviation from liberal principle was seen by the dominant community more as an irritant than as a fundamental threat to liberal democracy itself.17
By contrast, some contemporary Muslim communities are making demands for group rights that simply cannot be squared with liberal principles of individual equality. These demands include special exemptions from the family law that applies to everyone else in the society, the right to set up special religious schools with state support, and the right to exclude non-Muslims from certain types of public events. In some more extreme cases, Muslim communities have even expressed ambitions to challenge the secular character of the political order as a whole. These types of group rights clearly intrude on the rights of other individuals in the society and push cultural autonomy well beyond the private sphere.18
Asking Muslims to give up group rights is much more difficult in Europe than in the United States, however, because many European countries have corporatist traditions that continue to respect communal rights and fail decisively to separate church and state.19 We have already mentioned the “pillarization” that exists in the Netherlands and Belgium. The publicly funded Protestant and Catholic schools in those countries have by now been largely emptied of religious content, but the same is not true for Muslim schools, and the existence of the former makes it hard to argue in principle against state-supported religious education for Muslims. In Germany, the state collects taxes on behalf of the Protestant and Catholic churches and distributes revenues to church-related schools. This was a legacy of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf in the late nineteenth century, when the newly unified German state tried to subdue the Catholic Church as an independent political force, but managed only partially to digest it. Even France, with its strong republican tradition, has not been consistent on this issue. After the French revolution’s anti-clerical campaign, Napoleon’s 1805 Concordat restored the role of religion in education and used a corporatist approach to manage church-state relations. The state’s relationship with France’s Jewish community, for example, was managed by the Ministre de Cultes through the Consistoire Israelite, which in many ways served as the model for Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent efforts to create an authoritative Muslim interlocutor to speak for (and to control) the French Muslim community. Even the 1905 law enshrining the principle of laïcité had exceptions, as in Alsace, where the French state still supports church-related schools.
These islands of corporatism where European states continue to officially recognize communal rights were not controversial prior to the arrival of large Muslim communities. Most European societies had become thoroughly secular, so these religious holdovers seemed quite harmless. But they set important precedents for the Muslim communities, and they will be obstacles to the maintenance of a wall of separation between church and state. If Europe is to establish the liberal principle of a pluralism based on individuals rather than communities, then it must address these corporatist institutions inherited from the past.
The other prong of the solution to the problem of Muslim integration concerns the expectations and behavior of the majority communities in each European country. National identity has not disappeared, and it often continues to be understood in ways that make it inaccessible to newcomers who do not share the ethnicity and religious background of the native-born. As a first step, rules for naturalization and legal citizenship need to be put on a non-ethnic basis and the conditions made less onerous. Beyond this, however, each European nation-state needs to create a more inclusive sense of national identity that can better promote a common sense of citizenship. National identity has always been socially constructed; it revolves around history, symbols, heroes, and the stories that a community tells about itself. The history of twentieth-century nationalism has put discussions of national identity off-limits for many Europeans, but this is a dialogue that needs to be reopened in light of the de facto diversity of contemporary European societies.
Germany’s Christian Democrats gingerly broached this subject after the revision of the citizenship law in 2000 by floating the idea of Leitkultur, the notion that German citizenship entails certain obligations to observe standards of tolerance and equal respect. The term Leitkultur (a term that can be translated as a “guiding” or “reference culture”) was invented by Bassam Tibi, a Syrian academic living in Germany, precisely as a nonethnic, universalist conception of citizenship that would open up national identity to nonethnic Germans.20 Despite these origins, the idea was immediately denounced by the Left as racist and a throwback to Germany’s unhappy past, and the Christian Democrats quickly distanced themselves from it.21 But Tibi’s original notion was exactly on the mark, and its short shelf-life only serves to indicate how big an obstacle political correctness is to open discussion of national identity.
Many Europeans insist that the American “melting pot” approach to national identity is unique and cannot be replicated in Europe. This may well be the case, but if so, Europe is heading for a social explosion. There are, however, some European precedents for creating national identities that are more open and less based on ethnicity or religion. The most obvious example is French republicanism, which in its classic form refused to recognize separate communal identities and indeed used the power of the state to homogenize French society.22 With the growth of terrorism and domestic violence, an intense discussion has emerged in France about why this form of integration has failed. Part of the reason may be that the French themselves gave up their old concept of citizenship in favor of the trendier approach of multiculturalism. The headscarf ban of 2004 was a sudden reassertion of an older republican tradition that had been allowed to lapse.
Americans may indeed have something to teach Europeans with regard to the creation of an open national identity. Observers like Robert Bellah have long noted that national identity has become a kind of civic religion for Americans.23
American life is full of quasi-religious ceremonies and rituals meant to celebrate the country’s democratic political institutions: flag-raising ceremonies, the naturalization oath, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. Europeans, by contrast, have for the most part deritualized their political lives. No European country has a naturalization ceremony comparable to that of the United States, and Europeans tend to be cynical or dismissive of American displays of patriotism. But such ceremonies play a critical role in the assimilation of new immigrants into American political and social life.
Even more important is the role of the welfare state and economic policy. Europeans continue to cling tenaciously to the postwar welfare state and denounce the United States for its supposedly heartless social model. But the European welfare state is doing active harm to the ability of European societies to integrate culturally distinct immigrants. The flexibility of U.S. labor markets means that there is an abundance of low-skill jobs for immigrants to take, and most foreigners come to the United States in search of work. In Europe, a combination of inflexible work rules and generous benefits means that immigrants come in search not of work but of welfare.
Europeans claim that the less generous welfare state in the United States robs the poor of dignity. But the opposite is true: Dignity comes through work and the contributions one makes through one’s labor to the larger society. In many Muslim communities in Europe, as much as half the population subsists on welfare, directly contributing to the sense of alienation and hopelessness. Europeans have not been able to address honestly and openly the problem of Muslim integration—either what immigrants owe their adoptive society or what that society owes its immigrants—due to a pervasive political correctness surrounding this whole set of issues. The rapid shutting down of any discussion of Leitkultur in Germany is but one example of this. Those political parties on the center-right that should drive such a discussion have been intimidated by the left through accusations of racism and old-style nationalism; they fear above all being tarred by the far right. This is a huge mistake. The far right will make a big comeback if mainstream parties fail to take up this issue in a serious way. Unfortunately, it has taken acts of violence to open up a more honest discussion of these issues in the Netherlands, Britain, and France. The Netherlands has come the furthest in this regard since the van Gogh murder in 2004. While the rhetoric has often taken on populist and racist overtones, the discussion is at least taking place.24
The dilemma of immigration and identity ultimately converges with the larger problem of the valuelessness of postmodernity. That is, the rise of relativism has made it impossible for postmodern people to assert positive values for which they stand, and therefore the kinds of shared beliefs they demand as a condition for citizenship. Postmodern societies, particularly those in Europe, feel that they have evolved past identities defined by religion and nation and have arrived at a superior place. But aside from their celebration of endless diversity and tolerance, postmodern people find it difficult to agree on the substance of the good life to which they aspire in common.
Immigration forces upon us in a particularly acute way discussion of the question “Who are we?” posed by Samuel Huntington. It is easy to agree on things like football and beer-drinking as elements of a common culture, but it is much harder to say which aspects of national history are important. If postmodern societies are to move toward a more serious discussion of identity, they will need to uncover those positive virtues that define what it means to be a member of the larger community. If they do not, they will indeed be overwhelmed by people who are more sure about who they are.
A different version of this lecture was given at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, under the aegis of the Nexus Institute. The author would like to thank Rob Riemen of the Nexus Institute and Bassam Tibi for providing comments, and Krystof Monasterski and Ina Hoxha for help in researching this paper.
- For an overview, see Ian Johnson and John Carreyrou, “As Muslims Call Europe Home, Dangerous Isolation Takes Root,” Wall Street Journal, 11 July 2005.
- See for example Bassam Tibi, “Les Conditions d’un Euro-Islam,” in Robert Bistolfi and Francois Zabbal, ed., Islams d’Europe: Intégration ou Insertion Communitaire (Paris: Editions de l’Aube, 1995); Olivier Roy, “EuroIslam: The Jihad Within?” The National Interest (Spring 2003): 63–74; Unni Wikan, Generous Betrayal: Politics of Culture in the New Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Patrick Buchanan, The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasion Imperil Our Country and Civilization (New York: Thomas Dunne, 2002); Bruce Bawer, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within (New York: Doubleday, 2006); and Tony Blankley, The West’s Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations? (New York: Regnery, 2005).
- See Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994); and Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).
- Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism, 30.
- See the discussion in Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism, 53.
- Olivier Roy, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).
- See Craig Whitlock, “How a Town Became a Terror Hub,” Washington Post, 24 November 2005, A1.
- Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of German Ideology (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1974); and Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983).
- Seymour Martin Lipset, The First New Nation (New York: Basic Books, 1963); American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995).
- Robert N. Bellah and Phillip Hammond, Varieties of Civil Religion (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980).
- Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004).
- The average American works 25.9 hours per week, versus 19.3 for Germans and 17.5 for the French. See Edward C. Prescott, “Why Do Americans Work So Much More Than Europeans?” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Research Department Staff Report 321 (November 2003). The difference in attitudes toward work is nowhere more evident than in the case of the 35 hour work week, mandated by the Socialist government of Lionel Jospin and now widely considered to be a social “acquis” in France. A similar national restriction on the length of the work week would be regarded as an absurdity in the United States.
- See William R. Brubaker, “Immigration, Citizenship, and the Nation-State in France and Germany: A Comparative Historical Analysis,” International Sociology 5 (December 1990): 379–407.
- Nergis Canefe, “Citizens versus Permanent Guests: Cultural Memory and Citizenship Laws in a Reunified Germany,” Citizenship Studies 2 (November 1998): 519–44.
- For an overview of “pillarization” in the Netherlands, see Arend Lijphart, “The Evolution of Consociational Theory and Consociational Practices, 1965– 2000,” Acta Politica 37 (Spring–Summer 2002): 11–22.
- This is not simply an American characteristic. Naturalization and cultural assimilation are far easier in all lands of new settlement, not just English-speaking former colonies like Canada and Australia, but also in Latin America, where political leaders have names like Menem, Bucaram, and Fujimori.
- For a less positive assessment of Quebec’s attachment to democracy, see Pierre Elliott Trudeau, “Some Obstacles to Democracy in Quebec,” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 24 (August 1958): 297–311.
- Katherine P. Ewing, “Legislating Religious Freedom: Muslim Challenges to the Relationship between ‘Church’ and ‘State’ in Germany and France,” Daedalus 129 (Fall 2000): 31–54.
- John T.S. Madeley, “European Liberal Democracy and the Principle of State Religious Neutrality,” West European Politics 26 (January 2003): 1–22.
- See Bassam Tibi, Europa ohne Identität? Die Krise der multikulturellen Gesellschaft (Munich: Bertelsmann, 1998).
- For an unsympathetic interpretation of Leitkultur that illustrates the difficulties of discussing this issue honestly, see Hartwig Pautz, “The Politics of Identity in Germany: The Leitkultur Debate,” Race and Class 46 (April 2005): 39–52.
- Jane Freedman, “Secularism as a Barrier to Integration? The French Dilemma,” International Migration 42 (August 2004): 5–27; and Michel Troper, “Religion and Constitutional Rights: French Secularism, or Laïcité,” Cardozo Law Review 21 (February 2000): 1267–84.
- See Robert N. Bellah and Phillip Hammond, Varieties of Civil Religion.
- Ian Buruma, “Letter from Amsterdam: Final Cut,” New Yorker, 3 January 2005.