MOST COUNTRIES HAVE a core or mainstream culture shared to varying degrees by most people in their society. Subordinate cultures usually exist involving subnational or, on occasion, transnational groups defined by religion, race, ethnicity, region, class, or other categories that people feel give them something in common. America has always had its full share of subcultures. It also has had a mainstream AngloProtestant culture in which most of its people, whatever their subcultures, have shared. For almost four centuries this culture of the founding settlers has been the central and the lasting component of American identity. One has only to ask: Would America be the America it is today if in the 17th and 18th centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.
America's Anglo-Protestant culture has combined political and social institutions and practices inherited from England, including most notably the English language, together with the concepts and values of dissenting Protestantism, which faded in England but which the settlers brought with them and which took on new life on the new continent. At the beginning, as Alden T. Vaughan has said, "almost everything was fundamentally English: the forms of land ownership and cultivation, the system of government and the basic format of laws and legal procedures, the choices of entertainment and leisure-time pursuits, and innumerable other aspects of colonial life." Arthur Schlesinger Jr. concurs: "the language of the new nation, its laws, its institutions, its political ideas, its literature, its customs, its precepts, its prayers, primarily derived from Britain."
With adaptations and modifications, this original culture persisted for 300 years. Two hundred years after John Jay in 1789 identified six central elements Americans had in common, one of these, common ancestry, no longer existed. Several of the five others—language, religion, principles of government, manners and customs, war experience—had been modified or diluted (e.g., by the "same religion," Jay undoubtedly meant Protestantism, which 200 years later would have to be modified to Christianity). Yetin their fundamentals, Jay's components of American identity, although challenged, still were central to American culture in the 20th century.
With respect to language, the efforts of 18th-century German settlers in Pennsylvania to make German the equal of English infuriated Benjamin Franklin, among others, and did not succeed. The efforts of 19th-century German immigrants to maintain German-speaking enclaves in Wisconsin and to use German in schools eventually came to naught as a result of pressures for assimilation and the Wisconsin legislature in 1889 requiring schools to use English as their language of instruction. Until the appearance of large concentrations of Spanish-speaking immigrants in Miami and the Southwest, America was unique as a huge country of more than 200 million people virtually all speaking the same language.
The political and legal institutions the settlers created in the 17th and 18th centuries embodied in large part the institutions and practices of England's late 16th-century and early 17th-century "Tudor constitution." These included: the concept of a fundamental law superior to and limiting government; the fusion of executive, legislative, and judicial functions and the division of power among separate institutions and governments; the relative power of the legislature and chief executive; the merger of "dignified" and "efficient", functions in the chief executive; a two-house legislature; the responsibility of legislators to their local constituencies; a legislative committee system; and primary reliance for defense on militia rather than a standing army.
During the 19th century and until the late 20th century, immigrants were in various ways compelled, induced, and persuaded to adhere to the central elements of the Anglo-Protestant culture. Twentieth-century cultural pluralists, multiculturalists, and spokesmen for ethnic and racial minorities testify to the success of these efforts. Southern and eastern European immigrants,
Michael Novak poignantly commented in 1977, were pressured to become "American" by adapting to Anglo-American culture: Americanization "was a process of vast psychic repression." In similar language, Will Kymlicka in 1995 argued that prior to the 1960s, immigrants "were expected to shed their distinctive heritage and assimilate entirely to existing cultural norms," which he labeled the "Anglo-conformity model." If they were thought incapable of assimilation, like the Chinese, they were excluded. In 1967, Harold Cruse declared, "America is a nation that lies to itself about who and what it is. It is a nation of minorities ruled by a minority of one—it thinks and acts as if it were a nation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants."
These critics are right. Throughout American history, people who were not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants have become Americans by adopting America's Anglo-Protestant culture and political values. This benefited them and the country. American national identity and unity, as Benjamin C. Schwarz has said, derived... from the ability and willingness of an,Anglo elite to stamp its image on other peoples coming to this country. That elite's religious and political principles, its customs and social relations, its standards of taste and morality, were for 300 years America's, and in basic ways they still are, despite our celebration of 'diversity.' Whatever freedom from ethnic and nationalist conflict this country has enjoyed (and it has been considerably less than our national mythology would have us believe) has existed thanks to a cultural and ethnic predominance that would not tolerate conflict or confusion regarding the national identity.
Millions of immigrants and their children achieved wealth, power, and status in American society precisely because they, assim-ilated themselves into the prevailing American culture. Hence there is no validity to the claim that Americans have to choose between a white, WASPish ethnic identity, on the one hand, and an abstract, shallow civic identity dependent on commitment to certain political principles, on the other. The core of their identity is the culture that the settlers created, which generations of immigrants have absorbed, and which gave birth to the American Creed. At the heart of that culture has been Protestantism.
"The Dissidence of Dissent"
America was founded as a Protestant society and for 200 years almost all Americans were Protestant. With the substantial Catholic immigration first from Germany and Ireland and then Italy and Poland, the proportion of Protestants declined fairly steadily. By 2000, about 60 percent of Americans were Protestants. Protestant beliefs, values, and assumptions, however, had been the core element, along with the English language, of America's settler culture, and that culture continued to pervade and shape American life, society, and thought as the proportion of Protestants declined. Because they are central to American culture, Protestant values deeply influenced Catholicism and other religions in America. They have shaped American attitudes toward private and public morality, economic activity, government, and public policy. Most importantly, they are the primary source of the American Creed, the ostensibly secular political principles that supplement Anglo-Protestant culture as the critical defining element of what it means to be American.
In the early 17th century, as Adrian Hastings has said, Christianity was the "shaper of nations, even of nationalisms," and states and countries explicitly defined themselves as Protestant or Catholic. In Europe, existing societies accepted or rejected the Protestant Reformation. In America, the Reformation created a new society. Unique among countries, America is the child of that Reformation. Without it there would be no America as we have known it. The origins of America, I have argued, "are to be found in the English Puritan Revolution." In America, the 19th century Swiss visitor Philip Schaff observed, "every thing had a Protestant beginning."
Its Protestant origins make America unique among nations and help explain why religion is central to American identity. America, said Tocqueville in an oft-quoted phrase, "was born equal and hence did not have to become so." More significantly, America was born Protes tant and did not have to become so. America was thus not founded, as Louis Hartz argued, as a "liberal," "Lockeian," or "Enlightenment" fragment of Europe. It was founded as a succession of Protestant fragments, a process under way in 1632 when Locke was born. Scholars who attempt to identify the American "liberal consensus" or Creed solely with Lockeian ideas and the Enlightenment are giving a secular interpretation to the religious sources of American values.
Religion was a predominant motive in the creation of colonies. Virginia had "religious origins." Quakers and Methodists settled in Pennsylvania. Catholics established a beachhead in Maryland.
The settling of America was, of course, a result of economic and other motives, as well as religious ones. Yet religion still was central. Although less important in New York and the Carolinas, religion was a predominant motive in the creation of the other colonies. Virginia, as Jon Butler says, had "religious origins." Quakers and Methodists settled in Pennsylvania. Catholics established a beachhead in Maryland. Religious intensity was undoubtedly greatest among the Puritans, especially in Massachusetts. They took the lead in defining their settlement based on "a Covenant with God" to create "a city on a hill." In the 17th and 18th centuries, Americans defined their mission in the New World in biblical terms. They were a "chosen people," on an "errand in the wilderness," creating "the new Israel" or the "new Jerusalem" in what was clearly "the promised land." America was the site of a "new Heaven and a new earth, the home of justice," God's country.
American Protestantism differs from European Protestantism, particularly those denominations, Anglican or Lutheran, that have involved established churches. This difference was noted by Edmund Burke, who contrasted the fear, awe, duty, and reverence Englishmen felt toward political and religious authorities with the "fierce spirit of liberty" among Americans. This spirit, he argued, was rooted in the distinctively American brand of Protestantism. The Americans "are Protestants, and of that kind which is the most averse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance: it is the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion."
This dissidence was manifest from the first with the settlements of the Pilgrims and the Puritans in New England.
The Puritan message, style, and assumptions, if not doctrines, spread throughout the colonies and became absorbed into the beliefs and outlooks of other Protestant groups. In some measure, as Tocqueville said, "the entire destiny of America" was shaped by the Puritans. The "religious zeal and the religious conscience" of New England, James Bryce agreed, in "large measure passed into the whole nation." Qualified, modified, diffused, the Puritan legacy became the American essence. While "England had a Puritan Revolution without creating a Puritan society America created a Puritan society without enduring a Puritan revolution."
The dissidence of American Protestantism, manifested first in Puritanism and congregationalism, reappeared in subsequent centuries in Baptist, Methodist, pietist, fundamentalist, evangelical, Pentecostal, and other types of Protestantism. These movements differed greatly. They were, however, generally committed to an emphasis on the individual's direct relation to God, the supremacy of the Bible as the sole source of God's word, salvation through faith and, for many, the transforming experience of being "born again," personal responsibility to proselytize and bear witness, and democratic and participatory church organization. Beginning in the 18th century, American Protestantism became increasingly populist and less hierarchical and increasingly emotional and less intellectual. Doctrine gave way to passion. Sects and movements multiplied constantly, the dissenting sects of one generation then being challenged by the new dissidents of the next generation.
"Dissidence of dissent" describes the history as well as the character of American Protestantism.
Evangelicalism, in various manifestations, has been central to American Protestantism. From the beginning, America was, in the phrase of the University of Chicago historian Martin Marty, an "evangelical empire." In the early 19th century, sects, preachers, and adherents exploded in number. "Young men of relentless energy," as the historian Nathan Hatch has said, "went about movement-building as self-conscious outsiders. They shared an ethic of unrelenting toil, a passion for expansion, a hostility to orthodox belief and style, a zeal for religious reconstruction, and a systematic plan to realize their ideals. ... They all offered common people, especially the poor, compelling visions of individual self-respect and collective self-confidence." "The history of American Evangelicism is then more than a history of a religious movement," William McLoughlin, the leading scholar of Great Awakenings, agrees. "To understand it is to understand the whole temper of American life in the nineteenth century"
Much the same could be said of the late 20th century. In the 1980s, slightly less than one-third of Americans said they were "born-again" Christians, including a majority of Baptists, about one-third of Methodists, and more than a quarter of Lutherans and Presbyterians. In 1999, roughly 39 percent of Americans said they were born again. Evangelicalism was also winning many converts among America's largest immigrant group, Latin American Catholics. Evangelical students were also becoming increasingly numerous at elite universities. As the new millenium began, dissenting Protestantism and evangelicalism were continuing to play central roles in meeting the spiritual needs of Americans.
The American Creed
The term "the American Creed" was popularized by Gunnar Myrdal in 1944 in The American Dilemma. Pointing to the racial, religious, ethnic, regional, and economic heterogeneity of the United States, he argued that Americans had "something in common: a social ethos, a political creed," which he labeled the American Creed. His term has been accepted as the common label for a phenomenon that had been noted by many earlier commentators, and which both foreign and American observers have identified as a key element of American identity and often as the only significant determinant of that identity.
Scholars have defined the concepts of the Creed in various ways, but they almost universally agree on its central ideas. Myrdal spoke of "the essential dignity of the individual human being, of the fundamental equality of all men, and of certain inalienable rights to freedom, justice, and a fair opportunity." Tocqueville found people throughout America agreeing on "liberty and equality, the liberty of the press, the right of association, the jury, and the responsibility of the agents of government." In the 1890s, Bryce summed up the political beliefs of Americans as including the sacred rights of the individual, the people as the source of political power, government limited by law and the people, a preference for local over national government, majority rule, and "the less government the better." In the 20th century, Daniel Bell pointed to "individualism, achievement and equality of opportunity" as central values of the Creed and highlighted the extent to which in America, "the tension between liberty and equality, which framed the great philosophical debates in Europe, was dissolved by an individualism which encompassed both." Seymour Martin Upset identified five key principles as its core: liberty, egalitarianism (of opportunity and respect, not result or condition), individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.
The principles of the Creed have three outstanding characteristics. First, they have remained remarkably stable over time. Second, until the late 20th century, the Creed also commanded the widespread agreement and support of the American people, however practice might deviate from it. The only major exception was the effort in the South to formulate a justification for slavery. Third, almost all the central ideas of the Creed have their origins in dissenting Protestantism. The Protestant emphasis on the individual conscience and the responsibility of individuals to learn God's truths directly from the Bible promoted American commitment to individualism, equality, and the rights to freedom of religion and opinion. Protestantism stressed the work ethic and the respon-sibility of the individual for his own success or failure in life. With its congregational forms of church organization, Protestantism fostered opposition to hierarchy and the assumption that similar democratic forms should be employed in government. It also promoted moralistic efforts to reform society and to secure peace and justice at home and throughout the world.
Protestantism stressed the work ethic and the responsibility of the individual for his own success or failure in life.
Nothing like the Creed was created in continental European societies apartfrom revolutionary France, or in French, Spanish, or Portuguese colonies, or even in subsequent British colonies in Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Muslim, Buddhist, Orthodox, Confucian, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, and even Lutheran and Anglican cultures have produced nothing comparable. The American Creed is the unique creation of a dissenting Protestant culture. The extent, the fervor, and the continuity with which Americans have embraced the Creed testify to its place as an indispensable part of their national character and identity.
The sources of the Creed include the Enlightenment ideas that became popular among some American elites in the mid-18th cen-tury. These ideas, however, found receptive ground in the Anglo-Protestant culture that had already existed in America for over a century. Of central importance in that culture were long-standing English ideas of natural and common law, the limits of govern-ment authority, and the rights of Englishmen going back to Magna Carta. To these, the more radical Puritan sects of the English Revolution added equality and the responsiveness of government to the people. Religion in America, as William Lee Miller has observed, "helped to make the creed and was compatible with it .... Here liberal Protestantism and political liberalism, democratic religion and democratic politics, American faith and Christian faith, penetrated each other and exerted a profound influence upon each other." As Jeff Spinner observed, "It's difficult to disentangle what is Protestant from what is liberal in the United States." The American Creed, in short, is Protestantism without God, the secular credo of the "nation with the soul of a church."
Individualism and the Work Ethic
Protestantism in America generally involves a belief in the fundamental opposition of good and evil, right and wrong. Americans are far more likely than Canadians, Europeans, and Japanese, as Upset said, to believe that "There are absolutely clear guidelines about what is good and evil" applicable "whatever the circumstances" rather than to believe that no such guidelines exist and what is good or evil depends on circumstances.
Most Protestant sects emphasize the role of the individual in achieving knowledge of God directly from the Bible without inter-mediation by clerical hierarchy. Many denominations also emphasize that the individual achieves salvation or is "born again" as a result of the grace of God, also without clerical intermediation. Success in this world places on the individual the responsibility to do good. "Protestantism, republicanism, and individualism are all one," as F.J. Grund observed of America in 1837.
Their Protestant culture has made Americans the most individualistic people in the world. In Geert Hofstede's comparative analysis of 116,000 employees of IBM in 39 countries, for instance, the mean individualism index was 51. Americans, however, were far above that mean, ranking first with an index of 91, followed by Australia, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. Eight of the ten countries with the highest individualism indices were Protestant. A survey of cadets in military academies in 14 countries produced comparable results, with those from the United States, Canada, and Denmark ranking highest in individualism. The 1995-97 World Values Survey asked people in 48 countries whether individuals or the state should be primarily responsible for their welfare. Americans (with Swedes) came in close seconds to Swiss in emphasizing individual responsibility. In a survey of 15,000 managers in several countries, the Americans scored the highest on individualism, Japanese the lowest, with Canadians, British, Germans, and French between them in that order. The authors of the study concluded: "American managers are by far the strongest individualists in our national samples. They are also more inner-directed. Americans believe you should 'make up your mind' and 'do your own thing' rather than allow yourself to be influenced too much by other people and the external flow of events."
The American Protestant belief in individual responsibility gave rise to the gospel of success and the concept of the self-made man. "It was Anglo-Saxon Protestants," as Robert Bellah says, "who created the gospel of wealth and the ideal of success." The concept of the self-made man came to the fore in the Jacksonian years, Henry Clay first using the phrase in a Senate debate in 1832. Americans, countless opinion surveys have shown, believe that whether or not one succeeds in life depends overwhelmingly on one's own talents and character. In the absence of rigid social hierarchies, one is what one achieves.
From the beginning, America's religion has been the religion of work. In other societies, heredity, class, social status, ethnicity, and family are the principal sources of status and legitimacy. In America, work is. In different ways both aristocratic and socialist societies tend to demean and discourage work. Bourgeois societies promote work. America, the quintessential bourgeois society, glorifies work. When asked "What do you do?" almost no American dares answer "Nothing." As Harvard theorist Judith Shklar has pointed out, throughout American history social standing has depended on working and earning money by working. Employment is the source of self-assurance and independence. "Be industrious and free," as Benjamin Franklin put it. This glorification of work came to the fore during the Jacksonian era, when people were classified as "do-somethings" or "do-nothings." The Frenchman Michel Chevalier, who visited America in the 1830s, commented,
The manners and customs are those of a working, busy society. A man who has no profession and—which is nearly the same thing—who is not married enjoys little consideration; he who is an active and useful member of society, who contributes his share to augment the national wealth and increase the numbers of the population, he only is looked upon with respect and favor. The American is brought up with the idea that he will have some particular occupation and that if he is active and intelligent he will make his fortune. He has no conception of living without a profession, even when his family is rich. The habits of life are those of an exclusively working people. From the moment he gets up, the American is at his work, and he is absorbed in it till the hour of sleep.
In the 1890s Polish immigrants to America were overwhelmed by the amount of work that they were expected to perform.
The right to labor and to the rewards of labor was part of the 19th-century arguments against slavery, and the central right espoused by the new Republican Party was the "right to labor productively, to pursue one's vocation and reap its rewards."
In the 1990s Americans remained people of work. They worked longer hours and took shorter vacations than people in other industrialized democracies. The hours of work in other industrialized societies were decreasing. In America, if anything, they were increasing. Among industrialized countries the average hours a worker worked in 1997 were: America-1,966, Japan-1,889, Australia-1,867, New Zealand-1,838, Britain-1,731, France-1,656, Sweden —1,582, Germany-1,560, Norway-1,399. On average, Americans worked 350 more hours per year than Europeans. In 1999, 60 percent of American teenagers worked, three times the average of other industrialized countries.
Historically Americans have had an ambivalent attitude toward leisure, often feeling guilty about it, and attempting to reconcile it with their work ethic. As Cindy Aron argued in her book Working at Play, Americans in the 20th century remained prisoners of the "persistent and continuing American suspicion of time spent away from work." Americans often tend to feel they should devote their vacations not only to unproductive leisure but to good works and self-improvement.
Americans have not only worked more than other peoples, but they have found satisfaction in and identified themselves with their work more than others have. In a 1990 International Values Survey of ten countries, 87 percent of Americans reported that they took a great deal of pride in their work, with only the British reporting a comparable number. In most countries, less than 30 percent of workers expressed that view. Americans have consistently believed that hard work is the key to individual success. In the early 1990s, some 80 percent of Americans said that to be an American it is necessary to subscribe to the work ethic. Ninety percent of Americans said they would work harder if necessary for the success of their organization and 67 percent said they would not welcome social change that would lead to less emphasis on hard work.
Throughout American history, immigrants have faced the challenge of adapting to the work ethic. In 1854, the Swiss-German Philip Schaff advised potential immigrants to America
Prepare for all sorts of privations; trust not to fortune and circumstances, but to God and unwearied industry. If you wish a calm and cheerful life, better stay at home. The good old advice: Pray and work, is nowhere more to the point than in the United States. The genuine American despises nothing more than idleness and stagnation; he regards not enjoyment, but labor, not comfortable repose, but busy unrest, as the proper earthly lot of man; and this has unspeakable importance for him, and upon the whole a most salutary influence on the moral life of the nation.
In the 1890s Polish immigrants to America were overwhelmed by the amount of work that they were expected to perform. "In America," one wrote, "one has to sweat more during a day than during a whole week in Poland." In 1999 a Cuban-American, Alex Alvarez, warned new Cuban immigrants of what they would confront in America
Welcome to the capitalist system. Each one of you is responsible for the amount of money you have in your pocket. The Government is not responsible for whether you eat, or whether you're poor or rich. The Government doesn't guarantee you a job or a house. You've come to a rich and powerful country, but it is up to you whether or not you continue living like you did in Cuba.
Moralism and the Reform Ethic
American politics, like the politics of other societies, has been and remains a politics of personality and faction, class and region, interest group and ethnicgroup. To an extraordinary degree, however, it has also been and remains a politics of moralism and moral passion. American political values are embodied in the Creed, and efforts to realize those values in political behavior and institutions are a recurring theme in American history. Individually Americans have the responsibility to pursue the American dream and achieve what they can through their talents, character, and hard work. Collectively Americans have the responsibility to insure that their society is indeed the promised land. In theory, success in the reform of the individual could remove any need for the collective reform of society, and several great evangelists opposed social and political reforms precisely because they were not directed to the regeneration of the individual soul. In practice, however, the Great Awakenings in American history have been closely related to great periods of political reform. These manifestations of "creedal passion" have been fundamentally shaped by the dissenting, evangelical nature of American Protestantism. Robert Bellah neatly summarizes its role:
Every movement to make America more fully realize its professed values has grown out of some form of public theology, from the abolitionists to the social gospel and the early socialist party to the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King and the farm workers' movement under César Chavez. But so has every expansionist war and every form of oppression of racial minorities and immigrant groups.
Historians identify four Great Awakenings in the history of American Protestantism, each of which was associated with and im-mediately followed by major efforts at political reform. Many political, economic, and ideational factors came together to create the American Revolution. Among the latter were Lockeian liberalism, Enlightenment rationalism, and Whig republicanism. Also of central importance were the Revolution's religious sources, most notably the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s. Led by George Whitefield and other revivalist preachers and provided with doctrine and justification by Jonathan Edwards, the Awakening swept across the colonies mobilizing thousands of Americans to commit themselves to a new birth in Christ. This religious upheaval laid the basis for the political upheaval that immediately followed. "The evangelical impulse," as the Harvard scholar Man Heimert said, "was the avatar and instrument of a fervent American nationalism. In the evangelical churches of pre-Revolutionary America was forged that union of tribunes and people that was to characterize the early American Democracy."
"The Revolution," John Adams observed, "was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments.
Although Americans varied in the degree to which they supported or opposed it, the Awakening was the first popular movement to engage people from virtually all sects and denominations throughout the colonies. The Awakening's charismatic evangelist, Whitefield, preached from Georgia to New Hampshire and was the first truly American public figure. It thus created the experience and the environment for the transcolony political movements that led to independence. It was the first unifying experience for Americans, generating a sense of national, distinct from provincial, consciousness. "The Revolution," John Adams observed in 1818, "was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations."
The Second Great Awakening of the 1820s and 1830s was, as Robert Bellah says, "evangelical and revivalist," in effect the "second American revolution." It was marked by the tremendous expansion of the Methodist and Baptist churches and by the formation of many new denominations. In the Second Great Awakening, the counterpart to Whitefield was Charles G. Finney, who recruited tens of thousands of people into American churches and preached the need to "work as well as believe" and as a result generated a "mighty influence toward reform." Religious revivalism gave rise to multitudinous efforts at social and political improvement. As William Sweet describes it: "Societies were formed to advance the cause of temperance; to promote Sunday Schools; to save sailors at the ports and along the canals; to fight the use of tobacco; to improve the diet; to advance the cause of peace; to reform prisons; to stop prostitution; to colonize Negroes in Africa; to support education."
The most important child of the Awakening, however, was the abolitionist movement, which in the early 1830s took on new life, placed the slavery issue squarely on the national agenda, and for the next quarter century aroused and mobilized people in the cause of emancipation. When war came over that issue, soldiers from both North and South marched off to fight sure that their cause was God's cause. The depth of the religious dimension in that conflict is reflected in the immense popularity in the North of the "Battle Hymn" craftedby Julia Ward Howe, which begins with a vision of "the glory of the coming of the Lord" and ends with the invocation of Christ: "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free. While God is marching on."
The third Great Awakening got under way in the 1890s and was intimately linked with the populist and Progressive drives for social and political reform. The latter were suffused with Protestant morality and, as in the previous reform periods, the reformers stressed the moral necessity of eliminating the gap between institutions and ideals and creating a just and equitable society. The reformers attacked the concentrated power of corporate monopolies and big-city machines and, in varying degrees, advocated antitrust measures, women's suffrage, the initiative, referendum, and recall, prohibition, regulation of railroads, the direct primary. Support for these reforms was strongest in the Midwest and far West, the areas of "Greater New England" to which the descendants of the Puritans had migrated and where the intellectual, social, and religious legacy of the Puritans predominated.
The fourth Great Awakening originated in the 1950s and 1960s with the growth of evangelical Protestantism. It is associated with two reform movements in American politics. The first, beginning in the late 1950s, focused on the most obvious gap between American values and American reality, the legal and institutional discrimination against and segregation of America's black minority. It then led on to the general challenging of the institutions of established authority in the 1960s and 1970s, focused on the conduct of the Vietnam War and the abuse of power in the Nixon administration. In some cases, Protestant leaders and organizations, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, played central roles. In other instances, as with New Left organizations, the movement was entirely secular in definition but equally intense in its moralism. The New Left, as one of its leaders said in the early 1960s, "begins from moral values which are held as absolute." The second and later manifestation was the conservative drive for reform in the 1980s and 1990s focusing on the need to reduce governmental authority, social welfare programs, and taxes while at the same time attempting to expand government restrictions on abortion.
Dissenting Protestantism has marked American foreign policy as well as its domestic politics. In conducting their foreign policy, most states give overwhelming priority to what are generally termed the "realist" concerns of power, security, and wealth. Americans also, however, feel the need to promote in their relations with other societies and within those societies the moralistic goals they pursue at home. In the new republic before 1815, America's Founding Fathers debated and conducted its foreign relations overwhelmingly in realist terms. They led an extremely small republic bordered by possessions of the then great powers, Britain, France, and Spain, which were for most of these years fighting each other. In the course of fighting indecisive wars with Britain and France, intervening militarily in Spain's possessions, and doubling the size of their country by the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon America's leaders proved themselves adept practitioners of European-style power politics.
With the end of the Napoleonic era, America was able to downgrade its realist concerns with power and security and pursue largely economic objectives in its foreign relations while concentrating its energies on the expansion and development of its own territory. In this phase, as Walter McDougall has argued, the purpose of Americans was indeed to make their country the promised land.
At the end of the 19th century, however, America emerged as a global power. This produced two conflicting developments. On the one hand, as a great power, America could not ignore the realities of power politics. To maintain its status and security it would presumably have to compete in a hard-nosed manner with the other great powers in the world. At the same time, its emergence as a great power also made it possible for America to promote abroad the moral values and principles on which it had aspired to build its society at home. The relation between realism and moralism thus became the central issue of American foreign policy in the. 20th century, as Americans, in McDougall's words, redefined their country from "promised land" to "crusader state."
Samuel P Huntington is a professor at Harvard University and is the chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. This piece is excerpted from his forthcoming book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity to be published by Simon & Schuster, Inc., N.Y.