National Identity and the Politics of Multiculturalism

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National Identity and the Politics of Multiculturalism
Author(s): Henry A. Giroux
Source: College Literature, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Jun., 1995), pp. 42-57
Published by: College Literature
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National
Identity and
the Politics of
Multiculturalism
HENRY
Giroux
isWaterbury
Professor
Penn
at
of Education
in
of critical peda
have
the
changes
provided
conditions
for the emergence
of new
a
discourses
theoretical
that pose
to
modern
powerful
challenge
assumptions
the unity of nationalism
and cul
regarding
cultural
studies,
culture. His most
popular
recent books
Border
and
Crossings,
include
Living
Disturbing
Pleasures,
and his forth
identity
Cultures:
Race,
Violence,
the
and
nation,
the universal
The
culture.
national
of
imperatives
that
changes
have,
and
are
postcolonialism
as
profound
as they are disruptive political
intellectually
ly. Judith Squire captures the scope of these
while
about what
are rapidly
some
expressing
they have
absorbed
reservations
come
to mean as they
into new
theoretical
discourses:
and
Youtb
(Routledge).
a
in
new
forms of theorizing
part, produced
about globalization,
the politics of diaspora,
immigration,
identity politics, multicultural
changes,
coming Fugitive
and
and
common
ism,
Dangerously,
state
the
ture,
gogy,
GIROUX
Chair Global
State. He writes
thefields
A.
The
now:
transnational
intellectuals
knowledge.
with
academic
discipline,
along
to
is subject
state,
national
forces
of
change.
acknowledge
model
monic
remain
to be
and
productivity
cross
academ
to maximize
ic boundaries
The
of
And,
as
the failings
state
nationalism
life
cross
corporations
to maximize
borders
in our
is a given
economy
global
transnational
sovereignty
but
powerful
we
might
of
the old
and
hege
nonetheless
the
about
deeply
skeptical
had
the free movement
from
42
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the
gains
of
so we must
in pursuit
be
around
the globe
of profit,
capital
area studies,
to the benefits
the status of empirical
of jettisoning
the
canons
and oppressive
academic
hierarchical
constricting
depart
patriarchal
ment
the
but
also
(v)
structures,
pitfalls,
international
attuned
The pitfalls to which
Squires refers are the lack of specificity and theo
retical blurriness
that sometimes
the scholarly rush to take up
accompany
issues of the politics of globalization,
and post
diaspora, multiculturalism,
colonialism
(see also Grewal and Kaplan,
Ien, Calhoun,
"Nationalism," and
here with a position
that does not differ
Parry). I am particularly concerned
entiate among
forms of multiculturalism
radical, liberal, and conservative
within
the politics of the nation state. Such generalizations
often recycle or
must
What
is
discourse.
resisted
be
the assumption
that
reproduce colonialist
the politics of national
identity is necessarily
complicitous with a reactionary
and has been superseded
locate
by theories which
within
the
discourses
of
identity politics
squarely
postnational,
diasporic
or what Arjun Appadurai
calls the "search for nonterritorial
prin
globalism,
ciples of solidarity" (417).
can be addressed outside
This is not to suggest that diverse nationalisms
of their transnational links, or that the mechanisms
of a dominant and oppres
sive politics of assimilation can be abstracted from the pain, anguish, and suf
fering experienced
by those diasporic groups who define themselves
through
"nonnational
identities and aspirations" (Appadurai 418). What I am resisting
can only be associated with ethnic conflict, that
is the claim that nationalism
is witnessing
its death knell, or that the relationship
nationalism
between
a transnational
nationalism
and national
identity can only be framed within
discourse. The importance of such arguments must be acknowledged,
but at
in the context of the current con
the same time it is important to recognize
servative ideological offensive
in the United States that it is crucial for critical
in the grounded
educators and others to "locate our theorizing
sites of cul
the United States, on the one hand, and
tural and political resistance" within
to guard against the tendency
to "overgeneralize
the global current of so
called nomadic,
and
deterritorialized
fragmented
subjectivity" (Squires vi).
is crucial to understanding
over identity and
Nationalism
the debates
in the United States. As important as the discourse of glob
multiculturalism
alization might be, it cannot be used to overlook
how national
identity
reasserts itself within new discourses
and sites of learning. More specifically,
Iwant to argue that rather than dismissing
the politics of identity as another
to
essentialist discourse,
need
address
how the politics of iden
progressives
are
new
and
difference
constructed
around
tity
being
right wing discourses
and policies. Central to the construction
of a right wing nationalism
is a pro
an
a
to
common
of
national
culture
that
ject
defining
identity through
appeal
a
notion
of
national
based
notion
of
any
upon
displaces
identity
pluralized
its multiple
culture with
literacies, identities, and histories and erases histo
discourse
Henry
A
of nationalism
Girtmx
43
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ries of oppression
Stuart
and struggle for the working
class and minorities.
Hall is right in arguing that the 1990s is witnessing
the return of recharged
in big and small societies
that serves to restore national culture
nationalism
as the primordial source of national
identity ("Culture" 353). But this should
not suggest that the relationship between
nationalism
and culture manifests
or domination
or that any attempt to
in terms of oppression
itself exclusively
an insurgent multiculturalism
through an appeal to radical democ
develop
racy
assumes
necessarily
or
leaves
intact
the
boundary
of
the
as
nation
an
historical, political, and spatial formation. At stake here is the
unproblematic
as pri
need to acknowledge
the existence of the nation state and nationalism
identities while
mary forces in shaping collective
simultaneously
addressing
how the relationship
between
national
identity and culture can be under
stood as part of a broader struggle around developing
national and postna
tional forms of democracy.
The relationship between
culture and nationalism
always bears the traces
of those historical, ethical, and political forces that constitute
the often shift
that the
elements of national
ing and contradictory
identity. To the degree
in
is rigidly exclusive
and defines
its membership
culture of nationalism
terms
bic,
of
based
narrowly
and
authoritarian,
expansionist.
of a nationalism
cited example
or
genocide,
common
imperialist
aggression.
culture,
The
steeped
On
nationalism
in the practices
the
other
to be
tends
reflects
latter
hand,
the most
xenopho
commonly
of ethnic
cleansing,
moves
nationalism
to the degree
iden
that national
closer toward being liberal and democratic
a
civic
and
is
of
And
inclusive
and
difference.
yet,
tity
respectful
diversity
a claim to respecting
does not
cultural differences
that makes
nationalism
in coercive assimilationist
that the state will not engage
guarantee
policies.
cannot be defended
In other words, democratic
forms of nationalism
simply
principles. How nationalism
through a formal appeal to abstract, democratic
and
the
state
nation
the
through
that organize
access
diverse
commanding
embrace
democracy
cultural
legal,
groups
economic,
must
be
to shared
have
and
cultural
in
determined,
structures
of
institutions
part,
power
on
the
level (see Kymlicka).
local, state, and national
and national identity stand in a complex
Cultural differences
as well as totalitarian
to each other and point to progressive
to its problematic
character
that provide
nationalism
testimony
to the second
On the negative
side, recent history bears witness
relationship
elements
of
and effects.
world war
in forms of national
racial hatred and sup
identity that mobilized
steeped
in Germany,
anti-democratic
governments
Italy, and
ported
right wing,
1945, one of the most flagrant legacies of such a poisonous
Japan. Following
is evident in the longstanding
nationalism
apartheid regime that, until recent
as in the continuing
as
well
dominated
African
South
attempt on
politics
ly,
the part of Turkey to deny the Kurds any status as a national group.
44
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Literature
of national
Representations
racial
purity,
again surfaced
aggressively
inWestern
neo-nazi
movements
in Germany,
youth
constructed
identity
anti-semitism,
militarism,
and
religious
Europe
the
through
orthodoxy
and can be seen
neo-Fascist
political
an appeal
have
to
once
in the rise of
parties
that
won
in Italy, and the ethnic cleansing
that has driven
the recent election
in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
This highly selec
Serbian nationalism
around
tive list merely
illustrates how national
identity can be fashioned
a
to
that
affirms
monolithic
cultural
intolerance, bigotry, and
identity
appeals
an indifference
to say,
to the precepts
of democratic
pluralism. Needless
a
set
of
condi
from
diverse
nationalism
these forms of demagogic
emerge
lie in a complex history of racial
the roots of which
tions and circumstances,
that have gripped Europe, and the
conditions
conflict, the unstable economic
its
Soviet
Union
and
of
the
empire. As a social construction,
dismantling
it takes its form within,
nationalism
does not rest upon a particular politics;
rather than outside of, specific historical, social, and cultural contexts.
in a number of coun
has emerged
The more positive face of nationalism
tries through a legacy of democratic
struggles and can be seen not only in
in Asia and Africa, but also in diverse
various
anti-colonialist
struggles
to mobilize
in the
sentiment
attempts on the part of nation-states
popular
interest of expanding
human rights and fighting against the encroachments
of national
of undemocratic
social forces. While many of these movements
in which
struggle are far from unproblematic,
particularly during periods
to the emancipatory
they assume state control, they do provide credibility
as a defining principle
inworld politics.1 A progressive
power of nationalism
notion of nationalism
of a democratic
requires the coordination
politics of
and multiculturalism
with a notion of border crossing, diasporic
difference
that recognizes
the transits, flows, and social
politics, and postnationalism
formations being produced on a global scale. It is precisely
in the interaction
new
exists
for
of the national and global that a borderline
space
generating
forms of
expand
transnational
literacy, social relations, and cultural identities
of democratic
the meaning
citizenship beyond national borders.
MYTHIC NATIONAL
that
IDENTITY
of national
Americans,
questions
identity seem to elude the
on
a
and
take
complex
legacy of nationalism
mythic quality. Informed by the
and the legitimating discourse
of patriotism,
powerful
appeal to assimilation
an ideological
national
identity often operates within
register untainted by
the historical
and emerging
Rather than being
legacies of totalitarianism.
viewed cautiously as a potential vehicle for undermining
nation
democracy,
al identity in the United States has been defined more positively
in com
terms as deeply connected
to the mythic march of progress and
monsensical
to
at
home
and
the
noble
effort
abroad. Hence,
export democracy
prosperity
For many
identity has all too often been
national
Henry
A
forged within
popular
Giroux
memory
as a
45
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discourse
that
too
neatly
links
nation,
culture,
and
in a seamless
citizenship
and unproblematic
the politics of
unity. Invoking claims to the past inwhich
a notion
to legitimate
and forgetting work
of
remembering
powerfully
national belonging
that "constructs the nation as an ethnically homogeneous
object" (Gilroy 3), national identity is rewritten and purged of its seamy side.
Within
this narrative, national
identity is structured through a notion of citi
and
that
subordinates
ethnic, racial, and cultural differ
patriotism
zenship
a
ences to the assimilating
common
of
culture, or, more brutally, the
logic
"melting pot." Behind the social imaginary that informs this notion of nation
a defense of
al identity is a narrowly defined notion of history that provides
culture and legitimates an
the narratives of imperial power and dominant
to be an American.
itmeans
intensely narrow and bigoted notion of what
in the United
In an era of recharged nationalist
discourse
States, the
invocation
criticism
itself is
of
national
that
social
identity suggests
populist
to both the construction
of
of national
and
the
antithetical
precepts
identity
itself, is a social con
patriotism. Of course, national identity, like nationalism
struction that is built upon a series of inclusions and exclusions
regarding
and national belonging.
As the social historian Benedict
history, citizenship,
Anderson
has pointed out, the nation is an "imagined political community"
the intersecting dynamics of history, lan
that can only be understood within
guage,
tity
ideology,
are
neither
and
necessarily
power.
In other
reactionary
words,
nor
nationalism
necessarily
and
progressive
national
iden
politically.
as Anderson
points out, are "to be dis
They give rise to communities which,
not
but
their
they
falsity/genuineness,
by the style in which
by
tinguished,
are imagined" (6).
to the
The insight that national
according
identity must be addressed
me
the
in
it
is
of
which
for
ways
importance
pedagogical
imagined signals
of identity
that are central to the current debates around questions
practices
It
in
the
States.
is
the
United
debate
much
pedagogi
characterizing
political
at work in framing the current debates on national identity that
cal processes
to raise are: what
Iwant
the questions
interest me most. More specifically,
are
and
and
forms of address,
texts,
being produced
images,
performances
to be an American,
it means
to construct what
used in popular discourses
for extend
and what are the implications of these dominant
representations
a substantive plural democracy?
ing or undermining
The current debate over national
identity represents not only a conserv
that "those common values and con
ative backlash fueled by the assumption
that have defined the 'American' way of life, circa Norman
sensual freedoms
"A Good Judge" 233) are now under attack by racial,
Rockwell"
(Bhabha,
the current conservatism
produces
sexual, and political minorities. Moreover,
of national
a new nationalism
rooted in an imaginary construction
identity
to
This is not meant
to any viable notion of democracy.
that is dangerous
an
to
voiced
of national unity
that the discourse
appeal
through
suggest
46
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Literature
shared language of difference
(not the assimilationist
language of a common
as Eurocentric,
culture) should be summarily dismissed
racist, or patriarchal.
The vision of national identity steeped in a shared vision of social justice and
a respect for cultural differences
is to be applauded. At the same time, the
healing grace of a national
identity based on a respect for "lived cultures in
the plural" (Graff and Robbins 434) should not be confused with a political
is to restrict
ly reactionary notion of national identity whose
primary purpose
to a discourse
the terms of citizenship
and community
of monoculturalism
and nativism. National
identity in the service of a common culture recognizes
cultural differences
discourse of
only to flatten them out in the conservative
assimilation and the liberal appeal to tolerance (see Ien, Hage). However,
the
between
national
not
and
is
nationalism
bound
relationship
identity
by any
is not intrinsically oppressive.
it
Hence,
particular politics, and by definition
as part of a progressive
is both important and necessary
of
national
politics
identity to provide a theoretical space to address the potential of both a ped
that can pluralize cultural differences within democratic
agogy and politics
an emancipatory
relations of power as part of an effort to develop
politics of
a
national identity and nationalism. This is especially
at
in the
time
important
the discourses
United States when
of nationalism
and national
identity have
turn.
taken a decidedly
reactionary political
The appropriation
of national
to foster racism,
identity as a vehicle
is not specific to the 1990s, but has a long
nativism, and political censorship
is somewhat new are the conditions,
con
history in the United States. What
the discourse
of national
texts, and content through which
identity is being
and linked to virulent forms of nationalism.
For example, media
produced
its new cable technologies
culture with
the proliferation
of
coupled with
radio and television
talk channels has created a public sphere that vastly
the intrusion into daily life of mainstream
discourses
that greatly
expands
restrict the possibility
for real debate, exchange,
and diversity of opinions.
These
electronic
media,
largely
driven
by
corporate
conglomerates,
have
no
in American
life in terms of their power both to disseminate
infor
precedent
mation and to shape how national identity is configured,
and
comprehended,
as
of
life.
culture
has
become
part
experienced
everyday
Secondly, popular
a powerful
site for defining nationalism
and national identity against diversi
the latter rendered synonymous
with disruption,
ty and cultural differences,
and
In
this
a
is
there
theoretical slip
separatism.
discourse,
disunity,
populist
and
the assertion
page that equates national identity with a common
identity
of cultural pluralism with an assault on the very character of what
itmeans
to be an American. At issue here is a politics of forgetting
that erases how
disparate social identities have been produced,
legitimated, and
within different relations of power. But there is more at stake
sure of social memory;
there is also the emergence
of a racially
course that mobilizes
national identity as the defining principle
Henry
A? Giroux
marginalized
than the era
saturated dis
for a national
47
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is under
that
community
siege.
the
Similarly,
new
in foreign
nationalism
pol
the chauvinistic
bravado of the marketplace
with its call for the
icy employs
United States to be number one in the world while
stigma
simultaneously
and a threat to American
culture
tizing internal social criticism as unpatriotic
and civility.
MEDIA CULTURE AND THE POPULIST CONSTRUCTION
IDENTITY
OF NATIONALIST
Iwant to examine briefly some populist examples
of the new national
in the cultural apparatuses
that shape
ism that speak from different places
a
voices
In
different
these
advocate
ways,
pedagogy
populist
public opinion.
and politics of national identity that serve to reproduce some reactionary ele
ments
of
new
the
For
nationalism.
example,
of
expressions
the
new
nation
alism can be found in several sites: in the backlash
against multiculturalism
in the rise of the English Only move
in the public schools and universities;
in the
ment;
sures
on
notion
welfare
of
the
mothers;
state
and
a
as
"stern
parent"
in educational
to
willing
reforms
inflict
harsh
mea
a national
demanding
can be
to the new nationalism
curriculum.
signposts
pointing
Ideological
of battle, invasion, and war, which
found in analogies
invoking metaphors
in the United States, as in
increasingly
shape the debates over immigration
as
California's
such
the passing of anti-immigration
Proposition
legislation
as a black issue,
in the dominant white media
187. Crime is represented
through a reductionist correlation
implying that race can only be understood
of
culture
and
identity.
Representations
of
black
men
appear
ad
on
nauseam
The New York Times Sunday
of magazines
such as Newsweek,
a
to mobilize
and draw
is
needed
whenever
and
Time
signifier
Magazine,
Recent
crime
and
urban
fear
of
the
Hollywood
upon
decay.
general public's
to skin color.
that link criminality
films abound with racist representations
include Pulp Fiction
Some of the most popular examples
(1994) and Just
how national
underscore
Cause (1995) (see Giroux). All of these examples
a beleaguered
notion of national
ism is currently being shaped to defend
the covers
threatened
and allegedly
middle-class,
identity read as white, heterosexual,
and
sexual
differences.
contamination
from
racial,
cultural,
linguistic,
by
and its centrality to American politi
The power of the new nationalism
in a number of popu
cal life can also be seen in its growth and popularity
can be found in the written and televi
lar and public spaces. One example
on
of Republican
sion commentaries
hopeful Patrick Buchanan
presidential
shows
such
as
CNN's
Crossfire.
Buchanan
represents
a new
version
of
the
public intellectual speaking from such critical public sites as the news media,
the growing number of news programs on cable television that are
especially
largely
dominated
by
right-wing
commentary.
For
the
Buchanan,
new
nation
that views cultural differences
nativism
alism is defined
through a bellicose
as a threat to national unity. Buchanan
argues that the reality of cultural dif
48
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Literature
with
ference,
its plurality
of
languages,
and
experiences,
histories,
a
poses
serious threat to both national unity and what he defends as Judeo-Christian
to Buchanan,
calls for expanding
values. According
the existing potential of
are
and
self-determination
fine in so far as they
representation
political
enable
white
to
Americans
"take
back"
their
country.
In
this
reactionary
dis
a signifier for racial exclusivity,
becomes
or,
course, difference
segregation,
For
in Buchanan's
"self
in
determination."
life
Buchanan,
public
language,
"a flood tide of immi
since 1965 because
the United States has deteriorated
legal and illegal, as our institu
gration has rolled in from the Third World,
tions
. . .
assimilation
of
disintegrated."
in the
Ushering
discourse
of
nativism,
Is it not time to take
Buchanan
asks: "Who speaks for the Euro-AmeriCans?
America back?" (qtd. in Krauthammer A4). Similarly, populist
right-wing con
as the "Doctor of
who
servative
describes
himself
Rush
Limbaugh,
rails against the poor and disadvantaged
because
minorities
Democracy,"
they
not
do
act
like
"real"
Americans
who
"rely
upon
their
own
resources,
the populist
(26). Limbaugh has become
talents, and hard work"
narcis
humor, unrestrained
equivalent of Beavis and Butt-Head. Combining
with a virulent and mean-spirited
attack on
sism, and outright buffoonery
accentuates
the current appeal of the talk
causes, Limbaugh
progressive
conservative
show that is part of a broader
offensive
reactionary,
through
media.
the
about
popular
Perhaps
only thing interesting
Limbaugh is that he
no longer limit their political agen
how right wing conservatives
exemplifies
da to the traditional channels of policy, news, and information. They have
now extended
their influence to the more populist
cultural realms of radio
talk shows, the world of stand-up comics, and other texts of
and television
skills,
media
culture.
Rush Limbaugh, Howard
Stern, Andrew Dice Clay, and other popular
media
figures represent a marriage of media culture and the lure of extrem
ist attacks inwhat appears as a legitimation of a new form of public pathol
the increasingly popu
ogy dressed up as entertainment.2
Limbaugh echoes
lar assumption
that an "ethnic upsurge" threatens both the American model
and the unity of America as a single culture. Extending
of assimilation
rather
than challenging
the ideological assumptions
that buttress the old racism and
Social Darwinism,
Limbaugh and others echo a view of cultural unity less as
an overt marker
a
for racial superiority
than as a discourse
for privileging
white
this populist discourse,
racism is couched
in the cri
"minority." Within
serves
as
a
state
con
of
the
welfare
but
for
cultural
tique
primarily
signifier
as
social
and
and
structural
Charles
tainment, homogeneity,
inequality. Just
in The Bell Curve against the effects of
Murray and Richard Herrnstein warn
and the reli
Americans,
immigration on the gene pool of white, middle-class
a
war"
to
in
calls
for
to
be
the
schools
the
preserve
gious right
"holy
waged
identity of the United States as a "Christian" nation, right wing populist com
mentators
add a twist to the new nationalism
and its racial coding by appeal
Henry
A
Giroux
49
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view of history as the "good old days" in
romanticized
ing to a nostalgic,
which white men ruled, blacks knew their place in the social and political
to domestic work. The appeal is no longer
attended
hierarchy, and women
to
to cultural uniformity parading
as the
racial
also
but
supremacy
simply
of
national
and
These
anti-multicul
nationalism,
politics
identity,
patriotism.
tural attacks organize
themselves
around a view of nationalism
that eschews
any disagreement
by simply labelling critics as "America-bashers."
In the world of TV spectacles
and mass entertainment,
the Buchanans
and Limbaughs
On the
of the new nationalism.
represent the shock-troops
academic
"refined" version of the new nationalism
has been
front, a more
advanced. Two examples will suffice, though they are hardly inclusive. In the
first instance, public intellectuals writing
in conservative
such as
periodicals
The New Republic, The New Criterion,
and The American
Spectator increas
in terms that both dis
ingly put forth an argument for the new nationalism
miss multiculturalism
and reproduce
the discourse
of assimilation
and com
mon culture. Rather than analyzing multiculturalism
as a complex,
legitimate,
and
necessary
"on-going
minorities
among
negotiation
against
assimilation"
see in the engagements
(Bhabha, "Beyond the Pale" 15), the new nationalists
of cultural difference
less a productive
tension than a debilitating
divisive
ness. John B. Judis and Michael Lind echo this sentiment
in their own call for
a new
nationalism:
is a constructive
[Tlhere
runs
from
Roosevelt.
fication
common
to today's
Nationalism
monoculturalism
Alexander
and
inclusive
Hamilton
not the
It emphasizes
of Americans
of different
national
through
exclusion
regions,
and
in this discourse
becomes
restores
of American
Abraham
of
races
It stands
identity.
multiculturalism
and
current
the
opposed
or
economic
racially
and
that
Theodore
but rather
the uni
foreigners,
a
and ethnic
around
groups
not only
to nativism,
but also
strategic
the marker
coded
nationalism
Lincoln
globalism.
of certainty;
image
of
(21)
it both
affirms
"Americanness"
as
a beleaguered
national
identity (Hall, "Culture" 357). The new nationalism
also posits national
identity against the ability of different groups to articu
late and affirm their histories,
cultural identities, and traditions
languages,
in which
relations
through the shifting and complex
imagine and
people
construct national and postnational
social formations. This is evident
in the
on
attack being waged by the right and the Republican
affirmative
Congress
in the public
and multiculturalism
action, quotas,
immigration, bilingualism,
to right wing conservatives
schools. But the new nationalism
is not confined
and evangelical
Christians.
can be found in the
A more moderate
version of the new nationalism
work of writers
like Richard Rorty, a prominent
liberal philosopher
from the
of
While
and
their
followers
Buchanan,
University
Virginia.
Limbaugh,
might
as simply populist
be dismissed
intellectuals
such as
demagogues,
public
enormous
and the
respect from the academic
Rorty command
community
50
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Literature
travel between
academic and
such intellectuals
press. Moreover,
to
with
influence
legiti
enough
bring professional
popular public spheres
as it is taken up in television and talk radio pro
macy to the new nationalism
established
grams,
the
electronic
media,
and
in the major
and
newspapers
in
magazines
it is all the more important that arguments
that rein
the United States. Hence,
force the logic of the new nationalism
and parade under the banner of a
for individ
"tough" or "patriotic" liberalism be critically engaged,
especially
of reason and restraint.
uals who find in such arguments a semblance
RICHARD RORTY, LIBERALISM, AND THE PROBLEM
OF NATIONAL IDENTITY
in the Op-Ed section of The New York Times, Rorty has argued
Writing
"The Unpatriotic
that left-wing academics
under the head-line,
Academy,"
are "unpatriotic." For Rorty, the litmus test for
who support multiculturalism
is not to be found in social criticism that holds a country up to its
patriotism
ideals, but in a refusal on the part of "this left ... to rejoice in the
professed
country it inhabits. It repudiates the idea of a national identity, and the emo
tion of national pride." Speaking
for an unspecified
group of "patriotic"
Americans, Rorty, in this instance, insists that "We take pride in being citizens
of a self-invented,
(E15).
self-reforming,
enduring constitutional
democracy"
One wonders:
for whom
do intellectuals
such as Rorty speak? Have
they
as spokespersons
themselves
for all Americans who disassociate
appointed
further suggest that one
themselves from the left?And does this generalization
one
and
love
one's
if
in criticism that can
of
engages
country
gives up respect
be conveniently
labeled as left-wing? Does a public assertion of patriotism, as
invoked by all manner of demagogues,
suggest that such rhetoric
ritualistically
a
own politics?
one's
certified
of
stamp
provides
legitimacy regarding
Of course, Limbaugh and Buchanan consistently
engage in the rhetoric of
love for their country while simultaneously
baiting gays, blacks, feminists, and
others.
Moreover,
one
must
consider
the
implications
of
Rorty's
attack
on
the
in light of the ways
in which
in
the United States engaged
of the 1950s. Is he
red-baiting during the 1920s and the McCarthy witch-hunts
that left-wing theorists (as if they could be grouped
suggesting
homoge
should be policed and punished
for their lack of patriotism? There
neously)
in Rorty's charges that places him squarely in the camp of
is a recklessness
those who would
rather than support free speech, espe
punish dissenters
cially if it is speech that one disagrees with. Maybe Rorty was simply being
in his use of the term "unpatriotic," but given the way inwhich
rambunctious
the term has been used historically
in this country to squelch social criticism,
seems unlikely. So what is the point?
such a lapse of historical memory
liberal guilt and the appeal of a rabid
Rorty seems to be caught between
conservatism
that equates cultural differences with a threat to national unity,
a threat that has to be overcome.
Equating the politics of difference with a
left social
Henry
critics
A. Giroux
51
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threat to national
all
those
then takes the extraordinary
unity, Rorty
academics
who
some
support
version
step of identifying
as posing
of multiculturalism
a threat to the social order. For Rorty, there is no contradiction
in feeling
one's heart swell with patriotism and "national hope" and feeling "shame at
to suffering that iswidespread
the greed, the intolerance and the indifference
in the United States" (E15). In this theoretical sweep, multiculturalism
is not
as a range of theoretical positions
in its complexity
addressed
that run the
to new forms of cul
from calls for separatism
gamut extending
ideological
tural democracy.
for Rorty is simply a position
that exists
Multiculturalism
some
under
absolute
sign.
In
this
reductionistic
perspective,
there
are
no
between multicultural
theoretical differences
positions
espoused
by academ
ic leftists such as Hazel Carby, Guillermo Gomez-Pena,
June Jordan, and bell
hooks, on the one hand, and liberals such as James Banks, Gregory Jay, or
Stanley Fish on the other. But there is more at stake here than Rorty's sus
it is
pect appeal to patriotism. Social criticism is not the enemy of patriotism,
to
the bedrock
of a shared national
tradition that allows for many voices
In
in a dialogue
about the dynamics of cultural and political power.
engage
a broader concern for the
fact, national
identity must be understood within
and deepening
of democratic
expansion
public life itself.
I believe
that Rorty's notion of national
identity closes down, rather than
democra
the principles
that inform a multicultural
and multiracial
expands,
the limits of the
cy. However,
Rorty is important in terms of exemplifying
of liberalism. Rorty's gesture towards tolerance
reigning political philosophy
to be
is
that it really needs
its
that
repugnant,
morally
"presupposes
object
Theo
Racist
As
David
Culture
that
altered"
7).
is,
reformed,
(Goldberg,
Goldberg
points out:
are moved
Liberals
so
been
through
ference
ness,
instrumental
assimilation
in otherness
the universally
to overcome
the
in fabricating
or integration.
maintaining
imposed
racial
thereby
similarity
and have
they tolerate
them out
by bleaching
assume
the dif
away
differences
by diluting
The
liberal
them,
would
the dominant
in identity.
of
{Racist
a presumed
Culture
same
7)
of dissent.
around the suppression
National
identity cannot be constructed
Nor should it be used in the service of a new fundamentalism
by appealing
to a notion of patriotism
that equates
left-wing social criticism with treason,
or national
and less critical forms of discourse with a love of nationalism
been
binarism
has
It
is
this
that
of
used, all too fre
type
identity.
precisely
to
communities
national
the
twentieth
century,
develop
throughout
quently
this kind of logic
that make a virtue of intolerance and exclusion. Moreover,
from understanding
and critically
individuals
and social groups
prevents
a
as
a
as
monument
not
cultural
but
national
living set of
engaging
identity
and struggled over.
relations that must be constantly engaged
identity with the love of one's coun
Rorty's facile equating of national
try, on
52
the one
hand,
and the dismissal
of forms of
left social
College
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criticism
Literature
that
on the other, are simply an
forms of multiculturalism,
argue for various
one which views cultural differences
and
of the new nationalism,
expression
and a depar
the emergence
of multiple
cultures as a sign of fragmentation
ture
from,
rather
than
an
advance
toward,
democracy.
Rorty's
mistake
is that
that national
he assumes
identity is to be founded on a single culture, lan
in
and
when
fact it can't. National
guage,
identity is always a shifting,
history
of
historical
that are cross-fer
and
unsettled
experiences
struggles
complex
a
and
As such, it is
of
cultures.
translated
tilized, produced,
through
variety
to
As
iden
Hall
and
national
interpretation
struggle.
points out,
always open
tity
"is a matter
of
'becoming'
as well
of
'being.'
. . . [It]
is never
complete,
. . . [It] is not
past
eternally fixed in some essentialized
always in process.
to the continuous
and power"
[but] subject
culture,
'play' of history,
("Cultural Identity" 225).
in part, the emergence
of
The discourse
of multiculturalism
represents,
new voices
that have generally been excluded
from the multiple
histories
that have defined our national
identity. Far from being a threat to social
in its various forms has challenged
notions of nation
order, multiculturalism
al identity that equate cultural differences
with deviance
and disruption.
of cul
Refusing a notion of national
identity constructed on the suppression
its more crit
tural differences
and social dissent, multiculturalism,
especially
ical and insurgent versions,
iden
explores how dominant views of national
around cultural differences
constructed within hier
tity have been developed
can or cannot speak legiti
archical relations of power
that authorize who
as
an
American. Maybe
it is the insertion of politics and power back
mately
on difference
into the discourse
that threatens Rorty so much
that he
as
to
it
it
by labelling
unpatriotic.
responds
Pitting national
identity against cultural difference not only appeals to an
common
of
culture, but reinforces a political moralism
oppressive
politics
that polices
of identity, encouraging
"the boundaries
and ensur
uniformity
on
a unified
inertia"
intellectual
National
based
17).
(Rutherford
ing
identity
a
cultural community
the
ideas of
between
suggests
dangerous
relationship
of nationhood.
Not only does
race, intolerance, and the cultural membership
such a position downplay
the politics of culture at work
in nationalism,
but
it erases an oppressive
history forged in an appeal to a common culture and
a reactionary notion of national
identity. As Will Kymlicka points out, liber
als and conservatives
often overlook
the fact that the American
government
Indian tribes, native Hawaiians,
and Puerto Ricans into
"forcibly incorporated
to coercively
the American
assimilate each group
state, and then attempted
into the common American
culture. It banned
the speaking of Indian lan
in school and forced Puerto Rican and Hawaiian
to use
schools
(132)
English rather than Spanish or Hawaiian"
is problematic
is not simply that he views
What
about Rorty's position
as a threat to a totalizing notion of national
multiculturalism
identity. More
guages
Henry
A? Giroux
53
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to counter-narratives
indifference
of difference,
important is his theoretical
and
that
how
cultural
diverse
groups are con
diaspora,
identity
explore
structed within an insurgent multiculturalism,
which engage the issue both of
our differences
what holds us together as a nation and of what constitutes
as
a
cultural differences
from each other. Viewing
Rorty
only
problem,
reveals a disturbing
lacuna in his notion of national
identity. It is a view that
offers little defense against the forces of ethnic absolutism and cultural racism
that are so quick to seize upon national
identity as a legitimating discourse
in Rorty's view, one
for racial violence.
There is an alarming defensiveness
a discourse
that reinforces
rather than challenges
of national
community
rooted in claims to cultural and racist supremacy.
PEDAGOGY, NATIONAL IDENTITY, AND
THE POLITICS OF DIFFERENCE
need a notion of national
its
educators
identity that addresses
In
nation
the
first
and
instance,
components.
political, cultural,
pedagogical
as part of a broader consideration
al identity must be addressed
linking
to a theory of democracy.
nationalism
and postnational
social formations
and democracy must address
That is, the relationship between
nationalism
not only the crucial issue of whether
for all groups
legal rights are provided
structures
of
also
how
of
their
cultural
but
power work
irrespective
identity,
to ensure that diverse cultural communities
have the economic,
political, and
to exercise
voice and the
"both the capacity for collective
social resources
Critical
possibility
"Nationalism"
of
differentiated,
311).
Rather
directly
than
waging
relations"
interpersonal
war
against
the
pluralization
(Calhoun,
of
cul
in which
and
identities and the crucial spheres
they are nurtured
educators must address
identity is con
critically how national
engaged,
and through
structed in the media,
through the politics of state apparatuses,
of material resources and power outside of the reach of the
the mobilization
state (see Goldberg,
"Introduction"). As part of a broader politics of repre
to provide
cultural workers
this
sentation,
suggests the need for progressive
and sites "open to competing
conditions
the pedagogical
conceptualizations,
to expand the con
diverse
identities, and a rich public discourse" necessary
on both a national
to flourish
level
and global
for democracy
ditions
tural
"Nationalism" 327).
identity must be inclusive and informed by a democ
Secondly, national
towards a universal
ratic pluralization
of cultural identities. If the tendency
ensure that stu
must
to
is
educators
be
assimilative
resisted,
izing,
impulse
dents engage varied notions of an imagined community by critically address
the approach
toward
cultural differences. While
ing rather than excluding
the varied
such a pedagogy
is culturally inclusive and suggests expanding
in public schools and institutions
texts that define what counts as knowledge
in the United States, there is also a need to create insti
of higher education
(Calhoun,
54
College
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Literature
to transdisciplinarity
and multicultural
studies.
tutionalized
spaces obligated
a poli
more
to
must
But such pedagogical
be
committed
than
spaces
firmly
or simply aimed at helping students to under
tics of inclusive representation
stand and celebrate cultural difference
(Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, for exam
must
The
of
cultural
difference
be a politics of more than texts:
ple).
politics
as they are
and
it must also understand,
differences
negotiate,
challenge
networks of power. Critically nego
defined and sustained within oppressive
as
national
tiating the relationship between
identity and cultural differences,
Homi Bhabha has pointed out, is a negating
activity that should be valued
a difference
in the world
rather than merely
it
for making
reflecting
("Beyond" 22).
What educators need is a pedagogy
that redefines national
identity not
of cul
through a primordial notion of ethnicity or a monolithic
conception
inwhich
iden
ture, but as part of a postmodern
politics of cultural difference
tities are constantly
and reinvented within
and
being negotiated
complex
over
A
notions
of
national
collective
belonging.
contradictory
dialogue
to be
is not going
national
nationalism,
identity, and cultural differences
as
certain
forms
of
criticism
established
social
by simply labelling
unpatriot
ic or national identity as a shared tradition that exists outside of the struggles
over representation,
and social justice. If American
democracy,
society is to
move
from
its
defensiveness
it
about
cultural
away
differences,
increasing
a view of national
will have to advocate
that
and
identity
regards bigotry
as one of its
and cultural differences
intolerance as the enemy of democracy
even
However,
strengths.
where
such
are
differences
acknowledged
and
that they cannot be understood
exclu
affirmed, it is important to recognize
a
as
culture
and
within
the
of
but
rather
language
sively
part of an
identity,
to a viable notion of democratic
ethical discourse
that contributes
public life.
In part, this suggests a pedagogy
and language through which
values and
can be discussed
not simply as a matter of individual
social responsibility
and ped
choice, reduced to complacent
relativism, but as a social discourse
in public struggles. Goldberg
is right in arguing
agogical practice grounded
that educators need a "robustly nuanced
of relativism underpin
conception
to be drawn
ning the multicultural
project [one that] will enable distinctions
more
between
or
less
accurate
truth
claims
and
more
or
less
justifiable
val
ues
(in contrast to absolute claims to the truth or the good)" ("Introduction"
the importance of moral pragmatism
in
15). The issue here is not merely
a
as
a
that
addresses
national
site
of
resistance
developing
pedagogy
identity
and reinvention.
Equally important is the political and pedagogical
impera
a postmodern
tive of developing
notion of democracy
inwhich
students and
others will be attentive to negotiating
and constructing
the social, political,
and cultural conditions
for diverse cultural identities to flourish within
an
increasingly
Henry
A
multicentric,
international,
and transnational
world.
Giroux
55
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In short, if national
identity is not to be used in the service of dema
to unravel how
itmust be addressed pedagogically
and politically
gogues,
have been constructed within
the unequal distribution of
cultural differences
how such differences
issues of
need to be understood
around
resources,
power and struggle, and how national identity must be taken up inways that
and cultural inequality.
challenge economic
NOTES
on
literature
?The
but excellent
here,
Nation
and Narration;
recent
Some
Wallerstein.
examples
too voluminous
to
is much
identity
in Anderson;
Bhabha's
Chatterjee;
and Yaeger;
and
and Balibar
Sommer,
and
national
can
be
nationalism
cite
found
Russo,
Said; Parker,
sources
can be found
in Calhoun's
Social
and
Theory
the
Politics of Identity.
a brilliant
2For
and
of
analysis
Kellner.
see
Butt-Head,
this phenomenon,
of Beavis
the marketing
especially
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