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Eric P. Kaufmann, The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004, $49, 95, 384 pages, ISBN 0-674-01303-4)—Gerardo Del Guercio, Independent Researcher

The 2000 American census determined that the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant race is gradually becoming a minority culture in the United States. At one time the dominant ethnic core of America, WASP culture has experienced a significant decline in political power and national influence. Anglo-Saxon myth symbols including yeoman lifestyle, communal eternity and pilgrim/Puritan ideology have slowly given way to mass immigration and liberal cosmopolitan ideology. Eric P. Kaufmann’s The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America charts WASP history from shortly after American independence to the present, suggesting that Anglo-Saxon ethnicity moved from the core to the periphery of America’s power structure because WASP leaders adopted a cosmopolitan progressive liberal mindset that questioned their own authority. Liberal reformers like John Dewey and Jane Addams, along with subaltern groups such as women, African Americans and eastern Europeans, challenged the supremacy that WASP culture held. My assessment of Kaufmann’s study will show that multiculturalism enhanced America’s global image for the reason that it adapted peacefully to shifting cultural norms that eventually led to an inclusive sociological order.

Eric P. Kaufmann defines “American” ethnicity as a type of cultural influence from within the dominant ethic core rather than a segment of the national population. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants are defined as ancestors of British settlers who escaped from Britain to the United States to separate completely from the English monarchy. Kaufmann places quotation marks around the term “American” when describing first-settlers because most demographic studies do not consider Americans of British decent as part of an ethnic group. A liberal ideology that manifested itself during the Avant-Garde era marked the start of the end of “the Protestant crusade in favor of a ‘left-liberal’ posture” [6]. Powerful Protestant elites ensured that multiculturalism would supersede WASP ascendancy. Subaltern groups were soon allowed into “universities, boardrooms, cabinets, courts, and legislatures” [3] in an effort to diversify America’s power structure. Although WASP authority slowly moved away from America’s ethnic core, their decline was one desperately resisted throughout the twentieth century.

White Anglo-Saxon Protestants seized total control of the United States once they evicted British forces in an effort to secure Puritan cultural beliefs. Once independence was achieved, America converted into the free territory that the Puritans had envisioned. A WASP national identity flourished since it would inevitably assimilate various cultures into one unified nucleus. Puritan settlers maintained rule partly because they were America’s first record-keepers. Manipulating history gave WASP leaders the opportunity to place themselves at the center of American society. Groups that refused WASP standards were systematically disqualified from the American market economy and denied the chance to succeed financially. Ethnogenesis quickly spread across America guaranteeing that the British would never again occupy the United States. Rulers reinforced their stance on “100 percent Americanism” [30] by funding “private and government initiatives like the ‘America First’ campaign of the Bureau of Education, the Committee of One Hundred of the National Education Association, or the Conference on Methods of Americanization held in Washington.” Leaders made certain that US citizens would follow the governing norm. Autonomy was compromised considering that most still viewed American culture as an exaggerated form of English character. Kaufmann incorporates Ralph Waldo Emerson’s theory of double-consciousness to elucidate how “liberal cosmopolitanism and ethnicity [existed] in the same space” [31]. Implicit in Emerson’s dialectic is that America had not yet separated enough from its English ancestry to claim total independence, but nonetheless maintained liberal ethics.

Establishing a melting-pot mentality was the WASP’s primary mode of retaining its supremacy. The melting pot made sure that Anglo-Saxon practices remained the only influential ones in identity formation. Eric P. Kaufmann quotes St. John de Crèvecoeur to demonstrate the popular sentiment among first-settlers that the American ideal left behind all its “ancient prejudices and manners, while on American soil, individuals of all races are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world” [39]. Beyond the surface Crèvecoeur’s declaration was anything but liberal since it asserted that every individual was invited into American culture provided s/he conformed to WASP social codes. WASP culture has been deemed a closed-minded one that refuses notoriety to other groups unless they adhere to Anglo-Saxon ideology. The American faith therefore required acceptance of an Anglo-Saxon myth of descent that included honoring the pilgrims, Puritans, founding fathers, and the American Revolution.

Late nineteenth-century America saw its cultural capital shift from Boston to New York. New York’s Avant-Garde community systematically crumbled “Anglo-Protestant influence in progressive intellectual circles—overseeing its replacement with cosmopolitan modernism” [144]. Avant-Garde philosophy stressed a continuing European power on American culture. Constant European exiles by key intellectual figures exemplified cultural liberty and cosmopolitanism. America’s intellectual community gathered in New York’s Village district to take in lectures orated by prominent thinkers such as Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Randolph Bourne, Alfred Stieglitz, and Hutchins and Norman Hapgood. John Dewey and Jane Addams were the originators of the Avant-Garde movement establishing the understanding that cosmopolitan liberalism encouraged immigrants to “develop their individuality and join the American mainstream” [99]. Pluralism therefore became firmly embedded within American ideology since

[I]ndividuals give freely to others of the particular value, essence, quality, and contribution of the group to which they belong, and receive freely the corresponding treasures of every group, and this without violence to complete the uniqueness of any group [131].

Cultural mixing connoted a sharing of values between diverse groups with the aim of enhancing the United States’ image by means of welcoming foreign cultures. Allowing several cultures into the majority inherently caused Anglo-Saxons to share political power. Expressive pathfinders fought against restrictive measures like immigration quotas because they felt such practices violated liberal mobility rights. Swaying from Puritan values was essential considering that colonial beliefs disallowed free expression. Avant-Garde activists helped expand equal education opportunities for subaltern groups despite opposition from more traditional thinkers who believed that immigrants should not attend universities or hold prestigious positions that were typically reserved for Anglo-Saxon decedents.

Anglo-Saxon principles waned in America as a result of high immigration levels that radically shifted US demographics in favor of non-Anglo ethnic groups. Between 1910 and 1990 non-white immigration rose from 5% to slightly over 80%. British and Irish immigration, on the other hand, dropped from roughly 98% to 20% during the same span. Low fertility rates among the native-immigrant population were another determining factor as to why whites declined demographically in the United States during the twentieth century. Moreover, Protestants ceased being active members of their church marking a disinterest in Protestant values. A rising liberal cosmopolitan sentiment within the WASP elite core questioned its own power and subsequently permitted minority groups into the mainstream. Minorities were then encouraged to show their individuality in America’s public sphere.

Eric P. Kaufmann concludes his study with an examination of Anglo-Saxon discourse in the postmodern era. Contemporary research data forecasts that Anglo ethnic identity will revert to a rural one whose discourse will have very little influence in American life. WASP activist advocate that immigration restriction is the ideal tactic to counter a declining WASP ethnic core. Anti-restrictionists favor free immigration since admitting more foreigners into the country would increase the number of eligible voters. Postmodern America has benefited greatly from multiculturalism for the reason that it proved that the United States has modernized peacefully. I am not suggesting that discrimination is no longer a problem that plagues America. What I mean to say is that America has complied with a global trend that incorporates assorted perspectives from different cultures into its political rhetoric.

Eric P. Kaufmann’s The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America is an inter-disciplinary examination that tracks shifting sociological, historical, anthropological, philosophical, literary, and economic changes in the United States from independence to the present day. Readers of multicultural studies will benefit greatly from Kaufmann’s text for its in-depth investigation of why WASP culture has declined significantly since the Avant-Garde period. Although Kaufmann’s points may at times seem rather repetitive, each fact compliments his argument that an emerging liberal and cosmopolitan mindset within Anglo-Saxon elitist circles generated doubts concerning their own power, causing them to ultimately move themselves to the margin of American culture.

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