Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Changing Face of America

I refer to Samuel Huntington, "Who Are We: America's Great Debate", London: Simon and Schuster, 2005. I am half way into his book and have not reached the point where he discusses the fast growing Hispanic population.

Huntington highlights the Anglo-Saxon Protestant foundation of the United States. He asserts that America is the most religious country in the industrialized world and is the only Protestant civilization premised upon individual responsibility, the work ethic, the right to dissent and individual interpretation of scripture. The early Americans favored the separation of church and state to safeguard religion from political intrusiveness. The intent was to establish a minimalist state that ensured complete freedom for society to practice its religion. And that society was a Protestant one with an impressive network of independent church institutions.

To quote him "In Europe, existing societies accepted or rejected the Protestant reformation. In America, the reformation created a new society. Unique amongst countries, America is the child of that reformation..... America was created as a Protestant society.....".

And yet, one can not deny the changing face of the United States. Roman Catholics comprised 1% of America's population in 1789. They account for 23% today. 63% of the United States is Protestant. The Census Bureau in Washington released data in June, 2005 which revealed that non-Hispanic whites had declined to 67% of the American population. They were 197.8 million out of a total of 294 million. The fast increasing Hispanics constituted 14% of the population i.e. 41 million while African-Americans were 13% or 39 million. The Bureau projected that whites and non-whites would equal each other in the year 2050.

The continued increase in the number of Hispanics is due to the youthful age profile, the higher birth rate and sustained immigration. According to a report released by the Pew Hispanic center last week, the number of "illegal" immigrants in the United States stands at 12 million. 4,250,000 had arrived since 2000. The report suggests that Latin Americans account for 78% of illegal immigrants. Until recently, many immigrants moved back and forth across the Rio Grande comprising a floating population.

The House of Representatives passed the Border Security Bill last year to crackdown on illicit immigration. This had an unintended consequence. What had previously been a seasonal influx has now become permanent. Those already in the United States are nervous of traveling to Mexico for fear of not being able to return. The increased fertility of young immigrants is one that will sustain the aging American work force and finance the retirement benefits of senior citizens. But it will also change the United States. 850,000 illegal immigrants had arrived in the United States in 2005 alone.

Huntington's vision of a unique Anglo Saxon Protestant polity might not hold for much longer as Latin America slowly integrates its northern neighbor into the Iberian universe. As Auguste Compte alluded, "demography is destiny".


cynical nerd said...

Very interesting facts. I think American has an history of successfully assimilating (Americanizing) immigrants since its creation. Ofcourse, a large number of Hispanics can ghettoize and continue to follow their own culture (soccer instead of football), etc. But they both Christian. The rich and powerful Evangelical lobby won't hesitate to "convert" them to protestantism as it is trying to do in Latin America. Their energy can be channel properly making them the new backbone of the American working class while Europe with a different set of immigrants falters.

I wish we had similar facts for India as far as migration from Bangladesh is concerned - I have not seen one - some say there are already 20 million of them!


Anonymous said...

is this an american blog or an indian one?
i figure all of you/most of you live in the US, but then quit calling it the indian blog and writing about the west...

Jaffna said...

Dear Anonymous and Cynical Nerd,

No, not all of us live in the United States. If the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Manchester Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald can cover events in different countries, so can a simple blog such as ours :-)

Any issue that might have relevance to the Indian subcontinent (and that is pretty much everything in today's globalized world) is a candidate for discussion in this space.

CN, I agree with you on the prospects for continued assimilation in the United States. In fact, there has been a Protestant revolution not just in Latin America but amongst Hispanic Americans as well. The Roman Catholic church had a huge harvest of conversions in sub-Saharan Africa during the tenure of Pope John Paul 2 but it lost an equal number of the faithful to Protestantism in Latin America.

I need to double check my numbers but I understand that between 20% and 30% of Brazil is now Protestant - a huge jump in what had been a 100% Roman Catholic country.

The issue for the United States is different. According to the Census Bureau, the growth rate of the Hispanic population in the United States for the 12 months starting July 2003 was 3.6. Conversely, the growth rate of the non-Hispanic whites increased just 0.3% that year. (I use the words non-Hispanic whites since some Hispanics return themselves as white under the "race" category).

It is difficult to deny the eventuality of a changed United States.

The Hispanic immigration might be a good thing. Japan and Europe have populations that are graying. This endangers their productivity and social security. The continued immigration from Latin America into the United States ensures a relatively younger American workforce when compared to the rest of the industrialized world.

Best regards

Jaffna said...

I meant a growth rate for the Hispanics of 3.6%. Typo there.

Lexington Green said...

"The early Americans favored the separation of church and state to safeguard religion from political intrusiveness." False. The original colonies all had established Churches. Huntington overstates the Protestant influence as opposed to the English Common Law influence, which originated before the Reformation. The Catholics here already, including me, managed to assimilate to American norms without giving up their religion.

Jaffna said...

Lexington Green,

Thanks for that. I too suspected that Huntington over-stated the Protestant imprint.

This said, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States share a common Anglo-Saxon inheritance. But the United States stood out when it came to the level of religiousity, individual initiative, the work ethic etc. There is a degree of Calvinism (as opposed to the established Anglican church) that appears to have shaped its identity in the 1700s.

Huntington's response to you would be that the Roman Catholic church had absorbed a Protestant world view in the United States.

But I share your skepticism that he overstated the Protestant or for that matter the Christian element in the definition of the contemporary United States.

Best regards


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