Imbolc Waning Moon of Winds
I edited and revised American Identity today. It needed a paragraph indicating what I believe to be similarities between the ante-bellum USA and our current era. National identity was weak during the ante-bellum period and is weak now.
In ante-bellum America the Unitarians William Ellery Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson made a strong push for American letters. On the one hand they wanted a break with the European dominance of American literature, painting and scholarship; but more, they wanted American letters, literature rooted in the American experience, painting using American themes and flowing from the genius of American talent and scholarship trained in the new nation and carried out by American academics.
American identity is weak now for several reasons. Increasing Mexican immigration has raised a potent challenge to the Anglo-Protestant traditional US culture. We are now a multiethnic, multiracial society, but our identity has only made tentative steps to say what that means. We lost a prime enemy in the USSR and now have no one over against whom to identify ourselves. Since the 1960’s there has been an erosion of trust in the basic institutions of our society: business, government, the church, education. Each of these challenges the old ethnic, racial and Anglo-Protestant consensus that underwrote US identity through the 1950’s.
Like the ante-bellum USA this is a time for a new American letters, a new American literature, a new American painting and sculpture and music, a new American poetry and a new American scholarship, one that reflects the multiethnic, multiracial society we have become.