POLS 497-2—Floor Class, Spring 2006

Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity


Gregory D. Schmidt                                                   Class Information

Office: 415 Zulauf Hall                                      Class Time: Tue. 8 - 9:15 PM

: 753-7039                                                             Room: Big Blue

Office Hours:    T&Th 11-12; Tues. 2:30-4:30 

  e-mail: gschmidt@niu.edu



In his seminal work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington argued provocatively and presciently that with the end of the cold war, "civilizations" were replacing ideologies as the new fault lines in international politics.  Now in a controversial new work, Who Are We?, Huntington focuses on an identity crisis closer to home as he examines the impact other civilizations and their values are having on our own country. America was founded by British settlers who brought with them a distinct culture, says Huntington, including the English language, Protestant values, individualism, religious commitment, and respect for law. The waves of immigrants that later came to the United States gradually accepted these values and assimilated into America's Anglo-Protestant culture. More recently, however, our national identity has been eroded by the problems of assimilating massive numbers of primarily Hispanic immigrants and challenged by issues such as bilingualism, multiculturalism, the devaluation of citizenship, and the "denationalization" of American elites.  September 11 brought a revival of American patriotism and a renewal of American identity, but already there are signs that this revival is fading. Huntington argues the need for us to reassert the core values that make us Americans.[1]

Is Huntington right?  If so, why and what are some possible solutions to the problems that he identifies. Or, as some have argued, is Huntington just an elderly WASP reactionary who is clinging to the past for no good reason?  If this latter view is true, what are some antidotes for the paranoia that he expresses?  Or, perhaps Huntington is right about some things and wrong about others.  Students will evaluate Huntington’s claims, assess counterarguments, and reach their own conclusions.  Thus, the purpose of this course is to stimulate critical thought, reflection, and analysis on some of the most important issues that we face as citizens of the United States.

Readings and assignments:

Students in the course will purchase a copy of the book from the Holmes or Village Commons bookstores or on line: 



 Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s

 National Identity (New York : Simon & Schuster, 2004).


Each week students will read the assigned chapters from Huntington’s book prior to coming to class.


At the beginning of each session (except the first) each student will submit a brief (1-2 ds. pages) commentary on the chapters read.  Each commentary will respond to one or two major assertions made by the author.  Whether you agree or disagree, justify your position with supporting logic and facts.  You should not merely repeat evidence in the book. These commentaries together will count for 25% of the final grade.  Commentaries must be typed. Students should keep a copy of each commentary for their own use.



Class participation is an important component of the class and will count for 25% of the final grade.  Each student should be ready to discuss the assigned chapters comprehensively, going beyond the specific points emphasized in his or her commentary.  Since you cannot participate without being present in class, attendance is mandatory.



At the end of the semester each student will submit a double spaced 4-5 page essay that

addresses one or two of the major challenges to American identify emphasized by Huntington (see especially Chapters 7-10).  Provide solutions or explain why his concerns are unfounded.  Your essay should be original and supported by evidence.  You should not merely repeat facts from the book.  You may use any regular format for citations.  Please give me the URL and a printout of any supporting evidence from the internet. The essay will count for 50% of the course grade.


Late papers will be down graded 5 points for each day they are late. I will not accept any papers after April 25.


Course Outline:

Session 1:       Introduction and Distribution of Syllabi

January 24


Session 2:       The Issues of Identity

February 7       Front matter and Chapters 1 & 2.


Session 3:       American Identity

February 21     Huntington, Chapters 3-6.


Session 4:       Subnational Identities and Assimilation

March 7           Huntington, Chapters 7 & 8.


Session 5:       Mexican Immigration, Hispanization, and Globalization

March 21         Huntington, Chapters 9 & 10.


Session 6:       Renewing American Identity

April 4              Huntington, Chapters 11 & 12.


April 18            Final Paper is Due by 4:30 in Zulauf 415.


[1] The description here is adapted from the back cover of Huntington’s Who Are We?