Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Book Reviews -- the First Universal Nation: Leading Indicators and Ideas about the Surge of America in the 1990's by Ben J. Wattenburg

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Book Reviews -- the First Universal Nation: Leading Indicators and Ideas about the Surge of America in the 1990's by Ben J. Wattenburg

Article excerpt

The First Universal Nation: Leading Indicators and Ideas About the Surge of America in the 1990's Ben J. Wattenburg New York: The Free Press, 1991

This is a book with a good title. Unfortunately, most of what is inside the covers is a collection of reprinted columns from newspapers and periodicals. So reading it is like reading old newspapers. We cannot say, with Ezra Pound, that literature is news that stays news. The book comprises a collection of reprinted news columns, and not very interesting ones either, about Johnson (the late U.S. president), baseball, Charles Murray's book about welfare in the U.S., a former governor of Colorado (Lamn) and his ideas, the population meeting in Mexico City in 1984 and a defense of the American position (which Wattenberg says was misrepresented), Reagan, Bush, Scoop Jackson (the late American Congressman, who had a great influence on Wattenberg), Weinberger (former Secretary of Defense), Jeanne Kirkpatrick (former American ambassador to the U.N.), etc.

In other words, the book is a very much mixed bag of columns, some dating all the way back to 1982. It isn't a book built from scratch, like his The Birth Dearth, which acquainted the general public with the below-replacement fertility of the developed world and argued that fertility was too low in many countries. This book has a theme, but it is hard to ferret out, the book not being built from scratch but consisting mainly of reprinted columns.

Let me try to tell you what that theme is. The first "universal nation" means that the U.S. is rapidly becoming a country with all diverse races and ethnic groups of the world in it. Wattenberg is optimistic about this development, but doesn't tell the reader why he is so optimistic, or why the U.S. should be any different from the other countries of the world where there are always tensions between different races and ethic groups living within the same borders. As a matter of fact, Korea is the only country in the world that does not have any minorities (i.e., non-Koreans) in it, and where, as a consequence, there are no racial or ethnic tensions that exist in every other country in which a mixture of races and ethnic groups is to be found. For example, there are many ethnic tensions in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which had around 200 ethnic groups, too numerous to name here, that contributed to the ultimate breakup of the Soviet empire. There are also ethnic, religious, and racial tensions on the Indian sub-continent that threaten to tear that region apart. There are similar conflicts on every other continent of the world that promise to break-up many of the present political states that are too diverse in population to be rightly called nations.

The racial and the ethnic (not to speak of the religious) variable assumes great importance in countries where a single group is not overwhelmingly dominant, and there are usually tendencies toward ethnically-based political sub-divisions. Even in countries where the different sub-groups are mixed up regionally there is endless quarreling and disputing. People identify with their race, ethnic group or religion to such an extent that the integrity of the state itself is threatened. We see this over and over again. There are only about 150 states and there are many more ethnic groups than that. In no country, that I know of (besides the U.S.), are all the major races and ethnic groups well represented and there is often trouble even where there are just two races or ethnic groups.

What makes the U.S. curiously immune from these tendencies, as Wattenberg imagines it is? According to Wattenberg, the U.S. is made up of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants (the indigenous peoples, namely, the American Indian and the Eskimo, are ignored by Wattenberg and are, in any event, small in number, though there is still the question of whether they have any special rights over the more recent immigrants and their descendants just because they were here first). …

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