Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

These questions, posed by changes in the very basis of social organization, constitute a demand for a new social science. The demand increases as the transformation of social organization continues, a demand for knowledge and ideas that will help realize the opportunities created by this transformation and avoid the problems it generates. The new social science must consist of both applied research and theory. The theory, if it is to be of value for this task, must cross the traditional bounds of the disciplines within which knowledge is ordered, for the transformation of society has changed the linkages among these institutional areas. In so doing, it becomes the new social science, appropriate to the new social structure.❖

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. ( 1917-) was born in Columbus, Ohio. After completing his B.A. at Harvard in 1938, Schlesinger was a Harvard Society of Fellows scholar until 1942. He taught at Harvard from 1946 to 1954. From 1961 to 1964, he was special assistant to presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Since 1966, Schlesinger has been Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at the City University of New York. His books include The Age of Jackson ( 1945), The Vital Center ( 1949), Politics of Hope ( 1963), and A Thousand Days ( 1965). The selection is from The Disuniting of America ( 1991), which Schlesinger wrote at the height of the multiculturalism controversy in the United States. Disuniting was written soon after his service on a State of New York special committee on the teaching of history, in which connection he had direct experience with the debate over the Afrocentrism in school curricula.


E Pluribus Unum?

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. ( 1991)

The attack on the common American identity is the culmination of the cult of ethnicity. That attack was mounted in the first instance by European Americans of non- British origin ("unmeltable ethnics") against the British foundations of American culture; then, latterly and massively, by Americans of non-European origin against the European foundations of that culture. As Theodore Roosevelt's foreboding suggests, the European immigration itself palpitated with internal hostilities, everyone at everybody else's throats--hardly the "monocultural" crowd portrayed by ethnocentric separatists. After all, the two great "world" wars of the 20th century began as fights among European states. Making a single society out of this diversity of antagonistic European peoples is a hard enough job. The new salience of non-European, nonwhite stocks compounds the challenge. And the non-Europeans, or at least their self-appointed spokesmen, bring with them a resentment, in some cases a hatred, of Europe and the West provoked by generations of Western colonialism, racism, condescension, contempt, and cruel exploitation. . . .

Will not this rising flow of non-European immigrants create a "minority majority" that will make Eurocentrism obsolete by the 21st century? This is the fear of some white Americans and the hope (and sometimes the threat) of some nonwhites. . . .

One of the oddities of the situation is that the assault on the Western tradition is conducted very largely with analytical weapons forged in the West. What are the

____________________
Excerpt from The Disuniting of America ( Knoxville, Tenn.: Whittle Direct Books, 1991), pp. 70, 72-73, 76-77, 80-83.

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