- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Encounter Books has published two books that attempt to define what makes Americans American. I’m reviewing the shorter one first, “Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity” by James S. Robbins (Encounter Books, 194 pages, notes, maps, index, $23.99). I’m still reading the other one, the more than 800 page “Flight of the Eagle” by Conrad Black and should have my review ready for prime time a week or so after Labor Day.
Robbins takes the term “Native American” — usually applied to people who used to be called “Indians” — and says that he qualifies as much as anyone, along with more and more people who reject the Census Bureau’s traditional ethnic designations. Where once people listed “German,” “Irish”, “English”, “Italian”, etc. on census forms asking for their origin, increasing numbers of people are claiming “American” as their national ancestry, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
By doing so, Robbins says, they are taking a stand in our melting pot of cultures, as authentic representatives of the American nation. This growing social phenomenon serves as the launching point for a discussion of what twenty-first century Americanism means—its roots and its significance—and the unrelenting assault from multiculturalists who believe that the term “American” either signifies nothing or is a badge of shame. Robbins is far from being a disinterested observer in describing this phenomenon: He approves of cutting ties to ancestral homelands that have little relevance to modern day Americans.
Six glossy color maps help explain where the Americans are. There are plenty of Americans in Kentucky and West Virginia, but Americans are found all over the country: They’re not limited to the arbitrary “red” and “blue” state designations.
In descending order, the states with the most Americans are: Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky and California, Robbins says, adding that “Americans are in the top five ancestry groups, by percentage, in twenty-seven states stretching from Maine to Washington, and the plurality in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas.”
Just as Conrad Black does in his much longer “Flight of the Eagle,” Robbins traces the arc of immigration and how the act of leaving one’s country required courage. “Coming to America required an intense personal drive,” he writes. “The people at the roots of the national identity were self-selected freedom seekers, and the result was a society that emphasized the individual.”
Robbins quotes Steve Jobs who identified “the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…the ones who see things differently and are crazy enough to think they can change the world.” Jobs’s words came from a 1997 Apple advertising campaign but are a good description of many immigrants to the U.S., Robbins says.
Robbins describes the foundations of the American ideal, the core set of beliefs that define American values, and the ways in which these standards have been undermined and corrupted. He also makes the case for the benefits of an objective standard of what it means to be an American and for returning to the values that turned America from an undeveloped wilderness to the most exceptional country in the world. He ends his treatise on an optimistic note.
About the Author
James S. Robbins is Deputy Editor of Rare and a member of USA Today’s board of contributors. He is the author of “This Time We Win: Rethinking the Tet Offensive” and “Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point”, both from Encounter Books. Dr. Robbins holds a Ph D and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts. He also has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in political science from the University of Cincinnati. He has taught at The Fletcher School, Boston University, Marine Corps University, National Defense University, and other schools. He served in government for ten years, and was awarded the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Meritorious Civilian Service Award. He is also a recipient of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association first prize award for editorials.