America ﬁnally did become a nation,waves of immigrants—large numbersof whom were neither Protestant norEnglish-speaking—raised complicatedquestions about what kind of nation itwas going to be.Americans love to de-bate their identity precisely becausetheir identity is sufﬁciently ﬂexible tobe debatable.And so immigration deserves thepassion,the polarization,and sometimeseven the excessive rhetoric associatedwith it.True,such debates fuel a poli-tics of symbolism ripe with opportuni-ties for demagoguery.But symbolic poli-tics are not some epiphenomenon thatﬁlls in the gap when “real”issues suchas Medicare or energy policy lose theirsaliency.People may not consume sym-bols,but they are often willing to die forthem.Nations,moreover,not only havesymbols,they also are symbols.Whenpeople say they are proud to be Ameri-cans—or these days when,exasperatedby George W.Bush,they say the oppo-site—they are not talking about howmuch money they make or whether thetrains run on time.(In this country,theyare especially not talking about how thetrains run on time.) People take pride in,or express shame over,what their coun-try stands for.If it symbolizes freedomand democracy,they beam.If it is seento represent imperial overreach,theyblanch.
nter the terrain of symbols,
the traditional preserve of an-thropologists and sociologistsrather than political scientists,and before long the question of culturewill arise.Most nations deﬁne them-selves through their culture:the lan-guage they speak,the literature and mu-sic they produce,the history they share,the monuments they treasure.Yet whilethere clearly is such a thing as Americanculture,this country,because it refash-ions its identify so frequently,does notattach its identity to its culture to theextent that most other nations do.Sam-uel P.Huntington thinks otherwise,of course;in
Who Are We?
,his recent booklamenting America’s relatively liberalimmigration policies,he argued that aculture shaped by dissenting Protestantsin the seventeenth and eighteenth cen-turies is in danger from arrivals fromMexico.But Aristide Zolberg will havenone of that.Although his method isscholarly and his tone frequently dispas-sionate,Zolberg dismisses Huntingtonnamed Tancredo.) On this issue,the talk-ing points have not yet been writtenand the focus groups have not yet fo-cused.Immigration policy is for peoplewho love their politics raw and unscript-ed.It is as if debates over immigrationconstitute a vast thought-experiment,re-peated test cases designed to tell Amer-icans who they are and,more important-ly,who they want to be.
f you want to understand why
the politics of immigration takethe form they do,read Aristide R.Zolberg’s richly informative bookimmediately.Zolberg,a political scientistformerly known for his work on Africaand Europe,has become increasinglyfascinated by what scholars in his ﬁeldcall “American political development.”Fashioned as an attempt to restore topolitical science a concern with the realworld that rational choice theory left be-hind (although lately there are efforts tobring these approaches together),Amer-ican political development favors historyover economics as the ﬁrst cousin of po-litical science.Political scientists inspiredby this approach want to know howthe American state formed itself,devel-oped its authority,adopted particularpolicies in the face of domestic and inter-national transformations,responded toand in turn inﬂuenced legal regimes,andspawned constellations of parties and in-terest groups.The ﬁeld of American political devel-opment promises answers to questionssuch as these:is America exceptional,and if so,how? What policy options to-day were foreclosed by policy decisionstaken in previous times? Are practicesand procedures we tend to consideras well-established—a competitive two-party system,federalism,separation of powers—really contingent and thereforeamenable to future changes? An inter-est in American political developmentcauses many a political scientist to spendunusual amounts of time in archives—not just to tell a story,but also to ponderwhy organized labor is weaker in theUnited States than in other comparablecountries,how wars have shaped thedistribution of political authority,whichgroups obtain and use suffrage andwhich do not,and why the American ad-ministrative bureaucracy lacks effectivecoordination.American political development hasproduced a number of major works,in-cluding Richard Bensel’s
The Political Economy of American Industrialization,1877–1900
Civic Ideals:Conﬂicting Visions of Citizenshipin U.S.History
Building a New American State:TheExpansion of National AdministrativeCapacities
,and Sidney M.Milkis’s
ThePresident and the Parties:The Transfor-mation of the American Party SystemSince the New Deal
.These are impor-tant and valuable books—but it has tobe said that,in all,American politicaldevelopment has not yet delivered onmany of its promises.Nobody has quiteresolved whether the United Statesreally is exceptional;European welfarestates are being cut back in ways simi-lar to American retrenchment and thequestion of why there is no socialism inthe United States has been replaced bythe question of why there is no socialismanywhere.The notion of “path depen-dency”enthralls nearly all students of American political development,butpointing out how certain options wereforeclosed when others were chosen isnot much of a theoretical insight.Histo-ry does help to explain why the Ameri-can state has the special properties that itdoes,but it cannot help much in explain-ing why Republicans are now in powerrather than Democrats—or why Repub-licans,despite their anti-statist ideology,inevitably expand government’s size andreach.One reason for the mixed success of American political development is that,in their efforts to explain the Americannation-state,political scientists have paida great deal of attention to the state andrelatively little to the nation.Policies,parties,procedures:they all inﬂuenceand are inﬂuenced by government.Butgovernment exists within a nation whoseidentity,at least in this country,is ascontingent as the policies that govern-ment adopts.Americans did not create anation by inheriting a conception of whothey were from some mystic past andthen asking new arrivals to adopt to it.Instead,we barely began as a nation atall.Although the United States declaredits independence from Great Britain in1776 and adopted the Constitution in1787,it did not become a nation untilthe ratiﬁcation of the Thirteenth,Four-teenth,and Fifteenth Amendments inthe wake of the Civil War.(Before theCivil War,leaders spoke about theUnion,not the nation.) And even when