The Labyrinth of North American Identities

The Labyrinth of North American Identities

PHILIP RESNICK
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 160
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttxsv
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  • Book Info
    The Labyrinth of North American Identities
    Book Description:

    What exactly does it mean to be North American?The Labyrinth of North American Identitiesis a long essay that attempts to learn more about North America as a unit and its individual countries by exploring the idea of a shared North American identity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0553-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-X)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. XI-XII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. XIII-XVIII)

    What is North America? The question is not simply one of geographical location, physical characteristics, or political delineation. All these and more enter into any description of the continent that is the subject of this book. My interest, however, is in something that most studies of North America rarely embrace: the very idea of North America and the underlying question of whether a North American identity exists or is ever likely to come into existence.

    North America is a vast continent, the third largest measured by size. At a minimum, it is composed of three continent- or semi-continent-sized states—Canada,...

  5. ONE Quetzalcoatl’s Heirs
    (pp. 1-10)

    Where does myth end and reality take over? How can one do justice to the civilizations of indigenous peoples who populated North America before Columbus ever set sail to the New World? Does one simply take note of the wholesale extermination of vast numbers of indigenous people in the sixteenth century due to smallpox and other diseases, of their indentured status in Mexico for centuries thereafter, of their forced removal from the eastern and southern regions of the United States in the nineteenth century, of the development of a reserve system for indigenous peoples in Canada? What of the present...

  6. TWO Chosen Peoples
    (pp. 11-20)

    The religious strand was of particular importance in legitimizing the concept of a New World and of the Christian-rooted societies—both Catholic and Protestant—that were to emerge there. From the beginning, the Spaniards saw themselves as God’s chosen people:

    That Columbus assumed the Second Coming of Christ is indicated in The Book of the Prophecies which he wrote shortly before his last voyage to America. . . . It amplified a statement which he had made to the former nurse of Prince John: “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth.” In his book...

  7. THREE Trajectories to Independence
    (pp. 21-30)

    The path a people follows to achieve its independence can have lasting implications. Struggle against an outside power can engender a sense of empowerment; internal divisions can haunt a polity; an ambiguous sense of identity can undermine a common sense of purpose. Succeeding generations may find themselves following unconsciously in the footsteps of those who came before.

    It was in the eighteenth century that the Spanish and British colonists began to see their identities as essentially “American,”² but the forms this would take differed significantly among them. In the North American context, there can be no gainsaying the path-breaking character...

  8. FOUR “Language Has Always Been the Perfect Instrument of Empire”
    (pp. 31-42)

    In 1492, Antonio de Nebrija, a Spanish humanist, published the first grammar of the Spanish language, dedicating the book to Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Spain. When he presented it to her, she asked, “Why would I want a work like this, I already know the language.” To this de Nebrija answered, “Majesty, language is the perfect instrument of the empire.”²

    Language can be central to a people’s identity. A large majority of European states are associated with a specific language, and the very name of their inhabitants coincides with that of the language they speak—e.g., Dutch, English, French,...

  9. FIVE Manifest Destiny and the Fate of a Continent
    (pp. 43-50)

    One way of exploring the geopolitics of North America is through a straightforward version of action and reaction. The United States led the way in establishing sovereign territorial states in the Western Hemisphere. Successive expansion and consolidation made it a continent-sized country, and economic dynamism and population expansion established it as the dominant North American power, a position reinforced by its emergence in the twentieth century as a world power.

    Accompanying the rise of the United States to its current position was the potent doctrine, messianic in character, of manifest destiny. It found early expression in the decades following the...

  10. SIX Market Society and Possessive Individualism
    (pp. 51-64)

    In many ways, North America, even more than Europe, has been the continent of market capitalism. Commercial values were deeply implanted in the 13 Colonies, even before the creation of the United States. In Benjamin Franklin’s words, “Get what you can, and what you get hold;/’ Tis the Stone that will turn all your Lead into Gold.”² Individualism and enterprise were among the cardinal values on which the United States was founded.³ Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, embodied the pursuit of commercial values and protected manufacturing industries while his more agrarian-oriented opponent, Thomas Jefferson, came to accept...

  11. SEVEN Democracy and Its Discontents
    (pp. 65-76)

    The European settlement of the New World occurred in a non-democratic age. Absolutism reigned in most European courts, and where representative institutions existed, as in Britain, suffrage was greatly limited and politics an affair for the aristocracy and the gentry.

    In New Spain, the viceroys were directly responsible to Madrid, with little direct input from the Creoles, let alone the indigenous population. In New France, as well, representative institutions were lacking. But in New England and the other English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard, assemblies with a significant degree of influence over local matters were established. At the same time,...

  12. EIGHT The Protean State
    (pp. 77-88)

    Canada, the United States, and Mexico are sovereign states. From the perspective of the international system, each can claim legitimate authority over the territory and population that it encompasses. Forms of government and the extent of public administration and policy are matters to be resolved in accordance with national concerns.

    There are significant differences in the way state structures have developed in the three countries. While all three have federal systems, in practice the United States began as a fairly decentralized federation, Canada as a fairly centralized one, and Mexico as a country in which the central government, until recently,...

  13. NINE New World Utopias and Dystopias
    (pp. 89-100)

    What was new about the “New World”? The “discovery” of America permanently changed the conception of the known world in Europe and beyond. For Amerigo Vespucci, in his 1504 letter calledMondus Novus,it was permissible to call the lands a “new World, because nobody before knew of their existence and because it had been commonly believed that the southern hemisphere had been wholly taken up by the ocean.”² For Francisco López de Gómara, a sixteenth-century chronicler of the Spanish Conquest, “The greatest event since the creation of the world (if we except the incarnation as death of Him who...

  14. TEN An Archipelago of Regions
    (pp. 101-110)

    Formally, North America consists of three countries, each with its own national characteristics and identity. In fact, each of these countries consists of discrete regional entities, with a number of cross-border regions to boot.

    Since all three countries are federal states, it would seem fairly easy to delineate these. Canada has ten provinces and three territories; the United States has 50 states and one federal district; Mexico has 31 states and one federal district. This makes 96 units in all. Residents may have strong provincial or state loyalties that, at times, have been known to trump national ones.

    The concept...

  15. ELEVEN A North American Civilization?
    (pp. 111-122)

    To what degree can one speak of North America constituting a new civilization? Charles and Mary Beard used the term in their 1927 history of the United States, so describing its politics, economics, technology, philosophy, science, religion, education, and literature.² Harold Laski talked about Americanism as a principle of civilization, emphasizing the restlessness and non-conformism that characterized the country and the unmistakably New World character of American culture.³ Max Lerner argued that America was not a European civilization and that it, not Europe, had become the centre of Western power.⁴ American influence at the global level has been paramount since...

  16. TWELVE Dwellers of the Labyrinth
    (pp. 123-132)

    North America constitutes a labyrinth of identities. No one strain can describe it. Its multiple plates and perspectives include divisions between indigenous/non-indigenous, Protestant/Catholic/other, revolutionary/non-revolutionary, Spanish/English/French, great power/middle powers, and market societies/societies with pre-market characteristics.

    What are the comparative lessons to be drawn from this book? All three North American countries had indigenous populations before Europeans arrived, and in all three indigenous peoples occupy marginal positions to this day. Is this simply a manifestation of colonialism and imperialism, a clash between civilizations in which those with the requisite antibodies along with superior economic, military, and organizational resources ultimately win out?² Or...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 133-150)
  18. Index
    (pp. 151-155)