In contemporary American political culture, claims of American exceptionalism and anxieties over its prospects have resurged as an overarching theme in national political discourse. Yet never very far from such debates lie animating fears associated with race. Fears about the loss of national unity and trust often draw attention to looming changes in the racial demographics of the body politic. Lost amid these debates are often the more complex legacies of racial hybridity. Anxieties over the disintegration of the fabric of American national identity likewise forget not just how they echo past fears of subversive racial and cultural difference, but also exorcise as well the changing nature of work and social interaction.
Edmund Fong’s book examines the rise and resurgence of contemporary forms of American exceptionalism as they have emerged out of contentious debates over cultural pluralism and multicultural diversity in the past two decades. For a brief time, serious considerations of the force of multiculturalism entered into a variety of philosophical and policy debates. But in the American context, these debates often led to a reaffirmation of some variant of American exceptionalism with the consequent exorcism of race within the avowed norms and policy goals of American politics. Fong explores how this "multicultural exorcism" revitalizing American exceptionalism is not simply a novel feature of our contemporary political moment, but is instead a recurrent dynamic across the history of American political discourse.
By situating contemporary discourse on cultural pluralism within the larger frame of American history, this book yields insight into the production of hegemonic forms of American exceptionalism and how race continues to haunt the contours of American national identity.
"[A] challenging, intriguing work that explores a necessary and essential part of American political thought… Summing Up: Highly recommended."
--K. Anderson, Eastern Illinois University, CHOICE Magazine
"This is the most profound – and the most elegantly written – meditation on the historical genealogy, constitutive difficulties, and vexed political meanings of the cluster of ideas and practices that go under the sign of multi-culturalism. By relating multi-culturalism not only to liberalism in the abstract, but also to the knot formed by American exceptionalism and its disavowed alterity, Edmund Fong is able to explore not only the dissimulation and limitations, but also the value and the challenges, of efforts to conceive cultural difference in politically generative ways. In prose that is keenly incisive, finely nuanced, and rigorously argued, Fong helps critics of liberal individualism and of American nationalism get beyond the reactive politics of merely remembering of alterity, to instead think creatively about how to forge emergent political possibilities out of the resistant residues of our vexed history."
—George Shulman, New York University
"Edmund Fong argues passionately and eloquently that the dream of optimistic American exceptionalism and the nightmare of racial hierarchy are not opposing forces. Rather, their codependent relationship has persisted throughout and shaped American history, rendering them inseparable. Race – even after its elimination as a structural feature of state institutions – has thus remained as a residual factor that silently shapes contemporary initiatives around multiculturalism and pluralism. Casting a critical eye on how triumphal memorializations of racial struggle strip away any potential for radical transformation, Fong calls for a deeper consideration of how racial ordering has always provided the foundation for America’s liberal ideals. A pathbreaking contribution to American political thought!"
—Julie Novkov, SUNY-Albany
1. Liberal Multiculturalism and the Remains of Race. 2. The American Exception: The Politics of Recognition and Individual Autonomy. 3. Exceptional Remains: Cosmopolitanism’s Province in the American Imagination. 4. In Defense of Women: The Clash of American Exceptionalism and the Cultural Defense. 5. Recognition vs. Redistribution: The Uncanny Compensations of Culture over Class. 6 Remembering the Remains of Race
Group identities have been an important part of political life in America since the founding of the republic. For most of this long history, the central challenge for activists, politicians, and scholars concerned with the quality of U.S. democracy was the struggle to bring the treatment of ethnic and racial minorities and women in line with the creedal values spelled out in the nation’s charters of freedom. We are now several decades from the key moments of the twentieth century when social movements fractured America’s system of ascriptive hierarchy. The gains from these movements have been substantial. Women now move freely in all realms of civil society, hold high elective offices, and constitute more than 50 percent of the workforce. Most African-Americans have now attained middle class status, work in integrated job sites, and live in suburbs. Finally, people of color from nations in Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean now constitute the majority of America’s immigration pool.
In the midst of all of these positive changes, however, glaring inequalities between groups persist. Indeed, ethnic and racial minorities remain far more likely to be undereducated, unemployed, and incarcerated than their counterparts who identify as white. Similarly, both violence and work place discrimination against women remain rampant in U.S. society. The Routledge series on identity politics features works that seek to understand the tension between the great strides our society has made in promoting equality between groups and the residual effects of the ascriptive hierarchies in which the old order was rooted.
Some of the core questions that the series will address are: how meaningful are the traditional ethnic, gender, racial, and sexual identities to our understanding of inequality in the present historical moment? Do these identities remain important bases for group mobilization in American politics? To what extent can we expect the state to continue to work for a more level playing field among groups?