Historian Sam Huntington, writing in "Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity" points out the importance of studying history as a way of knowing who we are. How much we owe to the decisions of early explorers, colonists and settlers, particularly from the British Isles, and to the intellectuals in the British Enlightenment. If America had started as a colony of France, it would essentially be Quebec today. If America had started as a colony of Spain, then it would essentially be Mexico today. If America had started as a colony of Portugal, then it would essentially be Brazil today. (Hat tip: TGGP at Marginal Revolution)
"The strongest part of the book is its premise: that nationality matters -- and that, despite the universalism central to our values, America is different from other countries. In Huntington's view, this distinctiveness is based in "culture," by which he means neither Walt Whitman nor MTV, but rather a shared sense of community and common mores, including the premium we put on individualism, the work ethic, the gospel of success and an often crusading moralism. One can quarrel with some of the elements he thinks are central -- most important, a single, shared religion -- but plainly Huntington is on to something. Hard as it may be for us to define what it means to be American, people the world over know it when they see it, and we lose touch with it at our peril...Huntington argues convincingly -- and who can doubt? -- that the soil in which America's distinctive culture first took root was both English and dissenting. The earliest settlers' values still do much to color ours, and the "American Creed" that unites us politically -- our belief in freedom, tolerance, equal opportunity, the rule of law and the like -- is plainly a product of the British Enlightenment. But to say that our national character is Anglo-Protestant is to mistake origins for essence." - Tamar Jacoby, Washington Post review.
Skimming this book as I am living in Turkey, I wonder what a book titled, "Who Are We? The Challenges to Turkey's National Identity" would look like. Some say that Turkey does not know who it is as a nation -- whether it is European or Asian or Middle Eastern. I think that's a strength, not a weakness. It is all three.