America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century — Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus (Encounter, 264 pp., $25.99), and Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity, by James S. Robbins (Encounter, 250 pp., $23.99)
The future America 3.0 is described, in a chapter titled “America in 2040,” as a decentralized, networked era of prosperity. Social programs have been stripped from the federal government and sent to the states.
There are 71 states (the larger ones — California, Texas, New York — have subdivided) and some functions are performed by multistate compacts. Cities, counties, and townships have taken on more responsibilities. Decentralization leads to a “big sort,” as families and individuals sort themselves by communities, religions, politics, and lifestyles. With the “big sort” and minimized federal role, “the need for a national consensus on most issues is non-existent.” This also means that (despite the continued existence of the red-blue political split) a decentralized “social settlement” could evolve on the most contentious social issues. Bennett and Lotus foresee more individual freedom and material wellbeing, with the U.S. remaining the world’s leading political and economic power.
To help the country achieve the status of America 3.0, the authors offer a raft of detailed policy prescriptions related to decentralization, including the following: shifting political power to the states; reducing public debt (a “big haircut,” or the equivalent of bankruptcy); abolishing the federal income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax; and creating an alliance for decentralization that would place social issues beyond the power of the federal government and federal courts and into the hands of state legislators and voters. In the end, the authors contend, America 3.0 is possible because its formation would be consistent with America’s deepest cultural roots and institutions. It is an updated version of the best of America 1.0.
Bennett and Lotus have produced a very important evergreen book making a strong case for their myriad arguments. Interest among the conservative intelligentsia should be intense. There have already been endorsements from Glenn Reynolds, Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, and John O’Sullivan. Rebuttals from our friends at the Claremont Institute are sure to come: As Straussians rather than Burkeans, they will insist that politics (the Declaration of Independence) trumps culture (the nuclear family).The other new Encounter book, James Robbins’s Native Americans, is an optimistic celebration of American identity, patriotism, and exceptionalism. Robbins tells us that American identity is fighting a two-front war against multiculturalists and globalists. This reviewer could not agree more. The federally imposed “diversity” project assumes an oppositional posture toward American culture, dividing citizens into antagonistic ethnic boxes. Once in these legal categories, individuals are labeled as members of either a “victim group” or the “oppressor class.”
Robbins rightly rejects all of this. He argues that we need a definition of American ethnicity that is based not on race but on American culture and values. Most of all, this means we should self-identify as Americans. Robbins makes it clear that he disdains the concept of hyphenated Americans: He scorns the idea that he is an “Irish-American” or a “white non-Hispanic” American. “My Americanism,” he declares, “needs no prefix or suffix.”
In 1980, the Census Bureau began asking questions about one’s ancestry, suggesting categories such as German, English, Irish, African-American, etc. Robbins traces how an increasing number of people listed their ancestry simply as “American.” In the 2000 census, over 20 million people identified their ancestry as “American,” making this the fifth-largest ancestry group. Robbins has fun tracking down where these “Americans” live. The highest proportion of “Americans” (over 50 percent) live in southeastern Kentucky. “Americans” are the plurality in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The most “Americans” live (in descending order) in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, and California.
Like Bennett and Lotus, and unlike many in America’s contemporary elite, Robbins believes there is a distinct American culture. He cites data from the Bradley Foundation Project on National Identity that indicate that 84 percent of our citizens believe that there is “a unique American national identity based on shared beliefs, values, and culture.” Further, writes Robbins, the American melting pot has formed a single people “rooted in shared language, foundational stories, history, experience, culture, belief systems, national myths, and political culture.”Robbins doesn’t quote a July 22, 1966 letter from gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan to former president Dwight Eisenhower, but — in political terms — the letter is more relevant today than when it was written half a century ago. Reagan wrote to Ike: “I am in complete agreement about dropping the hyphen that presently divides us into minority groups. I’m convinced this ‘hyphenating’ was done by our opponents to create voting blocs for political expediency. Our party should strive to change this — one is not an Irish-American but is instead an American of Irish descent.”
The coercive “diversity” project and a bloated welfare state have only gotten worse in the years since. Bennett, Lotus, and Robbins are pointing out a better direction for our country.
– Mr. Fonte is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others?