What does it mean to be an American?

According to historian Philip Gleason, when discussing the connection between ethnicity and American identity, it is commonly stated that being an American involves having a dedication to a collection of principles and concepts.

Anyone who was willing to become an American meant that they were open to the universalist character of American nationality. Thus, he had committed himself to the political ideology centered on the abstract ideals of republicanism and equality, as well as the liberty. It did not matter if the person had any specific ethnic, religious, linguistic, or national background to become or be an American.

The Great Seal’s sheaf of arrows suggests that there should be a unified coexistence based on shared ideals of citizenship. It suggests that the melting pot image of Zangwill’s Israel should not be interpreted as manyness melting down into one, but rather as “e pluribus unum” – taking the motto from the Great Seal.

Citizens of America who wish to explore different civic ideals with an eye towards solidarity, imply in this essay what they desire more than simply demanding others to desire much more.

In a certain meaningful manner, others perceive themselves as similar to one another when they have trust, and they are more inclined to have trust in each other when they endorse redistributive plans. This includes assistance for housing, additional income, and long-term unemployment benefits. Solidarity is seen as essential to facilitate the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to assist the poor. Social insurance plans safeguard individuals against unforeseen circumstances, motivating people to support these plans out of self-interest. All citizens have the opportunity to participate, as they elevate the status of the most disadvantaged members of society to a level where the welfare state’s institutions act as mechanisms for redistribution and counterbalance the inequalities in life opportunities created by a capitalist economy. The pursuit of fair distribution of resources is an integral aspect of civic unity, which is why it holds significance.

Mutual empathy and regard are bolstered by the common good, thereby promoting a feeling of unity. It is essential to have some regard for the collective welfare, as individual pursuits cannot fully achieve democratic engagement. Political choices should be rooted in finding shared values, and individuals should be open to compromising their demands in order to reach common ground. Alongside voting, democratic involvement entails thoughtful discussion, and individuals must make a deliberate attempt to attentively listen to and comprehend each other. Genuine democracy necessitates solidarity as well. Additionally, it is the second aspect.

To accommodate racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, the challenge is to develop a model of civic unity that is “thick” enough to motivate support for justice and democracy while also being “thin” enough. The significance of articulating more comprehensive models of political community as a substitute for the racial, ethnic, or religious narratives that have saturated political life might be acknowledged even by those who doubt such assertions. One might argue that individuals have a profound necessity for belonging in communities, possibly rooted in even deeper human desires for recognition and freedom, but even those skeptical of such arguments might acknowledge the importance of articulating more inclusive models of political community. It is inadequate to articulate explanations of unity and belonging solely at the regional or global levels while disregarding the sense of belonging to the political community. “And what ultimately can overcome this narrow-mindedness,” Charles Taylor questions, “but a reinvention of India as a secular republic with which people can identify?” The alternative to the Nehru-Gandhi secular definition of Indian national identity is the Hindu narrow-mindedness of the Bharatiya Janata Party, not a cosmopolitan model of belonging. Third, civic unity offers more comprehensive alternatives to narrow-minded models that frequently dominate political life across the globe.

The sole “shared factor for a constitutional patriotism” is that “Each individual should be socialized into a mutual political culture.” According to this perspective, what unites citizens is their collective loyalty to the principles represented in a common political culture. Habermas and other scholars have regarded the concept of constitutional patriotism (Verfassungspatriotismus) as a universal vision for liberal democratic societies and even for supranational communities like the European Union, but it originated from a specific national history, symbolizing the attachment to the liberal democratic institutions of postwar Federal Republic of Germany. To understand the concept of constitutional patriotism, we can begin by examining Habermas’s perspective.

Based on texts such as “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence, patriotism is appealing to those who aspire to agnosticism and have specific ethnocultural and religious moral outlooks. These texts embody the universal moral ideals that are present in American political culture, without being based on any particular religious beliefs, ethnic or racial identity. The American solidarity is not rooted in the cultural and ethnic origins or the sharing of the same language, but rather on the minimal commonality of shared constitutional principles. The United States serves as a leading example of a multicultural society where citizens’ belonging is not dependent on a single cultural or ethnic identity. Habermas points to the United States as a prime example of a society where constitutional principles are taken as the root of the political culture.

What does it suggest for immigrants of any kind to receive constitutional patriotism? This is a development that constitutional patriots would applaud, as it marks a shift in the governing standards for accessing citizenship, from cultural markers to values in America and Western Europe. In the United States, those seeking to become citizens must demonstrate basic knowledge of U.S. History and government. The new test attempts to move away from emphasizing trivia in civics and focus on political concepts and ideas. There is still a fair amount of trivia, such as “What is the capital of your state?” And “How many amendments does the Constitution have?” There are also questions about the rule of law, freedom of religion, and the limits of government branches.

Constitutional patriots would endorse focusing on the life forms and values that many countries acknowledge as being separate from the political culture of the majority, arguing that the principles immigrants are expected to embrace should not necessarily be interpreted by the political culture, but rather by the constitutional principles that they embrace.

Language is a key marker of national identity and is viewed as a requirement for many citizens, but why is the majority language the only one that needs to be common in the workplace, government, and schools? The requirement for language literacy might be justified as a practical need for a common language. English has been a requirement for naturalization since 1906, but in the United States, some states have also recognized and supported specific religious and ethnic groups, which inevitably involve symbols, holidays, and public institutions. It is impossible to completely separate particularistic identities and the language of the state. Multiculturalism theorists have stressed the importance of not “uncoupling” political and ethical-cultural affairs, as language plays a key role in shaping people’s experiences and worldviews.

The Immigration Act of 1990 retained the McCarthy-era qualifications for naturalization, which included disqualifying individuals who engage in activities deemed “un-American” against campaigns and loyalty oaths by patriotism, as well as those who affiliate or advocate with organizations opposed to the government or communism. In addition, support for communism was added to the list of grounds for deportation, exclusion, and disqualification from naturalization. The requirement of attachment to constitutional principles, which has been interpreted to require a belief in the principles and separation of powers guaranteed by the United States Constitution, has also been interpreted to disqualify conscientious objectors, polygamists, anarchists, and those who refuse to renounce titles or orders of nobility. Surprisingly, this requirement did not clarify what attachment to constitutional principles entails, as it was revised in 1940 to be a behavioral qualification rather than a personal attribute. The second act of naturalization added two ideological elements to the oath of support to the U.S. Constitution, requiring more than just a commitment to “behaving as a man should.” The first law of naturalization in 1790 required an oath of allegiance, evaluated in light of the applicant’s background and theory of justice, and depended on the normative substance of justice or democracy. However, it does not provide a theory of justice or freedom itself and depends on the principles on which the polity’s shared principles are held. Another misconception about constitutional patriotism is that it necessarily entails a more inclusive model of solidarity than cultural nationalism.

A necessary aspect of national identity is a collective national culture. Even if we never meet, I share a national culture with someone if each of us has been introduced to the traditions and customs of a national culture. According to David Miller, a leading theorist of liberal nationalism, national identity is defined by a shared belief among a group of individuals that they belong together, a sense of historical continuity across generations, a connection to a specific territory, and a shared set of characteristics that make up a national culture. State institutions and laws establish a political culture, which in turn shapes the various customs and practices of daily life that form a national culture. States cannot avoid coercing citizens into preserving some form of national culture, as state institutions and laws define a political culture, which in turn shapes the range of customs and practices that constitute a national culture. Liberal nationalists recognize that states cannot be culturally neutral, unlike constitutional patriots.

19. Immigration is not necessary to pose problems provided that immigrants contribute their own unique elements which may come to share a common national identity. Additionally, in order to emphasize a culture of national sharing, it is compatible for people belonging to ethnic and racial diversity groups to not necessarily be born in the homeland or have biological descent based on historically nationalist doctrines, even if Miller emphasizes race.

Open to anyone willing to adopt the national culture, while the latter nations are closed and exclusionary on the basis of biological descent and ethnic grounds.

Nevertheless, the differentiation between civic and ethnic affiliations is not invariably uncomplicated in actuality. Each nation has an “ethnic nucleus,” as highlighted by Anthony Smith.

21. An in-depth analysis reveals that the culture of nations such as Argentina or Australia, with their early dominant English and Spanish-speaking immigrant societies, always provided a language and myths that shaped the nation’s identity. However, this cultural reality, which is often perceived as a Western mirage, does not truly transcend ethnic or ethnicities, but rather represents a civic notion of modernity.

The blurring of the civic-ethnic distinction is often reflected throughout the history of the United States, with 22 terms related to religion, race, and ethnicity in culturally defined national contexts.

Why, if all national cultures should embrace the national identity that acknowledges the hallmarks of a particular territory and a dominant ethnic group, does the national identity of Britain become politicized when it contains an Anglo-Saxon bias that discriminates against other ethnic minorities and Muslims? Can the idea of nationality be democratic as far as he insists that everyone should take part in this debate about what constitutes national identity, even though it mainly occurs in formal political arenas, where the debate is seen as the main place where national identity is discussed?

Huntington openly acknowledges that the cultural foundation of the United States is rooted in the culture of its historically dominant groups. This includes being a country dedicated to the principles of the Creed, as well as being a deeply religious and predominantly Christian nation that embraces various religious minorities, follows Anglo-Protestant values, speaks English, and maintains its European cultural heritage. Rather than relying solely on ideology, Huntington urges individuals of all races and ethnicities in America to revitalize their core culture. Similar to Miller, Huntington believes that ideology alone is insufficient to unite people who lack racial, ethnic, or cultural ties, and he dismisses race and ethnicity as defining elements of national identity. Without opportunities for historically marginalized groups and new immigrant communities to genuinely contribute to shaping the national culture on an equal basis, liberal nationalism will devolve into the conservative nationalism advocated by Samuel Huntington. The main challenge lies in ensuring that historically marginalized groups and new immigrant communities have real chances to participate in shaping the national culture, even though collective deliberation is not typically the method by which national cultures are formed.

The integration of immigrants into the political and economic aspects of a country is a leading example of contemporary naturalization policies in the West. It not only reflects a concern for preserving the distinctive national culture, but also for the political and economic integration of immigrants.

Charles Taylor introduces the idea of “deep diversity” in the Canadian context, which means not only acknowledging the fact of a diversity of group identities and outlooks (first-level diversity), but also recognizing the diversity of ways individuals belong to the political community (second-level or deep diversity). Rather than attempting to establish minimal content as the basis of solidarity, Taylor suggests embracing the concept of “deep diversity” to encompass the cultural attributes that co-nationals share, as well as the divergent religious and moral outlooks and group identities that individuals may have. While constitutional patriotism and liberal nationalism focus on first-level diversity, Taylor proposes an alternative approach that encompasses a broader understanding of diversity.

Someone of Ukrainian extraction in Edmonton or Italian extraction in Toronto, for example, might accept that a Québécois person might belong in a very different way, even though they themselves might consider themselves to be a bearer of individual rights in a multicultural mosaic and feel Canadian through their membership in their national communities, Cree or Déné.

All of this may be the source of our desire for a political community, as membership in a political community provides us with goods that we cannot obtain without it. The recognition of disagreement about what it means to be a member and the desire to support diversity at the second level of the political community both lead people to become members. Rather than being defined by a concrete content, everyone’s identity is attached to their own fashion. It is a fact that everyone’s identity is attached to their own fashion, but not defined by it. Everybody wants to continue making progress in the community and history, and it is a fact that everyone’s identity is attached to that.

In addition to finding distinct group identities, we can also find distinctive ways of belonging to these communities across different ethnic groups: Mexican Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Irish Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans. The United States, as a nation of immigrants, also needs diverse modes of acknowledging the distinctive histories of different immigrant groups. Even though Taylor contrasts the United States with Canada, both countries accept the myth of America as a nation of immigrants.

Deep diversity is not just about the different ways in which racial minorities belong to America, but it also encompasses the distinctive ways in which their politics and culture have been shaped by the American hyphenated culture. In his discussion of American identity, Michael Walzer recognizes that Irish Americans are culturally American while also embracing their Irish heritage, highlighting the deep diversity of American culture. On the other hand, Horace Kallen’s American View emphasizes the private spiritual lives lived by culturally anonymous Americans on the left side of the hyphen, contrasting with the assimilationist arguments he made in the political and economic realm. The idea of cultural pluralism, which Kallen developed in the United States, is not just a recapitulation of the deep diversity consciousness, but also a recognition of the preservation of cultural differences in political and economic matters.

The ethos generated by making the effort at mutual understanding and respect is important, but what matters is not so much the content of solidarity, but the shared principles that can be realized in various ways and cannot be applied neutrally without addressing substantive ethnic-cultural and religious differences in societies. The deep diversity model, as opposed to liberal nationalism, does not aim to specify a common national culture that must be shared by all. However, it may be too thin a basis for civic solidarity in a democratic society. Can there be civic solidarity without citizens already sharing a set of values or a culture in the first place? Taylor himself suggests that the “non-negotiable” minimum for civic solidarity includes the basic principles of republican constitutions – democracy itself and human rights, among others. What sets Taylor’s deep diversity model apart from Habermas’s constitutional patriotism is the recognition that historic identities cannot be simply abstracted from.

The active role of immigrants in shaping the future of evolution should be welcomed by the political community, and policies should send a strong message that immigrants are an integral part. Such policies should actually provide accommodations under which immigrant integration can become a two-way process. It should be recognized that immigrants should shape the dominant culture of the host society, and integration should be a two-way process. This is what liberal nationalists and Constitutional32 patriots say. They support language schools, heritage funding, and ethnic associations to promote diversity among immigrant communities. Canada expresses its commitment to the value of diversity through its official multiculturalism policies. The process of immigrant integration should be a two-way street that values the diversity among immigrant communities. Canada’s official multiculturalism policies express a commitment to diversity. The naturalization policy in Canada is not so different from that of the United States. The closest thing to a “deep integration” of immigrants may be Canada’s approach.

We should think about how the excesses of the others’ tempering model might work together. Sometimes, each of the proponents suggests that we view the three models of civic solidarity as mutually exclusive. However, I have discussed that rather than viewing the models themselves as exclusive, we should consider diversity, including shared values, as a commitment that presupposes deep respect. It is important to evaluate nationalism and patriotism in the light that they are not easily separated, as shown by the hope to separate democracy and economic inequality issues, which affects our ability to deal with intergroup relations and the ongoing question of large-scale immigration. However, the larger crises of economic downturn and war that Americans face today may not be the most urgent task in terms of the question of solidarity.

What is now formally required of immigrants seeking to become American citizens reflects the adoption of a shared culture, demonstrated by the ability to speak and write English (liberal nationalism) and demonstrate allegiance to the principles of the Constitution (patriotism), which is a significant step forward in recognizing the fact that Americans are a diverse people with distinctive ways of belonging to America, not only requiring the recognition of the fact but also inclusive solidarity. This revised test of citizenship gestures towards the first-level inclusion and diversity of historically marginalized groups by asking questions such as “What group of people was taken to America?” “Who were sold as slaves and lived in America?”


  • I am grateful to Smith Rogers and Shiffrin Seana, Scheffler Samuel, Rakowski Eric, Paoletti Sarah, and Kutz Christopher for their participation in the Workshop on Legal Theory, Constitutionalism, and Citizenship Democracy at UCLA and the Program on Theory, Political and Philosophy at Penn Law School and the Workshop Center on Kadish at Berkeley Law School. I also appreciate the comments on earlier versions of this essay.
  • (1980), pages 31-32, 56-57., “American Identity and Americanization,” can be found in the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, edited by Stephan Thernstrom (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2Philip Gleason
  • David Hollinger, in his essay “From Identity to Solidarity,” which was published in Dædalus 135 (4) (Fall 2006), explores the notion of transitioning from personal identity to communal solidarity.
  • In “Reflections,” David Miller explores the contemporary state of welfare and multiculturalism in democracies, as discussed by Keith Banting and Will Kymlicka in their book “Democracies, Redistribution and Recognition” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pages 334-328.
  • 5Charles Taylor, “Why Democracy Requires Patriotism,” in For Love of Country? Ed. Joshua Cohen (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 121.
  • In the book “Membership, Morals, and Politics: The Peoplehood Stories” by M. Rogers Smith, it is argued that political membership and collective identity narratives should not only be limited to national communities, but also include transnational and subnational communities. The book discusses the various purposes and types of political and collective identity narratives. This argument challenges the notion that these narratives should only focus on national communities.
  • In “Citizenship and National Identity,” published in 1996, Jürgen Habermas explores the relationship between law, democracy, and the concept of citizenship. This work is translated by William Rehg and published by the mit Press in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • 8Ibid.
  • Edward Rothstein, “Connections: Improving the Examinations That Grant Citizenship,” The New York Times, January 23, 2006.
  • 10Refer to http://www.Uscis.Gov/files/nativedocuments/100q.Pdf (accessed on November 28, 2008).
  • In Between Facts and Norms, 118, Habermas discusses “The European Nation-State.”
  • 1995 Oxford University Press: (The Rights of Minority Liberal Theory A): Multicultural Citizenship by Will Kymlicka; 1994 Princeton University Press: Examining the Politics of Multiculturalism in “The Recognition of Politics” edited by Amy Gutmann: Charles Taylor’s Recognition Theory.
  • (Being committed to the principles of the Constitution implies a requirement for literacy in the English language) In the case of Katz, 21 F.2d 867 (E.D. Mich. 1927); 138 U.S.C., Section 1423 (1988).
  • 103, 1 Stat., 3, ch. 26 Mar. 1790, of the Act, and 414, 1 Stat., 1, section 20, ch. 29 Jan. 1795, of the Act. In his book “Citizenship, American Development”, H. James Kettner refers to the 239-243, 1984 Press, University of North Carolina: Hill Chapel (1984) and the 1022-1023, Cong. Annals. He finds it difficult to support the government honestly, yet he believes that his own private judgment is better than aristocracy or monarchy. He also thinks that it is better to give his opinion on the United States Constitution, even though he opposes the requirement to swear allegiance to it. This is James Madison’s second opposing opinion.
  • (1943), which acknowledges the transition from acting as an individual adhering to constitutional principles to becoming an individual adhering to constitutional principles. Also, refer to Schneiderman v. United States, 320 U.S. 118, 133 n.12 section 1427(a)(3). 158 U.S.C.
  • 241-240, 206-205, 186-184, 163 Stat. 66, 313, 6(a) (241), 28(a) (212), sections 477, 1952 of the Nationality and Immigration Act were included in the provisions of the Internal Security Act. 1013-1015, 1006-1010, 987 Stat. 64, 25, 22, sections 1024, ch. 1950 of the Internal Security Act 16.
  • 17Gerald L. Neuman, “Justifying U.S. Naturalization Policies,” Virginia Journal of International Law 35 (1994): 255.
  • David Miller, in his book On Nationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), page 25, discusses the concept of nationality.
  • 19Ibid., 25-26.
  • In 1993, Yael Tamir’s book “Liberal Nationalism” was published by Princeton University Press. In 1995, Michael Ignatieff’s “Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism” was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. David Hollinger’s “Post-Ethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism” was published by Basic Books in New York. Rogers W. Brubaker’s “Citizenship and Nationhood in Germany and France” was published by Harvard University Press in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism is discussed in these works.
  • In his publication “The Ethnic Origins of Nations” (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), Anthony D. Smith explores the significance of ethnicity in the establishment of nations, referencing instances on page 216.
  • 22Refer to Rogers M. Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Perspectives of Citizenship in U.S. History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).
  • 23Miller, On Citizenship, 122-123, 153-154.
  • Who Are We? – Potentially separatist areas, and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he perceives those Mexican immigrants, in particular – areas, potentially separatist and multicultural, forming as he
  • 25Huntington, Who Are We? 31, 20.
  • In the article “Cross-National Perspectives on Citizenship: Research, Agenda, and Politics,” Howard, Marc Morjé examines the criteria for acquiring citizenship in North American and Western European countries. The research focuses on whether naturalized immigrants are allowed to hold dual citizenship, the residency length required for naturalization, and whether citizenship is granted to non-citizens’ children born in the territory. The study also compares the inclusiveness of citizenship laws, with Germany being more inclusive than the United States. It explores the combination of soli jus and sanguinis jus principles in Germany, which allows access to citizenship for migrant workers, including Turkish migrants. The article highlights the evolution of alien rights and citizenship in the European Union and the United States, with a specific focus on Germany.
  • In the book “Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism” by Guy Laforest, which was published in 1993 by McGill-Queen’s University Press in Montreal and Kingston, Charles Taylor contributed an essay titled “Shared and Divergent Values,” which can be found on page 27.
  • In his publication “Culture and Democracy in the United States” (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1924), Horace M. Kallen explores the significance of culture and democracy, particularly within the confines of pages 114-115.
  • In Marsilio’s book, “New American Essays: What Does it Mean to be American?” (Reprinted in 1974), Michael Walzer explores the question of what it truly means to be an American.