Against the “Melting Pot” Metaphor


Mike Wallace in Lit Hub: “In February 1915 the Nation magazine had run a two-part essay, “Democracy versus the Melting Pot: A Study of American Nationality,” by Horace Kallen, at that point a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In a frontal challenge to the Americanization movement, Kallen argued that it promoted not a melding of many cultures but the predominance of one. “Jews, Slavs, Poles, Frenchmen, Germans, Hindus, Scandinavians and so on” were supposedly to be transmuted by the “‘the miracle of assimilation’ into beings similar in background, tradition, outlook, and spirit to the descendants of the British colonists, the Anglo-Saxon stock.” The Anglo-Americans, in their guise as ur-Americans, presumed to rule by right of “cultural primogeniture.” The first immigrants, through the accident of being first, had become an aristocracy, advocates “of the pride of blood.” This was not only anti-democratic, but also authoritarian, as resistance by subordinated ethnics was met with coercive measures like the Anglo-supremacist public school system, which attempted to eradicate old-country ways by crushing the spirit of immigrant pupils.”

Click to read Wallace’s excerpt from Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 in Lit Hub.

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