Richard Samuelson

Richard Samuelson is Associate Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino.

A National Thanksgiving: President Washington and America’s National Holiday

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Thanksgiving is a peculiar holiday, at least in the modern world.   Its roots are religious, and the American nation is, at least in law, secular.   Its very name speaks of thanks, or gratitude, and gratitude is an ancient virtue.  Indeed Aristotle speaks highly of it.  Even so, or perhaps for that reason, it is very American.  In his Thanksgiving address in 1922, President Coolidge called it “perhaps the most characteristic of our national observances.”   He was not wrong for, as Chesterton wrote, America is “a nation with the soul of a church,” and Abraham Lincoln called us an “almost chosen people.”

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What Tocqueville Can Teach Us About the Culture War

The culture war rages on. Recently the New York Post reported that the state of New York has fined a couple for refusing to host a same-sex wedding on their farm. This provides some context for, in Ezra Klein’s words, “the politicization of absolutely everything.” The complaint has its ironic dimensions, and leads us to ponder what caused that politicization—and what can we do about it. Klein points to surveys showing that Americans are growing increasingly partisan. In one study he cites, participants were given resumes to review. The results showed that, as Klein writes, “race mattered. But political orientation mattered…

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The Monster of Babel

frankenstein_excitedIn the annual Torah cycle, we Jews always read the story of the Tower of Babel shortly before Halloween. This year we read it last Saturday. A strange coincidence. Although it’s not quite a horror story, the story of Babel is about evil.   In particular, it is about the evil that men might do when they all speak the same language. So empowered, Genesis informs us, men seek to glorify themselves rather than serving God. Frankenstein, the quintessential modern horror story, tells the same tale.

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Law, Culture, and Immigration: Richard Samuelson Responds

I thank Peter Skerry, Vincent Cannato, and Alex Nowrasteh for their thoughtful comments about my essay. As I wrote more about the political context in which immigration and assimilation happen, perhaps I was pushing too far beyond what they take to be the topic at hand. That might explain some of the character of the responses. But if our concern is with what has made the American republic a free republic, and with the conditions necessary to keep it such, it seems to me a discussion like this is necessary. As the Founders well knew, republics don’t have a great…

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Immigration Bolsters American Freedom

There is much to agree with in Richard Samuelson’s essay. My disagreement arises from three main sources. First, Samuelson undervalues how important relatively freer immigration is for maintaining American values and institutions. Second, his view of the country’s past assimilation of immigrants is too rosy. Third, his pessimism concerning the assimilation of current immigrants is…

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The Past, Present, and Future of American Immigration

Richard Samuelson has provided us with a thoughtful discussion of immigration in modern America, focusing on its philosophical meanings and its place in American society. He defends the idea of America as a “credal” nation built upon the political principles of the Founding era and sees the assimilation of immigrants to that Founding creed as…

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Assimilation is a Brutal and Necessary Bargain

Let me begin by acknowledging that I share Professor Samuelson’s concern that many immigrants today are not assimilating to “classic American values of thrift, hard work, and cooperation in civil society.” I, too, am uneasy at the prospect of immigrants being influenced by “trans-national” elites to the point where they, and especially their children, may…

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Can America Remain a Nation of Immigrants in the 21st Century?

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We often call ours “a nation of immigrants.” It is a peculiar and paradoxical phrase. A “nation,” as generally understood, is a tribal, ethnic, or historical group. In the era of the American Revolution, a nation, a people, a tribe, and a race were often interchangeable terms. Nation, as the word is usually used by scholars, often retains some of that heritage. Hence a noted academic like Ernest Gellner could write in his book Nations and Nationalism (1983) that “nationalism uses the pre-existing, historically inherited proliferation of cultures or cultural wealth.” Nationalism presupposes some sort of historical unity. Meanwhile, immigrants are…

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Responses

Immigration Bolsters American Freedom

There is much to agree with in Richard Samuelson’s essay. My disagreement arises from three main sources. First, Samuelson undervalues how important relatively freer immigration is for maintaining American values and institutions. Second, his view of the country’s past assimilation of immigrants is too rosy. Third, his pessimism concerning the assimilation of current immigrants is…

Read More

The Past, Present, and Future of American Immigration

Richard Samuelson has provided us with a thoughtful discussion of immigration in modern America, focusing on its philosophical meanings and its place in American society. He defends the idea of America as a “credal” nation built upon the political principles of the Founding era and sees the assimilation of immigrants to that Founding creed as…

Read More

Assimilation is a Brutal and Necessary Bargain

Let me begin by acknowledging that I share Professor Samuelson’s concern that many immigrants today are not assimilating to “classic American values of thrift, hard work, and cooperation in civil society.” I, too, am uneasy at the prospect of immigrants being influenced by “trans-national” elites to the point where they, and especially their children, may…

Read More

Law, Culture, and Immigration: Richard Samuelson Responds

I thank Peter Skerry, Vincent Cannato, and Alex Nowrasteh for their thoughtful comments about my essay. As I wrote more about the political context in which immigration and assimilation happen, perhaps I was pushing too far beyond what they take to be the topic at hand. That might explain some of the character of the…

Read More

On Adam, Eve, Tribes, and Nations

The prospect of Scottish independence has spurred a great deal of discussion here and elsewhere. It’s worth remembering that the Act of Union of 1707, which drew England and Scotland together, factored into the story of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson and other colonists believed that each colony had the same relationship to Britain in the 1770s that England and Scotland had to each other before the Act of Union: as an equal state with a common monarch.[1]

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Entropy in the Executive

The Massachusetts Constitution’s Declaration of Rights says, in its conclusion, that:

In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them: the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.

That constitution, providing for a lower house, a Senate, and a governor armed with a (qualified) veto was, in many ways, the model for the federal Constitution drafted a few years later.

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Peace, Peace, When there is no Peace

Recent events have led me back to Henry Adams’ great work on U.S. history.  There is a side of the American mind that wishes the world could be different than it is: Few men have dared to legislate as though eternal peace were at hand, in a world torn by wars and convulsions and drowned in blood; but this was what Jefferson aspired to do. Even in such dangers, he believed that Americans might safely set an example which the Christian world should be led by interest to respect and at length to imitate.  As he conceived a true American policy, war…

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Time to Rethink the Chevron Doctrine

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These are interesting times, constitutionally speaking. In the past two weeks, federal courts have ruled both ways on Obamacare. In the D.C. Circuit, a panel ruled that the law allows for subsidized health insurance in exchanges created by state governments, but not in the “backstop” exchange created by the federal government. Meanwhile, the Fourth Circuit says that the statute allows subsidies in both.

Who is right?

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Fix Our Partisan Civil Service

irsAs most U.S. history textbooks teach, Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Act not long after a disgruntled office-seeker shot and killed President Garfield in 1881. The goal was to create a competent and politically neutral civil service. I wonder if, over a century and a quarter after America went down that road, the old problem is returning in a new guise, as we now have a highly partisan civil service, albeit one that has civil service protections.[1] 

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