Feature

The need for a common enemy

Since ancient times, rulers have known that &ldquo;fear of enemies&rdquo; is useful in promoting social cohesion, said Gregory Rodriguez in the <em>Los Angeles Times.</em>

Gregory RodriguezLos Angeles Times

“Where is Osama bin Laden when we need him?” said Gregory Rodriguez. After al Qaida’s 9/11 attacks on the U.S., we were “extraordinarily unified” as a “vast majority of Americans rallied around President George W. Bush.” More recently, however, that unity has crumbled as political polarization returned, sending us scurrying to our respective corners “to fight it out among ourselves with a vengeance.”

Since ancient times, rulers have known that “fear of enemies” is useful in promoting social cohesion. National identities “are forged as much by declaring what and who you’re against as what and who you are for.” That recipe is a little trickier for Americans. Unlike “other modern nations whose identities are rooted in ethnicity or history,” ours is derived from shared ideals—“democracy, liberty, equality, and individualism.” As political scientist Samuel Huntington has pointed out, that’s a “fragile basis for national unity.”

It’s more fragile than ever; consider the fact that last week a conservative columnist happily fantasized about a coup d’état toppling President Obama. No one wants another 9/11, but let’s hope we don’t have to “once again find out the hard way that we’re all Americans.”

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