The Public Interest

Culture and achievement

Nathan Glazer

Summer 2000

THE relationship between their cultures and the economic and political trajectories of nations and civilizations is now a major topic among analysts of the differences among nations. The context has been set by such provocative theses on the causes of international conflict and the wealth of nations as those of Samuel Huntington, David Landes, Lawrence Harrison, and Francis Fukuyama, and by the extended debate on Asian values, in which many have participated. The issue of cultural differences also comes up when we try to explain the different fates of ethnic and racial groups in the United States. In the larger, global discussion, we deal with categories rather grander than American ethnic groups, which for the most part begin their lives in America as fragnaents of much larger societies, nations, and civilizations, and are soon enveloped through processes of acculturation and assimilation into the larger American society. In time, for most of these groups, the boundaries that once defined them fade through intermarriage, conversion, and changing identities. It becomes doubtful just what if any elements of cultural distinctiveness they retain, and they become part of a larger American society and civilization. 

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