In Federalist 2, John Jay looks out at a nation of a common blood, faith, language, history, customs and culture.
"Providence," he writes, "has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people -- a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion ... very similar in their manners and customs ..."
Are we still that "one united people" today? Or has America become what Klemens von Metternich called Italy: "a mere geographical expression"?
In "Suicide of a Superpower," out this week, I argue that the America we grew up in is disintegrating, breaking apart along the fault lines of politics, race, ethnicity, culture and faith; that the centrifugal forces in society have now become the dominant forces.
Our politics are as poisonous as they have been in our lifetimes.
Sarah Palin was maligned as morally complicit in the murder attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Terms like "terrorists" and "hostage-takers" are routinely used on Tea Party members who one congressman said want to see blacks "hanging on a tree."
Half a century after the civil rights revolution triumphed, the terms "racist" and "racism" are in daily use. We remain, said Eric Holder in calling us a "nation of cowards," as socially segregated as ever.
"Outside the workplace, the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays, America ... does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago."
He is not altogether wrong in that. In California's prisons and among her proliferating ethnic gangs, a black-brown civil war has broken out.
Yet, by 2042, there will be 66 million black folks and 135 million Hispanics here, the latter concentrated in the states bordering Mexico.
What holds us together, then?
We are not now and will not then be "descended from common ancestors." We will consist of all the races, cultures, tribes and creeds of Earth -- a multiracial, multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual stew of a nation that has never before existed, or survived. The parallels that come to mind are the Habsburg Empire that flew apart after World War I, and the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia that disintegrated after the Cold War.
No more will we all speak the same language. We will be bilingual and bi-national. Spanish radio and TV stations are already the fastest growing. In Los Angeles, half the people speak a language other than English in their own homes.