What If Diversity Isn’t America’s Strength?

Jonah Goldberg, Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2018

Sen. Lindsey Graham says he scolded the president for saying something scatological about certain countries and their immigrants. “Diversity has always been our strength,” he allegedly said. By my count, this makes Graham the bazillionth person to proclaim some variant of “diversity is strength.”

Is it true? I think the only close to right answer is, “it depends.” Specifically, it depends on what — often clichéd — analogy you have in mind. Diverse stock portfolios are more resilient. Diverse diets are healthier. But that doesn’t mean picking bad stocks will make you richer or that eating spoiled foods is good for you.

I once heard Jesse Jackson explain that racial integration of the NBA made it stronger and better. He was right. But would gender integration of the NBA have the same effect? Would diversifying professional basketball by height? Probably not.

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There’s a growing body of evidence that even if diversity— the kind that results from immigration — once made America stronger, it may not be doing so anymore. Robert Putnam, a liberal sociologist at Harvard, found that increased diversity corrodes civil society by eroding shared values, customs and institutions. People tend to “hunker down” and retreat from civil society, at least in the short and medium term.

There’s a growing body of evidence that even if diversity— the kind resulting from immigration — once made America stronger, it may not be doing so anymore.

I think the real culprit here isn’t immigration or diversity in general, but the rising stigma against assimilation. Particularly on college campuses, but also in large swaths of mainstream journalism and in the louder corners of the fever swamp right, the idea that people of all backgrounds should embrace a single conception of “Americanism” is increasingly taboo.

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But while traditional notions of assimilation are increasingly heretical, there is a kind of anti-assimilation assimilation movement afoot. It insists that we must “celebrate our differences” and make them the essence of our identity. The University of California officially considers terms like “melting pot” offensive and “triggering.” But no one would call the UC system a hot bed of free and independent thought.

What is expected is assimilation into an ideological worldview that simply asserts without proof that one kind of diversity makes us stronger.

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Strength has always struck me as a strange ideal for a democracy. Strength, like other fetishized ideals such as “unity,” is wholly amoral. Strength to do what?

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Strength, it seems to me, is a top priority of every nationalist creed. It fits more uncomfortably within American notions of patriotism.

If you read the Federalist Papers, you’ll learn that among the top priorities of the founders was to ensure that the government, particularly any branch of government, not be too powerful. The Bill of Rights is all about constraining the power of government. The Constitution never once mentions the words “strength” or “strong.” Neither does the Declaration of Independence. But both documents talk a great deal about freedom and liberty.

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