Monday, March 3, 2008

The end of multiculturalism: The US must be a melting pot ˆ not a salad bowl

by Lawrence E. Harrison
Vineyard Haven, Mass./ February 26, 2008

Future generations may look back on Iraq and immigration as the two great
disasters of the Bush presidency. Ironically, for a conservative
administration, both of these policy initiatives were rooted in a
multicultural view of the world.

Since the 1960s, multiculturalism has become a dominant feature of the
political and intellectual landscape of the West. But multiculturalism rests
on a frail foundation: cultural relativism, the notion that no culture is
better or worse than any other ˆ it is merely different.

When it comes to democratic continuity, social justice, and prosperity, some
cultures do far better than others. Research at Tufts University's Fletcher
School of Law and Diplomacy, summarized in my recent book, "The Central
Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It From Itself,"
makes this clear.

Extensive data suggest that the champions of progress are the Nordic
countries ˆ Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden ˆ where, for
example, universal literacy was a substantial reality in the 19th century.
By contrast, no Arab country today is democratic, and female illiteracy in
some Arab countries exceeds 50 percent.

Culture isn't about genes or race; it's about values, beliefs, and
attitudes. Culture matters because it influences a society's receptivity to
democracy, justice, entrepreneurship, and free-market institutions.

What, then, are the implications for a foreign policy based on the doctrine
that "These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every
society"? The Bush administration has staked huge human, financial,
diplomatic, and prestige resources on this doctrine's applicability in Iraq.
It is now apparent that the doctrine is fallacious.

A key component of a successful democratic transition is trust, a
particularly important cultural factor for social justice and prosperity.
Trust in others reduces the cost of economic transactions, and democratic
stability depends on it.

Trust is periodically measured in 80-odd countries by the World Values
Survey. The Nordic countries enjoy very high levels of trust: 58 to67
percent of respondents in four of these countries believe that most people
can be trusted, compared with 11 percent of Algerians and 3 percent of

The high levels of identification and trust in Nordic societies reflect
their homogeneity; common Lutheran antecedents, including a rigorous ethical
code and heavy emphasis on education; and a consequent sense of the nation
as one big family imbued with the golden rule.

Again, culture matters ˆ race doesn't. The ethnic roots of both Haiti and
Barbados lie in the Dahomey region of West Africa. The history of Haiti,
independent in 1804 in the wake of a slave uprising against the French
colonists, is one of corrupt, incompetent leadership; illiteracy; and
poverty. Barbados, which gained its independence from the British in 1966,
is today a prosperous democracy of "Afro-Saxons."


Hispanics now form the largest US minority, approaching 15 percent ˆ about
45 million ˆ of a total population of about 300 million. They're projected
by the Pew Research Center to swell to 127 million in 2050 ˆ 29 percent of a
total population of 438 million. Their experience in the United States
recapitulates Latin America's culturally shaped underdevelopment. For
example, the Hispanic high school dropout rate in the US is alarmingly high
and persistent ˆ about 20 percent in second and subsequent generations. It's
vastly higher in Latin America.

Samuel Huntington was on the mark when he wrote in his latest book "Who Are
We? The Challenges to America's National Identity": "Would America be the
America it is today if it had been settled not by British Protestants but by
French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be
America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil."

In "The Americano Dream," Mexican-American Lionel Sosa argues that the value
system that has retarded progress in Latin America is an impediment to
upward mobility of Latino immigrants. So does former US Rep. Herman Badillo,
a Puerto Rican whose book, "One Nation, One Standard," indicts Latino
undervaluing of education and calls for cultural change.

The progress of Hispanic immigrants, not to mention harmony in the broader
society, depends on their acculturation to mainstream US values. Efforts ˆ
for example, long-term bilingual education ˆ to perpetuate "old country"
values in a multicultural salad bowl undermine acculturation to the
mainstream and are likely to result in continuing underachievement, poverty,
resentment, and divisiveness. So, too, does the willy-nilly emergence of
bilingualism in the US. No language in American history has ever before
competed with English to the point where one daily hears, on the telephone,
"If you want to speak English, press one; *Si quiere hablar en español,
oprima el botón número dos*."

Although border security and environmental concerns are also in play, the
immigration debate has been framed largely in economic terms, producing some
odd pro-immigration bedfellows, for example the editorial pages of The New
York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Among the issues: whether the US
economy needs more unskilled immigrants; whether immigrants take jobs away
from US citizens; to what extent illegal immigrants drain resources away
from education, healthcare, and welfare; and whether population growth,
largely driven by immigration, is necessary for a healthy economy.

But immigration looks very different when viewed in cultural terms,
particularly with respect to the vast legal and illegal Latino immigration,
a million or more people a year, most of them with few skills and little
education. To be sure, the US has absorbed large numbers of unskilled and
uneducated immigrants in the past, and today the large majority of their
descendants are in the cultural mainstream. But the numbers of Latino
immigrants and their geographic concentration today leave real doubts about
the prospects for acculturation: 70 percent of children in the Los Angeles
public schools and 60 percent in the Denver schools are Latino.

In a letter to me in 1991, the late Mexican-American columnist Richard
Estrada captured the essence of the problem:

"The problem in which the current immigration is suffused is, at heart, one
of numbers; for when the numbers begin to favor not only the maintenance and
replenishment of the immigrants' source culture, but also its overall
growth, and in particular growth so large that the numbers not only impede
assimilation but go beyond to pose a challenge to the traditional culture of
the American nation, then there is a great deal about which to be

Some recommendations

If multiculturalism is a myth, how do we avoid the woes that inevitably
attend the creation of an enduring and vast underclass alienated from the
upwardly mobile cultural mainstream? Some policy implications, one for Latin
America, the others for the US and Canada, are apparent.

We must calibrate the flow of immigrants into the US to the needs of the
economy, mindful that immigration has adversely affected low-income American
citizens, disproportionately African-American and Hispanic, as Barbara
Jordan stressed as chair of the 1990s Immigration Reform Commission. But the
flow must also be calibrated to the country's capacity to assure
acculturation of the immigrants.

We must be a melting pot, not a salad bowl. The melting pot, the essence of
which is the Anglo-Protestant cultural tradition, is our way of creating the
homogeneity that has contributed so much to the trust and mutual
identification ˆ and progress ˆ of the Nordic societies.

As with immigration flows of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an
extensive program of activities designed to facilitate acculturation,
including mastery of English, should be mounted. A law declaring English to
be the national language would be helpful.

The costs of multiculturalism ˆ in terms of disunity, the clash of classes,
and declining trust ˆ are likely to be huge in the long run. All cultures
are not equal when it comes to promoting progress, and very few can match
Anglo-Protestantism in this respect. We should be promoting acculturation to
the national mainstream, not a mythical, utopian multiculturalism. And we
should take care that the Anglo-Protestant virtues that have brought us so
far do not fall into disrepair, let alone disrepute.

 *Lawrence E. Harrison directs the Cultural Change Institute at the
Fletcher School at Tufts University, where he also teaches. This article is
adapted from a longer essay in the January-February 2008 issue of "The
National Interest." *
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