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Thursday, June 9, 2016

The American exception

America is history's exception. It began as a republic founded by European migrants. Like the homogeneous citizens of most other nations, they were likely on a trajectory to incorporate racial sameness as the mark of citizenship. But the ultimate logic of America's unique Constitution was different. So the United States steadily evolved to define Americans by their shared values, not by their superficial appearance. Eventually, anyone who was willing to give up his prior identity and assume a new American persona became American.

The United States has always cherished its "melting pot" ethos of e pluribus unum -- of blending diverse peoples into one through assimilation, integration and intermarriage.

When immigration was controlled, measured and coupled with a confident approach to assimilation, America thrived. Various ethnic groups enriched America with diverse art, food, music and literature while accepting a common culture of American values and institutions.

Problems arose only when immigration was often illegal, in mass and without emphasis on assimilation.

Sometime in the late 20th century, America largely gave up on multi-racialism under one common culture and opted instead for multiculturalism, in which each particular ethnic group retained its tribal chauvinism and saw itself as separate from the whole.

Hyphenated names suddenly became popular. The government tracked Americans' often complicated ethnic lineage. Jobs and college admissions were sometimes predicated on racial pedigrees and quotas. Courts ruled that present discrimination was allowable compensation for past discrimination.

Schools began to teach that difference and diversity were preferable to sameness and unity. Edgar Allan Poe and Langston Hughes were categorized as "white male" or "black" rather than as "American" authors.

Past discrimination and injustice may explain the current backlash against melting-pot unity. And America's exalted idealism has made it criticized as less than good when it was not always perfect.

Nonetheless, for those who see America becoming a multicultural state of unassimilated tribes and competing racial groups, history will not be kind. The history of state multiculturalism is one of discord, violence, chaos and implosion.

So far, America has beaten the odds and remained multiracial rather than multicultural, thereby becoming the most powerful nation in the world.

We should remember that diversity is an ornament, but unity is our strength.


Victor Davis Hanson

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