What if diversity isn't our strength?
But is it true? I think the only close to right answer is, "It depends."
Specifically, it depends on which (often cliched) analogy you want to hang your argument on. Diverse stock portfolios are more resilient. Diverse diets are healthier. But that doesn't mean picking bad stocks will make you richer, nor that eating spoiled foods is good for you.
I once heard the Rev.
In other words, all of these analogies can only take you so far.
There's a growing body of evidence that even if diversity once made America stronger, it may not be doing so anymore, at least in the short and medium term.
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 increasingly in the louder corners of the fever-swamp right, the idea that people of all backgrounds should be encouraged to embrace a single conception of "Americanism" is increasingly taboo. Anyone of any race or national origin can be an American, but it requires effort and desire from both the individual and the larger society. There's a shortage of both these days.
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
So far, all of this should be familiar to anyone who has followed the debates over immigration and assimilation. Liberals, broadly speaking, assert that diversity makes us stronger. Conservatives, broadly speaking, respond with skepticism or emphasize a different kind of diversity.
What gets less attention, however, is the premise that "strength" is an indisputably overriding priority or ideal.
Strength has always struck me as a strange ideal for a democracy. Strength, like other fetishized ideals such as "unity," is wholly amoral. Even "diversity makes us richer" has more moral content than "diversity makes us stronger." Stronger to do what, exactly?
This has been one of my core objections to
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
Of course, I don't want America to be weaker, depending on how you define weakness. But maybe the overriding problem with the debate, on both sides, is the assumption that strength is its own reward?