The US has been steadily drifting away from its heritage of being the greatest culturally inclusive and unifying nation in the world’s history – E Pluribus Unum. Our unique ability to assimilate citizens from every corner of the earth and to allow anyone to become an American is a crucial underpinning of American exceptionalism. But the rise of identity politics depends on balkanizing communities, creating mindless voting blocks and keeping them that way – E pluribus, semper pluribus.
When charges of “cultural appropriation” are given credibility and seen as a negative not a positive feature of American society, we are drifting towards an approach to immigrants and immigration more and more like the approaches of Western Europe. Foreign Affairs has a thoughtful take on three different approaches to multiculturalism/assimilation, each well-meaning and all unsuccessful.
There has also been a guiding assumption throughout Europe that immigration and integration must be managed through state policies and institutions. Yet real integration, whether of immigrants or of indigenous groups, is rarely brought about by the actions of the state; it is shaped primarily by civil society, by the individual bonds that people form with one another, and by the organizations they establish to further their shared political and social interests. It is the erosion of such bonds and institutions that has proved so problematic—that links assimilationist policy failures to multicultural ones and that explains why social disengagement is a feature not simply of immigrant communities but of the wider society, too. To repair the damage that disengagement has done, and to revive a progressive universalism, Europe needs not so much new state policies as a renewal of civil society.
Kenan Malik’s analysis of multiculturalism in Germany, France and the UK is insightful, thorough and balanced. Read the whole thing.
For over 200 years, the US has successfully welcomed the world’s huddled masses and become stronger and richer because of their contributions. But this has succeeded because immigrants came here to become Americans and to fully participate in our country’s unique freedoms and commitment to liberty. Smart immigration reform will depend on continuing this tradition of inclusion and assimilation. Europe has shown us clearly that other models do not work.