Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bable Rebuilt

Since I’m not sure that the American Revolution overthrowing British rule is being taught as a positive these days, it is occasionally worth taking a moment to remind people that America was created to be something different from Europe. Taking a hard look at the Old Country in general and Britain is specific is a great way to test whether we American citizen want to continue to reshape ourselves in their image.

A Confusion of Tongues: London is now the most ethnically diverse city in the world—more so, according to United Nations reports, even than New York. And this is not just a matter of a sprinkling of a few people of every race and nation, or of the fructifying cultural effect of foreigners. … A third of London’s residents were born outside Britain, a higher percentage of newcomers than in any other city in the world except Miami, and the percentage continues to rise. Likewise, migration figures for the country as a whole—emigration and immigration—suggest that its population is undergoing swift replacement. Many of the newcomers are from Pakistan, India, and Africa; others are from Eastern Europe and China. If present trends continue, experts predict, in 20 years’ time, between a quarter and a third of the British population will have been born outside it, and at least a fifth of the native population will have emigrated.

But we did not conclude that it was best, then, to have no national, religious, or cultural identity at all. The institutions that allow one to live in peace, freedom, and security require loyalty (not necessarily of a blind variety); and loyalty in turn requires a sense of identification. In a world in which sovereignty must exist, some kind of identification with that sovereignty is also necessary: too rigid a national identity has its dangers, but so does too loose a one. The first results in aggression toward and denigration of others; the second in society’s disintegration from within, which can then provoke authoritarian attempts at repair.

Theodore Dalrymple writing this article for the City Journal wraps some examples within the framework of the plausible truism that the answers to immigration will not be found on the extremes. That’s all well and nice, perhaps even a tad cliché in that optimal is nearly always somewhere in the middle. The problem Dalrymple sees in not in shared values of commerce, but unshared values in terms of violence (e.g. honor killings), family (e.g. polygamy and forced marriage) and multiple bodies of law in a larger sovereignty that recognizes validity in the identity politics of sub-groups.