Multiculturalism's historic role in American society
In response to Lawrence Harrison's Feb. 26 Opinion piece, "The end of multiculturalism": The salad bowl versus melting pot analogy is confused by a mistaken belief that America was founded on a unified "Anglo-Protestant tradition." Our nascent nation was a famously loose federation of extremist Puritans and moderate Anglicans, slave-owning agriculturalists and naval merchants. They found little common cultural ground in anything but a hatred of British tyranny and a fierce independent streak. Our Founding Fathers created a genius framework that allowed for, and even utilized, that great diversity by uniting them under the Constitution.
Indeed, one of the great American successes has been the absorption not only of foreign peoples but also of their ideas. Each new immigrant generation infuses the United States with new perspectives and approaches, whether they are prospectors or the persecuted, Irish or Indian. Multiculturalism, not homogeneity, has always made America greater.
In response to Lawrence Harrison's Opinion piece on America's cultural "salad bowl": The author apparently dislikes salad, perhaps preferring something like a fondue or maybe Welsh rarebit.
The most telling difference between Barbados and Haiti is that of the dates and circumstances of their independence. Barbadian economic integration into the growing international economy was assured by being subsumed into the British Empire. Haiti was from the beginning under economic embargo, thus assuring the kind of weak economy that breeds corruption.
The United States recognized Haiti at the time of our Civil War. Only a generation later it would assist in a destabilization of the Haitian economy. In a bold application of the Monroe Doctrine, the US occupied first the Customs Control and banks and then the entire government from 1915 to 1934. If the Haitian leaders of that period, all chosen by the US, were incompetent and corrupt, it raises questions beyond race or ethnicity.
Regarding Prof. Lawrence Harrison's Opinion piece on multiculturalism: The author's torpedoing of multicultural delusions is welcome. His essay buttresses Robert Putnam's work concerning diversity's destructive effects on a society's civil comity.
Harrison also outlines specific perils arising from our ongoing, enormous Hispanic immigration and suggests that rescuing the American future requires inculcating immigrants with "Anglo-Protestant virtues."
Here Professor Harrison prescribes palliatives, because he seems to accept floodtide immigration as a force of nature. Instead, immigration numbers are a matter of public policy, and our opening question should be, "Why do we permit any immigration?"
Thus it is time to fully heed the well-expressed, even if reluctant, warnings of Harrison and Mr. Putnam. Let's not try to fix mass immigration. Let's end it.
Regarding Lawrence Harrison's piece on multicultural diversity: Mr. Harrison states: "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; '
This phenomena is easily explained. For the vast majority of our country's history, automated answering systems had not yet been invented. It's as simple as that. Technology has made it possible to support a second language at a lower cost.
While Lawrence Harrison's recent Opinion piece attacking multiculturalism includes many valid points, I differ with his view of what sort of political systems are possible in the Middle East.
When Mr. Harrison argues that Arab culture lacks necessary social preconditions for democracy, he implies that their choice is between extremist authoritarian regimes and Western-style democracy. Yes, democracies are rare in the Arab world, but that should not relegate them to tyranny.
Cultures can exercise self-determination in numerous ways. A Western obsession with universal suffrage and frequent elections can turn into a worship of means rather than ends. People in other cultures may prefer to exercise their voices through long-established tribal and religious leaders in a consultative arrangement with heads of state. Although not a one-person, one-vote democracy, such a system could limit the power of the government, protect basic human rights, and allow for the popular will to shape the polity.
In response to Lawrence Harrison's Opinion piece on multiculturalism: As a bilingual gringo I have a good perspective of the brown and white view of this society. The Spanish speakers will discuss freely, in my presence, the perceived and real slights they encounter in their lives.
I see that the two cultures must either merge or one must extinguish the other.
Even as I think I'm forgetting my beloved mother tongue for this Romance one, I see how Mexicans are slowly learning mine.
I once feared that we would be replaced, but as I see their children less fluent in Spanish than I am, I am relieved to know that we will only be modified a little more. That process has been going on here for several hundred years now, and we hope it will be for the better.
The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions. All submissions are subject to editing. Letters must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Any letter accepted may appear in print or on our website, www.csmonitor.com. Mail letters to Readers Write and Opinion pieces to Opinion Page, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115. E-mail letters to Letters and Opinion pieces to OpEd.