Assimilation Anxiety

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assimilation, Western Civilization


In this cynical age it is common to smirk at claims about what is sometimes called American Exceptionalism, a term standing for the conclusion that America is an historically distinct (and better) system. To some degree it does represent cultural arrogance founded on assumption rather than fact. It also ignores “exceptionally” dark chapters in American history, including slavery, seizing of lands from Native Americans and imprisoning of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. Nonetheless it seems that given the diversity of the population and the sheer enormity of the nation that, as stated by an Asian Indian friend who is a scholar, feminist and activist, “It works”. While imperfect by far “It works” is a quality that is worth understanding and defending in an increasingly fractured world beset by schism, tribalism, religious fanaticism, corruption and abuse. Granting that we in the West cannot live in a truly homogenous community such as was thought to exist in the demos of ancient Athens, and that modern democratic communities operating under the principles of the Rule of Law requiring participation for all members with significantly diverse characteristics are the “new norm” in Western society, how do we preserve a society that has a sufficient degree of unity without suppressing individual freedom? For me this raises the issue of the extent to which it is morally, politically and philosophically proper for a nation to protect its creeds, cultures and traditions, including the expectation that new immigrants from Islamic nations entering Western Europe, the United Kingdom and North America have a duty to seek to become a part of that traditions of those host cultures. This duty includes respecting the host culture rather than condemning it or withdrawing into separatist communities while accepting the benefits that host nation grants to its residents. America represents one unique attempt to do this through its idea of the “melting pot” in which the rich diversity of culture found elsewhere blended together in important ways to share a common set of ideals and understandings, a vital national creed. These characteristics are still too often honored in the breach and we inevitably have fallen short. But on various occasions I have had new members of American society observe with a degree of wonder about the openness of the system, its significant degree of tolerance compared with their countries of origin, and the fact that people actually do seem to “get along”. We even change political power periodically without violent revolution. This applies just as much to Western Europe and the United Kingdom which, although more distinct from the U.S. than we sometimes imagine, nonetheless are themselves exceptional and the source of the struggles, philosophy and hard-won democratic institutions that combine to make the Western Rule of Law systems unique and well worth defending.


Cleveland-Marshall Legal Studies Paper No. 13-256

Link is to full text on SSRN