Sharing a common language and some elements of common culture are important to multi-century national survival, particularly in democracies where secession movements can gain political traction. Right now, secession efforts are underway with Barcelona and other Catalan speakers trying to break off from Spain, the Flemish wanting to separate from the French-speaking part of Belgium, Scottish seeking to break from the United Kingdom and many in French-speaking Quebec wanting to separate from the rest of Canada. Still, it’s not always language that drives secession movements. Continue reading
The attached opinion piece by a noted historian points out challenges America is creating for itself with its continued divisive political culture. The most critical point: it is the poor and middle class who truly suffer when we follow policies with a history of proven failure. Nations divided – whether by economic class, race, ethnicity or language – end up with violence on the streets.
“Circumstances change, and past primacy is no guarantee of future primacy,” wrote Professor Jared Diamond 20-plus years ago in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs and Steel. During a 6-hour Columbus Day drove, I thought again about why European descendants successfully overtook North America. Diamond attributed it to “food production, germs, technology (including weapons), political organization, and writing.” Interestingly, he also argued that organized religion played a role in many conquests, including those throughout the Americas. “The spreads of government and religion have thus been linked to each other throughout recorded history, whether the spread has been peaceful . . . or by force. In the latter case, it is often government that organizes the conquest, and religion that justifies it,” he wrote. Religion played a role in creating the United States. Should we be concerned that a religion could play a role in justifying its demise? What do we need to do as a nation to avoid being on the wrong side of germs, technology and other elements of conquest? How do we build a nation that does not contain divisions so clear they can readily be exploited? It is critical foundational issues like these that warrant more debate and serve as the reason for my writing.
Often, Americans are presented with either/or solutions – usually choices between what satisfies the Democratic party base and what satisfies the Republican party base. To me, good policy starts with sound principles. An upcoming book touches on the complex issues of immigration policy and language mandates. Following are several principles that impact my policy expectations in this area:
- Societies have a better chance at success when people who comply with the law are more likely to succeed than those who break the law.
- America was built by immigrants and needs a strong flow of immigrants bringing new ideas and work ethic to continue to be successful.
- It’s easier to successfully interact with people who speak the same language.
- Bureaucratic processes require constant review and streamlining to be effective.
So how to these principles play out to policy recommendations? That’s in the book. The recommendations as championed by a main character may surprise you.
In the upcoming book, Melting Point 2040, a lead character is identified as holding the David Laitin named professorship at the University of Chicago. While every other character is fictional, Stanford University Professor David Laitin is not. Professor Laitin, formerly a University of Chicago professor, is a recognized expert on the role of language, religion and ethnicity on national survival. His research, much done with other academics, is interesting for its conclusions about the ability of multi-cultural societies to survive. His findings are reassuring for multi-cultural societies like the United States, India and others, but the concepts do encounter challenge. My concerns are informed by looking at national boundaries over centuries and millennia rather than within a single century. Through history, few strongly multi-cultural societies lasted more than several hundred years. To ensure survival for 1,000 years or more (without more civil war), it’s critical to understand what triggers civil wars and then avoid these conditions. For more, I recommend http://www.ninetymeetingsinninetydays.com/Civil_War.html for an overview and http://www.uclouvain.be/cps/ucl/doc/etes/documents/12.Laitin.pdf for a more detailed look at the role of language on national survival. As an aside, who came up with the name for civil wars? The word “civil” is out of place.
As the author of an upcoming book, Melting Point 2040, I write stories about how our world could look in 2040 if we don’t solve our toughest issues. Having worked in Congress two decades ago, and then with Congress from the outside in many of the intervening years, I have become increasingly concerned that our political system is stacked against everyday Americans. Campaigns are too long. Money is too prevalent. Perhaps most importantly, the primary structure in most states forces candidates to adhere to political extremes to even get on the November ballot. There was a time when statesmen and stateswomen played key roles in policy decision-making. That time has passed. So, if I dwell on political system reform in this blog, it’s because I think systematic changes are a precursor to fixing many of these other issues.