185. "Diversity within Unity." Response to David Goodhart’s essay “Too Diverse?”, Prospect, Issue 96 on the internet, March 2004 (www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/replies.asp).


I profoundly agree with David Goodhart’s analysis of the issue and its importance for the future of societies that must cope with large-scale immigration but historically have not considered themselves immigration societies. The focus is indeed on the tension between old solidarity and new diversity. I also could not agree more that the proper treatment does not lie either in abolishing any sense of solidarity or demanding that diversity be wiped out.

The multicultural approach—which basically prefers to abolish national identities and replace them with a rainbow of tribes living next to each other in the same territory—is blind to the lessons of multiethnic states (from Bosnia to Nigeria), in which the overarching solidarity is too weak to sustain even a civil society. Nations are commonly defined as a community invested in a state. Without some measure of community, even if no civil war ensues, members of one tribe will be unwilling to make the kind of sacrifices required by people who share a state and, hence, a fate. (For an excellent essay on this see Charles Taylor’s “No Community, No Democracy,” the Responsive Community, Fall 2003.) On the other hand, the assimilation approach, which expects all immigrants to be like the native citizens, is unnecessarily homogenising and sacrifices the richness that pluralism brings to anything from cuisine to art.

Hence, I favour a third approach, which builds on the analysis that David Goodhart outlines so effectively but draws slightly different conclusions. A group of public intellectuals from across Europe (which I chaired) formulated such an approach. We called it “diversity within unity.” It is best illustrated by the image of a mosaic, which has pieces of different shapes and colours—but also a shared framework (which itself may be recast). There are some basics which should be viewed as sacrosanct, but other cultural and social differences should be not just tolerated but welcomed as enriching.

To the European majorities, we say, “We feel your pain.” If several families from—you fill in the blank—moved in next to our apartments, they would give us pause, too. There is no sense in denying that many immigrants treat women and children, the law, and much else in ways we find troubling. Their conduct is not just different; it is wrong.

Therefore, we hold that immigrants who wish to become members of our national communities (or the EU, for that matter) must accept certain basics. These include respect for human rights, the democratic form of government, the law, as well as a command of the prevailing language(s) and an acceptance of both the glory and the burdens of our national histories.

That being said, if immigrants buy into the basics, there is no reason to protest if they eat and dance differently, or even pray to different gods. At the same time, we utterly reject the multicultural notion that we should abolish societal identities to accommodate the sensibilities of the newcomers. In Britain, for instance, the Commission on Racial Equality challenged the concept of “Britishness” and advocated a formal declaration that the United Kingdom is “a multicultural society.” No society can flourish unless it has some shared values; nor is there any reason to hold that the human rights which we insist must be respected by people all over the world could be ignored in our inner cities, or that the democratic way of life could be treated as one option among many. Aside from being normatively unacceptable, such concepts also further inflame the majority’s fears that immigrants will destroy all that they hold dear.

The diversity within unity position has specific policy implications.

1. Ideally, all children should attend the same public schools to ensure that they all will be introduced to the same core of shared values and that children from different backgrounds will mingle. At the same time, children should be allowed electives—amounting to, say, 15 per cent of the curriculum—in which they could learn more about their culture of origin, the language of their parents and so on.

2. Citizenship should be based on achievements and not blood lines. However, immigrants should not be given citizenship automatically, but rather should be expected to complete tests that determine whether they have acquired a reasonable command of the host society’s language(s), knowledge of its core culture, and familiarity with its institutions.

3. There should be no official state religion. We prefer this position over one that tries to establish all religions, whereby state coffers are used to fund all religious functionaries. Unity in this matter is best left to informal understandings. Many states used to insist on Sunday as the day of rest, but have accepted over time that a shopkeeper may close on some other day of the week, depending on their religious affiliation. None the less, Sunday has maintained a special informal status which allows the majority to feel that they have not lost “their” day while immigrants (and other minorities) feel that they are not forced to violate their traditions. Such fudges have a place in societal redesigning.

One may well differ on the details and much remains to be worked out. However, the basic approach—reassuring the majority that immigrants will be expected to respect the basics but allowed to diverge on other matters— seems to be a sound one. Indeed, it works well in the society that Europeans love to criticise but is clearly ahead in this matter—America.

Amitai Etzioni is author of My Brother’s Keeper (Rowman and Littlefield). For more information see www.gwu.edu/~ccps/dwu_endorse.html.

The Communitarian Network
2130 H Street, NW, Suite 703
Washington, DC 20052
202.994.6118
comnet@gwu.edu