November 17, 2004

SELL IT TO THE DUTCH:

An attack on American tolerance (Robert Kuttner, November 17, 2004, Boston Globe)

BACK IN the 1950s, political scientists celebrated America for its "pluralism." That meant people had multiple, cross-cutting identities. Maybe you were a Catholic and also a trade unionist, a sport fisherman, a member of a veterans group, and an engaged PTA parent in a multi-ethnic neighborhood. No single identity absolutely defined you.

Why was this special? Because it created multiple, overlapping communities and prevented the cultural or political absolutism that plagued most societies. It wove tolerance and political suppleness into the fabric of American democracy. People with multiple affiliations could vote for Roosevelt one year and Eisenhower another and not hate neighbors for their party identities.

Indeed, when the philanthropist George Soros set out to undermine communism by stealth in Eastern Europe, he began by subsidizing innocent-seeming voluntary associations of the sort for which Americans are famous in order to quietly break the regime's stranglehold on institutions of all kinds. Imagine the surprise of the commissars when chess clubs turned out to be hotbeds of independent thinking.

America has done this longer, better, and more democratically than any other society, but it is not the only example. In Sarajevo, under both the Turks and later the communists, Muslims, Jews, and Christians enjoyed a cultural coexistence. Under the crumbling Ottoman Empire, diverse ethnic groups lived together without killing each other. And for nearly 300 years in medieval Spain, under history's most liberal Arab regime ever, Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in harmony guaranteed by the regime. A citizen could be both a Jew and an Arab and think of himself as Andalusian.

All these societies of tolerance and multiple identity came to grief, and there are dangerous portents that America is heading the same way. If ever most Americans took on monochromatic identities -- evangelical, Republican, and gun-toting conservatives versus abortion-defending, secular, Democratic liberals -- our democracy would be seriously at risk.


What conservative would argue with Mr. Kuttner that the 1950s were a Golden Age? All we ask is that the secularists go back to such conformity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 17, 2004 11:45 AM
Comments

It would be nice if the secularists, as you call them, could get it through their open minds that not everyone wants to agree and conform to their ideas and ideals, and that doesn't make them bad or evil, just different.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 17, 2004 11:53 AM

In the wake of 9/11, there was that wave of Red State intolerence such as the Hindu gas station attendant mistakenly murdered in Phoenix, and ... well, the Hindu gas station attendant mistakenly murdered in Phoenix, and ... well, the Hindu gas station attendant mistakenly murdered in Phoenix, and ... well, the....

Posted by: John at November 17, 2004 1:13 PM

If you asked a 50's era liberal about abortion-on-demand and same sex "marriage" they'd have looked at you like you had grown a second head. The notion that it's conservatives who want to divide America along moral lines by forcing their values into the political discourse is ludicrous.

Posted by: brian at November 17, 2004 1:57 PM

It used to be that both Democrats and Republicans were socially conservative. Only economics separated the two.

Posted by: Vince at November 17, 2004 3:50 PM

Do the blacks have to go back to such conformity?

It was no Golden Age, merely the calm before the storm. The seeds that sprouted in the 60s were sown in the 50s. Playboy magazine was founded in the 50s. Las Vegas was built in the 50s. Rock& Roll was born in the 50s. The Pill was developed in the 50s. Film Noir became popular in the 50s. Rebellion became popular in the 50s with James Dean.

David Halberstam's book "The Fifties" is illuminating reading for anyone wanting to understand where the 60s came from. Another good book is "Organization Man" by Whyte explaining how people began to take on the values of the organizations that they belonged to in the 50s.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 17, 2004 4:07 PM

Robert:

They had communities and families.

Posted by: oj at November 17, 2004 4:18 PM

As do they now.

Single mothers in the inner city are a sliver of black society, although the most prominent face.

Colin Powell is more typical of blacks.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 17, 2004 6:48 PM

Since 1960, the proportion of black children
living with a single parent more than doubled, from 22% to 53.3% in 2000

http://www.jointcenter.org/DB/factsheet/livarg.htm


Prison Population Exceeds Two Million

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0881455.html

According to a Justice Department report released in July 2003, the U.S. prison population surpassed 2 million for the first timeó2,166,260 people were incarcerated in prisons or jails at the end of 2002 (the latest statistics available). Since 1990, the U.S. prison population, already the world's largest, has almost doubled. [...]

About 10.4% of the entire African-American male population in the United States aged 25 to 29 was incarcerated, by far the largest racial or ethnic group

Posted by: oj at November 17, 2004 6:59 PM

And for nearly 300 years in medieval Spain, under history's most liberal Arab regime ever, Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in harmony guaranteed by the regime.

Except for the unfortunate happenings in Cordoba.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at November 17, 2004 9:00 PM

But Matt, they had families.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 17, 2004 11:05 PM

Robert Duguette:

?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at November 18, 2004 1:21 AM

"Since 1990, the U.S. prison population, already the world's largest, has almost doubled. [...]"

Well, duh.

There is just the tiniest possibility that national population might have something to do with that.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 18, 2004 6:40 PM

In 1999, 27% of American children lived with single parents, and over half of all American children will spend at least part of their childhood with single parents.

Blacks aren't unique in single parenthood.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 18, 2004 11:25 PM

Michael:

No, they aren't alone, just dramatically victimized.

Posted by: oj at November 19, 2004 8:49 AM
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