The Multiculturalism of Fear

By Jacob T. Levy | Go to book overview

2 Cruelty and Conflict in Multiethnic Politics

The dangers of life in a multiethnic world come in patterns. The fluidity of ethnic identity at the margins and the perceived urgency of protecting communal boundaries, political imperatives toward uniformity and the constant disruption of uniformity on the ground, the institutional and the moral-psychological dimensions of culture interact in complicated but foreseeable ways. These give rise to recurring kinds of problems; and these problems, in turn, may have recurring kinds of solutions.

A variety of explanations, not necessarily incompatible, have been offered for the tendency of modern states to seek uniformity, in particular cultural and linguistic uniformity. States, in short, seek to become national states. They try to appear as natural, enduring, and unified communities. Those that succeed may have the advantage of an additional source of political resilience and solidarity, a sense of shared history and destiny that can survive even changes in government. 1 They may more easily gain the advantages of a large modern economy, by having a literate and linguistically homogenous labor pool, members of which can take on any of the different positions required by a division of labor. 2 They may lack the social rancor created by a constant sense of us being subservient to them, because (for example) civil servants and managers are drawn from the same cultural group as citizens and workers. 3 They may have higher levels of social trust, and accordingly smoother social interactions in a number of ways, not least improved prospects for democracy. 4 All of these are probably at least true in part;

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