And therein lies one of the central dilemmas of political life in developed societies: sharing and solidarity can conflict with diversity. This is an especially acute dilemma for progressives who want plenty of both solidarity – high social cohesion and generous welfare paid out of a progressive tax system – and diversity – equal respect for a wide range of peoples, values and ways of life. The tension between the two values is a reminder that serious politics is about trade-offs. It also suggests that the left’s recent love affair with diversity may come at the expense of the values and even the people that it once championed.
This may be something that we on the left will have to face sooner or later and, for my money, I would have it sooner. Neither the American left or right seems to truly grasp that the very nature of politics is trade-offs. The left, admirably pursuing diversity, has become blind to the fact that in doing so we may have fractured the social bonds that tie us together as Americans. Unlike, say, the Japanese who have a--more or less--common ancestry, history and heritage we Americans are tied together solely through commitment to an ideal and a history that may have some of us placed in the role of outsider or the target to whom the history happened. So like the British but unlike, say, the Germans part of the challenge for us as Americans is to figure out how to see the national story as being our story. Currently, those on the American left are likely to see our national story and ideals as something deeply and profoundly alien to us even though it may be the only story we know well. Instead of seeing the founding of America as the start of something great and good, we see it as the beginning of an unending string of horrors visited upon blacks, Native Americans, mestizos, Japanese and Chinese immigrants, etc. While there is historical accuracy to this portrait, it is not the whole of the story nor is it necessarily where we should want our focus to be.
It is difficult enough for a nation as diverse as ours to hold itself together. It is even more of a challenge when we do not feel that our national story has anything to offer minority populations outside of a long list of grievances and broken promises. What’s more, the more we emphasize that which makes us different and hold that up as far more important and noble than that which makes us similar, we will have a very difficult time convincing our fellow citizens that we need a stronger social safety net.