Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Speaking in Tongues in America

Far be it from me to tangle with Juan, what with him an expert expert and all, "In any case, I spent a week in New Mexico a few years ago and Spanish and English seem to co-exist quite easily on a day to day basis."

Huntington's point - and I think that he's entirely correct - is that a bilingual or multilingual polity will have no coherence or continuity. The examples of Belgium, Canada, the Soviet Union and others would indicate that the shared national and cultural identities are fragile and secondary. I think you're being complacent on this point and putting too much stress on your feelings of an American sonderweg.

IF there were an homogenous bloc of speakers of a non-English language perpetuating their identity through education and media in that language, then there would be a problem, provided they were up to some critical level, say about twenty percent of the population of the US. Hispanics now make up about twelve percent according to the 2000 Census. An identifiable, self-aware and mobilised minority of 20% or more - the analogy of Israeli Arabs comes immediately to mind - would create tensions under most systems.

However, and here is where I disagree with Huntington, the unique features of American democracy - federalism, the seperation of powers and especially the electoral college and two-party system will continue to squash seperatism. According to a book on Farrakhan I read recently, up to half of African-Americans want a black political party. There's no point to trying this in the current system and no possible gain to be had from altering this.

For anyone who wants it, here's the link to the extract in Foreign Policy, entitled The Hispanic Challenge.