A new paper finds that keeping different ethnic groups apart can reduce violence. This should be a matter of common sense but in the modern era we are routinely inundated with calls for multiculturalism and diversity. Proponents of these will argue that such things are a strength for a civilization. History however, has a much different story to tell. Diversity of cultures, religions and ethnicities has spawned some of the greatest acts of violence.
The authors use Switzerland as a model for attaining both diversity and tolerance. This was done through the separation of German, French and Italians into different cantons as well as the separation of Catholics and Protestants. The authors conclude that,
Our analysis indicates that both administrative and natural barriers can play a significant role in mitigating conflict between religious and linguistic groups. Historical evidence suggests that for religious groups the boundaries in Switzerland were created to provide autonomy to a group with a shared identity and avoid conflict among multiple groups… Our analysis suggests that when partition within a country is viewed as an acceptable form of conflict mitigation, such partition can give rise to highly stable coexistence and peace.
Similar findings were discovered by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam. In 2007 Putnam noted that,
Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division, but anomie or social isolation. In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ – that is, to pull in like a turtle.
He also notes that areas of greater diversity demonstrate:
- Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.
- Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in their own influence.
- Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.
- Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
- Less likelihood of working on a community project.
- Lower likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
- Fewer close friends and confidants.
- Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
- More time spent watching television and more agreement that ‘television is my most important form of entertainment’.
It must be noted that Putnam views these as short-term effects and views diversity in the long-run as a benefit. This is where my opinion deviates from Putnams’ and I do not think that he makes a very strong case for the long term benefits. First he mentions that immigrants have accounted for three to four times as many American Nobel Laureates. He does this after spending a paragraph noting that immigration is not necessarily diversity. Since diversity is what we are talking about it cannot be ignored that the vast majority of these nobel laureates still immigrated from Western European countries.
Second, Putnam argues that immigration is associated with rapid economic growth. But here I feel that he is putting the cart before the horse. People will not immigrate to a stagnant country. When a country is successful it will naturally pull in people from other countries for opportunity. Third, he states that immigration from the poorer South to wealthier North (i.e Scandinavia) has increased the development of the South. This may be true but he never sources (or even mentions) what this effect might have on the North.
There are sensible immigration strategies but the open borders policy that is so common in Western countries is not one that will promote stability, peace or prosperity.
1. Rutherford A. et al Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence http://arxiv.org/abs/1110.1409
2. Putnam, Robert D E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-First Century Nordic Political Science Association (2007) Vol. 20 No. 2 p. 149