One day's news:
A prominent Tory MP is killed by an IRA car bomb.
Government soldiers in Liberia murder hundreds of refugees from a rival rebel tribe.
A radical Islamic sect in Trinidad kidnaps the prime minister and his cabinet and holds them at gun point.
American Indians demonstrate outside the Canadian Embassy in solidarity with Mohawks caught in a violent land dispute with Quebec (which itself is in an autonomy dispute with Canada).
What connects these unconnected events? The powerful, often ignored, global reality of tribalism. The Irish, Liberian and Trinidadian variety is more violent, but Canada illustrates best its bewilderingly regressive nature. Canadian nationalism has long sought to distinguish itself from the United States; Quebec nationalism to distinguish itself from Canada; and now here come the Mohawks with their own claim of apartness from Quebec.
Tribes within nations within empires. The world is littered with such Chinese boxes, and they make perfect tinder for conflict. Nowhere more so than in the Soviet bloc, where the decline of communism has brought a revival of tribalism (most notably in Azerbarjan and Transylvania) as savage and primitive as seen anywhere.
What is all this to Americans? A lesson and a warning. America, alone among the multi-ethnic countries of the world, has managed to assimilate its citizenry into a common nationality. We are now doing our best to squander this great achievement.
Spain still has its Basque secessionists, France its Corsicans. Even Britain has the pull of Scottish and Welsh to say nothing of Irish nationalists. But America has, through painful experience, found a way to overcome its centrifugal forces.
American unity has been built on a tightly federalist politics and a powerful melting pot culture. Most important, America chose to deal with the problem of differentness (ethnicity) by embracing a radical individualism and rejecting the notion of group rights. Of course, there was one great, shameful historical exception: the denial of rights to blacks. When that was finally outlawed in the '60s, America appeared ready to resume its destiny, a destiny celebrated by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as the home of a true and now universal individualism.
Why is this a destiny to be celebrated? Because it works. Because while Spain and Canada, to say nothing of Liberia and Ireland, are wracked by separatism and tribal conflict, America has been largely spared. Its union is more secure than that of any multi-ethnic nation on earth.
We are now, however, in the process of throwing away this patrimony. Our great national achievement -- fashioning a common citizenship and identity for a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-racial people -- is now threatened by a process of relentless, deliberate Balkanization. The great engines of social life -- the law, the schools, the arts -- are systematically encouraging the division of America into racial, ethnic and gender separateness.
It began with the courts, which legitimized the allocation of jobs, government contracts, admission to medical school and now TV licenses by race, gender and ethnic group.
Then education. First Stanford capitulated to separatist know-nothings and abandoned its "Western Civilization" course because of its bias toward white males. (You know: narrow-minded ethnics like Socrates, Jesus and Jefferson). Now the push is to start kids much earlier on the road to intellectual separatism. Grade school, for example.
A proposed revision of New York State's school curriculum to rid it of "Eurocentric" bias is so clearly an attempt at "ethnic cheerleading on the demand of pressure groups" that historians Diane Ravitch, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., C. Van Woodward, Robert Caro and 20 others were moved to issue a joint protest. Despite their considerable ideological differences, they joined to oppose the "use of the school system to promote the division of our people into antagonistic racial groups."
Even the arts have been conscripted into the separatist crusade. "Both the Rockefeller and Ford foundations," writes Samuel Lipman in Commentary, "intend to downgrade and even eliminate support for art based on traditional European sources and instead will encourage activity by certain approved minorities."
Countries struggling to transcend their tribal separateness have long looked to America as their model. Now however, America is going backward. While the great multi-ethnic states try desperately to imbue their people with a sense of shared national identity, the great American institutions, from the courts to the foundations, are promoting group identity instead.
Without ever having thought it through, we are engaged in unmaking the American union and encouraging the very tribalism that is the bane of the modern world.