Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Patrick Luciani: The great experiment: Understanding diversity will help democracies endure

Commentary

Review of: The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure
Author: Yascha Mounk
Publisher: Penguin Random Press 2022

The question in The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure (2022) — by political thinker Yascha Mounk, is whether diverse democracies can survive as they adjust to greater numbers of immigrants. The West could certainly use more people as birth rates decline, and millions in poor countries are desperate to leave for a better life, including the educated. The question is, how best to do it?

Professor Mounk, who teaches international relations at Johns Hopkins University, argues we can get along, but not without significant adjustments on the part of western democracies. Mounk reminds his reader that diverse societies — societies with different races, religions, classes and cultures — have been sources of conflict throughout history. The Great Experiment is about whether democratic nations can absorb more diverse groups and prosper without the conflicts and discrimination of the past. According to Mounk, democracies have done a poor job absorbing different ethnic and religious groups and forging “fair and inclusive societies.” The author does admit that things have improved.

At the end of the Second World War, fewer than one in twenty-five living in the U.K. were foreign-born compared to one in seven today. Yet European countries remain overwhelmingly white and monocultural. The most diverse country in Europe is the Netherlands, and it has 84 percent whites. And when one race maintains political control in democracies, minorities tend to be dominated. According to Mounk, the problem is built into democracy itself; majorities will always find ways to protect their interests. Now that Europe and North America, with other countries including Japan and Australia, are opening to more immigration, Mounk sees danger ahead. In Poland and Hungary, government policy aggressively protects dominant white cultures, while Italy has turned against immigration with the endless flood of refugees landing on its shores, causing a rift with its European neighbours.

If western democracies are to succeed, Mounk insists the west must adapt and become more inclusive, and that means transferring political power to minorities even though they may never make up the majority. The solution is for democracies to reject their forms of “cultural purism” because Mounk believes “cultures are fluid constructs that reflect the ever-changing choices and predilections of their members.”

Yascha Mounk is a man of the political Left with compassion for those with little or no political power. He seems heavily influenced by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who held that we are born innocent, and society instills our faults. But it is folly to think they can change without much effort or consequence. This isn’t a message many want to hear; they hold that most disparities between people reduce to prejudice. Then there is the problem of diminishing “trust” among different ethnic groups documented in numerous studies. And trust is crucial if democracies and communities are to flourish. He admits we “must offer a realistic account of human nature” if the great experiment is to succeed, but here we might look to behavioural psychology for answers.

Then there is the problem of liberalism itself. Liberal ideology was adapted to stop the bloodshed from religious wars in 17th-century Europe, ending with the Peace of Westphalia. Some scholars believe liberalism eventually failed because the state is no longer an impartial arbiter among groups but an advocate, for example, by reducing all religions to “mere opinion.” This is the position of political theorist Patrick Deneen at Notre Dame University. Today, the ideal western state is one of deep secularization. Yet Mounk seemed surprised and disappointed when minarets were prohibited in Switzerland. This, in miniature, was a clash of civilizations where two cultures came together with little understanding of each other.

It is odd that Mounk doesn’t discuss Angela Merkel’s policy to accept over a million Syrian immigrants in 2015. The absence of that policy hangs in the background begging for analysis. It is generally viewed by many as a humanitarian success story, but it was hardly a smooth transition that caused a rift in Europe. Mounk mentions that most immigrants “embrace the core values of the societies where they live” and believe in democratic principles. For the most part, this is true. Canada is an example of a thriving democracy that does a good job of integrating immigrants, but that doesn’t mean the underlying tensions between cultures and races have disappeared.

Diverse democracies are always a work in process, and we should strive to better integrate people from different races and backgrounds. That struggle happens daily in democracies worldwide.

Opinion: Organized labour’s unlikely new alliance could shift Canada’s political landscape

Commentary

It’s time to confront and break down the barriers between conservatives and organized labour and foster closer cooperation and the adoption of public policies based on shared values and interests.

We conservatives are strongly pro-free market and pro-wealth creation. Markets will only work well and deliver widespread prosperity if they have the support of strong community institutions. Among them are labour unions which provide workers with power in the labour market and representation in the workplace. They afford solidarity, mutual aid, bargaining power, and workplace representation, all of which can benefit workers, their families, and communities—both economically and socially. Especially for conservatives, who understand better than anyone the importance of institutions, unions are worth defending. 

Unfortunately, the labour movement has faded toward irrelevance and alienated many of its members with an excessive focus on identity politics and social justice activism. On the other side, conservative hostility to organized labour remains stubborn, rooted in political and historic rather than differences in principle. Many conservatives are simply triggered by language like “solidarity,” “mutual aid,” and “bargaining power.” How many times have we heard, “why bother reaching out to unions, they hate us implacably?”

In their exhaustive study, “Canada’s New Working Class,” authors Sean Speer, Sosina Bezu, and Renze Naute say, “If the working class was a singular voting bloc, it would have won the popular vote in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.” The greatest challenge facing many conservative parties in Canada, especially the Conservative Party of Canada, is a stagnant, inefficiently distributed voter base. Finding and motivating new conservative voters—especially in battleground ridings and regions—is a strategic imperative. Working-class Canadians, with shared values and alienated by the frivolity of progressive politics, are a natural source of new conservative voters. 

The political pay-off for the conservatives in overcoming their aversions and forging bonds with the labour movement is immense, supported by research and obvious anecdotal evidence, none greater than the most recent Ontario general election in which Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario PC Party received the endorsement of every major building and trade union. 

Premier Ford has shown us the way. At the forefront of Ford’s effort to build bridges with labour is Monte McNaughton, minister of labour, who has been at the helm of the PCs’ “Working for Workers” agenda including an increase to the minimum wage, an introduction of the “right to disconnect,” and efforts to ensure trades unions are overseen by a body that represents them through Skilled Trades Ontario.

McNaughton’s playbook is clearly based on the Jason Kenney outreach model that made the federal conservative party so successful with new Canadians during the early and middle years of the Harper government. This strategy recognizes that the workers represented by these unions demographically and attitudinally look a lot like conservative voters. The Ontario PCs have turned large numbers of potential voters into actual voters through targeted policy announcements and a significant amount of time spent talking directly to these voters and their leadership.

Small c-conservatives too often cede economic policymaking to our libertarian cousins. The “unions are bad” opinion that is pervasive in the conservative movement and parties is a great challenge. Overcoming it is the mission of the Common Good Project. It isn’t easy to change long-held opinion, but recent history proves it can be done through disciplined effort over the long term. The starting point is the recognition that conservatives and labour are aligned in their values and interests, especially the belief that everyone who wants to better their lives through hard work should be given a fair chance to do so.