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20221009 – The Great Experiment



This book is about diversity and democracy, their compatibility or lack thereof. It discusses the grand experiment that European elites embarked on at the beginning of the XXI century: to open highly developed welfare states of Europe to massive immigration from culturally different countries and try to achieve some kind of democratic accommodation between these diverse people. The book constantly refers to another great experiment of the creation and development of United States of America that combined diverse immigrants from all over Europe and forged the most productive, powerful, and wealthy society that ever existed. The author clearly states what he wants to achieve in this book:

” In part 1, I explain why it is so hard for the great experiment to succeed. Humans are very prone to forming in-groups and discriminating against outsiders. This helps to explain why diverse societies have often suffered from anarchy, domination, or fragmentation. To avoid these common pitfalls, they need to find ways to keep humanity’s instinct toward groupishness in check.

In part 2, I put forward an ambitious vision for what diverse democracies might one day look like. Their citizens can be true to their deepest convictions, charting their course through life in the confident knowledge that they are free from both the oppressive powers of the state and the restrictive norms imposed on them by their own elders. They feel a shared commitment to their country rooted in its civic traditions and its everyday culture. Their public spaces resemble a vibrant park where each group can do its own thing, but people from different backgrounds often choose to interact. And finally, the informal rules that govern how people treat one another encourage them to seek out greater mutual understanding and solidarity, holding on to the idea that the citizens of diverse democracies can come to create a meaningfully shared life.

Finally, in part 3, I explain why it is realistic to pursue this ambitious vision for the future of diverse democracies, and speak to what both citizens and policy makers can do to help turn it into reality. Over the past decades, diverse democracies have made genuine progress toward raising the living standards of minority groups and accepting them into the societal mainstream. They can build a more integrated culture and political system, avoiding a dystopian future in which the main political cleavage runs between natives and immigrants, or whites and “people of color.” And while there is no panacea for the serious challenges and injustices that remain, realistic changes in public policy, electoral politics, and the choices we make in our everyday lives can hasten the arrival of such thriving diverse democracies.”

The author also offers a metaphor for successfully accommodating the newly diverse society of natives and immigrants into one viable democracy: the public park. The rules are as follows:

  1. A public park is open to everyone. Parks allow visitors to do things on their own, to congregate in likeminded groups, or to pursue joint activities with complete strangers.
  2. A public park gives its visitors options. Visitors pursue a huge variety of legitimate activities in parks. They run or walk, read or talk, play sports or share food. That great variety is a very good thing. But for a park to remain safe and attractive, its visitors need to afford one another the same rights and freedoms they themselves wish to enjoy.
  3. A public park creates a vibrant space for encounter.


I find this book quite naïve, despite the author’s allocation of the whole part to cataloging what could and does go wrong in a diverse society. The best way to demonstrate it is the comparison between the contemporary diversification of European societies to the formation of the most diverse country in the world, the USA:

I believe that mass immigration would stop very soon if it did not already. The mass movement of non-elite natives will force the strict limits on immigration well before immigrants obtain sufficient power to impose their ways on natives. Then, deprived of hopes to achieve dominance, most immigrants would switch to the American mode of accommodation and become regular citizens not materially different from natives over a few generations.


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