Immigrants Are Good for Cosmopolitan Tolerance
By Bryan Caplan
When I debated Mark Krikorian, he bemoaned immigrants’ effect on Americans’ patriotic solidarity. I think he’s making a mountain out of a molehill, but Mark’s concerns were much on my mind during my recent visit to New York City.
I saw no sign that New York was lacking in patriotic solidarity. But one cultural difference was clear: Cosmopolitan tolerance was in the air – even compared to DC. On the streets of New York, a world of accents and languages nonchalantly mingled. People from all over the world amicably talked, walked, and traded. And no matter where they came from, all the people of New York excelled at minding their own business.
To be fair, an alert nativist could have extracted a few negative concessions from me as I toured. The Asian pedestrians in Chinatown did seem a tad inconsiderate, especially the ones with poor control of their sun umbrellas. But the nativist could do no more than harp on foreigners’ sporadic venial sins – while desperately forgiving his countrymen’s faux pas.
What makes New York City so culturally distinctive? The obvious explanation is that immigrants are good for cosmopolitan tolerance. Bringing the world’s nationalities together to rub shoulders humanizes the Other. It dissolves paranoid anxiety. It tests in-group bias against palpable facts. Simply strolling around New York makes nativism intellectually and emotionally hard to sustain. Yes, you could try to teach cosmopolitan tolerance with sermons, but you’d probably fail. Ubiquitous foreigners educate far more effectively than holier-than-thou preaching ever could.
The lesson: Even if Mark is right, immigration presents a cultural trade-off: You surrender some patriotic solidarity, but receive extra cosmopolitan tolerance in return. And if this really is our choice, it is not a tough call. We should opt for all the cosmopolitan tolerance we can get.
Why? Because truth be told, patriotic solidarity is a mixed blessing at best. Think of all the countries wrecked by excessive patriotic solidarity. Cosmopolitan tolerance, in contrast, is good through and through. I must be failing the Ideological Turing Test, because I can’t even figure out what social disasters nativists will try to pin on cosmopolitan tolerance.
So I ask them: What country has ever suffered from cosmopolitan tolerance run amok? From focusing on people’s common humanity rather than superficial differences? From judging people on their merits instead of their origins? From living and letting live?