by Rod D. Martin
December 2, 2005

The Germans call it schadenfreude, the delight some people feel when a disliked person gets his comeuppance. And more than a few Americans experienced just that last month as France convulsed in riots.

For decades, France’s elite, combining disdain with glee, castigated America on everything from Vietnam to Iraq, from race relations to inner-city poverty, from culture to the Cold War.

Never mind the many hypocrisies, on each of these points and more. America was France’s whipping boy for all the world’s ills, and nary a French bureaucrat nor intellectual saw fit to look in the mirror.

Then came the riots; and suddenly, mirrors of every size and shape were thrust into France’s haughty face.

That’s at least how it looked from our perspective.

The comparisons between America and France were just too irresistible to forego.

France is a country based on blood and soil, while America is an idea, founded on a shared belief in ordered liberty.

France is a class-based society of limited mobility, while America is a culture where Horatio Alger’s heirs reign and anyone can become President.

France is a bastion of socialist and mercantilist stagnation, with unemployment rates hovering around 10% for decades, while America is a beacon of capitalist innovation and virtual full employment.

France is a country where immigrants and their descendants remain strangers in a strange land, while America is a melting-pot that welcomes people from across the globe to live the American Dream. For the most part, anyway.

And so from these comparisons came the predictable conclusion: what was happening in France could never happen here.

But that conclusion is wrong. It could happen here: it could happen anywhere any minority becomes truly a separate nation within a nation, and when any economy doesn’t grow fast enough to provide jobs and opportunity for all.

Those seeds were planted here thirty years ago.

Nobody who lived through the 1970s can forget that it was a decade of leftist “stagflation”, wherein unemployment rose, inflation soared, and high taxes and regulations strangled employers and employees alike, creating an economic environment and a dependence on government like, well, France.

But it was also the decade in which “multiculturalism” took root.

America has always been a pluralistic society. Long before any of us were born, America’s cities teemed with many cultures, each with their own characteristics, from art to cuisine. And each of them helped make a diverse and uniquely American stew, blending together while remaining distinct, and continually spreading each culture’s best to us all.

But until the 1970s, Americans always required that immigrants embrace an overarching American identity, not of common race but of common ideals. Multiculturalism, in stark contrast, redefined our pluralism as ethnicity, while rejecting — indeed loathing — what an earlier generation called “Americanism”.

Multiculturalists encouraged new immigrant subcultures to become nations unto themselves, rather than become a part of the American ideal. They also prodded older minority groups, such as African and Hispanic Americans, to join in their nihilistic separatism.

Fortunately, the last quarter century has seen a tremendous revival in America’s economic fortunes, due to Reagan-era tax reforms, 1990s welfare reform, and the current President’s pro-entrepreneurial policies. As a result, tens of millions of Americans have been released from the clutches of poverty and pathology. And all of these Americans now have a stake in the continued well-being of our country, a country millions more wish to join every year.

Yet multiculturalism is alive and well, promoted by the hard Left, entrenched in our colleges, sanctified by our courts, and propagated endlessly by Washington.

For those who are still a part of America’s underclass, and for new immigrants who come here with only the clothes on their back, its siren song is seductive. This is truly a war for their hearts and minds. From Reaganomics to President Bush’s Ownership Society, we continue to win key battles, making owners out of dependents and stakeholders out of social outcasts. Ownership is about more than property, just as America is about more than soil: it’s about becoming part of the American Dream, of joining the American Idea. It’s about making freedom not a slogan but a standard, one which everyone may live. And it’s about believing that that idea of liberty is bigger than race, bigger than geography, bigger than any of the surly bonds which for millennia held men down.

Like the War on Terror, the fight continues — a battle for who and what we are as Americans; indeed, a battle for whether it means anything to be an American.

Yes, it can happen here.

But only if we let it.