En route to obtaining his back-dated, life-long Canadian citizenship, Will Wilkinson, one of the sharpest young policy minds around, dropped by to visit at the Prosperity Institute. Back home state-side, he wrote this terrific essay on why Toronto’s largely successful experiment in immigration – its global-straddling ethnic mosaic – is a big smack upside the head for notions that immigration is eating away at core “Anglo-Protestant” values and institutions a la the late Samuel Huntington.
Here is what Toronto is not: Toronto is not dirty, dangerous, or poor. Toronto is not a hell of lost liberties or a babble of cultural incoherence or a ruin of failed institutions. Yet a popular argument against high levels of immigration suggests it should be.
In his 2004 book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity, the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington warned that “the United States of America will suffer the fate of Sparta and Rome,” should its founding Anglo-Protestant culture continue to wane … So we must take care to protect our precious cultural patrimony from the acid of “denationalizing” economic and cultural globalization. We must keep outsiders out.
Successful societies (so this argument goes) owe their liberty and prosperity to distinct institutions which, in turn, depend on the persistence and dominance of the culture that established and nurtured them. Should that culture fade—or become too diluted by the customs, religions, and tongues of outsiders—the foundation of all that is best and most attractive about that society cannot long last.
But somebody forgot to tell Toronto! Nearly half the denizens of Canada’s most populous metropolis were born outside the nation’s borders—47 percent according to the 2006 census, and the number is rising. This makes Toronto, the fifth biggest city in North America, also the most diverse city in North America. Neither Miami, nor Los Angeles, nor New York City can compete with Toronto’s cosmopolitan credentials.
Here is what Toronto is: the fifth most livable city in the world. So said the Economist Intelligence Unit in a report last year drawing on indicators of stability, health care, culture, environment, education, and infrastructure. … Toronto is wealthy, healthy, well-educated, and much safer than any sizable American city. In 2006, its murder rate was 2.6 per 100,000 residents, which makes it less than half as deadly as Des Moines. The most culturally mixed city on the continent truly is one of Earth’s closest approximations of urban paradise …
The United States, this fabled land of immigrants, has fallen dismally far behind countries like Australia and Canada in openness to immigration … That cultural fragility argument is false, and it deserves to die.
Toronto, which has an Anglo-Protestant heritage as strong as any, has proved it dead wrong. In fact, Toronto shows that a community and its core institutions can not only survive a massive and growing immigrant population but thrive with one. Multicultural Toronto and cities like it prove that the institutions of liberal modernity are robust. Life within them is so good that people the world over flock to them. And newcomers do not take these institutions for granted. They have a stake in seeing them last. They can and do make them stronger …
Maybe someday an American city will place in the top 10 on the list of the world’s most livable places. Maybe—if it becomes more like Toronto.
Wilkinson hits several nails directly on the head here. In Flight of the Creative Class, I argued against Huntington and offered that Canada’s and Toronto’s mosaic principle may well prove to be one of the core enduring principles of the emerging creative economy. It surely looks more robust than America’s fabled melting pot principle under the stress of economic crisis.
Just quickly: one of the guiding principles of our Prosperity Institute is to develop seamless comparable rankings of North America - at least U.S. and Canadian states, provinces, cities, metropolitan areas, and mega-regions. Wilkinson and I spent a good deal of time talking about what if we just take away the “jurisdictional border” in our analysis. What if just start writing about North America’s provinces, states, and cities? How might than improve the quality and robustness of our understanding?
The great political sociologist Seymour Marty Lipset long ago wrote that the only way to truly understand America was to study and live in and understand Canada. He could not be more right.