Americans are saturated with celebrations of “diversity” these days. The concept is invoked by elected officials, businesses, and educational institutions as a shibboleth for one’s tolerance of racial, ethnic, and sexual—but as some complain, not ideological—differences.    

But as Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution argues in a recent article, Americans should be careful of celebrating diversity for diversity’s sake. “Emphasizing diversity,” he writes, “has been the pitfall, not the strength, of nations throughout history.”

He continues:

“The Roman Empire worked as long as Iberians, Greeks, Jews, Gauls and myriad other African, Asian and European communities spoke Latin, cherished habeas corpus and saw being Roman as preferable to identifying with their own particular tribe. By the fifty century, diversity had won out but would soon prove a fatal liability.

Rome disintegrated when it became unable to assimilate new influxes of northern European tribes. Newcomers had no intention of giving up their Gothic, Hunnish or Vandal identities.”  

Hanson’s certainly a better historian than me, but he may be guilty of a bit of oversimplification in order to serve his point. As I recollect, Greek was much more of the lingua franca during Rome’s Golden Age, and it was when the Western Empire stopped learning Greek that its intellectual and cultural unity with the Eastern Empire suffered. In addition, some of the barbarian tribes were enamored of Rome’s classical culture, and became more or less assimilated to it in the decades after the Empire fell.

Nevertheless, Hanson goes on to give other examples of empires and nations that fell when they became more tribal and sectarian (e.g., the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and I think his basic point is sound: a nation or people who emphasize diversity cannot survive without a corresponding emphasis on unity.

Indeed, as you may have noticed, the exaltation of diversity in America has been accompanied by a growing fixation on separating and categorizing people. One could say that “diversity” has in some ways become an instrument of division.

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to celebrate diversity. But I do not hold much hope for the future of a people who do not also share unity via some ideal that transcends their differences.