The Future of Diverse Democracies, With Yascha Mounk

Yascha Mounk, senior fellow at CFR and professor of the practice of international affairs at Johns Hopkins University, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the challenges that ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse democracies face. This episode is part of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.

April 19, 2022 — 33:07 min
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Host

James M. Lindsay

Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair Full Bio

Episode Guests

Yascha Mounk

Senior Fellow

Show Notes

Yascha Mounk, senior fellow at CFR and professor of the practice of international affairs at Johns Hopkins University, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the challenges that ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse democracies face. This episode is part of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.
 

Enter the CFR book giveaway before May 4, 2022, for the chance to win one of ten free copies of The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure by Yascha Mounk. You can read the terms and conditions of the offer here.

 

Books Mentioned on the Podcast

 

Yascha Mounk, The Great Experiment (2022)

 

Yascha Mounk, The People Vs. Democracy (2018)

 

Articles and Reports Mentioned

 

Dillingham Commission Reports, U.S. Senate via Hathi Trust (1911)

 

Publius Decius Mus [Michael Anton], “The Flight 93 Election,” Claremont Review of Books, September 5, 2016

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Transcript

Jim Lindsay:

Welcome to The President's Inbox, a CFR podcast about the foreign policy challenges facing the United States. I'm Jim Lindsay, Director of Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This week's topic is the future of diverse democracies. With me to discuss the challenges that ethnically, racially and religiously diverse democracies face and how to bridge the divides within them is Yascha Mounk. Yascha is a Senior Fellow at the Council. He's also a professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the founder of Persuasion. His new book, The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure, is out now. Yascha, thanks for joining me.

Yascha Mounk:

It's a pleasure. Thank you, Jim.

Jim Lindsay:

Our listeners have a chance Yascha, to win one of 10 free copies of your book, The Great Experiment. To do so, all they have to do is go to cfr.org/giveaway by May 3rd to enter the giveaway and to see the terms and conditions. You can also find a link to the book giveaway in the show notes for The President's Inbox on cfr.org. Yascha, I wanted to have you on the show because your book has just come out. It's a great read. It's gotten some really positive early reviews, so I wanted to talk about it and the issues you explore. But let me begin with the question which is why the title, The Great Experiment?

Yascha Mounk:

Yeah. So the title has an interesting kind of backstory which is that I was promoting my last book, The People Vs Democracy, which was about the rise of populism four years ago in Germany. And I was on Tagesthemen, one of their big news shows on public television. And I was asked what the reasons for the rise of populism are. And I said it has something to do with economic stagnation, the stagnation of living standards for average citizens and it has something to do with the rise of the internet and of social media and the way that that makes it easier to spread lies and conspiracy theories. But it's also something to do, and I kind of was using these words spontaneously as sometimes happens in an interview, with a great experiment though we're now undertaking, which is that of turning mono-ethnic and mono-cultural societies into multi-ethnic ones. And I said that causes many serious problems so we have to take seriously but then I think we can succeed with that.

Yascha Mounk:

I finished the interview. It was a live interview. I thought I'd done reasonably well. My mom who's never happy with my interviews in German called me up to say, "I watched you and I really liked it." And I went to sleep and took a plane early the next morning to Colorado so I was offline for 10 hours or for longer than that because I didn't really check the phone in the morning. And when I landed I had one of those moments when you switch on your phone and it goes ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. What on earth just happened? And it turned out that this interview had gone viral among the far right in Germany who used this term experiment to say, here's somebody who's just admitted that he and Angela Merkel are experimenting on the German people. They took it as confirmation of the theory of a great replacement, that there was a conspiracy to change the ethnic composition of the German people to make it more pliable or whatever the case may be.

Yascha Mounk:

And so I reflected on that term that I'd used spontaneously. And I realized that there's two meanings of it. There's the meaning of the experiment that you might think of in chemistry class in 9th or 10th grade where the teacher comes in, he you know puts one fluid into the other and it explodes and he has exactly a plan for how his lesson is going to go and then he teaches you something with it. There's also of course the sense of the meaning of experiment in the way that the founders used it, the idea that at a time when most democracies, most republics in the history of the world had terribly failed, they embarked on a great experiment in self-government. And what I had in mind of course was that second meaning of experiment because what we're facing now is a historically unique situation. We do not have a historical precedent for deeply diverse democracies that actually treat their citizens as equals and succeed. And so my book is about why that's so difficult and how we can succeed.

Jim Lindsay:

Yascha, you mentioned the great replacement theory which is popular among fringe groups, certainly on the right. Who argue that in fact in their view there is this globalist conspiracy of elites to replace existing populations and break them down. Why are they wrong?

Yascha Mounk:

They're wrong for three reasons. The first is that they're historically wrong. So what they claim is that there was a deliberate attempt to change the ethnic composition of the population. Now, in really interesting ways that turns out to be erroneous. In Germany which was the first context of this, German democracy was founded at the moment when the country was more homogeneous than it had been at virtually any point in its history as a result of the bloody history of the first half of the 20th century as a result of the Holocaust, as a result of expulsions. And why is it a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society today? Because in the '50s and '60s at the time of the economic miracle of the Wirtschaftswunder there was a need for factory labor and the government imported labor from Turkey, from Italy, from Greece, from various places under the assumption that they'd go home again. But that of course didn't happen for various reasons.

Jim Lindsay:

I once heard a German official describe it as we imported labor and got people. They met, fell in love, married, had children.

Yascha Mounk:

Yes, exactly. And so you know the people like Konrad Adenauer who thought they were just imported labor, they didn't have some secret goal of exchanging the job population, that's just silly. The same is true in the United States by the way when LBJ signs the 1964 Immigration Nationality Act which ultimately leads to a huge increase first of H1B immigration from various parts of the world and then family migration which follows. Which is the main reason why the country is a lot less white today than it was 60 or 70 years ago. He actually promised in a signing statement that this would not change the demographic composition of the United States in a meaningful way. And that was the assumption of most observers at the time. So again, this wasn't a deliberately chosen process, so that's the first kind of thing. That's a complicated legacy by the way because it's precisely because we didn't choose it that we haven't actually thought about how this can work and what the rules might be and what the dangers would be.

Yascha Mounk:

And so that's not just a positive fact but it's certainly something that the fewest of the great replacement get wrong. The second point is that they're far too pessimistic about the current state of society. So they're saying that the only reason why these big democracies are successful is that the majority groups somehow you know is either culturally or ethnically or genetically even superior to others. That the people who are now coming in are somehow inferior and that therefore they're failing to integrate, they're failing to learn the language, they're failing to make socioeconomic progress and they're ruining the country. And by the way, there's a weird form of pessimism that is shared on big parts of the mainstream and of the left who reject the blame that's put on immigrants or minority groups. But who also say that you know our society is so discriminatory and so racist that people aren't able to integrate.

Jim Lindsay:

Society can't be redeemed.

Yascha Mounk:

Yes. And for this of course real discrimination and real injustice that just isn't what actually is happening in the world. So in the United States there's a great study with over a million data points which compares the trajectory of different generations of immigrants in the United States. And it turns out that immigrants today from El Salvador and Mexico and Zimbabwe and Vietnam and all kinds of places all over the world are integrating at about the same rate, making socioeconomic progress about the same rate as Italian and Irish immigrants did a hundred years ago. So that disproves the idea that these immigrants are somehow inferior to those previous generations of immigrants. But it also by the way disproves the idea that our society is so discriminatory, so racist against them that we don't have a chance to integrate. And then third, the theory of a great replacement says, look if this was imposed on us, if it's going really terribly, what's the logical upshot? Let's stop this, let's end the experiment, let's re-homogenize our societies.

Yascha Mounk:

And you know from doing a lot of research for this book on the fate of diverse societies around the world, that is a scenario we can't rule out. It is perfectly possible that some big democracies in the world will be more homogeneous in 30 or 50 or 100 years than they are today. But the only way to get there would be through extreme injustice, through genocide for civil war, for forms of political violence that we all should fear. And so for me this book is not about the benefits of diversity, it's about the starting point of diversity. With a few exceptions, virtually all democracies today are deeply diverse, already have citizens drawn from many different groups and they need to make it work because the alternative is so gruesome.

Jim Lindsay:

So when you think about the countries you're talking about, you're not just talking about the United States and your native land, Germany, maybe a couple of other countries. You're really talking about democracies writ large around the globe.

Yascha Mounk:

Yeah. So look, there's some democracies in the world that are still relatively homogeneous. Now of course every society has its internal divisions, no country is completely homogeneous. But Japan and Bulgaria, two examples of countries that are much more homogeneous than most. And you know they can make a legitimate decision about how much immigration they want to choose for themselves in the coming decades. If they want to deal with the negative impact of depopulation, rather than opening the borders to more immigration then that is certainly a right that they enjoy. I have nothing to say to that. But when you look at Germany and the United States, but also the United Kingdom and Australia, also Brazil and India, also all of the great and rapidly growing African countries, many of which are sort of democracies or hopefully will be democracies. They all have very, very deep ethnic and religious diversity. And so for all of them, the only realistic option is to make it work.

Jim Lindsay:

I want to draw on a point that you made very early on in the book, and it's a phrase that's tossed around a lot in the United States certainly. It is about as motherhood and apple pie as you can get. And it's the idea that diversity is our strength. And you say, "Hold on a second, it's a bit more complicated than that." Walk me through why you pause at the statement, diversity is our strength.

Yascha Mounk:

Yeah. You know I think a lot of the reasons why people can despair the current state of our society is that they are deeply aware of its negative aspects and aren't aware of how difficult it is to make some of this stuff work. So if your starting point is, look, how difficult is it to like your neighbor? How difficult is it to be tolerant towards people who are different? How difficult is it not to be a racist, not to be a bigot? Then you might look at the real discrimination, the real injustice, the real racism we have in the United States and other democracies today and think, oh my God there must be something really terrible about us. And so that's why I think we need to look at history to really understand why it's difficult. And there's a few obvious points we learn from that.

Yascha Mounk:

The first is that humans have this deep tendency to form groups, they're groupish. There's a great study by a psychologist in Bristol in the 1960s who wants to understand why desperate humans beings are willing to discriminate against each other in such deep ways. And he thought, let me create these groups that are so silly that the members are not going to be willing to discriminate against each other. And then I can keep adding features to understand when they become willing to engage in that kind of behavior and that'll teach us about what makes groups sometimes dangerous.

Yascha Mounk:

And he got a bunch of kids into the lab and he showed him a sheet of paper with 150 randomly dispersed dots. And he had them guess how many dots are on the sheet of paper? And some said 130 and some said 170. Many split them between overestimators and the underestimators completely silly group. It turns out to be overestimators in a game he had them play started discriminate against the underestimators and the underestimated discriminated against the overestimators. My own students who are a very diverse bunch and rightly pride themselves and being very tolerant and very forward looking started discriminating against each other when I asked them whether a hot dog is a sandwich. And the ones who said that a hot dog is a sandwich started to discriminate against ones who said that a hot dog is not a sandwich. So there's a tendency to-

Jim Lindsay:

It's not a sandwich by the way.

Yascha Mounk:

Good. Well I disagree with you so we're no longer friends. So this tendency to form groups is really, really strong. That's number one, it's a deep part of our human psyche. The second point is that it is activated particularly easily when it comes to salient visual differences. When there's some way that I can see visually you are not a member of the same group as I am or when it comes to religious beliefs and other fundamental ideas about the world. I worship God all right where you worship God in the wrong way that is a really powerful motivator for our group discrimination. And so we see in the history of the world how often that is led to pogroms to wars to genocides. Not every conflict in history is along those lines but many of the worst conflicts were along ethnic, racial, national religious lines.

Jim Lindsay:

But you suggest that these divisions can be particularly difficult to overcome in democracies because of the in-group out-group behavior. And the fact that in democratic societies you can often mobilize people based on their membership in a group.

Yascha Mounk:

Yeah. So one easy solution would be to say, hey, okay so this is really worrying. We've seen all of these different diverse societies fall apart in ways that I describe in my book. But we see that this things are really terribly wrong but we have a bunch of institutions that deal with this, right? And the most important of them is elections which make sure that everybody has a voice and that we can sort of come to terms of our disagreements. And I had that thought when I started writing the book and then I realized that that was naive as well. Many of the most celebrated democracies in the history of the world were either homogeneous or excluded anybody who was not a part of the dominant group. That's true from ancient Athens to the Roman republic to the lovely city states of Italy in the middle ages and so on down.

Yascha Mounk:

And many of the diverse societies that we might look to for inspiration were actually monarchies, were empires from Baghdad in the 9th century to Vienna in the 19th century. And as you suggest, that's not a coincidence because if we are both subjects of a monarch then I can say, you know what? I have no power, you have no power. If you have more kids, if there's more immigrants coming in and joining your group it doesn't really change anything for me. As long as I still trust the monarch, we are fine. In a democracy, we are always searching for majorities. We always know that if I'm able to win the most votes then I get to set the rules. And so if you suddenly have more kids than I do and then suddenly immigrants who resemble you more than they resemble me, it's actually a natural thought to think, well, that means you suddenly get political power and everything changes. So democratic mechanisms can exacerbate the difficulty of building diverse democracies.

Jim Lindsay:

And I would imagine also the way we talk about politics because we talk about the white vote, the black vote Catholic vote, evangelical vote, Latino vote and the like. We think in those terms.

Yascha Mounk:

Yes. I really worry about that in the United States today. So there's parts of the right and the far right who do this. The Flight 93 Election, a really influential essay by Michael Anton who was later a senior advisor in Trump white house basically made the argument explicitly that the reasons why we need a wrecking board on the White House is that we have "The ceaseless importation of third world foreigners," who are inimical to the American republic and to the Republican Party. And as there's more and more of them, Republicans are never going to be able to win again. So you know let's do anything it takes to stop that process. But there's also a version of that on the left.

Yascha Mounk:

There's also a version on the left of the fantasy of an inevitably rising demographic majority for Democrats which basically relies on a similar idea on the premise that white people tend to vote for the Republican Party by declining as the share of the overall population. And so as the share of Latinos and Asian Americans and to a lesser extent African Americans grows in the United States, Democrats are just going to be able to win. And so you know that's a kind of triumphalism that's just to wait for the future to fall into our lap.

Jim Lindsay:

Didn't seem to work that way in the 2020 election when it came to races for Congress and state and local races.

Yascha Mounk:

All for the presidential vote actually. So Donald Trump was competitive in the 2020 election almost exclusively because he increased the share of the vote among every non-white demographic of note. Among African Americans, among Asian Americans among particularly Latinos. And Joe Biden is the legitimately elected 46th president of the United States almost exclusively because he got a bigger share of a white vote but Hillary Clinton did four years earlier. So you know empirically, I don't buy the idea of an inevitably growing demographic majority. But just as importantly, I find it normatively to be really dystopian rather than utopian. I do not want to live in a country in which 20 or 30 years from now I will be able to walk down the street and know who somebody's voting for by looking at the color of their skin. But this goes beyond electoral politics.

Yascha Mounk:

I have stopped believing in the idea that America will ever be majority, minority. So there's this assumption that America because of these demographic transitions that are happening will end up with a majority population that is non white. But that basically assumes a racial essentialism which is very odd. It assumes that most Americans will define themselves by a one drop rule. So that somebody for example, who has seven white grandparents and one Asian grandparent is going to think of themselves as a person of color who is in a very meaningful way in competition or tension with whites. And that may happen. But it's a very speculative account of what the future might look like rather than what is usually portrayed as being a scientific depiction of what society now is and is sure to become.

Jim Lindsay:

Well, and it's also the case that sort of group boundaries change over time. When the Irish first showed up they were discriminated against quite intensively in the places where they migrated. Likewise, the Italians, Eastern Europeans when they came at the beginning of the 20th century, just go back a century and go and read the Gillham report. It's a senate report from like 1911, 1912. And your jaw will drop with the racial stereotypes that are produced. But now they're all sort of considerably part of white America or Euro America.

Yascha Mounk:

Yeah. So in the 1960s, Irish Americans overwhelmingly voted for Democrats. If a democratic party had put its strategy on winning Irish Americans for the rest of history it would be in a lot of trouble now because Irish Americans actually now overwhelmingly or a clear majority vote for the Republican Party. So that's why I actually think a more realistic prediction for the future comes from the sociologist, Richard Alba who talks about an expanding American mainstream. And what's more likely to happen is that a lot of Latinos, a lot of Asian Americans and also a growing number of African Americans is going to join this expanding American mainstream. And we're never going to have this sort of simplistic opposition of whites on one side and people of color on the other side. But a lot of our political discourse now assumes. And as a result, if you define a member of an ethnic minority simply by having some non-white or Latino ancestor then the predictions of the census bureau are likely to come true. But in any meaningful sense it is likely a mistake to think that America will be majority minority.

Jim Lindsay:

Yascha I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying you're an optimist when it comes to the potential of diverse democracies to not just meet, but overcome the challenges they face and to basically knit the divisions that sometimes can tear them apart. And I have to ask you why you're optimistic. When I think about the context in which you wrote this book, you're writing the book in the aftermath of the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. You're writing it as we have leaders in places like Russia and China and India pushing a sort of civilizational thesis that in essence groups are distinct and they're rejecting universal values. And you're writing it against the backdrop of what is it now, 15 years of continued democratic erosion around the world. Fewer people today are living under democratic rule than was the case in 2005, 2007. So what's the source of your optimism?

Yascha Mounk:

You know it's funny because I've spent so many years being pessimistic and being known as a pessimist that it's very unaccustomed and refreshing to be accused of a surfeit of optimism. So I think all of the problems that you mentioned are of course very, very real and I'm deeply worried about them. My last book, The People Vs. Democracy, was about the rise of populism and the real threat it poses to democracy. And that is certainly an ongoing threat. Many Western European countries may yet be governed by populous in the coming years. Donald Trump may well win the 2024 election. We are seeing democracy under very serious strain from populous in countries like India. So that is a lot of reason for pessimism. And even on the question of diverse democracies I take from my dealing with history, for my research for this project that it could very easily go wrong. But there's been many societies in history that for a few centuries managed to sustain relative toleration and relative to governance and then fell apart in the most cruel ways.

Yascha Mounk:

And I don't want to rule that scenario out for the United States or for other diverse democracies around the world. But paradoxically, I think we can also take from that history a certain optimism because compared to how so many other diverse societies in the history of the world have fared, we're actually doing relatively well at the moment. And we've made real progress over the last few decades. For all of the deep imperfections that remain in Germany and the United States in Brazil and Australia today, those societies are actually more just than they were 40 or even 20 years ago. And so I mean, mine is a hard one optimism but I do think we can succeed. And I think it's very important that we are clear about that because unless there is a positive vision of a society that most people would actually want to live in which can compete with the easy pessimism that is now so common, a lot of people are going to embrace the pessimism of the far right.

Jim Lindsay:

Well let me draw you out on that point Yascha. The subtitle of your book is Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart, we've talked about that a fair amount. But the other part of the subtitle is And How They Can Endure. So what are your recommendations for finding ways to achieve the optimistic vision rather than giving in to the pessimistic one?

Yascha Mounk:

Yeah. So a lot of this is simply about having a clearer image of what kind of society we should actually want to live in. I told you that the basic elements of democracy can exacerbate conflict. But there's also basic elements of liberal democracy of the element of individual rights, as well as-

Jim Lindsay:

Okay, I got to stop you right there. Explain to me what you mean by liberal democracy because I expect a lot of people hear the word liberal and they think Democrat versus Republican.

Yascha Mounk:

Yes, and that's not what I mean. Our political system is not just having the majority rule. It is also giving us fundamental rights that in the American context we get from the Bill of Rights and other aspects of the constitution. So political scientists tend to talk about the liberal democracy. Often in more conservative circles in the United States you might talk about Democratic Republic, but that idea is the same one that we have an element of we all get to decide collectively, we all get to vote. But we also have an element of hang on a second, there are certain things that the majority does not get to tell us.

Jim Lindsay:

So it's not pure majoritarianism?

Yascha Mounk:

It's not pure majoritarianism. And in fact I think we need two elements here. So a fundamental question is you have the state, you have a bunch of groups that are really important in our society. And then you have individual citizens. And what is the relationship between those three different levels? How do they interact? Now there are some people who say we should just be individuals and groups don't matter at all and we should have no respect for groups at all. In fact, if we managed to overcome groups that would be the best. And I don't think that's a realistic prospect. There's other people who say really the groups are the fundamental building blocks of our society. We should be what the British philosopher Lord Parrot calls an association of associations. Rather than being defined by our individual rights and duties we should be defined by the membership in particular groups.

Yascha Mounk:

Both of those I think are wrong. We need to give people a double liberty. We need to make sure that I'm free to worship as I please, to say what I want even if it's unpopular. And that means protecting me against attorney of the majority, protecting me against the state. And that's really important. But we also need something, those communitarians like Lord Parrot can't explain which is to ensure that people are free from another really historically important threat to freedom.

Yascha Mounk:

And that's what Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have called the cage of norms. That is the way in which most people through history have been told how to live by their own parents, by their priest or their rabbi or their mom, by their village elders. By a really constraining community they're born into. And so I think we need a society in which we respect minority groups and groups of all kinds because the members have freely chosen to be part of because they have a right to leave those groups as well. And that means protecting minorities against the state, against the majority. But also making sure that if I am born into a group that I don't want to stay a part of, if I want to have a romantic partner or if I want to say something or want to live in a way that my parents and my community members disapprove of, the state actually ensures that they do not coerce me, that I can make that choice. So that's sort of the most political level of the answer.

Jim Lindsay:

That's an important point Yascha but I'm left with a question which is, yes, some norms can be stifling and they inhibit the individual but other norms can be empowering and you want to sustain them. And I think for example, many of the norms that traditionally circulated around American elections about losers conceding to winners, about respecting the ballot outcome, about having some fidelity to truth. Those norms seem to have been kicked to the curb as well and it's not clear to me that leads to a healthier democracy. It seems to me to be leading to a weaker, more divided democracy.

Yascha Mounk:

Yeah. So the problem is not social norms as such, the problem is when social norms start to reconstrain people in extreme ways. I mean some of the examples I have in mind here is if really evangelical parents send the child to conversion therapy because the child is gay. Or if Turkish immigrants in Berlin as this happened on a number of occasions beat up or perhaps even murder their daughter because she is dating somebody from outside of the community. At those points to be free, we need to have protections against the state. But the state also needs to protect us against other actors in society, including our own communities. But I would even go further than that because this is really the question about a fundamental political settlement. There's a broader question about what should society feel like? What does integration feel like? How much commonality should we have?

Jim Lindsay:

Now how would you answer that question?

Yascha Mounk:

Let me try. So historically there's been two influential ways of talking about this. One is the melting pot which actually when you go back to read the play by Israel Zangwill that this is based on, is a pretty attractive idea. It has this wonderful love story of a Jewish immigrant and this aristocratic Russian daughter of a baron who fall in love. And then it turns out that her father was the general who overlooked the murder of much of his family. But they persevere against these incredible historical pressures to say, we will not be defined by our history. So there's actually a beautiful history to this notion of a melting pot which is often forgotten, but it has often been used in ways which basically say to be a true American you have to be similar to your neighbors. You have to cook the same dishes and you have to dress the same and you have to have the same manners.

Yascha Mounk:

And that I think is asking too much of immigrants. It is imposing a majority norm too strongly. In counter reaction to this, you then often got the image of something like the salad bowl or the mosaic which basically said we are going to have an association of associations. There's no need to have any similarity to your neighbors. As long as you're sort of peaceful, you don't have to have any contact with each other. And that I think is also dangerous because it allows for a deeply fragmented society. In which people no longer are capable of sustaining solidarity with each other, in which you do not have any sense of fellow feeling, in which you can't have any joint patriotism, in which in the extreme, all of the rights and duties that people have are structured by their own group. And so what I want to suggest is the metaphor, just the metaphor of a public park because what's striking about a public park is that I can go with my friends just to hang out within the group.

Yascha Mounk:

I don't have a duty to speak to anybody else. But I can also go there and sort of while I'm standing by myself start to chat with people who are sitting next to me and make new friendships. And we can look at this from the outside and say, what kind of society do we want? Do we want a society where nobody ever speaks to each other? Or do we want to encourage the kind of society where people make a free choice to engage with each other? And I think that very clearly we want the latter kind of society. We want to build the kind of public park in which people actually are in conversation with each other, in which they do have some voluntary but some real commonality.

Jim Lindsay:

There's another concept you introduced in the book that I'd like to have you talk about. And that's the idea of inclusive patriotism. What do you mean by that Yascha?

Yascha Mounk:

So look, I grew up in Germany as part of a Jewish family. And so the idea of patriotism has not come naturally to me because I'm certainly deeply aware of how deeply exclusionary it can be. And at the same time when I look around the world today, I also see what amazing positive force patriotism can sometimes mean. When you look at Ukraine at the moment it is patriotism that is inspiring millions of people to risk their lives to defend the independence of a country. And so I have reluctantly come to think of patriotism as a sort of half domesticated animal. It has real potential for exclusion, for being used in negative ways, that'll always stay there. But if we leave patriotism to the worse kinds of people, they're going to be able to use its powerful repertoire for their ends. And so we need to try to domesticate it.

Yascha Mounk:

We need to try to make it useful as best as we can. But that of course raises the question of, what does that patriotism look like? And I think there's sort of free conceptions here. One is an ethnic conception of nationalism. A conception that basically says to be a real American, you have to descend from the people of the Mayflower or something like that. Now, that's empirically unconvincing. Most members, not just in the United States which is long being an immigrant society, but also in Western Europe and Australia and other places now reject that kind of notion. They say, no, actually we have people who are true members of our society who do not have the same history of ethnic descent. And it's of course morally that because it excludes people who live here who have great contributions in our society from truly belonging in it. So a second kind of notion that political scientists and philosophers and intellectuals often deford to is that of civic patriotism, of constitutional patriotism.

Yascha Mounk:

And I certainly have a strong attachment to that. If I proudly became an American citizen about five years ago now, it's in part because I deeply value the United States constitution and I was very happy to pledge to defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And in fact, I think there's nothing more patriotic than the brave Russians who over the course over the last months have protested this war at great risks for themselves by saying, not in our name, not in the name of a Russian nation. That I think civic patriotism is insufficient for two reasons. First, because for most people, patriotism is not about politics. Most people just don't think about politics when they say that they love their country. And they may not know what the Seventh Amendment is, they may not know what's in the Declaration of Independence in any detail. And secondly, there's a kind of empirical puzzle where you know if you love the United States and that's just because of its values, then you should in theory love some other country if it adopted the same constitution tomorrow. But that's not going to be the case.

Yascha Mounk:

You might like them, you might be well disposed towards them but if Austria adopts the United States constitution tomorrow, that doesn't make you an Austrian patriot, that would be weird. And so I think we should also incorporate a third kind of understanding of patriotism and add that to the civic dimension. And that's a cultural patriotism because when most people say that they love their country, what we're talking about is its cities and its landscapes and its sounds and smells, its customs, its sort of informal scripts for how to deal with each other, its celebrities. And if you want, its TikTok stars and musicians. That is influenced by the history of a country in certain ways. But it's not a backward looking notion. It's one that actually is based on the dynamic and in a natural manner, diverse nations that we have in many democracies today. And it's a forward looking sense of common belonging. I think that already exists in a lot of societies and we shouldn't be shy to celebrate that.

Jim Lindsay:

On that note I will close up The President's Inbox for this week. My guest has been Yascha Mounk, Senior Fellow at the Council. Yascha's new book, The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure is out now. Yascha I want to thank you for joining me. You've written a very interesting and insightful book. There's a lot more to it that we weren't able to get into, but I want to thank you for spending some time chatting with me.

Yascha Mounk:

Thank you, really enjoyed this Jim.

Jim Lindsay:

As a reminder, you can win one of 10 free copies of The Great Experiment. Just go to cfr.org/giveaway by May 3rd to enter and to see the terms and conditions. Again, that is cfr.org/giveaway. You can also find the link to the giveaway in the show notes for the President's Inbox on cfr.org. Today's episode was made possible in part by the council's Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy. You can find out more about the future democracy project by going to cfr.org/future-democracy.

Jim Lindsay:

Please subscribe to The President's Inbox in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, wherever you listen and leave us your review, they help us get noticed and improve the show. You can find the books and articles mentioned in this episode as well as a transcript of our conversation on the podcast page for the President's Inbox on cfr.org. As always, opinions expressed in the President's Inbox are solely those of the host or our guests, not of CFR which takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. Today's episode was produced by Zoe Collins with senior producer Jeremy Sherlick. Zoe did double duty as our recording engineer. As always, thank you Zoe. Special thanks going to Margaret Gach for her assistance. This is Jim Lindsay, thanks for listening.

 

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