Toleration vs Diversity
The point occurred to me most recently in my readings on Jewish law. For about two thousand years after Israel ceased to be an independent polity, Jews, scattered around the world, continued to live under Jewish law. Gentile rulers found it convenient to subcontract the job of ruling, and taxing, their Jewish subjects to the local Jewish communal authorities. One result was to preserve the differences between Jewish culture and the culture surrounding the communities of the diaspora.
What changed that was emancipation—the shift, beginning in the late 18th century, towards treating the Jewish subjects of Christian countries just like everybody else, as Italians or Germans or Frenchmen rather than as Jews living in Italy or Germany or France, as natives rather than resident aliens. Seen from some angles it was a large improvement. But from the point of view of cultural diversity as a good, it was a catastrophe. Jewish law, in particular, ceased to be a living, functioning legal system providing the legal framework for millions of people and became instead a combination of an intellectual game and a legal system applying to a limited subset of activities and enforced only by belief.
In the U.S. the process was almost total, which is why the fact that my ancestors were Jewish is only a minor element of my identity. Elsewhere it is still incomplete. I still remember, traveling in Europe as a graduate student, a conversation with a group of European strangers at (I think) a youth hostel. They wanted to know where I was from; I told them I was an American. Oddly enough, one of them asked to see my passport, so I showed it to him. At which point he told me that he was (I'm making up details--this was about forty years ago) French the same way I was American and another of the group was Italian and ... . They were all Jews, had presumably deduced from my name on my passport and other less obvious signs that I was Jewish, and to them that was a stronger identifier than nationality. And, as evidence that the emancipation was a slow process from the other side as well, I am told that it was not until sometime after the end of World War II that Swedish law changed to make it possible for a Jew to be elected to the legislature.
The same point occurred to me earlier in my studies of different legal systems. Gypsies, for about a thousand years, have maintained their very distinct cultural identity, including multiple distinct legal systems, despite being scattered as a minority through non-gypsy lands. As I interpret my readings on the subject, that identity is now under threat in the U.S. and Canada—because we are too tolerant.
The ultimate punishment under Gypsy law, in most times and places, was ostracism from the Gypsy community. That was a potent threat for people who believed that all non-gypsy were marginally human slime and (correctly) that the attitude was reciprocated by the non-gypsies surrounding them. It becomes less effective in places where gypsies, especially young gypsies, who are unhappy with the constraints of their own culture have a realistic option of merging into the surrounding culture. One result has been pressure on Gypsy institutions to relax their own constraints, under threat of losing control over their own people.
The point of this post is not to argue that it would be better if Americans hated Gypsies or Europeans saw Jews as aliens. Only that it would be different, and that one of the differences is one that many people see as good.