Borders, Language, Culture

November 11th, 2008

It’s been said that borders, language, and culture are the essential elements of nationhood.

Borders define the physical space a nation lives in the same way the property line around our homes or the walls of our apartments define the space that is ours. Within this space, we define and enforce the standards and conditions of our lives. We may still care about those who exist outside our space, and we may try to help others in need, but at the end of the day we go home. We don’t tolerate uninvited guests, including those who haven’t built the same quality of lives and homes for themselves and who feel that we must share ours.

Language defines a nation in many critical ways. We use it to talk and write to each other on every aspect of life. It’s the medium of expression for everything from business to philosophy, and one standard language is essential to our ability to function. Successful polyglot countries are rare. Switzerland is one example with multiple accepted languages, but even there it’s expected that almost everyone will speak one or at most two of the most common. The many failed countries of Africa are more instructive. In most of these countries, the languages of their former colonial powers provide a basis for educated, literate expression, but they are undermined by a bewildering array of tribal and regional tongues.

Culture, finally, is what we are and what we expect to find around us. It’s our art, literature, schools, recreation, entertainment, history, traditions, and customs. It provides the basis for our sense of personal and national identity. And yes, religion is an integral part of it. America happens to be founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and even if our individual beliefs vary from that tradition, we all swim in the same cultural sea. A common religious tradition, notwithstanding variations in individual beliefs, creates a culture conducive to peaceful existence. The co-existence of two or more contradictory religions in one culture usually creates conflict and often results in violence.

None of this means that immigrants are never allowed to enter our borders, any more than we never invite guests into our homes. We don’t have to have an official language, even though we have the right to expect that those around us speak our language and that it will be taught in our schools. And while we can and should appreciate and even promote cultural diversity, we must retain the right to defend against pernicious influences and outright attacks on the cultural standards that define who we are as a people.

Protection of the borders, language, and culture of its people is an essential function of government. Over the years successive federal administrations, often abetted by state and local governments, have to one degree or another failed to perform this essential function. We have the right to expect more, and we must demand it.

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