The tolerance advantage is increasingly multipolar.
Nov 2, 2010

The tolerance advantage is increasingly multipolar.

I have recently read an excellent book by Amy Chua about the role of tolerance in the rise and fall of history's hyperpowers.  Her thesis is essentially that tolerance is a factor that lead to the success and longevity of the most significant empires and that intolerance led to their decline. Examples include empires such as the Roman, Persian, Mogul, Tang, British and American empires.

I have talked previously about how the world is becoming increasingly multipolar. I was referring to things like economic, cultural, diplomatic and military strength. However, the case can be made that many other places in the world are catching up or even surpassing the relative tolerance advantage that the US had. If we accept Amy Chau's thesis, the result is we should expect a world with other regions at near American tolerance levels to result in a multipolar world with no sustainable net American advantage.

A key distinction is that this is a "relative" tolerance. America's history, by present standards, is littered with obscene intolerance towards blacks who were enslaved, towards the native American populations as well as women, many waves of immigrants, gays, etc. However, relative to the situation in Europe, the US was relatively more tolerant. Their willingness to assimilate people from cultures around Europe and many Christian and Jewish religions was a great boon that, as Amy Chau documents, was instrumental in the rise of America. Today, on an objective scale, the US is far more tolerant however it may well be less relatively tolerant than before and so its competitive, relative tolerance advantage is diminished. The original advantage that the US had over Europe, for instance, is very much minimized now that Europe has embraced the kind of pan-Christian and Jewish religious tolerance it once lacked.

Of course, America today is far from an ideal of tolerance. Tolerance towards mexicans and Muslims is very low, large inequities remain for blacks and women, LGBT individuals are still denied basic rights and the like. These are problems which manifest themselves in many forms in many countries. Intolerance, bigotry and racism still abound. However, from Brazil to India, South Africa to Sweden, tolerance is slowly improving. The enormous relative advantage the US once enjoyed is being eroded away and we might expect this to lead to an increasingly multipolar world.

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