Mongrel nations

By Larry Solomon, published by the National Post on January 24, 2004

After the Romans left Britain in 410 AD, following 400 years of rule over the Celtic tribes, the Angles and the Saxons swept in to settle the lands, along with the Jutes. The conquering Vikings would soon establish their British settlements, and Danes would briefly rule the lands before the great Norman invasion of 1066.

The mongrel race that came of this extraordinary melding of Celtic, Roman, Germanic, Nordic and French cultures – the English – gave birth to a bottom-up system of common law and the longest standing parliamentary democracy in the world. The Jews that the Normans welcomed in the 12th century would help create the world’s greatest financial centre; the Huguenots that arrived in the 16th century the world’s greatest textile industry. This Mongrel Nation would launch the Industrial Revolution and command the world’s most important economy. It would defeat the Spanish Armada, then Napoleon and the French at Waterloo, to become the world’s greatest military power. Its Anglo-Saxon-Latino-Franco-Nordic language – the world’s most adaptable – would become the lingua franca of the world. Reinvigorated by immigrants from India, Pakistan, the West Indies, Hong Kong and others from the far-flung Commonwealth, Great Britain remains a major military, economic and cultural powerhouse to this day.

The only nation in modern times with a history of achievement to rival Great Britain is the United States, England’s greatest offspring, with an even more pronounced mongrel pedigree. Immigrants came seeking the freedom to practice their own religions and they came seeking the freedom to strike it rich. American openness then allowed the blossoming of the most technologically advanced, artistically innovative country on earth, revolutionizing society through inventions such as the automobile, airplane, motion pictures, and the computer.

Immigrants, particularly the non-English, share disproportionately in America’s wealth. One in five Americans of Russian and Scottish ancestry, and one in seven Hungarians, live in a millionaire household, while Americans of English origin, who became complacent, have only one chance in 14 of living in a millionaire household. Not only do minorities prosper in this Mongrel Nation, the smaller the minority, the more it prospers. Of the 15 smallest minority groups, all have at least twice their share of millionaires. Twelve per cent of America’s top 500 business entrepreneurs are first generation Americans.

Today, as has been the case for more than 200 years, America remains the destination of choice for those in the world who seek a better life elsewhere. Those who do not become American by coming to its shores nevertheless embrace its culture. They drink Coca-Cola, smoke Marlboros, watch American sitcoms and read American books. In the last half-century, the decline of European culture has been especially pronounced. The French, who once had an extraordinary film industry, are today more than twice as likely to go to the cinema to watch an American film as a French film.

It wasn’t always so. Italy once produced supermen the likes of Michelangelo and Da Vinci; France produced Voltaire and Cézanne, Germany Bach and Beethoven, the Netherlands Rembrandt and Vermeer. These once great trading nations, expansive, optimistic, and open to the world – have become inward looking, defeatist, and a shadow of their former selves. A recent survey asked Germans to identify their country’s greatest sons. They included no one born after 1900 who didn’t emigrate, apart from politicians such as Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, domestic entertainers unknown on this side of the Atlantic, and others with local reputations. Cool Britannia, meanwhile, has retained genius throughout the ages: in the arts with Shakespeare, Dickens, and the Beatles; in the sciences with Darwin and Newton, and Crick, who along with the American, Watson, discovered the double-helix of DNA.

The greats of European descent this century were more readily found on this side of the ocean. Albert Einstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 for the United States; Enrico Fermi fled Mussolini’s Italy in 1938 and built the first nuclear reactor in the U.S. Igor Sikorsky fled Communist Russia after the Russian Revolution in 1919 and invented the first helicopter in the U.S.

In their adopted land, immigrants great and small can shuck the strictures of prejudice, cross fertilize with cultures across the globe, succeed on their merits rather than their inherited privilege, and inspire native-born Americans to keep up. This melting pot now dominates the ranks of Nobel Prize winners, dominates art and theatre, dominates the great institutions of higher learning, and dominates industry. The U.S. accounts for about 30% of the world’s production. Its top five companies – Walmart, General Electric, Pfizer, Microsoft and Exxon/Mobil – have a market capitalization that exceeds US$1-trillion, rivalling that of all the companies listed on either the Paris or German bourses.

Next to the U.K. and the U.S., Canada stands third as a Mongrel Nation. Because it remains open to new people and new ideas, Canada is increasing its population and wealth and, sometime this century, could overtake most if not all continental European countries in both categories. Canada has built its success, as has the U.S., by welcoming more immigrants than just about any other country in the world. Canada tries, in fact, to settle even more immigrants than it does.

To find the mettle to succeed in this quest, Canada need only look at Europe, which has so tragically lost its way. By 2050, Europe’s population is slated to decline by 80-million people because it has closed its doors. Forgetting their own histories of assimilating foreign peoples and foreign influences, the French somehow reason they would no longer be French, the Germans that they would no longer be German, if their cultures absorbed the best of other lands. They see themselves as museum pieces, rather than creative works in progress, rather than Mongrel Nations.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Toronto-based Urban Renaissance Institute., E-mail:

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About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
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