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Divided We Fall: Group Rights in America

Are we fighting discrimination, or just organizing it into blocs?

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IRONICALLY, at a time when our 200-year-old government has been expanding individual freedom, we see the following:

* The group is becoming the basic unit of governmental protection, opportunities, and benefits;

* Injustices to individuals, and the absence in certain contexts of individuals according to their group proportion of the population, are automatically defined as group wrongs and responded to with group-based remedies;

* Policies and practices once designed to ensure an individual blindfolded justice and merit-based hiring and promotion practices are being changed to ensure preference and priority because of group characteristics;

* Ethnic, religious, racial, and sexual political organizations are proliferating to obtain benefits based on their group being;

* Societal goals are being redefined in terms of group proportional representation and equality of results, economically and politically.

By force of logic and politics, such patterns can only lead to the debasement of the individual's worth; the rise of new intergroup envies, resentments, and conflicts; increased social and governmental divisiveness; and the creation - and recreation - of invidious ethnic, racial, religious, and sexual classifications.

As government yields to the often competing demands of more than 100 distinct ethnic groups, thousands of religious sects, and countless special-interest organizations, this nation will be plagued with all the intergroup problems of many old and newly emerging nations of the world.

If such predictions echo 19th- and 20th-century nativists, they do so in appearance only. The xenophobia and Anglo-Saxon triumphalism that characterized nativist forebodings were unsubstantiated by reality. Southeastern European and Asian immigrants, the chief targets of nativists, did acculturate without weakening the democratic structure of government. They asked for no special or favored treatment. All they wanted was the same rights as other citizens.

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