45 Years, 45 Days: Why the American Experiment Works


For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.

Writing in Reason's May 1993 issue, Virginia Postrel explained why the "extraordinary experiment" that is the United States of America "will continue to work as long as the multiculturalists of the left and the monoculturalists of the right aren't allowed to impose their visions on America."

In the fall of 1978 I left the religious, conservative, biracial, slow-paced culture of South Carolina for the secular, liberal, multi-ethnic, intense culture of Princeton University. Like most immigrants, I was looking for a better life in a place I only half understood. Like many immigrants, I found educational and economic opportunities greater than any in my homeland. And I assimilated–dropped most of my accent, changed my politics and my religion, stopped trying to get a tan. I did these things not because anyone foisted a common culture upon me but because they made me happy.

That is how, and why, most immigrants assimilate. Not because they hate themselves or deny their roots. Not because the government has prohibited their native tongue or forced them to swear allegiance to a new religion. Not because they've gone through the homogenizing experience of public school. Assimilation is a combination of willful self-fashioning (11 percent of the Mormons in L.A. are Latino; they didn't accidentally convert) and unconscious adaptation. I dropped most of my twang because prejudiced people, on hearing it, would think me stupid and a bigot; I replaced it with a hodge-podge of Northeastern strains, because that is where I lived. Happiness and practicality, the pursuit of personal furfillment and financial success, preserve the common culture. A common purpose has nothing to do with it.

America won't crack up in the next 25 years because its mosaic is not the one the Balkanizing multiculturalists describe. America is a mosaic not of groups but of individuals, each of whom carries a host of cultural influences, some chosen, some inherited, some absorbed by osmosis. That mosaic is held together by the pursuit of happiness, the most powerful mortar ever conceived. Left alone, it will long endure.