What is the connection between Belgian socialism and English as the official language of the US?
Posted by sanityinjection on July 23, 2008
Even many of those who follow international politics may be unaware that the small European nation of Belgium is facing a severe constitutional crisis. There has been serious talk of the country splitting in two, although this seems unlikely for the present. The root of the problem is the antagonism and distrust between Belgium’s French-speaking and Dutch-speaking communities.
Before I get to how this is at all relevant to Americans, let me go back a bit. Belgium became an independent nation in 1830 when it broke away from what is now called the Netherlands. The main difference was a religious one – Belgians are mostly Catholics while the Dutch are mostly Protestant. The other difference was that the Belgian clergy and upper classes spoke French rather than Dutch. Thus, in the new Belgium French was the official language. The Dutch-speaking or “Flemish” population did not like this much, and over the next century gradually gained enough political power to make Belgium a bilingual country.
After World War II the math changed. The steel industry of the French-speaking south (“Wallonia”) declined, while the service-oriented economy of the Flemish north grew. Economic power shifted north even while the majority of the population, and the political power remained in the poorer Wallonia. Decades of welfare state socialism meant that the wealth produced by the Flemish was taxed by the government and redistributed through government programs to the French-speaking Walloons.
Matters came to a head beginning in 1968 when the bilingual Catholic University of Louven was split into two separate universities, one French-speaking and one Dutch-speaking. This lead to increasing autonomy for the two regions of the country, which now mostly govern themselves. But many of the Flemish increasingly are tired of economically propping up the poorer Walloons, and the political power of those who would split the country into two is growing.
OK, now how does this all relate to the US? We are fortunate because with the exception of the South during the civil war, we’ve never had a large, dissatisfied minority group concentrated in one region of the country that could try to split away (though Utah’s Mormons came close at one point.) And even then, Southerners and Northerners shared a common language and heritage.
However, in the 21st century the demographics are changing. The Latino population of the southern and western states is growing by leaps and bounds. And more and more of the Latino immigrants in these states are not learning English. Now before I go any further, I have no problem with *legal* Latino immigration. Latinos work hard, serve in our military and contribute financially and culturally to America just as other ethnic groups have. Most Latinos view America as the land of opportunity and are happy to be here.
The problem, though, is that Latino communities are increasingly starting to demand that public business be conducted in Spanish, to accomodate the growing Spanish-speaking majorities. This would further discourage residents in these areas from learning English, and lead to a situation where one half of the country can barely even communicate with the other half. Combine that with the rise of Latino political power while economic power remains mostly in Anglo hands, with a left-wing Congress funding welfare programs for the Spanish-speaking states, and pretty soon we’ve got another Belgium right here in the US. Only it will be the Anglo north calling for separation.
Far fetched? Not over a period of decades, it’s not. It only took about 70 years for Belgium to go from bilingualism to separatism. The conclusions I draw are these: Immigrants who come to the US *must* learn English, and the public business of our country must always be conducted first and foremost in English. In the past, I have been opposed to declaring English the official language of the US because it effectively already is, and it seemed like an unnecessary provocation to do this. But I am starting to think it may well become necessary to prevent first cities, then states, from gradually supplanting English with Spanish and laying the foundations for a fundamental division of our country.
Let me be very clear: For me, this is not a racial issue. America is a better place because of its ethnic diversity. What we must avoid though, is creating a linguistic, economic, political, and cultural divide that breaks down along geographic lines.
This entry was posted on July 23, 2008 at 11:36 am and is filed under Foreign Affairs, Politics. Tagged: Belgium, English, Flemish, Latinos, official language, separatism, socialism, Spanish, welfare state. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.