A country must have tolerance toward diversity if it wants to achieve global dominance, says bestselling author and globalization expert Amy Chua.
Conversely, history has repeatedly seen intolerance in the event of a hyperpower's downfall, says Chua in her latest book, Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance—and Why They Fall.
A Yale Law School professor, Chua will be in Ottawa on May 9 to speak about her book. Her presentation is part of the Canadian Tulip Festival's Celebration of Ideas program.
Chua explains that hyperpowers are "societies that achieved such extraordinary economic and military might that they basically dominated the world." Day of Empire analyzes seven such societies in history: Persia, Rome, Tang Dynasty China, the Mongols, the Dutch, the British, and ending with the modern-day United States.
Hyperpowers are few because it's much more normal to have a multi-polar world with many different powers of roughly equal strength competing, said Chua.
Chua's surprising thesis is that, although other conditions such as leadership, natural resources, and luck play a role, "every single hyperpower in history was strikingly tolerant on its rise to global dominance.
"This kind of tolerance is a condition for achieving this dominance, and conversely the decline of these hyperpowers has repeatedly coincided with intolerance, a turn to xenophobia."
Tolerance doesn't usually come to mind when one thinks of the Mongols or the British Empire. But Chua says she uses the word not in the modern sense of human rights, equality, or respect, but rather "letting lots of different kinds of people, regardless of ethnicity, skin colour, language, or background live, prosper, and participate in your society."
In ancient times this was the only way an empire could build the biggest army and conquer more territory. However, "immigration becomes the key as you go into modern times," Chua says.
To be globally dominant today, a society has to be "at the very edge of the human capital frontier, the very edge of the technological frontier."
The world's best human capital—the most intelligent, creative, and driven people—is never going to be found in one ethnicity or religious group, says Chua. Therefore, to become a hyperpower today a country must be the most tolerant of all countries in order to attract the best and brightest from all over the world.
Why did those hyperpowers in history reverse their good policies of tolerance? Chua says that in almost every case, increasing diversity sowed the seed of decline because "there was no glue, no connection to hold all those people together."
"That's actually one of the challenges facing the United States today," she says. It would appear that the U.S. is losing its tolerance, given some of the policies adopted after the September 11 terrorist attack in New York.
But Chua sees herself as an optimist. While some people think the U.S. is definitely on a decline, she believes this is not necessarily the case. Rather, as a hyperpower the U.S. should not misunderstand what has been its "secret for success" all along.
It is not imperialism or strong military aggression, but "just being a magnet, continually being able to pull in talented and enterprising people from all over the world," says Chua. The key is "to find some kind of common values, political identity, or bond" to hold together all the people it dominates worldwide.
As a democracy and in an age of national sovereignty and human rights, Chua says the only way for the U.S. to continue to do well is through technological, economic, and moral power. In fact, its strong military is due to its technological dominance, which is very much an immigrant creation.
Born in the U.S., Chua is the daughter of Chinese immigrants from the Philippines. She notes that if her thesis is correct, today's China cannot become a hyperpower. Not only is it "the opposite of an immigration society," the government's authoritarian nature is another major problem.
Although sadly many brutally intolerant societies did become very rich and powerful over the course of history, like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Chua says that societies that lack tolerance could never become a hyperpower.
"If people feel there is a lot of corruption, that hard work doesn't always translate, or you just can't speak you mind, those will be reasons that at least some talented people will want to leave China."
Moreover, "intolerance leads to unhappiness and then a government has to waste resources suppressing movements," said Chua. "It's much, much better and more efficient in a way to let people rise."
Amy Chua's presentation is part of Celebridée, the Canadian Tulip Festival's Celebration of Ideas program, which features a line-up of brilliant thinkers from around the world. The festival, in its 55th year in Canada's capital region, celebrates the tulip as a symbol of International Friendship. The festival runs from May 2 to 19 and is expected to attract about 500,000 visitors this year. For more information and to purchase tickets, see www.tulipfestival.ca and www.celebridee.com or call 1-8