The Great Experiment by Yascha Mounk review – a shallow dive into the diversity debate

This exploration of how to make diverse democracies work offers a political warning where none is needed

Speaking on German television in 2018, the liberal political scientist Yascha Mounk remarked that Germany was “embarking on a historically unique experiment – that of turning a monoethnic and monocultural democracy into a multi-ethnic one”. He was immediately deluged with emails from far-rightists who felt his comment corroborated their belief in a conspiracy to eradicate the white race. This might have prompted Mounk to reflect that the “experiment” metaphor, which carries certain negative connotations, was perhaps a less than optimal way to characterise mass migration and its consequences. Instead, he went away and wrote an entire 368-page book organised round this very theme.

The Great Experiment promises to show us “how to make diverse democracies work”, but contains very few actual policy proposals. For the most part it’s a mishmash of general principles, political truisms and syrupy platitudes, delivered in a register somewhere between a TED talk and an undergraduate dissertation. Mounk draws on social psychology to tell us what we already know: that, on the one hand, human beings have “a tendency to form in-groups, and discriminate against those who do not belong to them”; on the other, the “intergroup contact hypothesis” suggests people from different backgrounds are more likely to get along if they spend time with one another. The ideal diverse society should be neither “unduly homogenising” nor so fragmentary as to give rise to “cultural separatism”.

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