It was gratifying that President Bush came out firmly against the University of Michigan’s versions of affirmative action, and that his Justice Department filed an amicus brief to that effect. Yet the President found it necessary—in today’s climate of opinion—to pay lip service to the concept of “diversity.” Yet however rhetorically fashionable this may be, it is nonetheless mindless.

President Bush might be reminded that the motto of the United States is “e pluribus unum,” or “from many, one.” Originally, this referred to the one union formed from the many states. It became the motto of the country because we had to fight a great civil war to prevent the manyness of the states from destroying the oneness of the union. What led manyness nearly to destroy oneness was the presence of slavery in many of the states. The diversity that tolerated the difference between slavery and freedom had become intolerable. A crisis had been reached in which, according to the greatest American, the house divided had to cease being divided. It had to become either all free or all slave.

Diversity in the service of freedom might be a very good thing. Diversity in the service of slavery might be a very bad thing. To allow slavery to be introduced into free territories, where it had not hitherto existed, was, Abraham Lincoln held, a very bad thing. His opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, held that it was a sacred right, belonging to the people of each territory, to decide for themselves whether or not to have slavery among their domestic institutions. According to Douglas, Lincoln wanted to destroy the diversity upon which the union had subsisted, by insisting that all the states ought to be free. But for Douglas himself, the principle of “popular sovereignty” did not admit of exceptions. There was to be no diversity, no deviation from the right of the people to decide. For Lincoln the wrongness of slavery meant that no one, and no people, had the right to decide in its favor. For Lincoln, the principle of human equality, “that all men are created equal,” did not admit exceptions.

Ask yourself: if you or a loved one is to undergo brain or heart surgery, does it matter whether the surgeons who will operate had been selected for medical school for any other reason than their aptitude for medicine and surgery? Even if there were no quotas, should race have been “taken into consideration” in their selection? Consider the hairline life and death decisions that surgeons make all the time. Does not every consideration, however slight, apart from aptitude, dilute the qualifications of surgeons for surgery? The next time you are crossing a great bridge, do you not rely upon the qualifications of the engineers and builders to ensure your safety? What does the skin color of the classmates of doctors or engineers have to do with their medicine or their engineering? Is it not their professional qualification that matters, and not either the sameness or the differences from which they came? Is not the same true if we are seeking mathematicians, physicists, economists, or generals? In each case, what is apt for the end in view may be regarded as good, what is inapt may be regarded as bad.

“Diversity” as an abstraction has no meaning. Today, however, it means racial preference and nothing else. A commitment to diversity, apart from the ends it may serve, is absurd.

Harry V. Jaffa

January 17, 2003