How the Civil Rights Act destroyed America’s cohesiveness


What keeps a society together?

The 14th-century Tunisian historian Ibn Khaldun coined the word ‘asabiyyah to describe a quality that stable groups must have to survive. The best translation I (or anyone else, for that matter) can suggest is “group cohesiveness,” but that doesn’t quite capture it. So much more is implied here, for though this cohesiveness arises spontaneously in small groups that share blood or custom, it also defines some large groups, such as successful nation-states or religions.

And there lies the problem, for large groups are always covertly incoherent. The smaller groups haven’t gone away; they’re just buried. This means that the ‘asabiyyah that holds large groups together is always precariously balanced and remains only as long as the cohesion of the overarching group is never weakened.

What this meant to Ibn Khaldun is that diversity means fragility.

Do we in the United States have group cohesion now?

No. Our ‘asabiyyah has collapsed and remains only in portions of our society. Instead, we have a country being torn apart by divisions. Not just one division — many. Any division is allowed. Even blatant racism is permissible. That’s the trouble when social cohesion collapses. It isn’t just one division that raises its ugly head. It’s all of them. All the divisions, once ignored in the cause of solidarity, now become licit. Why not? What cohesion is there to fall back on, except the lesser, local ones?

If we cast our minds back and try to think of a time when our country displayed cohesion between the groups that make it up and thus coherence in its actions and policies, we would need to return to the 1950s. It was not a time of perfect peace, and it was also a time of great injustice. But ‘asabiyyah does not require either peace or justice. It simply requires faith, conviction, and loyalty.

It’s always hard to argue for first causes, let alone proximate causes, for society is an example of a complex chaotic system. Nothing ever happens on its own. Nor are results ever simple or even singular. All this is the nature of chaos.

But single acts can trigger unpredictable results and thus begin the process of collapse. In my view, the trigger of our terrible current predicament was the Civil Rights Act of 1964.