A Spanish Lesson for America

Defend our liberties and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindred and tongues.

~ from a prayer by Thomas Jefferson

I love Article 3 of Spain's constitution, ratified in December 1978:

El castellano es la lengua española oficial del Estado. Todos los españoles tienen el deber de conocerla y el derecho a usarla.

That is, "Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it."

Spaniards strike me as cosmopolitan folk, yet their organic law ordains uniformity with regard to language. What's up with that?

Perhaps the architects of Article 3 were devotees of the great anti-totalitarian thinker Ludwig von Mises, who observes in Nation, State, and Economy that "the essence of nationality lies in language." (I doubt they even heard of Mises, but Spain still has a liberal tradition going back to the 1500s with scholars like Father Juan de Mariana.)

Mises — whose languages included German, French, English, Latin, and Greek — makes this observation in the chapter "The Nation as a Speech Community," where he adds:

Community of language binds and difference of language separates persons and peoples. If someone finds the explanation of the nation as a speech community perhaps too paltry, let him just consider what immense significance language has for thinking and for the expression of thought, for social relations, and for all activities of life.

These points seem elementary, even superfluous. The former is true but hardly the latter given the extent to which an American language is considered objectionable — indeed, indictable.

Take the case of R.D.'s Drive-In restaurant, owned and operated by Richard, Shauna, and Steven Kidman in Page, Arizona.

Located near the Navajo Reservation, Navajo are the bulk of R.D.'s patrons and employees. In May 2000, a female Navajo employee complained about insulting sexual remarks by employees in Navajo. Navajo patrons complained about similar conduct.

In response, the Kidmans made the following policy: "While the owner is paying you as an employee, you are required to use English at all times. The only exception is when the customer cannot understand English. If you feel unable to comply with this requirement, you may find another job."

Four employees complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On September 27, 2002, the EEOC sued the Kidmans for violating the employees' "civil rights."

A "right" to speak a foreign language on someone else's property? What's next, a "right" to hold an Islamist rally in a church? (From a proprietary point of view, the Kidmans have the right to require Dutch-only or Gaelic-only as much as English-only. R.D.'s belongs to them, after all, or so justice would require.)

A federal agency persecuting a family restaurant for promoting etiquette — I doubt James Madison contemplated this when he wrote in Federalist No. 45, "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined."

The cost of legal defense alone will crush the Kidmans, who have owned R.D.'s for almost a quarter of a century. "Fight it or don’t fight it, either way I’m broke," Richard Kidman remarks.

What's happening to this family is an atrocity and exemplifies Paul Gottfried's description of multiculturalism as a "secular theocracy" in Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt. The EEOC's inquisitors will sacrifice the transgressors on the federal altar to satisfy the Gods of Diversity.

I generally scoff at prescriptions to emulate Europe, but in this case I think Spain's Misesian Article 3 is instructive. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution aren't in the language of Pancho Villa, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, etc., and American nationhood doesn't exist if English is an option instead of an expectation. (Of course, preservation of nationhood shouldn't exclude study of foreign languages. Only a schmuck boasts about being monolingual.)

"A German is one who thinks and speaks German." Mises' words are just as germane (pun intended) to the role of English in American identity.

I await indictment by the EEOC for Heresy against Diversity.

February 3, 2003