BILINGUAL COUNTRIES….Matt Yglesias says today:

So long story short: I have no real conclusions to offer on this issue.

Thanks, Matt! That Harvard education really comes in handy, doesn’t it?

On a more serious note, Matt is addressing the issue of multilingual countries and responding to Chris Bertram’s post suggesting that it’s unlikely the EU will ever become “a democratic political arena in its own right.” I’ve long held an admittedly casual belief that two necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for successful nationhood are (a) contiguousness and (b) monolingualism. Countries that are split in two or that have different regions speaking different languages are subject to constant tensions, and eventually those tensions cause the country to either grind to a halt or else separate.

Unfortunately for my belief, there are plenty of counterexamples. Alaska and Hawaii seem perfectly happy to remain U.S. states, for example, and Switzerland gets along pretty well with 3? official languages. On the other hand, bilingualism causes causes no end of difficulties in Belgium and Canada and noncontiguous countries break apart all the time (Pakistan and East Timor, for example).

So, really, Matt’s non-conclusion doesn’t look quite so silly after all, does it? Still I think there’s something to my fuzzy theory, and it’s the reason I suspect that Puerto Rico will eventually become a sovereign country. Commonwealth-hood doesn’t seem like it can last forever, but the combination of noncontiguousness and Spanish as the dominant language seem like awfully high barriers to successful statehood.

On the other hand, it’s been 105 years and counting for Puerto Rico, so who knows how long commonwealth status can last? Maybe forever.

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