“Cultural diversity” has replaced “cultural exceptionalism” in the French-inspired, European rhetoric. But in actuality, the two terms cover the same kind of cultural protectionism. The idea that a culture can preserve its originality by barricading itself against foreign influences is an old illusion that has always produced the opposite of the desired result. Isolation breeds sterility. It is the free circulation of cultural products and talents that allows each society to perpetuate and renew itself.

The proof of this goes back to the old comparison between Athens and Sparta. It was Athens, the open city, that was the prolific fount of creation in letters and arts, philosophy and mathematics, political science, and history. Sparta, jealously guarding its “exceptionalism,” pulled off the tour de force of being the only Greek city not to have produced a single notable poet, orator, thinker, or archi ...