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Conservative Multiculturalism?

Today, to criticise multiculturalism, one is invariably derided as 'right wing' or 'reactionary'. Conversely, to champion multiculturalism, one is invariably perceived as 'progressive' or 'of the left'. But it should be, and historically it has been, the other way around. Multiculturalism represents the antithesis of the Enlightenment principle of colour-blindness and the notion of the universality of humankind - while the fetishisation of ethnic particularism is a quintessentially Tory ideal. The liberal-left's love affair with multiculturalism today is a betrayal of what it used to stand for. ~Patrick West, spiked-online.com

It is interesting to note that the introduction to Mr. West's pamphlet, The Poverty of Multiculturalism, is apparently written (perhaps for maximum effect) by the author of The Liberal Mind, Kenneth Minogue. Indeed, Mr. West's aim in this article (in addition to relocating ethnic particularism on the Right and making clear that it is a very bad thing) might be seen as an attempt to sort out the contradictions of the liberal mind, which desires at once the universal and rationalistic ordering principles of the Enlightenment as well as an (insane) confidence in the wisdom of allowing maximal freedom and expression to individuals and, by extension, entire groups. But, as we will find, the contradictions are really only apparent--the lumiere and the diversity-monger share common beliefs and goals. Though it may not be readily apparent to Mr. West, many liberals' embrace of religious minorities and their advocacy for those minorities to practise their religions at work and school, for example, are aimed at dissolving and overthrowing the cultural norms of the old society they are trying to obliterate.

First, some remarks on multiculturalism might be in order. Multiculturalism is a nonsensical word and a ludicrous concept. Many cultures may exist side by side, they may borrow from one another and they may gradually merge together or disappear, but no society can be "multicultural." No conservative has ever been a multiculturalist, nor can he ever be without ceasing to be conservative.

Believing that ethnic difference is normal and desirable, that one's own ethnic loyalty is something that is part of sane life and one's own ethnic identity is something to be cultivated, which form a part of a paleoconservative view, is not to believe that myriad peoples should live cheek by jowl under a regime of enforced tolerance for one another's contradictory and alien values and customs. The latter is multiculturalism. It exists solely as a vehicle for the self-destruction of the decaying dominant cultures in Western countries. It is something used by cultural renegades to destroy their own way of life, a way of life that they have come to despise. A love and respect for one's own place, history and people does not translate into an amorphous delight in all places, histories and peoples, which is what multiculturalism proposes to embody.

An acknowledgement that ethnic and cultural differences are real and significant, derived from common sense and a thorough acquaintance with history, is not the same as the multiculti urge to highlight and "celebrate" differences, an urge which has no other purpose than to undermine everyone's sense of belonging to his own place and people by presenting cultures as mere options on a menu (literally and figuratively). (It might also be worth noting that multiculturalism would be impossible to realise without an influx of cultural minorities who tend to demonstrate in their very departure from their own lands a lack of affinity and loyalty to those lands.)

Multiculturalism is a purely leftist enterprise and always has been--it is the cultural assault on Christian norms and virtues, as well as on the national traditions through which these have been mediated over time, that has always been part and parcel of the lumieres' contemptuous attitude towards Christianity. In this sense, there is no contradiction between the heritage of the lumieres and Ken Livingstone--if Voltaire sang the praises of the Sultan, the Red Mayor simply embraces an Islamic enemy closer to home. The spirit and principles of the two are approximately the same. In their mutual contempt for Christian civilisation, Enlightenment rationalists and multiculturalists are united and stem, in fact, from the same root of moral insanity.

In the normal course of things, one culture will tend to predominate and will normally control all public discourse and norms. It is only in those moments when the leading culture of any society has begun collapsing or committing suicide that its renegade members begin to imagine that many different and rival ways of life, habits and customs can occupy the same space. It is natural that cultural minorities would want to encourage this delusion, as it is the best way to establish and elevate their cultural norms and ensure that their practices and customs survive while those of other groups perish from lack of reproduction. Anyone who belongs to the predominant culture, and who is committed to preserving it, is as far from being in sympathy with the idea of multiculturalism as it is possible to be.

Daniel Larison | October 12, 2005


I agree, Mr. Larison, but the last sentence might concede too much. The conservative can take delight in other places, histories and peoples precisely because he recognizes them as distinct from (and not reducible to) his own. Thus they can shed interesting light on our culture, remind us of the contingent and transient nature of everything man-made, fascinate and amuse us and sometimes humble us as well.

It seems to me that it is the liberal multiculturalist who takes no real delight in other cultures. The message of multiculturalism is that fundamentally we're all just the same. It is an attempt to reassure oneself that everyone really, at bottom, is "just like me". To borrow (or maybe adapt a bit) from Kolnai: the liberal sees other men, and societies, as mirrors in which his own likeness is reflected. Thus the idea that different cultures can be jumbled together in one place without conflict--it's easy to believe such things when you conceive of culture as funny dances and weird but tasty restaurant food.

To admit real and irreconcilable differences among cultures would be to concede that there is necessarily a "limitedness" to human existence that undermines the essential liberal understanding of man as complete in himself.

I appreciate the effort you are making on your site, by the way. It's genuinely impressive. (Andrew Cunningham*)

*I'm not sure how I get TypePad to stop calling me "maskinonge" :)

maskinonge | 10/23/05 13:32

Sorry, I meant "TypeKey". Also, my proper url is attached to this comment.

maskinonge | 10/23/05 14:03

Thanks for your kind remarks about the site, Mr. Cunningham. The last month has not been very productive here on account of my field examination, but I hope to get back to more posting soon.

You have a fair point. Conservatives can take an interest and can delight in other histories and peoples, in part because they recognise that cultural and ethnic diversity is part and parcel of human existence and an inevitable product of historical change. I think that we don't ever pretend that we can "understand" another culture, inasmuch as I think we doubt the capacity of any person to move out of his tradition and phronema, if you will, to embrace another fully. This is that recognition of "limitedness" that you mentioned, and here you have hit upon the heart of the difference that I was trying to explain.

What I should have stressed in this post is that the embrace of one's own cultural and ethnic identities, the acceptance of the persistence of cultural diversity and the preservation of cultural boundaries such diversity implies are all alien to the spirit of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism desires to eradicate cultural distinctiveness wherever it may be--Western renegades may be using it to destroy their own traditions, but ultimately they and their fellow multicultis would want to reduce every culture to a drab and empty uniformity. In this sense, multiculturalism is like dropping Agent Orange on a forested wildlife preserve.

I would go so far as to say that this is not only a gnostic urge, especially in the sense that Voegelin uses the term gnostic, but it is also a demonic one in its drive for the disillusionment and alienation of men.

Daniel Larison | 10/31/05 12:12

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