Why does the West entertain such a wrongheaded notion as multiculturalism?
by Bruce S. Thornton
The news that the London terrorist attacks were carried out by second-generation Muslim immigrants should not surprise us. For years now we in the West have indulged a whole set of destructive ideas whose bitter fruit we will all continue to harvest, as more and more unassimilated and disaffected immigrant children turn against the countries that welcomed their parents and provided them with a prosperity and freedom unknown in their countries of origin.
This baneful idea goes by the name of multiculturalism. Don’t be fooled by marketing: multiculturalism is not simply a call to respect cultures different from one’s own. In reality multiculturalism is a therapeutic melodrama of Western crimes against peaceful peoples “of color” who were subjected to racism, sexism, slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and environmental degradation. Given its record of evil, the West owes reparations to all those victims, especially those who emigrate to the West. There these victims will be given public assistance and soothed with repeated public assertions and recognitions of their culture’s superiority, coupled with ritualistic confessions of Western guilt and dysfunction.
Some consider this “cultural relativism,” but it isn’t really. A genuine cultural relativism would hold that there are no universal standards by which to judge any culture. But most of the time, those who claim that cultures can be judged only in their own terms have no compunction in judging and condemning the West. Nor will they accept that Nazi Germany or the antebellum South or apartheid South Africa were just “different” and so beyond our judgment. And of course, if you pin them down on the standards and values and principles on which they base their condemnations, these will all turn out to be ideals like freedom or human rights or equality that have their origins and most complete development in the West.
This intellectual contradiction suggests that something other than coherent principle lies behind “Occidentalism,” the multicultural caricature of Western culture. Mythic ideas like the Noble Savage account for some of multiculturalism’s allure: ever since the Greeks, visions of peoples living simpler, more spontaneous lives have attracted those living in more complex and sophisticated societies. The Romantic fascination with the exotic explains too the West’s relentless appropriation of non-Western cultural artifacts. More important, I think, is the Communist ideology that made colonialism and imperialism into Capitalism’s fiendish survival mechanisms. Since the Western proletarians weren’t going to play their appointed historical role — they were too busy improving their standard of living in free market economies — the Third World became the new proletariat that would rise up and overthrow the evil Capitalist order. Thus anti-colonialism and revolution became the Communist tool for attacking the West and its ideals. That’s why the anti-globalization movement — a species of debased Romantic dissatisfaction with modern civilization — finds some of its strongest allies among the European communist and socialist parties.
Likewise, the Arab jihad against Israel, having failed to destroy her by military force, has been adept at camouflaging its war of extermination as anti-colonial resistance on the part of dark-skinned “others” oppressed by an outpost of Western imperialism. So too with the larger jihad against the West, which is explained as a response to continuing neo-colonial incursions against the religion of “peace and tolerance.” This propaganda gains traction from the readiness of many Westerners to accept a false history that denigrates their own culture and explains away its phenomenal success at providing the most freedom and prosperity for the greatest number of people. This self-loathing has become a banal received idea, visible everywhere in our culture, from movies and Disney cartoons to grade-school history textbooks and university GE courses. Whether people sincerely believe this distortion of history, or adopt it as an intellectual pose they think sophisticated, the net result is to weaken the pride in and love for one’s own culture and country necessary for both to survive.
More important, if we Westerners proclaim in both our popular and high culture that our way of life is not the best, that it is tainted by historical crimes, that other ways are in critical respects superior, why then should we be surprised that immigrants agree with what many of our cultural and intellectual elites have been telling the world for decades now? At the same time the West has welcomed immigrants we have abandoned the one thing that can make immigration work: the requirement that the immigrant assimilate to our culture and acknowledge that by virtue of his making it his home he thinks it is superior to the culture he left. In the U.S. this meant learning English, learning American history, American political ideals, American heroes and stories. It meant making America his home, the object of his affection he would fight and die for, as many immigrants have done and continue to do. If the immigrant wanted to keep something of his own culture, he could do that privately, through fraternal organizations or his church. But American public education and culture were not obligated to celebrate the numerous cultures immigrants had abandoned and, by doing so, had proclaimed to be inferior to America at some fundamental level.
Today, however, our public culture and education are supposed not just to acknowledge but to celebrate as superior these cultures the immigrant has abandoned, and to allow him to create a separatist enclave in which that old culture lives on no matter how much it contradicts Western political ideals. In the case of Muslims in England, this process has been allowed to go on for decades, resulting in a widespread distaste, if not hatred, for the country that has given them freedom and opportunity. Huddled in ethnic enclaves, many Muslims indulge and nourish a hatred of the West and its ideals even as these provide them freedom, opportunity, and in many cases social welfare subsidies. And if anyone should protest and suggest that the immigrant should assimilate to the culture that has provided him these goods, he will be accused of xenophobia or jingoism or ethnocentrism or racism or some other heinous crime, not just by the ethnic lobbies but by other Westerners.
We have allowed a dangerous virus to infect the West. No nation, no people can survive if they think their way of life is no better than any other, or if they scorn and slight their national ideals and values. Ultimately, such people will always be vulnerable to those who do think their way is better — just as we see today with many Muslim immigrants in Europe. Indulging our multicultural fantasies, we have subsidized, coddled, and abased ourselves before people who, as the attacks in London demonstrate, are willing, on behalf of the culture that had failed their parents, to murder and terrorize the culture that has given them a freedom and opportunity that hardly exist in most Islamic countries.
To demand that immigrants assimilate and pledge allegiance to their new homes is not xenophobia or racism; it is rather to demand that those who choose to come to the West and enjoy its political and economic goods respect, honor, and embrace the ideals and principles that created those goods in the first place. And it is to recognize that yes, a price must be paid: the discarding of those old ways and ideals that contradict or compromise the new values. After all, by coming to the West the immigrant has already voted with his feet for the Western way. If he now finds that he made the wrong choice and that he believes the culture he left is in fact superior, then he is free to go back.
©2005 Victor Davis Hanson