The Multicultural Morass
First it was Angela Merkel. Back in 2010, the German Chancellor observed that the dream of multicultural harmony, according to which people of radically different backgrounds and aspirations would “live side-by-side,” had “failed, utterly failed.” Immigrants, she said, were welcome, but they needed to work harder to integrate into German society, not least by learning German.
The Brits are awakening to this home truth as well. Late last month, The Daily Telegraph reported, a coalition of MPs announced a plan whereby children would be taught a “common culture” and immigrants would be expected to assimilate to British society. “We believe in certain values,” their report declared, “and will actively promote them: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; democracy and the rule of law. Long-standing British values of tolerance are the bedrock of our society. We will champion a united British identity, across class, colour and creed.” The strategy, The Telegraph went on to note, advocated the teaching of British history and culture and favored English as the national vernacular.
Back in 2010, Ms. Merkel’s remarks occasioned a firestorm of protest among liberal elites in the West, who could see as well as anyone that the “immigrants” the Chancellor had in mind were chiefly self-segregating Muslims from Turkey. It’s no secret that the British “integration strategy” is also aimed primarily at Muslims, and we suspect that it will occasion similar criticism from the Left.
But why? Are not the observations of Ms. Merkel and that coalition of British MPs simply common sense? Back in 1913, Teddy Roosevelt observed that “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin … would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.” Update “squabbling nationalities” and you can make a kindred point about the multicultural imperative of today.
Back at the turn of the last century, the issue in the United States was encouraging people from different countries and cultures to assimilate to the American “melting pot.” It’s trickier today in Europe. On the one hand, there is a largely self-segregating population of Muslims. On the other, you have the ideology of multiculturalism, born and bred by Western elites, which sings the siren song of “diversity” and “equality of cultures,” but always with an Orwellian twist: “All cultures are equal, but some (in particular, some non-Western) cultures are more equal than others.” This is the dirty little secret about multiculturalism that Ms. Merkel and now some vigilant British MPs have exposed. In essence, as Samuel Huntington noted in his book Who Are We?, multiculturalism is “anti-European civilization… . It is basically an anti-Western ideology.” Multiculturalists claim to be fostering a progressive cultural cosmopolitanism distinguished by superior sensitivity to the downtrodden and dispossessed. In fact, they encourage an orgy of self-flagellating liberal guilt, which is as impotent as it is insatiable.
That’s the curious thing about multiculturalism: it is a Western export that is itself anti-Western. Born in the academy, it is the creature of political correctness. Wherever the imperatives of multiculturalism have touched the curriculum, they have left broad swaths of anti-Western attitudinizing competing for attention with quite astonishing historical blindness. Courses on minorities, women’s issues, and the Third World proliferate; the teaching of mainstream history slides into oblivion. “The mood,” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote in The Disuniting of America, “is one of divesting Americans of the sinful European inheritance and seeking redemptive infusions from non-Western cultures.”
But as the tocsins sounded by Ms. Merkel and that coalition of British MPs remind us, multiculturalism is not only an academic phenomenon. The attitudes it fosters have profound social as well as intellectual consequences. One consequence has been a sharp rise in the phenomenon of immigration without—or with only partial—assimilation: a dangerous demographic trend that threatens national identity in the most basic way.