Saturday, October 30, 2010

Multiculturalism and the left

A while back now, German Chancellor Merkel caused no small amount of consternation within the liberal-left everywhere with her announcement that the German experiment with "multikulti" was a failure (e.g., Yahoo News: "Merkel says German multi-cultural society has failed"). Now, partly this failure is just a result of some short-sighted labor policies that Europe in general, Germany in particular, has followed for years after WW2, of using immigrant labor to first rebuild, and now maintain, their societies (a policy that the US is having trouble with now as well). But little or no effort was made to assimilate these workers into the Western societies, and, whether out of necessity or a naive idealism, an ideology of "multiculturalism" was used to justify this, the idea being that "tolerance" will allow all the world's cultures to mingle freely while still preserving intact their distinct customs, beliefs, values, and practices. In Canada, this ideology underlay the use of a new metaphor for this mingling -- the idea of a cultural "mosaic" as opposed to the supposedly less tolerant American notion of the "melting pot". As a mosaic, however, it's a facade that's crumbling here as  everywhere.

One reason for this failure, which one would think would have been obvious, is that mixing cultures in this way changes them -- not a bad or insupportable thing in itself, but there is a rate of change beyond which people everywhere begin to feel that they are foreigners or aliens in their own land, and they resist this. But there's a larger and much more significant reason as well -- it can be seen in an essay by a self-described liberal, Susan Jacoby, entitled "Multiculturalism and Its Discontents": "I am an atheist," she writes, "with an affinity for non-fundamentalist religious believers whose faith has made room for secular knowledge. I am also a political liberal. I am not, however, a multiculturalist who believes that all cultures and religions are equally worthy of respect."  After quoting Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the effect that "'All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not. . . . The culture of the Western Enlightenment is better.' (italics in the original)", Jacoby goes on to lament the fact that so many of her fellow liberals have failed to grasp this about what's supposed to be their own cultural heritage.Worse, it's as though they're unnerved by such a clear and frank statement and are driven to a perverse sort of relativism that forces them to disavow it as a result. And this leads Jacoby to make some observations that, perhaps unwittingly, also say much about the relative positions of the political left and right in the contemporary world:
Finally, it is a politically strategic error as well as a form of moral blindness for liberals to push people like Hirsi Ali into the eager arms of the political Right. ...
This muddled thinking allows the American religious and political Right to misrepresent itself as the chief defender of Enlightenment values. More important, reflexive liberal multiculturalism fails every child being denied, in the name of faith and family, full access to the promise of this nation.
 At some point, it may be possible for Jacoby and many others like her to come to a realization that perhaps the American right today is representing itself accurately as the chief defender of Enlightenment values. And at that point a choice will be necessary -- between continued allegiance to an old but now reactionary political label, or to the values they thought that label stood for.


  1. perhaps the American right today is representing itself accurately as the chief defender of Enlightenment values

    Perhaps, perhaps not, morf. You think Sarah Palin has read the Federalist papers, or Hume, Burke, Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson, etc? Have you? Many people toss around "Enlightenment values" but don't quite realize what those values were (not a consensus, either--Burke's not Jefferson. Hume and Rousseau, for example, did not agree in terms of politics, or economics). I doubt Sarah Barracuda has made it through the Constitution or Declaration of Independence--indeed, Enlightenment values are completely opposed to theocracy of any sort (especially the Rev. Hagee or Brigham Young sort).

    Many if not most US Democrats--at least Pelosicrats-- pay little attention to Enlightenment principles either--or the US Constitution--and that is unfortunate. Neither party really cares to quote the Founding Fathers--it's considered non-PC. In that sense, Jacoby might have a point--yet it's really just another example of superficial ID politics (thanks to corporate media, and loudmouth pundits--). Economically speaking, the Democrats are at least slightly superior to the GOP or TP, however ugly their ID politics, pop-feminism, and multiculturalism may be to some--and that's the most important topic on the agenda.

    There may be a very few secular rightists --Heather McDonald and her cronies--but that's the exception. Instead of religion, H-Mac and Co turn to the likes of Ayn Rand--Im not convinced they might not have been better off with Jeezuss.

  2. You take too narrow and too stereotyped view of the right, J. "Enlightenment values" are just a shorthand for reason, freedom, equality of status, and the primacy of the individual -- and you don't have to have read the Federalist papers to embrace those. Nor do you have to have abandoned religion.

  3. No, they're not just a "shorthand"--that's the usual pundit reductionist view (ie your usual view). There are complexities to "Enlightenment" thinkers--they were not all republican capitalists, and someone like Mama Grizzly Palin's nearly the complete opposite of a cool-headed intellectual like Hume or Voltaire, much less Rousseau, who was essentially a socialist. So, like, perhaps avoid using terminology you don't quite understand.

    You don't really understand the GOP-populist mindset, and mistakenly think people like Palin or Beck stand for "real American values" when they stand for corporate greed and power, and the protestant church for that matter (or, worse, mormonism). The contemporary GOP should not be mistaken for WF Buckley or even Ayn Rands either. Palin, McDonell, McCain, Angle don't embrace Reason, freedom, equality of status. Hell no. They're embracing Unreason, non-freedom, and non-equality (at least as much as Demos are). Yll see. If the GOP wins control of the House, we'll probably see war in the Spring of 2011.

  4. So, like, perhaps avoid using terminology you don't quite understand.

    Funny, coming from someone who's clearly just picked up some names from a Dummy's Guide. Fwiw, the phrase "Enlightenment values" is in fact used as a shorthand, and is obviously not meant to convey the full complexity of multiple Enlightenment thinkers.

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  7. Time for a comment policy, I guess: they need to have some kind of substance apart from mere abuse or spam, and if they don't I'll just remove them.

  8. Time for censoring, morf man?

    You know, Im fairly charitable.

    Others online aren't, and like consider you sort of a closet-case David Duke (even some crooked timberers, hero)


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