The enemy of multiculturalism is not necessarily our friend…

A common criticism of multiculturalism is that it aims at "the disuniting of America." In his 1992 book by that title historian Arthur Schlesinger, who has also celebrated the liberal Democratic achievements of FDR and the Kennedy family, bemoans the descent of Americans into a collection of  hyphenated minorities. Instead of upholding our shared political culture, Schlesinger's villains stress the value of difference. They invoke not an American people held together by democratic, pluralist values but rather distinctive group identities coexisting in the same general society.

Although Schlesinger also insists that Western societies have a right to transmit their civilization "because it is theirs," he complains repeatedly about living in a "balkanized" country. Apparently this balkanization comes from the refusal to accept the values Schlesinger wants Americans to venerate, and from being too indulgent toward diversity. Sociologist Nathan Glazer, longtime Commentary contributor and author of We Are All Multiculturalists Now has described the same process as "the disaggregating of American culture."

Much of this lament can be found, famously, in Alan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind - complaints that Americans have ceased to be what they once were, a people united by a human rights ideology and enforcing democracy and equality throughout the world. For Bloom, this straying of civic virtue has come about because of "the German connection." Various nineteenth-century German historical thinkers and the anti-democratic existentialists Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger are held responsible for two successive disasters, Nazi ideology and recent American academic culture.  These noxious Teutons infected American society, once having captured the academic class, with moral relativity and contempt for democratic principles.

As observed by Claes Ryn in The New Jacobinism, it is simply wrong to treat Bloom's tract - which gained (mirabile dictu) the adulation of American conservatives - as a plea for traditional humanistic learning. It is in fact a visionary call for a global democratic crusade that would inflict "our principles of freedom and equality" on everyone everywhere. Thus Bloom praises American participation in the World War II as "really an educational project undertaken to force those who do not accept these principles to do so."

In short, what Bloom and his devotees dislike about multiculturalism is that it interferes with this global educational project.

Such a selective rendering of multiculturalism nurtures other misunderstandings that at least some neoconservative intellectuals may not be unhappy to see disseminated. The important thing for them is to justify their political prescriptions, even at the cost of attacking an implausible straw man. If, for example, one believes that multiculturalists are historical relativists who oppose an American global democratic mission, then multiculturalism is not seen for what it is: an attack on the pre-global democratic Western core culture by those who despise the historic peoples that produced it. And if the alleged danger of "diversity" for the American people is "disaggregating" culture in abstract, then one does not have to notice that multiculturalists are busy being intolerant to the majority -  tearing down the symbols politically incorrect white Southerners and marginalizing Christians in what used to be an overwhelmingly Protestant country.

In point of fact, multiculturalists are neither latterday German rightwingers nor passionate fans of cultural diversity. They are haters of the Western past, trying to marginalize those whose ancestors exemplified that past, and those who remain Western traditionalists. What these haters are not about is what Canadian socialist philosopher Charles Taylor misleadingly calls "the politics of mutual recognition." An Anglophone professor at McGill University, Taylor shows tender regard for all sorts of Third World and alternative lifestyle communities. But alas he does not extend "mutual recognition" to his own ancestral culture. The once proud Canadian majority culture and people will grow inevitably weaker in the world Taylor is helping to build.  Indeed, Taylor finds the declining WASP society to have been an insufferably narrow one in need of "enrichment." He does not discern these failings in the alien groups whom traditional WASPs are supposed to move over and make way for. (This was also the theme of Peter Brimelow's 1986 The Patriot Game.)

Another related problem about misrepresenting multiculturalism: it diverts attention from a critical strategy of its practitioners - immigration. There may be other excited advocates of Third World immigration, like grasping corporate executives, social workers, "respectable" conservative careerists. But multiculturalists support it for transparent political reasons. If the U.S. in the twenty-first century comes to have a Third World - or, more specifically, Latin American - plurality, the white Western component in American life will grow weaker. And as other groups overtake and surpass the number of Euro-Americans, the multiculturalists will be on the scene to celebrate the vanishing of a despised race and its once hegemonic culture.

Immigration is an article of faith for neoconservatives - a subject that deserves a separate essay. So the belief that multiculturalism can be avoided without reforming immigration is fundamental, represented by, among many others, Irwin Stelzer, Norman Podhoretz, and John J. Miller, now – significantly – at National Review. The trick for these democratic globalists is to gain control over American education and to use it to promote their Cold War liberal ideology as a universally digestible American creed.

After all, what makes multiculturalists bad for them is not the current war against the patrimony of Southern whites or the multicultural investment in changing the Western world's demographic base, but the challenge to a neocon conception of "human rights" and our contamination by Teutonic murkiness.

As a practical matter, immigration, neocons and multiculturalists are hard to tell apart: Both are eager to have exceedingly porous borders and bash Buchananites and other anti-immigrationists on the right.

The sad, almost unspeakable truth is that the Left is running both sides of the immigration debate. This is certainly evident in the current visible discussion about multiculturalism and in the studied avoidance of unpleasant points by those engaging the immigration question. In the February 10 international edition of Figaro, a feature essay on multiculturalism analyzes the U.S. as "the melting pot being frustrated." Among those factors thought to be leading to a fragmented American identity, the French article gives major attention to demographic trends:

"Within fifty years when racial minorities will constitute fifty percent of the population, there will no longer be a majoritarian ethnic group. Already the Hispanisation of Western and Southwestern states is striking. The Hispanics are presently 35 million. In 2005 they will become even more numerous than the blacks (who for the time being are the largest American minority). In 2050 Hispanics will represent as much as a quarter of the American population."

The publication that includes these data and treats them as ominous signs is not a self-described conservative one. It is unlikely that any member of our own "conservative" communion would be allowed to publish such insensitive truths without suffering grave, predictable consequences.

American conservatives are expected to follow the neocon lead - undertaking a reconstruction of multiculturalism, while ignoring those aspects of it that cry out to be noticed. This is the price we pay to have "tolerance" inflicted upon us.

Paul Gottfried  is Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA.  He is the author of After Liberalism and Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory.

March 04, 2001