December 8, 2010

E PLURIBUS UNUM:

Multiculturalism, R.I.P. (Roger Scruton, December 2010 - January 2011, American Spectator)

Once we distinguish race and culture, the way is open to acknowledge that not all cultures are equally admirable, and that not all cultures can exist comfortably side-by-side. To deny this is to forgo the very possibility of moral judgment, and therefore to deny the fundamental experience of community. It is precisely this that has caused the multiculturalists to hesitate. Rightly enjoying the polytheistic festivals of the Hindus, the Carnivals of Caribbean blacks, and the celebrations of the Chinese New Year, they have led us to believe that cultural difference is always an addition to social life, and never a threat to it. Anyone who discriminates between cultures, therefore, really must have something more dangerous at the back of his mind -- a desire to exclude on grounds of strangeness, which is the first step towards the racist mindset.

But experience has finally prevailed over wishful thinking. It is culture, not nature, that tells a family that their daughter who has fallen in love outside the permitted circle must be killed, that girls must undergo genital mutilation if they are to be respectable, that the infidel must be destroyed when Allah commands it. You can read about those things and think that they belong to the pre-history of our world. But when suddenly they are happening in your midst, you are apt to wake up to the truth about the culture that advocates them. You are apt to say, that is not our culture, and it has no businesshere. That is what Europeans are now saying -- not just a few crazies, but everyone. And the multiculturalists are reluctantly compelled to agree with them.

FOR WHAT IS BEING brought home to us, through painful experiences that we might have avoided had it been permitted before now to say the truth, is that we, like everyone else, depend upon a shared culture for our security, our prosperity and our freedom to be. We don't require everyone to have the same faith, to lead the same kind of family life, or to participate in the same festivals. But we have a shared moral and legal inheritance, a shared language, and a shared public sphere. Our societies are built upon the Judeo-Christian ideal of neighbor-love, according to which strangers and intimates deserve equal concern. They require each of us to respect the freedom and sovereignty of every other, and to acknowledge the threshold of privacy beyond which it is a trespass to go unless invited. Our societies depend upon a culture of law-abidingness and open contracts, and they reinforce these things through the educational traditions that have shaped our common curriculum. It is not an arbitrary cultural imperialism that leads us to value Greek philosophy and literature, the Hebrew Bible, Roman law, and the medieval epics and romances, and to teach these things in our schools. They are ours, in just the way that the legal order and the political institutions are ours: they form part of what made us, and convey the message that it is right to be what we are.

Over time immigrants can come to share these things with us: the experience of America bears ample witness to this. And they the more easily do so when they recognize that, in any meaningful sense of the word, our culture is also a multiculture, incorporating elements absorbed in ancient times from all around the Mediterranean basin and in modern times from the adventures of European traders and explorers across the world. But this kaleidoscopic culture is still one thing, with a set of inviolable principles at its core; and it is the source of social cohesion across Europe and America. Our culture allows for a great range of ways of life; it enables people to privatize their religion and their family customs, while still belonging to the public realm of open dealings and shared allegiance. For it defines that public realm in legal and territorial terms, and not in terms of creed or kinship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 8, 2010 6:25 AM
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