I usually think of multiculturalism as a fairly benign concept wherein we are asked to appreciate the enrichment that can come when many cultures have input into the life of this country. The fact is America has always been a rich tapestry of cultures. The English, French, and Spanish colonist interacted with the native populations, they also brought African slaves with them. In the late 1800s through the mid 1900s waves of immigrants from almost every European country also added to the mix. The group we usually call “Whites” today is actually an assimilation of many very different cultures. My father’s generation (b. 1928) made very sharp distinctions between Irish, Italians, Poles, and so forth. Many of these groups lived in distinct neighborhoods, attended different Catholic parishes, and intermarriage was almost unthinkable between them at the early stages. In more recent years, immigrants from the South, from Africa and the Far East have also added to tapestry and the “look” of America. And whatever friction has sometimes existed between various groups, ethnicity and races, I have no doubt that we have been enriched by our interaction and life together in this land.
This is the multiculturalism I know and what I usually mean by the term.
Apparently the experience in Europe has been less satisfactory and we now see some European leaders calling for stricter curbs on multicultural expression. For example, in France the wearing of certain Muslim Garb, especially the Burqa, has been banned.
In the video below, a commentator gives a much more sober assessment of multiculturalism. To some extent I would describe his approach to be in the form of a rant that intentionally overstates the case in a sometimes humorous, even satirical way. It sometimes helps to understand the genre when viewing such viewpoints. So you may wish to read up on the genre of “rant” HERE.
Nevertheless the purpose of “rant,” though overstated and sometimes satirical, is to make a point that the orator considers important. And what I take away from the video is that some distinctions and limits are necessary when it comes to multiculturalism. Without these, we may find multiculturalism fails as a lived reality and may rest on premises that are unacceptable. Here are just a two concerns:
1. Multiculturalism must be rooted in a fundamentally shared vision and in something higher than any individual culture in the mix. When people and groups immigrate, they bring with them their own traditions and culture. Fine, herein lies a richness. But they also come to a new experience, a new culture, shared by those already in the land, which can also enrich them. There must be certain fundamentals to which all in a culture agree to share. Without this there are enclaves which set up, and friction is inevitable. Here in America there have traditionally been two fundamental visions that have united us and helped us to overcome our differences and experience multicultural success: the American Dream, and a fundamental belief in the existence of God.
The American Dream, while difficult to reduce to a sentence or two, is essentially rooted in the economic freedom to work, run and own businesses, own property and participate in the political process without harassment. It includes freedom of speech and assembly, basic equality, and all the rights described in our Constitution. Ultimately most Americans see its fulfillment for them personally when they are economically independent, and able to own a home. It would seem that the American Dream is still largely intact, as a shared vision. I think most people who come to this land are still looking for just these things. They admire our freedoms, our prosperity, and basic form of government. Many take enormous risks to come here and take part in the dream. This existence of this common vision causes a shared unity that makes multiculturalism workable.
As for a shared belief in God, this has become frayed in recent decades. It still remains true that the vast majority of Americans still believe in God, but an increasingly strident form of secularism threatens to undermine the shared “cultus” of our culture. “Cultus” or “cult” here does not mean what modern English has assigned as a narrow, closed and often extreme group, engaged in strange religious practices. Originally in Latin, and even in English, “cult” meant simply a shared faith among the people. That “cult” is at the heart of the word culture is no accident. For every culture needs someone and something above it to which, and to whom, it must answer. That Someone, we in the West, have called the God of the Bible. Without this cult, it is questionable that a culture can survive for there is nothing and no one higher than it to unite it. That Western culture is in serious decline at the same time that secularism is on the rise is, likely, no coincidence.
Here in America, most of our immigrants are Catholics and Christians. Hence they share in the basic Judeo/Christian view or “cultus.” The jury is still out on whether secularization will continue. But for now, the vast majority of Americans still share a common belief in the God of the Bible, even if they do not live this faith perfectly.
In Europe the situation seems quite grave, and the Pope has described that the lights are going out all over Europe. With high secularism and low birthrates among Europeans, the Muslims are largely poised to replace European culture. But it is questionable that the Muslim immigrants value what we call Western culture and their “cultus” is not the same “cultus” that gave rise to Europe. Hence the multicultural tensions are growing fiercer, since there is no shared faith, and no European version of the “American Dream” that unites new immigrants and traditional Europeans.
But here in America, multiculturalism largely still “works,” though threats are on the horizon. This does not mean that there are not certain tensions. But there always have been and there still seems to be a way to work through it.
One of the flash points here is the question of language. And, although I often hear fears expressed by some that “Spanish is taking over,” my own experience is that, in every immigrant family I know, the kids all know English. Hence, I am not personally concerned that Spanish will take over. English remains the language of access in this country. Thankfully, it seems we have gotten over the silly experiment in Education of running bilingual school systems. As far as I can tell, immigrant children are immersed in English and quickly expected to take their seats in an English-speaking classroom. But some of you may correct me on this.
2. While accepting the benefits of multiculturalism, we must avoid the trap that everything is equally valid - The orator in the video below makes the case that multiculturalism is just another form of moral relativism. I am not sure that I accept the word “just” in his argument. But there is a danger that some of the premises do come from moral relativism or tend to be reinforced by unhealthy notions associated with it.
I’ll just be bold (as a Westerner) and say that there is something essentially superior to the what we have come to call “western culture.” We are not perfect, and sadly, western culture does seem to be in significant decay at this time. But historically western culture has produced the highest standard of living, had the most stable economies, produced the most just and equitable forms of democratic government, has a rich deposit of learning, and brought forth a great expression of the dignity of the individual. I, (Christian that I am) attribute a lot of this to faith, for it was the Church that established most of the great universities, the hospitals, the scientific method, and so forth. The Church also, through the tireless work of monks and others helped to preserve the works of classical antiquity which has so blessed us and served as the basis for the high standard of living and the flourishing of the sciences we have today.
As I say, I’ll just be bold and probably “politically incorrect” but western culture is the finest flower in the garden, given our history and what we have contributed to the world. This does not mean that there are no excesses in us, or that other cultures are nothing at all. I do not the deny the World Wars and other sad chapters. But the fact that so many flock to live in the West, especially in America, is silent testimony to the greatness of what we are, and have to offer. They are often fleeing poor economies, corrupt dictatorships and terrible living conditions. To be sure, they bring gifts to us in their cultural heritage and are able to add to rich tapestry of the West, especially in America. But that too is part of the greatness of the West, tolerance, and an open marketplace of ideas.
It is a fact that the West as we have known it is in fairly serious decline. Some centuries ago de Tocqueville noted that for democracy to thrive, morality and self-control of the populace had to be presumed. The fact is, without a general level of moral self-governance, democracy and freedom cannot thrive. For the genius of Western style democracy is that power and control are shifted from the central state more to individual. Freedom is wonderful, but it requires self-control of the populace. If we are not willing to curb our behaviors, proper order and the common good are threatened and freedoms begin to be lost. It is no coincidence that, as bad behaviors begin to proliferate, government grows and freedoms are limited, Today, often due to the breakdown of personal behavior and a sense of personal responsibility, there are increasing demands for laws and for the government intervention. But the tradeoff is that personal freedoms are eroded, taxes increase and fears grow about further intrusions as a litigious attitude grows. Whether the great experience of western culture will continue depends largely on whether we can reclaim some of our lost moral code and live by it without a government insisting on it.
But as it is conceived, I will say again that western culture is the finest flower of the modern world. It is threatened but it is wholly worth saving as the best hope for future generations.
The fact is we ought not become moral relativists in this matter and, as others come to join us, it is not wrong that we insist they observe what is best about us and seek to join, rather than replace what we are. With this premise multiculturalism is enriching and to be celebrated.
OK, please remember this is a discussion. I am not pontificating here, just starting a discussion. Please add your own views, additions, distinctions and so forth!
As for this video remember, it is in the style of a rant. I do not know who Andrew Klavon is, this is the first I have seen of him. Hence, I do not endorse everything he says or may have said elsewhere. I just found his video here to provoke thought and to help me clarify what I think of multiculturalism .