Multiculturalism, like so many modern nostrums, was always better in theory than in practice. Indeed, it can work when it is simply allowed to happen, as was the case with the American melting pot. There social cohesion was possible despite all the diversity because people came to America wanting to become Americans. They wanted the American dream.
But when multiculturalism is enforced by governments, it usually ends up backfiring. Indeed, the hoped for integration usually ends us in disintegration. Equality by decree, or community by government fiat, will seldom work. Unless people agree to a common social vision, the various disruptive and divisive pulls will be too strong to overcome.
So in much of the Western world, attempts at imposed multiculturalism have only ended up in greater disunity and polarisation. Instead of various peoples from various cultures living together as a harmonious whole, we tend to have the ghettoisation of society. Too often incoming groups do not want to blend in, but prefer to remain separate and distinct.
There are plenty of examples of this. A quite recent one was reported in the press this week. It seems that the Kraft food company has jumped on the PC bandwagon by introducing a halal version of Vegemite to appease Muslims.
As I told a journalist who interviewed me about this, if a commercial company wants to do this, that is one thing: they are not really interested in community relations, they are interested in making money. The real worry comes when governments get involved in enforced political correctness.
Recently here in Melbourne councils have banned ham sandwiches for example, in order to keep Muslims happy. Plenty of other examples can be produced to show that what is happening is not integration but further separatism. The lines of division are only being more sharply drawn.
Britain is well advanced in this regard, as is most of Europe. Multiculturalism there has failed big time, with whole sections of urban areas – especially in major European cities – becoming Islamic ghettos. Plenty of social commentators have remarked on this.
One slightly older piece (penned in October 2007) is still worth noting here in this regard. Written by Commonwealth Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, his piece is still relevant, even though his case is even more needed several years on. He begins this way:
“Multiculturalism has run its course, and it is time to move on. It was a fine, even noble idea in its time. It was designed to make ethnic and religious minorities feel more at home, more appreciated and respected, and therefore better able to mesh with the larger society. It affirmed their culture. It gave dignity to difference. And in many ways it achieved its aims. Britain is a more open, diverse, energising, cosmopolitan environment than it was when I was growing up.
“But there has been a price to pay, and it grows year by year. Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation. It has allowed groups to live separately, with no incentive to integrate and every incentive not to. It was intended to promote tolerance. Instead the result has been, in countries where it has been tried, societies are more abrasive, fractured and intolerant than they once were.
“Liberal democracy is in danger. Britain is becoming a place where free speech is at risk, non-political institutions are becoming politicised, and a combination of political correctness and ethnic-religious separatism is eroding the graciousness of civil society. Religious groups are becoming pressure groups. Boycotts and political campaigns are infecting professional bodies. Culture is fragmenting into systems of belief in which civil discourse ends and reasoned argument becomes impossible. The political process is in danger of being abandoned in favour of the media-attention-grabbing gesture. The politics of freedom risks descending into the politics of fear.”
He notes that the breakdown in notions of universal truth and absolute morality is much to blame for the end of the multicultural dream: “What happens when we lose moral consensus? Morality is reduced to taste. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ become like yum and yugh: I like this; I don’t like that. Imagine two people, one of whom says: ‘I like ice cream’; the other: ‘I don’t’. They are not arguing. Each is simply declaring his or her taste.
“We have lost the basis of morality as a shared set of values holding society together. We are living ‘after virtue’; that is to say, in an age in which people no longer have roles and duties within a stable social structure. When that happens, morality becomes a mere façade. Arguments become interminable and intolerable. The only adequate answer to an opposing viewpoint is: ‘Says who?’ In a debate in which there are no shared standards, the loudest voice wins. The only way to defeat opponents is to ridicule them.
“If there is no agreed moral truth, we cannot reason together. All truth becomes subjective or relative, no more than a construction, a narrative, one way among many of telling the story. Each represents a point of view, and each point of view is the expression of a group. On this account, Western civilisation is not truth but the hegemony of the ruling elite. Therefore, it must be exposed and opposed. Western civilisation becomes the rule of dead white males. There are other truths: Marxist, feminist, homosexual, African-American, and so on. Which prevails will depend not on reason but on power. Force must be met by force. Lacking a shared language, we attack the arguer, not the argument.”
The result of all this is bucket-loads of political correctness, the introduction of “hate crimes” laws, the diminution of religious freedom and freedom of speech, and a new intolerance. Says Sacks,
“One example: in 1957 the Wolfenden committee, then the cutting-edge of liberalism, declared that homosexual behaviour was a sin, but should not be a crime. In 2004, Rocco Buttiglione, a minister in the Italian Government, was chosen by the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, to be its justice commissioner. During questioning, he acknowledged that, as a Catholic, he believed that homosexual behaviour is a sin but should not be a crime. He was then disqualified from taking up office as his private moral convictions were ‘in direct contradiction of European law’. He described this as the ‘new totalitarianism’. Right or wrong, one thing is clear: the new tolerance is far less permissive than the old intolerance.
“So a series of events that began in the 1960s fundamentally changed the terms of society and moral debate. Until recently, serious thinkers argued that society depends on moral consensus. Without that, there is no such thing as society, merely the clamour of competing voices and the clash of conflicting wills. This view began to crumble with the rise of individualism. People began to see morality in terms of personal autonomy, existential choice or the will to power. If morality is private, there is no logic in imposing it on society by legislation.
“But if there is no moral truth, there is only victory. The pursuit of truth mutates into the will to power. Instead of being refuted by rational argument, dissenting views are stigmatised as guilty of postmodernism’s cardinal sin: racism in any of its myriad, multiplying variants. So moral consensus disappears and moral conversation dies. Opponents are demonised. Ever-new ‘isms’ are invented to exclude ever more opinions. New forms of intimidation begin to appear: protests, threats of violence, sometimes actual violence. For when there are no shared standards, there can be no conversation, and where conversation ends, violence begins.”
The current trial of maverick Dutch MP Geert Wilders on charges of fomenting hate against Muslims is simply the most recent expression of all this. A movement that promised to bring disparate groups together has only succeeded in driving them further apart.
Policies of multiculturalism are now destroying Western societies, not healing them. Whether it is too late to reverse the trends and turn things around remains to be seen. But unless we heed the remarks of people like Sacks, and stand up and resist the attack on freedom as in the Wilders’ trial, things will only get worse.