In the most simple and surface understanding, multiculturalism is merely the recognition and celebration of men and women of many ethnic, cultural, religious, and historical backgrounds. Multiculturalism is, at face value, the study of many cultures.
THE WORLD IS MULTICULTURAL, NO QUESTION
That there are many and different cultures that exist in our world today, and that have existed throughout history—and that we might learn something from these cultures—is unquestionably true. And as someone who has taught and defended the idea that each and every human being possesses equal natural rights, by virtue of being human, I too acknowledge the many ways human beings differ, but always in light of what they all share in common: their humanity.
But multiculturalism represents something much more than mere acknowledgement that different people look, speak, dress, eat, dance, think, and act differently. Multiculturalism represents a way of looking at the world coupled with advice about what one should think and how one ought to live. It represents a body of modern moral theory, and it stands in almost direct contrast to the view of human life upon which this United States of America was built. So let us make clear those differences in order that we might better judge what to believe, what to do, and how to do it.
THE CLASSICAL VIEW
Going back to the roots of the Western philosophic tradition, philosophy, or the search for truth and knowledge, begins with three premises, which are themselves indemonstrable, but which provide the foundation for any and all demonstrable propositions:
- The first is the common sense notion that human beings find themselves in a world, a universe, a cosmos, that they did not create, and which they do not fully command, but of which they are part.
- The second is that there is an order to the cosmos of which human beings are part, evidenced by such common observations as the sun always rising in the East and setting in the West, or the fact that dogs always give birth to puppies, while human beings always give birth to babies, and there is never a mix up. There is some degree of regularity inherent in the universe, which renders it intelligible to the human mind and makes it discernible by reason.
- The third premise is that man by nature is rational, that the human mind is free to observe, think, and discover truths about the universe in which it lives—that human beings experience themselves as possessing the freedom to contemplate evidence presented to their reason, and judge for themselves, by way of rational thinking, what is more or less likely to be true.
These premises are the beginning point of philosophy, which finds in the external cosmos an objective standard of truth and falsity, right and wrong, because it is a standard that exists apart from the will of man. Nature, in this sense, literally is the standard of truth and right, and therefore ought to guide human will by informing human rational investigation.
This is only a thumbnail sketch of classical Western moral and political and philosophic thought, though I should emphasize that while this body of thought is a feature of the West, or Western civilization, it never understood itself as Western; it assumed the possibility of discovering objective truths that transcend, and therefore are not bound by, place or time, because it assumed nature to be universal and unchanging.
MODERN CHALLENGES TO CLASSICAL THOUGHT
For the past several hundred years, however, Western philosophy has been in a state of self-destruction. Certain modern thinkers zeroed in on the fact that the premises of philosophy are indemonstrable—that man cannot freely prove the cause of his own freedom; that as soon as man’s freedom is understood to be the effect of one or more causes, it is no longer freedom; that man is mere matter, a slave to gravity as is all matter.
Thus modern Western philosophy began to deny man’s freedom, and especially the idea that human beings possess a free-thinking rational mind. Instead of searching for objective truth, modern philosophy and science have increasingly become a search for the causes of human thought and behavior, whether they are biological (e.g. Darwinism), economic (e.g. Marxism), or psychological (e.g. Freudianism). Though they disagree on what the most important causes might be, these modern doctrines do agree on the basic premise that human thought is nothing but an effect, and that there is therefore no truth to be discovered by a free, rational human mind.
Multiculturalism is an offshoot of modern anthropology, itself a product of this self-destruction of Western philosophy. Anthropology, and ultimately multiculturalism, find their home in the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th Century thinker and writer who openly rejected the foundation of classic thought, and whose influence continues to dominate the humanities departments of many colleges and universities.
ANTHROPOLOGICAL ROOTS OF MULTICULTURALISM
Rousseau posited that man by nature is not rational. Prior to political life, in what Rousseau called the “state of nature,” human beings were solitary, having little or no interaction with one another. Therefore, argued Rousseau, pre-political, solitary human beings lacked language, because they had no need for language. And if they did not possess language, they could not possess reason.
For Rousseau, man by nature is not altogether different than any of the irrational beasts. (Rousseau was among the first and most influential thinkers who identified human nature in large measure with the nature of orangutans and other apes, long before Darwin, and one can see elements of his thought in the formation of modern “humane societies” and the more radical idea of “animal rights.”)
Man began to speak, and therefore think, by some chance natural catastrophe, such as an earthquake or volcano, that brought men together and forced them to interact with one another. Their grunts and sounds then became the basis of language, which only much later became what we call “reason.”
From Rousseau’s premise, the very nature of language, and the elements of human thought, reflect nothing but the arbitrary environmental and cultural forces that produced them. All human language and human thought—moral, political, scientific and religious—are the varying and purposeless effects of varying and purposeless physical and cultural causes.
Upon Rousseau’s theoretical hypothesis—and I emphasize here that his theory was nothing more than hypothesis, though Darwin and his epigones have worked tirelessly to provide physical evidence of Rousseau’s theory—arose the modern discipline of anthropology, the academic study of human cultures. And from the anthropological point of view, it makes little sense to speak of reason as a fundamental faculty that distinguishes humans from non-human beings.
Rather, reason becomes one of the idiosyncratic customs or habits of thought of particular peoples living together in particular places at particular times. Instead of pursuing the truth about man and how he ought to live, anthropology, and its multicultural disciples, assume that reason is incapable of telling us how man ought to live, because reason itself is but an invention of different cultures, which means “reason” and any “truths” it discovers are always nothing more than cultural prejudices or perspectives. As evidence they trot out various examples of the many disagreements between different cultures about basic moral and political questions. From this multiplicity of perspectives, they conclude, there is no objective ground upon which we might judge or rank the many cultures of the earth—the “values” of each culture are equally valid compared to the values of any other culture.
CAN PERSPECTIVISM CLAIM TO BE “TRUE?”
This is the intellectual basis of multiculturalism, and its emphasis on “diversity” and “non-judgmentalism.” As there are many interpretations of right and wrong, the only thing, apparently, we can know is truly wrong is the belief that we can know true right from true wrong. It means, therefore, it is wrong to think we can objectively distinguish civilized peoples from barbarous peoples. It is wrong to assume one can distinguish, objectively, good from evil, or truth from lies. To the degree to which the modern university rests on modern philosophy, this is the basis for much of what is taught under the name “higher education.”
Immediately, however, certain problems arise for the multiculturalist.
- First is the obvious fact that multiculturalism is a product of one culture, or sub-culture, namely: modern Western philosophy. Consider that nowhere in tribal Africa, or in the Balkans, or among militant Islamists, or in Iran, or in Communist China or North Korea, is there much demand for multicultural “diversity.” In short: Multiculturalism is, itself, not very multicultural.
- Second is the fact that multiculturalism, built upon a denial of universal human nature, appeals unwittingly to that classical premise in its focus of study. What beings, or who, after all, comprise the many cultures studied and celebrated by multiculturalists? Answer: Human beings. Were they to reflect on this simple observation, multiculturalists might recognize that Aristotle and other classics might in fact have much to teach them.
- Most problematic is the fact that multiculturalism claims to tell us something true about the human world, yet it is founded upon the denial that objective truth is possible. In its celebration of the diversity of cultural perspectives—and in its denial of any objective or true point of view—multiculturalism becomes just another perspective. That is, on its own ground, multiculturalism cannot defend itself as any more (or less) true than non-multicultural perspectives
But if multiculturalism isn’t burdened with a concern for truth, what does it mean to be educated in the multicultural sense? Any thoughtful multiculturalist understands that he gets himself into an intellectual pickle if he argues that his views are true. He stands, after all, on the ground that there is no truth, which turns out to be a ground of sand.
WHAT DOES MULTICULUTURALISM MEAN FOR AMERICA?
Let us turn to the politics of multiculturalism, and in particular what it means for American politics. Rejecting the waves of modern philosophy crashing down on Europe at the time, the Americans in 1776 attempted something radically new: they founded a nation upon a self-evident truth, a truth of human equality bound up in the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” As Abraham Lincoln reminded us at the Gettysburg cemetery, “our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
That proposition has been the single greatest cause of the rise of American freedom, happiness, and prosperity. The entire American experiment in free government stands or falls by the idea of human equality, the freedom intrinsically tied to the idea of equal natural rights, and whether Americans remain dedicated to the cause of defending it.
But Americans are unlikely to defend what they do not believe to be true. Under the influence of multiculturalism, increasingly the upper intellectual ranks of Americans have come of the opinion that there is nothing they believe to be true, and they persist in teaching that to our children. Indeed, the most troubling aspect of multiculturalism, politically, is that it teaches American students and citizens to discard their loyalty to the United States, in the name of “diversity,” and to abandon anything that smacks of “patriotism.”
IF THERE’S NO TRUTH, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE EDUCATED?
The keystone of multiculturalism is the hypothesis that what ordinary people believe is “true” is nothing but their own cultural prejudice. The real test of multicultural education, therefore, is whether one has freed one’s mind from the trappings of one’s culture—especially if one’s culture happens to be, like American culture, more powerful and prosperous than most others. Celebrating foreign cultures and rejecting America are two sides of the same multicultural coin: it’s the way American multiculturalists woo and wow each other. From their perspective, the most educated are the most anti-American Americans because they are by definition the most “multicultural” Americans.
For a nation such as the United States, one dedicated to the natural rights of man, this is deeply troubling. It is from multiculturalists that one hears the resurrected phrase, “one man’s terrorist is just another man’s freedom fighter.” Of course, even some multiculturalists cringed when those “freedom fighters” crashed airplanes into their cities, murdering friends and relatives in the attacks of 9-11.
Some multiculturalists try to square patriotism with their multiculturalism by arguing that what unites Americans is our “diversity,” or “pluralism.” But the conclusion of this argument is unsustainable. Individual rights, religious and civil liberty, protection of property, the rule of law, and a government that takes little from those it protects, are either good, or they are not. They are either true, or not. A nation cannot affirm both simultaneously. Put another way, if America tries to stand for every cultural view, in the end it will stand for none. As one multiculturalist intellectual extolled in the New Yorker, “the whole meaning of American life is that there is no such thing as the meaning of American life.” Such a view can sustain no nation, however, especially when times get tough and threats get real.
MULTICULTURALISM AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
When thinking about the politics of multiculturalism, we should recall that multiculturalism not only advances leftist political influence, it was a product of those politics. Some multiculturalists try to defend the term “multiculturalism” as a new, positive way to speak about cultural “diversity.” In some sense this is true. But it was not by chance that the term “multiculturalism” was coined at the same moment, in the mid 1980s, when race-based preferences and quotas were coming under increasing public and legal scrutiny.
At that time, the arguments for remedying past discrimination and forcing racial parity in schools and businesses were failing to persuade the American people. Why should Americans of all colors today pay for the sins of some in the past, after all? What do Americans of all colors today owe to the many fallen Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion to make America the free country it is? And who actually believes that all cultural groups are equally effective in preparing their children for college or careers?
In their desperate search for a new defense of the discriminatory policies of affirmative action, liberals concocted the notion that without race-based preferences and quotas, there would be no “diversity” in classrooms and workplaces. Multiculturalism was intended to lend academic authority to the racial politics of affirmative action, as multicultural centers and departments began to spring up in colleges and universities around the country. This was the political basis for multiculturalism.
THE CHOICE IS OURS
Intellectually, multiculturalism is problematic at best.
- Multiculturalism is embarrassingly inconsistent—but only for those who consider the basic principles of logic to be true, not mere cultural prejudices.
- Multiculturalism is undermined by its own argument.
Politically, multiculturalism is dangerous. Multiculturalism—not as mere acknowledgement of different people with different backgrounds, but as a doctrine of philosophic nihilism and moral relativism—is positioned to undermine the good principles upon which is built the crown jewel of Western civilization, the free United States of America.
Though it operates much more subtly, and often wears a suit and tie and a smile, multiculturalism stands as a threat to our institutions of freedom and the free way of life that flows from them. If the day comes that Americans, convinced by multiculturalism that no mind can know what is truly good or bad, cannot distinguish morally between, say, the protection of private property versus the elimination of private property, then freedom as we have known it will be over.
It is the test of the American people—it is the great challenge of our day—whether we have the intelligence to identify the nihilistic ideas deeply embedded in multiculturalism for what they are, and the resolve to ensure that those ideas do not triumph over this, the last best hope of mankind.