Do you suppose Angela Merkel, the trenchant German Chancellor, reads The New Criterion? We ask because she seems to share our antipathy toward “multiculturalism,” that spurious doctrine, born in the hothouse of Western universities, that proclaims the glories of “diversity” and egalitarianism but is really a blind for anti-Western, and especially anti-American, animus. “All cultures are equal,” chant the multiculturalists, like characters out of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “but some are more equal than others.” It is one of the great rhetorical ironies of the age that what travels under the name of “multiculturalism” is really a form of mono-cultural animus directed against the dominant culture—our culture, the culture of the West. In essence, as Samuel Huntington noted in his book Who Are We?, multiculturalism is “anti-European civilization. . . .
It is basically an anti-Western ideology.” Multiculturalists claim to be fostering a progressive cultural cosmopolitanism distinguished by superior sensitivity to the downtrodden and dispossessed. In fact, they encourage an orgy of self-flagellating liberal guilt as impotent as it is insatiable. The “sensitivity” of the multiculturalist is an index not of moral refinement but of moral vacuousness. As the French essayist Pascal Bruckner observed, “An overblown conscience is an empty conscience”:
Compassion ceases if there is nothing but compassion, and revulsion turns to insensitivity. Our “soft pity,” as Stefan Zweig calls it, is stimulated, because guilt is a convenient substitute for action where action is impossible. Without the power to do anything, sensitivity becomes our main aim. The aim is not so much to do anything, as to be judged. Salvation lies in the verdict that declares us to be wrong.
Multiculturalism is a moral intoxicant; its thrill centers around the emotion of superior virtue; its hangover subsists on a diet of ignorance and blighted “good intentions.”
Wherever the imperatives of multiculturalism have touched the curriculum, they have left broad swaths of anti-Western attitudinizing competing for attention with quite astonishing historical blindness. Courses on minorities, women’s issues, and the Third World proliferate; the teaching of mainstream history slides into oblivion. “The mood,” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote in The Disuniting of America, his excellent book on the depredations of multiculturalism, “is one of divesting Americans of the sinful European inheritance and seeking redemptive infusions from non-Western cultures.”
But multiculturalism is not only an academic phenomenon. The attitudes it fosters have profound social as well as intellectual consequences. One consequence has been a sharp rise in the phenomenon of immigration without—or with only partial—assimilation: a dangerous demographic trend that threatens the identity of host countries, in Europe as well as the United States, in the most basic way.
These various agents of dissolution are also elements in a wider culture war: the contest to define how we live and what counts as “the good” in the good life. Anti-Americanism and the charge of being “Eurocentric” occupy such prominent places on the agenda of the culture wars precisely because the traditional values of Western identity are deeply at odds with the radical, de-civilizing tenets of the multiculturalist enterprise. This is something that seems to have been vividly borne in upon Ms. Merkel. The attempts to build a “multicultural” society in Germany, she recently acknowledged, have “failed, utterly failed.” Immigrants, she said, in a speech that stunned the bien pensants, need to do more, much more, to integrate into German society, including learning German.
Kudos to Ms. Merkel for having the courage to articulate this home truth: that immigration is fine, but that there should be no immigration without assimilation. We suspect other European leaders are coming to the same realization, though whether they can muster Ms. Merkel’s forthrightness remains to be seen. Given the dour demographic realities in Europe, it may be a recognition that is too little too late. But it is nonetheless heartening to see this blunt political reality publicly acknowledged for what it is.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 29 Number 3, on page 2
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