The idea of sustained co-existence around a common moral and civic core, Richard Bastien argues, has been dangerously reduced to ideological rejection of unified understanding and the triumphalism of increasingly exclusivist tribal identities.
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The word “multiculturalism” now has two very different meanings.
First, it can refer to the fact that a society is made up of linguistically and religiously distinctive groups that, despite their differences, share in a common cultural heritage. Canada is a good example: its population until recently was largely made up of French-speaking Catholics and English-speaking Protestants.
The same could be said of Switzerland, whose population is divided into three language groups (German, French and Italian) and two religious traditions (Catholic and Protestant). In both countries, regional cultural differences co-exist with certain common values that result in a national identity, e.g. limited government, rule of law, basic human rights, entrepreneurship, equality of opportunities, subsidiarity. Thus, unity exists within diversity. Differences are maintained around a common moral and civil core.
But that is not how multiculturalism is generally understood nowadays. Indeed, over the past few decades, multiculturalism has become a weapon in the service of identity politics, i.e. the shaping of politics around the particular interests of various racial, religious, sexual, ethnic or cultural groups.
Understood in this sense, multiculturalism has no use for “national unity,” and even less for the notion of universal brotherhood. As Heather MacDonald argues in The Diversity Delusion, we now live in a world where “human beings are defined by their skin colo[u]r, sex, and sexual preference.” Loyalty is thus primarily linked to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
Such loyalty is reminiscent of the class loyalty on which Soviet Russia was built or the racial loyalty that undergirded Nazi Germany. In both cases, belonging to a reference group (the proletariat or the Aryan race) counted more than sharing in a common humanity. Whence the denial of the equal dignity of all human beings and the intolerance towards “outsiders.”
Ideological multiculturalism is intolerant of those who don’t share its basic premises. If one is not supportive of mass migration, gay marriage, transgenderism and, more generally, if one is not engaged in the wholesale denigration of the Western intellectual and legal tradition, one is either a “deplorable," a “simpleton," a “bigot” or a “racist” (according to, respectively, Hilary Clinton, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). Intolerance is particularly visible on university campuses where conservative-minded faculty members and guest speakers are denied the right to express themselves freely. It is also visible in Canadian government grant programs that require potential beneficiaries to affirm their acceptance of a so-called “right” to abortion.
Ideological multiculturalism denies that there is such thing as natural law – a law written on the human heart. More bluntly, it says there is no such thing as a universal right and wrong. It assumes that justice is about relationships between groups, not individuals. There are oppressive groups and oppressed groups: men versus women, white versus non-white, rich versus poor, non-indigenous versus indigenous, nationals versus migrants, religious believers versus non-believers, etc.
This collectivist understanding of justice implies that traditional rules of justice must be replaced by a new set of rules, e.g. affirmative action (racial preferences), censorship of conservative views (wrongly) associated with “hate,” denial of the rights of parents to resist the “transgendering” of their children, denial of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion for certain professional categories.
Western societies that accept ideological multiculturalism thus no longer agree on what constitutes natural justice. Yet for a society to maintain a basic political unity, it must enjoy a minimum consensus about the nature of justice. Failing such a consensus, it risks disintegration.
“Culture wars” are about the very meaning of justice. Our major societal debates are not about how to apply agreed rules of justice, but rather about what those rules ought to be. We are fighting about what counts as just in a just society and, more generally, about what counts as good in the good life.
In order to push their agenda, the ideological multiculturalists emphasize diversity, which they claim is something intrinsically good. In fact, it serves as a political weapon: the less people have in common, the more likely they are to quarrel among themselves and the less likely they are to challenge the multiculturalists in positions of power.
Diversity can be accommodated only to the extent that it is counter-balanced by a set of values held in common by the diverse units making up a polity. Short of this commonality of values, the polity ends up disintegrating, as attested by the break-up of the Yugoslav federation, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, or the 1947 partition of India.
American writer Roger Kimball says that while multiculturalists claim to be guided by a “superior sensitivity to the downtrodden and dispossessed," their sensitivity “is an index not of moral refinement but of moral vacuousness.”
In Canada, ideological multiculturalism holds sway in the mainstream media, academia and most of our political parties. It is a national religion of sorts. That says quite a lot about us as a nation. One wonders what satisfaction there can be in belonging to a country boasting to have no national culture and indulging heavily in identity politics. The ideology of multiculturalism poses a far greater threat to the maintenance of Canada as a country than Quebec nationalism ever did.
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