Alexander the Great was likely the first coercive multiculturalist in history. Word is that on his long forays of conquest through foreign lands he forced his troops to wear local garb, adopt foreign customs, and on one occasion arranged history’s largest wedding ceremony in which he made thousands of his war-weary troops marry Persian brides. I don’t suppose his men, who likely hadn’t seen a woman for a few years were too upset about that! At any rate, Alexander caught a fever and died in a dusty tent at the age of thirty-three surrounded by his tearful generals. In no time at all, his multicultural dream fell apart. There is a lesson there: to make multiculturalism work you need a lot of coercion from the top because it is an unnatural policy.
The modern Western version of multiculturalism seems to be hoisting itself on its own petard (and perhaps 9/11 was the first terrible visible sign of that?). What are its roots? One version is that our western democracies (which have nothing to do with the radical ancient Greek form) began their lives as children of the Protestant Reformation, but soon got secularized. In short, the Reformation taught the purity of individual religious faith. Repudiation of religious authority was all the rage in the name of the sacred individual. But it didn’t take long for God to die, and for people to begin raging next against political authority, now in the name of the “equality” of all. You can see it all at work in the run up to the English Revolution. A great source for all that is Professor Ian Gentles’ book, The New Model Army (Blackwell, 1992). The men called “levelers” in that fracas were fanatical egalitarian democrats. To them, all men were the same and must be treated the same. The levelers got all this so confused that at one point of egalitarian pique they actually demanded that “they had the right to control and overthrow the officers…”! But is any of it true? Is a general the same as a foot soldier? An honest man the same as a thief? An upholder of free speech the same as someone willing to kill you for speaking?
Alas, this very old egalitarian mood has by now become the West’s most prevalent knee-jerk response to political trouble. Quebec wanted to separate, so the response was/is to equalize all Canadian citizens by turning Canada into a socialist empire. Bilingualism, multiculturalism, the National Energy Program, and socialized medicine and welfare everywhere were all part of that reaction. Deep in the remotest bush of British Columbia, where no one speaks French for 500 miles you have to read forestry signs in French and English (while Quebec province declared itself unilingual!). If immigration in Canada (or France, as we have seen recently) results in an internal clash of civilizations, of people who want to cling to their own traditions, the response from the West is an even more frantic multicultural policy. Which is to say: we take steps to obliterate our own hard-won traditions. The French story is not over, mind you. Egalitarianism is their national faith. But intimations of the brewing European troubles with the Islamic tide were around long ago. A fine book reviewing all that, published well before 9/11 is Milton Viorst, In The Shadow of The Prophet: the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (Doubleday, 1998). There is an especially good chapter “The Beleaguered Muslims of France” explaining and warning of the coming French multicultural debacles.
The trouble, of course, is that all cultures are not the same. And we are just now finding that out, to our own astonishment. In our tradition an offensive cartoon published in a newspaper would be met by alternative cartoons, or by subscriber cancellations, or at the limit, by private legal suits for libel or slander. But from Islamic countries we get riots, bombings, and calls for “death to the infidel.” Some cultures are highly developed. Some are barbaric. Some are modernized, some are not. Some cultures are healthy, and some are definitely sick. A good intro to that topic is a book by the anthropologist Robert Edgerton, Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony (Free Press, 1992).
But what is our political response to this challenge to our customs? Suddenly, we do a turnabout. We do not cite multiculturalism. We do not say all cultures are equal. We gingerly defend our tradition of free speech and civilized dialogue. Very timidly, mind you. Canada’s new Foreign Minister Peter Mackay (as Ezra Levant points out in a great piece in the National Post today, p. A16) lectures us on how to exercise our Charter right to free speech “responsibly.” The subtext of what he meant was what everyone has been thinking since 9/11: these are violent reactions from an undeveloped and uncivilized society that demonstrates this by showing at every turn how it cannot cope with criticism of its ideas and beliefs. But as Levant points out, no one has a right to have their own world-view protected from criticism. Short of getting himself killed, Mackay ought to have vigorously defended our traditions.
Lest we forget, what, exactly, must we defend? Let’s start with private property rights, rights to free speech and a free press, parliamentary institutions, checks and balances on government, independence of the courts, religious freedom, and many more. We are far from perfect; indeed, we are failing in many ways. But chief among these is our failure to defend our own history and traditions because we are so busy bowing and scraping to the myth of multicultural equality.
Readers who want to see the European reaction to all this, at least through the eyes of rather outspoken German journalists should go to www.signandsight.com and read their weekly posts.