Nine Perversions of Multiculturalism

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The fraudulence of much that currently masquerades under the name “multiculturalism” results from gross perversions of what, in 1972, I called the new ethnicity. Multiculturalism is a profound betrayal of the fundamental principles of the new ethnicity. In the current culture wars on campus, however, an explicit indictment of the perversions of multiculturalism may be useful.

1. Anti-Americanism. Since it regards the West (at least its white males) as imperialistic, and America as the most advanced face of the West, multiculturalism expresses hostility to American traditions and institutions, while glorifying non-Western cultures, especially those inimical to America.

2. Victimology. Multiculturalism tends to divide the world into a privileged set of victims and their alleged oppressors, through the lens of a loose and vulgar Marxism. This Marxism is cultural rather than economic.

3. Ego-boosting. The aim of multiculturalism is to boost “self-esteem” at the expense, if necessary, of facts.

4. Evasion. The assumption of multiculturalism is that its selected favorites cannot meet universal standards because of the evil actions of others; therefore, multiculturalism regards honest inquiry as pointless. It further pretends that its privileged groups are innocent. Having no awareness of “original sin,” it is merciless toward others.

5. Tactical Relativism. Multiculturalism pretends to be “nonjudgmental,” hiding behind the myth of moral equivalence, while it is in fact based upon harsh judgments about good and evil (and the oppressed and their oppressors).

6. Censorship. Since it regards inquiry as useless, criticism as malevolent, intellect as impotent, and reason as nothing more than a servant of power, multiculturalism protects its wishes through speech codes, the banning of books, and the shouting down of opposing voices.

7. Groupthink. Blind to the complex relations of individuals to the communities that nurture them, multiculturalism approaches people only as members of groups and, afraid of the creativity of dissenting individuals, imposes thought control by humiliating dissidents in public, and encourages its partisans to look to each other before speaking out.

8. Egalityranny. In the name of “equality” wrongly understood, multiculturalism focuses on groups, group outcomes, and group statistical profiles — in ways destructive of individual aspiration and achievement. Equality falsely construed (as uniformity) can scarcely be imposed upon the blooming, buzzing abundance of individual vitality — except through despotic methods.

9. Double standards. Multiculturalism is constituted by double standards. Multiculturalism basks in the supposition that there are no universal standards by which individuals and cultures may be judged.

By contrast, the new ethnicity also recognizes that every human being is “rooted,” and that each one’s social history is important — but never forgets that the unlimited drive to ask questions (implanted in each of us) impels us toward the higher standards and aspirations possible to the human species as a whole, rather than to those of our particular group or culture. For the new ethnicity, it is human to be rooted. It is our vocation to fulfill universal standards — to give play to our capacity for universal sympathies, to our unlimited drive to ask questions, and to our unrestricted desire to know. Multiculturalism is moved by the eros of Narcissus; the new ethnicity is driven by the eros of unrestricted understanding.

To be sure, the diversity of human cultures is so great, and the nuances of difference are so many, that it is probably not possible to state a common faith (or moral code) in one set of abstract universal principles. On the other hand, so many basic elements of life are common to the human condition that there are likely to be “family resemblances” in the ways in which peoples deal with such realities as these: birth, growing up, falling in love, sickness, pain, striving and failure, marriage and having children, eating and drinking, betrayal, friendship, separation, death. All communication across cultures depends on such resemblances — on the analogical method — rooted in the fundamentals of human life. The search for analogies (“family resemblances”) is more fruitful than the search for universal abstract statements of principle. Of many cultures, we are one species. We thirst to recognize our common humanity. The act of recognizing analogies awakens a natural desire for transcultural standards, such as might express our ultimate unity.

For such reasons, the study of other cultures is endlessly fascinating. It is so even as a way of gaining self-knowledge, since in others one may also discover unknown parts of oneself. Similarly, it takes more than a lifetime to appropriate — [Latin, ad + proprius, to make one’s own] — that is, to internalize, the riches of one’s own heritage.

The past records both sins against wisdom, and wisdom painfully acquired. Let those whose ancestors are without sin throw the first stones. Let those without sin throw the first stone at their ancestors. My father once told me that people who boast about their ancestors are like potatoes — “the only good part of them is underground.” Yet he urged us all to study history avidly. He warned us not to be surprised to find that our ancestors were in some things smarter than we. (That is probably a good definition of a conservative — one who believes that his grandparents were at least as good as he.)

When and if multiculturalism embraces truth — shows genuine respect for all (including dead white males) — and ceases to be intolerant toward any but the “politically correct,” it may command some measure of respect. As long as its fundamental appeal is to its own moral superiority, intolerance, and coercion, it deserves to be met with contempt by those who seek to live under standards of evidence and truth.

Michael Novak

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Michael Novak held for many years the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and is now a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University. He is a philosopher, theologian, and author, as well as the 1994 recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He has been an emissary to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He has written over twenty-seven books on the philosophy and theology of culture, especially the essential elements of a free society. He also founded Crisis Magazine with Ralph McInerny in 1982.

  • Thomas C.Coleman, Jr.

    Everything that Dr. Novak says is true. I am afraid, however, that we are powerless to deal with these phenomena as long as we deny thier pedigree and purpsoe. All of the assumptions of the multiculturalism are were desinged to promote the Marxists view of a world divided between a socialist camp and an imperialist camp. By promoting these asssumptions through the infiltration and control of the faculites of colleges that our young are virtually forced to attend to get jobs, marxists were able to determine waht would be acceptable beliefs for educated people to hold, hence the phenomenon of PC, whihc nmost people think just sprang into existence of out spontaeous generation. The PC really just an extension of Communist Party Discipline in which people must tow the line ono such matters as marriage being an outmoded institution and Western Civlization being based on exploitation, and religion being a tool for the ruing class to oppress the poor. These are all distinctly Marxist notions and are bineg used to instill self-hatred in the educated young of the West. All of our insitutions are not filled with people who are PC–they are in our military, intelligence communities, education systems, hosptitals, diplomatic corps, seminaries, and even our military chaplaincy. And these rascals get away with it because anyone who points out that the PC baby is not an orphan will be accused of McCarthyism, even my Catholics, who are one of the main targets of PC/marixst wrath. The only Catholics the PC gang has use for are those who are willing to denounce every doctrine of the Church help transform Holy Mother Chruch into an agent of social reform, which includes the acceptance of the homosexual agenda and disarming of the US. Does anyone really imagine that with the supposed collapse of the Svoiet Union Communists the world over ran off and got baptized. Were purgers of Marxist professors held at Russian universities. Marxists the world over, aware of the role that the Church did have in the fall of the Soviet sysem are even more determined than ever to destroy the Church. The enemy has infiltrated the Chruch like a virus, and now we hear condemnatin of our country and Chruch even from our own pulpits from disaffected clergyman who helped elect the most proabortion anti-Christian President ever because they confuse socialism with Christianity, imagine that this protoge of Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, and Sol Alinzsky will bring peace to the world by cutting the evil US down to size, and–let’s be honest–he supports the homosexual agenda. This is only part of what PC has brought us. And most of us will just sit here and take it because were afraid to have people call us reactionaries or McCarhtyists. So we wax blase to learrn that 45% of US Catholics don’t even KNOW that the Church tells us that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. Thurday is the anniversary of the miraculous vcitroy at Lepanto. If we do not soon rally around the Cross of Christ and admit who our enemies are…Our Lady of Victory pray for us!

  • david ambuul

    It is hard for me to think clearly after hearing Our Lady of Victory’s title spoken of in the framework of our PC western world! I’m madly in love with her and figure she must appreciate deeply Michael’s sentiments; I wonder if Therese in Paris, before offing for Rome to speak with the pope about her mature desire for sisterhood, told Our Lady at Notre-Dame de Victories that she hopes the big pope from a big city like Paris in Italy would understand a little girl from the small town in Liseux? Maybe the fact that that old pope knew a thing or two about subsidiarity was over her head and Mary just assured Therese through the warm embrace of a Mother who loved a child that never really knew her mother. Who knows? What is sure is that Therese got her wish and was accepted early as a nun. For the pope was never sucked in by the winds of his time.
    Today it’s PC to talk about solving world hunger over half-eaten plates of sushi. And while people starve in third world countries, Mega-banks make deals for lower interest rates with the dictators of these countries if they will just be sure to lower that birth rate which is a threat to western soverignty and secularism. An easy deal for depraved leaders. You won’t learn this history at Notre Dame de South Bend! You learn it talking to these third world citizens who come to our county looking for sustenance; they may not be scholars but they are far from dumb.
    I hope that some day soon a real scholar (or scholars) of economics and Christrian patrimony will not only explain why debt-based money is a tool of the wicked, but also begin to explicate an alternative for the void the corrupt IMF and World Bank will soon leave. The possibilities this would create for a more peaceful world cannot be easily measured.
    Thanks Mr. Novak for your insight -I figure you won’t find my plea too PC!
    Notre-Dame de Victories, pray for us.

  • Andy F,

    This only has one solution and it’s not wrapped up in Americanism or Anti-Americanism: Catholic culture.

  • David Ambuul

    I hope you’re wrong Andy unless you mean by Catholic culture all the people of this world who are of good will whether they are Hindu, Buddist, Muslim, Protestant or whatever; then, I hope you are right! It seems to me a natural, universal desire that noboby be overtaxed by governments or bilked by banking interest(s).

  • Marthe L

    As a Canadian, where “multiculturalism” is part of our culture, I would really like to know what Mr.Novak means by this word, because I just cannot understand his condemnation. I think we are in two very different worlds about this… And no, I am not part of the PC crowd. I was born from French-Canadian parents who were descendants from French settlers from the early to mid-17th century, and who kept their language and their culture not just intact, but growing and developing. Here some of us understand “multiculturalism” as another form of being able to continue living in our French and Catholic tradition, while remaining accepting of people with other cultures.

  • Andy F.

    There is only one culture that will save the world and it’s source and summit is the Holy Eucharist. It is our command from Our Lord to evangelize this good news to all cultures and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  • David Ambuul

    Thanks Andy! I try to get everyone I know who is Catholic back to Mass and everyone who isn’t baptized; these days, tough work. I do however meet sincere people of other faiths who have either intellectual or spiritual blocks to the fullness of truth and I think many of these are people who will be saved through the sufferance (is that the correct word?) of the Holy Catholic Church.

  • Phocion

    Great point Marthe

  • Don

    I’ve noticed how “multiculturalism” means attacking the Church–doing things like telling the children of Hispanics that November 2 is a pagan feast day, and if they celebrate the Day of the Dead as All Souls’ Day instead of a day of ancestor worship they’r betraying their ancestors.

  • Grandpa

    Publish ANYTHING, as long as it keeps us off the topic of the church’s pedophiles…

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