What is Multiculturalism and Should We Embrace It?

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Multiculturalism is a thorny topic. It is also a topic on which any truly rational discussion is very difficult. The problem is that many people equate criticism of multiculturalism with racism. Since nobody wants to be accused of racism (quite rightly), it is easier and safer to avoid talking about anything that might get one accused of it. This is, however, unhelpful in a world in which multiculturalism is often the very cause of much of the racism in society. If we wish to address the evil of racism, we must address its causes, one of which is a certain type of multiculturalism. Before we look at contemporary multiculturalism, it might be helpful to look at how it has impacted history, for better or worse.

Let’s begin with the Norman Conquest of England, the 950th anniversary of which we commemorate this year. For Hilaire Belloc, a dyed-in-the-wool Francophile, this had been a blessing for England, infusing English culture with a French influence which Belloc believed was beneficial. For J.R.R. Tolkien, however, an equally dyed-in-the-wool defender of Anglo-Saxondom, the Conquest had been an unmitigated disaster, bringing to an end a golden age of English culture, alive with great saints and great works of literature. For Belloc, the Conquest was the birth of true England; for Tolkien, it was the destruction of the Shire.

There is no doubt that the multicultural fusion of the two languages, Old English and Norman French, which happened over the following centuries, flowering into full bloom with Chaucer and reaching breathtaking heights with Shakespeare, has given us the English language that we love. Yet it came at the cost of Old English, which was killed in the process of the fusion, a loss that Tolkien and others would no doubt think was too high a price to pay.

Moving onto thornier ground, we have the multiculturalism of the New World. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the various tribes fought with each other and, in some cases, sacrificed their own children to their gods. After the arrival of the Europeans, the tribes fought with the newcomers, resenting their arrival, understandably enough, and struggled, ultimately unsuccessfully, to retain their own way of life. In this case, the mixing of two cultures did not result in a fusion but in the destruction of one culture by the imposition of the will of the other. In the language of the wild west of Hollywood’s invention, the town (or the continent) wasn’t big enough for the both of us. One had to make way for the other.

From the multicultural perspective, it might be said that things got better after this somewhat unfortunate start. Waves of immigrants from various cultures moved into the United States, threatening and ultimately supplanting the cultural hegemony of the WASPs. The story of the United States, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, might be seen as the golden age of multiculturalism, the triumph of the so-called Melting Pot. The secret of its success, as G.K. Chesterton surmised, is that the melting pot was strong enough to withstand the heat and the friction caused by the mixing of the various cultures, enabling the various ethnic ingredients to melt and meld into a vaguely homogenized nation. The melting pot’s strength resided in the economic prosperity which the United States generated during this period and in the cultural unity that being “American” signified at the time. The pot was forged, therefore, by an alloy of material wealth and patriotic cohesion.

The success and ultimate viability of multiculturalism is, therefore, connected to the melting pot within which it exists. If the pot is made of too weak a material to withstand the heat generated by ethnic fusion it will itself melt, resulting in the anarchy that leads to violence and thence to the tyrannical restoration of ruthless “order.” If, on the other hand, it needs to be made of the hard and toxic metal known as totalitarium in order to prevent its melting, multiculturalism serves merely as the prerequisite to tyranny. In short, if the melting pot becomes too weak or too strong, it becomes a menace to human liberty and to the flourishing of authentic culture. This is the situation in which we find ourselves today, especially in Europe.

The pouring of a large number of Muslims into the secular melting pot of contemporary Europe has caused a cultural reaction that has raised the temperature of the pot to such a degree that it is in danger of melting. Indeed, there is the very real danger of a cultural meltdown of possibly unprecedented proportions.

Muslims have refused to melt and meld into the secularist mud and muddle that surrounds them, and who can blame them? Preferring Mohammed to Mammon, the prophet of God, as they see it, to the god of profit, they demand sharia law, seeking to separate themselves from the oil of slippery relativism like acerbically acidic vinegar. Understood in this light, the efforts by the European Union to force its minions—i.e. its member states—to accept millions of new Muslims into the volatile mix must be seen as ill-advised, to say the least. Thankfully, it is seen as such by dissident nations, such as Hungary and Poland, who are fighting to resist the senseless situation that the European Union is trying to force upon them. In doing so, in daring to question the wisdom of this form of multiculturalism, the Hungarian and Polish people are being accused of racism and xenophobia. This is grossly and grotesquely unjust because their opposition is not based upon hatred of those of a different race or upon a fear of foreigners but on the desire to preserve their own culture from the radical relativism of the European Union and the radical islamisation that has plagued other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

Perhaps the best way of putting ourselves in the shoes of the Poles and Hungarians is to put ourselves in the shoes of the British, French, or Germans seventy years ago, at the time in which the islamisation of these countries began. Take Britain, for example. Back in 1948, with the passing of the British Nationality Act, which opened the doors of Britain to unprecedented levels of immigration, none could have guessed that, almost seventy years later, Islamic Fundamentalism would be widespread in the UK and that British-born Muslims would become homegrown terrorists who hate the country in which they were born. Were anyone to have suggested such a nightmare scenario at the time, he would have been dismissed as a deranged prophet of doom. Now that the nightmare has become a reality, there seems little that can be done. The Muslims, like the Normans of a near-millennium ago, are in the UK to stay, for better or worse. Unlike the Normans, however, they seem unlikely to assimilate. The tensions are, therefore, likely to beset British culture for generations to come. So be it. It makes little sense to shed too many tears over spilt milk, whether it was spilt at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 or with the passing of a disastrous act of Parliament in 1948. The real issue is not that the British have made the uncomfortable bed in which they are now doomed to lie but whether the Poles and Hungarians and other nations who have not suffered from such islamisation should be forced to follow suit? Why should those who have not made the perilous mistake be forced to follow the disastrous footsteps of those who have?

If we could turn the clock back to 1066, Belloc and Tolkien, and other men of good will, could argue whether England would be a better place had she averted the Norman Conquest. By contrast, who, in their right mind, would argue that Britain would have been better off had she not imported millions of largely anti-British Muslims into her midst, creating thereby an insoluble problem for perhaps centuries to come? If this is so, who, in their right mind, can blame Poland, Hungary, and others from learning from Britain’s mistake?

Editor’s note: This column first appeared June 5, 2016 on Imaginative Conservative and is reprinted with permission.

Joseph Pearce

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Joseph Pearce is Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, TN. He is also the co-editor of the St. Austin Review, executive director of Catholic Courses and series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. His book on Alexander Solzhenitsyn received the prestigious Pollock Award for Christian Biography.

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