Against Multiculturalism

Take a moment to think again about one of the most important sentences ever written:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, the Founders set out a proudly universalist vision of natural rights. If all men are created equal, then preferences for one tribe, sect or class over another, whether in law or custom, are wrong.

This statement was a (literally) revolutionary rejection of the caste systems – and tribe-based identities – of other nations of the world. It spoke of universal natural rights. According to this vision, all men have rights granted unalienably by the Creator, rather than revocably by the State. They are seen as individuals rather than as members of groups that by virtue of their births would be entitled to greater or lesser privileges.

Yes, the Founders were imperfect, and it took a long time for them and their successors to see that the same rights belonged to African-Americans and to women, but the power of the vision they set out ultimately prevailed over even their own deeply embedded cultural biases.

The very universality of the Founders’ vision – and the prospect of being able to exercise unalienable freedoms – is what attracted millions of immigrants to abandon their birthright nations and cultures. The immigrants who came to these shores, other than the Africans who came in chains, didn’t want to be peasants in Europe, or persecuted minorities wherever, any longer. They came to build new lives in a context of universal rights and freedoms. Ours was to be a nation inspired and unified, indeed created, by this vision rather than on the basis of tribal or religious ties, or by conquest.

Of course there were elements of the immigrants’ native cultures that they treasured – and would share with others in their new land – but moving here shows that they were more attracted to the American vision than to the worlds that they were leaving behind.

***

In recent years, the melting pot has fallen out of favor as a metaphor for American culture. A new emphasis on multiculturalism has, instead, encouraged Americans to hold fast to the primacy of their older cultural and ethnic identities and group loyalties. La Raza and Black Lives Matter are celebrated for promoting racial unity among their respective tribes over a universalist identity as Americans.

Many progressives now loathe the very idea of the melting pot. ‘Cultural Appropriation’ – one subculture adopting the styles or tastes of another – is cast as a grievous sin against those whose habits are being borrowed, instead of as a natural blending of tastes and interests among people of all backgrounds.

To those who hold these views, apparently, we are not supposed to learn from each other. We are instead encouraged to remain apart.

In its extreme forms – which now predominate on the left – multiculturalism is the very opposite of the unifying, universalist vision set out by the Founders. It is a reassertion of old color-religion-and-caste –based primary identities, each presumed to be inherited, inescapable and determinative of every individual’s rights, responsibilities and cultural inclinations. (Look, for example at how African-American conservatives are labeled as “race traitors” or “not genuine” – as if there could be only one way that people of that ethnic background are allowed to think).

This form of multiculturalism robs us of our individuality, labeling us by groups and presumed status as victims or oppressors in intentional furtherance of a government-imposed spoils system – a direct descendant of the caste systems that the Founders were rebelling against. It stands in opposition to the American idea – that a great nation and a new identity can be formed E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.

The ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of this country will remain among its greatest strengths as long as we can all learn from each other, work and live in the context of a unifying, universalist vision of individual rights. It will be a terrible weakness if people cling to narrower, group-defined identities, each locked into permanent conflict with the others.

Our common identities as Americans  – and free individuals – must come first in our hearts, or the American experiment will fail.

 

M.H. Johnston

4 comments to Against Multiculturalism

  • Jeff  says:

    Glad to see you back commenting, if only occasionally.

  • john primm  says:

    We need voices such as yours–keep up the good work and keep the Faith!

  • Aaron Trehub  says:

    Mark,

    Excellent piece on one of the most important questions of the day and one of the most serious threats to the American experiment(another is the growth of the administrative state, on which see Philip Hamburger and Steven Hayward, at https://www.city-journal.org/html/how-government-agencies-usurp-our-rights-14948.html and http://www.claremont.org/crb/article/the-threat-to-liberty/ respectively). Will pass it around.

    Best,

    Aaron

  • agbong88  says:

    In particular, it shows how reason, freedom and individuality the cornerstones of democracy and civil rights are being undermined by the ideology of multiculturalism and its elevation of particular identities and rights over universal political freedom.

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