Free Hal is a regular commenter and sometime contributor at Gates of Vienna. Below is his latest essay.
The causes of PC multiculturalism
by Free Hal
In case you’ve forgotten, here are a few more-or-less random examples of multiculturalism in action:
- A 14-year-old schoolgirl arrested, fingerprinted, photographed, held in a police cell for 3½ hours, and questioned on suspicion of a race-based public order offence. She had asked to sit at a different science table because the other three pupils only spoke Urdu.
- A 10-year-old boy (just inside the age of criminal responsibility, “doli incapax” ending at age 10) arrested, charged, and brought before a judge. He had responded to taunts from an 11-year-old that he was a “skunk” and a “Teletubby” with the word “Paki”.
- The makers of the Channel 4 documentary “Undercover Mosque” subjected to a year-long police investigation for investigating extremism in mosques.
You can find similar stories most days, usually accompanied by a helping of bafflement.
We know multiculturalism exists. The question is why?
In this essay I maintain that the cause of PC multiculturalism and self-loathing is the welfare state and, specifically, the welfare state’s justifying ideology, collectivism.
By “collectivism” I mean the morality of group rights. The idea that you are judged, and have rights, based on your group identity. You’re poorer than average? Here’s some money. You’ve come here from a poor country? Here’s a house, some money, and a TV. Feel bad about those cartoons? We’ll ban them.
Collectivism clashes with traditional morality, which is based on our individual actions and intentions. You built a house from nothing? It’s yours. You bashed an old lady over the head for her handbag? Jail for you.
Think of the welfare system as the computer hardware, collectivism as the operating system, and the various PC utopias as the software applications.
Surprisingly, few of the thinkers who warn us about cultural relativism and multiculturalism have convincingly traced its roots.
A summary of some of the best explanations follows: Melanie Phillips, Theodore Dalrymple, Paul Gottfried, Fjordman, Geert Wilders, and Mark Steyn. There isn’t the space to do them justice, and I would recommend reading all of them.
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She puts our enervating political culture down to the general philosophy of relativism amongst intellectual elites, and a lack of appropriate pride in our institutions and traditions.
You can’t disagree with this view. But it restates the situation rather than explains it. It would be wrong to call her reasoning tautologous, but moral and cultural relativism describe the texture of western self-loathing rather than its roots.
Where did the cultural relativism come from? You get the impression that we only need a good shake to get out of it.
He explains political correctness as “communist propaganda writ small”. Marxism, unlike fascism, survived its denouement, and has retained its attraction to intellectuals because of the status it gives them, and they have evolved it into a more resilient form.
These points go further than Melanie Phillips’, but still strike me as observations rather than explanations. They do not explain why the non-elites, the voters, have allowed political correctness to continue. Commentators generally skirt around this issue. British scepticism for egg-heads, and scorn for politicians, are poor soil for a self-serving elite. It is unlikely that British voters tolerate soft-core Marxism for the privilege of supporting unnecessary academics.
Theodore Dalrymple seems to me to come close to a theory about elites conspiring to manipulate and rob their electorates. In other words, the public are unwilling dupes. Whilst he is right about the anaesthetic effects of political correctness and the welfare dependence, I don’t think these factors are enough to force the public to get themselves robbed. Given that every percentage point of the vote must be fought over, it is hard to see the public as mere victims here.
Modern day liberal Marxism goes a long way to explain the mentality of PC self-loathing, but doesn’t explain how it arises.
In “Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy”, Paul Gottfried states that multiculturalism denies civil society its independence by casting it into competing groups. All of them are subject to the state’s authority, and depend on its patronage. Heretics fare badly, and there is “the substitution of designated victims for the older adoration of religious martyrs”. “Third World, gender, and lifestyle victims” become the new “suffering just”.
Paul Gottfried is right about the guilt-trip side of multiculturalism, and the state’s interest in undermining civil independence. But he too falls for the temptation to blame the elites rather than the public.
This is a similar to Theodore Dalrymple’s belief that multiculturalism is a deliberate government policy. It is true, but doesn’t explain public tolerance of it.
A brilliant and sensitive defender of our western heritage. His conclusions — e.g. that we have “no intellectual cadre that can think” — are the more devastating for being thoughtfully researched.
For him, “cultural Marxism” is a Gramscian strain that survived the fall of communism, and our treacherous elites promote it for their selfish ends. He is right. But like others, he avoids the unpalatable conclusion that those self-serving elites may be doing the public’s bidding. To be fair, he has expressed doubt that democracy is up to the challenge (“Democracy not Working”), but I think he lays too much emphasis on the role of (admittedly unscrupulous) elites.
His speeches to the Dutch Parliament accuse a cowardly and self-serving elite of handing over Western civilisation as an outgoing President might hand over the keys to the Oval Office. In a 2008 budget debate he stressed the disconnection between “the leftist canal-zone” (the high-price areas near to the Amsterdam canals where left-wing celebrities and politicians tend to live) and “The other Netherlands (which) consists of people who have to pay the bills”.
As one might expect from a democratic politician who still values state provision, this line avoids criticism of the electorate. Elite swindlers dupe the unsuspecting tax-paying public, and the public haven’t queried the bill yet.
Mark Steyn looks further than the elite for an explanation. First, he sees PC multiculturalism as one of the absurd symptoms of “civilisational exhaustion”. And the most civilisationally exhausted society, Europe, is the most absurdly multiculturalist.
Like Melanie Phillips, his argument doesn’t quite get to the root of the problem. For example, does PC multiculturalism cause civilisational exhaustion, or vice versa? No-one with sense would describe self-loathing and cultural relativism as a symptom of “civilisational vigour”. And if civilisational exhaustion is the deeper cause, how did it arise? And what is the cure? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a good shake is all we need.
Second, he appears to suggest that that exhaustion is the result of deathbed demographics — or is it the other way around? The question matters because unless you can identify a relatively fundamental cause, then it’s hard to find an intervention point that will work.
Perhaps it is just a matter of age — western civilisation has had a good long run and has had enough of leading? Mark Steyn, rightly, has little time for historical inevitability.
In “America Alone”, he suggests it is the result of the luxury of American military protection since World War I. If that were the case then it would not explain why America shares much of Europe’s self-loathing.
Second, why should self-loathing and multiculturalism, be the symptoms of shrinking demographics? Japan and China have deathbed demographics, and yet neither of them is falling for our PC multiculturalism. Japan still has low levels of immigration, and virtually no Islamic immigration, and shows no sign of abandoning its orderly culture. China appears to be combining a demographic crunch with civilisational resurgence, and is cited by Mark Steyn as an example of the ‘strong horse’ feared and respected by Jihadis. Russia has, if anything, even worse demographics, owing to disease and low male life expectancy, but shows no wish to abase itself before Europe. And whilst the British birth rate is significantly higher than Germany’s, PC multiculturalism appears to be higher in Britain. And America, whose population passed the 300 million mark two years ago, is playing catch-up with Britain in the self-loathing stakes.
I’m exaggerating slightly. And I think that there is merit to Mark Steyn’s view about demographics. But, those demographics look more like a reinforcer of self-loathing than its main cause.
I go along with these writers in that Europe’s elites bear a disproportionate share of the blame since they are not mere agents but trustees. However, they couldn’t get away with it without the implied consent of the voters.
Collectivism — the philosophical poison
Collectivism is the philosophical poison at the heart of Western self-loathing and PC multiculturalism.
At least half of all wealth created in European countries is spent by the state, which generally forces higher earners to subsidise consumption for lower earners. It is a good deal for lower-earners, who make up a majority of the electorate.
This system operates by coercion, but it is not just a mafia racket. It requires stability for the wealth to be created in the first place, and a justifying ideology to minimise opposition. Monarchies use the ideology of the divine right of kings. Welfare democracy uses collectivism.
Collectivism has been successful. Its meaningless language about “compassion” (forcible extraction of money from someone else), “social justice” (equal incomes), “investment” (subsidised consumption), and “giving money to the rich” (reducing tax), is accepted at face value.
Collective wishes trump individual rights at the ballot box. And collectivism trumps individual morality philosophically, for lacking “social justice”, “compassion”, and “investment”, and for “giving money to the rich”. The days before collectivism were the Bad Old Days.
There are plenty of self-serving intellectuals to flesh out this crude orthodoxy: western culture was dull and unspectacular; individual responsibility is oppressive; self-restraint is repression; self-reliance is impossible.
Collectivist rights extend to other victim groups as well as the below average-earning majority: religious rights, racial minority rights, gender rights. Anyone who can stake a claim to a collective hardship has a collective entitlement, via the taxman.
This process irritates Europeans who find themselves on the wrong end of minority entitlements, e.g. the right not to be offended. This explains the tension on the ground between socialism and multiculturalism. But most recipients tolerate this rather than endanger the welfare flow.
The general public don’t much like the absurdities of multiculturalism, or the abuse of their history. But most will put up with it in favour of the drive for “services”. Not because they like it but because it is useful.
None of this happens suddenly or calculatedly. It is more like a set of habits that reproduce and develop over time, which explains their unquestioning acceptance.
Multiculturalism’s power derives from guilt. A century ago, British history focused on the high points of our history: the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Trafalgar and Waterloo. Today, it focuses on guilt: guilt over the Nazis (whom the British resisted); guilt over slavery (which the British eradicated); guilt over racism (which, prior to PC multiculturalism, was seldom a problem within Britain).
Multiculturalism is so useful because it disempowers people before the state. People will do appalling things if the state doesn’t take control for them. And it fits neatly with collectivist ideas which are lucrative to the majority of voters.
Multiculturalists are not slow to take up the opportunity. See for instance the calculated comments of the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, on the eve of Remembrance Sunday 2007, that Britain was becoming like Nazi Germany. Or, in 2000, Jack Straw’s (the UK Home Secretary) comments that the English are “potentially very aggressive, very violent” and — shock, horror! — “increasingly articulating their Englishness”.
Guilt overpowers opposition. Any accusation of chauvinism, or “being right-wing”, is enough to end discussion. Godwin’s Law states that “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one” and the discussion is effectively ended. This is why it is used so frequently to vilify opponents — see, for instance, Pim Fortuyn, here, and here.
Multiculturalism is a very efficient method of overcoming opposition to collectivism and its utopias.
What does all this mean now that things appear to be unravelling?
If I am right — that PC multiculturalism stems from the welfare state — then PC multiculturalism will continue. But it will cause more and more ethnic conflict as the limits to the tax-take hit home.
If people can’t increase overall tax-take by going after higher earners, they will transfer that hostility to other groups competing for welfare. Different groups will blame each other for taking more than their fair share of the welfare pot, and will cast each other as less deserving.
We can expect this scramble for welfare to fall out along ethnic lines. Partly because of the disproportionate consumption by Islamic populations; partly because European populations don’t see immigrant groups as having such strong collectivist entitlements as themselves; partly because multiculturalism entrenches ethnicity; and partly because the European ethnic divide is so deep.
The collapse of the welfare state will turn PC self-loathing into a sense of betrayal that is deaf to reason. Ethnic hostility may not be the primary or immediate cause of European breakdown but will be its apparent cause — a harbinger, and the thing that people blame.
It should be obvious from the above that I have deep misgivings about welfare democracy, and that I think collectivism and its tendrils are poisonous.
If welfare is the underlying cause of these problems, then the question is whether a state can be devised that doesn’t become a welfare state. The experience of America, from Founding Fathers to President George Bush, let alone President Obama, suggests that this isn’t possible. If not, then we need to devise ways to live and flourish without a state authority.