August 1, 2002
I referred in my last Meditation to the liberalism that has dominated American culture and politics since the 1960s and to the "multiculturalism" that is at the heart of that liberalism. What is this multiculturalism; how is it related to our liberalism and to the war in which we now find ourselves?
Multiculturalism is a doctrine, produced exclusively by Western culture, whose most recognizable teaching is the equality of all cultures: the "values" of each culture are of equal validity to the values of any other culture. There is no independent standard by which one can judge between cultures or values.
One intended civic or political effect of this doctrine is to teach American students and citizens to transcend the supposedly narrow prejudice that marches under the dangerous name of "patriotism." Multicultural Americans try to transcend American patriotism and its dangers by—among other things—subjecting it to the "multi"-national control of international bodies like the United Nations or the new International Court of Justice at the Hague.
American patriotism is understood by multicultural Americans to be an expression of national "chauvinism" or "jingoism." The multicultural American, if he is generously inclined, will regard American patriotism with condescending irony, the distinctive civic disposition of the intellectual. After all, he will know in his soul, in the popularly resurrected phrase, that "one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist." The millions of parents, and siblings, and spouses, and children, and friends of the hundreds of thousands of Americans now in uniform will naturally hold some reservations about this view. And some American liberals, who had felt quite comfortable, even superior, with their easy-going multiculturalism, became understandably uneasy when the "freedom fighters" started blowing up their friends and relatives and their cities.
Tenured multiculturalists (who tend to be the most hard-core) are, generally speaking, not bothered in the least with this problem. Media multiculturalists (less fully indoctrinated on the whole) have a few more twinges of conscience and, in any case, must think of their ratings. But, among our multiculturalists, the elected liberal politicians find it most difficult to sneer publicly at American patriotism, however much they may wish to subject it to "multi"-national control. Most elected liberal politicians attempt to solve this problem by finding a place in their multicultural frame of mind for something they can sincerely call patriotism, however ersatz. What unites and dignifies America, they will say, is our diversity. America is special and can be defended because America respects all cultures and all values! "Stand up and fight for everything you can think of!"
Nonetheless, even the elected liberals’ response to September 11 revealed their multicultural soul. The old-fashioned, unsophisticated, just, common-sensical, and American response—when someone slaughters thousands of one’s innocent fellow citizens—is to hunt the murderers down and kill them. The immediate, deeply instinctive response of America’s liberal intellectuals and media was to wring their hands in distress about possible American "Islamophobia." As the weeks passed, this multicultural attitude manifested itself clearly among elected and appointed liberal officials (Democrat and Republican) in the now familiar policy: In looking for terrorists (or freedom fighters!) we must be careful not to look for young Arab-looking men with Middle East passports who have publicly expressed their wish to kill Americans.
But this is far from the end of the multicultural problem for today’s American liberal, and therefore for America, because multiculturalism cannot help going much further. It not only asks Americans to tolerate other cultures; it does not stop even at "respect" for other cultures. It insists that we "affirm" other cultures and values, indeed, that we "celebrate" them. This is why we are all required in American schools, and businesses, and government offices these days to "celebrate diversity." "Three cheers for everything you can think of!"
Well, not quite everything. The honest multiculturalist not only admits but insists that the full-throated celebration of "other" cultures and values is made possible and necessary only by the wholehearted rejection and indeed condemnation of what is not "other." And here in America, the leading power of the West, that means, of course, America and Western Civilization. The core passion of multiculturalism, from which all its teachings and prescriptions flow, was well-expressed some years ago at Stanford University in the chant led by Jesse Jackson, among others: "Hey, Hey! Ho, Ho! Western Civ has got to go!"
Christopher Flannery is a Member of the Board of Advisors at the Ashbrook Center and a Professor of Political Science at Azusa Pacific University.