Multi-What?

Multiculturalism is a word that refers to a fact, as well as to a fallacy. On the one hand, a demographic change has and is occurring in America. For the past 40 years, most immigrants have come from Asia, Africa and Latin America, instead of from Europe. Moreover, the birthrates for these and other non-white minorities are substantially higher than for whites. This has led to a “browning of America” and to multiculturalism in fact. The ideology of multiculturalism, however, is a horse of a different color. Unlike the fact of multiculturalism, this ideology by the same name is a fallacy that poses a vital threat to America. Indeed, it is a tool of the political left for changing the country’s educational and political institutions. A variant of cultural relativism, it posits an explicit denial that Western and American civilizations have anything in them superior to other cultures. Further, the ideology entails the assertion that Western and American civilizations are actually worse, that successes for the past half millennium are the product of exploitation—namely colonialism, and slavery.

Well, that of course is horse hockey. In point of fact, colonialism and slavery are universal and not distinctively Western. The British conquered India and ruled it for 300 years, but before the British there were the Persians, the Mongols, the Afghans, and Alexander the Great. As for slavery, it has existed in all cultures: ancient India, China, Greece and Rome, and in Africa. American Indians even practiced it before Columbus corrupted them. What’s uniquely Western isn’t slavery but abolition—the movement to end slavery developed in Western civilization. As author and academic Dinesh D’Souza, himself an immigrant from India, has stated, “Never outside the West have slave-owners and potential slave-owners proclaimed principles condemning it, and expended blood and treasure ending it.” Moreover, Western civilization has produced the height of all civilizations in certain respects, to include literature. As Saul Bellow pointed out a few years ago, there ain’t a Tolstoy of the Zulus or a Proust amongst the Papuans. (He caught quite a bit of flack for his insensitivity, by the way). Obviously, there are great works produced by non-Western cultures—and you can add these and still remain anchored in Western thought and culture!

Recently the multicultural ideologues came up with another bizarre idea to give reparations for slavery—cash payments to blacks today to make up for the injustice of historical slavery. It made me think of what Muhammad Ali said after his mid-1970s fight with George Foreman. The fight was held in Zaire. After he returned to America, he was asked what he thought of Africa. He replied, “Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat.” Although a funny quip, colonialism and slavery proved ironical. They were bad for the generations experiencing them but indirectly beneficial to generations that followed. D’Souza points out that his Indian grandfather was embittered by the unfair treatment he experienced under British rule. Paradoxically, however, as a consequence of the same colonial rule, his grandchild learned ideas and traditions that inform a Western understanding of freedom: separation of powers, democracy, human dignity, equal rights.

Slavery in America was clearly harmful and wrong to the people who lived under it, but it proved to be the unintended transmission belt that brought Africans into the orbit of Western freedom. Are the descendants of slaves really worse off? Would Jesse Jackson be better off living in Uganda? Would we? (Don’t answer that). No, we cannot repair the harm done to those who suffered under slavery, but it would be absurd to pay those who have benefited most from their ancestors’ suffering.

There’s something else I want to say about the liberals’ mantra, “We are the world.” When they say multicultural, ask them “multi-what?” I don’t want America to be a microcosm of the world, if by that you would include all the ignorance, ugliness, vice and corruption that are present in the world—chiefly (though not exclusively) from non-Western imports. No, I’m old fashioned enough to want the best for America. I want to bring the best minds and the best souls here and to encourage those to flourish. America ought to represent a filtration of the mass of humanity. We need to have reasonable rates of immigration, and we ought to be selective. Western and American institutions are uniquely suited to bring out the best in everyone who is here—you might even say our institutions are superior in that regard. In the process, it doesn’t matter what color you are, to what race or religion you belong. It matters intensely, however, the character and the heart you bring. It matters that you are willing to uphold the Constitution of these United States and to love this great Republic. We are not the world, we are what the world hopes to become.