The Multicultural Cult

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Somebody eventually had to say it — and German chancellor Angela Merkel deserves credit for being the one who had the courage to say it out loud. Multiculturalism has “utterly failed.”

Multiculturalism is not just a recognition that different groups have different cultures. We all knew that, long before multiculturalism became a cult that has spawned mindless rhapsodies about “diversity,” without a speck of evidence to substantiate its supposed benefits.

In Germany, as in other countries in Europe, welcoming millions of foreign workers who insist on remaining foreign has created problems so obvious that only the intelligentsia could fail to see them. It takes a high IQ to evade the obvious.

“We kidded ourselves for a while,” Chancellor Merkel said, but now it was clear that the attempt to build a society where people of very different languages and cultures could “live side-by-side” and “enjoy each other” has “failed, utterly failed.”

This is not a lesson for Germany alone. In countries around the world, and over the centuries, peoples with jarring differences in language, cultures and values have been a major problem and, too often, sources of major disasters for the societies in which they co-exist.

Even the tragedies and atrocities associated with racial differences in racist countries have been exceeded by the tragedies and atrocities among people with clashing cultures who are physically indistinguishable from one another, as in the Balkans or Rwanda.

Among the ways that people with different cultures have managed to minimize frictions have been (1) mutual cultural accommodations, even while not amalgamating completely, and (2) living separately in their own enclaves. Both of these approaches are anathema to the multicultural cultists.

Expecting any group to adapt their lifestyles to the cultural values of the larger society around them is “cultural imperialism” according to the multicultural cult. And living in separate neighborhoods is considered to be so terrible that there are government-financed programs to take people from high-crime slums and put them in subsidized housing in middle-class neighborhoods.

Multiculturalists condemn people’s objections to transplanting hoodlums, criminals and dysfunctional families into the midst of people who may have sacrificed for years to be able to escape from living among hoodlums, criminals and dysfunctional families.

The actual direct experience of the people who complain about the consequences of these social experiments is often dismissed as mere biased “perceptions” or “stereotypes,” if not outright “racism.” But some of the strongest complaints have come from middle-class blacks who have fled ghetto life, only to have the government transplant ghetto life back into their midst.

The absorption of millions of immigrants from Europe into American society may be cited as an example of the success of multiculturalism. But, in fact, they were absorbed in ways that were the direct opposite of what the multicultural cult is recommending today.

Before these immigrants were culturally assimilated to the norms of American society, they were by no means scattered at random among the population at large. On New York’s lower east side, Hungarian Jews lived clustered together in different neighborhoods from Romanian Jews or Polish Jews — and German Jews lived away from the lower east side.

When someone suggested relieving the overcrowding in the lower east side schools by transferring some of the children to a school in an Irish neighborhood that had space, both the Irish and the Jews objected.

None of this was peculiar to America. When immigrants from southern Italy to Australia moved into neighborhoods where people from northern Italy lived, the northern Italians moved out. Such scenarios could be found in countries around the world.

It was in later generations, after the children and grandchildren of the immigrants to America were speaking English and living lives more like the lives of other Americans, that they spread out to live and work where other Americans lived and worked. This wasn’t multiculturalism. It was common sense.

There was a reason why employers in the middle of the 19th century had signs that said, “No Irish need apply” — and why employers in the middle of the 20th century no longer had such signs. It was not that employers had changed. The Irish had changed.

The Catholic Church for years worked to bring about such changes among the Irish immigrants and their offspring, just as various religious and secular organizations among the Jews, among blacks and among other groups worked to bring about changes within their respective groups. By and large these efforts paid off. All these groups were advancing, long before there were civil rights laws.

Yet today, attempts to get black or Hispanic youngsters to speak the language of the society around them are decried by multiculturalists. And any attempt to get them to behave according to the cultural norms of the larger society is denounced as “cultural imperialism,” if not racism.

The multicultural dogma is that we are to “celebrate” all cultures, not change them. In other words, people who lag educationally or economically are to keep on doing what they have been doing — but somehow have better results in the future than in the past. And, if they don’t have better results in the future, it is society’s fault.

Such notions have been tried, and failed, in other countries and times, long before they became a fashionable dogma called multiculturalism.

In 19th century Latvia and Bohemia, among other places in Eastern Europe, the great majority of Germans were literate, while most of the indigenous peoples around them were not. Not surprisingly, Germans had more education and skills, and enjoyed a higher standard of living.

In both Latvia and Bohemia, the German minority held most of the jobs requiring education and skills. But, in both places, the indigenous people — Latvians and Czechs — could rise by acquiring the German language and culture, and many did.

But, for the newly rising Latvian and Czech intelligentsia, that was not enough. They wanted to be able to rise without having to learn a different language and culture.

Nor were Latvians and Czechs unique. Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, Malays in Malaysia and Maoris in New Zealand are just some of the others who have wanted the same thing — namely, to cling to their own culture and yet achieve the same success as people with a different culture.

Many of these efforts have failed and few have succeeded. But what is truly painful is how often the polarization created by these efforts led to tragedies, such as civil war in Sri Lanka and brutal mass expulsions of millions of Germans from Czechoslovakia, to the detriment of both the Germans and the Czech economy.

The history of blacks in the United States has been more complicated. By the end of the 19th century, the small numbers of blacks living in northern cities had, over the generations, assimilated the culture of the surrounding society to the point where they lived and worked among the white population more fully than they would in most of the 20th century.

In New York, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia and other Northern cities, black ghettos became a 20th century phenomenon. It was after the massive migration of far less acculturated blacks out of the South in the early 20th century when a massive retrogression in black-white relations took place in the Northern cites to which the migrants moved.

The blacks who moved to these cities were of the same race as those who were already there, but they were not the same in their culture, values and behavior. No one complained of this more bitterly than the blacks already living in these cities, who saw the newcomers as harbingers of a worse life for all blacks.

This same process occurred on the west coast decades later, largely during World War II, when the same influx of less acculturated blacks from the South marked a retrogression in race relations in places like San Francisco and Portland.

Cultural differences matter. They have always mattered, however much that may be denied today by the multicultural cult.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His Web site is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page.

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