February 28, 2005
Vibrant multiculturalismBy Charles A. Coulombe
Type the phrase 'vibrant, multicultural' into the Google search engine, click 'Search,' and you will turn up no less than 7,120 hits. Most of these deal with various provinces, cities, counties and other local governments throughout the English—speaking world, although some belong to entities using other tongues including French, German, and Italian, which provide translations for prospective English—speaking tourists. Inevitably, this phrase is used in something like the following manner:
'Innsmouth [or whatever the place is called] enters the 21st century as a vibrant, multicultural community. From Slobboviantown to Gay Village, we offer restaurants, clubs, and institutions fitting 20 some ethnic groups and a host of modern lifestyles. We also...'
And so it goes. Apparently, vibrancy and multiculturalism go hand in hand; if you have the one, you have the other ——— presumably, though, if you lack the one, you will lack the other. Vibrant multiculturalism has become, in common parlance, a good thing — like 'democracy,' or 'choice.'
But I must dissent. Even as 'choice' can mean 'child murder' and (as dear old Idi Amin put it) cannibalism may be defined as 'nutritional democracy,' so too, vibrant multiculturalism' may define a number of things. Much depends upon the user of the words.
Of course, if one implies that 'multiculturalism' is not always a good thing, one's listeners may immediately suspect one of dressing up on certain holidays in a white sheet and hood. So at the outset I feel compelled to assert my own personal multiculturalism. As might be guessed by my surname, the French language is one of the greatest gifts my late father bestowed upon me, together with a wealth of wise maxims and life lessons. (That I speak la belle langue with a marked Canadian accent despite being the 4th generation in the United States is a testimony to my paternal family's three centuries in Quebec.) My German, such as it is, is Viennese, while my Spanish is the fractured Mexican spoken on the streets of Los Angeles; I use it (with a bad Italian accent) to make myself understood in Rome.
Born in Manhattan and raised out here in SoCal, I have no choice but to be multicultural. New Year's Day always finds me at the New Otani Hotel in Little Tokyo, where the Japanese Tea Ceremony, flower arrangement and calligraphy demonstrations precede the annual Kaiseki Buffet, with which the children of the Rising Sun welcome the change of year. I would feel frightened for my prospects over the next 365 days if I didn't scarf down ozoni soup and soba noodles for good luck on that occasion. The Lunar New Year brings Chinese and Vietnamese banquets and parades, while St. Joseph's Day brings Mass and a Spaghetti Dinner at St. Peter's Italian Catholic Church. One of my favorite godsons is Black, and his family have taught me the joys of whole turkey deep—fried in an oil drum. Yet the pozole served at the Quinceanas of Latino friends' daughters also allures. From Our Lady of Mount Lebanon Maronite to Holy Virgin Mary Russian, there are few ethnic church festivals I won't visit given a chance, and I hate missing the Day of the Dead celebration downtown. As far as restaurants go, from Korean to Ethiopian, so far as I am concerned, if it's ethnic, it's good. Even so, from Musso and Frank's to the Pacific Dining Car, the grand old heavy food houses of the city are also tops in my book. For that matter, matzo ball soup at Kanter's or pastrami at The Hat also make me slaver.
Of course, my religion also pulls me in a multicultural direction; 'Catholic,' after all, means 'Universal.' I prefer the Tridentine Latin Mass, not least because it is equally the property of all Western Europeans and their descendants; but I also revere the many Eastern Rites of the Church (Byzantine, Coptic, Chaldean, Armenian, etc.) that I have been able to attend, given their presence here. As an Angelino, I must co—exist happily with all kinds of other strange cults. Indeed, as I have written elsewhere ('No Sane City,' New Oxford Review, January 2005), on a religious plane, Southern California goes beyond the merely multicultural; here, we are virtually transdimensional, as various temples render homage to the old gods, or else lure the space brothers from beyond this galaxy.
This has affected my politics. For instance, I do not share the fear so many others have of illegal aliens. While one must be concerned about securing the borders against terrorists, the unspoken apprehension that mobs of Latin Americans will one day reannex us to the southern neighbour from whom we were detached in 1848 does not disturb me in the least. Part of it is that Spanish is no more foreign to me than English is: moreover, if the demographics do not favour the native—born, it is not the fault of the Hispanics that the Anglos are too selfish to reproduce. It is obvious that hordes of foreigners are used as cheap labour here. But until the California Highway Patrol starts intercepting speeders with green—uniformed Federales smuggled over the border and paid half of what regular CHPs get, I'll not worry. (But don't charge me with disloyalty; I served in the California National Guard, and my brother and many friends are on active duty fighting the War on Terrorism).
Musically, give me Gregorian Chant, Celtic folksong, Bluegrass, and Cajun. But I also love big bands, 50's Rock, and the Great American Songbook.
The Right to Preservation
Yet all of that having been said, 'multiculturalism' is really beginning to scare me ——— and not from a fear or dislike of other cultures. It is because multiculturalism is being used as an excuse not to protect minorities, but to oppress majorities. You see, each of the many ethnic and religious groups now living in the West (by which I mean Europe, the Americas, and Australasia) exist as the majorities in their own native regions. These cultures are themselves the result of centuries or even millennia of cultural and religious history. While I am all for their survival, it seems to me that the cultures of the host nations they have come to live among have at least the same right to preservation.
Unfortunately, multiculturalism is often invoked to abolish long—standing customs the majority hold dear. Why must oaths to the Queen be abolished in Canada and Australia? Well, foreigners wouldn't understand. Why did divorce have to be legalized in Ireland and Chile, or crucifixes removed from Belgian schools, or the Catholic Church in Paraguay or the Lutheran Church of Sweden disestablished, or 'Merry Christmas' replaced with 'Happy Holidays' and B.C. and A.D. with B.C.E. and C.E. in the United States? Because minorities would possibly be offended.
Of course, much of this is generational. Political leaders drawn from the Baby—boomers (or the 'Generation of '68,' as they are called in Europe) tend to loathe the traditions of the cultures they have inherited. For them, immigration from elsewhere gives a golden opportunity to demolish the customs and manners accepted for generations. They do have a problem; being secular—minded, they find themselves in an odious maze of religiously—based cultural institutions ——— Western civilization was produced by Christianity, even as Indian was the creation of Hinduism, and Japanese of Shinto. But because they hate the Faith of their Fathers, they hate what it produced as well. In Catholic countries like Ireland, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium or my family's own Quebec, this is especially true, but it fits the mode in Protestant and Orthodox nations as well.
In the United States, such folk have an advantage, due to the dogma of 'Separation of Church and State.' Not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, this notion grew up from a governmental expedient created at the drafting of that document in 1789. Since several of the original States had established Churches (Anglican in the South, and Congregational in New England), and others had none, a compromise had to be worked out that would preserve the freedom of the States to settle the relationship between Church and State on their own, while preserving the individual freedoms of all Americans. So it was that the First Amendment forbade Congress to establish a single established Church for the nation, while the right of all Americans to individually choose their own faith and not suffer the loss of civil rights thereby was protected. Nevertheless, since the vast majority of Americans claimed adherence to one form or another of Christianity, it was generally accepted that the common mores and ideals of that majority would determine the tone of public life. This idea was enshrined in the 1892 Supreme Court decision of Trinity Church vs. the United States, which mentioned that
If we pass beyond these [cited legal] matters to a view of American life, as expressed by its laws, its business, its customs, and its society, we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth. Among other matters note the following: The form of oath universally prevailing, concluding with an appeal to the Almighty; the custom of opening sessions of all deliberative bodies and most conventions with prayer; the prefatory words of all wills, 'In the name of God, amen;' the laws respecting the observance of the Sabbath, with the general cessation of all secular business, and the closing of courts, legislatures, and other similar public assemblies on that day; the churches and church organizations which abound in every city, town, and hamlet; the multitude of charitable organizations existing everywhere under Christian auspices; the gigantic missionary associations, with general support, and aiming to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe.
On this basis, the Court declared that
'These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.'
What distinguishes this decision from those of later, 20th and 21st century courts is that is was based, not upon abstract theory, but upon the actual way life is lived by the citizens of these United States ——— now as well as then. In a word, it was democratic.
Yet in the past five decades that same Supreme Court and the rest of the Judiciary have been used to push the views and practices of the majority out of public life as far as possible. As everyone knows, the ACLU has been a prime mover in these areas; apart from an a—historical reading of the Constitution, these efforts have often invoked the rights of minorities and, latterly, multiculturalism.
The tacit theory upon which all of this is based in legal, governmental, and academic circles is that the civilization of the West is the creation of White, Christian, Males (most of whom are also Dead), and that it was erected for the purpose of oppressing people of color, non—Christians, women, gays, animals, plants, and the environment generally. Concomitantly, it is assumed by these worthies that a sort of coalition of the oppressed exists, and must be mobilised by the enlightened in positions of power for the express purpose of dismantling this oppressive structure.
No Room for Dissent
The great problem with this view is that — whatever other merits it may possess — it is nonsense. The fact is that outside of Western Civilisation, there is precious little room for dissent from generally accepted societal norms. To be specific, as a Catholic, I am only too aware of how my co—religionists are marginalized (to put it politely) in China, India, Indonesia, Sudan ——— indeed, anywhere where we are a minority (and no believing Catholic may expect confirmation for an American Federal judgeship if Senator Boxer is to be believed, but that is another story). Of course, it is not merely Catholics who suffer in this way, to be sure. But in most of this world, being a national minority is not much fun.
Nor is the role of women too wonderful, either. Well do I remember that when the ordination of women was being discussed at the 1992 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, a Melanesian prelate declared, 'Ordain them? We're still trying to get our people not to sell them!'
The environment is none too safe in most places, either. It should be remembered that modern conservation is the invention of the European royals and nobles who prevented the complete disappearance of the local wildlife into the cook pots of the peasantry in order to maintain their favorite sport of hunting. Granted, this created a class hatred of the sport most recently expressed in Tony's Blair's abolition of fox and stag hunting in the U.K. Doubtless poisoning and starvation will be more humane ways of dealing with the beasts than a chase in which they have a chance to escape. Oh, well.
If secularisation on the modern American plan is ridiculous in the country that spawned the 'Wall of Separation,' it is downright grotesque in Old Europe. While such as Spain's Zapatero, Ireland's Ahearn, and Belgium's Vanhoefstrat do their best to remove all symbols of Christianity (while, in the meantime, encouraging expressions of Islam, Buddhism, etc., as 'multicultural'), the refusal of EU authorities to even mention Christianity in the preamble of their constitution, when it is surely THE great fact of European history, is both absurd and wilfully intolerant. It is also self—destructive, given the growth of Islam in Europe. Accepting Belloc's dictum that 'the Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith,' we are presented with the corollary that if Europe will not be the Faith, she will be nothing at all. Partially in response to these developments, Pope John Paul II recently beatified Emperor—King Charles I and IV of Austria—Hungary as an example for modern European politicians. Not merely a saintly man who attempted to apply his religion to his rulership, Blessed Charles was also sovereign of the most truly multicultural polity modern Europe has ever seen.
In any case, the fact remains that condemnation of the white male Christian power structure is only possible in areas dominated even still by white male Christians. The contrast between the place of, say, Muslims in Christian countries and that of Christians in Muslim ones is glaring. Even Benito Mussolini was able to figure that one out: when King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia asked for permission to build a mosque in Rome, the Duce replied that he would be happy to, so soon as His Majesty would allow a cathedral to be erected in Mecca. Mussolini may not have been a good man or a wise one, but in this case he was not a dimwit.
Our current leadership classes do not, apparently, possess that much sense. But as I have said, I do not really fear ——— as far as the United States is concerned ——— inundation by the immigrants. What actually worries me, should our elites continue their present feckless course, is the eventual reaction of the majority. Populations that feel threatened tend to react, and not in ways that one would approve of. To give, as one example, the French—Canadians, we see a people whose birth—rate has declined to below the replacement rate in the last four decades. So bad has this become, that a decade ago M. Parizeau, then premier of la belle Province, whined that 'the French—Canadians have the lowest birth—rate of any of the white races' (the fact that his own Parti Quebecois, due to its heavy encouragement of contraception and abortion was very much responsible, was conveniently left out). Apart from some outcry at his mention of white races, there was little commentary. But this underlying fear of extinction was the basic propulsion behind the anti—English language legislation that proved so damaging to the Province's social and economic structure. Growing populations need have no fear of minorities; dying ones get paranoid.
If we turn our attention to South Africa, we see the same principle at work. The Afrikaners, as good Calvinists (identifying completely with Children of Israel in the Old Testament in similar wise to our own Puritans), had since their 17th century settlement at the Cape, looked at the Hottentots and Blacks whom they encountered as Canaanites. When the British came, they took over the role of Pharaoh, and the Great Trek served as the Exodus.
The Brits Blew It
Faced with this reality, there were a number of things the British could have done. What they did do was to conquer the Boer Republics and eventually in 1910 federate them with their own Cape Colony and Natal into the Union of South Africa. The Afrikaners saw the Anglophone whites, the Indians the latter imported, the Blacks, and their own mixed blood Cape Coloured cousins as many arms of one threat to Afrikanerdom. Had the British done things differently, they could have defanged this fear. They did not, and the leaders of the Volk reacted as populations do when they perceive a threat. Thus, the Afrikaner Nationalists schemed to take over via the ballot box, subvert the Constitution, and establish an Afrikaner republic outside the Commonwealth in which they would be supreme. In the election of 1948 the National Party won control of Parliament, and from then until the proclamation of the republic in 1961 they built the Apartheid State, dismantling the Constitution step—by—step.
Of course, we all know the result ——— sanctions, civil unrest, the eventual relinquishing of power, and the current slide of the country into Third World status. Had the Nationalists not been so determined to be 'themselves alone,' they might have seen that in reality there were a lot of bridges to be built in South Africa. The Anglophones wanted to remain under the Crown, a la Canada; the Indians wanted the freedom to make money and be treated like British (it is noteworthy that Gandhi, stymied in his work for civil rights for his countrymen in Natal, abandoned suits and the work of a barrister for native dress and civil disobedience in India ——— imagine how different history would have been had he retained his loyalty to the West); the Cape Coloureds wanted to be accepted by their white relations; and both the Black tribal leadership and Christian converts wanted the place at the national table they felt their status and education entitled them to ——— it is little surprise that many of the founders of the African National Congress were graduates of mission schools, nor that Nelson Mandela is the scion of an Xhosa noble family. Denied what they wanted by Daniel Malan and his successors, they turned to Joe Slovo instead. It may have been an impossible task, to be sure; but at the end of the day, the British must share a good deal of responsibility for the tragedy of South Africa, as must the Afrikaner leadership who reacted to British rule so unwisely.
Looking at America today, we see a population that in some key ways resembles the Afrikaners ——— not least in the (admittedly diluted) Calvinist way in which they see themselves as a chosen people. With an elite class committed to insulting their beliefs, ways, and mores at every turn, who knows what will happen if, say, the economy suffers a severe downturn and scapegoats are required?
Yet there are some signs of hope. Even if the legal and media classes continue on their merry route of deconstruction, the coming together of white and black Protestant ministers on social issues is encouraging. Both major parties have core constituencies whose votes they rely on, and whose wishes and needs they routinely ignore ——— social Conservatives in the case of the Republicans, and minorities and organised labour for the Democrats. These core groups have far more in common with each other than they do with much of the leadership of their respective parties, and the politician who sees this and can bring them together in a meaningful way will be able to create an unbreakable majority — and one that can only bode well for the future of this country.
Charles A. Coulombe's most recent books are 'Rum: The Epic Story of the Drink that Conquered the World' and 'Vicars of Christ: A History of the Popes.' He is currently working on a biography of four—time Olympic gold—medal winner Pat McCormick. In 2004, Mr. Coulombe was named a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester by Pope John Paul II.