Special Report

The Long Death of Multiculturalism

What the U.S. should learn from the demise of another bad European idea.

By 4.17.06

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Not since Russian President Boris Yeltsin officially pronounced Soviet Communism dead in December 1991 ("The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality, is ceasing its existence") has Europe gotten into such a bother over the demise of a cherished idea. This time the god that failed is multiculturalism and the latest to pronounce it DOA is Germany's leading thinker Arnulf Baring.

Multiculturalism has been, for the past four decades, Europe's principal therapy for assuaging its vast and profound guilt, as well as a convenient pretext for ignoring its minority immigrant populations. Whatever its original intent, the word has come to signify an uncritical respect and toleration for differences, regardless of how intolerable those differences are. Thomas Sowell said it boiled down to this: "[Y]ou can praise any culture in the world except Western culture -- and you cannot blame any culture in the world except Western culture." Obviously any such celebration of diversity and cultural differences was bound to place an emphasis on factors that separate people, not those shared by society at large.

There were two reasons multiculturalism became so important to European thinkers. Subsequent to a half century of forced decolonization, two world wars, and a Holocaust, many in the West had lost confidence in their cultural superiority and traditions. Europeans no longer believed they had a right to judge other cultures. Thus, if Europe's immigrants wanted to hold onto their uncivilized traditions -- whether it be polygamy, honor killings or misogyny -- who were we to judge? Naturally the New Left, which detested old-style Western civilization and its bourgeois trappings, was only to happy to facilitate its demise. The best way to accomplish this -- it was seen -- was through the proliferation of the multiculturalist idea.

Multiculturalism also came in handy as the need increased for foreign (read Arab and Turkish) guest workers to take on Europe's many unfilled jobs, itself a result of cultural euthanasia and liberated Dutch and French and Italian women's reluctance to be mere baby factories. Muslims' high birth rates and subsequent payroll taxes were supposed to replenish the cash-strapped welfare system. But as jobs moved to China or Mexico or Eastern Europe, few employers relished hiring the dusky foreigners, due in part to the noxious labor laws French students are currently demanding be saved, laws that prevent employers from firing ne'er-do-wells.

Despite its pretensions as a multiculturalist promised land, Europe remains a rather xenophobic place. States like Germany have kept their blood laws -- vestiges of its old ethnic purity days -- on the books, thereby preventing the children of immigrants from becoming citizens. In Germany, foreign-born "workers" are today twice as likely as native Germans to be unemployed. Not surprisingly, many guest workers and their offspring end up on welfare, languishing in public housing in suburban ghettos. Left to their own devices many immigrants do not bother to learn the native tongue. Some judge it wrong to send their children to the infidel's schools. Naturally these kids, locked outside the mainstream culture, have been easy prey for drug gangs and radical imams. Second and third generation guest workers fill Europe's prisons, which, as everyone knows, are popular centers for radical Wahabbist proselytizing.

IN CONTRAST AMERICA, for two-plus centuries, has largely been getting it right. The great metaphor for America has been the "Melting Pot," with its stress on unity, assimilation and integration. The U.S. hasn't the same ethnic purity hang-ups found in Europe. Yes, there has been a history of bigotry toward non-Protestant non-Anglo-Saxons, which to some extent persists today, here as elsewhere. However, in the U.S. an illegal immigrant born in an Arizona dry creek bed automatically becomes an American citizen. Until recently, everyone was encouraged to learn English, the first rung on the ladder to success. Those groups that assimilated well, Jews, Chinese, Koreans, and Hindus, were successful beyond their dreams. Those that resisted naturally fared less well.

The U.S., however, seems not to have learned much from Europe's missteps. The President is now talking up a guest worker program, with foreigners to do the jobs American employers are unwilling to pay Americans to do. As in Europe these guest workers will become permanent residents; some will end up not working at all, but sucking on the public teat. A number will come from Arab and Muslim countries, which means the need for assimilation will be even greater in order to avoid the dangerous Islamic fundamentalism so prevalent in Europe. Breedy Hispanic immigrants are still encouraged to celebrate their diversity and language rather than adopt the dominant culture, so the poorest and often least educated learn only an unintelligible barrio Spanish, and are thus unable to advance beyond grade school. Welfare, despair, and drug gangs await.

Is it racist to tell Nicaraguans and Hondurans that they must become English-speaking Americans (not Anglos, mind you, but Americans), that they must integrate or else? Only if it is racist to resist a failed idea that has proven highly destructive to Western society.

Americans would do well to recall the words of President Woodrow Wilson: "You cannot become thorough Americans if you think of yourselves in groups. America does not consist of groups. A man who thinks of himself as belonging to a particular national group in America has not yet become an American." It is the duty of every immigrant who arrives on these shores to become a thorough American. The alternative is the mess Europe currently finds itself in, and trust me, nobody wants that.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.