(This post is no longer quite as timely as it was when I began it as a draft over a month ago — by the timescales on which the blogosphere operates, at least — but it’s still relevant I think, so please bear with me while I dredge up a bit of the semi-recent past on which to ruminate.)
Back in August, I bookmarked this article by Michael Barone that appeared in the wake of July’s London subway bombings. For such a brief piece, it managed to touch on several compelling points, but there was one 20-word quotation in particular that really reached out of the page (or browser window, as it were) and seized my attention. Citing Australian journalist Tony Parkinson quoting French author Jean-François Revel, Barone penned:
“A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
I was floored — in the way that I’m floored on reaching The Moment, the gem of expression that many a Bill Whittle essay seems to contain. Revel’s comment hit the mark succinctly and precisely, and in so doing it gave me a chill.
Revel made his remark in reference to Cold War attitudes in the West. Yet it seems as relevant as ever today, when we face enemies committed to our destruction at a time when we seem more heavily burdened than ever with one massive guilt-trip after another about our culture (both in the U.S. and, more broadly, in the West), the way we live our lives domestically, and the role our country plays in the world.
I fully believe that we can endure and prevail in the fight against violent Islamic extremism if we want to. The key question seems to be: Do we want to? Having seen everything from apparent indifference to some pretty clear “no” answers from the domestic left in the years since 9/11, I have gotten to be far more worried about our own frame of mind than anything that al-Qaeda and its brethren have in store for us.
Revel’s statement expresses so clearly what I’ve come to believe is the primary danger facing us today, and makes a point so central to my motivation for starting this blog, that I feel it belongs at the top of every page — so there I have placed it.
Barone’s article came to mind again as I followed blogospheric and mainstream news outlet coverage of the recent riots that began in Clichy-sous-Bois and subsequently spread across France for two dismal weeks — this time for reasons more closely related to the article’s central theme. In it, Barone posed a rather un-PC but seemingly very important question: Is multicultualism’s tendency to segregate and isolate people a source of problems? To which I would add a further question that I imagine Barone might have had in mind but didn’t explicitly state: What happens to a “multicultural” society that becomes so tolerant that it allows itself to be a host for people who are anything from indifferent to it or alienated from it (as in the poor, predominantly Muslim suburbs of Paris) to committed to its subversion and destruction (as in the case of the U.K.-raised London bombers, or the transplanted 9/11 hijackers)? The answer seems as relevant to the current situation in France as it does to the broader war on terrorism or violent Islamic extremism.
Multiculturalism holds wide appeal in part because it is embodies a kind and noble sentiment: allow for people’s differences, respect them as unique individuals and let them live their own lives in their own ways.
The seming problem with multiculturalism lies not in the abstract idea but in its reduction to practice. Multiculturalist critics of the characteristically American “melting pot” approach to immigration have long complained about its expectation that people adapt or “assimilate” into their adopted host culture, in spite of the demonstrable benefits that doing so confers — both for the individuals doing the adjusting, and for the society that in turn benefits from their contributions, productivity, and solidly founded feelings of inclusion and investment in the culture’s survival and success. America may offer immigrants a place to succeed, but (there’s always a “but”, isn’t there) it exacts an unfair price, multiculturalists allege, by asking them in return to adopt and incorporate into their lives certain American attitudes, traditions, or ways of doing things. Multiculturalists’ intended purpose seems to be to spare immigrants’ feelings and offer sympathy for the challenges that go with building a new life in a foreign place. By asserting as their axiom that all cultures are unquestionably of equal value, and opposing the expectation that people adapt to succeed, multiculturalists ostensibly seek to suppress inter-cultural conflict and simultaneously improve immigrants’ lot in life. But it’s become apparent to me that this approach can and does backfire in many ways, and I suspect that the unfortunate events we’ve seen unfold in Clichy-sous-Bois and its environs are evidence of that. The social fragmentation that can result from applying such thinking has been aptly termed “Balkanization”, and it doesn’t appear to be good for anyone.
Multiculturalist ideology also provides another rhetorical tool or set of justifications with which contemporary social critics can continue to disparage us. I suspect it holds special appeal among intellecutals because its obsession with cultural equivalence provides a way to denigrate or gloss over the pronounced achievements of contemporary Western society, which competing ideologies cannot allow to stand as objects of admiration or aspiration.
Though multiculturalism claims as its axiom the notion that all cultures are morally equal, “In practice,”, Barone notes, “that soon degenerates to: All cultures all morally equal, except ours, which is worse.” I have all too frequently seen the phenomenon that Barone describes in action, and the clear hypocrisy of it has been one of the many motivators for my move away from contemporary American liberalism over the past several years. People of other cultures are to be pandered to apologetically, it seems, but it’s open season when it comes to criticism of America and her culture and lifestyles. I hate to have to say it, but I’ve really lost patience with the double-standard that others should be encouraged in celebrating their cultures but we in the United States, or in the Western world at large, should be constantly shamed. I feel justifiable pride in my own culture too, and I simply won’t abide that disingenuous double standard anymore, pretenting not to feel the glow that I do feel in the core of my heart.
I declare here and now that I have every confidence in, and every hope for, our country, our culture, and our way of life in the United States. I feel deeply proud and deeply grateful to be in the company of such a courageous group of people, who would carve a life not out of guarantees of safety but out of raw, untamed frontier. I pledge to do my utmost to contribute to America’s continued thriving and success, that she may remain a congenial home to those who cherish freedom and an authentic beacon of hope to all who choose this life of liberty that I hold so dear. To stand here and make this delcaration clearly and unequivocally — well, that in itself has been a significant part of my purpose in starting this blog, so it seems an appropriate segue for the end of this post.
Thanks for tuning in folks! Thanks for being witness to my small, but to me vitally important, declaration concerning who I am and how I will live. Hope to see more of you in the future as I get this project out of the shipyards and off to sea… Best wishes.