The Monument to Multiculturalism by Francesco Peril in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Four identical sculptures are locate in Buffalo City, South Africa; Changchun, China; Sarajevo, Bosnia; and Sydney, Australia
Wikimedia Commons / paul (dex) from Toronto
Much of the impetus toward political correctness and identity politics in the U.S. and Europe has been imparted by the political philosophy known as multiculturalism. The acceptance of multiculturalism by many of the American Left is the one cultural threat (that I know of) to our present, commonly accepted basic human values at the very top level of our differing value hierarchies. For now at least, the most basic human values, which I discussed in The Basic Values Needed for Our Politics, are common both to most progressives and neoliberals (aka conservatives). As I discussed in Values, Reality, and Politics, the reasons for why progressives and neoliberal conservatives go for each other’s throats has little or nothing to do (at least currently) with differing fundamental values at the top of their respective value hierarchies. The gulf between them comes from how their clashing ideologies generate divergent lower level values to achieve the higher level values. Each ideology gives a different picture to its adherents of what Reality would allow us to do to achieve those most basic values.
Yet, multiculturalism, a political philosophy advocating a cultural relativism of basic values, threatens to change this picture to one where not even the highest level, most fundamental values are held in common. To understand this, consider how American progressivism has evolved over the past several decades. In particular, we need to understand the postmodern Left.
The Rise of the Postmodern Left
The progressives of today are so very different from those who founded the progressive movement in the 1870s, they really no longer deserve the appellation of liberal. I have already noted in several posts how progressives became progressively (how else?) more estranged from the U.S. Constitution and its separation of powers among the branches of government. In Do American Progressives Have Historical Amnesia?, I also reviewed the reasons why we very much need those separation of powers, reasons that progressives have quite thoroughly and conveniently forgotten.
However, beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, something very new arose in the American Left, partially generated by the rise of the New Left in reaction to the Vietnam War and to the Civil Rights political struggles. Primarily a protest movement, the New Left had no unified political theory or orientation, although they were greatly influenced by Karl Marx’s ideas of individuals’ alienation from society. Prepared to believe the worst of their own country, the minds of New Leftists were fertile ground, seeded with the French import of poststructuralism, which in the United States became postmodernism.
Many of the progressives who control the Democratic Party, as well as the progressives who control most American universities and colleges, belong to this postmodern Left.
The modern society to which the postmodern Left is “post” is the rational society of the Age of Enlightenment and Reason. The postmodern philosopher (or other academic or politician) is extremely suspicious of any of the products of reason and denies the validity of the general philosophical viewpoints of the 17th- and 18th-century Enlightenment. Among their disagreements with the enlightenment are these:
- Postmodernists do not agree that there is an objective reality that has existence and properties independent of any human observer. They believe this view to be a kind of naive realism. According to them, whatever reality exists is a construct of the mind, an artifact of scientific methods of observation and the language used to describe what is experienced.
- Following the rejection of objective natural reality, the postmodernists deny that statements from scientists and historians can be objectively true or false. Postmodernists sometimes say there is no such thing as Truth.
- Postmodernists believe that science and technology do not necessarily cause human progress. Some hold the misguided use of advances in science and technology lead to applications for killing on a massive scale, and are inherently destructive and oppressive.
- Postmodernists claim that reason and logic are not universally valid. Instead they believe reason and logic are themselves conceptual constructs. Specific applications of reason and logic are valid only within the established intellectual narratives in which they are used.
- There is no such thing as an inbuilt human nature. All human behaviors are instilled by social forces, with all aspects of human psychology being socially determined.
- Language cannot refer to or represent a reality outside of itself. Words acquire meaning only through contrasts and differences of meaning with other words.
- According to postmodernists, it is impossible to find a foundation of certainty upon which knowledge can build a picture of reality empirically.
- Postmodernists believe it is in principle impossible to construct general theories to explain anything in the natural world or the social world of humans.
If after reading these postmodernist postulates you have the feeling they are an incoherent collection of nonsense statements contradictory to everyday human experiences, I congratulate you for being logical. Because the postmodernists are themselves not especially logical and their statements not well reasoned, I found it hard to parse some of their statements to extract meaning from them. Oddly enough, in attempting to perform such a parsing of their descriptions of one of their main tools, deconstruction of statements, I was deconstructing their own descriptions of the tool. Postmodernists may deconstruct something as simple as a sentence, or as complicated as a general philosophy. Invented by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, deconstruction is the process of disassembling the subject into its component pieces and scanning the parts for inconsistencies that contradict the structural unity of the subject text. Because of their complex view of how words acquire meaning (only through contrasts and differences of meaning with other words), any self-respecting postmodernist would probably denounce my description as hopelessly simple-minded. The Wikipedia article on deconstruction says of it,
The purpose is to expose that the object of language and what upon which any text is founded is irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible. Throughout his readings, Derrida hoped to show deconstruction at work, i.e. the ways that this originary [sic] complexity, which by definition cannot ever be completely known, works its structuring and destructuring effects.
Whatever that means, if postmodernists truly believe this last description, it is no wonder they do not believe in objective reality.
And it is not just right-wing admirers of the Age of Enlightenment who are bothered by this balderdash. One gentleman of the Left who was rather perturbed that others on the Left would take such nonsense seriously is Dr. Alan Sokal, a professor of mathematics at University College London and a professor of physics at New York University. As a stunt in 1996, he wrote a paper filled with “absurdities and blatant non-sequiturs” as he described it. He then submitted the paper to an American cultural-studies journal Social Text published by Duke University Press, just to see if he could get such arrant nonsense published. It was. In the book Fashionable Nonsense that he wrote with another leftist Dr. Jean Bricmont, a Belgian theoretical physicist, they stated,
Vast sectors of the humanities and the social sciences seem to have adopted a philosophy that we shall call, for want of a better term, “postmodernism”: an intellectual current characterized by the more-or-less explicit rejection of the rationalist tradition of the Enlightenment, by theoretical discourses disconnected from any empirical test, and by a cognitive and cultural relativism that regards science as nothing more than a “narration”, a “myth” or a social construction among many others. To respond to this phenomenon, one of us (Sokal) decided to try an unorthodox (and admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: submit to a fashionable American cultural-studies journal, Social Text, a parody of the type of work that has proliferated in recent years, to see whether they would publish it. The article, entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, is chock-full of absurdities and blatant non-sequiturs. In addition, it asserts an extreme form of cognitive relativism: after mocking the old-fashioned “dogma” that “there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole”, it proclaims categorically that “physical ‘reality’, no less than social ‘reality’, is at bottom a social and linguistic construct”. …
And yet, the article was accepted and published. Worse, it was published in a special issue of Social Text devoted to rebutting the criticisms levelled against postmodernism and social constructivism by several distinguished scientists. For the editors of Social Text, it was hard to imagine a more radical way of shooting themselves in the foot. 
In the Epilogue of their book, they declared,
Over the past two decades, much ink has been spilled about postmodernism, an intellectual current that is supposed to have replaced modern rationalist thought. … Our focus is limited to certain intellectual aspects of postmodernism that have had an impact on the humanities and the social sciences: a fascination with obscure discourses; an epistemic relativism linked to a generalized skepticism toward modern science; an excessive interest in subjective beliefs independently of their truth or falsity; and an emphasis on discourse and language as opposed to the facts to which those discourses refer (or, worse, the rejection of the very idea that facts exist or that one may refer to them). 
Yet, postmodernism is the leftist view of reality that increasingly informs modern-day American progressivism. I suspect a very large fraction of the “progressive” base of the Democratic Party would be shocked that such an extreme form of moral and epistemic relativism determined their party’s positions.
The Political Philosophy of Multiculturalism
When the relativism of postmodernism met anthropology and the comparison of different cultures, the result was multiculturalism, sometimes called radical multiculturalism. A sociologist who is also a postmodernist might use scientific methods to study a culture, but by virtue of being a postmodernist, she can not believe that any absolute truth for all societies and all times can exist. The values of all cultures are equal in worth, and equal validity must be accorded them.
Ostensibly claiming the values of all cultures are of equal validity within the milieu of their own societies, American multiculturalists nevertheless give one the sense that some cultures are more equal than others. Perhaps, postmodern multiculturalists come mostly from the ranks of the New Left intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s, who hated the United States for its capitalism and its past sins of racism and slavery, or for its foreign military entanglements. Whether American or Western cultural values are equal in validity or not, multiculturalists demand, both here in the United States and in Europe, that immigrants or refugees from other cultures not be forced to assimilate into the host culture. If immigrants concentrate in their own communities, they can practice their native social values, which after all have the same validity as American or European values. Multiculturalists claim we should glory in the diversity of cultures within our country.
Multiculturalism raises a number of interesting questions. The first is: Just how different are the values of different cultures, and are such values relative to the culture? Postmodern radical multiculturalism insists every culture must be treated as having independent values of equal worth. Yet, as noted in the post The Basic Values Needed for Our Politics, nearly every culture and ethical tradition possesses some version of the Golden Rule, the basis of much if not most of our ethics. For those who are not of the postmodern faith, this observation should not be surprising, as a society without a version of the Golden Rule would be very difficult to hold together against Thomas Hobbes’ “war of all against all.” From Hobbes’ point of view, a society without a Golden Rule (enforced according to Hobbes by an absolute monarch) would be little different from humankind in a state of hostile, violent nature, “red in tooth and claw.” In fact, in some cultures there are even analogues to the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. There is no doubt that the expression of ethics in different cultures is necessarily different, but it is somewhat questionable how different the ethical values of cultures are when the effects values have at each level of their hierarchies are compared.
One way to attack radical multiculturalism is to consider why and how the ethics of different cultures develop. Radical multiculturalism takes as an axiom that it is in principle impossible to construct general theories to explain how different cultures are constructed and how they developed. For one thing, postmodernists believe that statements from scientists and historians can not be either objectively true or false. If you do not believe an objective history of a culture can be constructed, then you have no basis to compare historical developments between cultures. Nevertheless, as a child of the Enlightenment, I am perfectly free to reject that postmodernist postulate as manifestly ridiculous, and to compare what we know historically about different countries from different parts of the world. If we go through that exercise, we will find both differences and similarities between societies with different cultures. We mentioned above in the previous paragraph some ethical similarities among most cultures.
The similarities are enough to suggest a process of social evolution that is completely analogous to biological evolution. A theory of social evolution in turn is enough to give a method to compare and rank the values of different societies according to whether their values either (1) make their countries more survivable against the competition of other countries, or (2) make the lives of their citizens’ happier or more fulfilled. The second criterion is admittedly subjective, but one can measure the subjective responses of those citizens objectively through opinion polls. To rank the value hierarchies of different cultures using either criterion would be a very difficult task, but in principle it could be done. Through such procedures, the ethical relativity of multiculturalism can be discarded.
A second question is: How obligated are we to allow non-assimilation, or even immigration of refugees? This is, after all, our country, and we have a right as a people to defend our people and our way of life. As President Donald Trump has recently affirmed and as Democrats have vigorously, emotionally and with great vitriol disputed, our country’s government has the right to determine who may or may not enter. One would expect multiculturalists like Democrats to fight for providing asylum for refugees from the ravages of ISIS’ holy war, or from the depredations of Bashar al-Asad and his allies, the Russians. The neoliberals of the Republican party might even to some extent agree, except for two considerations. The first is the almost complete certainty that ISIS would infiltrate their operatives into the United States for future terrorist attacks. The recent history of jihadist terrorism in Europe should be instructive. The second consideration is whether the U.S. has the resources, particularly economic, to support new immigrants. One worry for many Americans has been if so many low-income immigrants have been allowed to come that they have displaced some Americans from their jobs.
Yet, even when the executive branch of government decides it is in the national interest to allow a large ethnic group to immigrate, Americans have every right to require those immigrants to assimilate. This means requiring immigrants to learn our language; to learn our history; to follow our laws rather than enforce their own ethnic laws, such as sharia among Muslims, which threatens both women and gays; and to fulfill all other requirements of citizenship, such as voting, paying taxes, and if required by the draft, to defend the country in the American armed forces. The difference between American values concerning women and gays and those of some (not all) Muslims should instruct all of us that the values of different cultures are not necessarily equivalent in worth. The point of all this is that any immigrant must aspire to become a part of their new nation. If any of them do not love this country enough to satisfy these requirements for assimilation, then they should not come here but go to some other country that is more agreeable to them.
None of this means that immigrants cannot value their heritage, so long as that heritage does not conflict with the duties of assimilation. Absent such conflicts, every new American should be allowed and encouraged to observe celebrations of their ethnic groups and maintain a knowledge of their old language and customs.
Europeans have paid a very high price for not insisting on the assimilation of immigrants. Multiculturalism has damaged their security from Islamic terrorist attacks by motivating them to allow separate enclaves for Muslims, the so called “no-go” zones. These are areas where sharia law is observed, and where police, fire-fighters, and other representatives of the government do not normally venture. Simultaneously, the economies of European nations evolved in a direction that caused them to have slower growth. As a result it became increasingly hard for the immigrants to advance economically. Denied opportunity and despairing of finding any reasons for hope, the Muslim expatriate communities became natural recruiting grounds for the jihadists. This is definitely a direction in which the United States should not follow Europe.
Does Multiculturalism Presage Future Political Conflicts?
Multiculturalism is part of an extremely unrealistic ideology, postmodernism, that conflicts with our ordinary, everyday observations by insisting that no objective reality is discoverable. This postulate conflicts with everything we know in the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) and from history. Even in the soft science of economics, there are observable generalities that are valid for all kinds of economies, whether pure laissez-faire capitalism or pure socialism, or anything in-between, and in all economic conditions. These are the four neoclassical laws of economics: supply and demand, Say’s law of markets, Ricardo’s law of comparative advantage, and the law of marginal utility. Postmodernism insists that such laws cannot possibly exist.
Despite its contradictions of reality, the particular product of postmodernism that is multiculturalism poses a very real danger for the United States. By making all values relative and conditional, multiculturalism opens up the possibility that even the most basic values at the top of progressives’ and neoliberals’ value hierarchies would conflict. At that point political agreement between the American Left and Right would almost always be impossible.
 Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. Fashionable Nonsense, Kindle eBook edition. New York.Picador.2013. loc. 113
 Ibid, loc. 2747