19 October 2006

The "Cultural Protestant" Origin of Multiculturalism

A conservative blog for peace had an article on "Unitarianism, Modernism and multiculturalism are all Protestantism gone bad" with a link to 西儒 ─ The Western Confucian: The "Cultural Protestant" Origin of Multiculturalism. These bloggers attributed the origin of multiculturalism to "English Calvinism" and "New England Puritanism" respectively.

I made a comment:
Whereas it was the descendants of Dutch Calvinists who proposed the grand solution to multiculturalism -- apartheid.

To spare us the discomfort of having to live in proximity to anyone whose ideas, manners or skin colour differed from our own, they simply bulldozed their houses and removed them to another place -- a process for which the term "ethnic cleansing" was later invented.

Several people responded to my comment, but nobody seemed to "get it". All were trying to find someone (other than Dutch Calvinists) to blame for apartheid. It's easier to find a scapegoat than a solution.

But the bigger question is ignored. And that is the assumption that "multiculturalism" is "bad" or "blameworthy". If the descendants of English Calvinists created the "problem", why are the descendants of Dutch Calvinists "blameworthy" for trying to find a solution?

In South Africa we found that apartheid was a thoroughly bad thing, and that the problem it was intended to solve -- multiculturalism -- was not such a problem after all. And suddenly the rest of the world seems to have switched its view. As South Africa abandoned apartheid, Yugoslavia embraced it, with the help of Germany and Nato. And now, it seems, Americans are doing the same.

The question is not who is to "blame" for multiculturalism, but why do people like this "Western Confucian" and so many others simply assume that it is a Bad Thing?

I can agree that the English Calvinists contributed to it in America -- after all, they emigrated there and created a multicultural society. But if their descendants think it is such a bad thing, then they should either return to their ancestral homelands, or learn to live with the multicultural society that their ancestors created by settling there in the first place.


Nathan said...

Obviously, I don't have all the facts here, but I think some coupld point at South Africa as an example of why multiculturalism is a bad thing. At least, it is an example of why integrating, quickly, two classes of widely disparate educational level and cultural standards is a Bad Thing. I'll agree, before I go further, that apartheid was a Bad Thing too, but the fact remains, that with its end, South Africa went from being and economic powerhouse, the hope of the continent, to struggling mightily for survival. At least, that's how it appears from this side of the Atlantic.

As far as Calvinism and Puritanism go, they may have contributed to multiculturalism, but I think what they stressed was one culture made of many peoples. Hence, Yale was founded to educate native Americans to become pastors and return to their people, promulgating a religion the Puritans believed (and believe) is universal. I don't think this is a bad thing at all. Where modern multiculturalism goes wrong is in it acceptance of all things as equal. All peoples are equal in the eyes of God, but all things, as in cultural practices, are not. Human sacrifice is a bad thing, no matter how many Aztec priests thought it was a good thing. I'll accept the equality of people. But not the equality of ideals. I don't think the Puritans would either.

Steve Hayes said...

These things are rarely simple, but nevertheless, I will over simplify.

I don't think that multiculturalism has a Protestant origin at all. I just happans, and for many reasons. The Roman empire was a multicultural empire, and it happened because the Romans conquered a lot of people of different cultures -- not because of "Cultural Protestantism".

If you don't like multifulturalism, there are basically two ways you can get out of it. One is apartheid -- forcibly separate the cultures so that people don't have to live with neighbours of different culture. The second is to make one cultre sominant, and to force all others to assimilare to it.

The second route was followed by Calvinists in the USA, and unlike you, I think it was a thoroughly bad thing. That's because I'm an Orthodox Christian, and undfer the US Calvinist model I would be forced to become a Presbyterian. That is not just a theoretical possibility -- it actually happened in Alaska. Read Fr Michael Oleksa's book Orthodox Alaska. There are several other books that deal with the same theme -- another one is called Bashful no longer.

Concerning South Africa -- well, we have many problems, but I can't think of any that stem from "integrating, quickly, two classes of widely disparate cultural and educational standards".

Jonathan said...

A sort of multiculturalism has been the norm for much of the world for most of its history; the madness of strictly demarcated nationalism that calls for the full expulsion of the ethnic other is is a recent invention, in the sense of becoming a widely accepted and deeply integrated idea. In the Byzantine Empire, for example, a wide spectrum of cultures were integrated and, to some extent, tolerated (this tolerance was of course strained as various regions split off from the approved Christology of the central government). There was no ethnic sense of being "Byzantine" (which term they would not have used of course); if anything, the identity would have been "Roman," but much more likely simply "Christian" or "Orthodox": regardless of one's native culture, whether Greek, Slav, Syrian, Armenian, Egyptian, and so on. The Eastern Church further recognized cultural hegemony in terms of liturgy and such was silly, and adopted according to culture.

We could examine other parts of the world all through history, and find plenty of examples of "multiculturalism," often in connection to an empire of some sort, where such multiculturalism was necessity.

Modern multiculturalism goes wrong because it doesn't have a philosophical base to take any culture seriously; it implies a particular Western (post)modern secularist mentality that in effect neuters other cultures by denying the possibility of their truth claims. Further, through the apparatus of the modern state, cultural minorities tend to get shuffled into neat categories where they are allowed to exist as checks on a census form, and thus further sterilized into nothing more than special interest groups, all petioning the central authorities for their bit of the pie.

Modern multiculturalism usually commits violence against the Other, just in a more subtle form, by implicitly denying the validity of the other, by reducing culture to a category on a census form, religion to an internal all but non-existent experience, and so on.

A viable multiculturalism allows for cultures to be taken on their own ground, which is to say one must take truth claims seriously. And the only way to do is to be yourself operating from seriously held truth claims, without pretending you don't when in fact you do. This allows in turn for serious interaction with other cultures, and the subsequent give-and-take in which the goods of given cultures can transcend to a certain extent its given culture and impact positively upon the other culture.

Of course, all of this requires, seemingly, some sort of supracultural base in wider society to sustain itself. But I've already taken up a lot of comment box space...

Steve Hayes said...

Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments.

I have one question, though -- what do you regard as "modern multiculturalism", and why do you say that it "goes wrong" because it "doesn't have a philosophical base".

Does multiculturalism in any age need a philosophical base? As long as people are mobile, multiculturalism will happen. In every age people may have different attitudes to multiculturalism, and those who do not like it usually come up with one of two ways of counteracting it -- segregation or assimilation. Others just accept it.

Christians have a sort of ambivalent attitude. On the one hand, they are to keep unspotted by the world, but on the other they are supposed to be the leaven in the lump.

Jonathan said...

By "philosophic base," I mean a reason, if you will, for a particularly society- I have a society within a particular state in mind- to be self-identified as multi-cultural, in the sense of tolerating a variety of cultures. This base could easily be pragmatic and utilitarian, in the sense that a society that allows many cultures on an equal basis is one with less strife and conflict and hence greater prosperity for all.

However, it seems that a society with a broad rationalization for being a tolerant society, based in some philosophical grounding, is much more stable and less likely to resort to ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and so on.

I suppose there are varying degrees in which a state or society can be said to be multicultural; our nation I think has developed into such a society through a combination of ideology lying behind the structure of the nation and its self-understanding, and more pragmatic matters. Pragmatism is probably the biggest driving force in bringing about a tolerant multicultural society, whether under the Romans or Cyrus the Great or in modern democratic states.

The problem with modern multiculturalism, I think, is that it has a tendency to be based on some form of relativism, and hence is unable to take any given culture seriously. Rather, it tolerates many cultures but essentially only so long as they embrace secularism on the dominant Western secular model.

Steve Hayes said...

In sub-Saharan Africa the main creator of multicultural societies was colonialism and capitalism. Whatever philosophies lay behind those movements, I doubt that they specifically intended to create multicultural societies, but by drawing arbitrary borders all over the map can putting a lot of different cultures under a single political administration, they inevitably created multicultural societies.

The same thing happe4ned in other parts of the world. The Canadian federation of 1867 was used as a model for South Africa by British politicians, and they deliberately tried to create a more multicultural society here -- by means of the First Anglo-Boer War and the Anglo-Zulu War, on order to incorporate those polities and cultures under a single political hegemony.

Ancient multiculturalism may have been different, but I don't think very much. When the ancient Romans conquered the Etruscans, they created a multicultural society, and there followed the Punic Wars and many others. Did they have a philosophy for it?

Matt Stone said...

Heaven will be multicultural


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