On Multiculturalism

FATHER JAMES V. SCHALL, S.J.

The modern notion that all cultures and nations can and should live together in harmony requires either:  a) a general agreement about the basis of virtue and truth, or b) the elimination of any difference between good and evil, truth and falsity.

"Multiculturalism," itself a construction of the mind, is what happens when the latter alternative is accepted, not as "true," but as "workable" or "practical."

Cultures, however, are not philosophically or morally neutral.  Within each is found a certain configuration of good and evil habits, laws, and customs.  In earlier ages, though massive migrations and invasions occurred, it was difficult to pass from one country to another.  Each culture or nation worked out the norms of how it was to live.

When large numbers of people can immigrate, legally or illegally, to other countries, they bring their cultural practices with them.  People emigrate to achieve their "rights," what is "due" to them.  In going to another culture, since all are equal, no one can be required to change his habits, language, religion, or customs.  Everyone has a "right" to set up within the new system what he left.

The counter assimilationist view, however, holds that, if one moves to a new country, he should become a member of the new society, learn its language, manners, and custom.  The reason the immigrant chose the new country or culture was because he thought it better than the one he left.  This view assumes that some regimes are better than others.  The purpose of states and nations is to provide a place wherein one can live in his "truth," however others might live.  This view implies the power to protect one's own polity.

Many hold that all world problems are local problems.  If there is a problem of poverty or tyranny in one country or area, everyone is responsible.  All problems are international in scope.  This position implies that we have really only one world state in which everyone is an equal citizen with equal "rights."  Taxes, armies, police, laws, and customs should conform to a common idea of culture.  The real enemies are those that maintain that truth, either of reason or of revelation, is possible.  Peace will only come in the world when these last claims are eliminated.  The established "truth" is that there is no truth.


Thus, both world and national governments must guarantee those "rights" they established.  Basically, we have to rid ourselves of all institutions and ideas that maintain that transcendent truth exists.  We systematically have to eliminate from the public order, in the name of "rights," all claims that are said to be rooted in a universal human "nature."  Ideas holding that the family is a "natural" institution composed of man, woman, and child, that the distinction of sexes means something, that abortion is wrong, and that we ought not reconfigure man as we want, must be declared "anti-human," not to be spoken.

"The contemporary man cannot be defined by the absence of moral references," Chantal Delsol wrote in Icarus Fallen:

And what is the "danger" of truth?  It is that truth exists and measures our deeds and thoughts.

... but by the rejection of an Evil and the apologetics of a Good that are taken for granted and detached from any idea of an objective truth that might give them legitimacy.  It would not be right, however, to see in this attitude an inability of the mind to discover their foundations.  Rather this attitude signals a refusal even to go looking for such foundations, for fear of actually discovering them.  Contemporary man postulates not the emptiness of truth, but the danger of truth.
And what is the "danger" of truth?  It is that truth exists and measures our deeds and thoughts.

In this sense, the whole multicultural project of permitting everything, with the state as guarantor of this "right" to everything, reaches incoherence.  The only kind of multiculturalism that is possible is one that recognizes a transcendent order.  A multiculturalism that denies it ends up by establishing and enforcing a world order in which only what is objectively true is disallowed.  The "fear" is precisely that truth does exist.  The refusal to look for such truth recalls the scene in the Gorgias of Plato where the politician refuses to listen to argument, lest he be forced to admit its logic.

The "evil" that multiculturalism rejects is the "evil" that affirms the existence of truth.  Truth is not "empty."  Its fullness is rejected.  Proper ways to live do hold for all cultures.  This latter affirmation does not necessitate one world state or language, quite the opposite.  But it does recognize that the objective distinction between good and evil, truth and falsity exists in every culture.  This truth is what was at the root of the transcendent spirit that was found initially in Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christian revelation.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father James V. Schall, S.J. "On Multiculturalism." The Catholic Thing (March 18, 2014).

Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@thecatholicthing.org.

The Catholic thing — the concrete historical reality of Catholicism — is the richest cultural tradition in the world. That is the deep background to The Catholic Thing which daily brings you an original column that provides fresh and penetrating insight into the current events affecting the Church, along with other commentary, news, analysis, and — yes — even humor. Our writers include some of the most seasoned and insightful Catholic minds in America: Robert Royal, Brad Miner, James V. Schall, S.J., Hadley Arkes, Francis J. Beckwith, Mary Eberstadt, Austin Ruse, George Marlin, William Saunders, and many others.

THE AUTHOR

Father James V. Schall, S.J., is emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University and the author of many books in the areas of social issues, spirituality and literature including The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical & Political Essays, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing; Roman Catholic Political Philosophy; The Order of Things; The Regensburg Lecture; The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking; Schall on Chesterton: Timely Essays on Timeless Paradoxes; Another Sort of Learning, Sum Total Of Human Happiness, and A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning.

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