Let me begin by thanking Marcus Crahan and the Cosmopolitan Club for inviting me here to speak here in lovely Santa Barbara. (After my wife and I married in 1997, we honeymooned here in Santa Barbara at a wonderful hotel, the Montecito Inn, and I welcome any opportunity to come back.) I would also like to thank my interlocutor, Ms. Saveeni Kahn-Marcus of the University of California Santa Barbara's Multicultural Center, for agreeing to this debate. I come here today in a spirit of charity and gratitude—in the spirit of Aristotle, who once remarked that after all false opinions have been removed, what remains is the truth. It is my hope that my contribution will help reveal something of that truth, and that in turn I will receive the benefit of my own thinking on these subjects becoming clearer.
In the brief time that has been allotted me, I would like to discuss multiculturalism intellectually and politically. First Intellectually. How did multiculturalism become a doctrine so nearly universally accepted by educated elites?
Multiculturalism is on its face the study of many cultures. That there are many and different cultures that exist in our world today, and that have existed throughout human history—and that we might learn something from these cultures—is undeniably true. But multiculturalism represents something much more than that. To see this, we need to step back and recall an older way of understanding, in order to first make clear what multiculturalism is not.
Going back to the roots of the Western philosophic tradition, philosophy, or the search for truth and knowledge, begins with three premises, which are themselves indemonstrable, but which provide the foundation for any and all demonstrable propositions:
1. The first is the common sense notion that man finds himself in a world, a universe, a cosmos, that he did not create, and which he does not command, but of which he is a part.
2. The second is that there is an order to the cosmos of which man is part, evidenced by such common observations as the sun always rising in the East and setting in the West, or the fact that dogs always give birth to puppies, while human beings always give birth to babies, and there is never a mix up.
3. The third premise is that man by nature is rational, that the human mind is free to observe, think, and discover truths about the universe in which he lives—that man experiences himself as possessing the freedom to contemplate evidence presented to his intellect, and judge for himself what is more or less likely to be true.
These premises are the beginning point of philosophy, providing an objective standard of truth and falsity, right and wrong, because it is a standard that exists apart from the will of man. In fact, far being a product of human will, according to the classics, the natural standards of truth and right ought to guide human will, and human investigation.
This is a very general sketch of classical Western moral and political thought, though I should emphasize that while this body of thought is a feature of the West, or Western civilization, it never understood itself as Western; it assumed the possibility of discovering objective truths that transcend, and therefore are not bound by, place or time, because it assumed nature to be universal and unchanging.
For the past several hundred years, however, Western philosophy has been in a state of self-destruction. Certain modern thinkers zeroed in on the fact that the premises of philosophy are indemonstrable—that man cannot freely prove the cause of his own freedom; that as soon as man's freedom is understood to be the effect of one or more causes, it is no longer freedom. Thus modern Western philosophy began to deny man's freedom. Instead of searching for objective truth, philosophy has increasingly become a search for the causes of human thought and behavior, whether they are biological (e.g. Darwinism), economic (e.g. Marxism), or psychological (e.g. Freudianism). Though they disagree on the precise causes, these modern doctrines agree on the basic premise that human thought is nothing but an effect, and that there is no truth to be discovered by the human mind.
Multiculturalism is an offshoot of modern anthropology, itself a product of this self-destruction of Western philosophy. Anthropology, and ultimately multiculturalism, find their home in the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th Century thinker and writer who openly rejected the foundation of classic thought, and whose influence continues to dominate the humanities departments of most colleges and universities.
Rousseau posited that man by nature is not rational. Prior to political life, in what Rousseau called the "state of nature," men were solitary beings, having little or no interaction with one another. Therefore, argued Rousseau, pre-political, solitary man lacked language, because he had no need for language; and if man did not possess language, he could not possess reason. For Rousseau, man by nature is not altogether different than any of the irrational beasts. Man began to speak, and therefore think, by some chance natural catastrophe, such as an earthquake or volcano, that brought men together and forced them to interact with one another. From Rousseau's premise, the very nature of language, and the elements of human thought, reflect nothing but the environmental and cultural forces that produced them. All human language and human thought—moral, political, and religious—are the varying and purposeless effects of varying and purposeless physical causes.
Upon Rousseau's theoretical hypothesis—and I emphasize here that his theory was nothing more than hypothesis, though Darwin and his epigones have worked tirelessly, if in vain, to provide physical evidence of Rousseau's theory—arose the modern discipline of anthropology, the academic study of human cultures. From the anthropological point of view, it makes little sense to speak of reason as a fundamental faculty that distinguishes humans from non-human beings. Rather, reason becomes one of the many customs or habits of particular peoples living together in particular places at particular times. Instead of pursuing the truth about man and how he ought to live, anthropology, and its multicultural disciples, assume that reason is incapable of telling us how man ought to live, because reason itself is but an invention of different cultures. As evidence they trot out various examples of the many disagreements between different cultures about basic moral and political questions. From this multiplicity of perspectives, they conclude, there is no objective ground upon which we might judge or rank the many cultures of the earth—the "values" of each culture are equally valid compared to the values of any other culture.
This is the intellectual basis of multiculturalism, and its emphasis on "diversity" and "non-judgmentalism." As there are many interpretations of right and wrong, the only thing we can know is truly wrong is the belief that we can know true right from true wrong. It means, therefore, it is wrong to think we can objectively distinguish civilized peoples from barbarous peoples. To the degree to which the modern academy rests on modern philosophy, this is the basis for much of what is taught under the name "higher education."
Immediately, however, certain problems arise for the multiculturalist. First is the obvious fact that multiculturalism is a product of one culture, or sub-culture, modern Western philosophy. Consider that nowhere in tribal Africa, or in the Balkans, or among militant Islamists, or in Iraq, or in Communist China or North Korea is there any demand for multicultural "diversity." In short, multiculturalism is, itself, not multicultural.
Second is the fact that multiculturalism, built as it is upon a denial of universal human nature, appeals unwittingly to that classical premise in its focus of study. What, or who, after all, comprises the many cultures it studies and celebrates? Human beings. Were they to reflect on this simple observation, multiculturalists would recognize that Aristotle and the other classics might in fact have much to teach them.
Most problematic is the fact that multiculturalism claims to tell us something true about the human world, yet it is founded upon the denial that objective truth is possible. In its celebration of the diversity of cultural perspectives—and in its denial of any objective or true point of view—multiculturalism becomes just another perspective. That is, on its own ground, multiculturalism cannot defend itself as any more (or less) true than non-multicultural perspectives.
Let us turn to the politics of multiculturalism, and in particular what it means for American politics. Rejecting the waves of modern philosophy crashing down on Europe at the time, the Americans in 1776 attempted something never before attempted: they founded a nation upon a self evident truth, a truth bound up in the "laws of nature and of nature's God." As Abraham Lincoln reminded us at the Gettysburg cemetery, "our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." That proposition has been the single greatest cause of the rise of American freedom, happiness, and prosperity. The entire American experiment in free government stands or falls by the principle of equality, and whether Americans remain dedicated to the cause of defending it.
But Americans will not defend what they do not believe to be true. Under the influence multiculturalism, increasingly the upper intellectual ranks of Americans have come of the opinion that there is nothing they believe to be true, and they persist in teaching that to our children. Indeed, the most sinister aspect of multiculturalism, politically, is that it teaches American students and citizens to discard their loyalty to the United States, in the name of "diversity," and to abandon anything that smacks of "patriotism."
For a nation such as the United States, one dedicated to the natural rights of man, this is problematic—especially in a time of war. It is from multiculturalists that one hears the resurrected phrase, "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Of course, even some multiculturalists winced when those "freedom fighters" crashed airplanes into their cities, murdering their friends and relatives. But not all of them. Today one can still read in the journals of the multiculturalist left, such as the New York Times or The Nation, that America was ultimately to blame for September 11th, and that we should focus our efforts on reaching out to the "others" who live and think differently than do we.
Some multiculturalists try to square patriotism with their multiculturalism by arguing that what unites Americans is our diversity. But the conclusion of this argument is unsustainable. Individual rights, religious and civil liberty, and the rule of law are either good, or they are not; a nation cannot affirm both simultaneously. Put another way, if America stands for everything, it can stand for nothing. As one multiculturalist intellectual extolled in the New Yorker last fall, "the whole meaning of American life is that there is no such thing as the meaning of American life."
Whether he rejects or redefines patriotism, the multiculturalist believes patriotism must be subdued and subordinated to the wider claims of multicultural diversity. One solution is to subject American patriotism to the multi-national, and therefore multicultural, control of international organizations such as the United Nations or the newly formed International Court of Justice. In the rare cases that a multiculturalist will support coercive action against one culture, that action must receive the blessings of the international community, the only source of "multicultural justice," regardless of the (im)moral character of the nations that might comprise the international community. For the American multiculturalist, America is ours, which means it is not the "other," which means American in itself cannot be worth defending.
When thinking about the politics of multiculturalism, we should recall that multiculturalism not only exercises leftist political influence, it is a product of those politics. Some multiculturalists try to defend the advent of the term "multiculturalism" as a new, positive way to speak about "diversity." In some sense this is true. But it was not by chance that the term "multiculturalism" was coined at the same moment, in the mid to late 1980s, when race-based preferences and quotas were coming under increasing public and legal scrutiny.
At that time, the arguments for remedying past discrimination and forcing racial parity in schools and businesses were failing to persuade the American people. Why should Americans of all colors today pay for the sins of some in the past? What do Americans of all colors today owe to the many fallen Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion to make America the free country it is? And who believes that all ethnic groups are equal in preparing their children for college or work? In their desperate search for a new defense of the discriminatory policies of affirmative action, liberals concocted the notion that without race based preferences and quotas, there would be no "diversity" in the classroom and workplace. Multiculturalism was intended to lend academic authority to the racial politics of affirmative action, as multicultural centers and departments began to spring up in colleges and universities around the country. This was the political basis for multiculturalism.
Let us conclude here. Intellectually, multiculturalism is indefensible. As I believe I have shown, it is embarrassingly inconsistent. It is refuted and undermined by its own argument. Politically, multiculturalism is dangerous. Multiculturalism represents nothing less than the political suicide of the West, and in particular the crown jewel of the West, the United States of America. Multiculturalism attempts to undermine the good principles upon which America is built, and it is corrosive of the patriotic spirit that fills the hearts of free men and women. Though it operates much more subtly, multiculturalism is no less a threat to our free institutions than the terrorists who attack our cities with airplanes. It is the test of the American people whether they have the intelligence to identify multiculturalism for the mistake it is, and the resolve to ensure that it does not triumph over this, the last best hope of mankind.