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Culture

Multiculturalism Is Not Pluralism

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks as Attorney General William Barr listens during a joint briefing about an executive order from President Donald Trump on the International Criminal Court at the State Department in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Pool via Reuters)

On the last day of his tenure, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter to declare, “Woke-ism, multiculturalism, all the -isms — they’re not who America is. They distort our glorious founding and what this country is all about. Our enemies stoke these divisions because they know they make us weaker.”

Pompeo’s claim, unsurprisingly, set off a torrent of moral indignation regarding the beauty of American diversity from people who couldn’t take the time to learn the difference between pluralism and multi-culturalism.

Here are two useful examples:

Neither of the above tweets describes multiculturalism, but rather the opposite.

The Jew, Muslim, Christian, atheist — all die on the same battlefield for American ideals, not for some parallel cause or any residual grievance from the Old World. By doing so, they reject a certain kind of multiculturalism, one that emphasizes cultural insularity.

We celebrate our ethnic heritages and customs, but we don’t subordinate American ideals to them. There has been a largely tacit expectation that newcomers leave their ideological baggage outside and integrate. The multiculturalism celebrated by progressives makes no such demand.

Pompeo may have “celebrated his own Italian-American heritage,” but his argument is steeped in the Founding, not in the writings of Garibaldi. My surname is Hungarian, and though I may have some innocuous attachment to goulash, I don’t let Hungary’s legal systems or historical problems with the Romanians forge my outlook. I’m here — and so are you — because America’s liberal traditions and capitalist institutions are far superior to Hungary’s. This probably sounds jingoistic to some, but pretending that all groups have equally beneficial ideas to offer is perilous. And if we can’t acknowledge that the tenets undergirding our society are exceptional, why would immigrants?

On this front, there is a giant controlled experiment called Europe for us to study. One of the continent’s biggest mistakes in recent decades has been embracing a multicultural approach to immigration rather than an American pluralistic approach. Christopher Caldwell, one of the sharpest social observers of contemporary Europe, speaks of the “ethnic islands” that dot major European cities, where the worst habits of newcomers aren’t abandoned but reinforced.  They are areas that “look like a seizure of territory rather than a multicultural enrichment.” British writer Kenan Malik argues that multiculturalism, once considered “an answer to Europe’s social problems,” has become a fraught reality of “fragmented societies, alienated minorities, and resentful citizenries.”

Former British prime minister David Cameron admitted as much back in 2011, arguing that state multiculturalism had “failed” his country: “We need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.” German chancellor Angela Merkel, even as she was allowing the continent to be flooded with refugees, noted that multiculturalism “leads to parallel societies, and therefore multiculturalism remains a grand delusion.” French president Emmanuel Macron wishfully claimed that his nation’s “model is universalist, not multiculturalist.”

These aren’t exactly border hawks.

Pluralism internalizes diverse customs and rituals, and makes our lives more interesting and fulfilling, but multiculturalism erodes the social capital — shared identity, trust, cooperation — that makes it all possible. But vacuous universalism and a fetishization of “diversity” don’t make us stronger. A coherent set of values does.

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