I have held forth on a number of occasions (too many, some might say) about the battles going on in the Higher Education since at least the 1960s when the wheels started to fall off. The battles take many faces but occur under the umbrella term “postmodernism,” a new age that will replace the old. One of those faces is that of “multiculturalism,” which has become increasingly militant and focuses on an attack against Western Civilization — regarded as the source of all major problems now confronting the world. It began with an attack on the “establishment” in the 1960s and expanded to take in the whole of Western Civilization, especially during the Viet Nam war, because of the West’s consistent pattern of aggression and exploitation in an attempt to bring other peoples to their knees and force them to yield up their treasure — exacerbated by the presumption of greatness on the part of Western Europe and America and Western art, literature, and philosophy, in particular.
It’s a movement that is well intended, to be sure, though it tends to dwell all too intently on the failures of the Western way of looking at the world. To be sure, there have been terrible mistakes, such as genocide, greed, slavery, pointless wars, and intolerance of other ways of looking the world. But in the tossing out process something precious is being glossed over and in the tizzy to replace the old with the new some important elements are being ignored or forgotten altogether.
Beaten down by this attack, for example, are the “Great Books” of Western Civilization which are now regarded as the villains in the drama, the source of the ideas that have made our culture rotten at the core — though one must wonder how many the zealots have bothered to read any of those books. Indeed, it is mainly dwindling numbers of old geezers such as myself who continue to spit into the wind while defenders of the New Age proudly display their ignorance and triumph in their new-won victories. Their goal is to “rid the world of colonial oppression,” to convert students to one way of thinking, toss out the old, and pave the way to a new and more open way of engaging the world in an effort at what its called “globalization.” And they are winning. Indeed, they may have already won.
One of the old geezers to have joined the battle in a rear-guard effort save the humanities — where these battles have been fought for the most part — is Anthony Kronman of Yale University who has written a book that describes the battles in some detail in an effort to save what remains and perhaps even to resuscitate the humanities as they lie dying in agony from self-inflicted wounds. His book, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges And Universities Have Given Up On the Meaning of Life, points out some of the many ironies of the attack on the tradition that is being replaced. To begin with, there is the fact that replacing our culture with another, presumably superior, culture would require a total immersion in that culture, which is not possible — even in theory — for American students who have spent their lives inculcating scraps from the very culture they hope to displace. Furthermore, the attack on Western Civilization draws on the categories and ideals of that very civilization which also provides the intellectual framework, such as it is, for that attack. And ironically those ideas and ideals are endemic to most, if not all, of the cultures that are regarded by the militants as superior to our own from whence they arose. As Kronman points out:
“The ideals of individual freedom and toleration; of democratic government; of respect for the rights of minorities and for human rights generally; a reliance on markets as a mechanism for the organization of economic life and the recognition of the need for markets to be regulated by a supervenient political authority; a reliance, in the political realm, on the methods of bureaucratic administration, with its formal functions and legal separation of office from officeholder; an acceptance of the truths of modern science and the ubiquitous employment of its technical products: all these provide, in many parts of the world, the existing foundations of political, social, and economic life, and where they do not, they are viewed as aspirational goals toward which everyone has the strongest moral and material reasons to strive. . . . all of them, all of these distinctively modern ideas and institutions, are of Western origin. . . . The ideas and institutions of the West, liberated from the accidental limits of their historical beginnings, have become the common possession of humanity.”
Moreover, as Kronman points out,
“The idea of tolerance [which the militants champion] finds support in many traditions, especially religious ones. But only in the modern West did it become — fitfully, hesitantly, but with increasing clarity and determination– an axiom of political life.”
I have often noted that we seem to be throwing out the baby with the bath water, but those who would do the throwing couldn’t care less as they reach left and right for the latest Western evil to be tossed. However, while there are indeed many reasons to feel disdain for our past, even terrible, mistakes that we in the West have made, there are also so many things that are worth saving and preserving. To be sure, the universities should be open to new ideas and make the students aware of the many cultures around the world other than their own — all of which also have made mistakes, by the way. But at the same time they should seek to preserve the best of what we have all learned from our own past in order to pass those things along. Healthy criticism is a good thing along with honest appraisal and a weighing of pros and cons, but a hysterical rejection of all things Western in the name of “tolerance” is itself the most intolerant view one can possibly exhibit.
Well said. We must defend the rights for citizens to state their opinions, as long as they are done civilly, even if they disagree with everything you stand for. It is also within the person who disagrees to protest civilly. That is how this works. People who deny such right or introduce violence are ignoring our constitution and bill of rights.
My favorite example is the Westboro Baptist Church who pickets military funerals to show their disdain for the US policy on gays in the military. It is rude, but is their right if they do it civilly and at least allow some distance. But, it was also within the rights for hundreds of Americans to civilly block the view of the deceased’s family from the Westboro protestors.
Well spoken. I would only add that the culture of the west is already, by its very nature, multi-cultural. Take, for example, the U.S. … melting pot or salad bowl, whichever analogy one chooses, is make up of people from nearly every nation on the globe. We have absorbed bits and pieces of various cultures and traditions, and those bits ‘n pieces are now part of the American culture. The same is true, though perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent, of Europe. It actually, I think, makes ours a better, richer culture. I am disgusted by those who seem to think our culture should be “all white, Christian” for first of all it is a narrow-minded viewpoint, and secondly it shuts out so many valuable ideas. Good post, and I shall check out the book by Kronman.
Those who push hard for “multiculturalism,” the militants of whom I speak, don’t like to talk about the “melting pot,” though I do think it quite apt. Apparently it suggests that as a culture we are everything we should be whereas these folks can see no positives about the West whatever. Hard to fathom, but there it is!
Yes, and if people concerned themselves more with how they treat others and stopped worrying about trashing a culture … any culture … we might all be much better off 😉
It is actually sinister that anyone would want to forget/ignore/replace anything western in the quest for a ‘melting pot multicultural society.’ That would be a travesty that removes historical relevance of lessons from battles won, lost and forgotten. In the absence of a former civilisation record, history repeats itself. If we let yet another civilisation sink below the waves, we have learned nothing and are doomed to yet more failure. There is no multiculturalism, but there is the ability to embrace, tolerate and accept differences between us. We can only do that by educating ourselves on what each society offers. Wars are never made solely on our differences in culture. Rather, war is waged for the right to resources….we are blind if we cannot see that this is the underlying principles of society. We live always under a scheme of collaboration to gain wealth and good living. To eliminate a Western culture, is simply the fleas killing its donor canine and moving onto its next victim (a perceived, stronger dog ready to carry more fleas). I see no joy for any of us in a scenario where we plot assassinations of character on all that has gone before. It is too easy to be destroyed by our own poisons.
Those who push multiculturalism the hardest seem to exhibit a remarkable ignorance of history and the fact that they are themselves a product of the very culture they trash. They seem to see things as either black or white — the West is black and every other culture is white. Bifurcation, it is called!