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How multiculturalism divides us Society is fracturing because we forgot the politics of belonging

Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

December 5, 2018   4 mins

Let’s start with the basics. Anyone who believes in freedom has a duty to defend the right of fellow citizens to live the life they choose within the parameters of the law. That means upholding their entitlement to worship whom and how they wish, dress and eat as they like, assemble with whom they choose, and so on.

These freedoms are fundamental to liberty, and a society that imposes restrictions on them will inevitably be less free. But as Britain and other Western nations experience deepening problems of societal fragmentation and atomisation, a serious assessment of the role of the State in facilitating integration and social harmony is crucial. In particular, consideration of the effects of the policy of State-sponsored multiculturalism is overdue.

Conventional wisdom has it, of course, that multiculturalism is an inherent good: progressive, inclusive, enlightened, the essence of equality. Sceptics are dismissed as reactionary nativists.

And yet a philosophy designed to break down barriers and bring people together has in fact achieved the very opposite. Modern Britain is dotted with monocultural ghettos whose inhabitants often live an utterly parallel existence to their compatriots dwelling in some cases just a few streets away.

Is it perhaps because the active promotion of separation and difference – for that, ultimately, is what State-sponsored multiculturalism amounts to – drives wedges between people and is inimical to integration? Might it be that we took a wrong turn when we opted for the salad bowl over the melting pot?

Cultural solidarity is hard-wired into the human psyche. People naturally gravitate towards those with whom they feel a sense of cultural understanding and attachment, and the societies most at ease with themselves are those in which deep and enduring common bonds exist, developed organically over generations through shared customs, language, institutions, religion and social mores. Indeed, these cultural ties, through which reciprocity and mutual obligation to fellow citizens are best nurtured and sustained, were instrumental in developing and shaping the nation state – still the best model of government ever created.

The promotion of multiculturalism has the effect of unpicking this. It starts from the point that nothing that went before has any greater relevance to what exists now, that no culture or tradition should be elevated above others, and that the State should be if not an uninterested then certainly a disinterested party in the cultural life of the nation. In doing so, it dismisses an entire history, and violates the sense of belonging felt by those whose lives, as well as those of their ancestors, were so profoundly shaped by that history.

That the establishment’s adoption of multiculturalism as public policy coincided roughly with the emergence of rapacious globalisation helped to create a perfect storm in which communities experienced significant upheaval and millions became disorientated and resentful.

The political elites like to kid us about all this, of course. So they constantly preach the gospel of multiculturalism while ignoring its deleterious effects. Thus, we are invited to take pride in the fact that ‘Britain is a diverse, multicultural society.’ Well, parts of it certainly are. But much of it isn’t.

You could travel to Cornwall or Norfolk or the Scottish Highlands and be largely untouched by multiculturalism. What do the inhabitants of these areas feel when they hear politicians and commentators describe their homeland in a way that simply doesn’t resonate with them? It is another example of the elites looking out from their vantage points in the cosmopolitan cities and concluding that the entire country looks the same.

These champions of multiculturalism will fiercely upbraid those who argue against their creed. There are the usual insinuations that opponents must be motivated by racism – a logical fallacy which conflates culture and race, and ignores the obvious fact that one can be a committed multiracialist without embracing multiculturalism.

In their minds, there is something ignoble and chauvinistic about striving to develop common cultural bonds among the population. But are nations and communities that defend a monoculture any less content than those which don’t? Japan, for example, is no less prosperous or happy for its deep cultural homogeneity.

Should the Amish be forced to accept a dose of diversity? Would a Western liberal dream of telling a Native American or Indigenous Australian that their bitterness over cultural erosion was unfounded and ‘nativist’? Proponents of multiculturalism do not seem to see the hypocrisy in respecting ancient cultures and civilisations elsewhere while neglecting and derecognising our own.

The liberal and cultural elites’ experience of multiculturalism is, of course, different to that of most people. If you’re a well-heeled professional living in a trendy part of town, you will see the best of it. But for those residing in the grittier parts of the country, for whom place and belonging mean so much more, it can mean loneliness and isolation.

So what should be the approach? Outlaw the speaking of foreign languages? Ban mosques? Shut down Italian restaurants? Of course not. Only the truly despotic would ever consider such unconscionable assaults on personal freedom. However, if we are to promote real integration and overcome the divisions that bedevil our society, we must start by ensuring that every lever of the State is used to cultivate the deepest, unforced cultural consensus among our disparate communities.

This would mean, as a simple example, promoting only the common language. It is astonishing that well-meaning people ever thought it was wise for public bodies to translate official documents into dozens of foreign languages. It removes the incentive for newcomers to learn the native tongue, which in turn impacts their ability to find work, to truly integrate, to understand and feel part of the country they now call home.

It means drawing on our cultural history in every area of life and unapologetically setting it above all others, promoting it proudly, inviting every citizen, regardless of where they came from, to share in it – yet all the while unremittingly defending their individual liberty to make their own choices.

Societies are fracturing around us. Establishment politics is changing before our eyes. The old order is collapsing. Across the West, the liberal and technocratic elites are on the defensive as never before. The reason can be summed up in six words: we forgot the politics of belonging.

Paul Embery is a firefighter, trade union activist, pro-Brexit campaigner and ‘Blue Labour’ thinker


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