A Leftist Critique of Multiculturalism

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Lecture date: Sun, 15th Nov, 2015
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When a former colleague got hold of my most recent book – The Trojan Horse – A leftist Critique of Multiculturalism in the West, he said: “Oh, you really stick your neck out.” (Malmo : Arx Forlag, 2015)

That was kind and wrong. Actually, his comment says very little about me but more about the debate about multiculturalism. Any dissenting comment is not seen as such but as something psychological, more related to character than opinion. But actually, I did not try to provoke. I had only written a book. I realized any attempt to ask him for his opinions about it would be futile.

The discussion about diversity and multiculturalism in the West rests on a few commonsense assumptions:

  • Diversity is left-wing and progressive.
  • Fascists dislike multiculturalism. Therefore, good persons must love it.
  • Multiculturalism is emancipating.
  • Multiculturalism is anti-colonial.
  • Multiculturalism is incompatible with neo-liberalism.

These assumptions are intuitively obvious and hence instantly met with warm approval. Therefore, we think twice before raising questions. After all, who wants to challenge a self-evident truth reeking with morality?

I do. I would claim that this hegemonic thought – multiculturalism as indistinguishable from good manners – is a hoax. It is not a leftist idea. It is deeply conservative.

 

A Few Arguments on Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism, they say, is emancipating. Why? Because the ethnic group can exist independently of the host community. But everything comes with a cost, and collectivist visions are no exception. Multiculturalism tends to crush the independence of individuals within the ethnic group. This is particularly true regarding dissenting young Muslim women who want to live a modern and independent life.

Religion, says Marx, is “the opium of the people”. Address this famous dictum to the multiculturalist and witness the art of shifting topic.

Multiculturalists dislike domestic food, culture, and history. Therefore, they claim, they are anti-nationalists. Still, they love the history, roots, traditions, and culinary highlights of cultures overseas. So in fact they are not anti-nationalists after all, but merely hostile towards their own culture. They are nationalists, only not here but over there. It is perfectly fine to be a nationalist. But it may not be a leftist idea.

The diversity advocate cannot stop praising the so-called ‘ethnic representative’ or ‘community leader’ who gently speaks on behalf of his (it is never a women) downtrodden and silent community. They have no voice, and the community is an organic entity with acting limbs and one speaking head. “I say what you think”, the community leader surmises, and the multiculturalists could not be happier. At the same time, the diversity supporter pours venom on the right-wing populist leader who speaks softly on behalf of his (it is never a women) downtrodden and silent community. They have no voice, and the people is one happy organic entity. “You speak through my voice”, the right-wing populist leader surmises in front of the raging multiculturalist.

 

Harassing Bourgeois Virtues

Another interesting aspect – at least if you have concerns about multiculturalism’s leftist reputation, has to do with the left’s historically deeply embedded virtues, such as being provocative, paying little respect to good manners, bathing top-less and, in general, making a life-style out of harassing bourgeois virtues.

It takes little afterthought to conclude that today’s dominant multicultural left has long since said adieu to these rebellious qualities of the classic left. Now, instead, it is of utmost importance not to provoke because “people might be provoked by it”. Young women are told to be “modest, to “cover up”, and see to their “reputation”. Being top-less has become an impious disgrace. The brave Femen Movement was met with either sour silence or outright disapproval by today’s Victorian feminists. The multiculturalists are not leftists. They are Neo-Bourgeois.

Multiculturalists cherish diversity, and the more diverse, the better. But, then, diversity of what? By means of what plentitude and variety are we supposed to be enriched and invigorated? By outer marks of identification. It is all optical and visual. Politicians talk about a “colourful society”, and “rainbow cultures”. And so-called “identification” runs along similar lines. People from an “ethnic background” are supposed to identify only with those who look the same.

This entire idea – metaphorically and physically – is skin-deep. It is never about intellectual affiliation, personal sympathy, shared interests, psychological predisposition, views and values, or – it goes without saying – political ideas. It is all about bodily kitsch, or, indeed, cultural kitsch: common heritage, roots, shared sense of historical wrongdoings and such. It is never about words, and all about looks. We are told to hush up while performing exotic rites in front of one another, and the more unintelligible, the more endearing. The world of multiculturalism is a world of mute exhibitionists.

Racists utter negative stereotypes about cultures overseas because racists are ignorant. How, then, do multiculturalists respond to this? By cherishing, fostering, celebrating, recognizing, and endorsing all things exotic.

The problem is only that this attitude is merely putting the bottle upside down. Whether exotic cultures are lumped together – to be harassed by racists or saluted by multiculturalists – they are at the mercy of similar abstract and lazy simplifications, showing that the racist and the multiculturalist know next to nothing about foreign cultures and its inhabitants. A long time ago, George Orwell wrote:

I know enough about the working class not to idealize it.

Orwell was a socialist attacking what he saw as a hypocritical and ignorant upper-class left. Save for the fact that the working class has been replaced by cultures overseas, not much has happened since 1937 and Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, at least in the mind-set of the morally superior left-wing establishment.

A principled liberal would, of course, say that this right-wing populist and multicultural obsession with hierarchies – who is better and who is worse, who should be idealised and who should be denigrated – should be replaced by a sense of solidarity and treating others as your equal. “We must”, the British historian Bernhard Crick once remarked, “treat the immigrant as our equal, and not as more than our equal.” The prophetic implications of Crick’s addendum are yet to be fully recognized.

What about the icon among multiculturalists? What about Martin Luther King? As it seems, his fate resembles that of Karl Marx above. Key in King’s message was the idea of a ‘colour-blind’ society where all obsession with colour had disappeared.

Regrettably, the multiculturalists have forgotten King’s idea. Colour-blindness has been replaced by colour-obsession. Strangers must be seen and acknowledged, and we sense fascination at the sight of them. Then, it is hoped, the racist ogre will be silenced. The problem is only that racism does not rule out fascination. Racism is fascination of a certain kind. To be held in contempt, something must first be acknowledged. Racism is fascination taken to its logical conclusion. Multiculturalists fail to notice the inherent worth of disinterestedness, to blend in and vanish in the crowd. They have abandoned King’s colour-blind society. In a postmodern image of ‘us-and-them’, there is no escape for the ethnic group. Instead, it is subject of exclusion and exoticism – put on the pedestal to be honoured, scorned, or drenched with pity.

 

An Alliance Between the Confused Left and the Determined Right

As a final argument against multiculturalism’s leftist reputation, the overlooked relationship between multiculturalism and neo-liberalism will be addressed. Multiculturalists have been taught to hold neo-liberalism in contempt. But at closer scrutiny, similarities emerge.

Recently, I saw a TV commercial where individuals from overseas –Thailand I believe – were performing dance rituals, swinging rods, and the like. I sensed we were back to the era of motionless pictures, as the breakneck pace of images flashing by was due to constantly new snaps of imagery. It was colourful and superficial. Whatever it was about, it was not about Thailand.

It struck me, though, as I was watching these vivid images passing by, that they reminded me of how exotic minorities are portrayed by multiculturalists. Watching the speed and the carnival of disconnected images, and the lack of any scent or real life beyond the glossy surface, the dead and yet superficially enticing imagery of diversity had suddenly come to life. I realised why these stereotypical and lifeless depictions of far-off lands were so familiar. They were already ubiquitous – in the form of colourful TV commercials. I understood why I was rarely caught by that kind of cultural enthusiasm. It was a smile hinting at your wallet.

Multiculturalists are singularly focused on the exterior; our bodies, our skin colour, hairstyle, clothes, jaw bone, the shape of the skull – and the world of commercialism is obsessed with the same things. Diversity is the academic version of make-up – L’Oréal with a footnote. In the stereotypical advertisement for exotic cultures, filled with dancing, singing and laughing, with rods and sticks in all colours imaginable thrown about, at this point of intense fascination for seductive form and superficial aesthetics, multiculturalism blends with ultra-commercialism. The entire idea of pluralism, diversity, richness, and perhaps the very notion of wealth, has been hijacked by multiculturalists and neoliberals; an alliance between an absolutely confused left, and an absolutely determined right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Göran Adamson is an Associate Professor teaching at West University, Sweden. In his Ph.D. (LSE), he argues that the rise of European right-wing populist parties is not primarily caused by “racism”, but by “populism” – i.e. a criticism of the “elite”. Hence, their voters were not chiefly arrogant insiders, but…