Praeger Publishers • 1997 • 199 pages + index • $39.95
Steven Yates, who teaches management ethics at Southern Wesleyan University, is an adjunct research fellow with the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and the author of Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (San Francisco: ICS Press, 1994).
In his The Menace of Multiculturalism, sociologist Alvin J. Schmidt has produced a powerful critique of multiculturalism and unapologetic defense of an American culture based on free markets, Christianity, natural law, achievement, and the “melting pot.” He argues passionately that behind the terms diversity, tolerance, and sensitivity is a movement now posing a bigger threat to this country from within than Communism ever was from without.
Schmidt distinguishes multicultural education from multiculturalism. The former consists of education about other cultures, examining their values and practices empirically and nonideologically. To this Schmidt has no objection. One should learn about other cultures. But this is not what multiculturalists want. Multiculturalism is an ideology holding that all cultures, values, and practices are equal. It does not, however, maintain this view consistently. The exception is the culture identified as white, male, heterosexual, Christian, and European-derived, which multiculturalists deride as oppressive and intolerant. Dividing the world into victims and oppressors marks multiculturalism as essentially Marxist in its origins and basic assumptions.
What follows is a reductio ad absurdum leaving multiculturalists looking uninformed at best, and hypocritical or even evil at worst. For example, if all cultures are equal, then one must accept as equals to our own those cultures built around extreme xenophobia, genital mutilation, cannibalism, slavery, or human sacrifice. In short, genuine multicultural education solidly refutes multiculturalism. This explains the tone of anger mixed with revulsion running through this book. Multiculturalism is not what it pretends to be. Its call for an egalitarianism of cultures and lifestyles masks an intellectually dishonest attack on modern American/Western culture that is divisive and destructive. Thus the necessity of exposing its incursions, particularly into the educational system.
One way multiculturalists have attacked American culture has been to rewrite textbooks. Multiculturalist-approved texts portray non-Western cultures as idyllic while neglecting the achievements of our own. They insinuate that Americans stole from other cultures, e.g., that the Founding Fathers lifted some of the U.S. Constitution from Iroquois law. Multiculturalism thus plays fast and loose with history and anthropology. Afrocentrism, a well-known school of multiculturalism, systematically mixes up culture, race, and geography, and invents an “African culture” out of whole cloth. Supposedly the West also stole from this culture. The reality is that there are many cultures on the African continent.
To protect itself, multiculturalism relies on a level of doublespeak that would have shocked even Orwell. Diversity is promoted to advance multiculturalism; it does not extend to ideas. Tolerance is advanced; but multiculturalists are resolutely intolerant of Western traditions. Sensitivity is promoted—but multiculturalists are anything but sensitive to practicing Christians. Political correctness is the tool multiculturalists use to control public discourse on “rights” movements based on ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference.
Schmidt breaks new ground by noting how Yugoslavia began as a multiculturalist experiment and ended in ethnic cleansing. The lesson is simple: multiculturalism does not work! Multiculturalists nevertheless maintain that ethnic groups need not assimilate into a single American culture and promote policies that hinder assimilation, for example, bilingual education.
Schmidt documents many other cases of multiculturalist attacks on American practices and values, including the war on the traditional family. Schmidt reasserts the importance of Christianity in American culture as well as its enormous contributions to Western civilization.
Can we turn back multiculturalism? A degree of pessimism is understandable. After all, multiculturalism is now the unofficial ideology of most of higher education. Its advocates are in power as the gatekeepers of academe. Moreover, multiculturalists are well represented in federal and state governments, the courts, the media, Hollywood, naïve corporations which hire “diversity” consultants, and even mainstream churches. Hence Schmidt’s reference to multiculturalism as a latter-day Trojan Horse, being used by those who hate America to bring it down from within.
Schmidt holds out hope on several fronts, however. The critics of multiculturalism may be a minority without much institutional power, but so were the Founding Fathers. The Constitution endures as an ideal and some multiculturalist initiatives (e.g., campus speech codes) have failed constitutional scrutiny.
Critics of multiculturalism have an uphill struggle just getting attention. Those defending the ideas necessary to preserve freedom are scattered and poorly organized, often subsisting well outside the academic “mainstream” in an environment in which unpopular ideas are easily ignored and lost in the flow of information. Although the publication of books like this one is an encouraging sign that cracks are opening in the multiculturalist edifice, things might have to get worse before they can get better.