Welfare Excuses: the causes of multiculturalism and western self-loathing
Many writers are openly baffled by European Society’s self-loathing, currently manifesting as multiculturalism and political correctness. And resentment at the fierceness with which these orthodoxies are enforced.
Some more-or-less random examples:
· A 14-year-old girl arrested, fingerprinted, photographed, held in a police cell for 3 ½ hours, and questioned by police on suspicion of committing a race-based public order offence because she had, Oliver Twist-like, they had to approach a teacher to ask if she could sit at a different people for the science lesson because the other three children at the table only spoke Urdu.
· A 10-year-old boy (just inside the age of criminal responsibility, “doli incapax” ending at age 10) arrested, charged, and brought before a judge for responding with “Paki” to taunts from an 11-year-old boy that he was a “skunk” and a “Teletubby”.
· The makers of the Channel 4 documentary “Undercover Mosque” investigated subjected to a year-long police investigation for themselves investigating extremism and mosques.
· Public funding of exclusive organisations for migrant populations, combined with the public prohibition of any such organisation by the host population. What reason, other than exclusiveness, could there be for the “Muslim Boy Scouts”? It isn’t hard to imagine the firmness with which the state squash a Non-Muslim Boy Scouts troupe.
You can find similar stories most weeks, usually accompanied by “How did our elites get to be so witless?” commentaries. To say nothing of the comments section when these reports are published online.
Politicians ignore this frustration at their peril, perhaps in the belief that only eccentrics comment on news stories. But things are reversing: those not baffled by such stories are now the unusual ones.
In this essay I try to trace how such wretched attitudes arise in the first place, and why the wider population tolerate them. The source and extent of the problem need to be revealed if we are to cure it.
The argument I shall put forward is that the welfare state and its justifying philosophy, collectivism, is at the root of western self-loathing. As follows:
· the majority of voters want to keep the welfare money flowing;
· they, therefore, generally endorse the welfare statist philosophy that I call collectivism;
· collectivist entitlements extend to ‘cultural’ minorities as well as ‘disadvantaged’ ones (i.e. most voters);
· multiculturalism is, therefore, a further useful attack on morality, which is anti-collectivism.
I also try to summarise some notable writers’ theories. And I try to guess what will happen if and when welfare shrinks or disappears altogether.
I refer mainly to “self-loathing “, with “multiculturalism” and “political correctness” as offshoots, although I occasionally refer to these things in their own right.
Self-loathing has is historically rare, but not unheard of. After a period of failure, e.g. Weimar, cultures have indulged in self recrimination. But even this has usually been a prelude to a resurgent ambition. I can think of no society which, from a position of physical and political strength, has adopted so rigorous a prejudice against its values.
Surprisingly, few of the first-class thinkers who warn us about cultural relativism and multiculturalism have convincingly explained its cause.
I try to give an overview below of the best explanations for cultural relativism so far: Melanie Phillips, Fjordman, Mark Steyn, Theodore Dalrymple, Bruce Thornton, Walter Lacquer, Paul Gottfried, and even Geert Wilders. Brevity makes it difficult to do the writers justice. I would recommend reading any of them.
A brilliantly articulate and clear thinker. Having suffered years of vilification, she shows no smugness that her warnings are becoming received wisdom.
She puts our enervating political culture down to the general philosophy of relativism amongst intellectual elites, and a lack of appropriate pride in our institutions and traditions. Whilst it is hard to disagree with this view, I think it restates the situation rather than explains it. It would be wrong to call her reasoning tautologous, but moral and cultural relativism describe the texture of western self-loathing rather than its roots.
I love this writer for the quality of his prose, his precise humour, and his observant irony. Theodore Dalrymple combines farsightedness with moderation.
He explains political correctness as “communist propaganda writ small”. Marxism, unlike fascism, survived its denouement, and has retained its attraction to intellectuals because of the status it gives them , and they have evolved it into a more resilient form.
Theodore Dalrymple sees the political elites’ attempts to make the public financially dependent as one of their tools:
Of course, the majority of Britons are still not direct dependents of the state. “Only” about a third of them are: the 25 percent of the working population who are public employees (the government has increased them by nearly 1 million since 1997, no doubt in order to boost its election chances); and the 8 percent of the adult population either unemployed or registered as disabled, and thus utterly dependent on government handouts. But the state looms large in all our lives, not only in its intrusions, but in our thoughts: for so thoroughly have we drunk at the wells of collectivism that we see the state always as the solution to any problem, never as an obstacle to be overcome.
Also their attempt to reduce belief in European culture:
While I have no objection to the children of immigrants speaking their parents’ native tongue at home, or to the private decision of anyone to master any language he chooses, a private choice is very different from the government’s ideological decision to offer such languages (of minor global importance) in the state schools. How not to see such a decision as deliberately subversive of belief in the primacy of European culture—with which, after all, the immigrants have chosen to throw in their lot?
These points strike me as observations rather than explanations, although they go further than merely describing the problem. They do not, for instance, explain why the attraction for Marxism has remained. There are other doctrines – e.g. platonic aristocracy – which intellectuals could have, and haven’t, used to their own ends.
Nor do they explain why the non-elites, the voters, have allowed political correctness – an unpalatable fact that commentators generally skirt around. The traditional British scepticism for egg-heads, and the public scorn that politicians have long attracted, are poor soil for a self-serving elite. It seems unlikely that British voters tolerate soft-core Marxism for the privilege of paying for an unnecessary class of academics.
Whilst I would agree with Theodore Dalrymple about the anaesthetic effect of political correctness, and the dependence of the welfarised public, I don’t think these factors are enough to force the public to get themselves robbed. Theodore Dalrymple seems to me to come close to the tempting fiction that the electorate are the victims of elite manipulation.
Marxism does much to explain the mentality of western self-loathing, but doesn’t explain how that self-loathing arises.
In his devastating “Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy”, Paul Gottfried states that multiculturalism denies civil society its independence by casting it into competing groups. All of them are subject to the state’s authority, and dependent upon its patronage. To this end the managerial state imposes ideological orthodoxy, which becomes state religion. Heretics fare badly, and there is “the substitution of designated victims for the older adoration of religious martyrs”. “Third World, gender, and lifestyle victims" become the new “suffering just”.
I think Paul Gottfried is exactly right about the guilt-trip effects of multiculturalism, and the state’s wish to undermine cultural independence. But I think he too succumbs to the temptation to blame the elites and passing over the role of the public.
This is a similar to Theodore Dalrymple’s belief that multiculturalism is a deliberate government policy. There is no doubting multiculturalism’s usefulness to Europe’s unscrupulousness elites, but I don’t think this view explains public tolerance of it.
The brilliantly sensitive and scholarly defender of our western heritage. His conclusions – e.g. that we have “no intellectual cadre that can think” – are the more devastating for being thoughtfully researched.
I think his view is similar to Theodore Dalrymple’s. For him, “cultural Marxism” is a Gramscian strain that survived the fall of communism, and which our treacherous elites promote for their own selfish ends. I think he is right. But I wish he went further. Like others, he seems to avoid the conclusion that those elites, whilst self-serving, may be doing the public’s bidding. To be fair, he has expressed doubt that democracy is up to the challenge (“Democracy not Working”), but I can’t find anything from him that alters his basic view that we are duped by the elites.
His views and recommendations are clear and consistent. Like Churchill, he sees the concrete in front of us (God knows, it isn’t difficult). One must admire his sense of purpose, living as he does under effective house arrest, only able to see his partner once a week, menaced and demonised by the collusive Dutch state.
His speeches to the Dutch Parliament protest rule by a cowardly and self-serving elite, dedicated to handing over Western civilisation, as an outgoing President might concentrate on handing over the Oval Office. In a 2008 budget debate he stressed the disconnection between “the leftist canal-zone” (the high-price areas near to the Amsterdam canals where left-wing celebrities and politicians tend to live) and “The other Netherlands (which) consists of people who have to pay the bills”.
As one might expect from a democratic politician who still values aspects of state provision, this line avoids criticism of the electorate. Elite swindlers dupe the unsuspecting tax-paying public, who have not queried the bill yet.
A virtuoso and entertaining writer who mordantly nails hypocrisy early on. And a knack for getting things right that pokes his detractors in the eye.
I think his explanation goes furthest so far. He sees multiculturalism as an absurd symptom of “civilisational exhaustion”. And the most civilisationally exhausted, Europe, is the most absurdly multiculturalist. I think that his argument is right, so far as it goes.
But I think that, like Melanie Phillips’s view, this argument is a little circular. It would be absurd to describe self-loathing and cultural relativism as a symptom of “civilisational vigour”. I don’t think “Civilisational exhaustion” explains PC multiculturalism so much as it describes it.
But he goes further by tracing the exhaustion back to the problem of deathbed demographics – “demography is destiny”. I still have my doubts about this explanation, however.
First, I’m not sure which is the cause and which the effect. Are deathbed demographics the result of civilisational exhaustion, or the other way around? And where does the primary cause come from? Perhaps it is just a feature of age – western civilisation has had a good long run and has had enough of leading. But Mark Steyn, rightly, has little time for such arguments about historical inevitability.
In “America Alone”, he suggests it is the result of the luxury of American military protection since World War I, but I’m not sure he thinks that is the root of the problem. If it were, that would not explain why America appears to share some of Europe’s self-loathing?
Second, whilst demography is a plausible explanation I think it is an oversimplification. It doesn’t explain why multiculturalism, of all things, should be a symptom of shrinking demographics. For instance, inter-war Germany had been experiencing a demographic decline, which the Nazis tried to reverse. Although that policy failed, Nazi Germany cannot be cited as an example of cultural relativism. Similarly, Japan and China have deathbed demographics, and yet neither of them is falling for the cultural self-loathing and relativism of Western Europe. Japan, if less confident than in, say, the 1980s, still has low levels of immigration, and virtually no Islamic immigration, and shows no sign of abandoning its orderly culture. China on the other hand appears to be combining a demographic crunch with civilisational resurgence, and is cited by Mark Steyn as an example of the ‘strong horse’ feared and respected by Jihadis. Russia has, if anything, even worse demographics, owing to disease and low male life expectancy, but shows no wish to abase itself. And whilst the British birth rate is significantly higher than Germany’s, PC multiculturalism appears to be higher in Britain. And America, whose population passed the 300 million mark two years ago, is playing catch-up with Britain in the self-loathing stakes.
I’m exaggerating slightly. And I think that there is merit to Mark Steyn’s view that low demographics are a key factor. But, those demographics look more like a reinforcer of self-loathing than its main cause.
Collectivism - the philosophical poison
The European welfare state forces higher earners to subsidise consumption for lower earners. At least half of all wealth created in European countries is spent by the state, a massive vested interest. It means a good deal for the lower-earning majority of voters.
This is a form of extortion, albeit highly proceduralised. It is not done voluntarily just because it is required by democratic vote. If tax were voluntarily then it would not be tax but generosity, and the taxman, police, courts, and bailiffs would not exist. Tax isn’t freely given and you can’t opt out of it. And democracy cannot legitimise extortion any more than murder.
People say that tax is voluntary because they approve of it, and think that no reasonable person could object to so fair a system. The reasoning is similar to Soviet dogma: I like the system, anyone who doesn’t is irrational, you can’t get out of it, and you will go along with it or face punishment.
Yet the world of tax and welfare is more sophisticated than a mafia racket. It needs wealth creation to continue, and wealth creation requires voluntary motivation. So welfare collectivism needs a widespread acceptance of orthodox opinion. It requires a justifying ideology.
Monarchies use the ideology of the divine right of kings. Military dictators use the national imperative. Communists use the march of history. Welfare democracy uses collectivism.
Hence the misuse of language: “Compassion” – as if forcing a minority, at the point of a truncheon, to pay for things you want is a compassionate act; “social justice” – a phrase without meaning except to imply that everyone should have similar incomes; “giving money to the rich” – as if the state taking less is an act of giving; “investment” – as if it makes financial sense to be forced to buy consumables for others. These terms are used to justify theft by tax. Their common denominator is collectivism.
By collectivism I mean the idea that group rights overpower morality. It replaces rights and duties based on your motives, actions and effects, with rights and duties based on your group identity, particularly your victim identity.
Collectivism is the philosophical poison at the heart of Western self-loathing. Its gradual de-coupling of entitlement and behaviour has permeated welfare democracy for almost a century. The rift between collectivism and morality puts the global fault line in Europe – a new Iron Curtain of the mind.
Collectivism has been surprisingly successful. The meaningless language it uses is widely accepted at face value. Collective wishes trump individual rights, especially property rights.
The corollary of welfare collectivism is that traditional morality is bad because it lacked “social justice”, “compassion”, and “investment”, and because it “gave money to the rich”. The injustice of life without the welfare state is taken for granted, and people adopt this view intuitively. And there is no shortage of self-serving intellectuals to flesh out this crude orthodoxy: that western culture was dull and unspectacular; that individual responsibility is oppressive; that self-restraint is repression; that self-reliance is impossible.
This collectivist mentality extends to a variety of victim groups, including religious minorities. This may irritate Europeans who find themselves on the wrong end of minority entitlements, e.g. the right not to be offended, but most will tolerate this if it helps keep the welfare flowing.
Multiculturalism’s power derives from guilt. European shame following the holocaust is disabling – Europe died philosophically at Auschwitz. A century ago, popular history focused on the high points of your history: the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Trafalgar and Waterloo. Today, it focuses on the Nazis. And guilt. Multiculturalists are not slow to take up this opportunity.
See for instance the calculated comments of the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, on the eve of Remembrance Sunday 2007, that Britain was becoming like Nazi Germany. Remembrance Sunday, being the most solemn day in the secular UK calendar, is intended in part to honour Britons who fought to defeat Nazi Germany.
Or, in 2000, Jack Straw’s (the UK Home Secretary and a major exponent of multiculturalism) comments that the English are "potentially very aggressive, very violent" and "increasingly articulating their Englishness". It makes no difference to have fought against violent nationalism: guilt is desired.
Or, from the other side, take this quote from Martin Wolf, a respected Financial Times analyst:
“The most important conclusion is that one's assessment of the desirability of sizeable immigration is a matter more of values than of economics. It is not a choice between wealth and poverty, but of the sort of country one desires to inhabit.”
‘A Matter of More Than Economics’, Martin Wolf, The Financial Times, 13 April 2004
The value of guilt is that it overpowers opposition. Self-reproach means that any accusation of chauvinism, or “being right wing”, is enough to end discussion. This has been recognised as a law of debate since 1990: Godwin’s Law briefly states that “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one” and the discussion is effectively ended.
Multiculturalism is, therefore, a very efficient method of overcoming opposition to state management. This is why it is used so frequently – see, for instance, Pim Fortuyn, here, and here – to vilify opponents.
The general public don’t have much enthusiasm for the absurdities of multiculturalism, or particularly enjoy the denigration of their history. But most will put up with it as part of the drive for “services”. Not because they like it but because it is useful.
This is the most unpalatable aspect of my analysis. I appear to blame the majority of my fellow citizens and, therefore, democracy itself. This is controversial because commentators attach great importance to the goodness of democracy.
It would be unfair of me to caricature my neighbours as selling out a towering cultural heritage for a slew of welfare. If you look closer, it isn’t the majority of the public who are the cause, so much as man’s tendency to self-interest, to allow his short-term gain to prevail. This seems to me an inevitable, even a natural, tendency, and one that I share with almost everyone else.
If blame is appropriate, then I go along with the writers I began with by placing it on Europe’s elites. They are not agents but representatives and trustees. Yet the more closely you try to examine their motives, the more self-serving they appear.
What does all this mean now that things appear to be starting to come apart?
If PC multiculturalism stems from the financial transfers of the welfare state, we can expect it to continue whilst the welfare state continues. But we can also expect conflict as limits to the tax take become apparent. If we can no longer increase overall tax-take by punishing higher earners, then that hostility will transfer to other groups competing for the welfare. Each group will have the incentive to blame the next for reductions in the welfare pot, and to cast the other as undeserving.
We can expect this scramble for welfare to fall out along ethnic lines. Partly because of the disproportionate consumption by Islamic populations; partly because European populations don’t see immigrant groups as having such strong collectivist entitlements as themselves; partly because multiculturalism entrenches ethnic entitlement; and partly because the European ethnic divide is so deep. This probably explains the current unpopularity of multiculturalism.
If PC multiculturalism stems from the welfare state then the disappearance of the welfare state will transform self-loathing into a chauvinism which, having heard enough foolish talk, is deaf to reason.
If PC multiculturalism stems from the welfare state then ethnic hostility will not be the primary or immediate cause of European breakdown but will be its harbinger and accelerant.
I hope not. It is one thing to write words like “ethnic hostility” and “civil breakdown”. It is quite another to see those things in reality.
It should be obvious from the above that I have deep misgivings about welfare democracy, and that I think collectivism and its mutations are poisonous. As we watch the breakdown of European multiculturalism, and the welfare collectivism that gives rise to it, I think this view will prevail on some others.
If these people, however few, can take the opportunity to devise ways to live without the state, then the trauma will not have been wasted. And the stature of man, which the western cultural achievement represents, can be renewed.