Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blessed Be the Ties that Bind

Eugene Volokh of the blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, has penned a provocative piece for NRO titled "Multiculturalism: For or Against?"   In it he challenges conservatives by making the case that some undeniably very good things are a direct consequence of multiculturalism, things like federalism, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and parental rights among others.

While it's easy to take his larger point, I do think he confuses a society that acknowledges its mutlicultural reality and governs accordingly with multiculturalism.  The latter is an ideology, an ideology with a pedigree, and a pedigree replete with characters unmistakeably hostile to the American experiment.

That experiment is one of government by consent in which liberty is optimized.  That is, liberty is of a higher priority than equality, and especially higher than elusive contemporary notions of equality whether they be called positive liberty, social justice, or whatever.

But any society that is predicated on securing liberty above all has an inherent, and very serious, problem:  Optimizing liberty can and often does strain the very bonds that make the society possible in the first place.  As Volokh mentions, the Civil War is the terrible instance in our own history when those bonds actually broke for a time.

This problem is so serious that, especially given all the liberty-securing provisions of our consitution, it is absolutely crucial that some irreducible cultural homogeneity always describe and define our society.  Political scientist Louis Hartz, famous for The Liberal Tradition in America, argued that our constitution was so liberty-securing that it was actually a recipe for gridlock, then disaster, and then chaos, save for the very important fact that free to do as we pleased, we Americans could more or less always be counted on to do pretty much the same thing.  For Hartz, the irreducible cultural homogeneity was provided by a pervasive and abiding Lockean liberalism.

I would add English-speaking Judeo-Christianity to that irreducible list, but the point is that there absolutely must be something there.  A society that tries to be all things to all people is a society that does not and cannot exist.

As a result, those who understand multiculturalism as a mortal enemy of this country and who also fret constantly about the underlying level of cultural homogeneity that defines it, must not be dismissed simply as bigots, racists, chauvinists, jingoists, or any other handy epithet.  Instead, they should be appreciated for highlighting and worrying about a central problem of any liberty-loving society.

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