What is the truth behind "White Flight"?
Multiculturalism vs America
A special edition of The American Mind podcast
In this special edition of the American Mind podcast, we explore the intellectual roots, political and societal implications of and the antidote to what the Claremont Institute believes is the great threat to America: multiculturalism. The podcast features Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams, Chairman Tom Klingenstein and scholar Charles Kesler, as well as the likes of David Azerrad, Lord Conrad Black, Allen Guelzo, Roger Kimball and Norman Podhoretz. It is narrated by James Poulos, Executive Editor of the American Mind and produced by ChangeUp Media.
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SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: [M]any of our leaders were more eager to delight the Davos crowd than champion the principles that have made us the greatest nation that civilization has ever known. By the way, the Claremont Institute sadly knows, I could also name a certain tech company that we spoke about earlier that’s forgotten our first principles too.
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JAMES POULOS: That was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo taking a subtle dig at Google while addressing the Claremont Institute’s 40th Anniversary Gala.
And this is James Poulos, executive editor of the American Mind, bringing you a special episode of “The American Mind Podcast.”
Google is not the primary subject of this podcast. But its actions towards the Claremont Institute, to which the Secretary of State alluded, illustrate a new threat America faces – a threat posed to anyone who dares challenge social justice dogma from the digital realm to the board room.
The endgame is the wholesale repudiation of American justice as we’ve known it since the Founding. What follows, as a recent president put it, is the fundamental transformation of the United States – reducing us to the United States of America in name only.
The pseudo-intellectual worldview at the heart of this attempted revolution can be seen across not just major corporations like Google, but throughout our preeminent cultural institutions and our federal government. Like so many bad ideas, this one got its start in the academy.
Protean yet singleminded, this invidious ideology is bent on dissolving the foundations of our nation and establishing itself as official public doctrine to which all must adhere. At the Claremont Institute, we call it—multiculturalism.
In a series of essays at our online publication, The American Mind, we define today’s official multiculturalist doctrine in opposition to Americanism. For Google, simply broaching the topic led us to be flagged as a quote “racially or ethnically oriented publication” in violation of its policies. This was news to us, since Claremont has spent its entire history arguing that the central principle animating American political life is the Declaration’s proposition that all human beings are created equal.
Consequently, the Silicon Valley speech-stifler informed Claremont we were blocked from advertising our own 40th anniversary gala to our own readers.
Only after hours on the phone with Google, and, presumably, after it saw the uproar on social media and in the press in response to its draconian censorship, did Google relent and restore our advertising rights.
Our brush with suppression ended in victory. Many others have not been so lucky.
We’ll see whether this podcast, too, is “mysteriously” disappeared. But what concerns us most is not that we were targeted in the recent past. It’s that anyone who deviates from the whims of the tech oligarchs, and the thought-crime arbiters they’re in league with, could be tossed into intellectual prison—or worse—in the days to come – at a moment’s notice, with no explanation, no appeal, and no relief. This despotic impulse is not confined to a few faculty lounges or boardrooms. It is being pumped into America’s bloodstream, poisoning our civic life, turning group against group and neighbor against neighbor.
This is the menace of multiculturalist officialdom – weaponizing the politics of identity and its enforcement arm, the speech code of political correctness.
In this special edition of the American Mind podcast, we explore this grave danger—and its antidote.
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Today, really in a large sense, multiculturalism and its politics of identity and its enforcement arm—or its speech code, really—political correctness, poses an existential threat to the regime.
It’s comparable in a way, and not purely but very closely-comparable, to the threat posed to American self-government of slavery in the 1850s or even Communism during the Cold War. And the analogy isn’t perfect, but I think, thinking of it that way, at a regime level challenge, is the proper way to think about it. Slavery in the 1850s was the challenge of the principles of the regime, an internal challenge; Communism during the Cold War was an external challenge, a fundamentally opposed political system with different notions of rights, human nature, and the place of religion (that is—no place in Communism).
And so, in that sense, multiculturalism is very analogous, because it has a new understanding of rights, a new understanding of human nature, and both those understandings are at fundamental odds with the regime of the American founding or the recovery over it by Abraham Lincoln or the carrying through of it, in many respects, throughout the political tradition of the American right. In the 90s, multiculturalism was this academic fad in a way. It’s older than that, it goes back probably to the turn of the Twentieth century but basically
the modern Left, or modern progressivism, or the leading edge of modern Leftism has been running the campuses according to the dictates of multiculturalism for 30 or 40 years now, and now they want to run the world that way, and that includes our corporate board rooms, our civic society as a whole, speech codes on the new public square: that includes places like Youtbue,Facebook, and Twitter.
We think if we don’t stop multiculturalism’s advance, and start to restore the older understanding of the American Constitution and American principles, it will really does threaten to take down America, and could be the downfall of Western civilization as a whole. That sounds a little histrionic, but the story of the durability of republics in many ways is concerted and determined elite having effects far beyond their numbers and so we need to combat this now.
Boutique movement of multiculturalism, but one that’s spreading quickly.
JAMES POULOS: That’s Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams. In a powerful essay called “Defend America—Defeat Multiculturalism,” Williams announced a new intellectual and political campaign to successfully protect our Founding order.
For all we know, that passage alone might have gotten us thrown in the Google gulag. But the Claremont Institute made such a bold statement because of the history and the nature of today’s all-encompassing threat.
In fact, Williams notes, we need to clearly define terms to understand just how big it has become.
By multiculturalism, we don’t mean the mere presence of different peoples or the tolerance of diverse traditions. The American system has always fostered a certain amount of pluralism through our rich, vibrant, and free civil society. In that system, regardless of race or creed, all Americans shared the same sense of justice—the one embodied in the Declaration of Independence, safeguarded by our political institutions, and enshrined in the motto E pluribus unum. It is a justice based in natural rights possessed by all, and the consent of the governed. It is a justice that defines equality based on our common humanity—and for some purposes our common citizenship—but never on the basis of tribalistic attachments and group identity.
Over time, America maintained this unity by common commitment to shared principles, especially the central divine and natural truth of equal individual rights. In addition to commitment to principle, Madison praised what he called in the Federalist the “genius of the people,” by which he meant their habits and customs, their storied traditions and religion. The American Founders had the wisdom to know that any decent society needed an agreement on justice at its core… and the sobriety to appreciate that no system of self-government could withstand the fragmentation of the body politic into radically antagonistic factions.
If a people cease to have anything in common, there is no mere idea or ideal powerful enough to keep it together.
Multiculturalism flips on its head America’s traditional and Founding focus on equal individual rights, essentializing group identities and lionizing group rights. Rather than the promoter of justice, politics becomes a dispensary of entitlements—to varying levels of honor, resources, and prestige, all in accordance with an ostensible hierarchy of oppression.
To keep it all straight, multiculturalism has to maintain a running list of friends and enemies, oppressed and oppressors, and a roster of praise, shame, and blame – all subject to substantial revision at a Tweet’s notice.
The end goal is power and privilege—above all, that of the ruling class who unaccountably calls the shots.
In short, multiculturalism must be understood for what it is—not just pluralism or variety, or an enjoyment of difference, but a comprehensive worldview with an ideological agenda. It is a regime, in the classical sense; a political and cultural way of life all wrapped up in one. It stands for nearly the opposite of our national motto, making many groups out of one citizenry by dividing and conquering our country. Accustomed to running university campuses according to social justice rules, the multiculturalist Left now wants to run the world that way.
Deviate, and you’re liable to be excommunicated from polite society…by its most impolite enforcers.
Claremont Institute chairman Thomas Klingenstein describes it this way…
TOM KLINGENSTEIN: Well, I think at root, multiculturalism rests on a different understanding of justice, than what the traditional American regime rests on and that understanding, the traditional one, is that all human beings are equal. But in the case of multiculturalism, the understanding is that society is divided up into identity groups ranked by the degree to which they are victimized, and all of them are oppressed by white males, and since justice is really the foundation of regime, multiculturalism is actually a different regime from the American regime. And I think we saw that very clearly in the Kavanaugh hearings, where Kavanaugh was judged guilty, the assumption was he was guilty, because he was part of the group that was guilty, so that in those hearings, we weren’t just seeing a political fight over a Supreme Court Justice; it wasn’t just the case of we were fighting over a given set of rules; we were actually fighting over which set of rules to apply.
And so, I think what you were seeing there was a political revolution. Now, if multiculturalism rests on a new understanding of justice, then the multicultural regime requires new values. So that, for example, under the multicultural regime, diversity becomes America’s greatest strength, whereas under the Founding regime, it was color blind, and it’s greatest strength was actually having transcended ethnicity and race and of course, the one time it didn’t do so, the regime almost imploded. And if you have new values, that means new social and political institutions, it means a new understanding of family, it means no need for religion, or a robust civic sphere. It means, also, very importantly, a new understanding of education, where education becomes an exercise in the liberation of so-called oppressed groups, and history is re-written, so as to portray the central narrative of America as a series of crimes against humanity: racism and all the rest; national borders, they become permeable: American citizens are replaced with global citizens. .
So the point is, in a sentence, that multiculturalism like Communism, aims at the destruction of America and the West.
JAMES POULOS: That perversion of history offers a window into multiculturalism’s own relation to America’s past.
Historian Allen Guelzo draws an analogy to the roots of our Civil War:
ALLEN GUELZO: Today’s multiculturalism is, like the airless conceit of the Calhouns and Fitzhughs, not multi- at all; it is a culture of its own whose values are premised on the same realities and ideas which brought us, on an earlier occasion, to a vast bloodletting. Like the slave aristocracy, modern multiculturalism is predicated on identity politics; like them again, it espouses a form of economic stasis as the only just social form; it has no use for the nation, substituting instead racial and gender states as the focus of its loyalties, and it ruthlessly silences dissent in the name of self-protection. And probably, given half a chance, it will strain to rewrite the Constitution in order to articulate its culture and criminalize disagreement…
Americans have had the most unusual common core around which a multitude of cultures gather—a set of political propositions and a written Constitution. And that core has managed, to the disbelief of its despisers, to survive without a single established language or religion, and in the full glare of telegraphs, telephones, newspapers, and, most recently, the internet.
None of these ways of structuring multiculturalism defines modern multiculturalism. The new multiculturalism is, in fact, an anti-culture, and it dismisses (in the words of essayist Wesley Yang) “the very idea of a fair system of rules applicable to all” as “a pernicious mystification disguising the partial interests of the dominant class as universality itself.” There really is nothing the anti-culture respects outside itself; “what remains to be done,” Yang declares, “is the reengineering of norms, customs, and precedents to favor the marginalized.” The “marginalized,” of course, is what every dictator, tyrant, and ideologue imagines he is speaking for. No slaveowner, swinging back at the perceived aggressions of the anti-slavery North, could have described his situation better. Thomas Klingenstein’s invocation in his CRB essay “Patriotism vs. Multiculturalism” of Abraham Lincoln was more than apt.
JAMES POULOS: David Azerrad, Director of the Heritage Foundations’ B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics, focuses on the turning point of the 1960s:
DAVID AZERRAD: Something really changed on the left in the ‘60s. Now, we still have important elements of early progressivism and mid-century liberalism that are alive today in America: the welfare state, the administrative state. But there’s something else that has happened…The something else for the purposes of this conversation is really identity politics. And I view it growing out of on the one hand, the Black Power and Black Nationalist movements — so Stokely Carmichael and Malone, not MLK; and on the other hand, the Women’s Liberation movement. So Betty Friedan kicks off Second Wave feminism. She publishes The Feminine Nystique in 1963, I believe. By the time the ‘60s are wrapping up, you get the Kate Milletts, the Shulamith Firestones, who are putting forward a much more radical agenda for feminism.
And I think that out of these two movements, then you get more groups that come along. You get Chicano power, Yellow Power, you get the Gay Liberation movement, but they’re all following the same basic script of “America is a fundamentally oppressive society. There should be solidarity between all of the oppressed groups against the oppressor groups.” And what they’re demanding is not equal rights under the law. They don’t want to assimilate into America. It’s preferential treatment and to be honored and recognized for their differences.
JAMES POULOS: Among America’s founding neoconservatives – one who now jokes he’s been around so long he identifies as a paleo-neoconservative – Norman Podhoretz sees a more contemporary parallel to today’s multiculturalists and their nascent ideological combatants:
NORMAN PODHORETZ: Tom Klingenstein has made a brilliant effort to explain it, in terms that haven’t really been used before. He says that our domestic politics has erupted into a kind of war between patriotism and multiculturalism, and he draws out the implications of that war very well. I might put it in different terms—love of America versus hatred of America. But it’s the same idea. We find ourselves in a domestic, or civil, war almost.
In 1969-70, we neocons analyzed the international situation in a similar way, behind a clarifying idea that had a serious impact because it was both simple and sufficiently complex in its implications. I had by then become alienated from my long-term friend Hannah Arendt, whose book The Origins of Totalitarianism had had an enormous effect on me. Although she had become an ex-friend, her book’s argument still inspired me, and I think a lot of other people, to fight. And that argument was that the Soviet Union was an evil, moral and political, comparable to Nazi Germany. As we had fought to defend the West in World War II from the evil coming from, as it were, the Right, so we had to fight it coming from the Left in the Cold War, which I liked to call World War III. (And I’ve tried to say since 9/11, we have to fight an evil coming from the 7th century in what amounts to World War IV—but that name hasn’t caught on.) But the important point is we offered a wholehearted, full-throated defense of America. Not merely a defense, but a celebration, which is what I thought it deserved, nothing less. It was like rediscovering America—its virtues, its values, and how precious the heritage we had been born to was, and how it was, in effect, worth dying for. And that had a refreshing impact, I think, because that’s how most people felt. But all they had heard—though nothing compared to now—was that America was terrible. It was the greatest danger to peace in the world, it was born in racism, and genocide, and committed every conceivable crime. And then when new crimes were invented like sexism and Islamophobia, we were guilty of those, too.
JAMES POULOS: During remarks at a recent conference in Washington, D.C. on a panel titled “American Citizenship and National Identity,” Doctor Charles Kesler, Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute and Editor of the Claremont Review of Books, contrasted multiculturalism and its identity politics with America’s modern development of a unified national identity…
CHARLES KESLER: What are the challenges to American national unity and national identity that run the deepest and seem to offer the greatest challenge to the future of our republic? Here I want to refer to a book by Samuel Huntington…called Who Are We? Subtitled, “The Challenges to America’s National Identity”…Huntington diagnosed three big challenges to American unity: the first was the first was: multiculturalism. And multiculturalism meant not, just thethe fact of pluralism, but a celebration of pluralism for its own sake, or for the sake of something other than its contribution to national unity. When you had WWII movies where every platoon consisted of the Pole, and the German, and the Italian, and an upper crust Yankee, that was pluralism. But it didn’t prevent them from defeating Germany, and Japan, and erecting new vibrant liberal democracies in their place and revivifying our own liberal democracy. But the kind of multiculturalism that Huntington regards as a problem, is the kind we regard as a problem. It’s the kind that cuts against civic education and civic unity or consciousness.
JAMES POULOS: Roger Kimball, Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books, takes aim at the ersatz sense of progress invoked by multiculturalist elites:
Samuel Huntington, in his book, Who We Are, made a kind of passing remark about multiculturalism that I think many people were taken aback by. He said, multiculturalism is in a sense, not just anti-European, it is in fact a kind of effort to reverse the achievements of Western civilization.
Multiculturalism is not multi-so much as it is anti-. It is a weapon devised by the Left to undermine the achievements of the West. Huntington had another phrase he talked about the West, and the rest. Multiculturalism is primarily an ambassador of the rest.
What does that mean? It means that multiculturalism, despite its leaving an aroma of pluralism, is actually a totalitarian idea directed at the fundamental building blocks of Western civilization. What are they? For example: the rule of law, the idea of disinterested judgment, the idea that our own tradition, is worth celebrating. All of these things, multiculturalism seeks by insidious means, to undermine. And I think that we have seen, since multicultural and came on the scene by name, in the 1970s and 1980s, an incredible devolution of Western success and the real problem that those who wish to defend the West face now is a crisis of confidence. We no longer seem to have the confidence in our own achievements as a civilization and that’s precisely what multiculturalism has endeavored to foment, and they’ve been very successful at it.
JAMES POULOS: In short, multiculturalists wish to make us many out of one—pretending their ideology is as inevitable as the march of history. And if you disagree, they will shut you up and shun you.
Identity politics and political correctness are at the center of the multiculturalist enterprise, busily subverting American unity, cohesion, and stability. Lord Conrad Black:
LORD CONRAD BLACK: I think what we have here is the emerging showdown between two frequently encountered trans and political organizations. One pitch is to an ever larger number of aggrieved parties whose grievances are highlighted and emphasized and ostentatiously made the subject of sympathy which requires the imposition of an ever-increasing degree of political correctness in the media, and in academic circles to ensure that no one can question that virtually everyone except the ostensible ruan group is oppressed and unfairly, treated. And the opposite argument, and we’re seeing it in contemporary terms in the United States and in some other countries, is effectively to wave the flag and say “We are all Americans, all Americans are equal; we are united by this great country with its noble revolutionary tradition of civil rights and human liberties, all people will be treated fairly.
And this attempt to divide, in this case, Americans one from another, on spurious grounds of pigmentation region age, sex, sexual orientation, social conditions, standard all of living, all of it is rubbish. And the goal of all Americans is justice for everyone, everyone with the right to succeed, everyone enabled as much as can be done on the basis of their merits and effort to succeed and a c compassionate attitude to the genuinely disadvantaged.”
So you have a sort of constructive nationalism unifying a diverse population combating this attempt to sub-divide the population into groups in the United States. Essentially everyone except straight, white males, and even ostensibly straight, white Christian males.
JAMES POULOS: The harms of multiculturalism are multifarious—manifesting in ever more ways, but benefiting the “woke” despots and the bullying “victims” who gain power from poisoning our public life and shredding our national fabric.
At its highest level, multiculturalism brings national self-loathing – since all cultures to the multiculturalist are equal, except American culture…which is irredeemably stained.
BARACK OBAMA: I believe in American exceptionalism just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.
ANDREW CUOMO: We’re not gonna make America great again. It was never that great.
ERIC HOLDER: Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as a ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and we I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially, a nation of cowards.
JAMES POULOS: Of course if you deign to think differently than the likes of Barack Obama, Andrew Cuomo and/or Eric Holder, well…
HILLARY CLINTON: Just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump supporters into what I call a basket of deplorables. They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up…Now some of those folks, they are irredeemable. But thankfully, they are not America.
JAMES POULOS: Our multiculturalist politicians not only seem to revel in browbeating our country and those who love it, but overtly assert their politics of identity is essential to controlling it.
STACEY ABRAMS: Identity politics is exactly who we are, and it’s exactly why we won.
JAMES POULOS: While Ms. Abrams avoids admitting that in fact she did not win, she is right to acknowledge the triumph of identitarianism within her party. That ethos must be taken seriously. It dominates the field of rivals to unseat president Trump. In fact, the Democratic candidates are at pains to bow down and pray at multiculturalism’s altar, sometimes in the most cringeworthy of fashions.
VICE INTERVIEWER: Why should another white guy be president?
ERIC SWALWELL: Well a white guy who doesn’t see other identities or understand other experiences should not be president. I do. And where there would be gaps in my knowledge or my experience I will pass the mic to people who do have that experience.
JAKE TAPPER: You have said Trump’s immigration positions are racist…
Now, as you know, you were more conservative early on in your career on immigration…
You said you were a — quote — “firm opponent” of government — quote — “amnesty to illegal aliens” — unquote. You said English should be — quote — “the official language of the United States.” You called for expediting deportation of undocumented immigrants…Let me ask you, if Trump’s immigration positions are racist, were they racist when you held some of those positions as well?
GILLIBRAND: They certainly weren’t empathetic, and they weren’t kind, and I did not think about suffering in other people’s lives.
And one thing I did 10 years ago, when I became senator and was going to represent 20 million people across our state, I recognized that a lot of places in my state were different, and I needed to understand what those constituents needed too. And so I took the time.
I went down to Brooklyn. I met with Nydia Velazquez, who has been a leader fighting for families for a long time. And I listened. And I realized that things I had said were wrong. I was not caring about others. I was not fighting for other people’s kids, the same way I was fighting for my own. And I was wrong to feel that way.
And so I just said I’m not going to stand by and do nothing for families that are suffering in my state and in my communities.
JAMES POULOS: Congressman Eric Swalwell and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand do not err alone. Elizabeth Warren had to apologize privately to a leader of the Cherokee Nation for taking a DNA test in an attempt to prove her purported Native America ancestry. Candidates Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard and others have all apologized to different groups for past policy positions deemed out of touch with the “woke” multiculturalist Left.
The same multiculturalism that pervades our political class trickles down into every aspect of our national life. Consider just a few recent headlines:
- June 2019: “Drag Queen Story Hour Continues Its Reign at Libraries, Despite Backlash.”
- June 2019: “2020 Census citizenship question would hurt business decisions on jobs, stores and even TV.” This from an accurate accounting of citizens versus non-citizens resident in America.
- May 2019: “Siri and Alexa Reinforce Gender Bias, U.N. Finds.”
- March 2019: “Alderman Van Johnson apologizes for going to ‘black press only’ event”
- February 2019: “Cook County Takes Steps to Erase Its Regional Gang Database.” The reason, here, according to county Commissioner Alma Anaya, is that, quote “The terms ‘gang association’ or ‘gang membership’ have become a form of criminalizing mostly young people of color,” No similar sensitivities have been extended toward victims of gang crime, often themselves people of color too.
- February 2019: Headline: “The knitting community is reckoning with racism.” Subtitle: “Fiber artists of color are taking to Instagram stories to call out instances of prejudice – and to try to shape a more inclusive future.”
This is not to mention the advent of segregated graduation ceremonies by identity group on college campuses across America, as well as attacks on “unwoke” academics for having the gall to step onto campuses and present competing ideas; the firing of everyone from bloggers to engineers to CEOs for holding what vanguard elites deem unacceptable positions, and the boycotting of entire states whose legislators hold such positions; the removal from payment platforms of proprietors of websites deemed beyond the pale by activists; the violence of the likes of Antifa which physically threaten the public square, or the shadowbanning if not outright excommunication of non-progressives from social media, which threaten the digital public square.
Armed with virtually unchecked power, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms are policing the terms of American speech to shut down political debate and amplify officially correct ideology. In First Amendment parlance, these companies are now in the viewpoint discrimination business, and their ultimate target is truth-tellers who refuse to kneel before approved doctrine.
It’s one of the clearest signs that the multiculturalist worldview today is not only un-American, but anti-American.
As Roger Kimball puts it…
ROGER KIMBALL: One of the curious things about multiculturalism is that it begins with the fake proposition that all cultures are equal.
But if you scratch that a little bit, you soon discover that that’s not what they mean, at all. It’s not that all cultures are equal, but that all cultures except of western culture are good, and the West is somehow the epitome of evil. They’re rapacious, they’re patriarchal, the whole laundry list of identity politics, all of those virtues that is what the West is accused of.
So it really is an effort to reverse the triumph of the West, which means in this day and age of course, that it is fundamentally anti-American.
JAMES POULOS: Ryan Williams sums it up this way:
RYAN WILLIAMS: The other really troubling thing about the way multiculturalism moves through our society, especially it’s politics of identity is that it seeks to really overturn the tradition of America, of making one people out of many new immigrants and really teaching its current citizens how they ought to think about their regime. Multiculturalism instead of embracing individual rights based on a common human nature wants to divide everyone according to their group, whether it’s based in sex, gender, or anything else. And what this does is, it’s a divide and conquer strategy; it re-divides the citizenry, hopes to carve out pieces and use it to political advantage, but ultimately, it ends up sowing discord amongst fellow citizens, which one of the most important aspects of especially a free government is to have citizens who are friends and committed to a common good together this becomes increasingly impossible with multiculturalism’s politics of identity and it’s met with some resistance for obvious reasons, and so the speech code of political correctness is there to enforce orthodoxy.
You would think that after a sad and bloody history, in many ways, of America, from the inability to definitively the problem at the beginning, at least in practice and then the bloody civil war, and then the nearly 50-60 years after that, of trying to get right with equal rights for individual citizens regardless of race, that the multiculturalists want to bring back the politics of race, the politics of gender, the politics of sexual identity as somehow a way to build a unified country is, frankly, insane.
JAMES POULOS: Multiculturalism is shrinking free speech, eroding our national sovereignty, and freezing our civil society in the deep chill of a cold new civil war.
But Americans can respond with resolve, not panic, in the knowledge that they can win. Multiculturalism can be defeated by its antithesis: Americanism.
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JAMES POULOS: How do we define Americanism – versus its antithesis, multiculturalism?
The Founders knew the ultimate purpose of politics was not power but justice.
Just governments were to have three core tasks: securing equal natural rights; protecting persons and property; and creating and maintaining conditions for the good life – all rooted in a common understanding of human nature.
Justice encompassed a rational and deliberative pursuit of a common good that had as its bedrock the protection of the fundamental rights of all.
The doctrine of equality stood supreme. But what kind of equality?
In Harry Jaffa’s essay “Equality As a Conservative Principle ,” he says this:
The idea of Equality, as expressed in the Declaration, is the key to the morality of “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” It is this natural law which the Constitution–and the regime of which the Constitution is a feature–is designed to implement. The abandonment of the idea of Equality is perforce an abandonment of that morality and that constitutionalism. It is perforce an abandonment of the “ought” for the “is.” It would be an abandonment of that higher law tradition which is the heart of that civility–and that Conservatism–which judges men and nations by permanent standards…the commitment to Equality in the American political tradition is synonymous with the commitment to those permanent standards. Whoever rejects the one, of necessity rejects the other, and in that rejection opens the way to the relativism and historicism that is the theoretical ground of modem totalitarian regimes.
What did Jaffa mean by “equality?” He defined it, as Lincoln did, not as “equality of condition,” but as “the equal right of all men, to be treated justly.”
…[T]he proposition that all men are created equal implies an understanding of man, in the light of the universe, in the light of the distinction between the human and the subhuman on the one hand, and of the human and the superhuman on the other…it does not, for this reason, ignore ‘the very important differences between man and man. On the contrary, it is for the sake of those differences that it denies any man the right to rule others, as if those others were beasts. And there are no standing rules, and impartial judges, to govern the differences between slaves and their owners and masters.
… The principle of Equality, far from enfranchising any leveling action of government, is the ground for the recognition of those human differences which arise naturally, but in civil society, when human industry and acquisitiveness are emancipated. We saw that Madison reflected the doctrine of Equality, when he attributed the need for constitutional government, and constitutional morality, to the difference between men and angels. But he reflected it no less when, in the tenth Federalist, he put as the “first object of government,” the protection “of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property ….. In his Second Treatise, Locke had put the origin of property in human labor. It was the natural right—the equal right—which each man had to his own body, and therefore to the labor of that body, that was the ultimate foundation of the right to private property in civil society.
Jaffa tied the equality of the Declaration to that of the Constitution. He wrote:
…The principles of the Declaration are not…merely pre-supposed in the Constitution. They are present in the very first words of the Constitution as those words were understood by those who drafted and adopted it. “We the People of the United States,” implies the existence of a compact in precisely the sense in which Delaware and Maryland used that term in their declarations of rights. In the debates on nullification, in the early 1830’s, speakers on all sides of that difficult question, prefaced their remarks by saying that compact was the basis of all free government. In one of his last writings, an essay on “Sovereignty,” Madison affirmed as a matter of course “that all power in just and free governments is derived from compact.”‘ By compact, he said, he meant “the theory which contemplates a certain number of individuals as meeting and agreeing to form one political society, in order that the rights, the safety, and the interest of each may be under the safeguard of the whole.” “The first supposition” of such an agreement, said Madison, “is that each individual being previously independent of the others, the compact which is to make them one society must result from the free consent of every individual. If then the people of the United States, who ordained the Constitution of the United States, are a free people, they must have been formed into society by the free consent of every individual. But that would not be possible unless every individual, then and since, forming part of the people of the United States, like all mankind, in the original and originating sense, had been by the laws of nature and of nature’s God, “created equal.”
So, multiculturalism, then, is incompatible with a system of justice in which all men are created equal. We can tell because it subverts it.
Unlike Americanism well understood, multiculturalism defines and defends the rights of groups rather than individuals and denies the possibility of any natural standard from which to assess the goodness of political or moral arrangements. By rejecting this natural standard, by which the virtue of America (or any country) must be measured, multiculturalism denies the equality of each under the law of all. And so it also abandons any principled judgment of willful or rival claims to the prestige, honor, and resources advanced by groups as a matter of right. Will and force replace reason and deliberation.
Multiculturalism is based on these contending wills or forces, but casts itself as serving the nominal equality of oppressed groups. In reality, all fight for pride of place on a slippery sliding scale, at the mercy of fashionable opinion in the universities and in their applied-science workshop, the administrative state.
On that relativistic, unstable scale, some men are always more equal than others. Simple justice is usurped by social justice or redistributive justice – systems of no justice at all, merely brute force given pomp and prestige by the elite.
Conservatives have struggled for so long in a losing battle to re-establish justice that they must now rediscover the wisdom and the efficacy of Americanism. Only then can they correct one of conservatism’s great failures, explains Charles Kesler:
CHARLES KESLER: Conservatives don’t know how to be founders anymore. They don’t know how to begin again in politics. And the greatest illustration of this is Ronald Reagan, who began his political career calling for a new beginning, calling for a second American Revolution, and ended it acknowledging that he had failed to produce a revolution, but had produced a Reagan revolution. In his farewell address, he took credit for the Reagan Revolution, but he said we had revived patriotism, but we had not institutionalized it. We had not persuaded the young generation to teach their children an unequivocal patriotism, an unambivalent patriotism. That America is good. That America is, bottom line, a force for good in the world and at home…Many conservatives prefer the cultural approach, culture to creed. Libertarians take the other side that creed is predominant. The ideas, the principles, the theories and culture, secondary. I want to argue that you need both of them. Creed is primary, or really politics is primary. We need to think like Founders again. We need to think politically in the deepest and longest term sense if we are to come to grips with multiculturalism, and the challenges, which are immense, to American national identity. But before we involve ourselves in American national identity is American national respectability. Why does America deserve to survive? Why does citizenship continue to honor George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and others. Those are the deep questions that must be answered by any successful political defense against multiculturalism….
JAMES POULOS: Note the reference to Lincoln. Most Republicans like to invoke Abraham Lincoln, but too many fail to see his understanding and application of justice and equality is essential to preserving our nation – to making the political defense of our regime on the grounds of its goodness, its justice—as Kesler and others believe is required.
We have much to learn from Lincoln in particular to preserve our nation against the multiculturalist menace.
Lincoln fought on the high ground of justice established by the Declaration – while calmly calculating politics as the art of the possible.
As Thomas Klingenstein has written…
TOM KLINGENSTEIN:[F]or Lincoln the purpose of society is to create for all the opportunity for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (the “right way to live”). These principles are “constantly labored for.” The goal of society is just and so must be the means. In other words, society is a moral order. Government, including of course the Constitution, serves the moral order. But there is something more important than government for sustaining that moral order. In a country like ours, Lincoln argued in his first debate with Douglas a year later:
Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.
Two years earlier, at a Republican banquet in Chicago, Lincoln had put it this way:
Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much. Public opinion, on any subject, always has a “central idea,” from which all its minor thoughts radiate. That “central idea” in our political public opinion, at the beginning was, and until recently has continued to be, “the equality of men.” And although it was always submitted patiently to whatever of inequality there seemed to be as matter of actual necessity.
If we are to keep on course, says Lincoln, it is necessary above all else that the public have the proper understanding of justice and the virtues that support that understanding. The public’s understanding of justice is political (“our government rests on public opinion”) and so therefore are the civil institutions that shape the public’s understanding of justice—most notably, family, education, religion, and voluntary associations. They are political in so far as they serve the public welfare. These institutions are designed to operate as close to the people as possible because that conduces to the pursuit of happiness. Even so, the national statesman keeps these institutions in sight. He ensures that they have the proper foundation. He does this in part through public rhetoric, which, along with civil institutions, helps shape the public mind. Rhetoric involves both appeals to the heart and arguments. The most important argument is always the argument from justice: Lincoln won the Civil War in large measure because he won that argument.
JAMES POULOS: Doctor Kesler adds…
CHARLES KESLER: If we’re thinking politically, like a founder, or like someone who is trying to refound his country in the face of these very deep problems, and very bitter partisan disagreements, we have to think about how different groups…how we can show them that they can offer their route and they individually can offer something to the common good. Instead of focusing on their victimhood—what they need or are owed—what can they offer? What can they bring to America that will induce us to honor them? …We have to show that American citizenship is an honorable state that has to be striven for. And that you have to, in a way, sacrifice for. In that sense the creed still and is always needs a culture that needs to protect itself and ground itself by having cultural effects by stimulating certain kinds of aspirations to honor and to virtue and to citizenship at the same time that it points American citizenship as always in the direction of the Declaration of Independence and the creedal documents of the country…
JAMES POULOS: Many of those who invoke Lincoln and the Founders more broadly without understanding their thinking, and its relevance and practicality for our modern political struggles, also ignore or refuse to acknowledge how, among present-day officials, only President Donald Trump has managed to change the game.
Trump has emerged as such a bulwark against the multiculturalist march because his election called forth and organized a new public dedication to both American culture and creed. Lord Conrad Black:
LORD CONRAD BLACK: The President, the incumbent president, is raising the flag like the Marines at Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and saying: “This flag unites us all. We will have jobs for everyone. The private sector will prevail. We’ll take care of the genuinely disadvantaged. But we’re not having any of this nonsense of trying to divide Americans from each other, or trying to denigrate the high traditions of this country and the great statesmen of its history.” And on the other side we have this almost innumerable gaggle of Democratic candidates, practically all of them as far as I can detect except for Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar preying on the real or magnified or even completely confected and imagined grievances of sections of the people.
JAMES POULOS: The hatred of Donald Trump by the progressive elite, governed as it is by multiculturalism, is proportional to the love of America and devotion to Americanism they see him so effectively arouse.
In the latest Claremont Review of Books, Thomas Klingenstein writes that President Trump may be, for all his brashness and improvisation, the most prudent statesman of our time in a Lincolnian sense. For he, explains Klingenstein, is fighting multiculturalism with an appeal to the people that meets them where they are.
THOMAS KLINGENSTEIN: I think the big thing, the Trump did was identify multiculturalism as the enemy and he did that, of course, by his attack on political correctness and I think one way to look at that attack is a defense of the American Way of Life. He would use the term “Make America Great Again.” But I think, roughly, that’s equivalent to preserving the American way of life. And he said, said things about Muslims, for example, or he complained that Starbucks didn’t allow their employees to say ”Merry Christmas,” or there were football players objecting to saluting the flag and so forth, and all of those things work in one way or another, a defense of the American way of life.Trump, though he doesn’t think about it this way, was really making arguments from justice. He was a preacher of sorts.
And so I think what Trump did is highlight the problem, he can only go so far in explained the probable or fixing the problem when he’s really done is he’s pointed the way for others to try to fix the problem. The unfortunate thing is, at least so far, I’m not sure that the conservative movement or the Republican Party fully appreciate what Trump has done and they’re focused on his policies and up to a point they ought to be, but I think they’ve missed when I keep calling the defense and the American way of life and that’s what I think they have to attend to. And in the first instance that means making arguments defining what the American life really means, which is very, very difficult in the era of political correctness, what conservatives and Republicans don’t fully appreciate is just the extent to which then shut up and the cost of being shut up. I think we understand the effect on college campuses of the absence of free speech. But I think there’s much less appreciation of the harm done by political correctness in the political sphere.
Politicians make arguments, they don’t just pass legislation; they make arguments about defending the American way of life, they don’t just defend us physically, they explain to us, they teach to us and that I think is what the Republicans and Conservatives need to do a lot more of,
JAMES POULOS: Unless conservatives begin to think about politics as Lincoln did—and as Trump has reintroduced to public consciousness—we will lose to multiculturalism, and ultimately we will lose the country.
Trump will not be on the national political stage forever. And well-entrenched multiculturalists are devoted to outlasting him.
Opposition to multiculturalism, its politics of identity, and its speech code of political correctness must define a new political and intellectual coalition, not just this year or the next but into the decade beyond.
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Opposition to multiculturalism does not mean excusing or smuggling in racism, bigotry, xenophobia, or any other spirit of injustice.
Those who say it does wish to silence all challenges to their radical ideology—to shut up dissenters by smearing and deplatforming them into submission.
If their menacing form of rule is not met with a vigorous response – with Americanism, we will lose the politics and then lose the policy. Our right to free speech. Our sovereignty. Any semblance of a union of states. All gone. We will cease to be America.
Belief in Americanism, as opposed to multiculturalism, is about treating people as individuals who are equal, not as nameless, faceless, mindless members of groups based on essentialized features—or hierarchies of the oppressed devised by ivory tower leftists for political exploitation. Embracing Americanism and opposing multiculturalism is about fostering a nation of citizens, unique in their talents, hopes and dreams, and judging them on the content of their character rather than by which identity boxes they check on their government and corporate forms.
If left unchallenged, multiculturalism will defeat America. But by instead recovering Americanism, we will ensure our nation continues not just to survive, but to thrive, as Lincoln said it would—as the last, best hope of earth.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.
Claremont Institute Senior Fellow and Claremont Review of Books Editor Charles Kesler joins The Seth Leibsohn Show to discuss the Trump phenomenon and the future of conservatism.