This essay is the launching document in a Claremont Institute intellectual and political campaign in defense of America against the threat of multiculturalism. Phase one of the campaign will run up until the 2020 American presidential election; phase two will in part depend on the outcome of that election.
Today, multiculturalism and its politics of identity pose an existential threat to the American political order comparable to slavery in the 1850s or communism during the Cold War. Once confined to graduate seminars and the ethnic “studies” departments at our nation’s colleges and universities, multiculturalism is now the authoritative ideology reigning over higher education, our media and political establishments, legal system, and corporate boardrooms.
If we do not reverse multiculturalism’s advance, it will continue to undermine our country and constitutionalism, destroying the possibility of a common good and a life of civic peace. Indeed, multiculturalism threatens to take down western civilization as whole.
By multiculturalism, we do not mean the mere presence of many cultures, races, or ethnic traditions, which are a fixture of modern American life and can be found across our states, communities, institutions, and private associations. One of America’s—and Americanism’s—great virtues has always been the maintenance of a wide realm of liberty and civic society in which a vibrant mix of cultural heritages and individual excellence could flourish.
America’s most important politico-cultural virtue, though, has been the insistence to its current—and especially potential—citizens that they assimilate to a certain view of justice embodied in the Declaration of Independence and safeguarded by our state and national political institutions, first and foremost the U.S. Constitution. E pluribus unum (“out of many, one”), America’s motto, means that assimilation has always been in our national DNA.
Multiculturalism, on the other hand, is not this benign tolerance of diverse traditions. Multiculturalism is a comprehensive ideology, demanding obeisance to a rigid system of justice, vices, and virtues. It boasts an intellectual tradition that guides its leadership and adherents in the policing of its boundaries and the maintenance of its categories. It keeps a running list of friends and enemies, a roster of praise, shame, and blame.
In short, multiculturalism is a worldview—a regime, in the classical sense; a political and cultural way of life all wrapped up in one. As an ideology, it stands for nearly the opposite of America’s national motto. It seeks to divide and conquer Americans, making many groups out of one citizenry. The modern Left, accustomed to running the campuses according to the new social justice diktats of multiculturalism, now wants to run the world that way.
The threat multiculturalism presents to the American regime and our way of life is now urgent.
We have decided to use the term “multiculturalism,” instead of “identity politics” or a similar term, because despite its limitations and current usage “multiculturalism” is more comprehensive. It is a new system of truth and justice that seeks to revolutionize and transform the American way. Identity politics is the coalitional strategy of multiculturalism and political correctness its enforcement arm.
Our Intellectual Strategy
The American Right—conservative intellectuals and politicians alike—underestimates the dangers of multiculturalism. Because they are confused about this most important threat to America and the Founders’ Constitution, they have a disordered view of priorities and policies, of ends and means.
The failure to apprehend fully and take seriously multiculturalism has also led many on the Right to misinterpret and underappreciate President Trump’s virtues and his significance as a political phenomenon. Trump understands instinctually that multiculturalism (and its politics of identity and political correctness) is anti-American. He understands that the unity found in patriotism is the antidote to a politics of group identity that if left unchallenged will irreparably divide and balkanize the American citizenry and lead to disunion.
The American Right’s failure to evaluate correctly President Trump, his political movement, and the nature of his opposition stems from a much deeper error. They cannot think prudentially.
Despite the frequent and easy invocation of the Founders and Lincoln by the American Right for decades, both the principles of the Founding and Lincoln’s statesmanship remain obscure to our nation’s leadership. The intellectual part of this campaign against multiculturalism must explain the thinking of the Founders and Lincoln and apply it to policy challenges today.
Lincoln operated on the basis of a political philosophy grounded in the laws of nature. This established both a purpose (the securing of the common good and certain rights) and a set of principles that provided the means for achieving that purpose. He thus fought on the high ground of justice established by the Declaration of Independence—all while coldly calculating politics as the art of the possible.
The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God may be immutable, but their application is changeable. The strategy and tactics of the furtherance of justice in politics must be fluid; prudence is not caution and sometimes one must move quickly, even boldly.
There are few categorical rules in politics, but in a republic, public opinion is everything. Public rhetoric and political demonstration can shape the public mind decisively.
Much of the American Right, regrettably, does not think of politics in this way. They are enamored with process rather than substance and do not think comprehensively about the rhetoric of justice. They take too narrow a view of politics. Unless conservatives begin to think about politics as Lincoln did—comprehensively—they will lose to multiculturalism.
A defense of the American way of life in terms of mere economics, size of government, federalism, subsidiarity, originalism, liberty, or other abstractions will be insufficient.
For the American Founders, the ultimate purpose of politics is justice, and justice meant the equal protection of equal rights rooted in a common understanding of human nature. Justice therefore encompassed a rational and deliberative pursuit of a common good that had as its bedrock the protection of the fundamental rights of all.
Slavery was the glaring exception, finally overcome by the genius of Abraham Lincoln.
Even as the slave-state South and its intellectual and political defenders once threatened to erect, enforce, and make permanent a perverse and unnatural new morality—and as the external ideology of Communism threatened to do the same a century later—today a fanatical class of multiculturalists seeks to divide and destroy our shared identity as Americans. Out of one, they want to make us many.
Unlike Americanism, properly 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 equality of each under the law of all. But so too does multiculturalism therefore abandon any principled adjudication of willful or rival claims to prestige, honor, and resources advanced by groups as a matter of right. Will and force replace reason and deliberation.
Multiculturalism is based on the nominal equality (really, the contending wills or force) of oppressed groups, but on a sliding scale regulated by fashionable opinion in the universities and their applied-science workshop, the administrative state. Justice means the due distribution by the state of prestige, power, and resources to this ranked system of groups.
Our multiculturalists are quite consciously playing with fire by sowing such existential discord among their fellow citizens. This is a recipe for rancor, division, enmity, balkanization, and worse. After the torrent of blood spilled in the Civil War and later struggles by America’s attempt to expunge the principle of counting by group—especially race!—our modern multiculturalists want to bring it back and establish it as our new national religion.
Our Political Strategy
We must understand this contest as one between multiculturalism and America itself. This is not only true, but an important element of political strategy. He who frames and sets the terms of the debate enjoys an immediate advantage. A simple, focused framework will create a sense of urgency and help our fellow citizens see the problem—and point in the direction of solutions.
By identifying the singular and comprehensive threat of multiculturalism, the Right can discern and rank President Trump’s virtues and vices more clearly. This framework has the added, even more important, and more lasting virtue of helping the Right understand the political appeal of Trumpism. In other words, it helps us to see, evaluate, and expand a popular, electoral, and thus constitutional coalition dedicated to the vitality and preservation of our republic.
Trumpism shows us that we must position our movement as a defense of a traditional and confident America that rejects the politically correct cosmopolitanism of our elite. In other words, it offers the opportunity to fuse civic nationalism with the popular, cultural, and historical touchstones of American greatness. America is more than an idea—it is a people and a country.
We are not original in observing that the “fusionism” of the Cold War era and its peak in Reaganism can offer only limited guidance for the Right going forward. Opposition to multiculturalism, its politics of identity, and its speech code of political correctness should be the rallying cry for a new political and intellectual coalition on the Right. Such opposition will bring clarity, help guide our rhetoric, and help us rank and select worthy intellectual and policy fights.
Most important of all, it will help us determine the prudent course forward: how can we do the most good for our country and who is willing to join us in the fight?
The Claremont Institute will help build a new political coalition centered on Americanism, properly understood. We will help educate lawmakers on the dangers of multiculturalism. And we will try to help create the conditions that will allow lawmakers to speak out and defend the American way of life.
We will make policy recommendations, but they will be more suggestive than prescriptive, more general than specific. By attending primarily to an analysis of the principles that should inform policy choices and the intellectual framework within which they should be made, we can make best use of our comparative advantage while leaving to others the judgment of the best means to bring about desirable ends. Principle ought to guide policy, but anyone who thinks theory leads in a straight line to political results has never had the responsibility of exercising political office.
I will close with some concrete examples of the challenge ahead and some implications for how we ought to think about the contours of national policy.
Multiculturalism Run Amok
In recent weeks, a black mayoral candidate in Savannah, Georgia hosted a press event that excluded any non-black members of the media. Vox recently published over 2,000 words taking up the question of “whitewashing,” neocolonialism, and social justice in the knitting community.* Slate parsed the intersectionality of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and decided he’s more white-male than gay.
These are not isolated events or evanescent trends. They are lockstep advances in the evolution of a new American age of ascendant and militant multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism has transformed the American educational system from a vehicle for the cultivation of an informed and responsible citizenry and the assimilation of immigrants into a seminary of anti-Americanism.
As exhaustive documentation in recent decades has shown, instead of teaching the philosophical, moral, political, and literary roots of Western civilization and American government, the humanities and social science departments of our universities and colleges have hardwired their hostility to the “dead white males” of the Western canon into their curricula, endlessly multiplying courses and majors obsessed with intersectional categories. According to the National Association of Scholars, under the increasingly popular “New Civics” rubric in higher education, the liberal arts are replaced with “vocational training for community activists” and progressive multicultural ideological training.
An administrator working in MIT’s library (she holds a degree in English from Columbia, among other credentials) recently suggested that Western libraries are overcluttered with books “written by white dudes writing about white ideas, white things, or ideas, people, and things they stole from POC [people of color] and then claimed as white property.…”
Law & Jurisprudence
Multiculturalism has transformed the equal protection of the laws into a new caste system of intersectional hierarchy based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. A striking recent example: Commissioners of Cook County, Illinois—one of the most violent counties in the country—voted in February to dismantle their 25,000 name gang member database because it contained too many blacks and Latinos and was thus seen to be perpetuating stereotypes. The first line of civilizational defense provided by state and local government—law enforcement—has thus been stripped of an essential tool on the front lines of the protection of rights.
Multiculturalism has played a leading role in destroying our ability to think of foreign policy and the common defense in a realistic or common-sense manner while making social justice imperialism a major component of our international diplomatic footprint. The jihadist attacks on 9/11 somehow led successive administrations, Republican and Democrat, to repeat ad nauseam that “Islam is a religion of peace,” distracting the American people and themselves from the political, religious, and ideological stakes, and falsely flattening out the strategically and culturally diverse Muslim world into a self-gratifying—and dangerous—stereotype. The result has been a series of wars and foreign interventions without clear strategic vision, cavalier toward our enemies and condescending to our allies.
Multiculturalism has transformed our national immigration policy since 1965, placing the pursuit of American cultural and ethnic diversity over all other considerations. Assimilation of new members of the political community has been a commonsense concern since before the ratification of the Constitution. Our modern multiculturalists would have us believe that even to raise questions about the cultural or political compatibility of incoming future citizens is either racist or culturally imperialistic (or both). We must return to the old approach.
Multiculturalism is transforming the way American (and Western) corporations police themselves. It is now virtually impossible, and fiercely frowned upon, to hire and fire employees, interact with vendors and clients, and even offer services as “neutral” platforms for communication and financial transactions in disregard of multicultural pieties and prohibitions. If you donate to impermissible political campaigns you may find yourself ousted as CEO of a wildly successful company you co-founded (Brendan Eich; Mozilla); if you speculate at length and with scientific documentation as to the causes of gender disparities in certain departments or positions you may find yourself fired (James Damore; Google); or you might find yourself hauled before a human rights commission for refusing to bake a wedding cake.
The Administrative State
Finally, multiculturalism results in countless arbitrary, capricious, and expensive rules, requirements, enforcement actions, and fines as it burrows its way into the vast modern American administrative state. The paradigmatic recent example is the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which insinuated that severe consequences would ensue if universities did not essentially place women in a protected class, complete with exclusive, privileged standards of proof and evidence in all sexual assault proceedings.
In any given political community, the first objects of government ought to be unity and concord. The American Founders talked of “safety” and “happiness” as the ends of government, attainable only after a certain modicum of unity, or union. Divisions in any large society are inevitable, but responsible leaders ought not to cultivate and multiply factions. Civic trust and friendship are especially important in free representative governments that ultimately rely on the sovereignty of the people for their legitimacy.
The modern multiculturalist Left is intent on proliferating divisions without concern for American unity, cohesion, and stability. The modern Right is confused about the threat to the union posed by this political strategy. We must change course, and soon.
Only America is capable today of leading the West’s fight against multiculturalism, and if America is to take the lead, the Right is the only group within it in a position to do so. Opposition to this existential threat to America and Americanism ought to orient the American Right and inform our chosen intellectual and political fights.
This is no small task. We must marshal a coalition of opinion and business leaders, think tanks, academics, politicians, sympathetic media figures and institutions, and concerned citizens to save America from a multicultural politics of disunion, strife, and yes, eventual civil war.
This fight, equal parts intellectual and political, must start with comprehension of the nature and scope of the problem. We must understand what multiculturalism is, its effects, and what we ought to do about it, starting at home.
The Claremont Institute now counts among its ranks some 700 alumni from our fellowship programs, nearly 1,000 contributors to the Claremont Review of Books, and thousands more friends and fellow travelers throughout academia, think tanks, the media, the publishing world, politics, and the legal community. We welcome collaboration and deliberation with all friends and institutions that share our concern for the future of America.
* The following sentence has been excised from this essay for inaccuracy: “A recent Washington Post columnist concluded only misogyny can explain black men voting against Stacey Abrams in Georgia’s governor race.” We apologize for the error.