America’s superior power is not a moral entitlement.
The Paradox of Multiculturalist Globalism
Bringing tolerance and diversity everywhere, whether they want it or not
Late-stage liberalism, philosophically speaking, is an incoherent mess. Its boosters claim to be defenders of women, but they allow men to infiltrate women’s spaces and women’s sports, eliminating hard-won victories that feminists achieved over decades. They claim race is a “social construct,” something that has no scientific basis in nature or biology, but the “critical race theory” doubles-down on the idea that racial identity is the single most important feature of one’s personhood. Liberals insist upon the importance of bodily autonomy as a condition of personal freedom, arguing that any restriction of abortion is an assault on human dignity. But they also gave strong support for mandatory masking and forced vaccinations to protect against a virus that 99 percent of people survive.
These contradictions emanate from one of the great political paradoxes of our age: the bizarre partnership between globalists and multiculturalists. The ways that globalism and multiculturalism mutually undermine each other’s interests hint that their alliance is ultimately doomed. Exposing the inabilities of these ideologies to achieve their stated aims might open a space for a new agenda that can more effectively protect our culture and the American way of life.
Globalism and multiculturalism defined
Multiculturalism is a relatively new ideology. Liberals of the past recognized that some cultural diversity within any given society was inevitable, but they also understood that too much of it was bad for social cohesion. The American tradition insists upon the toleration of difference in a free society, but multiculturalism is a perversion of this tradition. In the view of today’s multiculturalists, it is not sufficient to merely tolerate individual or cultural difference: such differences must be affirmed and celebrated. They view difference as an inherent political good: e pluribus pluribus. Chanting their mantra that “Our diversity is our strength,” they argue that we must maximize the number of different cultures in our society. Their explicit reverence for minoritarian identities creates an incentive for individuals to emphasize their differences. The degree to which one’s lifestyle or personhood diverges from the collective becomes the source of the individual’s value to society.
Globalism seeks to change the citizens of sovereign nations into cosmopolitans or “citizens of the world.” Globalism opposes nationalism, which holds that all hail from and abide in particular places and cultures which naturally deserve and attract our greater pieties and allegiances. Globalism sees these allegiances as a narrow-minded provincialism. Only when individuals shed their higher esteem for their own nation can the full promise of liberalism be actualized. Globalists harbor a disdain for borders, whether physical, cultural, economic, or otherwise. They understand that domestic policy initiatives don’t occur in a vacuum: that, for example, immigration policy in the U.S. will have real ramifications for people outside America. Globalists see a grave injustice in the inability of non-citizens to influence the nation’s decision-making on matters that would impact their lives. Thus, globalists embrace a “stakeholder” model of world affairs: any society that would be affected by one nation’s decisions must be granted some role in the deliberative process. This kind of multinational collaboration is the pursuit of leftist “social justice” at a global scale. Achieving a just society, from the perspective of the globalist, requires the weakening or elimination of borders, the international “redistribution” of resources and money, and creation of inclusive institutions and organizations that can overrule or neutralize local decision-making.
Multiculturalists and globalists are short-term allies, though natural enemies. Multiculturalism, in theory, reveres particularity and provincialism: it celebrates unique peoples and cultures, and it aims at protecting cultural difference. In contrast, globalism disdains particularity and attempts to universalize culture by assimilating all societies to the culture of the western elites: modern secular liberalism. Despite globalism’s homogenizing effect on all cultures, globalists justify their objectives through a false celebration of cultural difference, while multiculturalists pretend that emphasizing cultural difference is a way to cultivate unity. In practice, though, multiculturalism and globalism undermine each other’s goals.
Multiculturalists caricature culture, globalists annihilate it
At first, the globalist homogenization of culture was only evident in the realm of business. In the 1980s and ‘90s, American corporations like MacDonald’s started appearing in places Russia, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Treaties like NAFTA diluted the regulatory barriers that restricted international trade (and the flow of labor). Western nations (especially America) sent their manufacturing overseas. The presence of western corporate interests slowly changed the nations that hosted the corporations. To varying degrees, those societies were “westernized” by the imposition of new norms for labor, the new knowledge necessary to produce technological commodities, and the (comparatively) higher income of workers after the arrival of western capital.
Multiculturalism is blind to this homogenization and the way that it slowly remakes the diverse cultures of the world in the image of Western civilization. Multiculturalists fetishize relatively superficial forms of cultural difference: clothing, cuisine, aesthetic preferences, architecture. None of these are unimportant, but they are emanationsof more meaningful differences such as the actual values, beliefs, and ways of life that make the culture.
Consider the “kente cloths” worn by Democrats in congress when they kneeled for nine minutes to pay homage to George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. A kente cloth is a traditional textile and garment from Ghana. Why did Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues choose this item to signify American blackness? Were Floyd’s ancestors from Ghana? No. Rather crassly, the kente cloths were simply chosen because people associate them with Africa in general, and Africa in general is associated with blackness. This performance of respect for “diversity” is completely oblivious to the actual realities of culture in Ghana. A quick search of Wikipedia tells us that “sexuality is not discussed in Ghana,” that “being left-handed is frowned upon,” and that the traditional role of women in Ghana relates to their child bearing capacity. In short, Ghana doesn’t seem all that sympathetic to individual difference (as it is understood in the west). If American Democrats could be magically transported to experience Ghana as their home culture, they would view it as intolerant, misogynist, and homophobic—and they would agitate for cultural changes that would make Ghana more like America. For the multiculturalists, the actual values of the culture are less important than the fact that the culture can be mined for arbitrary signifiers of difference that can be used to signal a shallow “respect” for diversity.
In the same way, the multiculturalists can safely look away from the treatment of homosexuals in the Arab world while celebrating the more innocuous elements of Arab culture that contribute to the rich tapestry of world civilizations. Remember that the multiculturalists were upset that Trump apparently didn’t observe traditional Japanese norms for feeding the koi (an occurrence which turned out to be fake news). But koi-feeding is a totally meaningless aspect of Japanese culture in terms of its impact on how people actually live.
All the while, as multiculturalism celebrates the mostly meaningless visual elements of cultural exoticism, their partners the globalists are busy levelling the very meaningful cultural differences that make foreign cultures genuinely different. The flow of global (corporate) capital serves as the solvent by which the distinctive elements of developing nations are dissolved. But this dissolution doesn’t only advance an economic agenda. It also extends the reach of modern liberal political culture. The goal is ultimately to ensure that the sociocultural dynamics of Uganda, Mongolia, and Guatemala are the same as those of Germany, the United States, and Finland—but only to bring the blessings of liberty to those who don’t yet enjoy it. Only to achieve more just societies across the world.
If the globalists succeed in their aims, the multiculturalist will give them a high five. Moments later, they will look around and see that the meaningful differences—the ones that made the cultures of the world different from one another—were annihilated along with the cultures themselves. What will remain will be the relics of traditional cultures that were deemed to have market value. You’ll still be able to get a taco—perhaps even in Cairo. But the way of life that animated the society that gave the world tacos will have ceased to exist. The artifacts of the Old West still live on in today’s America: cowboy hats, lassos, chaps, spurs. But the culture that made use of these items (and the way of life that animated that culture) is all but extinct. This dynamic will occur in every society across the world, as late-stage globalism levels all cultural difference that actually matters.
Up to nationalism
Nationalism, not multiculturalism, is the true defender of cultural difference. The borders of a nation mark it as separate from the rest of the world. A nation’s sovereignty is the guarantee of its people’s freedom to be different from the cultures that exist outside their borders. Just as important, the borders of the nation mark the limit of its political authority, affirming the right of other societies to determine their own values, traditions, and way of life. A nationalist perspective, then, necessarily accepts that life is different elsewhere, and sees that it should be so. Rather than imposing one nation’s values on other cultures that may not be hospitable to change, a genuine nationalist government prioritizes the maintenance of its own traditions, values, and way of life within its borders. A genuine respect for cultural difference means allowing the people who belong to other cultures to be different. A nationalist agenda sets its sights on preserving the unique elements of our own culture that are the reflection of our own uniqueness. It leaves the business of preserving and celebrating other cultures to the nations where they find a home.
In an odd turn, then, preserving the nation from the foreign influences and interests of global capital is the necessary precondition for preserving cultural difference. Only a nationalist perspective, pursued independently by many countries across the globe, can safeguard the diversity we see across the world—the same diversity multiculturalism pretends to protect. Awakening true lovers of diversity to the ways that globalism and multiculturalism dilute and dissolve meaningful cultural differences is a critical means to save what is unique about America, and what is unique about the other societies with which we share our world.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.