Is our fecklessness in Iraq due to neoconservatism or multiculturalism?

Steven M. Warshawsky writes:

The discussion about Diana West’s column is very good, but I think your comments underplay the major role of multiculturalism in leading to the situation that West describes, i.e., the belief that their civilians are worth more than our soldiers.

The multicultural ideology may recognize cultural differences, but it denies that there is any inherently superior value to our culture and our people. Even the most heinous foreign practices (e.g., clitorectomy) are excused on grounds of “cultural diversity.” This is the ideology that leads to the mentality that it is wrong for us to think we are “better” than the Iraqis. Indeed, for the most hardcore believers in multiculturalism, they refuse to acknowledge that our people, troops, and leaders are better than even the terrorists. For decades, liberals have equated terrorists with our own Founding Fathers. (Recall Michael Moore’s “Minutemen” comments.)

Yes, neoconservatism, as you describe it, posits that all human beings yearn for certain Western values and institutions (individual political and economic freedom, representative government, female emancipation, etc.). BUT importantly, neoconservatives also believe that the Western way of life is superior to the alternatives (even if most of them wouldn’t say so explicitly). They believe that the rest of humanity would be better off if they adopted our way of life. Neoconservatives do NOT posit that all ways of life are equally legitimate or equally conducive to human flourishing.

So while there is much to criticize, from an anthropological and public policy perspective, in neoconservative and Wilsonian idealism—there is a BIG difference between neoconservative and multicultural thinking. The “everything is equal” way of thinking clearly comes from the multicultural school.

Thanks for your great blog.

LA replies:

Thanks. Good to hear from you. I’ve written positively about your review of Mark Steyn in which you pointed out the inconsistency between Steyn’s warnings about Islam and his silence about Muslim immigration.

I agree with most of what you say, but I think you miss something about neoconservatism. True, neocons do not say that all ways of life are equally legitimate. But they do say that all people, of all backgrounds, are equally desirous and capable of adopting our beliefs, defined by equality, individual freedom, democracy, etc., and therefore any kind of cultural or racial discrimination is wrong. This is stated both in the immigration debate, with the idea that all people can assimilate into America, and in the Muslim-democracy project, which says that Muslims can adopt democracy.

The flaw in that belief is that people are not all equally desirous and capable of becoming like us. As a result, when we bring immigrants to America who are not really assimilable, or when we export democracy to countries that are not suited for it, the non-assimilable or non-democratizing characteristics of those people very quickly rise to the fore. And what are we to do at that point? In the case of immigration, we’ve already admitted them into America, and in the case of democratizing, we’ve already planted ourselves in their country with a huge commitment to democratize it. We can’t (so we believe) send the immigrants home, since that would be to practice the very discrimination which our belief in equality and sameness says is the supreme wrong. And we can’t (so we believe) withdraw from the country we’re democratizing, as that would be to admit that humans are not all the same, which would mean the delegitimization of the highest principle of our own society.

So in the case of immigration, we drop the demand that immigrants assimilate and we accept their diversity. Look how Bush in 2000 said that he celebrated the increasing presence of Hispanic culture and the Spanish language in America, and did all kinds of other things to legitimate the presence of the Spanish language in America, including having a Spanish version of his website, and his “conservative” followers never once protested this. They had given up on assimilation and had accepted multiculturalism and the Hispanicization of America.

In the case of democratizing, we redefine democracy as, for example, a sharia constitution. Even when our urging of democracy results in a terrorist jihadist organization taking over Gaza, we refuse to admit that our basic premise of human sameness and equality is wrong.

Thus the neoconservative belief in a universal sameness based on American-style democracy leads inevitably to multiculturalism.

What does neoconservatism have in common with multiculturalism, that it ends up in the same place as multiculturalism? They are both forms of liberalism, meaning that they make equality their highest principle, rather than a substantive spiritual, cultural and social order, such as, e.g., Christendom, Western civilization, or the American way of life. Neoconservatism and multiculturalism may define equality very differently (equality of individual rights versus equality of cultures), but because they make equality rather than a particular spiritual or social order their guiding value, they cannot ultimately defend any particular social order. In the case of multiculturalism, the rejection of our substantive social order is explicit; in the case of neoconservatism, it is implicit. But, as I showed above in my discussion of Bush, the implicit downgrading of our substantive social order becomes increasingly explicit.

Liberalism makes equality the ruling principle of society, and thus leads inevitably to the destruction of the society that gave birth to it. The destructiveness of liberalism can only be halted by traditionalism, which makes non-liberal principles the ultimate ruling principles of society, such as, for example, a particular way of life, a particular culture, a particular religion, or a particular political order such as the Roman constitution. There is a place for liberal values—such as freedom of speech and equality under the law—in a good society. But such liberalism must be a feature of the society, not its highest principle.

LA continues:

I didn’t address the question of how a non-liberal, re-traditionalized America would deal with immigration and the challenge of Islamic jihadism. The answer simply is that good fences make good neighbors. Regarding immigration, instead of admitting people whose unassimilable cultures must inevitably change our culture, we would exclude prospective immigrants whose cultures are unassimilable to our own. Regarding Islam, instead of interfering in Islamic countries to impose our democratic beliefs on them (which is impossible and only ends up with our redefining democracy as sharia and jihad and thus betraying our own beliefs), we would isolate Muslims from our world to prevent them from imposing their beliefs on us.

What I’ve just said about good fences making good (or at least tolerable) neighbors is not radical and extreme. It is common sense that would have been instantly understood by almost all Western people prior to the ascendancy of modern liberalism (and its variant, neoconservatism) after World War II.

Mr. Warshawsky replies:

Thank you very much for your response. I completely agree with your main point, that “people are not all equally desirous and capable of becoming like us.” I, too, am deeply concerned about high levels of non-western immigration into the United States, and have grown increasingly skeptical about the Bush Administration’s democratization strategy as a way to combat Islamic terrorism.

I respectfully disagree, however, that “the neoconservative belief in a universal sameness based on American-style democracy leads inevitably to multiculturalism.” It’s the “inevitably” part that I have trouble with. In my view, “Wilsonian idealism” and multiculturalism reflect two different strains of thought, which certainly can be combined in the same worldview (albeit not perfectly), but not necessarily so. One can well imagine, for example, a more “imperialistic” approach to exporting our political and economic way of life overseas, which combines a certain amount of “idealism” (wrongheaded or not) with a much more ruthless determination to impose that way of life on our inferiors/enemies. Doesn’t this describe our attitude vis-a-vis Japan in the immediate aftermath of World War Two? (I’m not suggesting that the Japanese example proves that we can do the same thing in the Middle East. I’m just offering it as an example of a different mentality.)

My own understanding is that multiculturalism in its contemporary form does not spring from classical liberal ideas about individual rights and political equality, but derives from a combination of New Left and Black Power thinking aimed at discrediting and subverting the American way of life. In its less virulent, and more politically palatable form, multiculturalism seeks to accomplish this goal by challenging the legitimacy and goodness of the American way of life by using our own values against us, e.g., by repeatedly pointing out the gaps (which truly are inevitable) between our ideals and our reality, and then arguing that some other political or economic or religious system (e.g., communism or Islam) is needed to close these gaps. Ultimately, multiculturalists reject the very values that neoconservatives hold dear. So I continue to believe that these represent fundamentally different modes of thought.

Lastly, I share your opposition to the transformation of the United States by high levels of non-western immigration, and in particular the ongoing Hispanicization of the country by Mexicans and Latin Americans. I agree that we have to defend our “substantive social order”—i.e., the “American way of life.” But here is where, I believe, traditionalists and restrictionists need to do much more thinking and explaining. Because, it may seem like a simple question, but on careful reflection, it is not so easy to define, concretely, what the “American way of life” is. Certain features are perhaps obvious: the English language, the Constitution, a certain demographic profile. But most of these generalizations do not really differentiate “Americans” from most Western Europeans, or get at the heart of what, I think, most of us mean when we speak in these terms. Nor do these generalizations address more substantive ideological concerns. For example, it seems to me that the American way of life is based on free market capitalism, private property, limited government, and the like. Certainly not socialism or big government or centralized control in Washington, DC, over the minutiae of everyday life. Yet that is the direction we are moving in this country, and many white, Christian, English-speaking Americans support this agenda. Are they still “Americans”? In what sense? You can see how difficult this question is about the meaning of America. Unfortunately, the more substance we give to the definition of “American,” the more actual Americans we cut out of the picture. It’s a very hard intellectual and historical problem, I think.

LA replies:

Just a brief reply today and I’ll return to this later.

The mistake is to define our way of life by starting with abstract beliefs and then calling America the collection of those abstract beliefs. What we should start with instead is the actual and historical American nation and people, the “us,” continuing as a collectivity through time. That’s what’s missing in the modern approach to this problem. All modern mainstream conservatives, not just neoconservatives, define America as a bunch of “conservative” principles—capitalism, family values, etc.—rather than as a people. But how was the United States born as an independent political entity? With the words, “When in the course of human events, it becomes ncessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them…” The Continental Congress didn’t say, “Oh gosh, before we declare our independence and existence as a self-governing people, we must first list all the things that make us what we are.” No. They started with the assertion of their actual concrete existence as a people. Yes, those people shared certain political beliefs. But their pre-political peoplehood came first and was primary. That’s the consciousness that the American people and their leaders had all through their history until the mid 20th century, and that has been destroyed by modern liberalism and neoconservatism.

Mark Jaws writes:

Fascinating discussion, Lawrence. Just when I start to think I have thorougly thought through these complex issues, you come along and take my mind to places where it did not go.

Here is a question for you. Should a thoroughly re-galvanized traditional America start taking steps to deport large numbers of illegals, or should we allow the ones who have kept their noses clean (besides breaking our laws) to stay in our country but keep our generous welfare benefits out of their reach? What say you?

LA replies:

Obviously I believe that all illegal aliens should leave America. The 1986 Amnesty was presented as a one-time amnesty. Let us demand that our government be true to that commitment. Serious work-place enforcement would make the majority of illegals leave voluntarily, without deportation. Such attrition measures, combined with strategically aimed deportations (I have nothing against deportation, I’m just saying that it would not be necessary in most cases), combined with measures to track all visitors to the U.S. and whether they have departed, would remove the illegal population from the U.S. and end illegal immigration.

Remember the utterly different view of this problem that Bush expressed when he first unfolded his immigration plan in January 2004. He said we have a terrible problem with immigration in this country. And what was that problem? That illegals are having a tough time. The “immigration problem” as Busheron saw it was not America’s problem with illegals, but the illegals’ problem with America.

If we take Bush’s view, we’re done as a country. The opposite of Bush’s view is to make all illegals leave.

Zack writes:

You write: “[Neoconservatism and multiculturalism] are both forms of liberalism, meaning that they make equality their highest principle, rather than a substantive spiritual, cultural and social order”…

It is one of the great curiosities of modern times that despite all the thought people put into politics these days, no-one else seems to understand the suicidal *consequences* of this profound fact. (I mean today; Nietzsche of course warned us of it 130 years ago).

I’m an atheist. But since we agree on such a fundamental point, I’d be very interested to know what a desirable “substantive spiritual, cultural and social order” would look like to you (i.e. not based on equality). What kind of hierarchy are we talking about?

LA replies:

It occurs to me that I can answer your question without a long essay. We don’t have to go far afield into some medieval or ancient society; we can just take some very simple characteristics of pre-war (or even pre-Sixties) middle-class America.

There was an ethos, a way of behaving, that had nothing to do with equality. When mothers brought their childen into public places, they made their children behave, because to do otherwise would be a disgrace. People dressed a certain way and conducted themselves a certain way, they didn’t let it all hang out. Women did not display themselves sexually as they do today. Today there are no restraints, because any restraint is seen as an imposition on each person’s equal freedom to do as he likes and express himself as he likes.

America had what we might call a bourgeois or bourgeois-Christian order. The guiding standards of behavior came from that order, not from liberal equality. There were standards higher than and external to the self, and people were expected to conform to them, or they weren’t accepted in society. It was everyone’s shared adherence to those higher or external standards that formed them as a community. It was not a shared belief in democracy that made them a community; it was shared participation in a way of being that made them a community. American individualism was not unrestrained individualism such as we have since the Sixties, but restrained individualism.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 23, 2007 01:12 PM | Send

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