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The Multiculturalism of Liberty v. The Multiculturalism of Coercion

In an important sense, everyone must be a multiculturalist, because each culture is itself a multiculture. Take the social and political culture of the West. It is famously constituted by a dialogue between two intellectual poles—Athens and Jerusalem—a culture of reason and a culture of faith and tradition.  But, of course, the culture of the West is not only a social and political culture but an aesthetic one. And here it is composed in part of all sorts of national cultures that are themselves the products of subcultures within the nation.

All cultures thus are mongrel cultures.  A culture is also never static but always in motion propelled by collisions with others. And what emerges from the collisions is the result of millions of choices of individuals over generations who determine how to mix and match what many cultures offer them.  At its best what underlies all multicultures is the dynamism of liberty.

Unfortunately, much that goes under the name of multiculturalism today is a multiculturalism of coercion. While praising diversity, it tries to keep cultures pure and apart, robbing them of dynamism and their denizens of the liberty to participate in their change and improvement. The recent efforts to stigmatize cultural appropriation offers the vulgar example of the denial of cultural liberty.  Culture often benefits by being appropriated. The great musical innovation of jazz began in the African American communities of the South, but then musicians trained in the classical tradition gave it a twist and the result was music like Rhapsody in Blue. On a less exalted level, vigorous hybrid culture is created when a cook from one culture tries to integrate some food of another in a traditional meal.

Even worse is the rise of the multiculturalism of coercion in intellectual life. The intellectual dialectic between cultures comes from comparing, contrasting, and debating their differential effects. Many great works have emerged from this academic impulse—from Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism to David Hackett Fischer’s Albion Seed. But at our colleges and law schools today comparing and contrasting the effects of one culture and another is often met with anger and attempts to shut down debate on the subject.

Happily, however much the multiculturalism of coercion continues to oppress our universities, it will not much displace the workings of the multiculturalism of liberty. One of the consequences of globalization is that people have a chance to choose among cultures as never before. Our migration routes are those trodden by people seeking to leave behind at least some part of their culture for another culture.  The rule of law that has been developed most by the culture of the West is the great attraction for many migrants.  Just by going to nations that enjoy the West’s political culture, they greatly increase the value of their human capital. These immigrants practice the multiculturalism of liberty that many of our intellectuals are determined to deny themselves.

Reader Discussion

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on November 14, 2017 at 16:41:56 pm

The culture of liberty--where people aren't expelled, fired, or arrested for what they eat, wear, listen to, read, shoot, etc. or what single adults they have sex with--is the only culture that allows a MULTI-culture--where people can eat different things, wear different clothing, listen to different podcasts, read different books, shoot different guns, have non-heterosexual sex.

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No Bard but Rothbard
on November 15, 2017 at 12:24:58 pm

Here we have a comment providing a possible basis for understanding one aspect of our cultural confusion:.

Wearing of certain articles or styles of clothing, listening to different voices, different points of view; eating different foods: These things are equated with sexual relations between human beings, relations involving profoundly intimate contact between persons. Life-changing results can and often do follow such relations.

Sons and daughters are conceived this way; virulent diseases are contracted this way. Surely these things are of critical importance and not commensurate with tastes in clothing and food.

And yet it does seem that, at least for some, they are thought to be so.

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Latecomer
on November 15, 2017 at 14:09:50 pm

Latecomer:

You raise a very good point. It is the *equating* of behaviors / choices with markedly differing consequences, both positive and negative, that leads to a certain level of cultural / societal confusion.

I do understand where the "Bard" (Lawdog in disguise) is coming from. He advances a view based upon the "presumption of liberty" - and he is correct in this regard; individuals do have, under COTUS, a wide latitude to pursue certain ends / behaviors.

Whether one OUGHT to pursue certain ends is an entirely different matter. And whether the government is permitted to "regulate", (as in its original meaning, "make regular") those ends / behaviors is another matter and one that is open to some debate.

Yet, the fact remains that without some regulating / some tempering stricture / ethos, it is quite likely that confusion as to the propriety of certain behaviors will arise.

As an example of the conflation of the trivial with the consequential, both with respect to attitudes and behaviors / morals, let us consider the deployment of the word "choice" to describe abortion. Irrespective of what ones belief is on the matter, can it not at least be recognized that the act of terminating the life of an unborn human being is something of greater import than a mere *choice*. Choice is what you do when, at a Baskin-Robbins counter, you choose blueberry over chocolate. It is concomitantly, the trivialization of the consequential that has induced an even greater confusion in the populace.

This is what results from an all-encompassing obsession with individual liberties!

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gabe
on November 16, 2017 at 14:48:24 pm

The unease that prompts posts such as this one seems rooted in things more fundamental than our Constitution, our government and its power (those it must have to create order and those it must not have if we are to preserve some measure of liberty). Standards developed through long centuries are swept aside by this powerful "tide in the affairs of men".

Powerful persons of great wealth and those in agreement with them "seek to dispel our settled notions, be they sexual, biological, or even who counts as human. .... Every freedom is granted except the liberty to search for objective truth and the substantive good." That "search" is forbidden, the reason being that the liberal/progressive thinkers have found the "objective truth and the substantive good". No further search is necessary. They and their standards are the new "objective truth". Their "good" is the only allowed "substantive good."

But then perhaps those who are strong enough to resist, James Rebanks, author of "The Shepherd's Life", reviewed and discussed by Prof. Stanley Hauerwas, for one and, we may hope, many, many others will prevail.

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Latecomer
on November 16, 2017 at 15:43:41 pm

The eighth amendment requires that the punishment fit the crime. Does expelling, firing, or arresting someone for what they wear or eat fit the crime? Or should punishment be reserved for what actually harms another human being? Is it OK to punish such trivial things just to prove that they aren't important (fundamental) enough to be rights?

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No Bard but Rothbard
on November 16, 2017 at 20:43:30 pm

"Does expelling, firing, or arresting someone for what they wear or eat fit the crime?"

Apparently, it does IF one can be shown to be culturally appropriating a Taco or a Pizza Pie - or even worse MY PASTA SAUCE!!!!

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gabe
on November 24, 2017 at 12:55:33 pm

[…] Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis distinguishes the multiculturalism of liberty fr…. […]

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Some Links - Cafe Hayek
on November 25, 2017 at 20:12:52 pm

I agree with most of this essay, but it merely cites rule of law without mentioning that existence and preservation of the rule of law depend on numerous institutional factors.
While I agree with the author that the rule of law was developed by the West, that does not imply that all Western countries enjoy untrammeled rule of law. As a matter of fact trends like populism and growing monopolization of the economy push in the opposite direction.
The rule of law needs to be backed up by the ordoliberal postulate that forbids lobbying and revolving-door staffing policies, thus assuring that government policy is determined through elections and not through personal contacts and sleazy backroom deals. In addition, the excessive influence of private wealth on electoral outcomes, and unreasonable restrictions on the right to vote are methods of bypassing the rule of law which have reached bizarre extremes in the US. See Larry Bartels’ Unequal Democracy. For example the Republican Party has a lock on Congress despite the inexorable decline in the number of Republican voters.
Furthermore, antiquated electoral systems like the single-member constituency and 1st past the post system that prevails in the USA – an arrangement that encourages gerrymandering -- are the reason why the oldest political parties in the world are those of the USA. In popular American discourse this restriction is expressed as reluctance to “waste one’s vote on a third-party candidate”. These archaic arrangements prevent the natural renewal and extinction of political parties that is a necessary condition for the people’s will to be expressed.
Consequently many institutional factors persist that encourage powerful minorities to control government and ultimately undermine the rule of law

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Zenobia van Dongen

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