Multiculturalism as Performance Art

In this article from 2016, Le Figaro publishes excerpts from Le Multiculturalisme Comme Religion Politique (Multiculturalism as a Political Religion) by the Canadian sociologist Mathieu Bock-Côté, who wonderfully evokes the contemporary West as a collection of fictional performances, each with its own multicultural channel-surfing sociology.

«Le multiculturalisme tue toute identité commune enracinée dans une histoire» (Multiculturalism kills every common identity rooted in history) FIGAROVOX/SOCIETY, 11th April 2016. The French-Canadian sociologist Mathieu Bock-Côté draws with precision, rigour, and felicity of expression, the sources, manifestations and ultimate consequences of the major upheaval that is affecting our world.

A new public spirit

XVM1548e1a8-ff2c-11e5-a71c-ce65dd5efa2a-130x200Contrary to what one tacitly assumes, the radicalism of the ‘60s and ‘70s did not disappear when maturity overtook those who threw themselves into one or other of the open conflicts inspired by Left-liberalism: quite the opposite — it has profoundly transformed the political culture and ideological dynamics of Western societies. To take up the hypothesis of Philippe Raynaud: if the radical Left is not perceived as such, it is in large part because it has succeeded in imposing its ontology on public life. […] Our world, far from being ideologically poor, is in fact overburdened with ideology. We are no longer aware that the dominant ideology now hides from us behind its own total pervasiveness. Our institutions remain more or less the same, and at first glance, western democracies still write their history in the ink of continuity. But the fact is, that in investing themselves with a wholly novel philosophy, these institutions have profoundly transformed their vocation.

The single-mindedness of domination

Foucault takes the baton from Marx as the patron of the radical Left. […] The domination would extend everywhere, especially where it could remain invisible: it would be present in the most intimate relations between people, it would invade the constitution of the culture. […] All authority becomes illegitimate domination, to be dismantled. […] What has emerged already is the figure of the individual — self-referential, rootless, delivered from all social connection, acknowledging no debt to the territorial and cultural heritage he has received, or to the political community in which he resides. […] The ‘immigrant movement’, the ‘women’s movement’, that of homosexuals, of ‘prisoners’, of the ‘psychiatrically maltreated’ — all these movements, which in themselves have little in common, are called upon to propagate political action in order to wrest it from traditional institutions, thereby opening the public domain to an unprecedented diversity of ‘life-choices’, — this conceptual extension of emancipation even culminating in ‘queer-studies’. […] From the outmoded class struggle, we now pass to a new model, one that can link together all of these social struggles: identity politics. The working classes have abandoned the revolutionary war? The people are no longer of the Left? No matter, any number of alternative groups can be constructed.

The obsession with respect

The ‘theory of recognition’ has come to validate the therapeutic role of a state that is expected to enhance the self-esteem of those who live in it. […] In due course, it will be necessary to create a common culture that gives the least offence possible to minorities, which will often involve — as we’ve seen more and more since the beginning of the 1990s — the proliferation of ‘speech codes’ and the criminalising of offending epithets, since freedom of speech cannot be allowed to tolerate utterances that might disturb contemporary structures of communality. We know the origins of political correctness, which can be found in those American campuses marked by the heritage of the radical ‘Sixties. Political correctness presents itself therefore as a form of moral hygiene in a society that recognises, for example, the right not to be offended, the right not to witness disrespect towards the fundamental symbols of one’s identity. One could speak of a postmodern reformulation of censorship. Rigorous surveillance is therefore necessary, for humour as for militant outbursts, to ensure that nothing is said that might contest the new orthodoxy of recognition. More often than not, the offence comes down to ‘hate-speech’, the category that is coming progressively to be applied to any significant defence of traditional or national values. […] To avoid wounding the neophytes, we would need to grind down the culture into an historically indeterminate form, reducing the nation thereafter to a mere juridical pact.

Purifying the past and the museums

It is now almost a ritual: from one nation to another, we dig up the past of illustrious and forgotten figures in order to submit them to a relentless process. They would not have anticipated present society; they would not have accommodated themselves in advance to the values we hold dear. They might even have testified to quite another connection to the world, one that to us would be absolutely incomprehensible. […] It is what is generally called ‘repentance’, which is on everyone’s lips, whether it’s about discontinuing the celebration of Austerlitz in France, charges of sexism against the patriotic movement of the 19th century in Lower Canada, or pulling down the statues that, as in London, are too evocative of the British Empire. It’s this morbid passion for inverted commemoration: we no longer tolerate in the collective imagination men who, in one way or another, contradict the present and insinuate that humanity was able to live otherwise, venerating other gods and other values. […] In its crassest and most grotesque expression, the writing of victim-history always finishes by holding up for public condemnation the type of the white heterosexual man, guilty of having constructed a society for his own exclusive benefit. […]

History would be valid only as pedagogical text for the future, the past being filtered by an intransigent ‘hegemony of now’, criminalising all forms of traditional society and culture that would be incompatible with the new demands of emancipation. In the logic of the denationalisation of historical consciousness, public policy has had to make an investment in memory itself, with governments required to publicly construct an ‘inclusive’ memory, capable of rendering visible all marginalised groups. This is how the events dedicated to minorities multiply, and museums are invited to exhibit a new vision of history, having fully assimilated the diversity-imperative. Theodore Dalrymple has shown how in Great Britain during the first decade of this century, there was a move to tie the financing of museums to their ability to attract members of ethnic and cultural minorities. […] Of course, it’s taken for granted that to comply with this, one would need to transform the content and presentation of exhibitions, in order to prepare them for participation in the multicultural reconstruction of the imagination and identity of the British people. Western guilt is on the programme — as back-drop.

The State as agent of re-education

The ‘national’ working classes are from now on amongst the ‘enemy’ populations, or at least amongst the dominant classes henceforth called upon to sacrifice a portion of their wellbeing for the marginalised groups newly uncovered by the sociology of anti-discrimination. […]  Not only must we release the grip of the majority on the minorities: the majority must be retrained to accept that in the new order, it will be only one community amongst many. The majority must will an end to its privileges, it must ardently desire to disown them, to free itself from them. […] Diversity demands a transformation of attitudes. The majority must rejoice at the prospect of becoming a minority, it must love multiculturalism. […] It is not the least of the paradoxes of the libertarian culture that took shape in the radical ‘Sixties, that it can spread only through the authoritarian reconstruction of society.

Rights versus Democracy

Representative democracy appears outdated because it no longer knows whom it represents. The identity of the people no longer being assumed, its existence even being put into question, it is no longer possible to think of public space in a unified way, since individuals belonging to the same historico-political community are diversifying along essentially ideological lines. […] If the people’s sovereignty has not been officially abolished, it has evidently been reduced to a rump political power, no longer charged with any existential responsibility whatever. Democratic power is condemned to impotence. A constitutionalism proper to pluralist society will be called upon to exercise caretaker sovereignty over the body social, in order to steer its egalitarist transformation correctly through the legal jargon. Marginalised groups and minorities are called upon to assert their rights against social practices that might frustrate their emancipation, the claim to rights becoming the avenue of first recourse when mobilising against popular sovereignty, — itself assimilated more often than not to the tyranny of the majority. The multicultural Left correctly views human rights as a privileged instrument with which to advance minority claims without taint of ordinary political controversy.

Canada, a laboratory

It’s well known that multiculturalism is state doctrine in Canada, but we must see how far this identity-mutation has been carried by the intellectual class, which has recognised in its own remaking-in-diversity the distinctive mark of Canadian identity. Without taxing the language of paradox, one could say that Canada finds its true identity in not having a distinctive national identity; John Ibbitson going so far as to assert that the particular genius of Canada’s identity lies in the country’s lack of any particular historical sense. This would facilitate its appropriation by immigrants, who need renounce nothing of their former cultural allegiances in order to become Canadians. In fact, Canada has been reconstituted and re-founded on a radical split between the political class and its historical experience, and it is just this conceit of basing itself on a utopia rather than on a memory that made of it a paradise of diversity with no equal amongst contemporary societies. According to the formula of John Ibbitson, the countries that have the least history are today those with the most future. ⇒ Le Figaro