Why Multiculturalism Is Not at Odds with Integration: A Response to Ambrosch

I am rarely disappointed when reading Areo essays, so Gerfried Ambrosch’s recently published “Making Sense of Immigration: Why Multiculturalism Is at Odds with Integration,” left me feeling not only frustrated, but surprised. I assume Ambrosch wrote this essay with honorable intentions, but his treatment of this important topic perpetuates alarming misconceptions. I will seek to bring some clarity to the concept of multiculturalism, both in the (erroneous) sense in which Ambrosch uses it, and its (quite distinct) meaning in contemporary political theory and policy debates. I will conclude, contra Ambrosch, that multiculturalism is, in fact, not at odds with integration, but rather reflects a particular (liberal) approach to integration.

Ambrosch begins by presenting us with what he views as two extreme and unacceptable approaches to immigration policy: the far right’s endorsement of stopping immigration entirely, and the far left’s support for open borders. At first glance, it is unclear what these two views have to do with multiculturalism at all, but then Ambrosch fills us in: “the identitarian left frames existing disparities as social injustices resulting from colonial oppression and exploitation … Those holding [this] view tend to be in favor of open borders and multiculturalism.”

There are two claims being made here. First, we have a claim about what motivates support for multiculturalism: according to Ambrosch, it is a particular kind of normative social theory, propagated by the “identitarian left.” Second, we have the claim that support for open borders and multiculturalism emerge equally out of this theory, as a kind of package deal. The first claim is tendentious and misleading, while the second is just plain false. They each arise out of a radical misunderstanding of multiculturalism.

Instead of engaging with the extensive literature on multiculturalism—to be found in both academic and legal discourse—Ambrosch references, not the voices of actual persons, but abstract positions which he imagines defenders and critics of multiculturalism universally occupy. This is the only explanation for why one finds a polemic against the identitarian left, in an essay that purportedly examines the pros and cons of multiculturalism as theory and public policy. Although some do hold the extreme positions listed above, the vast majority of defenders and critics of multiculturalism espouse perspectives far more nuanced and sophisticated than Ambrosch’s dichotomous framing allows.

Multiculturalism and the Liberal Tradition

Contrary to what Ambrosch suggests, multicultural theory and policies emerge out of the liberal tradition as it has developed over the twentieth century. Will Kymlicka is one of the most well-known proponents of liberal multiculturalism: that is, the form of multiculturalism that was made national policy in Canada in 1971 under then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. As Kymlicka notes in his book Multicultural Odysseys, “Really-existing multiculturalism in the West is liberal multiculturalism.”

According to Kymlicka, multiculturalism is ultimately rooted in the liberal commitments to individual freedom and moral equality. Liberal theorists, including Kymlicka and Joseph Raz, have argued that liberalism’s commitment to individual freedom is ultimately rooted in the value of personal autonomy, and its importance for leading a good life. For these liberals, a life is only lived autonomously if one leads it from the inside. A life that is the result of coercion or manipulation is not an autonomous one—and it is for this reason that liberals are committed to individual freedom. Furthermore, the liberal commitment to moral equality is rooted in a concern for fairness: that is, the principle that all citizens ought to be treated with equal concern and respect. These are related commitments, but they are also distinct.

On Personal Autonomy

Liberal multiculturalism arises out of thinking seriously about the preconditions for leading an autonomous life. It should be obvious that leading an autonomous life comes with certain social conditions, such as having one’s basic needs met and being guaranteed certain basic liberties. For instance, a person who is constantly struggling to find food is unable to live autonomously because the threat of starvation dictates all of her actions, and a person who cannot speak his mind for fear of imprisonment is also unable to live autonomously. But, for Kymlicka, freedom of speech and freedom from starvation are not sufficient conditions for an autonomous life. In Multicultural Citizenship he argues, “the liberal value of freedom of choice has certain cultural preconditions.” Individuals do not exist atomistically—we are constituted by our cultural affiliations and attachments. Insofar as this is true, individuals are dependent upon the existence of a “cultural structure” in order to lead autonomous lives. A cultural structure is an important context for choice, because it provides meaningful options for members of its culture. Thus a Quebecois cannot thrive as a Quebecois unless there exists a Quebecois cultural structure—protected by public institutions and laws—within society, from which she can derive a sense of self. Furthermore, if a minority culture’s cultural structure becomes threatened, the autonomy of its members is also threatened. Rather than cultural relativism, it is a concern for securing the conditions of individual autonomy that underlies the multicultural endorsement of, say, bilingualism in Canada, exemptions from dress codes for certain religious groups, and the establishment of land rights for First Nations communities. Kymlicka merely adds the good of cultural membership to John Rawls’s list of primary goods. Kymlicka writes:

Once we recognize the importance of the cultural structure and accept that there is a positive duty on the state to protect the cultural conditions which allow for autonomous choice, then cultural membership does have political salience. Respect for the autonomy of the members of minority cultures requires respect for their cultural structure, and that in turn may require special linguistic, educational, and even political rights for minority cultures.

Nevertheless, this commitment to personal autonomy does not adequately account for all multicultural policies, and, indeed, it is arguably less relevant to issues of immigration (which Ambrosch is concerned with) than to issues surrounding the existence of multi-nation states. For this we need to look at the liberal commitment to moral equality.

On Moral Equality

Prior to the 60s, and especially in America, it was widely thought that treating individuals equally requires treating them the same. This is what we might call culture-blind liberalism, which does not encourage the state to take into account people’s identities when determining how benefits and burdens are to be distributed in society. However, much contemporary liberal theory would disagree with this interpretation on the grounds that it does not adequately capture what moral equality requires. For instance, in keeping with his culturalist position, Kymlicka argues that individuals are constituted by (and thereby, in some sense, representatives of) the cultural groups they belong to, and therefore we must be attuned to the social standing of groups in society. If one group has been historically seen as less worthy of respect, then liberal equality requires that we instate social reforms in order to rectify this, otherwise the individuals who belong to this group will not hold equal standing in society.

This is the basis for affirmative action, inclusion of ethnic representation/sensitivity in the mandate of public media, and the funding of ethnic group organizations to support cultural activities—classic multicultural policies.

However, contrary to Ambrosch’s claim, this does not require viewing all immigrants as “oppressed victim groups who can do no wrong,” and is only identitarian to the extent that it recognizes what is in sociology a fundamental axiom: that we derive our sense of self from the society and culture we inhabit. It also does not demand we accept the view that all “existing disparities” are merely the result of “social injustices resulting from colonial oppression and exploitation.” For one, sound multicultural policies are attuned to both historical and ongoing social dynamics within societies (distinguishing between the effects of, say, colonialism, systemic racial disenfranchisement and religious discrimination). They are designed with the understanding that patterns of social inequality are shaped according to particular historical legacies, and that any attempt to rectify these requires a thorough knowledge of relevant contextual factors. And, ironically, the statistics Ambrosch cites demonstrate why this should be so.

Ambrosch observes that “black immigrants economically outperform US-born blacks” and that “South America-born blacks even have a higher median household income than the average American.” These findings make evident the impact the history of systemic racism in the US has had on American-born blacks. Blacks born outside the US have not been born in a country where the color of their skin is perceived through the lens of hundreds of years of racial disenfranchisement—that is, they have not grown up having to wrestle internally and externally with the cultural legacies of slavery. This helps explain their comparative success. Indeed, this is precisely what we would expect if racial discrimination were playing a role.

Racial discrimination is not “the whole story” nor are all those who suffer from disenfranchisement merely “oppressed victims who can do no wrong.” That would be absurd—which is why very few people actually make such claims. There is no inconsistency in advocating for policies that seek to redress systemic inequalities that lead to some individuals, in virtue of their cultural affiliation, being stigmatized, and at the same time holding people responsible for their actions. But unfortunately Ambrosch’s analysis implicitly denies this.

Whether or not you are persuaded by liberal multiculturalism (and Kymlicka’s treatment is far more sophisticated than this truncated summary suggests) as theory, it is rooted not in cultural relativism, as Ambrosch supposes, but in the liberal commitments to individual freedom and moral equality.

The Truth About Multiculturalism

First, it is simply not the case that from a liberal multicultural perspective the dominant culture in a liberal democracy “has no more right to assert itself than the rest.” On the contrary, as Kymlicka makes clear in Politics in the Vernacular:

The ‘logic’ of multiculturalism … is not to undermine respect for liberal-democratic values, any more than it is to undermine institutional integration. On the contrary, multiculturalism takes these political values as given and assumes that immigrants will accept them, just as it takes integration into mainstream public institutions as given.

Thus liberal multiculturalism has always been a distinctive approach to integration, not opposed to it.

Second, no liberal multiculturalist contends that illiberal practices like female genital mutilation or the criminalization of homosexuality ought to be accepted merely because they find justification in certain minority cultures or traditions. In approaching these issues, liberal multiculturalists like Kymlicka advocate the following liberal principle: “freedom within the minority group, and equality between the minority and majority groups.” What this means in practice is that minority cultures ought to be externally protected from being dominated or eradicated by the dominant culture (in order to protect the personal autonomy of members who belong to these cultural groups), while at the same time, individuals within minority cultures ought to receive internal protection from illiberal practices or traditions within their own cultures. We can therefore conclude, contra Ambrosch, that liberal multiculturalism does in fact acknowledge that “some ideas are really worse than others” (or, put less polemically, “some practices are liberal while others aren’t.”) Liberal multiculturalists are perfectly willing to prevent the practice of illiberal cultural practices, which violate the autonomy of individual citizens, regardless of whether or not they belong to a minority culture.

Third, it is mistaken to think multiculturalism requires nothing of immigrants and that “it is the host society that must change to prevent such groups from failing.” Liberal multiculturalism has always postulated integration as a two-way street. Indeed, integration is far from optional. If an immigrant breaks the law, they could potentially go to jail. If she doesn’t learn the official language, she will likely not get a job. If they do not accept the social norms of liberal societies, they will likely face serious public (and even private) backlash. The truth is that immigrants face steep learning curves and significant hurdles once they arrive in their adopted countries. Liberal multiculturalism simply tries to offer them the resources that will help them to integrate successfully.

Fourth, it is unclear why Ambrosch seems to assume that those who endorse multiculturalism naturally endorse open borders. Most Canadians favor multiculturalism but do not advocate open borders. Some see these policies as necessarily tied to one another, but this is not true of most. Actual liberal multiculturalism does not require support for open borders.

Fifth, Ambrosch advocates integration over multiculturalism. I wonder what his notion of integration is. He writes, “One cannot fully partake in a society without adopting its core cultural values and principles. Nor can society function without them.” Agreed. But if only it were that easy! As political theorist Wayne Norman notes, shared values and principles are not sufficient to ensure integration. Most Western Europeans and North Americans hold very similar values. A Frenchman and an Englishman may have very similar values, but they nevertheless think of themselves, respectively, as French and English. Hence, liberal multiculturalists have long concluded that “political principles are not sufficient for political unity.”

Ambrosch’s solution is to assert that, “Western society is based on Ancient Greek philosophy, Roman law, the Judeo-Christian tradition and Enlightenment humanism.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t get us very far either, for it’s by no means self-evident how to reconcile these with one another. For instance, polarization in the US can be understood, in one sense, as a conflict between a particular version of Judeo-Christianity and its doppelganger in the form of secular humanism. Though these may emerge historically out of the Western tradition, this far from guarantees their congruence. Thus I cannot see how declaring that we in the West belong to this amorphous tradition solves our problems.

Liberal multiculturalism offers a much more sophisticated conception of how to cultivate and maintain political and social unity. Rooted in the liberal tradition, with its commitments to individual freedom (understood as personal autonomy) and moral equality, it advocates nation-building programs which include the creation of national holidays, citizenship education, mandatory volunteering or public service and free public education, all of which are meant to develop and sustain a broad political culture of human rights and civil rights liberalism—most of which are staples in liberal democracies today. Thus, as Kymlicka notes, “the sort of multiculturalism that has emerged within the West has transformed nation-building, not replaced it.”


Ironically, Ambrosch’s middle way between multiculturalism (as he understands it) and ethno-nationalism strikingly resembles actual multiculturalism. For his solution, he tells us, would consist of  “a certain degree of cultural assimilation on the part of each individual immigrant, and a certain degree of openness on the part of the host society.” Indeed, this is merely a vague description of liberal multiculturalism, as I have outlined it here.

Although, if one defines multiculturalism as Ambrosch defines it, it is “inherently self-defeating,” aside from a fringe group of scholars (who, unfortunately, might exert more influence within the academy than their numbers would suggest) few define it this way. Certainly, no proponents of actually existing multiculturalism hold such a view. The issue of immigration at the moment is both highly contentious and deeply important therefore it is crucial that we make clear what precisely multiculturalism stands for. While I recognize there are downsides to multiculturalism as policy, and reasonable people can disagree about its merits, one must at least characterize it appropriately before criticizing it.

Nevertheless, in light of the political turbulence surrounding global migration, and the current threats facing liberal democracies as a result of increased social diversity, I generally view Canada—where multiculturalism has been most consistently institutionalized and promoted—as a success story. Thus it would seem multiculturalism, when implemented correctly, is arguably one of the most successful models of integration we have. We would be foolish to dismiss this.

Edit: Gerfried Ambrosch has responded to this response in comments. See the conversation continue here.

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  1. Those who hold up Quebec in Canada as an example of successful Multiculturalism have not lived there as a native Anglophone. Quebec has veto power over immigration, and a French speaking Angolan or Haitian is preferred over a highly educated Anglophone. There are virtually no anglophones in the civil service, despite them being 9% of the population. Anglophone children (all primary education in English iff you were in Quebec prior to 1967 only or parent educated in Quebec in English school) go into French immersion in kindergarten to produce bilingulals. French parent revolt led to introduction of English in grade 4 rather than grade 8, because in the North American context, speaking English is a big economic advantage. It is, however, done halfheartedly, because a bilingual can leave. Of course, politicians and the wealthy send their children to private schools that guarantee a bilingual product. Language Police roam Montreal looking for English signs and store clerks who greet customers with’Hello’. Have you ever tried to buy a washing machine when all info except the sealed package in the machine was in technical French? There is continual media anti-anglo message. Your hospital nurse does not have to speak English, but if you only speak Urdu, a translator can be provided. Almost all McGill medical graduates leave the province, regardless of their native tongue. Is it any wonder I took my pension to another province?

    Yes, there is affirmative action in all government supported institutions, as in the ‘Rest of Canada’: if your skin is not white, you wear some sort of religious garb, you are female. You have to find some of them to interview at the very least, and then write many pages of justification if the candidate you chose happens to be a white male.

    The point is, that the conservatives in any ethnic group work hard to ensure that members of their group cannot move around in society; that they cannot leave the group. They work to ensure that there is always a ‘others’ out there who are threatening and ‘don’t like them’. This applies to the aboriginal groups as well as to many of the recent immigrants. For example, children like the fact that school is ‘not important’ for aboriginal children; a young woman who has never been allowed to be in contact with any man outside her family may be able to interact with strange men in formal job related situations, but could not even discus the weather with him; a woman whose genitals have been mutilated is stuck in her group with the man her father chooses.

    People can change. Akhavan is a very successful supermarket chain in Montreal. When the Iranians first opened a small grocery, only the men worked in the store. The looked away when interacting with Caucasian women; thye never met my eyes even in response to a direct question. Twenty years later, they stop and chat with me, girls in hijabs work the cash, although only boys pack groceries. This is the beginning of real cultural integration, but it will take new generations before they put ‘Canadian’ identity before Iranian. And yes, even though their kids must go to French school, they make sure they are bilingual.

  2. “The ‘logic’ of multiculturalism … is not to undermine respect for liberal-democratic values, any more than it is to undermine institutional integration. On the contrary, multiculturalism takes these political values as given and assumes that immigrants will accept them, just as it takes integration into mainstream public institutions as given.”

    But that is the problem – it assumes it’s a given. What happens when that is not the case, and the groups involved squeal that their cultural identity/autonomy is being infringed when questioned and the air-borne values are somehow not imbued? I don’t see an answer in your article to that, except for waving that possibility away despite it being an experience many of us are living with right now.

    1. That’s not synonymous with multiculturalism. It’s not even multiculturalism, because it assumes superiority of a given culture — just not the incumbent one. This is a strawman, an anecdotal generalization — multiculturalism is bad because *some* of the people in those cultures might not be multicultural. If we want to base policy or society on anecdotes, we’re going to be running in circles very quickly. That’s why, in general, you don’t.

      1. But it isn’t merely anecdotal, and it’s not just ‘some people’ but usually so called ‘Community leaders’, self appointed gate keepers of a cultural identity. The reality of state imposed multiculturalism is they’re generally the ones accepted as the ‘authentic’ voice of the culture or community.

  3. You lost me early and often with things assumed as true, but that are obviously not so. I guess I’ll pick up on a few points from the beggining that sort of underpin this worldview..

    “Liberal multiculturalism arises out of thinking seriously about the preconditions for leading an autonomous life. It should be obvious that leading an autonomous life comes with certain social conditions, such as having one’s basic needs met and being guaranteed certain basic liberties.”

    Freedom most certainly requires the protection of basic liberties, but it doesn’t include freedom from nature or the human condition. If you are free when you have a full plate of food, and nothing changes except the food is gone, you’re still free.. free to go find more food. I just don’t buy the notion that the state has to ensure that everyone’s need are met, nor that people aren’t free unless someone other than themselves are made to provide what they lack. That’s a massive over-reach for government, and flies in the face of autonomy and freedom, since it relies on forced redistribution of wealth, etc. which is the opposite of voluntary (i.e. free, autonomous) distribution of wealth. The state should promote the conditions under which people can seek to meet their own needs, but not confiscate one person’s money to buy another person a sandwich.

    ” Individuals do not exist atomistically—we are constituted by our cultural affiliations and attachments. Insofar as this is true, individuals are dependent upon the existence of a “cultural structure” in order to lead autonomous lives.” and “Thus a Quebecois cannot thrive as a Quebecois unless there exists a Quebecois cultural structure—protected by public institutions and laws—within society, from which she can derive a sense of self.”

    Right, a Quebecois cannot exist as a Quebecois if there is no Quebec, but that doesn’t mean that person ceases to exist as an autonomous person if Quebec ceases to be. They just cannot identify as part of a group that doesn’t exist, and will have to identify in innumerable other ways, as we all do (i.e. as Canadian, as a cool kid, as a sports fan, zir, or dolphin kin..)

    Individuals aren’t dependent on any particular culture to live autonomously, although true that nobody can exist independent of culture. We see examples of people flourishing in cultures far different from their own. Drop that Quebecois person into a University in Paris, and that person won’t cease to live autonomously because they are no longer supported by the Quebecois social milieu. This goes to show that maintenance of specific cultural artifices aren’t necessary to live a free life, and that a host culture need not accommodate the cultural whims of immigrants to protect their autonomy.

    I suppose I could go line by line, but I would quickly run out of room pointing out the strange assumptions made in this piece.

  4. First time reader. Lovin the posts. Following as of right now. I have also a blog that touches upon mainly identity, culture, multiculturalism, religion, islam, free speech…www.saf-ali.blog

  5. ” I assume Ambrosch wrote this essay with honorable intentions,”

    This falls under the ‘with all due respect’ rhetorical device class. Translation: ‘I’m going to tear you apart, you monster!’

  6. Our disagreement, which I value enormously, seems to derive from how we define our subject matter. But it’s not just semantics. Rather, our different conceptions of multiculturalism are analogous to the difference between Marxism and “actually existing socialism”—theory and practice, which, as we all know, can differ greatly while maintaining an (ideo-)logical connection. This perceived mismatch, however, stems from a fundamental flaw in the underlying vision, which the philosopher Roger Scruton has dubbed “unscrupulous optimism,” i.e., failure to consider the many ways in which a well-intentioned doctrine can have adverse effects on human flourishing. Rarely do intentions translate directly into consequences.
    In my opinion, this is precisely the problem with multiculturalism, especially in Europe. German chancellor Angela Merkel’s famous statement “Wir schaffen das!” (We can manage that), made in reaction to the 2015 refugee crisis, is a good example of unscrupulous optimism in this context, especially since she forgot to define what exactly “that” is and who “we” are. She said this, mind you, only five years after announcing that “the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other… has failed, utterly failed.”
    As I make clear from the outset, my critique focuses on the socioeconomic repercussions of multiculturalism in practice (e.g., parallel societies) while trying to make sense of the ideological principles at play. (Cultural relativism—the counterproductive idea that all cultures are morally equal—is one such principle.) To this end, I juxtapose two extreme positions—ethno-nationalism and open-border multiculturalism—and work my way to the center. This pragmatic approach partly stems from my experience as an employee of an international NGO that assists the Austrian government in the current migrant crisis.
    A few comments:
    “Second, we have the claim that support for open borders and multiculturalism emerge equally out of this theory, as a kind of package deal.” I don’t actually make this claim. What I’m saying is that those in favor of multiculturalism, those in favor of open borders, and those who believe that the wealth of Western nations is ill-gotten are often the same people.
    “… multicultural theory and policies emerge out of the liberal tradition as it has developed over the twentieth century.” I’m not denying this. In fact, this is precisely why the social problems caused by “actually existing” multiculturalism lead to the liberal dilemma I describe in my essay.
    “… the liberal commitment to moral equality is rooted in a concern for fairness: that is, the principle that all citizens ought to be treated with equal concern and respect.” This is why we have civil rights and freedoms enshrined in our democratic laws and institutions. But multiculturalism, as it is practiced in many Western countries, does the opposite: It often treats people unequally relative to their cultural background (cultural relativism). The question is: Do we want equal rights or special rights for immigrants and minorities? In my humble opinion, non-discrimination is fairer and more feasible than discrimination.
    “Furthermore, if a minority culture’s cultural structure becomes threatened, the autonomy of its members is also threatened.” Maybe. But I’m making the opposite point: If a minority culture’s cultural structure is never challenged, the autonomy of its members is threatened. In practice, criticism of minority cultures is discouraged by multiculturalism—to the detriment of women, minorities within minorities, and society at large.
    “… patterns of social inequality are shaped according to particular historical legacies, and that any attempt to rectify these requires a thorough knowledge of relevant contextual factors.” This opens a whole other can of worms. The fundamental question is whether or not, and, if so, to what extent, current levels of outcome inequality result from past injustices. It’s inadvisable to assume causation without evidence. In fact, there is a mountain of evidence against the assumption that external treatment has a greater effect on a group’s socioeconomic advancement than that group’s culture. Thomas Sowell and others have done a great job debunking myths about discrimination and disparities with hard facts. This essay suffers from a lack of awareness of such facts.
    “… multiculturalism takes these political values as given and assumes that immigrants will accept them, just as it takes integration into mainstream public institutions as given.” This quote is an example of both unscrupulous optimism and multiculturalist naivety. Immigrants are people, and people react to incentives. My point is that, in order to create a society in which people from different ethno-cultural backgrounds can live together peacefully and contribute to the common good in equal measure, it is crucial that immigrants and minorities adopt a shared sense of “we” in the form of a core-cultural identity that corresponds with the fundamental cultural values of that society. I’m not saying that this is easy. What I’m saying is that multiculturalism, as it has been practiced in Europe and elsewhere, has made integration even harder.

    1. Multiculturalism is best understood as a set of public policies, which are underwritten by the theory I outlined in my essay. So this is not analogous to distinguishing between Marxist theory and “actually existing socialism.” It is more accurately a matter of distinguishing between “multiculturalism as it has been inconsistently and weakly implemented” (i.e. Germany and America) and “multiculturalism as it has been implemented consistently and comprehensively” (i.e. Canada and Australia). For more information on this see: https://www.universityresearch.ca/projects/find-projects/multiculturalism-policy-index/

      1. @Gerfried: Well spoken.

        @Galen: Policies are theory, which are implemented by various government organizations as practice. While the theory and public policies may be well meaning, in practice, as Gerfried points out, the implementation has resulted in parallel societies that have little incentive to create or define a common culture. Taking Los Angeles as an example (or France or Germany for that matter), the Latinx communities literally live in a parallel society. In the attempt to help assimilate, the well meaning government decided to make government literature bi-lingual with the end result being Spanish-only in large swaths of LA. There is a sizable segment of the Latinx population that has abandoned multiculturalism at the street level because they see its failings. But in the LA city and county governments, the policies still remain in place (and, in my not-so-humble opinion, have become worse with all of the special rules and “rights” required to implement those policies.)

        If your contention is that the theory is sound, I can live with that. However, as Gefried has pointed out, the practice fails miserably. Ultimately, it’s the practice that counts — it’s why Aristotelianism advanced science and society far better than did Platonism: Aristotelianism was eminently more practical than Platonism.

        1. Well, it doesn’t work in theory either because, for one, the cartoon model of the world assumed by theory is indifferent to the real one. On this theory, for example, the justification for discriminating in favor of minorities (and minorities within minorities) is that they’ve been discriminated against. In practice, this means the Asian daughter of a wealthy Hong Kong family with dual-citizenship (as a minority within a minority) can be preferred in hiring, university admission, etc., over the “mostly white” son of a poor single mother from a mining town in northern Ontario. This kind of moral equalizing violates the very principle of fairness liberal multiculturalism appeals to as justification.

          Or consider the contradiction between the autonomy of individuals and the various interventionist schemes undertaken in the name of moral equalizing. Autonomy, we’re told, is the aim of the entire liberal project. But the equalizing schemes are the fine print on the multicultural contract that has left all of us with less autonomy than we had before. In Watts’ phrasing: “affirmative action, inclusion of ethnic representation/sensitivity in the mandate of public media, and the funding of ethnic group organizations to support cultural activities.” Translation into real terms: Quota hiring, speech policing, and clientelism for self-appointed “community leaders.” Once we add in those “illiberal practices” that apply to newcomers and native Canadians alike, autonomy looks a lot like the freedom to be a liberal progressive of any colour you please.

          We saw this play out over the summer here in Canada. The government decided that anyone applying for grants to hire summer students had to sign a statement affirming the right to abortion. Ignoring the fact that no such right exists in Canada, the policy effectively deprived any group that didn’t subscribe to capital-LV Liberal Values of funding. So much for meaningful multiculturalism. But, hey, funding was still available for your wheat-dancing festival.

          1. Well, class is the only real division. Every other division is enforced via imposing or associating it with undesirable class. Every other division is a distraction from the class division.

            I mean, are minorities most upset that their culture is not on network TV, or are they more upset that they’re economically disadvantaged? If they weren’t economically disadvantaged, then it would be a non-issue. They could make their own network TV. They could hire their own police. They would start their own companies and offer their own jobs. And so on. But they’re predominantly economically disadvantaged, and as a result, socioeconomically disenfranchised and underempowered.

        2. The problem begin before you even get to ‘special rules’ and the live. Who gets to decide what a culture actually entails, and who is a member of any particular community. What tends to happen in practice is that non western or immigrant cultures are seen as largely immutable, and it empowers the conservatives to put up barriers to change in the name of ‘tradition’. It of course therefore dis-empowers those seeking to challenge power structures, or practices they see as oppressive or regressive.
          At it’s extreme you get the bizarre sight of white liberals defending gender segregation in public, on the basis that to challenge isn’t the place of those outside. They were of course oblivious to the fact that there were women within the culture who were challenging these patriarchal ideas, but they weren’t seen as ‘authentic’.
          It’s quite often the case with multiculturalism that white women get rights, women of colour get ‘culture’.
          The theoretical idea that you can both defend equal rights, and defend the idea of distinct separate cultures runs very quickly into the reality that those who put themselves forward the voice of separate communities are almost always conservatives who are threatened by the idea of a culture evolving..

    2. It sounds then that you equate “multiculturalism” with that “cultural relativism.” But I think that is problematic. It’s analogous to saying that gender equality is bad because 3rd/4th wave feminism asserts it as a goal and then inverts it. We can agree, I think, that cultural values do not excuse crimes against civil rights — the “your fist’s rights end at my nose” principle. The question is whether excusing such wrongs is part and parcel with multiculturalism, and I don’t think so at all. You admit here that your definition is colored by the use of the term in Germany and Austria, but I dare say that is still anecdotal, even if at a national scale (out of how many nations?). Multiculturalism is accepting cultural differences. Your alternative, integration, aka multiracialism, which you define as “sharing the same basic cultural values” then comes off as an expectation of conformance with the incumbent culture, which paints a weird, to me, line between an arbitrary political territory and a particular culture. (Should everyone living in America speak English, enjoy reality TV, eat junk food, drive low-MPG cars, support the military industrial complex, venerate the wealthy, oppose same sex marriage, and so on? I certainly hope not!)

      To say that other cultures should be criticizable, and that those cultures should fall off in favor of assimilation with the incumbent culture… smacks of presumptive supremacism of the incumbent culture. Why is the incumbent culture automatically the superior one to all the others that they should all conform to? Why should those other cultures be subject to assimilation, while the incumbent culture is immune? (Furthermore, if an American or German were to move to Saudi Arabia, should they likewise shed their Westernism in order to assimilate with *that* country’s incumbent culture?)

      There’s no rational basis for that. And that sentiment has driven quite a lot of terrible outcomes that are arguably *not* in the interest of world society. To be open to criticize others, I think, would presume being open to *being* criticized, in any rational and non-solipsistic philosophy. That means being as open to others’ influence as you expect others to be open to your own — either at a personal level, or a national level.

      1. It’s inevitable that a host/majoritarian culture will be challenged by impact with other cultures. It’s actually state imposed multiculturalism that would prevent this happening as in practice it assumes people are basically islands of bespoke cultures.
        Integration into, and challenging a host culture are not mutually exclusive. That should be obvious. It’s what humans have done for thousands of years.

      2. If you want examples, just look at food, sport, language, the arts, religious practice etc etc. All have seen host cultures change from the impact of other cultures, without either an absence of integration or the need for state multiculturalism.

  7. Your accusation that Ambrosch’s argument sits in the abstract is bizarre as based on what you wrote it would seem a more accurate assessment of yours. You’ve tried to articulate the theory behind liberal multiculturalism but have done nothing to address the very y real problems it presents. In Britain for instance women deemed part of the ‘Muslim community’ are often pressured to attend sharia tribunals. MPs attend gender segregated events, and religious conservatives are routinely presented as the ‘authentic’ voice of ‘communities’. It’s now common for minorities to have their relationship with the state mediatedvis ‘community leaders whilst the majority get treated as citizens.
    It does nothing to assist minorities within minorities or those looking to challenge cultural norms in ‘their’ communityxx. Whatever the theory may say, the reality is it’s inevitable that multiculturalism as state practice will be relativatist in practice.
    Defend pluralism and diversity by all means (which I bet is what the public understand multiculturalism to mean) but multiculturalism as state practice both in theory and practice will always undermine equality of citizenship.

  8. B. Scott Michel,

    Your intuition about Canadian multicultural theory (i.e., that it operates like e pluribus unum) is closer to the reality than this Canadian’s hothouse philosophizing, probably because the sine qua non of believing in Canadian multiculturalism is an utter lack of self-awareness. You may have noticed, for example, that all the talk about people needing “cultural structures” to be fully autonomous beings disappeared when it came to “illiberal practices,” which means anything not conducive to those proteiform abstractions “autonomy” and “moral equality,” which mean whatever their advocates want them to mean. Neil Bissoondath put it best when he said that the “culture” in Canadian multiculturalism refers to “wheat dances and spicy food,” not to the essential qualities that define a culture.

    Over the years, of course, it’s become more ominous than that. You can see why in the talk about making minorities equal—an group-based leveling activity by government that is magically conducive to individual liberty and personal autonomy. You can see it on the ground here in that anyone who doesn’t embrace liberal multicultural places himself outside the Overton window. We recently saw of member of Parliament ejected from his party for daring to question the dogma of multiculturalism. Try to square that will the hugs-and-cuddles talk you read above.

  9. What Ambrosch wrote is the perception that many of us (who don’t have time to do the research and read) encounter in day-to-day multiculturalism in practice. Granted, this is is a cop-out and reaffirms experienced confirmation bias. Day-to-day multiculturalism is very identarian and very relativistic.

    Your insight here is likely true only in the abstract and likely only applicable to Canada. Consequently, your analysis begs the question, “How do you balance an individual’s agency for cultural autonomy versus societal/nation state cohesion through a common culture?” Here in Los Angeles, there is very little common culture except as expressed via corporate food chains. Los Angeles has degenerated into being distinctly tribal geographic areas, with some “gray” border areas. This is somewhat analogous to Canada, where the dominant culture that speaks French is almost solely located in a geographic area labeled “Quebec.” I would contend that traditional “liberal multiculturalism” can be found in the Latin motto, “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many, One) — there was a loosely defined Judeo-Christian/humanist/Western civilization common culture. Current multiculturalism, as practiced day-to-day, is “E Pluribus, Alia Multa” (“Out of Many, A Different Many.”)

    1. I think your interpretation of how the American Revolution reflected American culture is tainted by its predominance in Western (especially American) history. Sure, the Founding Fathers were all land-owning wealthy white men, and shared certain philosophical values that, it should be noted, were *in vogue* at the time.

      But the truth is, the Founding Fathers didn’t even represent the majority of American colonists in 1776. People gloss over the fact that the independence movement was in the *minority.* There was no referendum. There wasn’t even representative democracy (the Conventionists were chosen by informal associations within each colony, not by colonial governments, which were necessarily loyalist). And parts of what we now call America were at once Spanish, French, Russian, Dutch, and not least, various diverse Amerindian cultures.

      Matter of fact…. That LA you speak of was Spanish until 1848, a good 70 plus years after the founding of the country. To say that it’s Latino communities are aberrations from a unified integrated culture is completely backwards. More like, its *non* Latino communities not integrating with their incumbent Latino culture are the aberrations.

      And that’s the problem right there. The presumption that one’s own culture is the superior one to which others ought to conform. At the end of the day, it rarely has any basis in territoriality, or incumbency, or even moral valuation. It comes down to cultural narcissism.

      1. No one is denying the existence of other cultures, but you’re assuming the values which underpin society are culturally bound, or indeed that other cultures or people within those cultures may not wish to adopt values or practices over time with then being ‘imposed’ or the feeling there own culture is ‘inferior’.
        Opposition to state imposed multiculturalism is not opposition to diversity or pluralism.

        1. Ah, that’s the rub, “state imposed multiculturalism” is not anything that I would be familiar with.

          In fairness, the parent article seems to only apply to certain European applications. My US centric understanding of “multiculturalism” would be synonymous with cultural diversity. So the context and definitions are essential, and I would say this author as well as I did not find the context or definition laid out or referenced in the parent article and were thus left to interpret it in a different context, rather than assuming a universal one or that the audience will innately recognize the one that is applicable.

          It occurs to me that this is likely true of the other Ambrosch article I’ve read here, in which he puts capitalism on an angelic pedestal. European capitalism, I dare say, is much different than, say, American capitalism, which swings to an individualist, anarchic, exploitative model, rather than a utilitarian, pragmatic, supplemented one.

          1. But no one is complaining about diversity, but criticising Multiculturalism as State policy. There’s no point attacking someone for an argument they’ve never made. In fact I’d argue Multiculturalism undermines everything that is actually great about diversity as lived experience.

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